Saturday, November 23, 2013

Sage Cowles, a founding mother of Twin Cities T'ai-Chi Ch'uan Studio, R.I.P.

 "The body is central to the learning process, not a second-class citizen separate from the mind.”
-Sage Cowles

 I just learned of the passing of Sage Cowles, a local legend in the dance community and a philanthropist who raised the level of art in Minnesota to the excellence it enjoys today and will enjoy for years to come. Whoever reads this blog, I would like you to know about Sage the Tai-Chi practitioner.

Sage was one of a group who, having traveled to China and witnessed T'ai-Chi being practiced in the park, sought out  instruction in the Twin Cities. Sage was one of the founding mothers of Twin Cities T'ai-Chi Ch'uan Studio which began by having classes held in her dance studio in 1982. Sage and three others helped found the Studio, which now is a non-profit, full time studio celebrating its 20th year as a non-profit ( with 11years before that as a commercial school).

I had the privilege of working with Sage as her teacher, and quickly became her student as well. She gave as well as she got and I use many of her moving, stretching, and training concepts,  which she learned and experienced from a lifetime of movement, to this very day. Sage studied privately with me as well as taking group classes and learned Master Liang's complete system of Tai-Chi including weapons and pushing hands. Sage was one of the demonstrators for my "Farewell to the Master" demonstration in 1988 on the occasion of Master Liang leaving Minnesota.

I recently got to talk to her about my explorations into the dance world and sharing Tai-Chi and others arts with dancers and performers. Sage was delighted and gave me much support and encouragement. I will miss her smile and enthusiasm and openness.I will miss her friendship and support.But not too much because I have secret for all my students. You get a "Sage lesson" every time I lead the stretching and warm-up. It was Sage who taught me that when you bend and stretch your hamstrings, you can "relax your abdomen and lower back" to get the most out of your stretch with the least amount of pain.How many times have you heard that? For some of you, it's been decades. Thank you Sage.

Monday, November 11, 2013

When the student is ready...

"Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire." --William Butler Yeats

  ..the teacher will appear. Mine did. On July 29th 1977, in Boston. The day I met Master T. T. Liang. From that day on, my life changed, and it was a good thing considering my upbringing and family situation. Master Liang taught me, inspired me, corrected me, and introduced me to people and concepts and outlooks and teachings that I fear I would have never known. He encouraged me to learn from many teachers and read many books, and to practice, practice, practice! Oh the love and excitement and joy I experienced in those early days stays with me at this very moment!

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” 
-William Arthur Ward

Master Liang was more than patient with an impatient, uneducated, slightly rough young man who was eager to learn all he had to teach. I not only learned Tai-Chi, Praying Mantis, Ch'in-Na, and weapons, I learned a lot about Chinese history, philosophy and culture.

 “Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.”

Master Liang introduced me to four other teachers: Master B.P. Chan, Master William C.C. Chen, Dr. Leung Kay-Chi, and Sifu Lo Man-Biu. Master Liang wanted me to learn from many people and make my own way after an extensive investigation. He never said he was my master or that I was only to study with him.

 “I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
-Albert Einstein

I was introduced to my eldar classmate Paul Gallagher through Master Liang and immediately took him as one of my teachers, learning all things Taoist as well as the T'ai-Chi Classics, Pa-Kua, and much much more. I also saw an older version of Master Liang's teachings and would compare and contrast with what I was learning in my weekly private lessons with Liang with what Paul had learned ten years earlier.

 "Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three." --Confucius

Master Liang not only taught me T'ai-Chi Ch'uan, be he taught me how to learn, and how to teach, a passion I follow as my vocation and life task. I was given my first students and teaching assignments from Master Liang. The first group of students I ever taught the 150 Posture Long Form was at the New England School of Acupuncture, a class Master Liang could not attend, so I got the gig!

 "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."
- Benjamin Franklin

I was accepted as a disciple on November 11th, 1988 in St Cloud Minnesota. That was a culmination of years of study, practice, sacrifice, hardship, breakthroughs, and joy. I took my discipleship seriously and have continued Master Liang's mission of spreading T'ai- Chi as the "Whole World's Exercise" echoing Liang's feeling that T'ai- Chi is for everyone regardless of age, health or ability.

 "It is not what is poured into a student that counts but what is planted."
-Linda Conway

I miss my teacher daily. I also get to check in with him in my daily practice and teaching. His presence is felt in my Studio by others besides me, including Liang's daughter An-Le and son, Joseph , both who commented on the feeling of their father's presence and personality being there. I feel blessed to have had such an influence in my life. I am still reaping the benefits and seeing all the goodness planted into my life all those years ago.

  "A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank...but the world may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child."
- Forest Witchcraft

You can have many teachers, but you can only have one master. I have experienced this and have studied with many high level masters and teachers. Only one taught all of me; body, mind, spirit, emotion, and heart. Only one took a chance to trust me and give to me beyond measure, and in the end, point me on my path.

                                                                  Thank you Sir!

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."
-Henry Adams

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Guest Choreographer at Carleton College

 This year I was chosen to be the guest artist and co-choreographer for Semaphore, Carleton College’s dance and performance company. I had worked with Jane Shockley, adjunct professor and Senior Lectureror of Dance, at Zenon Dance Company and Dance School. Our classes combined Modern Dance and T'ai-Chi as well as introducing meditation, qi-gong, and various martial art styles. Jane asked if I would like to compose a piece together. We agreed that we should show movement representing alchemy, ritual, martial arts, weapons, and dance, with an overall feeling of sacred movement.

Throughout this Summer, Jane and I talked and researched and danced until our ideas started to jell and a piece formed. In September I got to spend five days with Semaphore and we taught and refined the movements and let the muse join us for some amazing teaching and learning. It was a real pleasure to work with such talented and eager students. One of the dancers said that the piece was more about letting the audience into the performance than for the dancers to perform for the audience. Indeed , the work, titled Azoth, has a transformational personality of its own.

Since September, Jane has been putting on the finishing touches as well as leading the rehearsals for the upcoming performances. I am excited to see the piece performed and more to the point, to see how it has transformed! A lot of work, time, and inspiration went into the creation of this dance. It has more the feel of ritual, or sacred movement, with some nice martial arts punctuation.

 Azoth will be performed two nights, 11/8 & 11/9, at 7:30 PM at the Weitz Center for Creativity. You can see this work by contacting the college and “buying”tickets, which is reserving free tickets. Go to the bottom of this link;