My Memories of our Recent trip to China (2013)
Chief Instructor Brett Wagland
Sitting at home in the morning, after returning from a month long tour
and training in China, has me reminiscing about the exhilarating and
mind blowing experience that China is. However as the great Taoist
philosopher, Lao Tzu said, “The Tao that can be expressed isn’t the real
Tao.” So knowing the limits of language as a tool to express the
inexpressible, I will endeavour to do my best.
Ten of us recently toured China with a special interest. We focused on
the traditional Chinese culture, which includes Tai Chi, Qigong, Taoist
wisdom, architecture and of course, food. The food element was
amazing. The restaurant planning of our guide and co tour organiser,
Vincent Wu, surpassed previous tours. We were calling it the Tai Chi
foodie’s tour. Every meal was seemingly better than the last. We
kept saying we couldn’t eat another meal! However, as soon as the food
arrived, we were once again enjoying something different. Soon the
dishes had vanished remarkably; we did it again.
Vincent, who manages the tour company we use, has been accompanying us
on all of our tours since 2003. He has always been extremely reliable
and and his expertise has improved with each tour. Our tours are
special in so many ways. Firstly, the group is made up of students
and others who have an interest in different aspects of traditional
Chinese culture. Unlike some tour groups who go for the basic
experience of China in terms of food and sightseeing, we offer a deeper
and richer experience. We provide opportunities to train with various
masters and visit sacred mountains and places not on the usual tourist
route. Of course this costs a little more. However, I`m sure that
those who have been on our tours will tell you that they are getting
value for money. The fact that some students have travelled with us on
our tours several times speaks for itself.
On the first leg of this tour, we visited Wu Zhen, Su Zhou, Hang Zhou
and the picturesque Yellow Mountain. Wu Zhen gave us a glimpse
into the past when life was lived at a different pace. With canals,
classical Chinese bridges, traditional Chinese homes and temples, the
charming scene of this water town inspires peace and harmony.
Travelling on the coach to the Yellow Mountain town also revealed
a beautiful landscape of farms, villages and mountains. The colours and
richness of the land is truly something to behold. We spent the night
in lovely accommodation at the town before making our journey up the
mountain the next morning. Once we entered the mountain zone, the
transport was gas fuelled buses which minimise traffic and pollution.
This was followed by an exhilarating chairlift ride up to the higher
peaks. Yellow Mountain is famous for its scenery and we were not
disappointed. We were fortunate to have clear skies which allowed us to
view the mountain in all its splendour. We stayed overnight at one of
the mountain’s resort hotels, a place where you could have spent a
week. We heard that the former president of China, Hu Jin Tao,
was staying at the same resort, although he had the presidential suite
of course. Mountains have a certain magic about them and the Yellow
Mountain was up there with the best of them. One of the highlights for
me was practising Tai Chi on the mountain outside our hotel, breathing
in the fresh clean air and being surrounded by mysterious peaks bathed
by the setting sun. This moment has imprinted a surreal and lasting
memory for me of Yellow Mountain.
Hang Zhou is built around the beautiful West Lake which is its
focal point. Many stunning parks, dotted with restaurants and tea
houses make this city the perfect tourist destination. Hang Zhou is
famous for its tea, especially Long Jing
(Dragon Well) – one of China’s best. We visited a tea plantation
and were treated to a few cups of this liquid gold. Tea in China
is an art and most provinces have a particular type of tea. Tea
utensils are as important as the tea itself. The famous purple
clay is often used to make teapots and cups, sometimes costing hundreds
of dollars. Teapots and cups also come in many interesting
designs. It takes time and a good teacher to educate your palate
and mind to the subtleties of Chinese tea drinking.
Su Zhou is another water town made famous by its charming
classical gardens and languid lifestyle, a place of the once rich and
famous. Now it is surrounded by an impregnable wall of modern
high-rise that goes on and on. However, in the middle of these
mountainous structures rests the charming jewel of a time gone by.
We were all taken in by its beauty and could only imagine what an
amazing history had once unfolded in the canals and cobbled alleys of
this enchanting town.
Taoist philosophy is at the heart of Chinese culture. Its 5,000
years of history make it a unique and influential force on everything
that is classical China. Its architecture, art, medicine, food,
warfare, meditation, martial arts and divination methods all have their
roots in Taoist wisdom. Taoists have always had an affinity with nature
and mountains in particular. Mountains are quiet and majestic places,
allowing the Taoists solitude and inspiration on their quest for
immortality or finding the true indestructible inner spirit. One of the
bastions of Taoism is a mountain called Wudang. It is the birthplace of
Tai Chi Chuan (Grand Ultimate Boxing). Legend says that Taoist immortal
Chang San Feng witnessed a battle between a crane and a snake.
