Impressions from the second International Push-Hands meeting in Hanover

Early in the morning Thorsten drove me to Hanover Airport. Soon I was sitting in a Chech Airlines propeller airplalne, ready to fly to Prague on the first leg of my trip back to Sofia. It looked like I was about to be home again soon, although I had started to have some doubts about the possibility for a happy end to the 10 days of relentless pushing in Nils’ gym. It had turned out to be quite of an adventure for a person of my age to plunge myself into the prolonged physical stress of the 2nd International Tui-Shou Meeting, perfectly organized and brought with a steady hand to a successful end by Nils Klug. All through the week participants kept coming for a few days of intensive practice, then leaving, only to be replaced by others, fresh and eager to push, the total reaching about 100 or more. I was one of only a few who took it all, starting on the evening of February 15 and going all the way to the closing of the meeting on the late Sunday afternoon of February 24. On top of it I had to stay one more day because of my flight schedule, so I joined Nils’ regular class on February 25. There I had some more push-hands practice with a young beginner, intense on finding a way of wrestling me at least to the wall, if not to the floor.
Already on the 7th day of the event I had pain in the left shoulder and in both elbows and on the 8th day I did not want to have anything to do with pushing any more. I wanted to go home or at least to phone there, intimately understanding ET’s longing to do the same.
The plane started to roll slowly towards the beginning of the runway, and I had started to dose off when suddenly it halted. Stiff-faced, the cabin crew began to move busily from the tail to the cockpit and again back to the tail. Unpleasant episodes from thrillers and action movies started to take shape in my mind. Then the voice of the captain, making an effort to sound at ease, announced that there was a minor problem with the air-conditioning. The plane made a slow about-turn and proceeded to the point where we had boarded it. The engines stopped and the captain’s voice broke into the silence again, informing the passengers that they may switch on their mobile phones now. Hostesses with shining smiles on their faces promptly brought orange juice to the passengers and I wondered whether I was going to miss my connecting flight from Prague.
I reached for my pocket watch – and it was not there. I realized I had left it back in the changing-room of Nils’ gym. Suddenly the whole situation started to look comic to me. On the previous morning I had witnessed backpacks, sleeping bags, inflatable mats and pieces of clothing lying all over the place, left behind by participants in the meeting upon their departure the night before. „Crazy, someone had commented in reply to my amazement, they only think about pushing hands…“ Now I had joined the crazy team too.
Again, I thought of the past week. It was something to be experienced. Most of the participants lived in the hall, sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags. The mornings started with coffee and tea prepared by the earliest risers. Usually I and another guy, who told me, that he worked as a geriatric nurse, were the morning coffee and tea-makers.
A glass wall and a door separated us from “the tango room” – a dancing school in which mostly tango was taught and danced. Sometimes the music continued late into the night, but I did not mind it. Cornelia and I paid it a visit one evening, had tea at a side table and were fascinated with the emotion of the dance.
The routine of the meeting was three hours of workshops in the morning and three hours of free pushing hands in the afternoon with more after dinner for those who hadn’t had enough. No grandmasters appeared, but among the mass of mediocre practitioners, a few really outstanding ones, masters in their own right, made the difference. Most of them were teaching workshops. I tried to attend as many as possible and not once thought my time was wasted. Memorable will remain the „snake body“ of Daniel Grolle Muscovici, the explosive „needle-in-cotton“ Detlef Zimmermann, the elastic rutedness of Wilhelm Mertens, the relaxed power of Lauren Smith, the Gong Fu of Fernando Chedel, the internal energy understanding of Jan Silberstorff, the clear-cut applications of Torben Rif. I also attended part of Detlef Klossow’s workshop on beginners’ pushing hands and thought highly of his capable teaching and understanding of the subject.
I could not get personal impressions from the rest of the workshops and their teachers (Michael Ploetz, Maartje Van Staalduijnen, Laura Stone), but invariably heard positive accounts about them.
These guys know what they are doing and what they are after. They have good taiji skills indeed, but what impressed me the most was the gift of teaching some of them have. In Hanover I met some of the best taiji teachers I had met so far. They concentrated on teaching aspects of the art from beginner to lower medium level (if I can introduce such a categorization), within which range most of the participants were. The massive tui-shou practice everyone could get each afternoon was a good possibility for immediate testing of the lessons from the morning workshops and that made the meeting a particularly useful event.
There were two gala demonstrations – on the first and on the last Saturday evenings. Both staged beautifully with lights and music. The performers had prepared for a show – and a show it was. Daniel Grolle did his „snake body“ tui-shou with a student and later a Cheng Man-ching form, blindfolded and with a glass of water in each of his hands. I had heard stories of a similar demonstration done in the past by Grandmaster William Chen. According to those accounts he would carry a glass of water in one hand while casually walking up to some stacked boards or tiles and breaking them without a pause with his other hand not spilling a drop of the water. Daniel’s was an easier one, to be sure, but it showed that he is no beginner in body control either, especially if one had also seen his tui-shou.
The demonstrations continued with Volker Jung with a student of his in san shou and then Volker doing Liu He Ba Fa; Detlef Zimmerman and his Chinese Boxing Institute demonstrating various martial arts and applications; Michael Ploetz with a demonstration of „quick fist“.
It was a pleasure to watch Gesa Trippler in „Jochann Sebastian Bach Plays Taiji“. Associating Bach’s music with taiji wasn’t a complete surprise for me. I had seen a performance in the cathedral „St. John the Divine“ in New York City, in which Huang Chung-liang, a taiji teacher and dancer, performed dancing and taiji to the sound of the organ playing Bach’s toccatas and fugues. Gesa’s performance was much simpler and smaller in scale, compared to the grand show in „St. John’s“ cathedral. Here however the same person did both the taiji and the music („Part 7a, a-moll for solo flute: … „). The flute joined in the taiji movements in the pauses, thus turning into another one of the taiji weapons. The idea of the communication between taiji and music was demonstrated well.
Cornelia Gruber performed her beautiful and expressive fan form making full use of her flexibility and performing talent.
Dietmar Hamann did a sword form.
Laura Stone did William Chen’s short form. According to some people this form is not beautiful. Well, it may or may not be so, but Laura certainly made it look beautiful with her evenly flowing, relaxed movement (maybe a little too much “Yin”) and her beautiful Chinese dress.
As if to contrast Laura’s interpretation of Yang Style taiji, Cordeline Bartz did his Old Yang Style from Yongnien, with its explosive long jumps and fa jing movements. His performance was an argument against the claims that Yang Style is no good for fighting, and demonstrated the merit of tradition.
Karel Koskuba showed with confidence the Old and the New Chen Styles.
In a parallel demonstration Claudia Patzig and Dieter Kiesswetter simultaneously performed the Northern and the Southern Wu Styles.
Then Lauren Smith showed on stage. Relaxed, but alert like a cat he walked the Ba Gua circle with a nonchalant, swinging, free stride, to the rhythm of a piece of Finley Quaye. I liked this „American“ Ba Gua and I was not the only one, for it was given a resounding applause.
There was a lot of humor in the first part of the „International Qigong Exercises“ of Olof Gallus and a lot of powerful energy in the second part.
Torben Rif’s demonstration of applications and throws with the assistance of his student Michael Anderson, were spectacular. Torben also did a taiji spear form – a short, powerful performance.
Sonya Blank did an interesting show of a form with 2 fans.
And the galas ended with Jan Silberstorff with an imposing show of Chen Style Lao Jia and Xin Jia, magic and sword.
Special guests to the galas were an Aikido school and a capoeira school, both from Hanover, who paid their respect with demonstrations of their arts.

