submitted by Jonathan Skelton
It might first be useful to fill you in as to where I'm coming from. I've been practising various Qi Gong and Tai Chi Yang forms over the past twenty five years. About eight years ago I began learning Tai Chi Chuan long form under Catherine Robinson a direct student of Gerda 'Pytt' Geddes, credited as being the first person to bring Tai Chi to Great Britain. Over the past fourteen years I've developed an increasing interest in Chinese culture, specifically my practice of Chinese calligraphy, Mandarin and TCM. I am an artist and calligrapher and you may wish to take a look at my work by clicking on the link at the end of this email.
I touch on certain points that appealed to me, others I wasn't sure about and those I think may be beneficial in my own practice. My comments should be taken in light of my being a complete novice in 5-section.
Sam's generosity of spirit, attractive voice, clear delivery and demonstrations, and making a serious point with a light touch is the finest form of teaching. Together with the experience and able assistance of his TUDIs, and fellow students, understanding exercises and moves was made much easier for me.
Having a reasonably good understanding of anatomy myself, the way core principals stem from the body's structure and musculature I found fascinating and valuable. Particularly 'hip track', and the meeting point of the two vastus muscles above the knee aligned over Yong Quan. Others: maintaining a loose skeleton (or Skelton, in my case!), co-ordination of hand and hand and/or hand and foot; 'let go, let gravity' to open Ming Men, for me particularly relevant, given current age related health issues.
I can see that the 'Five Words of Self Composure' are fundamental to good Tai Chi practice. This was the first time I'd heard these guides expressed in this way. In my own preparation for practice I employ similar, the main difference being that I use Yi. I 'tackled' Sam about Yi (intent) one morning on the landing, and he responded in a rather indirect way citing Xin! So, may be an area for discussion at some point. Neither, incidentally was Laogong ever mentioned.
I learnt about Peng and An, again terms I'd not previously come across though I readily understand their meaning and purpose.
Sensing hands, which I only did a little of many years ago has always presented me with a problem - invasion of personal space, 'reading' your partner, touching - Help! On this course I took a deep breath, thought 'I'm here, I've paid, I'm going to have to go with it'. I was ably assisted and began to get the idea. Then I was partnered with Ed and whilst practising he said "it's not easy". That simple but profound remark nailed it for me. And it prompted me into thinking that if you want to do something well 'it's not easy'. I don't find practising Chinese calligraphy easy, nor the form, nor understanding mandarin, nor drawing, nor painting and yet these are things I do regularly.
I quite took to Two Person Sword with Francesco - a demon swordsman! I'd never done any sword work before and I began to see how Tai Chi fundamentals were working within this practice. I wonder whether it might feed into my own Chinese Calligraphy practice and it might well. I have been experimenting writing a cod Chinese character whose radicals are made up of the first few moves we did.
This morning I started to introduce one or two things into my Tai Chi and I could see them working: Five Words of Self-Composure; most of 5 Silk Brocade; 'hip track'. The main thing during the Form was to adopt drawing in the foot to avoid long steps which has been my normal practice - particularly valuable in Repulse Monkeys.
On the practical side of hosting and running the course I think things worked well generally given the curriculum and forum. Tuition and assistance - excellent; 'Canteen' food - acceptable, rooms - good, environment - conducive. Timings (of meals, classes) something of a challenge for me but I adapted quickly enough.
Whilst I was deciding whether to attend this course I received the current edition of the TCUGB mag. I was very taken with the cover image of a practitioner in a fine mandarin suit executing a fine move and I thought there's something really very good about this. It swayed me into signing up. Low and behold during one session Sam showed us this image remarking that he would give this execution of the pose 9.9 out of 10.
The Wednesday evening seminar where Sam was able to propound some ideas away from the practicalities, I found most welcome. The more I learn, the more relevant certain things become in forming a sort of philosophy of life. This is something I'm gradually doing as from a distance I start to view the close of this life before the opening of the next.
My love, thanks and very best wishes to all.