Conference Report

The main events were:

  • Opening Ceremony & Banquet at Fort William Historical Park
  • Plenary Sessions
  • Featured Speakers
  • Concurrent Sessions
  • Morning Exercises in Marina Park on Thunder Bay's waterfront
  • BBQ on Confederation College patio and Erhu Performance by Yang Ying at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery
  • Showcase of Masters performances with Erhu Concerto & Taiji Hockey at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium
  • Masters Workshops
  • Closing Ceremony

The International Forum on Taijiquan 2006:
A North American First

Submitted by Doug Rabb, certified instructor with the Peng You Taiji Quan Association. Photos by Mary Lou Rabb, certified instructor with the Peng You Taiji Quan Association

In Thunder Bay Ontario from the 17th to the 21st of July, The Peng You Taiji Quan Association with the very considerable help of its partners, especially Confederation College (Thunder Bay) and South China Normal University (Guangzhou, China), hosted The International Forum on Taijiquan, 2006. The First International Forum on Taijiquan was held at South China Normal University in 2003.

At that time Master Peng You Lian, president of the The Peng You Taiji Quan Association, and Canadian representative to The Forum, invited the Taiji Masters, scholars and officials to hold the next Forum in Canada, in his adopted home city, Thunder Bay. His invitation was accepted and after almost three years of extensive planning and preparation in July 2006, the Grandmasters of each of the major Taiji Family Styles and the New Style of Taijiquan met together for the first time ever outside of China.

This was especially surprising as 80 year-old Grandmaster Yang Zhenduo son of Yang Chengfu and great grandson of Yang Luchan, the founder of Yang style Taijiquan, considered himself retired and had proclaimed that he would never leave China again. He had in the past visited North America on many occasions and in fact in 1986 was declared the Honorary Mayor of San Antonio, Texas. What was truly unique about his trip to Canada to participate in the International Forum was that he was accompanied by Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, 11th Generation descendent of the creator of the Chen Style Taijiquan, the earliest form of the Art, as well as Grandmaster Sun Yongtian of the Sun Style, Grandmaster Wu Wenhan representing the Wu (Hao) Style, Grandmaster Zeng Nailiang representing the Xin (New or Modern) Style Taijiquan, and finally Grandmaster Eddie Wu Kwong Yu of Toronto, 5th generation direct descendent and head of the Wu family and his uncle from China Grandmaster Ma Hailong of Shanghai whose grandfather Wu Jingquan, mother Wu Ronghua and father Ma Yueliang are all well-known taiji masters in China who have carried on the Wu Family Taijiquan tradition there.

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The Grandmasters discussed and demonstrated their own respective styles of Taijiquan both in the opening plenary session of the Forum, ³Taijiquan: The Breadth of the Art,² and at the Gala Showcase Performance at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium presented jointly by The Thunder Bay Martial Arts Council and The Peng You Taiji Quan Association in which the general public had an opportunity to meet the Grandmasters. It was wonderful to see the differences in the various Styles which were all obviously Taijiquan and followed the same basic principles of the art.

Taijiquan is an internal martial art which emphasizes hidden force with slow deliberate weight shifts while initiating movement through the turning of the waist. The upper and lower parts of body are coordinated and move as one, the wrists and ankles, the elbows and knees, the shoulders and hips. When one part of the body moves the whole body moves. When one part of the body stops the whole body stops. Aggression is met with softness and yielding while redirecting incoming force back at the opponent through circular movement.

Though seemingly very soft and gentle Master Peng found himself suddenly flung backwards to the ground on several occasions during the demonstrations. Each of the Family styles while following these general principles has its own unique characteristics.

The Chen Style is characterized by a lower stance in which slow and gentle circular movements continuously build up energy which is released in quick vigorous jumps, kicks, stomps and punches.

The Yang Style is characterized by slow gentle, continuous movements performed at a constant tempo. Great internal force is concealed in the gentleness of this fluid and rounded Form.

The creators of the Wu (Hao) Style had studied both the Yang and Chen Styles. The Wu (Hao) Form is characterized by very relaxed slow well-knit little movements exhibiting great internal power which seems to extend beyond the physical body while the arms seldom extend beyond the legs, wrist over ankle, elbow over knee.

The Wu Style (not directly related to the previous Wu Style) is characterized by nimble short-range movements close to the trunk of the body which tends to be slightly forward leaning. It emphasizes re-directing incoming force through softness.

The creator of Sun Style was accomplished in martial arts when he learned Wu (Hao) taiji. Sun Style is thus influenced by the step-follow-step method of one martial art, the leg and waist movements of another and the body softness of taijiquan. It has a higher stance, with emphasis on qigong breathing through open and close arms.

