As I sit writing this, dusk falls across Berlin. The sky is pink through the bare black branches, although across the street of cars scudding by, the silver birch trees are hanging onto their yellow leaves for as long as possible. On my windowsill in front of me my fan is open, its wooden spokes reflecting the yellow of the birch leaves. Two dragons, Yin and Yang, swim towards the centre, towards the Yin Yang symbol.
Snap! The fans across the room crack open almost as one as we move through the form and dusk spreads across the Polish countryside. We’d been working on harmony, on that kind of listening out of the corner of your eye.
Turns out it’s pretty difficult.
It’s easy to be just with yourself, in your own form, until you’re jerked out of it by the rattle of fans opening like sloppy gunfire. To be in yourself and listening in to the whole grid of students (to see the dusk spreading through the window at the same time as your own pale reflection) and to open the fans at the same moment. That’s a thing. When it passed once through the room it held a little of the power of a thunder-crack.
It’s an amazing thing, bringing together so many individuals, from different countries, Tai Chi branches, places, states of mind, levels of experience, degrees of anticipation and expectation and to put them all in a grid and work towards harmony. It’s an amazing opportunity to move beyond the small circle of the daily/weekly training routine and take four long days to sink in. To sink into something beneath the movements.
We were exploring the aspects of yin and yang that not only underpin taijiquan but are taijiquan; ours is the martial art, the practice (quan) that is based on the principle of yin and yang (taiji). Taijiquan. It’s not really something I can write about. Instead, the opening and closing of a fan.
The fan opens. Standing in the forest in wuji, listening with my entire body, feeling the tall pines stretching easily up towards the sky, high above me, pulling the crown of my head with them. Feeling my crown suspended from the sky for the first time.
The fan closes. Standing still in the training space, listening to Brett, my body telling its tensions. My lower back easing as I discover the spirals in my legs.
Opens. Feeling the flush from the soles of the feet to the tip of the fan as my body moves as one in martial application. Fire. And earth.
Closes. Watching the moon rise through the training space windows, the sun just set, an orange light in the clouds, and the moon, full, bringing a stillness and a charge across the landscape, the room and my body.
Opens. Fan qi gong on the grass. The dew soaking up my legs and the sun seeping in through my closed eyelids.
To have the time and the space to dive deeply into my practice, in the company of wonderful people, with the immense generosity and guidance of the instructors, is a gift. It’s easy to receive that gift somewhere beautiful and quiet; a little village in the hills of South-West Poland, surrounded by forest, with Karkonosze the Giant slumbering in the distant mountains towards the Czech Republic. The trick, I think, is how to carry it back. How to bring back what you’ve found. How to find the opening and closing even in the middle of the city. That’s the next journey. And it’s already begun.