An airport technician left the cockpit with the air of a man who has done his job to his own satisfaction. There was no problem with the air-conditioning any more. The plain rolled to the starting point again and without further delay we were airborne – one hour after schedule, but still on time for my connection. A short one hour and 10 minutes flight to Prague and soon after landing there, I was on the plane to Sofia.
Another demonstration drew attention at the meeting, performed by a group from Estonia. Six guys from Tallin actively promoted a seemingly new internal martial art. For some reason they called it taiji, although it did not use forms (“Tao lu”) and its practicing method did not seem to correspond to the one used in Taijiquan. Their main method is partner work in a form similar to taiji tui shou both with bare hands, and using various swords and staffs, as well as other training tools such as metal rings. They said it is based on many internal arts schools, but the main source has been Gao Zhuan-fei, a Beijing master and student of Wang Pei-sheng. Pavel Frolov and Oleg Mihailov, both living in Tallin, Estonia, have compiled the method and founded their own schools. They said that their method is aiming at reaching spontaneity in movement and at refining the power. I could not form a definitive opinion regarding what these sympathetic guys were doing. Sometimes they spoke a little too much, freely discussing energies and traditions, comparing and ranking their values (according to them, the energy generated by the Sufis is at the highest level). When they spoke on these matters, they reminded me of a boy being quite sure which car is the fastest – the one daddy’s driving. In spite of this however, people who worked with them said that they liked what they were doing.
What would I like to drink, the airhostess asked – beer of course! – Back in Hanover together with Cornelia, Helmut, Tjeerd, Renate, Britta, Cordeline and other old and new friends I used to visit „The Horn“ – a pub at a convenient distance of not more than 300 m from the hall. „Weis bier“ was my order, and we chatted late into the night. The girl at the counter spoke perfect English and was always willing to join the conversation and to take a joke making me feel at home.
Entering the Bulgarian air space the plane made a wide circle flying over half of the country’s territory. The weather was clear and one could enjoy the beauty of the mountainous landscape of Bulgaria’s southwest.

Georgi Denichin

(Article edited from the original, published in the February 2002 issue of the German Tajiquan & Qigong Journal).