The Xin or New Style includes a number of simplified shorter forms based on Yang style, as well as combined competition forms. It is best known for the 24 move Beijing Form which was established in 1956 and has become the most popular Taiji Form in the world today.

Besides these taiji demonstrations by the Grandmasters, the International Forum on Taijiquan consisted of two days of academic sessions and two days of workshops with the Grandmasters. It attracted over 200 participants from China, Japan, Australia, Sweden, England, Mexico, 20 States in the US and 6 Provinces and Territories in Canada.

Thunder Bay has certainly established itself as a centre of excellence for Taijiquan. A principal theme of the academic sessions was a comparison of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Native American healing practices, sometimes called Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Sessions were held on The Medicine Wheel and the Yin Yang Symbol as well as an inter-cultural panel on healing in Native American and Chinese Cultures featuring Dr. Lorraine Mayer, Cree/Metis Professor of Native Studies, Brandon University, Ojibwa Elder Gerry Martin, Ojibwa Artist Ahmoo Angeconeb, Dr. Yang Yang, University of Illinois, Centre for Taiji Studies, and Dr. Shin Lin, University of California Irvine and the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

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Though all of the academic sessions were held on the campus of Confederation College, the Opening Ceremonies took place at Fort William Historical Park. This was especially appropriate since Fort William was the historical meeting place of two cultures, the European fur traders and the Native American and other trappers from the west and north. On July 17th 2006 Fort William Historical Park became the meeting point for three cultures with the arrival of the Taijiquan Grandmasters and other officials from China. The Grandmasters arrived in two voyageur Great Lakes canoes which they helped to paddle up the Kaministiquia River to be welcomed by the booming salute of the dockside canon outside the stockade of the Fort. They were also welcomed by the Medicine Wheel Spirit Drummers, the Thunder Mountain Singers and Dancers,the Yang Ger Chinese Ribbon Dancers as well as by the many VIPs who brought greetings from the City, the Provincial and Federal Governments, and the Peoples Republic of China.

The conclusion of the academic portion of the Forum continued the partnership of Native American and Chinese culture. It took place at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery on the campus of Confederation College. The Gallery was holding a retrospective exhibition of the work of Norval Morriseau, the founder of the Woodlands School of Indian Art. Forum participants were treated to an erhu performance in the Gallery by internationally renowned erhu musician and recording artist, Ms. Yang Ying. Her performance on this traditional Chinese instrument surrounded by the Shamanistic art of Norval Morriseau certainly continued and indeed highlighted the principal theme of The Forum, the respectful recognition and comparison of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Ms. Yang Ying also performed at the Community Auditorium. Many other themes were also addressed in the academic sessions of the Forum including current research on the health benefits and best practices of Taiji intervention (Featured Speakers Dr. Shin Lin and Dr. Yang Yang), the History and theory of Taijiquan (Featured Speaker Professor Zhang Zhiyong, South China Normal University) as well as many other related topics in numerous concurrent and poster sessions.

The Grandmasters were, of course, the Keynote Speakers for the plenery sessions. They also conducted individual question and answer sessions in which each was given a separate room with a chairperson and a translator allowing participants to interact with the Masters on a more individual basis. This provided an excellent preparation for the two day taiji workshops which followed the academic sessions. In the workshops the Grandmasters taught a shortened Taiji Form representative of their distinctive style. Participants who completed the 12 hours of workshops were awarded a certificate signed by the Grandmasters.

One of the most memorable highlights of the entire Forum took place in the early morning hours of Wednesday, July 19th. At 7 a.m. everyone had the opportunity of joining the Grandmasters in morning exercises on the shore of Lake Superior at beautiful Marina Park. Free Wednesday morning exercises are a regular summer activity of The Peng You Taiji Quan Association, but on this occasion the numbers swelled to almost 400 people of all ages. The opportunity to follow one of the Grandmasters leading Taiji with smaller groups throughout the park was followed by joining the entire assembly in the New Style Form, Taiji Qigong: Six Forms for Health, led by its creator, Grandmaster Zeng Nailiang, and Master Peng Youlian.

The weather was perfect with the sun rising over the Sleeping Giant into a clear blue sky as the mist lifted off the lake. Given magnificent Lake Superior, the clear air, the nearby forests and mountains in the background, the Grandmasters declared Thunder Bay's Marina Park the best place in the world to play Taiji. We were all very proud, indeed, overwhelmed. However, I think we have to keep reminding ourselves that they were, after all, here in the Summer, in July not in February or early March.


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