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Uncle Bill's
Fourth Annual Martial Family Gathering
-Estes Park,Colorado

A few of us from the Lake Tahoe area and from the Mendocino coast (Bear Roberts, Frank Broadhead, Sam Edwards Jason Young, and Daniel Hall - now in Portland) travelled the beginning of October to Estes Park, Co., for 'Uncle' Willem de Thouars 1998 'family' gathering.

I think that in particular this year of the third 'gathering' fulfilled the operative word - family. This year all the individual seminars were taught by senior students (all of whom have their own schools and have almost without exception been with Willem for over 20 years) - instead of by invited guest instructors.

The only exception to this was Don Miller's tai chi seminar (with Matt Cohen as helper extraordinaire) but then they are more recently adopted sons. Don proved the nearly miraculous recuperative effects of breath controlled chi kung (just as Wayne Welsh did with pa kua) - especially in an arena where there was such an extreme expenditure of energy.

I think that was one of the apparent qualities of this gathering: the amazing receptivity and openness to other arts, particularly the Chinese internal, with a tad of uncle's spice.

And we who uncle has given the courage to alter our mother arts in accordance with his practical "principalities" of energy and application, found this modification has made us effective enough to be comfortable with the advanced combative work that he offers. (Even if Frank and I did end up sucking air after the 3 a.m. hopping horse stance drill complete with ground strike. And this repeatedly down the length of a football size gym.).

Don has gone so far as to modify his Chen Man Cheng tai chi to "monkey tai chi", and while still slow has the acceleration of monkey energy. For my part I only do Willem's small circle mirror palms pa kua now.

With the gathering of high level players from all over the world to Estes Park, it was possible to assess your training level!

It was also possible to really ring it up in two person work (entrances) and off court sparring - edging up on the reality and impact because of the highly trained bodies, nice minds and common love for Uncle Bill.

THERE WERE A NUMBER OF SPECIFIC lDEAS that we in our individual ways brought home to stud. For my part, from Wayne Welsh's pa kua seminar - again with energy of monkey - made me aware of the flailing relaxed strikes of Willem's mantis (as well as monkey).

Doing Chuck Stahman and Randall Goodwin's chi sau with pa kua's constant changing (traditional single palm change or uncle's mirror palms) it was apparent how effective it was in warding off real straight ahead power. Yet you could still remain true to the exercise's rule of maintaining touch.

WITH CONSTANT TURNING TO AVOID POWER the tendency to muscle it out and foreshorten the drill can be avoided and therefore is fantastic internal speed work willem_wife.jpg

Just as sustained push hands work can promote rootedness (power) and conservation of energy so can ro-shou (pa kua's description of chi-sau) teach speed and conservation of energy. This is something I for one need to work with. At a change of pace to tai chi tempo it is a wonderful two person chi kung.

From Phillip Sialas, I as a very reluctant grappler nevertheless brought home the idea of sustained cooperative locking and counterlocking; throws and counterthrows so that Phillip's high speed and unlikely counters might at least rub off in slow motion work. The slower tempo lending these to having internal affect.

AT GEORGE MORRIN'S 'station' I realized that for those of us who will not in this life time get his encyclopedic understanding of the body's 'line' of structure (and how to break it down) - then, the judicious use of tai chi's 'popping' energy to break stance might substitute. We're presently investigating this in the Sierras. Thanks George.

And Chuck's incredible and joyous speed and power was an inspiration. And he has assimilated Willem's non-?doctrainareness? - if it works and it's spontaneous, it's good. Thanks Chuck and Randall.

To some of us one of the thrills of being there was what happened off court. It was amazing to be able to train intensely and combatively with people with nice minds. It was hard to believe we could get so far out there with such a sense of fun.To notice just a few such players, thanks Luiz Pena, Ted Garcia, Joseph Bronson, Steve Todd, Billy White, George Kelokos, and many more.

How Many Knives is Enough? Willem's special guest was Chris Syak, master of knife and escrima who displayed the most uncanny knife work that experienced people - I wouldn't know! - tell me they have ever seen. I was able to take home only the more simple fundamentals.

