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Learning by Playing: Tai Chi Training in London by Carla Verhaaf

carla learning

A fantastic view over London, the sun in our faces and all of us together on the top of a major green hill. What a perfect playground for the second part of our Golden Flower International Training in England today. All the energy I have gathered so far in our training sessions flew through my body even more intensely. Being with all these wonderful Golden Flower instructors and students on this perfect spot with the wind in my face made me happy, light, grounded and focused. A spontaneous wrestling-session with colleague and friend John was exactly what I needed to express the feeling of joy and tremendous energy I felt in my body. There is such a desire and need to learn more about Golden Flower’s rich Tai Chi principles which support me and my life everyday.

A lot of exciting, spontaneous playful learning moments followed my morning on the hill. The light atmosphere provided me with the perfect way to practice and integrate the many principles San Gee and Annukka have shared with us so far, such as:  feel your body, stay aligned, keep your body straight and your energy grounded… if you don’t accept that you’ll be “thrown away.” Fall down and stand up again. Try again. Remember that I am in this beautiful place with the supporting people of the Golden Flower Family around me. There are no worries. When I fall I don’t get hurt because I’ve learned to flow and not resist. I just get to my feet again and laugh about it with the people around me. Now I’ve learned to stand up straight.

By playing around and enjoying everything that comes my way the child in me is awakened. I am able to relax even more and experience the internal, energy power that is flowing through my entire body. Amazing things are happening. I felt great empowerment. I had no problem in throwing and get thrown away. I felt great and inexhaustible. I have reached a new level in my development by experiencing what I can do and apply just by feeling, focusing and then allowing and relaxing.

I have learned to play with what I’m learning! And I really felt that I created it myself. I woke up and I really wanted to go outside, in the sun to enjoy this gorgeous place. It’s a joy to play with the beautiful people of this Golden Flower School around me. And the amazing thing is that it just happened. Although in the beginning I felt a little bit uncomfortable rolling in the grass on this big hill. But then I tried just jumping in to it, relaxing and enjoying every moment. In this way I created beneficial, happy and very playful learning moments.

My take away from this morning’s training was to create it, allow it, play with it, allow myself to fall a bit, stand up straight again and try again. I feel strong, energized and happy because of these amazing playful learning moments. I am allowing and eager for what is coming next. I am so happy to continue on learning more about this rich practice of beautiful Golden Flower Tai Chi and I am grateful for all the people who have joined this wonderful school and become part of my life.

With gratitude and joy,

Carla Verhaaf

Carla Verhaaf

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Your Focus Determines Your Reality: A Message from Master San Gee Tam


I’d like to share with you some helpful insights I offered to the Golden Flower Instructor Trainees who spent the day at Heavenly Way last week.

Focusing your mind is an essential element of Tai Chi and self-cultivation. Focus and commitment dramatically increase your ability to progress towards mastery. It is something most people don’t think about much of the time, but give it some consideration now:

  • If you wake up in the morning and think about the multitude of things you need to accomplish over the next thirteen hours, you’re likely to have a stressful day. In contrast, if you wake up, listen to your breath, and focus instead on what a wonderful gift your life is, you’re more likely to enjoy your day.
  • If you let your attention jump from one thing to another, you are likely to have a busy, fractured and unproductive day. If you begin your day with standing Chi Gong and focus on one element of The Golden Flower Form you want to practice, you’ll have a more centered, peaceful, productive day.
  • If you focus on feeling tired and wanting to veg out in front of the TV, you’re pretty certain to get a lot of television watching done. If, however, you focus on being healthy and fit, over time you can become healthy and fit through movement, a little Tai Chi practice at home, and eating foods that are full of benefits.


Focus is an important determinant of whether you’ll achieve a goal or stick to creating healthy habits. Not self-discipline, not rewards, not sheer willpower, not even motivation (also an important ingredient, however). If you can maintain your focus, your mind and spirit will bring a centered power to achieving that goal.

A few more helpful ways to increase your focus and ability to tap into the peace available in every moment:

  • Attend Tai Chi class two or more times a week.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to deeply learn from the beauty of nature during our Annual Retreat at Heavenly Way in August.
  • Practice Golden Flower’s “Be Here” Process. It will help you learn to achieve a relaxed focus, which slows down your breathing and quiets your mind so that learning can come easily and naturally.
  • Make a commitment to do your standing Chi Gong practice every morning.

