Sheford Tai Chi Festival at the Sheford Community Hall

The last Saturday in April is designated by the World Health Organisation as World Tai Chi and Chi Kung Day – so this year we decided to have a festival of Tai Chi and related arts at the Community Hall in Shefford.

And it was BRILLIANT!

Shefford Tai Chi Festival - Tai Chi Class

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Tai Chi Class

As a first event we set our sights high but our expectations low – both were exceeded – we lost count of the number of visitors and were totally impressed by the enthusiasm of the demonstrations. For those who dropped in on spec the atmosphere was warm and friendly with a multi-generation make up – so much a community event.

The Tai Chi demos took the form of a short beginners class with lots of people joining in and some demonstrations. This was the sort of class that beginners can expect at classes in the afternoon on Mondays and Sunday evenings at the Community Hall.

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Yoga class

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Yoga class

Les Hummel was our first guest and he took a taster class of Yoga through 1/2 hour of exercises and I started to notice what was to be a trend over the day – so much of the Yoga overlapped with Tai Chi in particular and other demos in general – these activities really are complimentary to each other and to the health and fitness of the human body and mind.

David Sheppard offered massage tasters all day and had a constant flow of takers who got up from the couch looking so relaxed it was wonderful to see.

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Massage

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Massage

Next up was a delightful group of Wing Chun students from young to a bit older – an exciting and high energy demo for the martially minded under the direction of Master William Wong.

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Wing Chun

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Wing Chun

Shash Gajjar followed on with a Pilates class for anyone keen to try – Shash did some detail body work with the group and I think all were impressed.

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Pilates class

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Pilates class

More Tai Chi with on the spot exercises for relaxation and mobility followed by some Tai Chi slow walking and a demonstration of the form.

My friend and colleague Judy Hammond took over with a class on Alexander Technique where she worked with individuals on their posture and took us all through some partner work. Judy and I regularly run joint seminars and have a residential retreat coming up on May 12 to 14 – there are places available – see here for details.

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Alexander Technique

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Alexander Technique

A quick Tai Chi class with a request from Shash to see “something more advanced” so I did a fast demo of the Chen style Broadsword form which seemed to be enjoyed by all.

The Community Hall Taekwondo group led by their fourth degree instructor Tom Delve took us back up the energy level with a routine that culminated in a brick breaking demo – do not try this at home kids!

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Taekwando

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Taekwondo

Bringing us to lower energy there was more Tai Chi – where did all this Tai Chi come from? Well for those that were interested there was a history chart showing where and how it developed since the early 1600s.

Back up the energy ladder with Thai Kickboxing by Master Miggy Marcantonio and a brilliant class of enthusiastic young students really going for it for 1/2 an hour non stop.

Shefford Tai CHi Festival Thai Kickboxing

Shefford Tai CHi Festival Thai Kickboxing

The last demo/class of the day was another Tai Chi class to finish off a very successful day.

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Tai Chi

Shefford Tai Chi Festival Tai Chi

Many many thanks to all who gave up their time to demonstrate and take classes – and of course to all our visitors.

Also of course a personal thanks to everybody who gave their time ( and donated cakes! ) in the organisation and running of the day – what a fantastic team support – thank you.

Finally thank you to everybody who donated to charity for their tea/coffee and cakes – we collected over £73 which will be split between the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and a local charity for the Homeless.

Contact details for the participants are below:

Tai Chi – Ian Deavin 07860 218334
Yoga – Les Hummel 07841 862975
Wing Chun – Yvoone & William Wong 07900 922486
Pilates – Shash Gajjar 07963 232666
Alexander Technique – Judy  Hammond 07930 552797
Taekwondo – Tom Delve 07743 918487
Thai Kickboxing – Miggy Marcantonio 07885 249745
Massage – David Sheppard 07776 230327

 

 

 

Attending a martial arts class may well be very different to other activities you have undertaken and it should be remembered that Tai Chi is a martial art – and I believe it is extremely important that this link is maintained. This is part of their paradox which I have written about elsewhere.  So the following are a few personal thoughts drawn from 45 years’ experience, which may forewarn and help a beginner to navigate and benefit from a class – they are all based on long held deeply personal ideas of equality, respect for the individual, and personal choice and responsibility, which are values I have found within martial arts and the underlying philosophies of Zen Buddhism and Taoism but sadly not so well understood elsewhere.

