The Birth of HeavenMountain

By way of a thank you to all of you, colleagues and friends, for your many good wishes on the Birthday Anniversary of the Heavenmountain Taijiquan Facebook page, I hope you will enjoy this tale.

The Birth of HeavenMountain.

After some 10 years or so of studying Tai Chi with my first teacher, I had moved on. I worked and studied on my own for a couple of years and was privileged to spend a considerable amount of time in the company of my dear friend and eminent Acupuncturist Ranald McDonald, studying and practising the traditional Yang family Sansou and eating a lot of chinese food. Partly as a result of our conversations it seemed an appropriate career progression to go and study Acupuncture at college, so, on the morning of Saturday, 5 March 1994, around 10am, I found myself sitting in a large gymnasium hall in Reading, England. I was hanging out with my classmates, drinking Coffee, telling jokes, chatting, as you do before work begins. We were allegedly there to study the application of Qi in needling techniques. 

I felt something: I couldn't really tell you what, the hairs on my neck didn't stand up, no one walked over my grave, the room just changed somehow, as if reality had kind of flexed a bit. I was drawn to look across to the gym entrance at a small, slightly childlike looking Chinese man, dressed in a smart overcoat, carrying a briefcase and looking a little lost. I didn’t know who he was yet, but Dr. Shen Hongxun was in the house. He was introduced by the college authorities (a big thank you to John and Angie Hicks) and proceeded to lecture us in an extraordinary and inimitable blend of Chinese and English, well, English language, but presented from a Chinese mind and delivered in a tone approaching the upper limits of the human audible spectrum.

I remember that he stressed in his lecture the importance of stretching the spine so that, essentially, if one could become taller one would also become more well. At some point one of my classmates lent over and whispered "How come he’s so bloody short then?" to which I replied "well, we don't know how tall he was when he started".

I don't remember exactly how the day went: I'm quite sure we did some extraordinary Qigong. I recall people flying round the room, bursting into song, tears, laughter, shaking, crying, dancing, falling on the floor. One of the college principals was apparently quacking like a duck while hopping about on the floor when Dr. Shen appeared in front of me, arms spread wide, somehow seeming huge although he was much smaller than me. He flapped his arms once, rapidly, causing the hanging sleeves of his loose Chinese jacket to make a whiplike cracking sound. This sound entered my body and penetrated the depths of my existence, causing me to burst into tears and collapse on the floor, overwhelmed in a sea of outpouring emotions and confusion.

At the end of the class day, I decided I'd go up and speak to this fellow. I figured he'd probably know some interesting stuff about T'ai Chi. I got to about 15 feet away from him and his gaze and attention turned directly to me. He was smiling, but something about it halted me. I didn't even get to open my mouth. "Ah, you like T'ai Chi, want to know about pushing hands."

Still wearing his smart overcoat, and holding his briefcase in his other (left) hand, he pointed two fingers at where I was standing. Now I felt hot and really confused and, much more alarmingly and importantly, I was standing some 6 feet further away from him that I had been previously. After more than 10 years of studying Tai Chi with one of the few teachers who could actually demonstrate internal force, I knew what uprooting was and I knew what non-contact or empty force was, but never had I seen or experienced it being demonstrated so effortlessly and with such great control.

So we spoke, beginning the long and sometimes difficult journey towards understanding, complicated by coming from different cultures, speaking different languages and having vastly different ways of thinking and social norms. I guess what we shared then was a love of T'ai Chi and  a desire to make things better. I had no idea just how much richness and freedom, and indeed love, this relationship would bring to my life and the lives of so many others.

Not so long after this first meeting, I took 20 of my students to Tai Chi masterclass given by Dr Shen in London. At some point the phrase "you come to all of my lessons" issued from his lips. I came to realise, much, much later, that because Chinese is largely a tonal language, that when Dr Shen said something, a simple phrase in English, it could be translated as a question, an instruction, a request, a suggestion or a simple statement of fact. The translation might depend on context, or on the current state of personal evolution of whoever it was addressed to. 

Even now, I guess it could have been any of the above translation options, but I took it as an invitation, so I did, gradually focusing pretty much all of my energy, interest, resources, time and money on studying with him. For the next 17 years or so, until his passing in October 2011, I went to around 90% of all the lessons he gave both here in the UK and in Europe, that is literally thousands of lessons, studying with him, and later translating, collaborating and proof-reading on many of the works written about Taiji 37, Taijiwuxigong, Buqi Healing, Meditation and Spirit Diseases, as well as at his suggestion jointly forming the HeavenMountain T’ai Chi school.

So, although Dr. Shen didn't actually suggest that we should form the HeavenMountain T'ai Chi school until sometime in 1996, I choose to celebrate the first day of our meeting as our birthday.

I am forever grateful to him for his knowledge, skill, wisdom, compassion and particularly for his friendship, which I miss, and will, for as long as I am able, continue to do my best in my own small way to spread his Teachings and to support the continuation of his work and his Lineage.

Paul Brewer, Heaven Mountain Taiji March 2018