This is a very exciting time on our planet.  All of us have an opportunity to wake up and be happy.  Life is about being happy.  If you’re not happy, what are you doing here? It’s something you might want to focus on.

~ Master San Gee Tam

sangee smile


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Instructor Training Begins! Thoughts from Tom


The International Instructors Training got off to a very clear, calm, and focused start today. It is great to have 4 days dedicated to deepening our Golden Flower Long Form practice.  We learned a new level of detail in the sequencing of the moves. It is amazing to feel how each movement is distinct and yet we internalize the separation so it is unified.

We repeated the first part of the form so many times that our focus kept building. Master San Gee Tam explained that our physical body is within our energy body and that we need to develop inner strength to ground and express our energy fully. Without all the details our Tai Chi is stuck at a beginner  level.  Later, we all joined Richard’s class in the lodge. This class spontaneously developed into a healing energy space as we practiced slow movement with ever expanding consciousness. It was a fantastic end to the first day.

Tom Gold-Blyth


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Wake Forest Tai Chi starts again!

Hi, everyone!  Rick here with my first blog entry on our newly revamped web site.  Hope you all are enjoying the new layout and features of the site.  We’ll be updating it and adding new content as the site evolves.

I wanted to let you know a bit about our Wake Forest University tai chi class.  The class is starting up again on January 14 and I’m really excited about it … as always!  This class was developed by Sangee back in 2000 and he and Annukka began teaching it that year, so it’s now the 14th year this course has been offered at Wake Forest.    Sangee developed this class because for decades he wanted to make a positive difference in the education of young people.  This intention came to fruition when Wake Forest adopted his proposal to teach a for-credit tai chi course at the university.  This course has been tremendously successful at Wake Forest, with the Dean of the Health and Exercise Science Department recognizing it as one of the most popular courses in the department.  Year after year, anywhere between 25 – 40 students enroll in and complete the course.  And almost all of them say that they got more out of it than they ever imagined.

So what do we put into the course that makes it so popular and successful?  Well, we start with the basic Golden Flower curriculum for beginning students, but the course is specifically tailored for college students.  We emphasize practices that help students to focus better, to deal with the stress and pressure of academic life, and to just relax and feel better about what they’re doing with their lives.  We make it clear that tai chi is a practice that enables them to gather their energy.  And we let them know that the course is designed for them, not anyone else.   There is no external standard for them to satisfy, that they’re not taking the course to please their parents or teachers.  The course is something they can do to please themselves and have fun learning something that will make a difference in their lives.

The course really does make a difference!  Here are a couple of quotes from students who have taken the course over the years.  They can say it much better than I can.


“I have found tai chi to be a relief from the stresses of college. When I arrive at the center, I think of it less of “class”, and more like a chance to practice. I enjoy doing tai chi simply because it makes me feel good.  I feel calmer when I am doing the form, as well as after class. Suddenly everything that seemed like a big deal no longer seems as significant or dramatic.  The biggest thing I will take away from this class is remembering to put everything into perspective. I often worry a lot about choosing a major and what my career will be. However, when I do tai chi, I feel more at ease and most like myself. This class has reminded me that it is important to follow my passions because I will be most happy doing what I love.”

– Kelsie D.


“Taking Tai Chi this semester has been an unforgettable experience. The many lessons I have learned from Tai Chi are life lessons that I feel I will carry with me through the rest of my life. Taking Tai Chi during the football season proved to be incredibly beneficial for me this semester. Between workouts, film studies, traveling, team meetings and games the season is often associated with a number of stresses and uncertainties. Every Tuesday and Thursday provided me with an escape from the pressure and demands of college football. Alongside being a stress reliever, Tai Chi provided numerous physical benefits for me throughout the class. There were a number of occasions where I came into class feeling banged up physically. Tai Chi helped me to become more aware of the way my body felt, rehabbing those aches and pains. Despite entering class feeling out of whack, I often found myself leaving feeling more aligned and centered.  Taking the Tai Chi course this semester has been insightful, beneficial and fun. I cannot wait to go home and show all my friends the form. I truly enjoyed taking your class and getting to know you and Tai Chi. Thank you for everything this semester and most importantly thank you for enlightening me on the invaluable knowledge of Tai Chi.”

