The following members have graciously taken the time to send these wonderful stories of their experiences during our Tai Chi Adventure in China.
I'd like to share with all members of the Association, as a proof of my (our) thanks to Grand Master Yang Zhenduo and Master Yang Jun, my impressions of that marvelous trip. Perhaps I was more encouraged to put in lines my feelings, but I am sure of the agreement of the rest of the Brazilian team with this sincere writing:
At the end of the 2001 Sao Paulo Seminar, Masters Yang Zhenduo and Yang Jun invited us to the Second International Tournament the Association was organizing in 2002 at Taiyuan city.
At that moment I was not so sure about my technical and economic possibilities to be part of such important event, partially because I was aware there were so many Sao Paulo practitioners more skilled, and partially because the economic effort was not easy. I knew this feeling was shared among my mates. But as the year 2002 became closer, our enthusiasm about the trip was growing and growing, and our teachers were training us hard and we decided about our participation. Then, I abandoned my doubts and faced that commitment.
I and my mates, in the same manner, were joining energy, money, and dedication until we were a group, drawn together by friendship and the common commitment to Taijiquan. Some of us have been friends for 10 to 15 years. We are well known, we learn and stay together all that time, meanwhile we practice what we like: Taiji. When the departure day was approaching, we already were really a team. Imagine, we even learned to dance together, to present a folk performance at the Opening Ceremonies!
In that team were included some people not able to make the trip, for some reasons, but they were with us all the time helping us to prepare, technically and more importantly, emotionally. All of us, teachers and students, made efforts in time, practice, organization, money, etc. to reach our goal, all the time with joyfulness and joviality, as real comrades.
At the departure day, there where hopes and some reasonable fears about the tournament and the trip, but the joy ever present was our companion. The flight was long, we were tired but the jokes, the cheerfulness were the antidotes. In my expectations were some fears: I was considering "we are going to a unknown and distant country, with a difficult language, how will those people be, how will they receive us?"
Fortunately, the reception was the best possible. After the long trip, we were welcomed by very kind people, English speaking, who helped us from that day to the end. Translators and guides were substituting for each other, some times speaking Spanish, sometimes Portuguese, every time able and disposed to help and solve any problem for us. From that moment, there was growing in my mind a feeling of unity, the sense of closing with any human being from any corner of the world. All my fears gone away, I felt I was a partner, a brother to all the people I encountered: among the great family of Taiji practitioners and more than that, on the Taiyuan or Beijing streets, among all the people around us: drivers, hotel employees, and members of the organizer's crew.
The first ceremony we attended in Yuyuan hotel, the only fully Chinese-spoken, was amazing because the meaning that not only the older Chinese students but also some
Western students became disciples of Masters Yang Zhenduo was clear for us. I know this is not common, it was an honor for me to be a part of this event.
In the second ceremony, the Tournament Opening, in the Delegations entrance when I was in the middle of the about 300 or more people, surrounded by a mass of thousands filling the Stadium, I cried, filled of that huge emotion and happiness and wanted to remember all that to leave in my heart for all my life. I never will forget that moment; I think this was the deepest emotion of the whole trip. We also assisted the greater Masters, starting with Yang Zhenduo, Yang Jun and following with several other styles Masters. We were proudly part of the 140 foreign delegate's short form performance. We made our folkloric presentation until joining with the others countries performers to dance together in the middle of the stadium. Beautiful. Unforgettable. After the Opening Ceremony, a Taiyuan journal reporter asked me to write some words in my native language. I wrote: "Here and now I can feel that World is really One". So I expressed the feeling to be part of one Family: the human being, across borders, across races, cultures, languages, ages, genres.
Then, started the tournament stresses: the need of self-organizing to know beforehand the presentation order, the commitment for my part in the group presentation, more anxiety previous to my individual performance, the (many) satisfactions with the good scores each of us get, to make time to take pictures of my mates, to be part of some short tourist travels between performances, all the intense situations spread over occurring all together. The breakfasts and lunches with the expectations about the day's events, the more relaxed dinners, talking happily about the facts of the day, the falling in bed with all the exhausted body and the joyful soul. All fulfilled with jokes, happy encounters, animated chats in many languages with all kinds of people.
Finally (all things must end) came the Tournament closing ceremony: more happiness with the awards winning, the "competitors" congratulations (there was no competition but friendship, as the banner at the arena entrance said: "Friendship first, competition second").
