Discovering Yangshuo China
Our muscles hurt constantly and our bruised arms were tender to the touch but we were loving every minute of our Tai Chi studies.
In a million years we would never have imagined the scenario we were in now, living in a Qing dynasty house, living and breathing Tai Chi.
How we found ourselves here was one of those examples that we have got used to during our adventure but it’s still a bit bewildering to be honest.
We had travelled to Southern China to visit and stay near Yangshuo which is situated amongst a stunning landscape of limestone karsts.
We stayed in the very picturesque Yulong river area at the brilliant Wada Hostel for what was initially supposed to be a week but we fell in love with the area so much we decided to stay longer.
The Wada Hostel provides mountain bikes and if you rent them after 4pm they are free to guests so we took advantage of that to explore the area with its paved footpaths along the beautiful Yulong river and up in to the hills around Yangshuo.
The Wada was the first hostel that we had stayed in on our trip so we were a bit apprehensive but we booked a family room and it was lovely with a great view out over the countryside from our window.
Apart from the great location the staff were very friendly and took time to interact with Annabel and even taught her how to make dumplings.
We actually loved Yangshuo so much that we changed all of our travel plans so that we could stay there longer. We were due to get a train to Beijing and then fly to Taiwan but we managed to reschedule our train but unfortunately lost the money on our flights, thats how much we loved this area.
That meant of course our month long Chinese visa would run out but the procedure of extending it was pretty easy and involved going into Yangshuo to the Police Station to get the paperwork and then a visit to Guillin (about 2 hours bus ride away) to another police station to obtain the visa which we got without any difficulty. We just needed a stamp from the place we were staying (Wada Hostel) and a rough itinerary of our planned stay along with photocopies of a bank balance and passport copies and that was it.
Being by the Yulong river meant we were a little way from Yangshuo town proper but we could cycle there or walk for about 30 minutes to get there if we felt like going to the bigger shops etc.
After walking along the road several times we discovered a nice path that wound its way through the countryside to the town, which was much nicer and quiet too.
It was on one of our walks that we got curios about a sign for the Yangshuo Traditional Tai Chi School which is situated up a cobbled alleyway amongst age old stone buildings.
Now you need to know that we weren’t familiar with Tai Chi in any way shape or form other than the idea that it was very slow and gentle and to be honest, something the elderly might do for exercise but our curiosity got the better of us and we entered the doorway of the school.
The inside of the school was just oozing character with Ying Yang symbols, weapons of various descriptions, and a huge mirrored partially outdoor training area.
A man approached us who we learned was Master Wu, one of the instructors at the school and he invited us to chat over tea.
The Chinese approach to drinking tea is slightly different to that in the West with its rituality, tiny cups and endless nature but we had a lovely time chatting and a couple of hours later were really attracted to the idea of spending some time at the school as students.
We negotiated a great deal with the school for all three of us to live there for a month which included all of our meals, bedroom and Tai Chi tuition.
The school run two classes a day in the morning and afternoon of two hours each and initially Sue and I only done the morning class but our day usually consisted of waking at about 6am, getting showered and ready for morning class. Breakfast was usually put out at around 7am but it just consisted of Congee which is a type of rice gruel with maybe some left over sides dishes from the evening before. Its basic but it’s just right before training hard later in the morning.
There’s usually always tea being made or we could make some and sit outside and chat with other students of the school.
There were about 9 other students training, not all of them lived at the school but were staying in local lodgings etc. There are a few long term students who have been there months if not a few years. It was lovely getting to know everyone and spending time with them which makes it feel like a family atmosphere.
Classes are split in to two groups, beginners and the more advanced but sometimes there may be just one class that everyone goes into depending on how many Masters there are available to teach.
Classes are pretty intense and start with stretching and warm up and continue into learning what’s called form, as a beginner we learnt the 14 form which is a set of 14 movements that all combine to make one fluid sequence (hopefully). This style of Tai Chi (Chen Style) is a very traditional style but rather than be like the forms that we were used to seeing with the very slow movements, this form can be very dynamic and fast at times, resembling Kung Fu. More advanced students go on to have weapons training with swords and staffs as well as a form that includes using a fan.
By the end of two hours we were pretty exhausted especially in our first week or so but a lovely lunch awaited us everyday.
All the students eat together around a large circular table, laden with bowls of delicious fresh authentic Chinese food prepared by Master Wu’s brother who goes to market each morning to get fresh ingredients.
There is always a big container of rice and usually a huge vat of chicken soup so there was always plenty of food to go around.
The afternoons were free for us but the students who had another class at 3pm, might rest until then or go into town.
Sue and I decided to explore Chinese medicine and acupuncture with Lily Li in Yangshuo town and booked some treatments with her which was another story completely.
Dinner was served at around 6pm and was much the same delicious affair as lunchtime. Once dinner was done and everyone had their fill there really wasn’t much to do other than retire to our bedroom or drink tea and chat with others or sometimes we would walk down to the Wada hostel and watch Harry Potter cd’s of which Annabel had been obsessive about.
After a week or so Sue decided learning the 14 form wasn’t for her and wanted instead to concentrate on her Chi Qigong moves so she still attended the morning class but would do her own thing so I had her Tai Chi lesson so went to two lessons a day which I needed to perfect the 14 form by the time we were due to leave.
In the afternoons I got put into the more advanced group which was actually really interesting as I got to have a go at push hands which is the more physical two person training within Tai Chi that teaches the martial art aspect.
It was actually quite physical and most of us ended up with pretty bruised arms but it was really interesting to learn and put into practice the moves we had been going over in the form.
Annabel didn’t go to classes but used her time making videos and getting to know Hotpot the school dog as well as Master Wu’s daughter.
Learning all about Chi (the internal energy force) was fascinating as was practising meditation in standing forms which took a lot of focus.
I think we learnt so much not only about Tai Chi but a whole new philosophy of wellbeing, health and balance in life that hadn’t realised before coming to the Yangshuo Tai Chi School.
It was challenging to train sometimes, conditions were basic but the people we met, the things we learned and the whole experience was amazing and we would do it all again without hesitation.
As our time in Yangshuo came to an end we felt sad to leave so many new friends but amazed at how much we had loved this beautiful area of China and it’s friendly local people and dramatic landscapes as well as our time studying Tai Chi in a lovey location.