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Master Jesse Tsao in North Carolina: Impressions of a Tai Chi/Qigong Workshop with a Tai Chi Master

View slides of the workshop Find out about upcoming New England workshop Nov 9 and 10

April 28 - 29, 2013

I am writing this personal acccount of a workshop with Master Jesse Tsao, and posting pictures (link for Chrome or Firefox; link for Internet Explorer) taken by me and others who attended, to round out in a way the “circle” of the workshop held in North Carolina in April 2013. I invite all who participated to write a few words about their experiences, which I’ll add to this page to further complete our album of this exceptional experience.

Click for slides of Jesse Tsao April 2013When I invited Master Tsao to do a two day workshop in North Carolina – as it turned out, his first on the East Coast – I knew, of course, that he was internationally known, but I did not know how deeply the workshop would affect me and other students, in ways both unexpected and wonderful.

Perhaps I should have known, since how I came to study with Master Tsao was itself one of those wonderful, synchronous happenings. Joko Beck, Zen master with whom I had spent years in San Diego (as her student, then friend, then transmitted to Zen teacher) had recently died. In my own Tai Chi learning, I had come to a standstill. I knew Tai Chi was important to me and I wanted to keep working and growing, and for that I needed the right teacher. I found Jesse the way we tend to find anything or anyone these days,  I typed “Tai Chi Chen Teacher” into the Google search bar. Jesse’s name was the first to appear, and  when I saw that he lived in San Diego, not far from where I had spent a good part of my adult life with Joko, I felt that somehow the universe was giving me a pointer to follow.

After our first communication, there wasn’t a question that I wanted to study with him. What came across most was that this person was “clear,” at home in his life, filled with a very unassuming generosity and kindness. Like Joko, Jesse was very clearly “naturally” in his life, at ease and confident with himself and then of course with everyone else, doing what he is meant to do. I sensed an inexhaustible and welcoming energy without any “push” or resistance --  just an ability to “flow.“ There isn’t a Tai Chi form that Jesse  doesn’t know and teach; but there is no “showiness” about this and his many accomplishments (books, at least fifty teaching DVDs, a full schedule of workshops all over the world). This is the elusive quality that people associate with Zen and other spiritual practices, including Taoist practices and Qigong and Tai, but so rarely realized. In Jesse, I sensed it was simply who he was – like Joko, like any real master, nothing special.  This was why I wanted him to come and teach in North Carolina, which he did, in April 2013.

The workshop was wonderful: The teachings themselves were amazing, the forms he created in Qigong and Tai Chi (described on the flyer) are unparalleled. His style if one can call it that is seamless to the content, so everyone from beginners to experienced Tai Chi teachers learned something and felt good about learning it. In trying to understand what is unique that makes this possible, I believe it is that his teaching is him; simply, he is the teaching  There is no strain to teach or to be the teacher. He simply teaches something that is as much part of him as his skin. But what in my opinion lifts this to a true spiritual master teaching, is his ability to “be out of his own way” and so to listen and pay attention to everyone. This kind of paying attention is a core spiritual practice that allows the actualization of what it means to really be here, now.

No one or anything really excaped him. I think he does believe with all his being that Tai Chi is for everyone and do-able by everyone, and important to the health and well being of everyone.  He said often – “This is easy. See? Sure, you can do this!” and then he would go one on one if necessary -- and everyone did see that Yes, they could do it, and Yes, it was fun.

The atmosphere, the texture, the feel created in the room, were the epitome of Tai Chi when it is called “play”. A number of people commented to me afterward that  they felt ”great,” that they learned  surprisingly easily things they never felt they could learn in Tai Chi! One person said she felt like she was floating; another said after years of studying Tai Chi, finally there was something so utterly stripped it felt as if it was in  her hands. Another said Tai Chi would never be the same.

The second day of the workshop Jesse taught the “Tai Chi Bang 8 Immortal Flute,” a form he created. The use of the short stick (the bang) moves qi in all of the ways qi moves, mind, meditation, movement,  massage, and teaches, without saying a word, all of the essential principles of Tai Chi as well – whole body movement, no independent movement of hands/arms…lightness, agility, energy rooting in feet, etc. It can’t be compared to any other form.  As a Zen teacher, I am aware that one of the most important aspects to “get,” to really be free of ideas and illusions, is to  find a way to somehow be in the only moment we have, and that is the one that is right here now.  Often I have had students “come to their senses” and get out of their heads by simply touching their clothing -  a simple physical act. The bang/stick, because one holds it, touches it, sees it, can even smell the wood, engages all of the senses and brings Tai Chi to one’s senses automatically.  Since the workshop, I have used this form with a severely challenged population, war veterans in a locked facility, with surprising and inspiring results. (I’ll write more about that in a later post.)

When anything or anyone transforms, they are not simply changed.  I was not simply changed by the presence of this incredible teacher, a part of my brain did slip and fall open and the silence who we are the living meditation found in Tai Chi, seems to be more and more a part of me.  

Thank you, Jesse, for your life and teaching.



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