I planned a birthday dinner and had help from Jane, Diane, Julie, and Margo. Little did they know that my party was not to celebrate me, but celebrate my disciples! My upcoming birthday gave me lots to think about, my future, teaching plans, and an opportunity to set things in motion to ensure a smooth transition for my academy, and pave the way for my successor.
When all the plans were made, arrangements set, all that was left was the weekend to arrive! And arrive it did. On Friday morning, Sifu Diane Cannon, and her two senior students Chris Venaccio and Will Allen 6th, came in from Delaware, only to be greeted with good old Minnesota cold and snow! Welcome! In spite of the snow and dismal forecast, 18 people joined me for a dinner a Sakura in St Paul, a very white and snowy St Paul.
After taking our seats, ordering great food, and enjoying great company, I got up to speak. I told everyone there that we were there to celebrate them! I just used my birthday as an excuse. I told stories of different teachers and schools and the various troubles they had when teachers retired, moved, or even died! I told my guests that I will be taking a page out of my Druid teacher Philip Carr-Gomm's playbook.
Let me digress.
At a Druid retreat in Pennsylvania about 6 years ago, I met Philip Carr-Gomm, the chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, OBOD for short. We had a talk about succession and concerns about a peaceful, transparent, handover or succession, so all things are clear, easy and simple. His plan was to name his successor, work with them leading up to the handover, stay after the handover, then be a retired Druid Chief. This is now happening in June.
I thought long and hard about how I want to cut back on my teaching, focus on writing, and getting enough time to complete my Home Study Pushing Hands Course. Plus, I wanted no confusion about who I leave in charge, who I give permission to teach under my name, and make sure there are people in place to continue the great teaching and styles we have been offering since 1984.
Back to the dinner. With no special order, I began to appointment various disciples and give them their responsibilities and marching orders. And now I share this with all.
I'm making the complete Tai-Chi system available to all my students: in books, videos, and classes. I will try my best to get it into all their bodies, minds, and spirits before I fully close my hands.
In two years, when I'm 62, I am retiring from teaching public classes. I will continue to teach private groups and seminars. At that time, I'm turning the school over to Julie Cisler. There is no one I trust more with the running of the school. Julie has been with me for close to 20 years. In that time she served twice as board president at Twin Cities Tai Chi Chuan Studio. She worked closely with me and Joanne in running the non-profit. Julie has been helping me run our academy, teach classes, and she is my partner in my publishing and writing. Julie has excellent learning, practicing, teaching, and people skills and she is a formidable push hands player! Julie Cisler will also receive Master Choi's complete Pa-Kua style and will have it available at the academy for you all.
Fred Sparks is one of those rare individuals who can learn, master, and improvise on ANY martial arts style. He could learn any and all the styles I teach, or any he wants to embrace. I am handing over all the Hsing-Yi Chuan I learned from Master Choi and the 6 previous teachers I learned from. I am concentrating on Master Choi's Hsing-Yi with Fred because that is the highest level teachings I received from the highest level master I ever studied with. Fred Sparks will keep this style for all of you in my absence. Fred will also receive Master Choi's complete Pa-Kua style and will have it available at the academy for you all.
John Stitely is my designated historian and lore keeper of the lineages and teachings I received. John has been helping me catalogue all the styles in videos, writings, and preserving historical documents. John will help me write the history of our lineage and will preserve for all of us our rare and valuable history. John will also receive Master Choi's complete Pa-Kua style and will have it available at the academy for you all.
Sifu Diane Cannon will help me co-write two books, one on Tai-Chi Fan, and the other on Wu Dang Wu Li Sword. The sword book will also feature many translations by Master Liang never seen before. Diane is also branching out and teaching Tai-Chi academically in Delaware. Diane Cannon will also receive Master Choi's complete Pa-Kua style and will have it available in Delaware.
