While the world raged around us, about 200 people met in a high school gymnasium in Ramat Gan that served as an oasis of calm. This week I attended Gashko, the national meeting of all the practitioners of Cheng Ming style Tai Chi. In June every year, the main teacher of this style comes from Taiwan to work with all of us to help perfect our form.
To me, Tai Chi is a form of moving meditation. The movements are slow, deliberate, and precise. There are many styles of Tai Chi and it is considered a martial art. The movements do have real world applications, but the purpose of the practice is not to spar or compete with your fellow practitioners. Rather it is to learn and practice the principles and implement them in your own life.
I haven’t been to a Gashko for a long time, but since I had just finished learning the 100-movement form, I was prepared to work on minor adjustments and corrections of my form.
Pass me a big slice of Humble Pie! Yum!
On the first day, I started practicing with everyone and I quickly came to the realization that while I thought I knew the form, it turns out that every single movement could use some adjustments. Now under normal circumstances, when you find out that you actually don’t know nearly as much as you thought you did, you might face some embarrassment, frustration, or any of a variety of negative emotions. No so at Gashko.
One of the principles is to be both self-confident and humble – not an easy task. So I was confident in knowing the order of the movements, but I humbly looked for correction. I heard one person say, “I’ve been practicing for 25 years and I learned something new today!” Well, I’ve been practicing for 2.5 years and I learned so much my brain got overloaded!
The nicest people in Israel
If everyone in Israel practiced Tai Chi, Israel would become the nicest country in the world. Really!
The teachers are so kind and supportive and meet you wherever you are in your life and in your practice. While they are teaching you the movements of the form, they are somehow also uplifting you to be a better, stronger person without actually saying a word. Honestly, it can’t be described; it can only be experienced.
Cheng Ming in Israel
One of the hallmarks of this style of Tai Chi in Israel is that it is gender separated. While I’m not a fan of gender separation in most things, I do appreciate it in sports. Also, when you practice martial arts with only women, the energy is quite different.
Apparently, the founder of this style in Israel, who learned from the master in Taiwan, returned to Israel and became religious. So in Israel this style of Tai Chi is, for the general classes, philosophically neutral, gender separated, and at Gashko we have a men’s side and a women’s side of the gym. Many practitioners are clearly religious and very comfortable with this style of Tai Chi. The more advanced classes, though, are not gender separated. (In other countries where this style is practiced, there is no gender separation, as far as I know.)
The slower the better
One of the most amazing experiences for me at Gashko was the hour-long form. When I practice at home or in class, the form takes about 20–25 minutes. So just imagine about 200 people in a gym moving at a third of the speed that they normally do, all of us totally focused on the form, filled with self-confidence and humility, and radiating with calm, soothing energy.
Even if you don’t know Tai Chi, do something at a third of the normal speed – wash dishes, walk down your hallway, drink tea, whatever. Then you truly get a taste of what “being in the moment” actually feels like.
Working with the master
In working on some real-world applications of Tai Chi, we were doing pair work and I had a few questions. Just at that moment Master Wang appeared and showed me and my partner how to do an arm twist to the back followed by a knee to the butt. It was a little unusual for him to be working with the women – he did bring a woman Master with him as well. But here we were, Master Wang twisted my arm and kneed me in the butt. Twice! Quite an honor, I must say! (Interestingly, I did go flying, but it didn’t hurt at all.)
Tired. Not tired.
After the first day of about six hours of Tai Chi and a four-hour commute, I collapsed at home. How on earth I would get through two more days? But the next morning I woke up and I felt . . . good. So I did it again. Less collapsing on the evening of the second day. And the morning of the third day, I still felt . . . good. I have no soreness at all and physically, I feel sort of energized. My brain, on the other hand, is massively overloaded with new things, corrections to the form, and memories of an amazing experience called Gashko.
(If you’re curious to learn more, here’s a link to the US site: http://www.chengmingusa.com/home. The Israeli site is in Hebrew: http://www.taichi.co.il/.)
A few blurry images from the closing ceremony