At the end of next week my partner and I are off to Morocco for our annual Tai Chi retreat. As we are away until early January I will wish you all a merry Christmas now for once we are in Morocco all things seasonal soon become a distant memory. As sunshine, diligent training and Goat Tagine take over any traditional notions of Christmas take a distinct back seat. I’ve been going to Morocco to train each winter for some ten years now. My two long term teachers Karel and Eva Koskuba organise the retreat and provide the high quality tuition (and humour) though it has been known that I help out with teaching from time to time to mix things up a bit.
It’s really good to take some time out from teaching and focus solidly upon my own training for a few weeks. The process of being on such a retreat is somehow both restorative and exhaustive all at the same time. Being super-keen means I usually find myself training for 8 to 10 hours a day, the exquisite sunshine, fresh air and food serving as an excellent and sustaining fuel for this process. Now this might sound like a lot but you have to remember that I have been training diligently in various martial arts since I was 17 and so this has given me lots of time to get used to it! Although having said that, some days can seem long if we are practising something that is particularly demanding for hours on end. The good thing is that Tai Chi teaches you excellent, natural body-mechanics and how to use the body and mind efficiently with minimal tension. Thus over time it is actually quite easy to spend all day training (I’ve found that a long siesta after a large lunch certainly helps too!) .
Having so much time to spend on training is fantastic. Gradually any residual worries about day to day life back home ebb away as the beautifully simple routine of sleeping, training and eating in outstanding natural surroundings sets up a new pace of life. And you can forget any po-faced asceticism on this retreat. For while some of us take our training very seriously there are lots of laughs and japes to be had during downtime. Indeed, mealtimes can become quite riotous in the general clamour of good hearted enjoyment and socialising. Contrary to the contempory beliefs of our fitness fanatic friends with their insatiable keeness to stay lean, people who train a lot in Tai Chi usually have decidedly large appetites for large quantities of food (fortunately Tai Chi fosters extremely good digestion)! This is all carried out, I hasten to add, without the influence of alcohol as Morocco is a ‘dry’ country. Having said, it has been known that certain individuals smuggle in a little tipple for new years eve! I won’t mention any names…
The place where we stay is called Riad El Aissi a small family run Olive and Banana farm on the outskirts of Taroudant, a traditional Berber town. As well as producing delicious fruit the Riad offers great accommodation and an excellent restaurant. The surroundings are lush in an otherwise arid desert landscape at the base of the imposing Atlas Mountains. The Riad was originally built adjacent to a small oasis and it is because of this that lots of curious wildlife can be found in and around the place which of course pleases me no-end (there are sparrows nesting in the corner of the restaurant for example). Last year I found various praying mantis, lizards, snakes and toads and observed many of the impressive migratory birds passing over. Also, during evening training, we became quite familiar with the resident Barn Owl. I am always greatly inspired by the natural movement, poise and presence of animals of all kinds and this spurs me on in my own training as I am ever keen to undo all of the useless conditioning I have acquired along the way and approach a more neutral state of being. By the time we get back from Morocco I usually feel ready for anything (even a visit to the in-laws). My body feels strong and relaxed and my mind clear and calm. It is a great start to the year ahead.
This time it will of course be the new year when we return and my new courses, classes and workshops are set to start across the county from January 7th. With batteries charged anew, it’s something I’m really looking forwards to coming back to.
Sam Moor runs Sussex Tai Chi and provides weekly classes, courses and monthly workshops across West Sussex. See website for details: www.sussextaichi.co.uk