“Relachez les épaules!” – Relax the shoulders! – This summarises our experience with La Voie du Tao in La Rochelle. Sounds strange? Bear with us.
It was our first big adventure as a new couple and the first long-term station of our martial arts tour around the world. It took place in the beautiful harbour town of La Rochelle in southwestern France.
We spent three months there, from mid October 2015 until January 2016 (not including a Christmas break back with family in Switzerland). La Rochelle is the home of La Voie du Tao, a collective of schools teaching both internal and external martial arts. Offering also Yoga and Qi Gong, the schools cover the purely energetic work with the body as well.
We already knew James, the collective’s head instructor from meeting him several times at The Peaceful Warrior Camp. He warmly welcomed us to La Rochelle, opening wide the door to his students/friends/fellow instructors (they are usually all of the above). Thanks to him, we even got a chance to train with the police of La Rochelle!
From James we learned the ancient Chinese martial arts Yang Tai Chi and Ba Gua Zhang. We also joined his Yoga classes, which finally led us to the decision to keep practising Yoga as a part of our further spiritual journey.
James is the teacher of every teacher we had there (every one mentioned below), one of the most amazing martial artists we have ever met, and possibly the most amazing healer we know.
The majority of classes we attended were taught by Arnaud who is an excellent full-time teacher and martial artist. We joined almost all of his classes, which means we met him basically every day.
Arnaud gave us a lot of guidance during his classes, and went to great (and occasionally hilarious) lengths to accommodate us in a language he wasn’t accustomed to speaking in. We often stayed back after classes to clarify or get additional information, and he was always patient and thorough.
From him, we learned Qi Gong Ba Gua Zhang, modern Tai Chi as well as Neijia Gong Fu, Pencak Silat and self defence applications.
Guillaume is a great example of a modern ascetic, and is our living benchmark for frugality. Right at the start of our trip, Guillaume came up to us, asking whether we want to meet for some Tai Chi at the beach. We agreed … and ended up spending several hours a week with this talented martial artist. Meditating for large parts of the day, he earned what he needed for food and the rental of his tiny flat, from teaching small martial arts classes or having a side job here and there. And like us, he’s now on a trip of his own, walking where his feet go, and taking one day at a time.
Before we finish by giving credit to even more people who made our stay an incredibly interesting and joyful adventure, let’s find out what’s going on with the relaxed shoulders.
In order to understand the supreme importance of relaxation, we’re going to do a quick excursion and explore the difference between internal and external martial arts.
The difference becomes apparent when we look at how the practitioner generates power. In external martial arts such as Kali, we generate power by combining body mechanics with muscular force. The generation of power is clearly visible from the outside, giving it the name “external”.
Internal martial arts such as Tai Chi on the other hand seek power in more subtle ways. Here we’re using breathing and complete physical and mental relaxation and alignment. The goal is to generate Chi and let it flow freely to the target.
Chi only flows, if body and mind are aligned and relaxed. Lifted shoulders are a visible indicator for tension in the body. Conversely, intentionally relaxing the shoulders stimulates the rest of the body to relax as well. Hence the frequent command from teacher to student: “Relax your shoulders!”.
It would be a misunderstanding to conclude that Kali was purely external and Tai Chi purely internal. It’s much more the perspective and the approach that gives the different arts their respective categories.
Every advanced martial artist should seek to develop both the internal and external aspects of the art in order to make all movements as energy efficient and at the same time as effective in their impact as possible.
That was only a small portion of the insights we got from our stay with La Voie Du Tao.
Let’s finish this post by giving credit to more people who have helped and taught us.
Here we are with fellow Kali Majapahit-ian Alain, a highly experienced martial artist; his teaching showed him as a technician in subtlety. He also generously allowed us free reign during his weekly Kali Majapahit class. It was such a valuable opportunity for us to hone our teaching skills – in fact, it was the first time the two of us ever taught together – and it remains a treasured experience. We are still grateful.
Speaking of which… Introducing our mini Kali Majapahit learning group in La Rochelle.
We miss you guys, your earnest efforts to learn and train, and your attempts to hide your sniggering when Yee Han kept saying to move “les anges” during boxing.
Big thanks to Jean-Pierre, a friend we met at the Peaceful Warrior Camp. He is our benefactor who rescued us from going through the French winter in a tent, by offering us a fully-furnished mini-house at his peaceful, lovely farm. A very warm person, who is very cool (and here the English language both succeeds and fails).
Chantal welcomed us warmly to her heart and hearth, and introduced us to healing with coloured light in her atelier Du Corps au Coeur Arc en Ciel. She also took us on a personal guided tour around the beautiful island of Ile de Ré; in fact thanks to her, we actually had one touristy-holiday day there! (Our only one, as it turned out; because there was so much to do!)
The most unexpected martial arts classes we’ve been invited to were the Capoeira classes (for kids) by Benjamin. It gave us inspiring ideas on how to include music and musical instruments in our future martial arts teachings. We also had the pleasure to attend Benjamin’s Yoga classes. And, dude makes some legendary salads.
Here’s Loïc, one of James’ advanced students. He has his own Ba Gua Zhang training group and we can definitely recommend his classes. We only joined his class at the end of our stay… Now we wish we had chosen to spend more time training with him!
All the things we’ve learned, and all the friends we’ve made during this time, have been and still are of immeasurable value. It has a huge impact on our views and our path in martial arts and spirituality. Thank you for nudging us further on in our journey to light.