14 August 2018

Aberdeenshire Classes

Here is the list of classes that will be running in Aberdeenshire this Autumn (click on the picture below to see a larger version).
  • Monymusk restarts on the 21st August
  • The new term at Kintore will start the first week in September at a new venue - more details to follow
  • The Turriff class has also moved: term starts 6:45pm on Monday 10th September at the Baden Powell Centre
For more information on a specific class, please contact the relevant instructor.  Feel free to contact me if you need any other information.

09 August 2018


For many years one of my true hobbies - something I do purely for the love of it - has been bushcraft, or what is called wilderness or earth skills in most other countries. It has fed into my art, my crafts, my practice and my sense of being a human in the greater web of life. Everyone I have studied with has been good, thankfully. I have learned more with Joe O'Leary than with anyone else and been on perhaps 10 of his courses over the years, some of them a couple of times or more. This year has been a bit tight financially so I had to forego courses of any kind, but I have decided I can't bear it any more and need to get back to the Great Ridge Woods again. I'd like to go to this leather bag making day course, but it is easier to go with other people in a shared car than head on my own by train. Let me know if you'd like to come. It's easy to get to from London and is near Stonehenge.

Also, it will be a year since my transformative fast in the wild woods of Carpathia, Romania, so I am hoping to complete a challenging year by stepping mindfully back into the woods with my wits about me for the Hunter Gatherer Challenge. I will hone my skills again later this August. Unless you have been doing lots in the woods, you won't be able to join me on this one, but I will happily accept your wishes of good luck and for a plentiful hazelnut and porcini harvest to coincide with the course.

Joe will travel to teach crafts courses and I can host them here at the island studio and woods, so if there is something on his site you'd like to learn, let me know as we could do it here, and still have a fire, trees to work under and the river, but in travel zone 6!

In 2019 I would like to return for the third time to this crafts week. It is truly superb, if you'd like to know more just email me, as it is great to go with friends. You'll come home with a carved cup, spoon, bark containers, buckskins, a leather bag, and so much more. More than anything, you'll get to be in woods of incomparable beauty which normally you may not enter, as in England one does not yet have the right to roam, as in Scotland. These courses will probably not run again, as Joe, like many of my friends who teach real skills, finds that folks coming along now just don't have the staying power for long courses, and that their attention spans are shorter each year. Is the ubiquity of the internet making us all stupid and distracted? Discuss.

The three or four most important internally transformative moments of my life have taken place in the forest, while hungry, at some risk and usually slightly under the weather or recovering from injury. I always get more than I bargain for when I pay attention to nature, ask sincere and simple questions, such as 'I wonder if ceps grow under these oak trees at Derwent.' Or 'I wonder if spruce trees have resin on the bark that I can collect, as with pine trees.' So, rather than struggle for ever in the dark where we are, (though the dark is an important phase and must be endured), at some point we have to pick ourselves up and mindfully put ourselves in the place where we feel life can reveal itself to us again. Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes superbly about this in her book 'Women Who Run With The Wolves', as part of the life/death/life process. (It is also written of in Robert Bly's 'Iron John', in relation to men's psyches.)

One of the ways out of the mire of self is by exercising one's hard-won skill. That may be a craft, a quality in one's daily work, a hobby, an inner practice. This is not about being good at something for the sake of it, or indeed making anything that another person would recognise as a product at all. It could be tending the garden with great care and attention. It might mean finishing that tapestry or carpentry we have neglected. It is risking singing aloud, reading that poem out, sleeping out in the autumn woods alone with little kit and no tent. When I was younger I used to think freedom was being able to 'do what I want'. Now I feel it is more often being able to have the time and space to practice what I love. This can be my art, writing, T'ai Chi, earth skills... it changes according to the year and to life, as to what feeds me. Right now it's Heart Work and writing poetry. Who knew?

May you find what you love to practice that feeds your life, and if you already know what that is, may you have time this summer to practise it.

08 August 2018

London Term with Mark

The first date of Tooting classes is Tuesday 11th September, and it will include weapons study for those who do this. First Thursday class resume that week too. Classes continue uninterrupted until the Christmas holiday, last dates of term tbc but likely to be 18th and 20th December.

07 August 2018

More photos from the workshop


Pushing hands

Open and close

Form by the water



Here are some more pictures from the week, it has been too hot to be indoors here since the workshop ended, so much online stuff has gone undone. Now it is time for me to be offline and to relax, and I hope you will too. Tonight I will ask Mark to tell me the term start date, and I will post it here before I go away. Also, go and do the Fleet Footing walk (see earlier post), it is wonderful, and will make you see London in a different light. I have now been to the source of the Fleet, discovered parts of Hampstead heath I did not know, and taken its source water to the Thames, returning it at Hampton Court. That is possibly the first time the Fleet has flowed directly into the Thames upstream! Anyway, it tickled me. I shall be around a bit this summer, as like today, I shall be covering Kevin's class for the veterans later in the month, so will be contactable, if a bit tardy in replying. Also, read Davina's post about the Autumn workshop and do come along!
Have a wonderful summer.

