Three months of intensive work with Master Rennie Chong
by Prof. Stuart Edelstein
After practicing yoga for 40 years I was attracted to the idea of learning tai-chi and met a law student in Paris from China who offered to give me lessons. We began the Yang 24 and he rightly tried to keep me practicing the first few positions, whereas I was eager to master the full series. His enthusiasm was infectious, but his instructions did not always provide the insights that I needed to master the positions. When he left Paris after six months of training, he introduced me to another student from China who continued my lessons for several additional months and guided me in completing the full set of Yang 24 movements. At that point, upon retiring from the University of Geneva, I moved to Singapore to teach for a semester at NUS and set about finding a new teacher. At the first meeting of the NUS Tai-chi Club in January 2007, I arrived early and met Master Rennie Chong. He immediately put me to the task and asked me to show him my Yang 24. With his friendly smile and warm ways, he made it clear that I had some knowledge of all the forms, but still had a long way to go in mastering them. I stayed on for the activities of the club and had my first exposure to Rennie's excellent warm-up and breathing exercises. The class then began to work on Yang 37, but Rennie accepted my desire to perfect the Yang 24 before moving on to other forms and he agreed to give me individual lessons on a regular basis.
The first few weeks were spent working mainly on the warm-up exercises. I soon realized how well-directed they were for a complete training of the body and more specifically as a preparation for the more difficult movements of tai-chi. I also learned the breathing exercises and began to sense the state of my qi. Then gradually our efforts shifted more and more to Yang 24. My own life-long experience as an educator gave me a particular appreciation of Rennie's skills as a teacher. He never over-corrected, but during each session would isolate a few key points for me to work on. Rather than just using words, he often placed himself in my way to show me how the natural gesture to move an obstacle was exactly what should be achieved. Every class left me convinced that I had penetrated to a deeper level.
After returning to Europe I enthusiastically continued the exercises and the regular practice of tai-chi. I sensed that I now had an ideal form of exercise for my retirement years. A few weeks after my return, the Chinese student who started me off was passing through Paris and we arranged to meet for lunch. He said that he wanted to see my progress on the Yang 24 movements and we stopped in a park. He was enthusiastic about my progress and I was very pleased by his compliments. I thought it was then time to go to lunch, but he asked me if I wouldn't mind staying in the park a bit longer for some more tai-chi. I agreed but was not sure what he had in mind until he explained that he wanted me to correct his practice of Yang 24. That reversal of roles was the highest compliment I could imagine and a strong confirmation that the time with Rennie had been very well spent.