Only having completed 2/3 of the set, Louisville, Kentucky, beginner Martha York attended her first intensive. It was an intense and very rewarding experience, as she wrote to tell us.
We’d been hearing about this event for the past several weeks in our beginner’s class: the annual meeting potluck lunch, and Intensive training with Bob Varley of Montgomery, Alabama. We were assured by our instructors that is was not necessary to know the entire set to participate, and we were warmly encouraged to come and see for ourselves what an Intensive is all about. So, despite having only completed up to number 65 (out of 108…what were we thinking?) of the Taoist Tai Chi set, a few of us beginners cautiously decided to take the plunge. We had been told the meeting would be short and efficient, and it was. We had been told there would be plenty of food and that it would be delicious, and it was. And the members gathered there, who represented such a cross section of age, gender, race and ethnicity, made it a pleasure and a privilege to be included. Tai chi classes must just attract the nicest people! Then, it was time to begin the four-hour class.
So how was it? In one word I can tell you…it was intense. Starting out doing a complete set when you know there are moves coming up that you haven’t even seen, much less practiced, was a little intimidating. Fair ladies working shuttles…creeping snakes…oh, my gosh, more kicks…and that tiger we’ve been carrying around, now we’re actually going to ride him an then try to shoot him with an arrow? Yikes! And what in the world is that slapping noise? Thank goodness, in between the snakes and shuttles there were things that were more familiar…lots of grasping bird’s tails and single whips. We make it through the complete set, and then the real work begins: exercises that challenge our stamina, flexibility and coordination. Is this guy trying to turn us into contortionists Who knew that in the grand scheme of things that thumbs were so important? We watch, we try. We listen, we try. Side by side beginners, continuing students and instructors, all focus and work to improve. I see eyes lighting up with awareness and hear little “ohs” all around me as we realize what we had been doing differently and try to incorporate the instructions from Bob and to follow the example of the first moves of the set. I can see that the challenge of “making movement with intention” while “relaxing” at the same time is difficult for us all, no matter what the level of skill. And it was that realization that if you’ve been practicing only 10 weeks like we beginners have, or over 15 years like some of the instructors have, that we are all on the same road, but just at different points on the journey.
The four hours fly by and it’s time for one last set (the shuttles and snakes are still there, but this time they are not as scary). It’s a slow-motion kaleidoscope going by in a blur of graceful hands waving at clouds and lovely storks grandly spreading their wings. The silent concentration is palpable. The feeling of community and being a part of something bigger unites us, and then with one long, last reverent movement, it’s over. We did it! The more experienced members rejoice with us and reassure us that we did fine. The euphoria of survival feels not like relief, but excitement to get on to the next class. I wake up on Sunday morning, not at all sore like I had thought I might be, but looking forward to class that night: I think tonight’s the night we get to meet those fair ladies with their shuttles!