Then, another adventure begun: a touristic marathon with visits, hotel check-ins and check-outs (each hotel better than previous, we had no complaints of any hotel or restaurant in the entire trip). We traveled by Shanghai, Wu Xi, Su Zhou, Tong Li, Hang Zhou and back to Beijing in 7 days! Each city had many amazing things to see, we trained in the early morning with the Masters, made four or five visits a day, wonderful lunches and dinners, Opera, shopping and free walks seeing, buying, meeting people, experiencing the hospitality of the people, the warm welcome at every place.
It was so few days for so many adventures. It seems like we lived three months in fifteen days.
When I was in the Beijing airport, ready for departure to Brazil, I started to be nostalgic about great people I met: Bill, trying to organize (and sometimes doing); Frank, enduring the Brazilian unreliability in the German-Brazilian bus with stoicism; Mina and Coco, the translators-guides that ever helped for any trouble; in the tournament and all the places and trips; Josefina, Juan and Daniel, the Spanish translators in many travels; Master Yang Jun ever present to solve any problem simple or difficult all the time with a smile; the drivers enduring the tardy Brazilians without complains; Darla present in all places and times with her camera; my new friends of San Antonio, Texas; the Michigan people I meet and chatted with at Great Wall trip; the jolly Italians so similar to us; the friends from Sacramento and Sweden and so many more I talked with. I especially remember that Chinese senior I met in the arena, my companion in performance, who asked me to take a photo with him and his family. I do not know his name, maybe we will not meet again, but I know we are brothers.
I expect to come back to China. I hope to be again in the arena, to join again with all those people. I hope see and learn from Master Yang Zhenduo again. Perhaps next time I will make more and deeper contacts with all the Taiji practitioners, as we met in Wu Xi. Maybe I will like to visit more Taiji related localities, such as the Wu Tai Mountain. But at any rate I know I will return with gladness to live again those unforgettable moments.
Jorge Alberto Catino from Sao Paulo, Brazil
China! I was finally going to that mysterious, exotic land, after years of dreaming about it.
Flying halfway around the world, even in the company of good friends, takes a toll. But even after jet lag wore off--indeed, for the entire three weeks I was in
China--my amazement never wore off. From the first day in Beijing, I was agog: millions of people in cars and buses, on bikes, on foot--all going with the flow (a phrase that took on new meaning); and of course, a seemingly endless supply of vendors hawking their wares at our obvious group of tourists. I saw my first Chinese opera in a teahouse in Beijing just a few blocks from Tianamen Square. That distinctive music, which I previously did not like, now captivated me.
From Beijing, where the only people who paid us any attention were the vendors (most of whom spoke at least some English), to Taiyuan, where nearly everyone stared at us but few could speak English. In some ways the whole trip was characterized by contrasts: from the cosmopolitan Beijing to the provincial Taiyuan, from the huge cities to the cultivated countryside, from the massive amount of construction (as Paul Lenhard said, the crane should be the national bird) to the matching amount of buildings in disrepair or in rubble, from the incredible beauty of the gardens and parks to the difficult conditions of public bathrooms. I was experiencing culture shock for the first time, and I am still dealing with its after effects.
Amid all the strangeness, the newness, was the welcome sight of faces familiar from various workshops in the U.S. over the years: some I met in Portland, some in Virginia, others in Montreal, and of course many in Detroit. Traveling with this group for a couple of weeks afforded many opportunities to get to know these taiji friends better, and was itself a great experience. Add to that the other international players and the wonder of the whole experience is magnified.
One of my most memorable personal encounters happened a few hours before my first solo event in the competition. I found an open hallway where some people had been practicing. As they finished and left, I was just about to start when a woman walked in, dressed in pink silks. She said something to me in Chinese, and I responded in English that I did not understand. Somehow she communicated to me that she wanted to watch me go through the form. Although this was not really what I wanted to do at that moment, to be polite I began the form. Almost immediately she stopped me to offer a correction, and she proceeded to work through the whole form with me, offering dozens of corrections, taking at least 45 minutes. She reminded me of my teacher, Han Hoong Wang, in the precision of her movements and in her attention to detail.
Much to my consternation, however, I soon realized that she did many of the moves slightly differently from my understanding of what not only Han taught but also what Grandmaster Yang and Master Yang Jun taught. At the same time, many of her corrections were the same ones that Han had been telling me about for years. After we had worked through the whole form, I thanked her and asked her if she would now perform the 49 for me. She graciously did so, and I was impressed with her taiji--she was obviously a high-level player and teacher. (At the awards ceremony, I believe I saw her receive the gold medal in her group.) Not being skilled enough to absorb any new ways of doing things, I decided to focus on her reinforcement of the corrections I knew I needed, and to let go of the rest. I will always be grateful to her.
