Thoughts on My Tai Chi Journey
Instructor Lis Hoorweg
February 2012 will mark the end of the twenty-fifth year of my Tai Chi
journey. For about twenty two of those Iíve been instructing, but for
all twenty five Iíve been learning. Slow learner, some may think. It
doesnít matter, Iíve signed up for life.
One of the best things about Tai Chi is you donít have to be very good
at it to enjoy the feeling and to gain the benefits. I was hooked from
my first class all those years ago and that pleasure has never faded.
Now Iíve gained a certain level of competence through diligent practice
and good instruction, but I only need to look to Chief Instructor Brett
or Assistant Director Fontane to see how much more there is to
accomplish. When I look beyond them to the Grandmasters in China, I
realise a lifetime may not be long enough. But again, it doesnít
Among the many things Iíve learned from learning Tai Chi is always to do
the best I can at the time. The more practice I do, the better my best
becomes. The value is in the doing. Perfection is unattainable so we
can forget about that as a goal. When the pressure of trying to achieve
perfection is removed, learning and enjoyment is greatly enhanced.
trained originally as a performing musician and still play and teach
clarinet. The similarities between learning music and Tai Chi were to
me instantly clear. Practice. I was used to that Ė being by myself for
hours every day going over and over the same things, refining and
correcting. I was also used to be being told by my teachers what wasnít
right. One of them used to say, ďIf you canít play it, you havenít
practised it enough.Ē No excuses, no argument. Weíre not so tough on
our Tai Chi students but the traditional masters would have been much
Yang style Grandmaster Fu Sheng Yuan says, ďCome to class to
learn, do your practice at home.Ē The more you practise at home, the
more benefits you will gain from classes. Your body will change and
thus your understanding of the movements will deepen.
Practising Tai Chi in
the Western Desert, Egypt
Tai Chi is a health and martial art and the ďartĒ part is important. To
develop skill on a musical instrument takes years. No-one expects to
learn to play the piano or guitar brilliantly in a few weeks, and no-one
expects to be able to learn by going to a lesson once a week, without
touching the instrument in between. In Tai Chi, the body is the
instrument. In many cases that bodily instrument has seen better days
and needs slow, careful training. A valuable thing about Tai Chi is the
slowness, not just in the pace of movements but in the time it takes to
learn. Thereís no hurry, slow is good. These days that concept is
becoming rare. Tai Chi gives us time and space to nourish ourselves
both physically and mentally. And we have the rest of our lives to do
Another similarity between music and Tai Chi I discovered is the group
experience. Anyone who has played in a band, an orchestra, a small
ensemble or sung in a choir understands the concept of listening and
adapting your own playing or voice to fit with the rest. This awareness
and flexibility is exactly what we learn when practising the form in a
group. What you do at home isnít necessarily what will match others.
Subtly adjusting your own movement but maintaining a steady flow becomes
second nature. Being flexible. Good musicians do it, so do aware Tai
Chi practitioners. The result is a very satisfying experience of
combined energy, a feeling of well being. If only we could all
incorporate that attitude into our daily lives, how different would our
I fast approach sixty, so far free of physical problems, I think I can
safely attribute my good health to years of regular Tai Chi practice. I
did do yoga on and off for about ten years from about the age of
nineteen. A friend introduced me to it. I enjoyed the meditation and
stretching and the whole concept of a more spiritual type of exercise
system, but it never really grabbed me the way Tai Chi did. I had to
make myself attend those yoga classes whereas I can honestly say Iíve
never felt that way about Tai Chi. Combined though, I think the two
systems helped maintain the flexibility and health I have today. Plus a
couple of healthy parents now well into their eighties!
1986 a friend began learning Tai Chi at the YMCA. He was very keen and
constantly demonstrated his newly acquired movements to me and my
husband. I found it intriguing and having finally stopped my love/hate
relationship with yoga, I was probably ready to try something else.
Plus, as a stay at home, part time music teaching mother with two young
children, I was keen to get out of the house and do something for
myself. After a few peculiar phone calls to various strange people
offering Tai Chi in Canberra, I rang the Tai Chi Academy and was
impressed by the efficient response to my inquiry. I rang in November,
too late to start that year so I waited until February 1987.
The Academy has undergone an incredible transformation and growth since
those days. Students attended one, one hour class per week and we had
no visual aids like handouts, videos or DVDs. Brett was teaching a
modified 108 movement Yang style with weapons styles for the advanced
students. I learnt a sword form and a fan form. Shortly after I began
instructor training, Brett decided to adopt the Beijing 24 form, then a
few years later we switched to traditional Yang style under the guidance
of Grandmaster Fu. We practised and taught this form for perhaps
fifteen years, complete with sword and sabre forms and push hands
training. In 2003, we changed to the Hun Yuan form we now teach which
is a Chen based style. The changes were not made lightly and always for
very good reasons. Looking back, I can appreciate the wealth of
experience and the accumulation of knowledge this has meant and I thank
Brett for his forward thinking.
Practising Tai Chi in
Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA
Qigong has always been an important element of the training and
something I have always enjoyed. I particularly like the Hun Yuan
system we follow now with its emphasis on relaxation and energy flow.
My husband commented once that I had to ďgear upĒ to do Tai Chi. In
other words, Iíve never been a very stressed out or uptight person.
Itís difficult to monitor oneís own changes; other people see them more
clearly, but I do notice that I rarely become angry anymore. Irritated
or annoyed, yes, but not for long and it never takes me over completely
because I recognise the feeling and can deal with it. Many students
comment on my and all the instructorsí patience and I think the years of
Qigong practice has had this effect on us. Anger is pointless and
ultimately destructive to oneself and everyone else. Iíd rather enjoy
myself and my teaching, and I do.
vary my practice routine a little but always incorporate the Hun Yuan
Qigong, some Chan Si Gong (Silk Reeling) and the form. Sometimes I
practise traditional Yang form, the Hun Yuan 32 form or the Bang (Stick)
and some of the other Qigong sets like the Ba Duan Jin.
All the changes the Academy has made through the years have been to
improve the understanding and knowledge of Tai Chi. Without Brettís
constant search for more and better information, not just for his own
benefit but for the benefit of us all, I wouldnít have had the
opportunity to make Tai Chi such an important part of my life. His
enthusiasm and dedication were part of what encouraged me to start the
rigorous and ongoing training as an instructor. It hasnít been easy but
nothing of value is easy to obtain or retain.
The Yang Family motto is
worth taking to heart: Diligence, Perseverance, Respect, Sincerity.