Thursdays at Monymusk starting 9th August

Here's the rota for the next block of Thursday sessions. As usual we'll be in the Small Hall 7-9pm and Large Hall 9-10pm at Monymusk except where listed. The price is £35 for 10 weeks or £5/week.

09-Aug Sandy   Main Hall 7-10pm 
16-Aug Scott     Small Hall 7-10pm
23-Aug Anneke  Main Hall 7-10pm
30-Aug Davina   Main Hall 7-10pm
06-Sep Marie
13-Sep Janet
20-Sep Paolo
27-Sep Sandy
04-Oct Scott
11-Oct Anneke

 If you can't make the session that you're due to lead then please contact someone on the list to arrange a swap.

04 August 2018

October workshop - travel & accommodation

It was wonderful to see so many people at this summer's intensive in Kingston and I hope some of you can come up for the Aberdeenshire workshop in October. It's at Fetternear Hall on Saturday 13th to Monday 15th with a weapons session on Friday 12th.

If anyone visiting wants to stay with one of the local students then please get in touch with me and I'll match you up with someone. I know some folk have already made arrangements, but if you still have space available then let me know.

Trains to Aberdeen from London are currently available from £73 return (£128 1st class) if travelling up on Thursday 11th October and returning Tuesday 16th. It's a bit more expensive to travel on Friday 12th. If travelling onwards to Inverurie it's often cheaper to buy an Aberdeen-Inverurie ticket separately. Neither LNER or Scotrail charge booking fees.
LNER search: Lon-Ab Rtn 11Oct-16Oct
Scotrail: https://www.buytickets.scotrail.co.uk/

Flights to Aberdeen are available from various London airports. The current best price for flights on Friday 12th, returning Tuesday 16th is £52 return with Easyjet flying from either Luton or Gatwick. Cheapest return flights from Heathrow are currently £103
Skyscanner search: Lon-Ab Rtn 12Oct-16Oct
Skyscanner search (Heathrow only): LHR-Ab Rtn 12Oct-16Oct

I'm happy to help if you need any advice on travel or other accommodation options.

01 August 2018

Lughnasadh / Lammas

Lamp lit, loaves baked, family seen, loved ones being fed, although it has to be said the local  Hinkleponkle swan family are getting more nosh more often than any of us...
Greetings to you where ever you are. I am now officially off work for a little while.

The shape of things to come

For many years, the last day of the summer workshop has been like an 'extra day' as fewer people were able to come along. We tended to do study requests and syllabus. Nowadays the Friday is as busy as all the other days, and listening to feedback from people, Mark will make Fridays the culmination day in future, where we will recap what we have done during the week, and not do any new topics or work on technical things such as applications. We will work all together rather than in smaller groups, and consolidate the theme we have built during the week, answering any questions, going over things so it feels nicely bedded-in to send us back out into the world and so we can practice all summer. Earlier in the week there will always be moments for you to grab Mark or myself with any form or technical questions, and a good time for this is often just after the food break, when we often do a couple of weapons forms, or similar. Partnerwork questions can be brought on the Friday night session before the workshop properly starts.

Thanks to all those who have come along this year and made it such a success. Do feel free to drop me an email if you have any comments of suggestions. I will pass them on to Mark.

More workshop photos

Here's a few more, now that I have a little time to myself, for what seems like the first time in several months. I will sort all the lovely pictures this week, and post more soon. If you took any good ones, please email them to me.
Sunset at the venue

Form outside on the jetty

Last day of the workshop

Anja getting me with Single Whip application.

Poetry event

This event about finding inspiration for writing is taking place in London in November. I will be in Scotland teaching T'ai Chi, but it looks great.

31 July 2018

Fleet Footing details

Fleet Footing is a downloadable work combining music, maps and gentle interactive performance with a walk charting the course of London’s lost river. Take the walk any time you like, do it in stages, or if you’re not in London, you could map an imaginary Fleet onto the landscape wherever you are and go for a walk with the album anyway. It uses binaural recording so is specially made for listening to on headphones.

The Fleet has flowed into the Thames for thousands of years, turning a Roman watermill, transporting convicts to the colonies, hosting health spas and bear baiting and slums. It’s largely underground now, but if you know where to look - and if you listen hard enough - you can still find her flowing beneath your feet. The Thames Tideway Scheme will soon be diverting the Fleet straight into a new super sewer - improving water quality in the Thames (yay!) but ending a conversation older than London. At this end of an era, Fleet Footing celebrates and mourns the Fleet and all those who’ve lived and died along her banks.