For me, as incredible as the Great Wall, the Buddhist temples, the Forbidden City, the terra-cotta warriors, and even the Xian dumpling dinner--as fabulous as all these were, the highlight of the trip was Grandmaster Yang's tournament. The opening ceremonies were dazzling, from the Masters' demonstrations to the group performances (including, of course, Holly and Bill's ballroom dance). But my greatest thrill would come during the competition, as I was waiting my turn at the 49 Form. Following my teacher's wise advice, I was preparing by doing some basic qigong, and as I calmed down I took a long look around the arena. That was when it fully hit me that I was now in China and about to do Master Yang's form in his presence, at his tournament. The feeling of excitement was indescribable. It was not nervousness or anxiety (though I had plenty of that too); rather, it was more like awe--in fact, the only comparable feeling I had was on seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. Though my performances were unremarkable compared to the rest of the competitors, I am proud to say that I did the forms as well as I ever have. I could not ask for more.
So many other places and people of note: Sonny, our cute but incredibly assertive guide in Taiyuan; the park in Taiyuan where we did taiji at 6 am each morning with hundreds of other players; Dave Barrett, whose humor overcame the innumerable schedule changes (WWHHYY?); the several Chinese operas we saw; the Chinese acrobats and the Shaolin monks in Beijing, the dancers, acrobats, and musicians in Xian; Paul Lenhard, who kept many of us laughing throughout the trip; a great ping pong match in the basement of the Wuxi hotel with my friend Chris Kaiser; on one plane ride a pleasant chat with Frank Grothstuck, the young German center director who impressed us all (including the judges) with his beautiful taiji; the bus driver for the last leg of our trip, who stoically loaded our excessive baggage onto the bus and then, when we were all on the bus and he thought no one could see him, he let the agony show on his face in a grimace, leaned against the side of the bus, and wiped his brow, but wheeled us through Beijing and Chengde with great skill and good humor.
I must mention my teacher, Han, the one without whom many of us would not have made the trip at all: not only did she work very hard last year to train us for the competition, but she encouraged us the whole time and most importantly, perhaps, she had fun with us, teaching us how to eat certain kinds of bony fish and how to suck the brains out of the fish's head (not to mention how much she helped in bargaining for the best prices on many wonderful purchases).
Most amazing was Master Yang Jun, who not only shepherded many of us through airports but during the competition kept everything moving smoothly, including delivering water to the judges, answering silly questions from people like me looking for a place to practice, adjusting our tour schedule as needed, and so much more. His intelligence, patience, and endurance are remarkable.
I haven't told a fraction of all that there is to tell, and if you think I've been effusive, all I can say is come along next time and I think you'll see that my words are pale compared to the experience itself. I can't wait to go back.
Gary Lee, from Madison, Michigan
1. The four of us is in the Virginia group had a wonderful afternoon climbing the "wild" Great Wall at Huanghua Chang Cheng (Yellow Flower Fortress), an unrestored section way up in the mountains 60 km north of Beijing. There was hand- over-hand climbing clinging to little trees, etc., and we were moderately The four of us is in the Virginia group had a wonderful afternoon climbing the delirious when we arrived back near the bottom at an improvised cold drink stand in a farmyard. As we sipped our drinks we noticed a disused agricultural tool that had a definitely martial air about it (like an old harpoon) and we said: "There MUST be a FORM for that thing!" Pat Rice, being both very knowledgeable about taijiquan and very creative, immediately demonstrated the correct and, to most people, long forgotten form for this deadly instrument (see picture). We are hoping the Chinese government will standardize the form and promote it worldwide. As a long weapon, it may be an Olympic hopeful (if enough can be obtained from the manure piles to which they seem to have been consigned)!
2. The Virginia group was out early one morning at Beihei Park and watched this man (picture) practicing his calligraphy with a brush and water, on the pavement. We had just practiced our form and became conscious as we observed him that we were being offered excellent instruction in use of the waist, relaxation of the body, economy of effort, and focused intent. Both performances were fleeting - our form stopped, and the calligraphy evaporated - but each left a memory that will last a long time.
Rob Steig from Virginia
Years ago when I kissed my son goodnight, we would exclaim how much we loved one another. One night he asked, "What is the furthest place you can think of, Mommy?" I responded, "China." To that he said, "Well, then, I love you clear, clear to China." For years those words became our nightly ritual of affection. Twenty-four years ago I couldn't have imagined actually traveling to China.
