On Saturday, April 25th 2015, William and Mary’s Sadler Center was graced with the presence of local Taiji and Qigong masters for the annual “World Tai Qi and Qigong Day.” Each year since 1999, members of the Williamsburg community have gathered at this event to celebrate the revered methods of ancient Chinese meditation. This year, the community performances and workshops demonstrated incredible quality and impressed all attendees, who walked away feeling more relaxed and balanced than ever before.
Taiji and Qigong are ancient forms of Chinese meditation. Both share similarities, such as their numerous health benefits, but they are far from the same thing. Qigong literally translates as “work energy”-- it involves visualization, mental exercise, and gentle, rhythmic body movements that aim to bring in clean qi and push out stale qi. The exercise is rooted in Chinese medicine and has been practiced in China for thousands of years.
On the other hand, Taiji, which literally translates as “grand-ultimate,” is more so a form of martial art with a basis in philosophy. The aim of Taiji, which is often anglicized as Tai Chi, is to use intentional movements to develop mental strength as a form of self-defense. Along with Qigong, Taiji practices have numerous health benefits such as pain relief, decreased stress, and improved flexibility.
The two forms of meditation were introduced to the Williamsburg Community on World Taiji and Qigong day, which occurs on the last Saturday of April each year. The program began with demonstrations in Commonwealth Auditorium from many experienced members of the community and the William and Mary student body. In one of the incredible ten performances, William and Mary alumnus Stan Rockwell demonstrated the Sun Style of Taiji. Another performer, Gloria Bersi, demonstrated the Yang Sword Form, while Richard Tate, David Hamilton and the Peninsula Taiji Club gave their own marvelous performances as well. Most notably was William and Mary undergraduate student Crystal Yi, who demonstrated the Double Kungfu Fan and whose spunk and grace quite possibly made her the fan favorite (no pun intended!).
Another performer and chief organizer of the event was Bill Hansell, who has taught various forms of Taiji for nearly 40 years and is a specialist in a handful of different forms. Hansell is known in the area as the original founder and organizer of the event, however, this year he collaborated with the WMCI to make it as big as possible.
Following the demonstrations, the day continued on with three sessions of workshops. One workshop, taught by Rockwell, was devoted to “Taiji and Qigong for Health.” Students learned the correct posture, breath, intentions, and philosophy of Taiji and Qigong as well as had a chance to participate a few series of moves. The room was most energetic for the “Five Elements” series in which students went through motions reflecting earth, metal, water, wood, and fire in order to better sync their qi.
A later session was David Hamilton’s “Eight Pieces of Brocade Qigong” workshop. Students in this session learned one of the most popular series of Qigong exercises created nearly one thousand years ago. Among the eight pieces of this form were a squatting form called “Drawing the Bow to Shoot an Arrow” (Piece Two) and a twisting form called “Swinging the Tail” (Piece Five). The class was able to perform the Eight Pieces of Brocade Routine with serene Chinese instrumental music gently playing in the background. The combination of a moving body, a relaxed mind, and a peaceful environment gave each attendee an extra treat that they could continue to perform well after the session.
When asked about the history of his Qigong practice, Hamilton said he had been a Yoga teacher for quite some time but was “looking for something new to add to his class.” Once he came across this ancient Chinese meditation, he was hooked. He began to study Qigong and eventually began solely teaching it. Hamilton was drawn to Qigong’s “constant discovery,” physically but especially mentally. Due to this unending mental discovery, Hamilton says that it is very difficult to become a Qigong master. Even though he has been studying Qigong for 13 years, he believes that he is still very much a learning student.
To make the day even more enjoyable, volunteer teachers at the William and Mary Confucius Institute held a plethora of fascinating cultural demonstrations. They engaged community participants in paper cutting, tea tasting, painting, and calligraphy. A couple of volunteer teachers even demonstrated their master instrumental skills on the Chinese erhu and pipa.
The feeling of many festival goers at the end of the day was entirely peaceful, relaxed, and at one with their qi. One community participant says that she is very glad that Confucius Institute sponsored this event so that she could gain a better understanding of Chinese culture.
“Events like these,” the community member said, “make for a more peaceful world.”