Download the album and maps, get your walking boots on and go find that river.

(Just got this from Sarah. I will be there on 3rd August.)


To Be a Nature Spirit

The student of internal martial arts had been studying diligently for many years with her master and had worked her way up through the school. One day her master said, ‘It is time for you to go and work for two years with the old woman on the mountain, you are ready to study with her now.’

Feeling rather pleased with herself, she packed her bundle and practice swords, and said goodbye to her class mates, who were all very impressed with her, which she secretly loved, even as she brushed it off. She headed up the mountain the following day, looking forward to learning secret techniques and special moves, maybe some subtle power-building nei-gung breathing exercises.

She passed quickly through the ancient forest and up to the top of the tree-line, not noticing how the birds fell silent as she brushed her way through their territory. At the edge of the forest was an old shack, quite run-down, with a veranda around the front and sides. ‘Right, you’re here,’ said the old woman, ‘put down your things and come sweep this porch, then you can make me some supper.’

Not even asking her name! What an affront. This old lady has forgotten all her social skills… thought the younger woman. But she knew it would be a grave offence to say anything, and cause loss of face. So she bent to the tasks and at nightfall slept like a dog on the veranda on her bedroll.

In the morning she had decided to put the slights behind her and was again looking forward to her special training.

‘Follow the sound of water and make your way down to the river side,’ said the old woman, ‘you’ll find the whole area coated in fine clay washed down from the glacier. I want you to take a handful of it and roll it between your hands until it is a perfectly spherical ball, then place the clay ball on the flat rocks beside the river to dry. Do this all day as many times as you can. Come back when it is time to cook my supper.’

Mortified, the young woman headed straight to the river, muttering under her breath and wishing herself back at her teacher’s school, pushing hands with the lads or cracking jokes whilst drinking jasmine tea, telling tall tales of scrapes and clever escapes. All day long until her hands were chapped and chilled, she rolled the balls, returning back to the shack in time to sweep and cook food, then fall asleep, shattered.

The next morning, expecting another crazy task, she got only a nod and a dismissive wave of the hand to send her back to the river bed, to roll clay balls and leave them drying in the sun. At the end of the week she thought ‘Surely some change is due?’ At the end of the month she thought, ‘Is this some kind of joke?’ After two months, she thought, ‘Is this a kind of hell, a punishment?’ After six months, she’d been though all five stages of grief, and made up a few of her own, based loosely around fury and retribution. After 11 months of this working , sweeping, cooking, sleeping, she had accepted that this was her life for the next 13 months, and she stopped thinking about it at all, and found she could hear the birdsong changing as the day progressed and as the seasons transformed. After a year, the entire river valley was covered with even little clay balls, as far as the eye could see, on every flat or nearly flat surface. There was no clay left to use, not even any rough silt.

The following day, the old woman called the student into her hut and said, ‘Today, I want you to go down to the river and taking a clay ball in each hand, squeeze your fingers together until the balls are crushed back to dust. Then sweep this dust back into the river bed, from where you got it, and leave no trace at all. Do this with every single clay ball, be sure not to leave even one unpulverized.’ The student got up in a daze, and headed back down to the river, cursing the stupid crone under her breath. Mindless, idiotic, ridiculous work, backbreaking, limb-chilling pointless task… Within a fortnight she was settled in the rhythm of the days again, and had stopped swearing under her breath, or going through revenge fantasies in her mind. In fact, sometimes when she tried to recall what she had been thinking about all day long at the water’s edge, she found she couldn’t. Perhaps her mind had wandered-off, perhaps she had ‘vagued-out’. But no, when she paid attention to what her mind was doing, well, it wasn’t wandering, it was just very still, no chatter, no matter.

After another year and a day, the old woman came out early to where the student was sleeping and woke her with her bundle and some tea. ‘Time to go back down the mountain. You have done everything you came to do.’ And with that the old woman went behind the huge old tree that grew beside the hut, or perhaps into the tree, it was hard to tell. The younger woman shouldered her bundle, took a last glance around the glade, bowed almost imperceptibly and headed down the mountain path. The birds were singing as she stepped quietly through the trees. Mosses cushioned the ground in every hue of green. Beetles drummed their feet on the soil.

Half way down the mountain, in the thick of an old-growth wood, too steep for coppicing, a band of thieves was hiding out, after robbing carriages on the valley-floor road. Seeing a lone woman walking through the woods, the four men rubbed their hands together in spiteful glee, the universal gesture of corruption. This would be fun, they thought, as one. Together they approached the woman, whose expressionless face proved just how stupid she was to be walking there, and how richly she deserved what was coming. She looked right at them then, put down her bundle and reached up spontaneously above her head. Effortlessly grasping the thick branch of bony oak in her hands, with an echoing ‘crack!’ it came away from the tree, and she stood, naturally, holding it like a staff, or perhaps an oar, as though to push out a boat upon a still lake.