If the instructor says he/she is going to demonstrate, they will take care to be in a position to be observed but you can help yourself by moving to a position where you can see what you need to – which is probably at the front – so do not stand behind unless you actually want to see their back view. An obvious point but often forgotten.

Individual positions in the class may be quite loose – make sure that you can see the instructor and have room to move adequately – take care that you do not block the view of others or their practice space. You may need to adjust your position during the course of the class in this way you can respect your class mates and look after your own learning process.

Equally, you will benefit from knowing which is your left hand and which is your right – if you do not then be sure to copy the teacher attentively. When the teacher is demonstrating pay close attention, learn to observe thoroughly.

Learning anything new is difficult and stressful so if you have difficulty do not worry – we all did and still do! So do not expect that you will become “relaxed” at your first class – like most things it takes work. You may think that it is important to know the names of the moves but actually not at all necessary and often a distraction from learning the way of moving which is really much more important. Of course I use many of the names in my classes and there are lists on the internet but it is a mistake to concentrate on this. Likewise music in classes and the use of videos. By all means use videos as an aid memoire, but personally I find them only really of value once I have learned the basics from a teacher and frequently confuse the beginner.

Practice what you can remember between classes. I find there is a window after a class (24 hours for me) when repetition on my own is vital to learning new moves. Daily practice is then important to implant the memory – the gaps can be filled in at classes. I tend to offer that students can video short sections of a demonstration for personal use as an aid if they wish, otherwise there are many videos of the forms online. As for the exercises there are just so many, but following requests from my students I have put a selection online at www.alternativehealthexercises.org

Over the years I have been to classes where the teacher drives students to practice – turn up at every class etc., and to others where no comment is passed beyond encouragement to practice – of the two I far prefer the latter. It is up to you what you put in and consequently what you get out – your choice. Although if you do not actually learn the choreography then you may restrict what can be done in the class and so impact the learning of your classmates – a question of both self-interest and respect for others.

We are all adults and can choose to be at a class or not – if you want to train then you turn up. There is little point in talking about it – you are there or you aren’t. Turn up, you are taught – don’t and you aren’t.

In fact talking about it is often only a distraction but many people insist on doing so. Likewise, there is no compulsion to do anything once in the class (although a bit pointless if you don’t) as adult students can decide for themselves. Those choices add up over the years.

As a student you are paying the teacher but really that is not what it is all about – in my experience I have been lucky in finding teachers who are primarily motivated by a love of sharing the art not so much by the money – yes it is an issue but once dealt with then we move onto the training and the sharing of knowledge which is the really important part. This is not always the case and you will make your own mind up about the teacher you find.

Regarding injuries or medical problems, by all means tell your teacher about it, but they cannot do anything about your condition (however concerned they may be)  and really the advice always comes to the same thing – that you work with your healthcare professional, do not over exert – adapt the exercises to suit your capability, rest if you need to, drink if you need and use the opportunity of the class to learn about your body, any pain that you may experience and how to work within the limits of your ability. These are surely obvious but may be worth repeating in case you have not considered them before. In this way you can perhaps learn how to look after yourself in the broadest sense, learn to work within your comfort zone, but also to expand the boundary a little in a way that you can handle.

Remember we are all responsible adults here so whatever the teacher says or does is only a suggestion – a sharing of their own experience – an offering of the opportunity to experience a certain type of movement so that you may find your own experience from which you can learn and choose how to manage your body through that experience.