– Tanner Price, WFU quarterback

These are only a couple of examples of the things students express in their written exams.  And to tell you the truth, I may get more out the class than the students!  I really love going to teach this class every Tuesday and Thursday during the semester.  The youthful enthusiasm and exuberance of the students kind of rubs off on me and makes me feel great.  I’ve been teaching this class more or less on my own since 2009 and I’m now so appreciative that Sangee and Annukka took time to train me in teaching this class, then trusted me enough to do it on my own.  It has become one of the highlights of my life.

Sangee’s goal is to develop a unified curriculum that other instructors can get trained in and use at colleges and universities all over the world.  In fact, we already have a couple of instructors who are teaching college-level tai chi courses already and many of our instructors in Europe and Russia can’t wait to offer such a course in their countries.  I think that’s great!  This course has opened my eyes to the importance of providing an empowering and really fun learning experience to young people.  It seems to me, in fact, that they are really hungry for such learning as well.

Rick Baudino

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Reflections on European Instructor Training in the Netherlands, October 2013

GFIT-Mon.-G.4 (16)It has been quite a year for me. Last year I completed a 30-year “stint” in Corporate America. This year I began a new phase of my life and with the incredible freedom that I now have also came the challenges of beginning a self-directed life. With the structure taken away it was
now time to create the life I have always wanted. This has proved to be more difficult than I envisioned.

I had planned on laying low for the fall and gathering my energy. At first

Damien Reynolds, Golden Flower Instructor
Damien Reynolds, Golden Flower Instructor

when Master San Gee Tam asked me to come to Europe for the International Instructor Training I declined. After our third conversation on the subject, which began with Master San Gee Tam saying, half jokingly, “lets discuss what is about to be the biggest mistake of your life so far” my intuition told me that I had spent enough time gathering and it was now time for expansion. That afternoon I booked my flight to the Netherlands and I was off to the European Instructor Training. And what an incredible experience it was. Focus, community, teamwork, fun, high energy, inspiring, creative are some of the words that I would use to describe the Training. When I arrived what struck me was how everyone was so helpful and thoughtful to make sure I was taken care of and comfortable and…. that the Golden Flower Instructors and Instructor Trainees were “all charged up” to do some intensive training.

Master San Gee Tam had given us indications that the expanded curriculum was going to be introduced.  We immediately began working on that front. Ba Gua and Hsing I are now officially part of the curriculum due to their powerful impact on health. We worked on the Ba Gua conditioning exercises, Lion Style changes and strikes, Hsing I warm-up exercises and Five-Element practice. Hsing I Animal Practice was touched on and Master San Gee Tam gave us some basic leg practices to work on to condition the legs as the animal Hsing I requires very flexible and strong legs to be done properly. Master San Gee Tam also showed us medicine ball and rope work that will help build our strength and endurance but using Tai Chi principles and mechanics. Tai Chi Staff was also part of the training with Tai Chi Staff Form and Tai Chi 13 Spear practiced each day. Oh yes I almost forgot – we worked several hours a day on the Golden Flower Long Form reviewing principles and form correction.

It was a huge amount of material to cover but everyone was so focused and eager to learn that it was no problem to get through it.


Sheri Clawson
Sheri Clawson

Our evening sessions focused on creating and communicating. Sheri Clawson, our web site designer and a Golden Flower Student from Winston-Salem, NC attended the training. It was inspiring that she made a special trip to the Netherlands to participate, introduce the new web site, and work with the participants on the European section of the site.

Master San Gee Tam covered many personal development, communication and self-inquiry topics and really stressed our innate creative powers and some of the steps we can take right now to start to unlock these abilities.

If I had to sum up the training in one sentence it would be “MAN we covered a lot of material”. The training got me back in touch with how much I love the practice of Tai Chi and what a wonderful supportive community that I am part of!!! Thanks to everyone for making it such a great training and especially to Master San Gee Tam and Annukka for their tireless and focused effort.   Happy Chi – Damien