26 June 2017

Turriff class

Tonight is the last class of term at Turriff. Class will restart in late August / early September in a new venue. More details to follow...

Aberdeenshire workshops

This month's workshops with Caroline are this coming weekend 30th June to 2nd July.

The Weapons session is at Fetternear Hall at the earlier start time of 6:30pm
Saturday afternoon will be at outside at Scott's place in Inverurie weather permitting so please check the blog on Saturday morning for an update! All other workshops are at Balvack.
Great River students of any level are particularly welcome to the Saturday sessions.

Friday 6:30-9:30pm: Weapons, including Sabre for beginners 6:30-7:30  (£5).
Saturday 1-4pm: Short Form, and related study
Saturday 5.30-8.30pm: Partnerwork
Sunday 1-4pm: Long Form
Sunday 5.30-8.30pm: Advanced Studies and Dance

The price is £16 (concs available) per 3 hr session. Please bring food to share on Saturday and Sunday. Get in touch with your instructor if you need travel directions or feel free to contact me with any other questions.

All the dates for the 2017 Aberdeenshire workshops are available here

24 June 2017

Ewart-Park Leaf Sword

I am incredibly chuffed to have finished making the handle for my cast bronze Ewart-Park Leaf sword. I made this blade with Will Lord 4 years ago at a wonderful workshop called The Blade run by Woodsmoke Bushcraft at Dave Budd's forge down in Devon. After two days making flint knives with Antony Whitlock, mainly creating artisanal gravel, Will taught us to build a furnace using cobb, and the following day we cast knives and swords from bronze we made from copper and tin. Some of the copper was extracted from malachite which we smashed up ourselves. The final two days were spent forging steel knives with Dave in his outdoor Iron Age set-up, and hafting the blades on the final day. (That's now the neck-knife I posted here earlier this week.)

I still have to get some more bark to finish tanning the roe deer skin that will hopefully become the scabbard for this blade. With luck and a following wind, it might be done in time for the summer workshop. 

If you search online for Ewart Park Leaf you'll find out about how these British swords were made, as several have been found, including the one from which my sword-mould was cast: pulled from The Thames at Isleworth in the nineties. These swords came from the Brittonic Iceni tribe, to which Boudicca belonged. The people defending their families with these bronze swords were defeated by the professional legions of Romans and their steel. 

Originally the swords were decorated with finely cast dot designs in a leaf shape, sadly lost during polishing on mine. Also, the handles often had a V shaped profile where it met the blade, whereas mine is shaped internally and cuts across in straight line externally, for simplicity. I have used brass rod to secure a sandwich of ash wood either side of the full bronze tang, and used 5 rather than 7 rods as I won't be using this in combat soon, at least not outside my dreams. I have just this minute finished wrapping the handle in bucked rawhide twine which I made last night from offcuts from my latest satchel. This provides a very nice-feeling grip and completes the rough and ready look of this particular project. If you look at other recreated leaf blades you'll see a great deal of skill and a high level of finish on handles, usually topped with a rounded pommel. I like to think mine is what you might fashion in the ash woods of south-eastern England when your fancy handle got wrecked falling in the fire when you'd drunk too much mead, or added to a salvaged old sword where the handle had rotted away and needed making simply fit for use. I am a total beginner at wood and metal work, and an improver with tanning and bucking skins, so this is just right. Thanks so much to Chris Jackson for his generous help in getting this done in his workshop. We used a few 20th C tools to save time and I finshed shaping it by hand with whittling knives and glass paper. I'm not going to oil or varnish it as I doubt those materials were widely available, maybe only linseed oil (flax). Grime and skin-oil would not have been in short supply!

Ewart-Park Leaf cast bronze sword with simple ash wood handle, wrapped in twined rawhide. 

Detail of wrapped handle.

23 June 2017

Summer workshop fast approaching

The 12th Annual T'ai Chi Centre Week-long Workshop will soon be taking place from 22nd July. Get in touch if you need any help with directions, accommodation, syllabus, suitability or other issues. See you there!

