January 8, 2011 is here. Over 200 people from around the Central Region travelled through a heavy snowfall to gather at our Toronto Urban Centre. They come from Peterborough, Cobourg, Niagara Falls, St. Catherines, Oakville, Burlington, Simcoe, Stratford, Guelph and Kitchener as well as all of the Toronto locations. There is even a member here with us from Amsterdam, the Netherlands who came with her sister from Newmarket. What makes this a particularly special day is that this is the graduation party for the majority of these 200 participants who are graduates of the traditionally known “Beginner Course” in Taoist Tai Chi™ internal arts of health. Filling out the group are instructors and experienced members who provide support and help throughout the day for these fledgling practitioners. Overall leadership comes from senior instructors in and around the Toronto Branch under the guidance of Andrew Hung and Tony Kwong.
For 3 hours we practice the 108 move set with a particular focus on timing and balance of the “brush knee” move. Within the practice there are moments of discussion and beginning members impart some of the health benefits they are experiencing. Cathy Chretien tells us how her blood pressure dropped on the high-end from 150 to 110 and that her pulse rate dropped to 55 beats per minute. Peter Liaw says he is amazed that he is now able to touch his toes. Neil Braganza says he has lost a noticeable amount of weight and that his cardio vascular function is much improved. Collectively the group remarks that they have achieved improved balance.
Since finishing their classes the majority are now attending several continuing classes a number of times a week at their local centres. Neil is such a case attending continuing classes at the Bathurst Street location of the Toronto Branch near Bathurst Street and St. Clair Ave. He asserts that the practice has really just begun.
What is becoming apparent to the recent graduates is what makes this particular art form a powerful practice is its very collective nature. After practicing the art for three hours we all sit down to share a meal so we can get to know each other even better. This is a meal prepared, served, and cleaned up afterward entirely by volunteers. This was noted by one of the graduates as what she surmized as the heart of the Society par excellence. And I quote “It improves health; it allows for cultural and personal exchange; and it empowers us to be of greater service to one another”.
Plenty of applause is heard throughout the day as participants express their appreciation for the efforts made to organize the practice time and for the food produced by the kitchen. All in attendance agreed that it was a worthwhile effort and one well-worth repeating.
Following the clean-up, a meeting (what else) of the instructors is held to evaluate this inaugural celebration and to discuss the continuing classes. Positive observations are made about how the practical experience acted as an education tool in the art but also demonstrated fundamental basis of the art as one of volunteering — from instruction to organizing events to food preparation and cleaning up. We all feel the day provides an excellent opportunity to make it easier for beginners to move on to the next level of participation.