Faradena Afifi - Newcastle Workshop, Ma Bao Guo 16-17 December 2006

I was a participant in the farewell workshop of Master Ma in Newcastle on the 16th and 17th of December 2006. It was the final of his two public seminars before he returned to China. He had previously been teaching his system privately while he was in this country. The seminar covered Hun Yuan Qigong, Applications and Freestyle Push Hands.

I decided to go to this workshop because I had heard that he had high levels of skill, was teaching a lesser known (in this country anyway) style and this was the last chance of training with him before he left, I was not disappointed. Upon arrival at the seminar, I was immediately struck by the openness of all the other participants. I had not attempted the Hunyuan system of Qigong before, but Ma’s outgoing and welcoming demeanour put me at ease immediately. Ma very kindly provided tea and fruit during the seminar too, which was much appreciated. Ma’s senior students were at hand to assist all attendees for the entire duration of the workshop and at no point did I feel left out. I was impressed with the seamless interaction between him and the seniors who fully explained what he was doing when asked. Additionally, I was most impressed by the high standards of the seniors and regular students of the British Hun Yuan Taiji Association, as Ma has been in this country a relatively short time to achieve such standards. I must admit I did encounter a few 
difficulties with understanding his and other accents but that was more due to my lack of familiarity to non-Cambridge English.

Day 1 concentrated more on qigong and the basics underlying the system; the theory behind the Taiji symbol and the importance of balance. He also discussed some of the problems encountered when trying to translate Chinese into English and the misconceptions that result from this. For example, Ma emphasised that the back should be straight but the tail bone should not be tucked under, it is just that the bottom is not sticking out. He showed this by pushing people over who were tucking under and it being more difficult when they were standing more naturally. The main emphasis of the seminar was one of relaxation, however there was a very interesting exploration of the three Dantien and opening the kua during practise. A few applications were practised to emphasise structure and alignment and an exercise exploring peng, lu, ji and an was also taught.

Day 2 recapped the qigong set and the 4 forces plus applications of Lazy Tying Coat and Six Sealings and Four Closings were practised. Mats were provided for the more enthusiastic practitioners. The final part of the day consisted of recapping the qigong set followed by an attempt to try out the beginning of the form he teaches (very difficult). Speeches were given both by Master Ma and by the new president of the association Ferris Jerjis.

As far as I can see, the Tai Chi taught by Ma has a good balance between health and martial aspects of the art. It was refreshing to find an instructor who was equally as good at the applications as he was in relaxing and maintaining a softness, his applications definitely worked, which was also a welcome change. Maintaining good humour and not taking himself too seriously was also a welcome find, the nicest person I would not want to mug. Master Ma has passed teaching on to his seniors and there is a hope that there will be much interaction between the UK and the instructors in China. I am looking forward to the next seminar which will be happening at:(?) and will be taught by his senior students, these seminars are open to all interested people and not just students from the Hun Yuan Association. There is also talk of bringing him and his teachers back to the UK to teach once a year or so and some possible trips to China. To conclude, I very much enjoyed the seminar, it taught me (again) how little I know, but the great potential of where I could 
be in my training. It was well worth the trip up the country and I look forward to the next course.

Faradena Afifi is an authorised instructor with Grey Heron Internal Arts and teaches in Cambridgeshire. She teaches beginner's 24 step and associated Chi Kung and partnerwork exercises. She has also trained and is a recognised instructor with, The Tai Chi and Chi Kung Forum for Health; teaching adapted Tai Chi in non mainstream settings.

She can be contacted via the website www.grey-heron.com

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