Why T’ai Chi athlete?
I don’t look like an athlete, but I do have that awareness. I’m a T’ai Chi athlete, not in competition, that’s not my thing, but in precision, in how you can control your body.
People have told me that they expect a completely different image of me than what I am, my physical appearance.
Your fame and name raise a different expectation.
I can also punch really hard. GM Chen said when we started boxing: ‘You have to learn how to take it’. If you know that you can take hard punches, you have a lot of self-confidence. So my friends and I trained hard twice a week for the first few years and hitting each other as hard as possible.
I loved that, and still do, rough-housing like boys. And without blocking, then you’re not busy with defending yourself and you can see what’s happening. Now I do: how do you go with the attack first and come back? But at that time my macho side wanted to be hit in my face as hard as possible: come on, no problem. That trait has positive and less positive sides; I can’t make myself smaller. Of course I have a soft side that sometimes wants to be taken care of, but when it comes down to it I hold my ground. Learning to move neutralise and join the movement of another in T’ai Chi has been my salvation.
A conservatory study also requires a strong will?
Yes, and a strong will stands in the way of softness. My first Zen teacher told me that it is necessary to have a goal, to have a vision of how you can become a pianist or a T’ai Chi-er. But if you use too much willpower, you get in your own way. Everyone knows that.
So he called it the ‘allowing will’; you have a will, personal strength, but you don’t over use it. When are you working too hard, when is your will working against you? When there is too much physical tension. With T’ai Chi you have effortless power. You need strength, it’s not just softness.
Yes, I am so happy with what I do, I am a teacher, that’s what I have been my whole life, even as a little girl, when we played. I am glad that I have come to this point, this is what I have, I can pass it on. And people have ideas on how to develop further; one student is a physical therapist and takes it with him in his professional life, another is with the police, and so on. What are they going to do with it, that’s what I find so interesting. It is said that the really good teacher wants his students to transcend him. That is difficult, because the teacher always wants to be the teacher. This great mastery is not only about your skill but maybe about your wisdom. I really hope they surpass me in all kinds of ways.
It makes Laura emotional.
I’m also still growing in my practice. I certainly feel that, but in a completely different way: Not to having to prove myself, or that there is always room for improvement.
I have a lot of ambitions, that’s what I had with my school, I’ve always worked hard and still do, but I also have a lot of energy. In the early 70’s one of the first teachers of the time, GM Chung Liang Al Huang, a Chinese dancer, had lights on his body. I still have that on my bucket list, to do the form, and then be filmed, so you don’t see my body, but only the lights in the darkness.
What makes you a good T’ai Chi teacher, that you are good at T’ai Chi or that you love people?
T’ai Chi suits me very well; somehow I easily learned the form before. But learning form is one thing, the internal work, that’s another. When I had been practicing GM Chen’s style for six months, I said: I’ll stop with all those forms. What has remained is the interaction. I think that’s T’ai Chi Chuan’s greatest gift. You can do the form very nicely, but it’s only in contact, in interaction, that you really learn what you’re doing. In interaction you learn to deal with other situations, with other people. That’s what makes T’ai Chi so different from yoga; yoga also creates a beautiful body awareness, absolutely. It has helped me a lot and still does. And I also like Aikido, but T’ai Chi Chuan is much more intimate, you are always in contact with someone else: how do you relax in contact with someone else? A lot of people are afraid of that, they have trouble diving into contact. They come to T’ai Chi because it is not interactive, because of the beautiful form, the meditative side, for health.
But it’s self-defense, without applications you don’t develop a sense of what the individual movements mean. For example, I never say ‘hold the ball’ because for me that movement to this side is an elbow thrust or up to the other side to make defend yourself. I see all those movements in the air, the strokes, like calligraphy.
As she talks, her arms and hands are constantly circling through the air.
And nothing is fixed, I don’t use that word either. I used to use the terms floating techniques or soft uprooting. And pushing hands is actually ‘no hands’, your hands only express what is happening in your feet and your body. In boxing I consciously use my hands strategically, because I don’t want you to see past my hands, I want to distract you. GM Chen has a name for it, he calls it palm dancing.
You call T’ai Chi “music for your body”
But in my classes, I never use music; the form has its own rhythm.
And then for some minutes it’s completely still while she’s doing part of the form from her armchair.
One of the most beautiful moments in my life was when I gave a demonstration of T’ai Chi on a cliff in Hawaii with the ocean under my feet. Every end of a movement (posture) is the crest of a wave. The pauses in breathing literally nourish your cells. When you are under stress, your body has difficulty getting nourished; literally, at the level of the metabolism of your cells. If you are habitually tense, this form, as well as other forms from the Cheng Man-Ching’s lineage and qigong, helps you because there is more breathing out than in, leading to softness, to relaxation.
You also do dance improvisation?
Not so much at the moment. But I have music, timbre, composition, T’ai Chi in my body. And combining that with images, because I have started to look much more actively since practicing Chinese calligraphy. When composing I always used my voice, I played classical piano. Recently, my voice came up out of meditation, out of trust and open space, letting it sound and at the same time listening. And from there I have felt, constantly unfolding and growing, that I came more in contact with Life Energy, if I can put it that way, which is much larger, Cosmic Energy.
And of course this is also possible with T’ai Chi: that you are not there, you are in the exercise, in the energy. It comes through you, between heaven and earth. I call it T’ai Chi dance improvisation.
This morning I woke up with a word: ephemera . It must be because everything you do, the improvisations with your voice, with piano, with your body in dance or T’ai Chi, is not fixed, it only exists at the moment. Except your calligraphy.
But look at that calligraphy, a really good piece of calligraphy is not fixed, it moves!
I have said so much about me, my T’ai Chi life. That could not have happened without all the special teachers, pupils and the love that inspire me and give me life energy. I feel so much gratitude.
On a day of her intensive training that I was allowed to attend, I see the same mixture of softness and power that I experienced during our conversation; flawless precision and passionate interventions in a very well-structured class. I still hear her saying in the in-between-moments, ‘Nothing’s happening’ (‘niets aan de hand’).
I would like to have so many more lives’, she says when I see her again at the STN Festival. The immortals of the embroidery have ended up in the right place.
Continue reading Laura Stone’s Interview part 5
- Laura Stone Interview part 1
- Laura Stone Interview part 2
- Laura Stone Interview part 3
- Laura Stone Interview part 4