Here is my write up for ymaa-retreatcenter.org.
After over a year of preparations, the long awaited trip to celebrate Grandmaster Li, Mao-Ching’s 90th birthday was successful and memorable. Grandmaster Li was in great shape and spirits, a prime example of a practitioner reaping the benefits of lifelong martial arts practice. The main event was a 2 hour long demonstration by the Retreat Center students, senior YMAA students, and Taiwanese students from other martial arts schools. The rest of the week included visiting Grandmaster Kao’s school, touring Taipei and the island itself, attending Qigong lectures by Grandmaster Kao, eating a lot of delicious food, practicing Mandarin with locals, and building new friendships.
There were thirty six attendees with representation from the Retreat Center, Chile, France, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Portugal, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States (California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts).
One day after arrival, the students were invited to Grandmaster Kao’s school in Tamsui district before embarking on a tour around Taipei. A huge “Welcome YMAA Friends” sign greeted them at the gate and set the tone for the rest of the trip. Grandmaster Kao’s students and friends performed Taijiquan, and a few native aboriginal dances, which the YMAA group also joined in on. Several Retreat Center and YMAA students then performed a mix of Taijiquan and Shaolin sequences. Afterwards, the day tour began at the Tamsui waterfront, Taipei Main Station, Taipei 101 (the 5th tallest building in the world with 101 floors), and ended at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.
The following day, the demonstration for Grandmaster Li was held on a bandshell stage at the 228 Peace Memorial Park. The audience included the guest of honor and his family, Dr. Yang’s classmates and their students, students from other martial arts schools, friends, family members, and passersby at the park. The Taiwanese students performed over 20 forms including chain whip, Praying Mantis, Bajiquan, and familiar Long Fist sequences Qi Men Jian and Yi Lu Mai Fu. For the second half of the event, YMAA students performed over 30 sequences spanning various levels and showcasing a wide range of weapons.
At the end of the demonstrations, Grandmaster Li’s students brought several long scrolls onto the stage. The scrolls consisted of Grandmaster Li’s calligraphy, of which he is self-taught, exhibiting his decades of training and patience. He is said to have written only one or two characters in a day and took many, many years to complete the scrolls. Grandmaster Li is well known in the community and the event drew attention from a Taiwanese TV station. The news segment included action clips and interviews from Retreat Center students Enrico Tomei and Jonathan Chang. The birthday celebrations continued that night with a multi-course banquet at Hai Ba Wang restaurant. At the dinner, Grandmaster Li presented each person with a copy of his Taijiquan book.
Over the next four days, the YMAA group took trains and buses around the eastern and southern parts of the island. The first stop was Hualien county where students explored the gorges and lush mountains in Tarako National Park. The next day, the group arrived at Taitung county and rode bicycles along Pipa Lake in the Taitung Forest Park. They also visited the National Museum of Prehistory and learned about Taiwan’s early inhabitants and their similarities to other Pacific aborigine cultures. At one stop, Bunun aborigines performed traditional songs and dance, together with YMAA students brave enough to step on stage. On the third day, the group ventured to Cape Eluanbi, the southernmost point of Taiwan where they visited the lighthouse and beaches along the way. The final day consisted of a trip to Kenting National Park where trails led to different corners of the forest of Banyan trees and monkeys. The Fu-An Temple was the last stop before the group boarded the high speed train back to Taipei.
Throughout the tour, Grandmaster Kao offered Qigong lectures at 5am each morning. Despite the early start time and some students staying out late, attendance was at least 20 people for each lecture. It was a huge honor for many who had never attended his seminars before. As usual, he brought his ukulele on the trip and the group joined in on singing songs. At the final banquet, Grandmaster Kao generously presented gifts for each person.
The overall feeling was one of a close community creating happy memories on an unforgettable trip. Grandmasters Li and Kao were so open and generous with the students and it was a great honor to meet such remarkable people in the YMAA lineage. Three students also celebrated their birthdays including the YMAA Retreat Center’s Quentin who turned 18, YMAA Boston’s Steffen who turned 39, and YMAA Chile’s Cecilia who turned 60. The friendliness of the locals, near perfect weather, beautiful landscapes, and delicious food on every corner truly make Taiwan a place to remember.
A huge thank you to everyone involved with organizing the events on the trip including Dr. Yang, his family, his classmates and friends, and Grandmaster Kao.
Happy Birthday to Grandmaster Li!