Personal Trainer, 3rd Dan Tang Soo Tao black belt and Tai Chi practicioner Stephen Ramsdale has a wealth of experience in the fitness industry that he uses to benefit his clients and readers. Based in Caloundra on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, Stephen runs a training studio from the Brittania Garage on Caloundra's Bulcock Street.
This afternoon I moved across town and checked in to the Zhejiang Grand Hotel. There was an army of volunteer helpers with good enough English, and Master Li and Master Chen were there to help me so I chatted to the only other team from Australia, 5 competitors and four followers from Sydney who were using the competition as an excuse to visit China. I received my registration credentials for the competition and am sharing a very nice room with the only competitor from South Korea.
This evening we all (3 coaches) went out for dinner (a typical Chinese feast) in a big hotel function room. My new friends from Sydney thought it was like a big wedding. The pic is just part of the room behind our table. The feast was fast though, no speeches, just ate and back on the bus to the hotel.
My event schedule is choice. Arena 15 for all three events, out for 20 arenas spread over 4 areas on two levels. I start with the short form at 8:52, 7th of 17. Then the long form at 14:30, 3rd of 16. Finishing with the sword form at 19:10 in the evening, 1st of 9. From the program there are 278 teams with 5450 participants.
On my last day of training in the park I took some time out to have a look at other practitioners in the surrounding area. Among the weird and wonderful spectacles was a woman with a ball on a bat who waved her arms about, spinning and twirling and occasionally tossing the ball and catching it behind her back. There was also some excellent sword practitioners, and yes more video.
Last night I walked around the Hefang Rd (ancient Song Dynasty streets) area which was packed with Chinese tourists. A very different experience to the daytime.
Today the scene changes from preparation to commencing the competition. I am leaving the Hubin Rd area and moving to the Zhejiang Hotel for a reception tonight and competition, all three events, tomorrow.
It was back to basics this morning with Master Chen in the park on the hottest, most humid morning yet. The sky was overcast and the air was so thick you could hold it in your hands and squeeze the water out of it.
Last night Master Li came to my hotel with more gifts, a jade dragon pendant and an amber bracelet for me to wear.
I woke early this morning and was at the park by 6 after a good stretching session in the hotel room. It was so hot I was already dripping sweat when I arrived in the park after a 2 minute walk. All the usual people were there, also feeling the heat.
I practiced the 27, 40 and sword Tai Chi forms and was already a bit tuckered out when Master Chen arrived at 7. We did the sword form together several times then worked on some small details in a couple of movements.
Then it as the 27 a couple of times and we spent about an hour on small details of stepping forward, backward and to the side. We looked closely at cloud hands, brush knee and press, repulse the monkey, part the wild horses mane, jade lady, single whip, snake creeps down, ride the tiger, parry and punch, sweep the lotus........
As I had some questions about the 40 forms, I demonstrated the form and Master Chen was surprised I knew it, even more surprised I had learned it from Grandmaster Meng.
Master Chen does 42 forms, which he demonstrated and yes I have a video.
By this time I was totally drained from the heat and we called it a day.
Another surprise today with a visit to another amazing Tai Chi teacher for some push hands instruction. With spoken language no more than hello and thank you this very kind lady taught me some valuable lessons by being very hands on, guiding my movement hip to hip, and getting me to feel her body while she moved.
I went early to practice in the park to refresh what I have done so far before Master Chen arrived, and I saw some very impressive sword form by a lady while I warmed up. When Master Chen arrived at 7 we worked on the sword form, lots of detail. A phone call from Master Li at 8:15 and we abruptly stopped and caught a bus to Hefang Rd which is at the base of a hill with an ancient Pagoda.
We climbed a thousand steps to the Temple grounds there and I saw many people practicing Wushu and Tai Chi. It had been stifling and smokey in the park at Westlake but the air on the hill seemed much less humid and was clear.
After quite a trek through the extensive stairways and paved areas we came to one of dozens of small groups practicing Tai Chi. Master Chen introduced me to a small, lean lady, older than myself, and one of her students who was also quite small. I don’t know their names as yet but I have the chinese characters written down
I demonstrated the sword form for them and they applauded heartily, then the student demonstrated some of the sword form. Again the expression of the form was very different to anything I had seen previously, but the structure was familiar. Today I did get video.
Next I demonstrated the short form and again everyone was very generous in their approval. The teacher then offered some suggestions for improvement, emphasising sinking behind the front knee and keeping the spine vertical.