John Feely is teaching in Stillwater at his River Valley Tai-Chi. I will help with John teaching in Wisc and nearby communities. John will also receive Master Choi's complete Pa-Kua style and will have it available for you all.
Wanda Koehler is helping me teach Tai-Chi through the Carleton College Rec Center. Wanda will be taking more classes and responsibility and continuing our teachings in Northfield. Wanda will also receive Master Choi's complete Pa-Kua style.
There are others continuing great work and will receive their duties at a later date.
Now, on to my successor. My choice is not any kind of judgment of my students who I didn't choose. I need to have one leader. A single voice after all the discussions are done and a decision needs to be made. A person who can speak for me, whether I'm living or dead. The student I can send people to for instruction.
I chose one who has a combination of skill, commitment, passion, and curiosity. A person who went through hell with me when I was forced to leave the old studio. Someone who is in love with Tai-Chi and obsessed with it as much as I am, almost! A student who passed through a solemn ceremony to become my disciple and a 7th generation lineage holder. Someone who has progressed by leaps and bounds!
My successor is Margo Bock. Margo has been with me for many years and learned deeply the lessons and principles needed. She is currently going through an intense period of training, with me as her coach, sparring partner, mentor, councilor, confidant, and teacher. In 5 years I will close my hands and Margo will take up my public teaching. If I get hit by a bus, go to Margo Bock. She will also receive Master Choi's complete Pa-Kua style and will have it available at the academy for you all.
Together with Julie Cisler, Fred Sparks, and John Stitely, Margo will help to make sure the academy will be there to share the world's exercise, and the teachings of many masters, styles, and lineages. I have talked this through with my mentor Master Paul Gallagher, my master Grandmaster Wai-lun Choi, and my partner Jane Shockley. I took a long time to come to this decision and am at peace with my choice. I hope you will show Margo the same respect you give me and help her as you help me. Margo's title is Da Shih Mei, Big Elder Sister. In my family of disciples and students, I am officially letting you know.
Whew! That was an intense night for me, and it was only going to get busier with the Chinese New Years demo and banquet. The next morning I was pleasantly surprised to find the disciples at the academy, decorating it for the demo and ceremony, and taking charge! After lots of practices and workouts, we set up and one of the best demos began. (The following photos will give you an idea)
After the demonstration portion, Margo, Julie, Diane, and Fred led the altar ceremony complete with description and instructions. My pride and joy knew no bounds and my cup runneth over! We then went to Peking Garden in St Paul, where Jeannie Li had arranged a 13 course new year banquet!! Many new dishes and some old goodies, plus an amazing 13 courses for vegetarians, made Saturday Night one for the diary and record books!
Sunday morning brunch with family, friends, and disciples, and a visit from my classmate Bob Klanderud, made for a nice finish to my plans. An evening sipping whiskey at Emmett's Pub, with Chris V as the master of the waters of life, left me with a headache the next day! So worth it!
Monday Diane and crew flew back East, Julie taught class, everything changed, and didn't, and life went on. I feel a shift, people stepping up, changes coming, and it all feels right. Thank you all for making my birthday, Chinese New Year, and my life so good. I am blessed.
Group Tai-Chi Solo Form
Sifu Diane Tai-Chi Fan
Group Tai-Chi Sword
San-Shou Julie and Loren
Tai-Chi Cane Form
Wu-Dang Wu-Li Sword Sifu Diane
Tai-Chi Fast Form
Margo Tai-Chi Double Sabre
John S 5 Element Change Form
8 Styles Bat Sik Choi
Steve Hsing-Yi Kwan Do
Fred 7 Halberds Strung Like Pearls
Pa-Kua 8 Inner Palms Paul I, Steve, Paul D
Pa-Kua Deer Horn Knives Fred, Margo, John S
6 Harmony Staff Paul D and Margo
Two Person Karambit Wanda and Matt
5 Elder Staff John F
6 Harmony Staff Fred and John S
Karen Eagle Claw Double Daggers
Banquet at Peking Garden