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My China Experience (Part One)?

by Allan Rudolf(more info)

listed in chi energy martial arts, originally published in issue 17 - January 1997

The question mark after 'Part One' is not a printer's error. It is there because the experience hasn't really been crystallised fully in me yet; it is still evolving. So I have no idea if there will be more columns about my China experience as it relates to body therapy and related health matters. In fact I'm not even certain what this month's column will be about. Let's see.

You can divide people into dog lovers and cat lovers. Some people love cats and dogs and some people hate cats and dogs. But most people have a very strong preference for cats or for dogs. Similarly you can divide people into yoga lovers and Taiji (Tai Chi) lovers. I'm an unabashed Taiji lover; I find yoga boring. I'm not saying that the practice of Taiji is superior to yoga, it's just that I get bored doing yoga and excited and interested when practising or learning Taiji. In fact, my chief mentor, Dr Ida Rolf, was a great believer in the efficacy of yoga. She even went so far as saying that Rolfing has some of its roots in yoga. In general she was critical of most forms of modern exercise, believing in the value of yoga and Taiji but was clearly influenced more by yoga. (In the early 20th century when Dr Rolf grew up yoga was far more well known than Taiji in the western world.)

Why did I go to China to study Taiji when Great Britain has some very able and gifted Taiji teachers? I heard that in China, where Taiji began, I would find the very finest Taiji masters in the world. More importantly I wanted to take a chunk of time (one month) and solely devote it to Taiji. Although I had been studying Taiji for many years, given my life style, I really could not devote more than an hour or two a day to it except for the few times a year I would take a workshop; I thought I needed more intense studying to make real progress. It was difficult to select the right teacher for me. There are many different styles of Taiji and each style has a number of renowned masters. And I was well aware that there are masters who are poor teachers and some very good teachers who are not regarded as masters. (In the western world, there is unfortunately a third category – inadequate teachers who call themselves masters who are far from being masters.)

After reading about many teachers, reading interviews and articles of masters and talking with my Taiji friends I decided to study with Master Shi Ming of Beijing. In retrospect I'm a bit perplexed (and lucky) that I chose Shi Ming. I chose someone I knew very little about and I did not personally know anyone who studied with him. I went to Beijing along with my Taiji friend Leo to study for one month. Leo and I were the only two Westerners studying with Shi Ming as part of this one month intensive. Master Shi Ming had a regular group of his Chinese students, studying at the same time.

The schedule of study was basically the same every day (slightly different on the weekend when Shi Ming could be with us for a longer period). Leo and I were expected to show up at Shi Ming's Taiji site at 6.30 every morning. He or his most senior students would teach us and have us practice. This morning session would end between 8.30 and 9.00. The rest of the day Leo and I were on our own to practice what we had learnt. Typically there would be another two or three intervals of practice adding up to another four or five hours. Basically, every single day revolved around Taiji. The few times we went off on brief tours to see the "musts" (like the Great Wall) we viewed these tours as almost intrusions. And yet – this is an important point – all our Taiji studying was taught in a relaxed manner. The atmosphere created by Master Shi Ming was very conducive to learning. It might seem tedious to spend six hours a day, seven days a week learning and practising one subject, especially when you consider that much of the other hours of the day were spent discussing or taking notes on what we learnt. In reality it was an exhilarating, powerful and transformational learning experience. I can now consider myself to be a beginner at Taiji.

If you learn something which is truly important to you, the knowledge should pervade all aspects of life. It should affect your character and your lifestyle. This is what I mean by a transformational experience. My Taiji learning in China feels very transformational to me. At the most mundane level I now spend one and a half to two hours every day practising what I learnt this Summer. I notice I'm physically feeling even more healthy that usual. I feel more centred, calmer and comfortable with myself. Most important I have a feeling this is just the beginning, an unfolding.

I've concluded, the most effective way to learn, whether it be Taiji, bodywork skills or a language, is total immersion. Of course this assumes you have enthusiasm for your subject and you have the right teacher. I can't wait to go back to Master Shi Ming. I went to China to study Taiji. I did not concern myself or even suspect that learning would directly affect the way I did my Body Therapy, and yet, the Taiji has radically changed the way I work. It's not what I do that is different but how I do it. Maybe I'll elaborate about that in my next column.


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About Allan Rudolf

Allan is a Rolfer and Feldenkrais practitioner and trained with both Dr Rolf and Dr Feldenkrais. He now lives in China and is not contactable.

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