The US Winter Teacher Training was held January 14-19, 2024, in Neptune Beach, Florida, in Donnalea and Tom Goelz’s beautiful studio. Neptune Beach is a charming beach community, where restaurants and hotels are within walking distance of the studio, and Airbnb accommodations are nearby.
Forty-eight of us gathered for deep study and playful fun. The yin quality of winter was present with mostly overcast skies, rainfall, and temperatures down to freezing on occasion. The weather complemented our meditative, inward self-reflection experienced through our form, sensing hands, and sword work.
The training began with an evening and day of 8th level work. We welcomed Angie Holland and Lee Felton into the 8th level. In addition to tai chi, we spent some time talking about our lives and how many of us are dealing with the aging process. It felt very good to be together – some of us having been working together for over 45 years. Our work set the tone for the first day of the training.
The theme throughout the training was set by lead teacher Jonathan Stow: Unity – within ourselves and with others. The first class of the day was taught by Paul Campbell, who led us in form work based on writings by Professor Cheng Man-ch’ing. Next, Jon and Greg led us in sword exercises to enrich our fencing, and softening exercises to help us in push hands. After lunch, we participated in sword form embodiment.
Margaret Matsumoto helped us distinguish the difference between discernment versus self-criticism and encouraged us all to be more compassionate toward ourselves. Bob Etherington used a skeleton to guide our attention to the Bubbling Well point and how to let the weight spread around this point and not into it to increase stability and rootedness.
Thomas Malone led us in several exercises to show how just softening our feet can “float” someone when they are leaning on us. This complemented Jon’s work and the softness and unity we were working towards.
Margaret Olmsted led a session on conveying relaxation with the tone of our voice along with the way we move our bodies, and the quality of our touch. Many of us noticed the profound change possible when we put receptive hands on a partner’s shoulders or hips, then relaxed our own bodies and experienced increased softness and unity in both ourselves and our partner.
Donnalea Goelz gave an interesting lecture about Polyvagal Theory, which is about the role of the vagus nerve in emotional regulation, social connection, and somatic fear responses. She connected it to the benefits of tai chi and inspired us to learn more about it.
Kate Mansfield, Steve Shulman, and Vicki Shackford taught the B1 Apprenticeship, which had eight participants: Linda Austin (OR), Jan Bell (FL), Maureen Harper (FL), Jack Harper (FL), Karla Nielsen (NYC). Ricardo Perez (FL), Judith Rahilly (NJ), and Diane Swanson (FL). Welcome aboard! In addition to the apprenticeship, the new apprentices received a condensed Push Hands I course, including the principles behind push hands (listening, rooting, sensing, etc.) with Margaret Olmsted, Vicki Shackford, Bob Etherington, Paul Campbell, and Angie Holland.
Mark Preston and Vicki Shackford organized the Winter Form Work, which included 10 participants and varying senior teachers participating to support the others.
Another highlight of the training was the Kids’ Games that had been developed by Patrick Watson. Greg guided us through the games with the help of two apprentices at the training who were among the first kids to learn the games with their parents so many decades ago! There was much joy and laughter as we enjoyed fun ways to explore tai chi principles.
In the final Treasure Chest on the last day, participants expressed gratitude for the unity of our community and the joy of working together.
The training ended with a fun party and delicious Thai food. There was a funny B1 skit, and some jokes, poetry, and music.
Many thanks to Tom and Donnalea for hosting us, to the local apprentices Michael Tillman and Jay Fogg for taking care of security, the new B1 apprentices for helping with the party, and to everyone else who organized and taught, and made the training such a rousing success. Sorry if I left anyone out.
See you at the next training!
Photos by Brian Blackmore