Sword - Discriminating wisdom

Studying Sword may seem an anachronism in our age of frictionless surfaces, but for me has been essential in my development in life and in T'ai Chi. What we study is far from being the negatively charged image of macho hack-and-slay found in gaming and blockbusters, and also nothing like the CG-enhanced ballet of martial arts movies, fun though that can be to watch.

Throughout history, not just in Chinese culture, the sword, correctly wielded, has been the symbol par excellence of discriminating wisdom. This includes the faculty of knowing right from wrong action; cutting through lies, deceit and illusion: removing the inessential. Through meditation, insight, correct practice, contemplation, study, and hard work the mind is made to reflect the sharpness and balance of the ideal sword. Think of the ubiquitous Western figure of Justice, in her hands a sword and scales, or in all the Abrahamic cultures Solomon and his penetrating wisdom. In Buddhist images of Manjushri, transcendent wisdom is represented by his flaming sword. Think of Occam's razor, or the wrathful sword-wielding deities of Hinduism, Bon and the shamanic traditions of northern Europe, remember Arthur, Freya, Boudicca, Joan of Arc. In China the double-edged sword (Jian) was the sword of the scholar, and considered a fine art to study alongside poetry, calligraphy, literature and medicine. John Kells' teacher Dr Chi Chiang Tao had a great sword teacher - Sword Master Hsu, (there is a great photo of them in the Kobayashi Classical Sword book). In our culture currently swords and knives are rarely seen as useful and noble tools but mostly as threatening and evil weapons, used only by madmen and those with a grudge. In Sweden, for instance this is not the case at all, and young children learn the safe use and respect due to sharp blades at a very young age. Demonising swords and knives leads to recklessness, a lack of skill and unwarranted fear. It will ultimately lead to an impoverishment of the unconscious, as the rich ancient procession of images of beneficial sword-wielding archetypes, historical figures and deities seems to have entirely stalled. The side of the sword that we wish to cultivate includes restraint, sensitivity, courage and above all awareness.

You rapidly develop spatial awareness when studying sword. If you don't you get hit. Outreaching, joining, yielding, returning: the great principles - these are all brought sharply into focus when the opponent has over a metre of steel or wood pointing at your heart, even in the gentle, good natured environment of Mark's classes.

Not having grown up as a young boy, I missed out on running around with toy swords, and chose netball over archery and fencing at school. In our era there are no longer age, race, class or gender barriers to learning T'ai Chi weapons, (there certainly were in many earlier times and most places), and I recommend it to all who have a few years practice under their belt. Once, during the nine years I was teaching in Hackney, a man came along saying that he had done T'ai Chi for 5 years elsewhere and that he wanted me to teach him Sword. I said he could come along and do Long Form and Push hands for a while first, as obviously it would be entirely inappropriate for me to arm a stranger who I did not know... Needless to say his pride and haste meant I never saw him again. All the serious students of sword I have met, whether of Iaido, Western fencing, Kendo or T'ai Chi, have been peaceful and skilful people. There are some people to whom one should not teach weapons, and it is abundantly clear who they are when one first meets them. However, as we have seen far too much recently, anything can be used as a weapon: a hire car, beer bottle, kitchen knife. I wish to suggest that we rehabilitate the thoughtful and responsible study of the sword exactly as an antidote to mindlessness and explosive reactivity, both in ourselves and in the wider culture.

Just like the intellect, the sword may be used to good or bad effect. Ignoring the energy of the sword, and the place of the use of weapons generally in the long history of humans will not make them go away. I suggest that the conscious and mindful study of weapons in T'ai Chi is of great benefit physically, mentally and symbolically in the inner life of the practitioner.

22 June 2017

Sword Workshop

The next Sword workshop will be at the usual venue on Sunday 9th July. All who have begun Sword are welcome ro attend. Please let me know if you intend to come. If fewer than 8 folks sign up then it will take place near Hampton Court instead.

