It is common during any week to get phone calls and email messages inquiring about my Tai Chi classes. About two weeks ago, I received a call from Helen, who said she was in town for three weeks teaching at Mindrol Osel Ling.
“Can I come to your Tai Chi classes?” she asked.
“Sure,” I answered, followed up by explaining the three classes I have in Evanston, so she would know the level of experience in each class. As is customary for me, I asked if she had any Tai Chi experience.
“Yes, but it was a number of years ago.”
“I’m just curious. Where did you study and with whom?” I added, knowing I may or may not recognize the name.
“Cheng Man-ch’ing in New York City.”
“Really?” I had to take it in, amazed at what she had just said. I was so surprised and excited at the same time. I am in his lineage, teach his Yang style short form. He was instrumental in bringing Tai Chi to the U.S., was a doctor, a calligrapher, a poet. I look up to him as his teaching, through my teachers, has been key to my healing. I honor him every time I teach.
Helen came to my Evanston classes last week on Monday and Tuesday. I asked if it would be ok to put her on the spot and tell us what it was like to be in his presence and to be a student of his. She told us her introduction to him was as a doctor in NYC Chinatown, and the Tai Chi came later. She was young, a struggling artist. She described his touch, when he read her pulses, as soft, almost like a velvet petal. In class, he stressed relaxation, using and feeling the Qi, directing it through the moves of the Tai Chi form. He exuded strength through softness.
Helen came to class again this week on Monday and Tuesday. I loved having her energy in the class. She has been gracious, giving and open. When I asked her how it felt to be moving through Cheng Man-ch’ing’s form, she said she felt it, really felt the Qi. She added that she needed to re-learn some of the moves, but that was secondary to relaxing and feeling the Qi.
Helen was and is an unexpected gift. I am grateful for her presence that somehow was meant to be. I wish her all the best Qi in her teaching during her retreat this weekend, Gentle Perseverance.
Mary Neuhaus, Helen and me after Tai Chi class. I gave her the the picture she is holding, of Cheng Man-ch’ing with a quote from him:
“The most important reason to study Tai Chi is that when you finally reach the place where you understand what life is about, you’ll have some health to enjoy it.“