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March 21-26, 2001

Since the American spy plane made its emergency landing at the end of March, most people know the location of China's island province, Hainan. The First World Taijiquan and Health Conference took place in the island's southernmost city, Sanya.

Apart from the palm trees, the sand, the sea, the humidity, the tropical 28 C and the lack of snow, the event in China, reminded me of our local Sibley Ski Tour. Both events had a mass-participation aspect and included a wide range of ages and abilities.One sunrise at Sanya, 10,000 people performed Taijiquan together - ten times the number in the mass start at Sibley.
Grace Roddy
Sarah The eight of us from the Peng You Taiji Quan Association, who participated in the conference, exemplified the age range of people performing Taijiquan. Sarah Peng is five and Grace Roddy is 82. In the ski tour there are high level competitors racing over 50 kilometres as well as beginners and untrained individuals doing a manageable 10 k. Competitors at Sanya ranged from neophytes to masters who win Gold Medals at international events. Unlike the ski tour, the Taiji conference included demonstrations, workshops and classes.

Pushing handsTaijiquan and cross country skiing can both be done as individual or as group activities. Taiji is different though, because when ten thousand people on the beach that morning joined together to perform Taiji, we were moving simultaneously through the identical pattern of movements. 4,000 conference participants joined 6,000 others - mainly schoolchildren in one unified act. We Thunder Bay folk were in the section with 1,000 foreign participants. Around us we recognized people from the United States, Europe, the Philippines, Cuba and Japan. On the sand beach below us, nearer to the sea, bringing up the numbers, were local school children in their uniforms. Beyond that we couldn't see for people and palm trees, but we knew the extent of our numbers by the flight pattern of the ultralight that flew up and down the beach videotaping the performance of the 24 Form Yang Style which we repeated four times. We moved and breathed as individuals, but as we flowed through the forms we were woven together into one greater whole.
Taiji friends at Opening Banquet

Peng You Taiji Quan Association team at morning exercises The individuals from Thunder Bay who went to Sanya were our Master, Peng You Lian, his wife Su Jing and their daughters Sarah and Lily. Sarah and Peng both competed and participated in our team demonstrations. Janet Fuchek took a break from teaching English in Japan and came to support us at the festival. The other competitors were Grace Roddy, Edna Groop, Louise Bourret, Fred McIntosh, Oliver Reimer and our instructor, Roy Stokes. Sarah Link joined us in the team demonstrations. Jan Hunter, Edna's daughter took pictures and made a video recording of our participation in the festival.

Association members demonstrate Our group demonstration was in a tent outside where a fan made us a bit more comfortable. We were joined by Sarah Peng when we did the International Eight Forms. We continued with the 24 Form Yang Style set, the 32 Sword Form , and the 48 Yang Style set. While we waited for our turns we watched other teams, some large and some small. The whole audience was electrified by four people from Hong Kong who each facing a different direction did a dramatic and wonderfully coordinated and powerful performance of Chen Style Taiji.

Team members on stage at the closing ceremony The high point of being in Sanya was doing Taiji (or playing it as the Chinese say) together with Chinese and others all in the midst of the culture in which it developed. The attention we got from the media and other participants may have gone to our heads as well. Anyone in China who paid attention to papers and television by now knows that Thunder Bay has a thriving Taijiquan community. Many of the masters we met there are eager to come here to teach. As foreigners, we got a lot of attention because we were easily identified by our black T-shirts with our association logo the large Taiji (yin-yang) symbol and the words in Chinese and English "friendship, health, happiness". The fact that our team had the youngest and the oldest participant delighted everyone, especially the media, who photographed and videotaped us for newspapers, magazines and national television. Grace and Sarah received certificates at the closing ceremony for being the oldest and youngest competitors. It seemed that we were used to represent the teams who came to China from abroad. At the closing ceremony, which was broadcast nationally, we were invited to perform on stage together with a small number of other foreigners. That performance was the culmination of our team demonstrations and individual competition in the variety of forms that we have learned in Thunder Bay.

It was a first-ever event and we were all glad to be able to participate. It is true that it was marred by organizational problems. It was intense and exhausting, but for our group it was a wonderful experience. We were inspired by fine performances and by seeing such a variety and depth of Taijiquan. We realized that when we do Taijiquan in Thunder Bay, we are part of a vast number of people from all over the planet. There are different style and different forms but as we move and meditate, we seem to become part of something much bigger than our individual selves.

By Oliver Reimer