A Newbie’s View of Tai Chi Training in London

John newI was strongly invited / ’persuaded’ to attend the Golden Flower Training Workshop at Gillwell Park. Being a lapsed Tai Chi student, but new to the Golden Flower Forms, I approached the event with a degree of trepidation and a “What on earth have I landed myself in now”, state.

The Park proved to be a pleasantly rural place of trees, green fields and wild life, – so far, so good.

The training agenda was presented on arrival and I immediately spotted that there was purported to be an early morning, pre-breakfast start, this was an obvious error, as no self- respecting Englishman is human until after breakfast, however, I was soon disabused of this crass assumption and informed that the start was indeed, before the consumption of a morsel of breakfast. Still reeling from the horror of this revelation, I was introduced, in rapid succession, to a variety of people and suffered memory overload to the extent that names blurred into oblivion, but everyone seemed friendly and welcoming.

So we come to that first early morning training session, what can I say? The dreaded, awkward, Shaking and Breathing warm-up appeared to have morphed into Disco-beat driven tribal dancing, with a variety of inventive interpretations. The throbbing beat of “Fireball”, became a familiar sound resonating through the practice hall as a wake-up track, accompanied by the exuberant dancing of some of the less inhibited members. Bewildered by this display of non-conformist activity, I retired to a dark corner for some surreptitious twitching and breathing. I have to admit, that by the end of the course, the sight of a whirling Bagua circle, to the accompaniment of a pounding beat, appeared almost normal.

The actual training remains something of hazy memory, ranging from unfamiliar forms and frantic following, to the relief of “Hey, I recognise this one” and the occasional flash of enlightenment “So that’s how and why we do this!”

Despite suffering from Octopus syndrome, i.e. too many limbs for the Brain cell to co- ordinate, I survived the trauma of Form and Technique with a smidgeon more understanding and a glimmer of light in the tunnel of mental confusion. Another unfortunate affliction is my Grasshopper mind which has the Focus of a fluff ball, but at no point could anything have been described as boring or monotonous, discussions and demonstrations were carried out with clarity, patience and bursts of humour. So by the end of the course, the Grasshopper was at least taking shorter hops and Focus was less fuzzy.

The outside session, in the unseasonably warm October day of clear blue sky and a light breeze, revealed an interesting degree of competiveness in certain individuals during the simulated combat scenarios, or maybe some people just like rolling around in a human knot. With a backdrop of the London cityscape, the outdoor session invigorated everyone and impromptu downhill gallops plus demonstrations of two person head to tail somersaulting were interspersed with more sessions of the self-defence applications of the form, before rounding off with group photos.

The evening sessions were and interesting mix of discussion, philosophy, training feedback and individual experiences.

Then there was the “Night of the Newbies”, with Question Master Annukka in the interrogation chair, eliciting the opinions of the Newbies on their experience of the course. As remarked by the first victim, sorry, participant –“Rabbit”, “Headlights” and “transfixed terror” – aptly described the initial reaction. The technique of furniture-blending and becoming one with the chair, proved to be futile in avoidance of individual examination. Fortunately, the fear induced disconnect between Brain and Mouth, was a temporary state and being the focus of audience scrutiny did no lasting harm.

Overall the willingness to help, the advice freely given, the Family atmosphere and the amazing energy generated, all combined into an exceptional and empowering experience.

The end of course Leave-taking was another new experience, which involved a lot of hugging. I mean, Good Grief, I’m a shy, taciturn, Northern bloke and likely to implode at such outgoing displays of honest emotion, however, to my surprise, I survived and almost got used to such expression of camaraderie!

In summary:

  • –  Was my attendance worthwhile – Yes, definitely!
  • –  Has it changed me – Yes, mostly for the better!
  • –  Would I do it again – Yes!
  • In conclusion: My heartfelt thanks to everyone for sharing your time, thoughts and experience, the dedication and energy of all attendees was enlightening and pleasurable and has confirmed the re-igniting of my enthusiasm for the journey that is Tai Chi.A final word to all students/trainees if you have the opportunity to attend a Masterclass or Training course with San Gee Tam and Annuka, grab it with both hands, your body may protest, but you will not regret it.                                                                                                                                                               

    ~  David (one of Heike’s Chichester Students)