April this year was a time for spring growth and regeneration in more ways than one. David Miller was instrumental in organising a very successful residential weekend on Tai Ji Quan
and self-healing which was led by Sifu Herman Chan-Pensley with the help of his son Jonathan. It was held in St Mark’s College which is part of the Audley End Estate near Saffron Walden in some of the most
picturesque countryside in Essex.
The message for the weekend was to show us how Tai Ji Quan and self healing are intrinsically linked. We practised certain movements to help us become more sensitive to our own
energy patterns and progress to a deeper level of awareness and understanding.
The setting complemented the message in its simplicity and sincerity. The college itself was an old monastery dating back to the 16th century with mellow brick buildings facing
inwards towards a grass courtyard. Renovations had been carried out with the utmost sensitivity to retain their original nature but also to meet the needs of 21st century living. Tranquil gardens surrounded the
college and also housed our temporary kwoon, or training hall, in the form of a glass-fronted barn. This enabled us to be protected from the elements whilst still enjoying the nearness to nature.
Sleeping accommodation was in the monk’s cells – four to a room with an upstairs accessed by steep wooden stairs that put new meaning to the phrase ‘climbing the
wooden hill to bed’. Sleep was a little elusive for some of us on the first night – one explanation was the delicious 4-course gourmet meal our hosts served on Friday night. The first-class meals
continued all weekend as well as sharing of ideas and lively conversations. Although alcohol was available we all chose to cleanse our livers in tune with the more lofty thoughts of the structured lessons.
Many of us used the time before breakfasts to do our own training which was indicative of either the inability to sleep or a dedication to our training. The more positive of us
favoured the latter theory.
Our free time could be used exploring the local footpaths. One went from behind the barn and followed a stream through typical Essex landscape from the vivid yellow fields of rape to
the sprinkling of spring flowers lining the footpath and banks of the stream. On the well-trodden path you could also meet a variety of local people all united in their predictions of impending gloom on the
As a change from the random beauty of the countryside you could choose to walk the other way into the more formal setting of Audley End House and gardens. Here massive cedar trees
competed with imposing views of the stately home. The extravagant hand of ‘Capability’ Brown was evident in the classic sweep of the lawn down to the lake, the placing of the garden buildings and the
mature trees gracing the grounds. In the house itself Zen was nowhere to be found and it was also time to find out how many gaps there were in the distant memory of our history lessons.
Whether we were a relative beginner of a few years or a more advanced beginner of a good few years there was something new and exciting to take home, digest and work on.
Feedback was very positive on the final session of the weekend. There were comments such as ‘When’s the next one?’ and ‘What about a week next time?’.
For me the mark of a good weekend cannot just be in the ‘here and now’ it has to also be in the weeks, months and years to follow as the concepts gain in power and significance.