Tai Chi Immersion

Brookline Tai Chi, near Boston, recently held their Immersion Week. This is a week of intensive tai chi and qigong workshops. I was fortunate to be able to attend part of the event.

The workshop I went to was taught by Craig Barnes, and the subject was Wu Style Tai Chi Long Form Refinements.

Craig is an excellent teacher and I really enjoyed studying with him. His explanations were simple and clear. He speaks in a very calming manner, and his voice seems to exemplify the relaxation that is essential to tai chi.

He has studied with Bruce Frantzis for many years, and is one of Bruce’s Senior Instructors. He is based in New York, but travels to teach workshops. I highly recommend taking a class with him if you have the opportunity.

At Brookline Tai Chi, there were several pictures of famous masters doing tai chi. Craig often referred to these pictures to show us not only how well the masters demonstrated the principles we were working on, but that they did it with such relaxation. One of these was a picture of Wu Jien Chuan, who co-founded the wu style of tai chi with his father. He taught it to Bruce Frantzis’ teacher Liu Hung Chieh. I have included a picture of Wu Jien Chuan here.

Craig has spent some time in China. One very interesting thing he told us is that when people practice tai chi in the parks in China, they generally take a lot of breaks to chat, drink tea, and so on. They practice a little and then take a break and practice a little more. Tai chi practice is a social event.

But Craig said that when he saw other westerners studying tai chi in China, they would often go to the park and crank out their practice time with great determination, taking no breaks.

This points out two very different approaches to practice. Growing up, that take-no-breaks approach to exercise is something that I learned to value. In my time learning tai chi and qigong, much of what I had previously “known” about exercise has been turned on it’s head.

When I went to Bruce Frantzis’ tai chi workshop in Chicago, he emphasized the importance of taking breaks to allow one’s system to integrate the material. He was very clear that we should not practice during the breaks, or even talk about the techniques we were learning, so that we could truly give our system a break.

I was also intrigued by the fact that tai chi is such a social activity in China. I think many of us who practice tai chi and qigong like that it provides some time to be with ourselves. But it can also be a wonderful experience to share with other people.

And there is so much to be learned from our fellow practitioners. It’s a great time for socializing because everyone gets relaxed. In addition, there is the great energy that can happen among a group of people practicing together.

In classes at Toward Harmony I have had many great conversations, learned new things, and met people I may never have met if it were not for our mutual interest in tai chi and qigong. And many of those conversations never would have happened if we hadn’t taken a break.

Here in Massachusetts there are not as many opportunities to practice with a group as there are in Chinese cities. But that may change.

At Toward Harmony, we recently started holding weekly Saturday practice sessions in a nice park in Northampton. If you live nearby and would like to join us, you can find more information here. You don’t need to know qigong or tai chi to participate, you can just show up and follow along.