“Shift all of your weight left, rotate right, opening the foot. Verlagere das gesamte Gewicht rechts und mache einen leeren Schritt mit deinem linken Fuß”.
The class was being taught in two languages, intertwined, and delicately woven with each other. Instead of confusion, there was continuity; instead of bewilderment, there was balance.
Embracing duality can be a challenge. The definition of duality according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is the “the quality or state of having two different or opposite parts or elements.” Western philosophy treats duality as opposing forces, one trying to overtake the other. A competition, a battle, where one wins and the other retreats. It is a mindset that can cause friction, discomfort, mismanaged emotions, and scarcity. When we look towards Eastern philosophy, the Tao Te Ching embodies a different definition of duality – that these different or opposite parts are complementary to each other rather than opposing. They must co-exist because one cannot exist without the other. It is a mindset that can create growth, balance, coherence, and abundance.
In the third weekend of October 2022, the School of T´ai Chi Chuan Götzens hosted a 4-day weekend to teach Tai Chi to new and returning students. As apprentices and students arrived by plane, train, and automobile, the breathtaking beauty of the Austrian Alps in Autumn grounded all of us in a sense of gratitude and awe.
The weekend commenced with a warm welcome by Maria Gandler and Kevin Lannon. “Hello, thank you all for coming here this weekend!” Pause. A look around. A smile. “Hallo, ich danke Ihnen allen für Ihr Kommen an diesem Wochenende.” In that moment, one singular experience became two – without discomfort or friction, but with coherence and abundance. This embodiment of Eastern duality was reflected in the quality teaching and genuine camaraderie that fostered a sense of harmony and relaxation throughout the whole weekend.
I’d like to share some of my experiences from this weekend, both as reflections of the past and inspiration for the future:
· Speaking in your native language allows for the fullest expression of your true self. Whether it was during a class, a meditation, or a dinner – when we spoke our native language the stories, we shared became full, open, and honest. Authenticity breathes life into every moment.
· Listening to an unfamiliar language enriches oneself to use all their senses and embody the message through non-verbal cues, intonation, inflection, tone, and environmental context. This extended into classes taught in both German and English. Just as the art of Tai Chi was taught without words, students (and apprentices) had to observe from their dantian to allow the movement to come from within.
· A coordinated apprentice-bonding event outdoors, like our Friday morning hike up into the Austrian Autumn Alps, created a kinship with nature and with each other. Acclimating to the season allowed us to become present in the moment and let go of any tense energy that didn’t serve us as we prepared to teach.
· During a Time In The Art class with the entire group, we were practicing yin positions and the church bells began to ring loud and long, echoing through the room and our bodies. We decided to go with the flow of energy and transition to yang movements. Once we exchanged energy with the bells the universe responded in kind, and the bells stopped just as we reached our own crescendo. The room was full of laughter and joy because we allowed the energy to flow through us.
· The time outside of class is just as important as the time in the form, such as sharing a story over tea and homemade Austrian pastries in the hallway or learning about our journeys around the dinner table each night and celebrating the conclusion of a good day – Prost! Witnessing the uncanny arrival of two Tyrolians [a local Austrian] practicing their resounding 5m single whips in front of the school. These moments created shared experiences that infused every class with a collective consciousness.
My immense gratitude to Maria Gandler for leading the coordination of this weekend through the School of T’ai Chi Chuan Götzens. As a new apprentice, I arrived with few preconceived notions about what the weekend was about. What I left with was an immense appreciation for the insight I gained and an affirmation that the work we are all doing is what makes us better as we balance between both teacher and student. One cannot teach how to learn without learning how to teach. A life-long duality.
“Being and nonbeing produce each other.
The difficult is born in the easy.
Long is defined by short, the high by the low.
Before and after go along with each other.
So the sage lives openly with apparent duality
and paradoxical unity
The sage can act without effort
and teach without words.
Nurturing things without possessing them,
[the sage] works, but not for rewards;
[the sage] competes, but not for results.
When the work is done, it is forgotten.
That is why it lasts forever.”
Lao Tzu, from The Tao Te Ching
Ian Lopez is a new B1 Apprentice with the Tai Chi Foundation and has been studying tai chi with multiple schools across the United States and Europe since 2020. He lives in Nazare, Portugal with his partner, Julia, and his dog, Alfred. Besides tai chi and travel Ian works with clients as a Functional Medicine Health Coach (inmylifecoach.com) and a Brand Consultant (ianmichaelconsulting.com).