One was carry more than one projectile so that you never need to resist a disarming attempt. He demonstrated the power of his 'flick' sending a swarm of chopsticks at Don Miller so that they individually whistled (from 50 feet!).

The other fundamental was a two person cooperative knife attack drill - instigating and parrying repeated cuts and slashes from the inside of the attack with the outside of the opposite arm (the bony side) to prevent the follow through cut.

AMONG THE OTHER GIFTS of this gathering was Willem inspiring us to have a form - for its expression as well as its unique and traditional conditioning qualities - that we make our own. Those who have already done so will be on the video Roger Brockman made of the entire event -with professional lighting no less!

That Saturday Night Willem picked from among his family - those not hiding in the restrooms - to show off their forms. To my amazement all were able to perform with composure.

Matt did astounding monkey energy free play. Joseph Bronson and Conrad Bui did truly athletic forms with uncle's 'spice.' Luiz still in his vaquero dancing outfit - and others, did Kun Tao. Tom Kier with Keith Moffit- who organized this wonderful event - showed off shockingly powerful entrances.

monkey_man.jpg Don did monkey Tai Chi, and our own Frank Broadhead did an obscure and beautiful Yang lineage form. They and many others whose names I don't know convinced me I needed to invest in form work.

We were all brought in from, and returned to the airport, as you would expect from family. (Thanks Roger and Kathleen).

There was also that wonderful wild quality you expect from the gatherings. Walking into the de Thouar's house after arrival and finding Joyce teaching the contingent from Mexico to Hula.

Then, coaching Frank through a two person take down set with George Morrin urging them to go for it there in the living room. Meanwhile, Don was taking on all comers in the dining room with people standing around to protect the glass.

It is perhaps the most amazing martial event in the country. Don't miss out next year.
 

When the mind is at peace
The world too is at peace
Nothing real, nothing absent
Not holding on to reality,
Not getting stuck in the void.

You are neither holy nor wise,
Just an ordinary fellow who has
Completed his work.

Work is a therapy of life,
You live it, and it flourishes.
You practice it and it becomes
One with nature

Nature and you are harmonious,

Knowing nature is good,
Understanding the source

Is endless!

Willem de Thouars

de Thouars Fifth Annual Family Gathering
-Northglenn Colorado

Uncle Bill's fifth family gathering held in Northglenn, Colorado was truly a deThouars family affair. It remains one of the premier martial events in the world, bringing experienced teachers and 'players' from throughout the world. This time, another of the deThouars amazing blood family.

Victor, who is Willem's younger brother taught also. Victor at 58 has the playfulness of a teenager, but one who can break baseball bats on his shins.

There was never a doubt this was a family affair with Joyce and Vicki deThouars taking care of the organization and all the necessary nitty-gritty to make this kind of event happen. Joyce had even made her basement into a bunkhouse. The backyard and dog run from early in the week was the venue for early arrivals to check each other out and exchange developments in training.

There was never a doubt this was a family affair with Joyce and Vicki deThouars taking care of the organization and all the necessary nitty-gritty to make this kind of event happen. Joyce had even made her basement into a bunkhouse. The backyard and dog run from early in the week was the venue for early arrivals to check each other out and exchange developments in training.

Perhaps this event was held in suburban Denver but it could just as well been a training hall in an earlier century in China, Indonesia, or Japan.

By Friday night of the first weekend in October the insanity at the deThouars house had reached the usual peak of frenzy. The common language for 'nieces' and nephews from Europe, Scandinavia, South and Central America, Mexico and Asia was martial good-fellowship. (Perhaps next year Africa will be represented). As usual people drove and flew from all over the lower 48 states.

The Gathering took over the Northglenn Rec Center. It's one and one-half stories being at this bit of suburbia's epicenter sourrounded by a lake and plenty of parkland.

Actually the only risky part of the gathering was when negotiating six laned streets and one freeway that were totally lacking in sidewalks but rendered navigable with six second pedestrian lights!

There were six 'stations' this year that we rotated through in groups.

