14th International Push Hands Meeting February 12 – 16, Hannover, Germany
The International Push Hands Meeting staged in Hannover, Germany is a firmly fixed schedule in the minds of most northern European players, who like to exchange with others, in the often varied art of tai chi tui shou, or push hands as it’s better known to most. Taking place annually, and now in its 14th year, it provides the first opportunity of the year to meet friends, old and new, from various Europan locales.
Heading off on Tuesday morning with my trusty fellow Scot travel buddy Al Scott, who not only ensures I have all my bits and bobs with me, but also takes care of booking flights etc. That being the case I’m never sure of exactly which route we’ll be taking until a few days prior to departure… Whatever happens it’s always a day’s journey from Glasgow, this time being via the grossly over-staffed, but under-employed Birmingham Airport.
Having purchased our beverages of choice, as expected by our European colleagues, we were each packing pretty boxes containing the golden nectar, or they would have been had the security not deemed it fit to separate the bottles from their packaging, for further eamination during our excursion. The staff at Birmingham Airport all eagerly gathered around the bulky new x-ray machine which was specially constructed to ascertain any questionable additions to liquids in transit. Given everything was sealed at point of purchase it was hard to understand how anyone could insert such questionable liquids… The bottle was neatly centred and gently lowered to the depths of this contraption, only to get stuck half-way. Nobody had a clue how to proceed. Cursary apologies as managment were called to sort things out. Joe Confident strode over, examined the machine, fiddled with some buttons and proudly stood back whilst our whisky bottle did exactly as they wanted it to. No problem – “Sorry sir, here you go….. enjoy your trip.” Shame he hadn’t educated his staff beforehand then they would have looked so embarrassed by it all.
Arriving in Hannover some hours later we couldn’t reach our host by text so hung around, for a while, hoping he’d call us, before spending our money (yes, sorry we had to….) on an international call. Our host then instructed us to get a cab to the Hotel Meyer where he would meet us. Struggling outside with a jam-packed suitcase brim-full of Ken Van Sickle’s latest epistle, Tai Chi Sword, just released the previous Friday by Taiji Europa, we soon located a sturdy Mercedes and were on our way. The Iranian cab-driver was particularly friendly, regaling us with harrowing tales of his journey from homeland to Hannover, having remembered me from a previous trip some years before. We only realised how friendly he actually was when Nils informed us he’d over-charged about 10 euros on the standard fare.
Our journey to the “B & B” was also an adventure, skulking down a graffiti-daubed dark passagway beneath a multi-storey building that was fairly newly built and almost finished. Nevertheless our landlady was congenial to say the least.
12.02.14 – Arrival 14th International Push Hands Meeting
Arriving at the studio with fellow B&B’rs Paul Silfverstrale (Sweden), Deiter Mayer (Clearly the hotel wasn’t his) and Al we were greeted by various familiar faces including old-timer Klaus Englaander and the wee guy – Deitmar, who had attended every event. Paul was to teach punching, chinna and throws (wot no push hands?) and Deiter a Five Elemental Approach and Nabil Ranné (who would also join us at Tai Chi Caledonia this year) teaching the essential tools of Peng, Lü, Ji, An.
Having some business to attend to with Nils I made a fleeting trip around the various workshops, taking a few snaps, before heading off to the city.
Paul was working on 7 Stars Stepping which is an excellent exercise for developing footwork, focus and intent. Deiter an interesting session on the actions of heaven and earth, grounding and lightness, connection and fluidity. Nabil, working in great detail on the essential principles of the powers of Peng, Lü, Ji and An.
The afternoon session consisted of the regular free-exchance between participants, some familiar, others not. Stallwarts Klaus and Al were getting stuck in, in the gentlest, but firmest of manners.
The evening saw us adjourn to one of the local hostelries where we partook of some very pleasing food at very reasonable prices. It wasn’t long before Al and I engaged in deep discussion with the barman over the various merits of his impressive range of good Scottish whiskies. We were, of course, morally bound to sample one or two.
Each morning I offered some qigong training by way of Yijinjing, which I performed in complete silence, negating the need for translation and allowing a more introspecive start to the day.
Being the 2nd day the hall was getting fuller as more arrived the nearer we got to the weekend. The same teachers as yesterday got a chance to get deeper into their topics as a core of students stayed with them whilst more joined their respective groups.