He was inspired by this encounter and the Taoist philosophy of yin yang,
wu xing (5 elements) and ba gua (8 trigrams) which eventually led to the
creation of Tai Chi. The art of Tai Chi represents the pinnacle of
harmony between the opposing and interconnected forces of yin and yang.
In traditional Chinese medicine, balance is seen as an indicator of
health. When the yin yang balance is disrupted, so is the body’s
ability to heal itself.
On this trip, we spent four days on Mount Wudang which is truly a
magical place. As soon as we arrived, we could feel the mountain’s
embrace. It feels like being held by a loving mother. No wonder the
Taoists chose this place for self cultivation. The system of gong fu
(kung fu) taught in the mountains is called Nei Jia Chuan (Inner Family
Boxing). It is said that many of the early Wudang Taoists had trained
in many of the external martial systems of the day including the famous
Shaolin style. After being exposed to Taoist philosophy and various
meditative practices, they realised that in order to reach the pinnacle
of their gong fu training, they needed to employ the Taoist inner work (nei
gong) practices. This involved using meditation techniques in their
training, making their movements slow and deliberate instead of just
fast and powerful. By employing relaxed, coordinated training, they
could connect with the internal experience of their bodies. This
includes awareness of the organs, internal energy (qi) and the mind in
terms of concentration and feeling.
Wudang Mountain is must for any Tai Chi or Chinese cultural enthusiast.
Most people travel up by public buses. However, we were driven up in
the hotel manager’s bus and treated like old friends by the manager.
This was due to the fact that we have been coming to this area since
2003 and Vincent has become a close friend of the manager. The hotel is
nestled on the side of the mountain, giving you the feeling of being
gently held in its embrace. Wudang with its magnificent mountain
views, the wild life, the phenomenal ancient buildings and the Taoist
culture, is a magical place that everyone should experience.
Every morning, Master Jiang from the Wudang Taoist Kung Fu Academy came
to our hotel and trained us on the landing, overlooking the misty valley
with views of the famous three peaks close by. These were magical
exchanges. Everyone was in awe of Master Jiang`s movements and gentle
demeanour. We were learning the 5 Animal Set which is based on the
principles of the 5 elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water). Each
relates to an internal organ; wood to the liver, fire to the heart,
earth to the spleen-stomach, metal to the lungs and water to the
kidneys. This Qigong set helps to balance each organ using a particular
animal movement to stimulate the organ’s function. We all enjoyed the
learning and the Wudang experience. Everyone lamented that we were not
able to stay longer in this special place. (By the way, we are planning
an extensive stay on Mount Wudang next year. Stay tuned for details.)
Our next stop was Xian, the ancient capital and the beginning of
the Silk Route. We drove from Wudang to Xian and were treated to an
amazing view of the many villages, farms, mountains, rivers and even old
cave dwellings along the way. The scenery contained much history which
gave us an awareness of the immensity and richness of China. This drive
alone was worth the trip. In Xian, we visited the breathtaking entombed
warriors and sampled the delicious dumplings while enjoying the Tang
Dynasty Spectacular (a performance of song and dance of ancient times).
Beijing was the last stop and is always a favourite. Its
imperial splendour is still evident in the old city. The Forbidden
City, the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven are all
reminders of a powerful and cultured past. A large part of our tour is
not only seeing the great monuments but also meeting the people and
experiencing the traditional culture. As well as visiting tourist
China, we take you to the heart and soul of China, allowing you to
experience its essence. Tai Chi is a portal into this world. We had a
lovely 3 days’ training with Master Feng Xiu Qian, the daughter
of Grandmaster Feng Zhi Qiang (founder of our Hun Yuan Tai Chi
system). In our training sessions, Master Feng emphasized the
importance of practising gong, the internal aspect of Tai Chi.
Photo taken with Master Feng Xiu Qian, daughter
of the founder of our Hun Yuan Tai Chi system
The Hun Yuan system is different from other systems in that the
emphasis is placed on training the internal practices such as deep
relaxation, qigong and chan si gong (silk reeling). These practices
enable students to go deeper, allowing them to feel the internal
activity which gradually drives the external movements. Grandmaster
Feng was trained under both Hu Yao Zhen (an expert in qigong, Xin
Yi and a famous Chinese medical practitioner) and the great Chen
Fa Ke, (9th generation leader of the Chen family Tai Chi).
Being privy to these unique training models influenced his later
understanding of Tai Chi and the eventual development of the Hun Yuan
system which has included an array of internal practices.
Some students described the tour as the best travel experience ever.
With the combination of these factors (a group with a shared interest,
the excellent translation and shepherd-like guidance of our national
tour guide Vincent and the great organisational skills of Fontane), I
can certainly echo these sentiments. I am looking forward to our next
tour. Hope you can join us!