20 June 2017

Solstice eve

Home late after work which meant I sadly had to miss class. Lit my lamp, new wick and oil needed, candles have taken over duty. Litha tomorrow: midsummer day. For some it's the middle of summer for others the start. How it feels to me: midday of the year.
   Speaking if midday, the heat has been too much for me for the last 4 days, to be honest, and there's still another day or two to go. In the mornings I have taught T'ai Chi in our shady hideaway or done chores but I spend the afternoons mainly spraying myself with a plant mister full of water and only trying to do small things. My neighbours jump in the river to cool-off but I've seen the huge jaws of the many huge healthy pike...
Here's one small job done: the knife I forged three years ago now with the full-tang pear-wood handle cut down to the perfect size. Now it can hang on a neck strap of twined buckskin. I was given the bark tanned leather to sew the case. Hilariously found a good set of photos and instructions on art of manliness dot com. If only they knew how large is the intersect in the Venn diagram of my set of (wo)manly arts and interests and theirs. 
Alder tree against the sky just now. 

19 June 2017

Life on the (great) river

Not at all related to T'ai Chi, but to the river... A good friend of ours is selling her lovely boat on a residential mooring. Insert sentence here about 'hen's teeth'. You can have a look at www.lifeontheriver.net

15 June 2017

Plaistow class this Friday

All who have finished Short Form are welcome to our class near Plaistow tube station on Friday 16th June 7-9pm. Please arrive five minutes early if possible. Please get in touch for the address.

12 June 2017

Sabre workshop

Yesterday's Sabre workshop was great, packed with folks doing some lovely form. Well done and thanks to all who came. 
Sword workshop will be on Sunday 9th July.

07 June 2017

Open T'ai Chi Class in Hillswick Shetland

I will be running an introductory T'ai Chi class for all who wish to come along on July 5th at 7pm at The Weaving Shed Gallery, Hillswick. There will be no charge for the class but donations for the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary next door will be gratefully received. I will be in Shetland teaching a student privately and an open class seemed like a good idea. I have some crazy half-formed idea that one day a Viking squad (there are almost 50 in Shetland) might like to learn some very unViking Sword for fun... Sadly as yet we have no Axe Form. Perhaps they can teach me.

I can't wait to visit the otter sanctuary next door to where I will be staying. I have seen the tail and ripples of a departing sea otter whilst foraging in Ardnamurchan but have never got really close to one yet. My grandmother, who was from NE Aberdeenshire, instilled in me a great love of otters and told me how as a young girl she used to see them hunting in the burns and rivers near her home. It may well be hard to concentrate on 'Embrace Tiger, Return To Mountain' when these fellows are next door.
You can donate to their urgent appeal here.

Classes this week and weekend

Thursday class resumes this week with Ta Lu and Sword study.

On Sunday there is a Sabre session 2-5pm usual time and place. All who have begun Sabre are welcome. 

Classes will continue as normal all term until the Summer Workshop. 

Stiffness is the way of death

...says the Tao Te Ching.

Want your T'ai Chi postures to be strong and stable?


Maybe aim for principled yet flexible.

Aberdeenshire last weekend

Thanks to all who came over the weekend for lovely T'ai Chi. Several of us - myself included - were under the weather with injury or illness but it was still a good weekend. Working with consistency and gentleness is always a worthwhile endeavour, especially in the beautiful surrounds of the Aberdeenshire countryside.
Sabre applications
Out in the sunshine, hopefully not peturbing the locals. 
T'ai Chi walking using 'push'. 
Midsummer sun and rain making a lush environment for our study. 

01 June 2017

Aberdeenshire Thursday sessions

Here's the rota for the Thursday sessions until the summer break. As usual we'll be in the Small Hall 7-9pm and Large Hall 9-10pm at Monymusk except where stated. The price is £25 for 7 weeks or £5/week.

01-Jun    Paolo
08-Jun    Marie    Balvack (TBC)
15-Jun    Sandy
22-Jun    Scott
29-Jun    Davina
06-Jul     Janet
13-Jul     Marie

Sesssions at Monymusk will restart on 17th August.

If you can't make the session that you're due to lead then please contact someone on the list to arrange a swap.