D. Gauld review of Edmonton workshop, Sat. Aug 13/2022
I guess it’s a bit weird that I consider myself lucky. I am a 67-year-old that has been struggling with the disability known as Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS, spinal arthritis) for several decades. AS all but robbed me of my life. Pain became the main focus of my life. I had to go on disability and became extremely socially isolated, which BTW was great prep for the Covid shutdowns. Rx medications and their side effects, as well as other western medical interventions only made things worse. Then about 5 yrs ago I hobbled into the Practical Method Taiji studio in Edmonton and my world began to change. That one act began a change process which continues today. I started to actually heal the damage AS does to my body through the diligent daily practice of Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method (PM) as taught to me by Master Allan Belsheim and GM Zhonghua Chen.
This Mondays Musing is also a review of the second workshop given by GM Zhonghua Chen in Edmonton since the re-opening of the studio post-Covid shutdowns. I often say to friends that I learned to love learning. If I won the lottery I used to think I’d go back to Uni to finish my Masters and do a Ph.D. GM Chen’s workshop on Saturday helped me to re-frame that attitude. It turns out I am already attending an institution of higher learning and my meagre pension is all I need. The workshop’s content helped me to see that my daily study of PM is the only advanced degree I am interested in. My AS forced me to swallow my ego and become a beginner in the study of this complex and devastating martial art.
GM Chen took us through, what was for me, a very advanced seminar in Taoistas it applies to Taijiquan. The beauty of PM is that it offers opportunities for growth and change of my substantial/physical and insubstantial/intellectual self. The workshop began with physical exercises focused on helping the body begin to rotate around a single point such as the dantien or the centre of the breastbone. You can catch GM Chen’s stick drill on the PM website or a teaser on YouTube.
I learned more about the cultural differences between the west and China as it applies to understanding martial arts and life. GM Chen exposed us to many new concepts and Mandarin words/phrases that are central to the study of PM Taijiquan. One of them was Xun-Miao or the Secrets of the Heavens. Please excuse me as I am likely going to make some errors in my explanations due to my beginner-level understanding of PM, Mandarin and of Taoist thought.
The upshot of the entire day is that to seriously study and advance in the art of PM we need to exercise our bodies and our minds. One of the embodied learnings for myself came after I had received multiple corrections offrom GM Chen. He mentioned that I had improved my PM ability significantly and that my AS had and continues to make progress challenging. It helped me re-frame my daily struggles in my practice where I get frustrated as my spinal adhesions/fusions make it impossible to complete certain movements correctly.
He guided us through some very interesting history of PM and taught me about knowledge transmission within internal martial arts in China; fascinating all on its own. My takeaway is that although I will never get to the ‘shirt’ level I am so lucky that GM Chen allows us to touch his body to feel or get ‘fed’ biofeedback as a reference guide. His ability to only use the amount of internal force necessary without breaking my poor old arthritic spine is amazing. If you get a chance to ‘feel’ his body when he does a move you ought to grab it.
I always feel inadequate in the task of reviewing GM Chen’s workshops. I often think that I only ‘get’ a small portion of what he offers us at each workshop. My metaphor for receiving instruction from him is that it’s like trying to take a sip of water from an opened fire hydrant. However, this struggle is central to what he tried to tell us on Saturday. Daily practice is so necessary as some of the things he told me in my first workshop years ago are just starting to make sense. This in part is because my body and mind were not ready yet. A lot of being a beginner in PM is prep, getting ready. I am working to get ready for the next workshop which he says will likely be in September or October this year; can hardly wait. Thank you to Master Allan Belsheim and GM Zhonghua Chen for this past Saturday, revelatory for this old man.
I am, as always, learning to live, a breath at a time.