There are three types of communication in a Tai Chi class:

  • Verbal
  • Demonstration
  • Physical correction

They are all important – perhaps the most important and least understood is physical correction. This is not arbitrary but a well thought out and long established process that can achieve things otherwise not possible, so if you are not comfortable with it then discuss with the teacher, but ultimately it will limit your ability to learn and the teacher’s ability to teach. This is a given expectation in a martial arts class, so if the teacher seeks to make a physical correction or makes a direct suggestion to you which is outside your comfort zone in a way you choose not to go along with, then is the time to explain – “I have a knee/shoulder/back problem, do not want to be touched” or other so that the instructor can work with you the best they can. It is your body but you wouldn’t go for a massage unless you expected to be touched and manipulated would you – likewise in a martial arts class. Until you try you do not know your limit – and neither does the teacher who can work with you if you communicate with them. In Tai Chi often the advice is simply if it hurts don’t go there, make the movement smaller, find a way to make the movement more relaxed and softer, work around the pain – but then in health terms if it hurts to make a movement why would you do it anyway – you are an adult, you have a choice – simply modify the exercise to suit you.  It is worth understanding that martial artists are often different in this respect and do often choose to do many painful things for the perceived benefits they may bring.

Partner work may be incorporated in your class – this can be a very useful part of the learning experience but will depend on the level of the class – if it is health focused then it can vary from observing a partner to moving arms together – in martial oriented classes it can get rough. Again it is a question of what you are “up for” and your choice but it would be sensible to choose a class that suits you. In any event there is a negotiation to be had with your teacher and your partner – which may be verbal or simply physical.

Non-verbal physical communication is a major part of martial arts but little understood by beginners who can be wary of physical contact – we ask questions by contact, we express intent by pressure, we answer by movement, we express emotions by our balance, we listen by touch and much, more. Learning to do this is an important way of learning about your body and how to work with it, if you do not “learn this language” then you actually cannot learn many things of great benefit or communicate fully since words are frequently inadequate ( only 30% of communication I believe).

It is important that you learn to look after yourself from your experience in all senses and learn to take responsibility for your own behaviour by being appropriate with your teacher and other students.

For context and other related articles please see the beginners guide at : http://www.sheffordtaichi.org/classes/ which covers:

For the history of Tai Chi see here.

For general reading of my other articles: please see here

Also for material by others that I have found useful please see the reading list here

and the links page here.

Every now and again ( 10 years or so) I ask myself “why am I practicing martial arts?” and usually I get a fairly simple answer – this time I am grateful to a student who prompted me to ask it once again and this time to come up with a very much more complicated answer – for interest it was essentially a list of things I have found over the years in and around martial arts and continue to work on, in no particular order:

Co-operative working, working with partners, group working, appropriate response, flexibility, strength, resilience, difference between reaction and responsiveness, commitment and over commitment, balance, relaxed movement, falling into emptiness, leading and following, physically listening and asking questions, the language of physical contact, empathy, compassion, patience, modelling an activity, learning about the mind body emotional linkages, learning about the body – how it works and how to use it and how to look after it, awareness of self and others, respect for self and others, personal development, communication, negotiation, sensitivity, the art of listening, observation skills, understanding use and abuse of power, good/evil,  a mirror to myself, humility, developing a true lens to view reality, physical development, co-ordination, congruence of mind body and emotions, honesty, forgiveness, personal defense, fitness, health, openness, desire for learning.

To become comfortable with and learn to manage physical contact, to learn to deal with conflict and intimidation, to learn self-awareness and self-discipline and self-control and self-expression, to improve proprioception/special awareness, neuro-stimulation, circulation/metabolism, change management, learning to deal with bullying, managing personal space and intimacy, training in a place of safety/sacred space, training partners trusted persons, friendship/companionship, maintaining contact with our ancestry as human animals, finding the true meaning of our humanity, becoming a balanced human being – personal development, change habits of stress into habits of relaxation, managing health issues, develop strength and understand personal power, spiritual development, Taoism, Zen Buddhism, understand the breadth and variety of human activities and relations, giving others the opportunity to learn some of this for themselves, receiving the positive feedback of others who have benefited from my passing this on, potentially making a difference in helping others to look after themselves and to consider society from a wider perspective.

Also I enjoy it, so no doubt not a complete list – and with many overlaps – but a useful one. Good luck in finding your own answers.

Attending a Tai Chi class for beginners

Do not over exert – adapt the exercises to suit your capability.