Seven years ago, however, lunch with my friend Patrick led me to China-in a roundabout way. On a Saturday afternoon in September at the school where he supervised the enrichment classes, he introduced me to the Tai Chi instructor, Han Hoong Wang, also the director of Yang Cheng Fu Tai Chi Chuan USA, Michigan Center. She allowed me to observe her class. Having read about the art of Tai Chi and its health benefits, in addition to seeing her class, I decided right then to take lessons. I signed up for the class the following week.
That class-and the teacher-changed my life forever. Soon my once-a-week class turned into classes three times a week and seminars with Masters Yang Zhen Duo and Yang Jun. Over the next seven years I grew accustomed to the fluidity of movement, gaining strength and balance. Moreover, my overall health and well being improved tenfold.
After my sixth year of instruction, Han Hoong Wang explained that she would take a group of students to China for the 20th anniversary celebration and tournament in Taiyuan in July of the following year. I wanted to go but my fears attempted to convince me otherwise. I had never been on an airplane (unless, of course, you count the 50-minute flight in 1986). Would I be able to handle the 18-hour flight? The heat of the orient? My uncertainties about competition? Possible illnesses? All of these questions taunted me? Fortunately, my family and friends convinced me to stop "whining" and to get my passport.
That year flew by. As the months turned into weeks and the weeks turned into days, we practiced for what seemed like countless hours. My excitement grew, as did my nerves. The day arrived. My Tai Chi buddy, Martine (a seasoned traveler), generously gave up her bulkhead seat, so that I would be more comfortable-Thank you! Thank you, Martine!
The International Tai Chi Chuan Association and its president, Master Yang Jun, took care of all travel accommodations in conjunction with the tour group. The hotel employees, wherever we stayed over the course of our trip, treated us like kings and queens. They couldn't do enough to welcome us or to present us with the comforts of home-and then some!
Steeped in a rich history, China not only met-but also exceeded-all my expectations. From the Great Wall to the magnificent temples to the buried clay warriors of the Terra Cotta, China presented many wonders, the likes of which I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams. Chinese Gardens overflowed with vibrant bursts of color and splendor. Shopping at street side markets run by local artists and merchants offered a taste of an ancient way of life, yet we Americans, true to form, did more than our share of shopping. Chinese teas and Operas quenched our thirst for Chinese culture. The silk, jade, and clay teapot factories offered more than a glimpse of Chinese industry. Trips on gondola-type boats introduced us to native inhabitants of small villages and their seemingly tranquil ways of life. Over and over again I was certain I'd wake from this magnificent dream. When we touched down in Detroit three weeks later, only then was I certain it was no dream-although I was ready for bed.
Next month my son's wife will have their first child, a much-anticipated son. When I kiss him goodnight I can tell him with confidence, "I love you clear, clear to China," a whole beautiful world away!
Cathy Hardacre, from Michigan
Plane flights to Beijing
Tai Chi grows loud in green parks
Suddenly the busses
Long Taiyuan bus ride
Mountain stone terraces steep wet
Then once more tai chi
Breathing Jinci's green air
Ancient cypress whisper low
Chanting monks float past
Martin Middlewood from Vancouver, Washington
During the Tournament all the participants were so friendly and encouraging even when people did not speak the same language. It was pretty amazing to see that many people all doing the same form that I learned. All the people of different ages from different countries and we all know the same form.
A special moment for me was after the awards ceremony when two of the Chinese women in my category both grabbed my hands and pulled me over so someone could take our picture. The spirit at the competition was so happy and warm.
Suzanne Trojanowski, from Michigan
Among the many wonderful experiences we had on the trip, the most memorable was the opening Ceremony of the Tournament. That morning, all the local and international teams queued up outside the stadium behind their corresponding team signs waiting to go into the stadium. Our Michigan group, dressed in cream silk Tai Chi uniforms, some wearing red white and blue scarves, were all neatly lined up and in high spirits.
When we marched into the stadium, we were greeted with a packed crowd of several thousands in the stands on all four sides. The cheering crowd was clapping and waving enthusiastically at us, and we excitedly waved back with equal fervor as we circled around the stadium to reach our spot in the middle of the floor. The warmth and intensity emanating from the roaring crowd overwhelmed us. It gave us such an emotional lift that the feeling lingered with us long afterwards. For us, it felt like an Olympic moment………truly unforgettable.
Sonia Sinn and Larry Moe from Michigan
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