It has been 5 years since we started our tai chi school in Mississauga. We commemorated this landmark occasion with a potluck dinner of all past, present and some future students of the Mississauga school. The evening included participation from novice, intermediate as well as advanced students of tai chi as we got in a bit of a work out while having a lot of fun. As well, prepared performances by accomplished students of tai chi and wushu were offered to show us some of the advanced programs available at our school. It was a joyous occasion to see so many students, friends and family all having a great time sharing a common passion for tai chi.
My personal journey with tai chi started long before this moment. In fact, it started 28 years ago to be exact. Many of the people in my hometown of Singapore had heard of tai chi. Sometimes, we would see people practicing tai chi in the morning. At the time, it seemed to me that tai chi was just some sort of mysterious martial arts that seemed to be practiced exclusively by the elderly. I was intrigued and sometimes asked about it but that was the extent of my interest and I did not know enough then to pursue tai chi further. Like a typical teenager, I was attracted to the more exciting display of external martial arts.
What Drew Me to Tai Chi Martial Arts
I had been practicing a variety of external martial arts when one fateful day in 1990, I witnessed a demonstration of tai chi by Master Luo Yuan Hong performing a simple set of Tai Chi basic exercises. I could not get the image of those simple exercises out of my head. I was sensing hidden power behind those simple moves. That was enough to fuel my drive to learn Tai Chi. Since witnessing the overwhelming energy and internal power of the movements in that simple demonstration, I have not stopped discovering everything that tai chi has to offer. And, I have not looked back.
Throughout my journey with tai chi, my priorities in life have changed over time. My relationship with tai chi as a student and now as a teacher has been changing as well. And, what I have learned from practicing tai chi has also changed over these many years. Yet, my love for tai chi and how it has and continues to transform my life remain vital and strong still within this ongoing journey.
In the beginning, I was like everyone else. None of us are alone in the challenge of learning and remembering all the moves. Even though my hand-eye coordination is probably above average, I still found it difficult to remember the moves. This is especially true when we only attend class once a week and we are not able to practice at home.
I have not forgotten my early struggles to remember all the movements and fully empathize with new students who are now learning the forms as well as their challenges to recall the moves and the sequences.
My understanding of the journey has helped me tremendously to relate to the students’ journey as I started my own school in Mississauga. This understanding has shaped how I have designed and structured the classes, the schedule and the curriculum to help new students learn and choose the path for their own journey.
Beyond Recalling the Next Movement in a Tai Chi Form
Students start by learning the moves. They advance to remembering the sequences of the form. Then, students can advance to understanding how to execute these movements powerfully which is the key to the study of tai chi. To become more accomplished in tai chi means being able to powerfully engage our own internal energy so that it is infused seamlessly within the execution of these movements. Learning these advanced concepts and developing a deeper understanding of the power of these movements as well as the underlying principles is a long journey. And typically, a longer journey than initially learning and recalling the sequence of movements.
Learning to access my own internal energy was a turning point in my journey and the moment when I almost quit practicing tai chi. I spent a long time at this stage feeling frustrated with my lack of progress. I felt lost without a clear path as to how to gain a deeper understanding of tai chi. Then, I was introduced to Master Liang Baosen and I attended one of his advance classes. He re-ignited my passion for tai chi with his sincere dedication for teaching what tai chi truly means. He taught me how intention or “yi” is a critical component of the internal martial art of tai chi. This new challenge allowed me to continue my journey with tai chi to new depths of understanding.
Learning the series of movements of a form is just the tip of the iceberg. Learning the internal martial arts principles behind each movement involves developing multiple and ever deeper layers of concepts. Just like an iceberg, almost the entire bulk, power and danger of the iceberg lays below the surface of the water. In these depths of internal movement are fascinating discoveries of what our mind and body can do. And, it may take hours upon hours of practice to grasp just one of the many concepts.
With Master Liang Baosen’s teachings, I saw the path again. And, I knew if I worked hard, I would get there slowly but surely. I’m still working towards a complete understanding. This experience for me was another important lesson which impacted how we designed our curriculum for both the Richmond Hill and Mississauga schools. Because of Master Liang Baosen’s depth of knowledge which could help students learn beyond the moves, the combination of our teaching styles and offerings would allow our students multiple opportunities to find and develop their own learning journey.
Teaching, The Path to Knowing Tai Chi
Teaching is the highest form of understanding. – Aristotle
The next important milestone for me came in 2004 when the Richmond Hill school opened. Master Liang needed another instructor to help teach and to my surprise, he asked me. I was both honoured and scared. It was probably the most important change in my tai chi journey.
Not only was it a challenge to teach for the very first time in my life, it was also a challenge balancing tai chi with a career and my young family. My inexperience with teaching meant that I had to spend extra time preparing for the classes. There was simply no time left to attend Master Liang’s advance classes.
I believed in the school and wanted it to be successful. At that time, I thought it was a worthwhile sacrifice to give up my advance training and teach instead. But a few years later, I discovered something new. My advance training did not stop because I taught. Because I was teaching, I was also learning even more as my students asked questions and challenged my tai chi knowledge.
All the time I spent preparing for the classes involved countless questions that I had asked Master Liang. He generously answered all the questions that I had myself and that my students had asked of me. The questions and the accumulation of answers added to my deeper understanding of tai chi. Combine that with the many additional hours of practice that I had to put in as part of the teaching process, my skills actually advanced much faster than it had ever before.
Now, I continue teaching not only because it was helping me advance my tai chi skills, but I also found that I have a passion for teaching. To discover both my passion for tai chi and teaching has truly been a blessing in life.
From Tai Chi Passion to the Tai Chi Mississauga School
To fully explore and fulfill my vision of teaching tai chi, the next logical step was to start my own school. By then, Master Liang had been my teacher, mentor and friend for many years. He wanted to help me fulfill my vision so we decided to collaborate and start a school.
In 2008, we started renting space in Etobicoke. We moved from one location to another as we could not quite settle down. For one reason or another, there was something about each location which just did not work for our needs. We came close to giving up on a few occasions. I just could not let my students down so we hung in there long enough that in 2013, we were able to get our own place in Mississauga. Once we moved into this location, things started to improve.
Now with our own place, I am finally implementing my vision for a tai chi school. There were many trials and errors. There have been ups and downs along with painful lessons learned. My passion for tai chi and teaching kept me going. Combined with heartfelt support from students, friends and family, we have finally made it to our five year anniversary.
We accomplished a lot in 5 years at Ji Hong Tai Chi Mississauga. We have been continually revamping the curriculum to make it more efficient and effective for tai chi training. Gradually increasing our repertoire of classes offered as the school grows and skill levels of the students advance. I am especially proud of the creation of our Tai Chi Basics class. The Tai Chi Basics class lays a solid foundation for all new students so they can choose their path and be fully prepared to participate in the next level.
My vision is not yet complete. There is still a challenging and fulfilling journey ahead for myself as well as the students of our school. I look forward to another 5 years at Ji Hong Tai Chi Mississauga. And, I hope you and as well as new friends and family will be joining us as part of each of our tai chi journeys.
May Rahnema, Tai Chi Master
Ji Hong Tai Chi Mississauga