Then it was pushing hands practice. What I learned yesterday was very useful and I didn’t get pushed around easily, although today I was more than twice as big as my training partners. The teacher emphasised softness in everything. None of the explosiveness of yesterday. We did some drills I hadn’t done before, more to practice at home. I am very grateful for the warmth of my reception and the generous instruction I received.
I am beginning to expect the unexpected. This morning I practiced Tai Chi for an hour with Master Li and Master Chen in the park and then we all went across town and met Master Liu, an expert in pushing hands.
Master Li arrived early for training in the Park, fortunately I was already there. I demonstrated the short form and sword form without the changes I worked on with Master Chen yesterday. Master Li was pleased with my performance and offered some small corrections. When Master Chen arrived we worked on the timing for the three events and some protocol for commencing and finishing performance at the competition.
Suddenly Master Li said we had to leave and so we caught a Taxi and headed across Hangzhou to a paved courtyard where a group of people were practicing pushing hands. After a brief introduction to Master Liu I demonstrated the first few moves of the short form and then master Liu and I did some pushing hands.
I was shown a series of applications from movements in the forms, grasping the birds tail, single whip, like sealed as if closed, lifting up hands, ride the tiger. I was also shown some circular waist movements and weight shifting between the heel and ball of foot.
One of the most interesting things was the transition from relaxed (collapsed?) to explosive movement.
When I say I was shown these things, I was the crash test dummy being moved around like a child by a much older man half my size. Master Liu’s sensitivity was such that he countered my movements before I made them, his deft foot work changed the distance between us so that I was always disadvantaged, and his ability to explode with very small movements was stunning.
I really don’t expect to remember too much of the detail, but the feeling of the movement will stay with me. Another invaluable experience and it’s only the second day.
Apologies for not getting any photos or video. by request I have included a pic of the new sword.
The first day of Yang Style Tai Chi Sword practice with Master Chen in the park at Westlake in Hangzhou was inspirational. Again I find myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from such an experienced and accomplished practitioner.
It is already hot and humid at 7 am when we meet beside the statue for practice. To start off I demonstrate the sword form as I know it. Then Master Chen demonstrates the form as he knows it. Awsome. There are many differences between our performances.
In structure the form is as we do it with 2 extra steps (5) for lion shakes it’s head and opposite footsteps in the second straddle the fence and push up making it he same as the first (stepping left then right foot).
However, in expression there are too many differences to list. Angles, blade orientation, weight shifting, transitions, hand positions, etc. in most movements. There is much for me to learn and so little time.
Master Chen kindly allowed me to video his performance of the sword form and the short form which we also practiced.
There was some additional movements in the short form. After the first kick add tame the tiger to the left, then box ears 45 degrees to right, second kick is also with heel, trn to part the wld horses mane twice, replacing the first jade lady, then 3/4 turn to jade lady on the right side (one only). The next step up to grasp the birds tail is as we have been doing (without ward off on the left side).
Again, the expression of movements throughout the form is quite different to what we are used to. Four months would be better than four days.
Throughout the lesson I did not feel that lack of language skills limited our ability to communicate as it is all about movement.
Master Li presented me with a hand made sword and introduced me to Master Chen who is one of Meng Chun Ming’s most accomplished students. Master Chen has much experience and many medals from competitions and will be teaching me this week. We all went to lunch which brought back memories of the first trip when we had official feasts every day. The sword is very beautiful and was made by a very famous craftsman. It is engraved with my name on the blade. It is not sharp,thankfully, and I am very comfortable with it in my hand. It is great to see Sifu Li again and he has made me feel very welcome.
Tai Chi in the park at Westlake 2 minutes from the Flower Inn in Hangzhou. Hundreds of people practicing forms, sword, Chi Gung ballroom dancing and lots more on a balmy hot morning. In the shade of willows and with a hint of a breeze off the lake it was a very pleasant morning. I woke at 6am surprised to find it light and busy outside. Surprised because it was dark and quiet in my room. The immediate location is a short walk from Westlake and in the middle of a backpacker zone which makes it very convenient for finding coffee and western style food. There is a bakery (French?) and several bars which do various egg and bread versions with espresso coffee. I spent an hour and a half watching and practicing in surroundings familiar from my last trip. For those who were there it is where a guy was singing opera, with the orioles in the willows in full song. After some practice and breakfast at Mingtown it took me 2 hours to find an ATM I could use and get cashed up. Now I know it won’t be difficult again. Bank of China is the go. Mastercard and Visa and English option on the ATM. Too easy. I think there is a 1% fee but thats a lot cheaper than a money exchange.