If the instructor says he/she is going to demonstrate, move to a position where you can see what you need to.

Individual positions in the class may be quite loose – make sure that you can see the instructor and have room to move adequately – take care that you do not block the view of others or their practice space. You may need to adjust your position during the course of the class.

There are three types of communication in a Tai Chi class:
•    Verbal
•    Demonstration
•    Physical correction

They are all important – perhaps the most important is physical correction. If you are not comfortable with this then discuss with the teacher but ultimately this will limit your ability to learn and the teacher’s ability to teach.

Equally, you will benefit from knowing which is your left hand and which is your right – if you do not then be sure to copy the teacher attentively. When the teacher is demonstrating pay close attention.

Over the years I have been to classes where the teacher drives students to practice – turn up at every class etc., and to others where no comment is passed beyond encouragement to practice – of the two I far prefer the latter.

We are all adults and can choose to be at a class or not – if you want to train then you turn up. There is little point in talking about it – you are there or you aren’t. Turn up, you are taught – don’t and you aren’t.

In fact talking about it is often only a distraction but many people insist on doing so. Likewise, there is no compulsion to do anything once in the class (although a bit pointless if you don’t) as adult students can decide for themselves. Those choices add up over the years.

As a student you are paying the teacher but really that is not what it is all about – in my experience very few teachers are actually at heart concerned about the money – yes it is an issue but once dealt with then we move onto the training and the sharing of knowledge which is the really important part.

Likewise, with injuries or medical problems, by all means tell your teacher about it but do not expect them to do anything about it or to treat you differently. It is your problem – one of the things that you can learn from Tai Chi practice is how to look after yourself, learn to work within your comfort zone, but also to push the boundary a little in a way that you can handle.

Remember we are all responsible adults here so whatever the teacher says or does is only a suggestion – a sharing of their own experience so that you have an opportunity to find your own experience.

If the teacher seeks to make a physical correction or makes a direct suggestion to you which is outside your comfort zone in a way you choose not to go along with, then is the time to explain – “I have a knee/shoulder/back problem” or whatever. But until you try you do not know – and neither does the teacher.

Learn to look after yourself and take responsibility for your own behaviour.

Sadly Haynes class is no more

31 January 2017
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Just a quick update to let anyone interested know that the Monday class at Haynes has ceased as from last night (30 Jan) – with those students interested to continue their practice transferring to the Shefford classes of their choice – either Sunday evenings or Monday afternoons.   Share the post “Sadly Haynes class is […]

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Healthy Movement From Tai Chi & Alexander Technique

30 January 2017
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The following article was recently published by Kindred Spirit magazine: Over my many years of studying and teaching Tai Chi I have recognised that much of individual movement stems from habit – we learn to walk at around 1 year old and then pay it little attention to it until some 60 or so years later when, […]

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Tai Chi and Alexander Technique at Letchworth

6 January 2017
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Once again in 2017 I am partnering with my friend and colleague Judy Hammond to present a series of seminars at the Letchworth Centre for Healthy Living.  See here for details. Share the post “Tai Chi and Alexander Technique at Letchworth” FacebookTwitterLinkedInE-mail

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Develop your journey with Tai Chi

21 December 2016
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As a martial artist (since starting Karate in the early 70’s) and as someone interested in my own personal development, I have experienced many styles around the world and many approaches to personal growth. Now in my 60’s I try to share what I have learned in those areas and seek to facilitate others in finding their own path. […]

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Christmas Dinner delight

15 December 2016
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Once again we had our Christmas Dinner at the Heart 2 Heart Chinese restaurant in Letchworth – where they are now quite used to us visiting them once or twice a year and really look after us very well – with a great range of lovely food, cheerful service and at reasonable cost. It gave […]

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Shefford Tai Chi Festival April 2017

25 November 2016
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Shefford will have its own free Tai Chi Festival on April 29th 2017 at the centrally located Community Hall where the local classes from Shefford, Hitchin and Haynes will come together presenting demonstrations and taster classes under Chief Instructor, Ian Deavin. The Festival is to be held on World Tai Chi and Chi Kung Day and […]

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