I entered the room apprehensively and walked across the wooden floor to where the group of people stood chatting. A few of them smiled a welcome. A petite woman dressed all in black greeted me and said my name questioningly. She explained that we would start the class in a few minutes to allow time for payment and for some to take a quick bite to eat or have a drink. Once I’d paid she led me to a man who was standing eating a large piece of homemade carrot cake. He was the centre of the group in all ways. With a welcoming smile and laughing eyes he welcomed me.
“Have you done Tai Chi before?” he asked.
“I have. A few years ago when I lived in Singapore.” I was nervous in front of this man whom I had heard so much about.
I was aware that he wasn’t the only one listening. “It was with a Master Ang and it was his own Yang style.”
“Great.” It was said with sincerity where I thought he might have been dismissive.
I smiled waiting for him to continue.
“We do the Beijing 24. It’s a short form. We started last week, but I’m sure you’ll catch up.” He turned to wash his hands in the sink before drying them and running them over his closely shaven head. All his movements were deliberate.
I looked at the others and saw they were all making moves to be ready for the start of the class. A few walked across the room and spread out. Most were barefooted some wore soft shoes. I removed my sandals and found a space. The boards were shiny, well worn and smooth underfoot.
He walked, almost gliding, to the front and everyone fell silent. A large grin lit up his face. “Let’s warm up,” he said spreading his legs apart and beginning to shake his body. We followed in a series of movements and stretches. Some minutes later he stopped. He stood motionless, eyes closed, serene, with his hands placed over his kwa. I copied, watching through half-open eyes, unsure as to whether or not they should be open or closed and not wanting to miss anything. Then he let out a massive burp. I was shocked, but saw his posture and serenity hadn’t changed. Then other burps followed around the room. I was soon to realise it was the awakening of the kwa, and when I too had mastered it my burps would be just as profound.
“Let’s begin.” He opened his eyes. “I’ll go through the whole form first.”
We watched in awe. He moved as if in a trance. The soft black fabric of his tunic, swayed and fluttered with the movements. The energy in his body, obvious with each slow change of posture. His mastery of the art form showed us how body, energy and mind all became one.
When he had finished he looked around unfazed by the feeling of reverence around him. “Okay. It’s your turn now.”