A Secret Ingredient

Pamela Hultgren / 2022.06

These past two years of the pandemic have been a very difficult time for all of us. Since March of 2020, we’ve been vigilant about practicing the 3 W’s: watch your space, wear a mask, wash your hands. Despite the many, many challenges, we connected and we’ve stayed connected!

Here in Northfield, we went online for classes on March 23, 2020 and stayed online until September 2021, with a few breaks during the summer when we could safely be together outside, still practicing the 3W’s. The time we spent online, although clumsy at first, proved to be a good experience. Students were allowed to attend multiple classes each week, often doubling or tripling their usual class time. They came for the Taiji but also for the community. In our individual isolations, we longed for the familiar, comfortable community of our Taiji family.

The online classes quickly expanded to other online opportunities including talking with Sifu Kevin and Stephen in Sydney. These conversations were, and continue to be, engaging and extremely informative and grounding. Zoom proved to be a very good medium to TALK Taiji!

By mid-April several new small groups had formed. One group included students in Northfield who jumped right in with an extended study of the Tao Te Ching, reading three translations simultaneously as Grandmaster Wu had once recommended. One of those translations was, of course, Great Grandmaster Zheng Manqing’s book, My Words are Easy to Understand. I have read the Tao Te Ching in the past, but my readings were random and spontaneous, always helpful and always inspirational but reading the Tao Te Ching from Chapter 1 through to 81 was a completely new and exciting experience. And having the opportunity to discuss the chapters and the commentary with fellow students was an added bonus that we may not have taken the time to do had it not been for the pandemic.  

We went from Lao Tzu to Grandmaster Wu’s book, Tao Tai-Chi Health. And again, the text was not new to me but reading and discussing Grandmaster’s words, was enriching. We continued our study with the words of Senior Brothers and Sisters through articles from the 1994 and 1998 Shen Long conference booklets. It was fun for these Northfield students to get to “know” the international Brothers and Sisters through their articles. We are currently studying writings of Zhuangzi with commentary by Derek Lin. As with the Tao Te Ching, we discovered that having a commentary is an extremely helpful and necessary guide.

Another group was made up of senior students from Kenosha, Wisconsin, California, Michigan, and me from Illinois. Although we started by practicing online together, this group also moved to a study model as we not only navigated three different time zones but studied: Cheng Tzu’s Thirteen Treatises of Tai Chi Chuan by Zheng Manqing; There are No Secrets and Gateway to the Miraculous by Wolfe Lowenthal; Yang Cheng Fu’s 10 Essential Points; reviewed our conference notes from 2019; and are currently studying Grandmaster Wu’s 13 Points: Traditional Taoist Tai Chi Chuan–Its Special Characteristics.

We often read or hear the words of Great-Grandmaster Zheng Manqing, Grandmaster Wu, and now Professor Wang, encouraging us to read and study and write. But what should we study? With only three of Grandmaster Wu’s books translated into English it can feel like we are limited in our choices but a quick search of Amazon shows us that there are plenty of books and resources. We discovered the key to reading these materials is to have a good Shen Long filter. Even reading materials written by other Zheng Manqing students requires us to use that filter. Shen Long Taijiquan is special and we need to be able to differentiate other Yang style methods from our Shen Long teachings and training.

Our filters need to be well founded and grounded in Shen Long Taijiquan principles, methods, and concepts. It’s very easy to read a book and to get caught up in that author’s words. It’s also easy for us to fall off the path if we incorrectly assimilate a “new” idea in our own vacuum of thought and reason. Without the sounding board of others, it is easy to assume we understand, and easy to misread or to be misled.

Those of us from the US who have been able to travel to the international conferences often return in awe of the time allotted to international classes, understanding that not all of that time is for class time but allows for plenty of community conversations and discussions! I’m discovering that this discussion time is a secret ingredient for progress.

Our classes here in Northfield are one hour long and the basic format has not changed since I was first a student. There was time for practice and time for the instructor to explain the principle or theory, but questions, although always welcome, were generally asking about a movement or where is the foot? where is the hand? There was never enough time for students to ponder and discuss. After experiencing the nature of true collegial discussion–open, spirited, and passionate discussions, I appreciate more and more the tremendous benefits of these discussions. It is within these discussions that we could clarify our questions, our thoughts, our understandings and our misunderstandings. It is within these discussions that we learn to put words around our practices, and we develop and refine our Shen Long filters!

I’ve changed the format of our Advanced classes here in Northfield, adding another class to provide time specifically for open discussion! I joked with students a couple weeks into the fall session that they should now UNMUTE themselves! They are not used to a discussion format but rather a listen and respond format. I want to teach these students to talk to me and each other. I want them to understand the importance of taking time to read, to study, to discuss, and to write. I want them to understand the value of sharing and expanding their understandings–a secret ingredient our international Brothers and Sisters have known for a long, LONG time!

Classes-Northfield instructors, Pam (second right in front row) is the lead instructor in Northfield.

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