The afternoon’s free-pushing stepped up a notch as we saw an increase in moving step which Nils felt forced to curtail as the place grew busier. It’s incredible to think that this often challenging aspect of tai chi engages players of all ages and physical shapes from young to 80+, often providing strong, but sensitive exchanges. With such a mixed range of experiences these free-pushing events provide a wealth of material, both in terms of formal teaching and also with the opportunity to truly test your skills at many levels. Also underestimated is the amount of sheer fun one can experience in such circumstances.
After our evening repast Paul and I made our way down the weary trail to enjoy a glass or two of the good stuff before an uncustomary early night as the events of the day were taking their toll. However the fun was not yet over, until we once again encountered our landlady. Having left me a note the previous evening in German, which I passed to Nils for attention, I found myself once more in receipt of another letter, this time pinned to my door. On telling Paul this he informed me that we had each received one, Deiter included. Getting into our comfy gear we settled down for the first glass when no sooner our landylady appeared in my open doorway. She immediated proceeded to talk to me in German, having spoken perfect English on our first encounter. I pointed out that I would understand her better if she spoke English as my Deutsch was extremely limited. Immediately switching language she expressed grave concern that our third member had absconded with paying for his room. I gently pointed out that he was at a local bar and would return soon, but would not in fact be paying, as all accounts would be settled by our event organiser. She went on to ask how could she believe someone she hadn’t met would pay her money and why didn’t Dieter pay his own room. I told her she had in fact met Nils when he brought me there two nights previously. She then asked Paul where he was from and when he responded with Sweden she enquired if he had come by boat. Gently telling her no, he came by plane he remained quiet when she asked him if he was from London. Clearly everything was not clear in her world as the obvious signs of impending demetia evidenced. We then quietly explained that Paul and Deiter would leave the next morning, I would remain, to be joined by two more guests, Barry & Emma from London. “Do they need clean sheets?” she enquired. “Ehm, yes, I think they’d like that”, I replied.”
During my regular morning qigong slot I saw the arrival of our good friends from Sicily, Margherita Padalino and her accomplished teacher Gianfranco Pace. It’s always a pleasure to spend time in their company being a comfortable, yet stimulating blend of relaxation, amusement and interest.
The main studio room where everyone gathered to be introduced to the teachers was by now well full as the weekend numbers thronged. Again a mix of old and new faces brought together to learn and share skills for the ongoing development of tui shou. Added to the mix was Roberto Bennetti, ex-fellow Taijiquan & Qigong Federation for Europe Committee Member, this year offering a teaching session looking at the connections between tui shou and tui na.
The workshops were all well attended with numbers fairly evenly distributed between teachers. These meetings allows students the opportunity to work closely with highly qualified teachers, in an open, intimate environment for a relatively modest outlay. They are all highly approachable and more than willing to answer any questions you may care to pose to them.
Whilst the workshops were going on I became aware that Lau K King had arrived from Malaysia with his good lady wife. Having met a few times before I was more than pleased to renew our aquaintance and meet his wife. We chatted about his recent retirement from his high-powered position as Chief-Editor of one of Malaysia’s major daily newspapers, the many images of his good friends and family he had shared on Facebook and his 20 year plan for future developments, including building a new school.
We talked further about his 20 years close training with Huang Sheng Shyan and planned to conduct an interview by email over the ensuing weeks. He then kindly agreed to let me film him not only performing various tai chi skills but also openly giving good explanations and applications for the techniques shown.
Later the same day I conducted some filming with Gianfrance Pace, again in a very open and giving manner, answering any questions freely in good spirit. It is as a result of running and attending such meetings that Taiji Europa came to fruition and they continue to provide a rich resource for quality material to feed our site.
Because of my inability to talk Italian we agreed to conduct the filming sessions in silence. However as time went on it became abundantly clear that some dialogue would be preferably so Gianfranco related his actions in his native language. As we were immediately adjourning to a nearby restaurant I enlisted the help of his trusty assistant Margherita to help me translate and provide subtitles for his speech. As Nils had booked the table for 50+ it proved difficult but we finally nailed it (I think).