The men took fright at such unexpected power and grace, sudden movement, and most unnerving all, the lack of fear. ‘A nature-spirit! Run!’ cried their leader, and off they sped, leaving their booty, forgetting their weapons, pissing themselves.

The woman watched until the thieves were gone, the noise of their escape making it clear as day where they were heading, into the next valley. Gazing around, she quietly took in the beauty of the place where she stood. She put down the branch underneath the tree from which it came, picked up her bundle, and carried on back down the path, towards her classmates, her teacher, and home.

This is my version of a superb teaching story I read in a book of Mark's many years ago. The book is packed deep in a box somewhere and may one day see the light of day again, and if it does, I will post it here. The story made a deep impression on me, and I have always used it for teaching, both T'ai Chi and art. It is a classic story of training the mind in meditation: repetitive tasks and particularly 'the robbers' feature in so many Buddhist or Taoist mind-training stories. The robbers are thought, opinion, emotions, etc. Ah but it is even a good tale taken at face value, as an illustration of hubris melted by sincerity, naturalness, perseverance.

29 July 2018

Teaching stories

This year I have begun collecting the rich and varied teaching stories from our schools and tradition. They include my own from 20 odd years of T'ai Chi adventures, Mark's, John's, Dr Chi's and some attributed to other masters of the lineage, such as TT Liang, with whom John studied for a time, a few from my earliest T'ai Chi teachers, buddies and colleagues, and some from books that made a real impression. All of them are used in our oral tradition for teaching, that is what makes them a real living breathing thing, I realised today. I read a lot of great poetry and myth at the moment, which is wonderful, but sometimes I think, where are my stories? Then I remembered, right there in my mouth or my ears ears every few days at class!

It'll take me a couple of years to get them all down, at least. In the meantime, send me texts or emails with your favourites to add to the list, to prompt my mind: 'You know, the one with the guy who tried to steal from your backpack on the bus,' or 'That one time where Mark said 'the theme of the week was The Dark' and Pax started howling'. Some stories are slight and can be told in a few sentences, others will take a bit of shaping. Many collections of stories are from one place, or a particular culture, from an era or moment in history. Ours span different original languages, eras, countries and contexts, but are held together by the practice and the telling. Words, when aligned with actions (or in our case non-doing, sometimes) can find their true role, shedding light upon things, rather than obscuring them.

Teaching stories, in fact stories in general, are living things, best treated as gardens to be nurtured rather than inanimate objects to be handed on. I love the fact we all have our own T'ai Chi or meditation stores to add to the store, so if you have your own ones (even if it's  'the one where Caroline did such and such...) we shall gather them together and see what we have. Feel free to write some up and send them to me, if you are so inclined. I like the idea of a few versions of the same story appearing in my inbox...

First one to follow shortly.

28 July 2018

Return and rest

Thanks to all the folks who stayed at the venue and did such a great job cleaning and clearing this morning, as well as, as Charles noted, washing people mugs up during the week... (Next year let's all get a bit better at doing that ourselves!) The Sea Scouts were very happy with how we left the hall, and perhaps we will be back there next year.

I am home now and totally shattered, as well as under-slept, just in from a little bit of heart work on the lawn, and will have an early supper and bed, I think. I was going to write here about some aspects of practice that may be of interest, and some shapes of things to come re future workshops, but it can all wait until tomorrow or Monday. Photos can wait too.

Have a great weekend, I send my love and best wishes to all who came along, and hope it gave you much good stuff to work on, and to sustain you in your practice. I was very much unwell with back pain all week until Friday, so if I was below par in helping you with your study, sincere apologies. A gardener famously requires a cast iron back with a hinge in it. Not having this, I pulled my sacrum very badly at exactly the wrong time of the year. But It is almost better now, and I am enjoying a pain free day, hurrah.

Also best wishes to those half a dozen folks who had really wanted to come along, but for whom work, family commitments, illness or unforeseen events got in the way. We will see you soon!

I will post term dates for London here as soon as Mark decides on when he returns, most likely first or second Tuesday of September. I am teaching 121s / group sessions this summer, so get in touch if you want one.

Fleet Footing

Quick post, more later when workshop venue cleaned and handed back to scouts...
Sarah Grange is involved in a great project Fleet Footing, taking place today and tomorrow at 2pm in central London and August 3rd at 7pm (I will be at that one).

Go to catherinekontz.com/fleet-footing and listen to LBC radio today at 10.50am when Sarah will be talking about it on the Robert Elms show.

More later, must go catch a bus!

26 July 2018

Riverside T'ai Chi

Final session of an excellent day was down by the river, as the sun set and the temperature dropped to something a little more mellow. After class, several folks swum in the great river.