2008 Xiao Yao Internal Martial Arts Retreat

By Faith LeLievre

2008 Xiao Yao Internal Martial Arts Retreat
2008 Xiao Yao Internal Martial Arts Retreat

Sitting on the plane I reflect on the last week - our annual Xiao Yao Internal Arts retreat with Grandmaster Shouyu Liang and his daughter, Master Helen Liang - a week of quality instruction and practice with good friends.

4:15 in the morning came early after our last night in Vancouver - the final day of the retreat, photos, dinner in Steveston, a walk along the pier at sunset, hanging with friends until way too late for such an early morning flight. But, that's how it generally is. It's always hard to end such a great time. While our legs beg for a day of rest, it's still hard to believe that we are at the end of our retreat.

The cool Vancouver morning greets me as I leave the bed and breakfast, drivingon the quiet roads of early morning to the airport for a 7AM departure bound for my home of Hilo, Hawaii. The sun is rising as we taxi down the runway of Vancouver International Airport, the mountains in the distance and the city below waking up for another day. I have time to relax and look back on the last ten days - time spent in class training; time spent with friends; time spent simply being. It is wonderful to once again see my training friends from previous years and to meet new friends.

Our flight takes a route over the beautiful Cascade Mountain range of Washington. Looking up from my journal, there it is - an incredible site - rising out of the clouds is the summit of Mount Baker, morning sun shining on its glacial covered peak, jagged ridges standing out against the blue sky, fluffy white clouds obscuring the ground below. Mount Rainier follows - a domed peak, clouds parting to the south.

It is hard to believe that it has been nineteen years since I first ventured to Vancouver, British Columbia searching for Shouyu Liang. Luckily, through a series of conversations and phone calls, I was directed to a couple of students of Master Liang, now my very good friends, who could help me.

Attending the annual retreats, I am reminded of times gone by and thankful for both the past and the present. When they say "a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step", they are not kidding. It has been four years now since I started to attend the Xiao Yao annual summer treat. I still remember that first season, not knowing any of the students, and excited about learning Water Style. Little did I know that it was the beginning of not only an amazing training experience, but also the beginning of so many new friendships with people from places far from my home.

Each year we come from distant lands to meet in Vancouver for a week of internal arts training - Taijiquan, Qigong, Water Style, Bagua, Xingyi - from Hawaii, Texas, California; from across Canada - Fort St. John, Fort McMurry, Winnipeg, Kamloops - this year we had a new friend from Mexico City. Many of us are instructors in our hometowns, others students of all levels, now connected through our common passion for these arts and this annual retreat.

I find it incredible that after a year apart, as soon as we get together, we are moving as one - one big, extended ohana (family). This year we discovered that from as far away as Fort St. John is to Mexico City, there is a common thread; practitioners with similar backgrounds, practicing the same material - now connected through the threads of taijiquan.

We started our training this year with two days of Qigong. A great way to begin after all of us traveling - time to replenish and build up our qi for the days to come. Then two days of Water Style - review and refinement for the returning students; an opportunity to learn for the new students.

On days five and six, we studied the fundamentals of Taijiquan. A wonderful compilation form, Thirteen Yin Yang Taiji, from Master Shouyu Liang's Xiao Yao (Free Spirited) system was taught. (For those of you that were there, yes, that is how the yin/yang sisters came to be. We thought it would be fun to have yin/yang shirts for the yin/yang form - and it certainly was.) This Xiao Yao routine combines various styles of taiji; soft movements combined with energy emission (fa jing) movements; hand and leg techniques. Everyone had a good time with this. The Thirteen Posture Sword followed, also from the Xiao Yao system - the second year for this form and we all really enjoyed the review.

Completing the retreat was two days of Swimming Dragon Body Bagua - the second year for this amazing form. We covered and refined so many details that it doesn't even feel like the same form I have been practicing for the last year. It is amazing the new insights we all had over these two days; not to mention the difference in our forms - everyone working together really well, moving in unison.

The dedication and focus of the group was again amazing. I could not ask for better people to be studying with. Somehow the group energy that gets created seems to help us all learn more quickly. Often after class, we go to one of the beautiful local parks and practice together - and then again, some nights we just eat dinner, quickly review and then off to sleep - too exhausted for anything but a joyful rest.

In the training hall there is a plaque that says, "Martial Arts ... Making Friends Forever." This has really been the tone for these retreats. Not only has the training and location been wonderful, but the friends I have made are priceless.

Arriving in Hilo, I am greeted with a rainbow, the afternoon sun reflecting on the dark clouds to the south. I am home. I smile as I remember the week. More practice this year ... well, always more practice, isn’t it? Getting ready for next year and another week of hard work and fun ... seeing old friends and meeting new friends.

Feet glide along the floor - toe then heel, toe then heel.
Bagua stepping, skating along.
Palms circle.
Bodies spin.
Light and rooted.
Agile and strong.
Relax. Relax.
High and low, left and right.
Winding up ... unwinding.
Circular patterns.
Spinning and turning.
Walking the circle.
Being the circle.