Further drama ensued when firstly I realised that both Gianfranco and Al thought the other would order my food when in fact neither did. When I enquired as to how long a meal would take if now ordered I was told somewhere between 1 and 1.5 hours. The sensible course of action would be to eat elsewhere but as I was accompanying Emma and Barry back to our novel B&B I had to wait for them to finish their meal, if it ever came… I wandered around the tables talking with various friends but as they were eating and I was not if felt slightly awkward for them so I took myself to the bar for a quiet whisky. The staff were clearly over-streched so I let them serve me when they could, around 5 minutes later. Then having drunk my drink over the course of 15 minutes or so, I then circulated around the tables for a further 15-20 minutes when Al approached me asking if I wanted to join him in a whisky. I told him that I had already had one but, yes, okay…. We sat at the bar for some 10 minutes decided which ones we’d choose for us, and a couple of close friends. As Al waited to be served I went to the loo and got way-laid on the way back, returning some 20 minutes later. “Where’s the drinks?” I enquired. Al indicated that he was still waiting to get them and I quietly mentioned to the barman that we were waiting for drinks we’d ordered when he snapped back so were many others! I then told him that some women next us had come in some time after we placed our order and they had their drinks. He responded, again snappily, “You’ve got a drink in your hand haven’t you?” I pointed out that my friend was nursing the remains of his beer which he’d held for some 30 minutes, but I, in fact had nothing, wondering why I’m justifying myself to a barman. Then he aggressively shouted “Talk German to me or not at all!” Only then did I feel it necessary to tell him to fuck off and take my leave from his bar. I went with Barry to a lovely little Vietnamese cafe which served us very tasty food, very cheaply in 5 minutes. Oh dear, the challenges of life…
Saturday morning and the place is jumping. Four teachers and and I guess somewhere between 50 – 100 participants. Once the workshops had kicked off I went from room to room, taking images and videos getting a clearer sense of what was being taught. What struck me was the wealth of material available at such events, a real richness of approaches to various aspects of push hands and applications. Gianfranco emphasising that fluid, relaxed motions enabled highly effective energy transmission, Lau K King on a similar theme illustrating the simple effectiveness of applying the classic Five Loosening Exercises of his Grandmaster, Huang Sheng Shyan. Barry and his able assistant Emma exemplified the connectedness and fluidity in push hands which they regularly developed through his London Open Push Hands Meeting, a weekly gathering in Regents Park, open to anyone who cared to join them. Finally I visited Roberto Bennetti’s Tui Na workshop where I was treated to a very welcome shoulder massage by Roberto.
After lunch that day Barry & Emma had a problem re-entering the B&B when the landlady insisted it was her house and they weren’t getting in. Barry through his pleasant nature and gentle manner finally succeeded in persuading her that their clothes were in fact in her rooms and that they had moved in the previous evening, as per their booking. Only then did they realise that their sheets had not in fact been changed following Paul and Deiter’s previous residence in the same rooms. Nils vowed to inform the social services of her precarious state of mind.
Thus far I’ve focussed on the formal teachings which can be had by attending the 3 hour workshops running each morning with a choice of between 3 – 4 each day. Each teacher offers a different perspective on the art of tai chi, more specifically related to partner work by way of push hands and/or applications. It is the nature of things that generally these aspects are taught to you by your regualr teacher and practised with your fellow students. This is a good way to train but sometimes, stepping outside the box, working with people whom you may not know or be familiar with, brings another dimension to your training. There are no pre-conceived notions of who you are and what you are able to do, and even less likely are you susceptible to the reticence to ‘challenge’ your regular teacher in an open fashion.
For most of us the highlight of such gatherings is the free, open exchange to be had from ‘playing’ with many different patterns, often from completely different backgrounds and training traditions. Standing opposite someone whom you may not have met before allows you a unique opportunity to truly ‘test your mettle’ experimenting with new techniques you may just have acquired or discovering whether that which you have long held onto really works when faced with the unexpected.
The Gala of the 14th International Push Hands Meeting
The evening’s show began with a short qigong session designed to allow everyone to settle their energy and prepare for the evening ahead. I took them through some simple taiji qigong movements for 3-4 minutes.
Lau K King and Nikolaus Deistler performed a short tai chi hand form routine to the musical accompanyment of Henk Janssen who stayed with it all evening.
Video of the Gala
The International Push Hands Meeting takes place in Hannover, Germany every February.
Author: Ronnie Robinson
Images: Ronnie Robinson