In one, Victor deThouars (Maurice who teaches in Holland couldn't at the last moment, attend) aided by powerful and energetic Joe Simonet, offered his personal take on the Indonesian arts with his very direct and explosive Serak. It seemed to me to have Hsing I's energy and direct line. For the first time I got a little understanding of Silat related arts' slight incline of the body. Joe proved to all interested that this body structure with entrances at a straight line, but inclined, work every time. I think the only question might be about the wear and tear through the years on the practitioner.

The next station-working clockwise-was of David Champ's Tai Chi. It is amazing that this formidable family, famous for it's combative arts, included two Tai Chi 'stations' and one of Pa Kua! In fact that was one of the understandings I brought home, that at the present stage of Willem's cultivation of his 'backyard' he is encouraging the cross pollination of the Chinese internal arts with his Kun Tao Silat, not to mention his unique grasp of primordial energy and primary movement. David Champ's Tai Chi, with a bit of Philippine sticks thrown in, reminded me of the beneficial manipulation of the skeletal structure that cooperative 'joint hands' can accomplish. This practice also is conducive to the natural evocation of 'root' and the 'energy body'. Root is best sought out when competition is reduced to the bare minimum.

Our own Kurt Baker who started Tai Chi at age 14 on the Mendicino coast with that group known to some as 'Uncle Bill's Irregulars' and who traveled to Taiwan with them in 1996 now continues to improve under the tutelage of David.

Uncle Wayne Welsh provided the Pa Kua input, constantly reminding us of the similarities and derivations from Willem's Kun Tao. This was most recognizable in his small circle Pa Kua, with it's orbiting almost in place, recognizable in Uncle's entrances where he spirals this way and then that way from the point of interception, torturing all the way into the body.

Don Miller's Tai Chi station was next and Don in every way has brought Tai Chi to show its practical face in Willem's energy expressions. His modification of short Yang Tai Chi postures has monkey energy and Willem's electrical explosiveness. He manifests 'sticking' energy with two-person knife work. Don reminded us that Tai Chi is an energy system (chi kung) that has withstood the test of time. He had us repeat postures with the understanding that multiple, multiple repetitions created energy and martial understanding of that posture and its historical variation. Just like Tai Chi swordplay, Don's 'sticking' drills, taught the quick shuffle run of lion pacing with it's rooting qualities even at tempo (the weighted foot being directly under the center line). This work is also aerobic but most importantly it teaches soft, conscious stepping-like a cat.

After Don we were at Uncle's place of business. While whatever he did varied from group to group I came away with the overwhelming feeling of the reality of 'transmission'. He invites the players he works with to make discoveries and innovations within the parameters of their individual training and creativity.

His joy in each person finding his or her own way creates an energy and gratitude that must be the feeling of that historically ambiguous word; "transmission".

It is amazing the escalation of personal ability when working around Willem (rather than self-consciousness). I even myself did, at his request, part of a form with total absorption for the first time in my life. I think Bear Roberts' development proves the point-because of his distance he is unable to train regularly with Uncle. Of course Willem's 'bangers' (Chuck, Keith, Phillip, et al) tend to hang out at his work place so that 'players' can riff of the prescribed moves-Luiz, Matt and more.

The last station was that of Andre Knustgraichen. I think the lasting memory of his teaching was that of the effectiveness of passing the knife from hand to hand taught with rhythm aided by his senior, Paul. When this has been drilled into the subconscious-it works.

As always, much of the meaning of Willem's gatherings was in forming and renewing friendships. And I think a lot of us felt that especially much this year.

There was also the off-court study of martial principle (and sometimes simply energy principles). I remember particularly working late at night with Steven Taraggo and Frank Broadhead exchanging insights on the principles of rooting and of vibrating palm. Steven uses Willem's vibrating palm for every single strike, even including it on oneself as Chi Kung or preceding an outward-bound strike for energy disturbance.

He showed how important it was to hit like the hand was a wet towel-not too much intention and not too hard. That is what makes the neurological effect of this strike so surprising. Steve Buck says that if you practice on your own thigh by just letting the forearm fall and it produces a serious sting "you've probably got it." Both Steve Buck and Steven Tarrago practice on trees or logs.

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