Sophie Nichanian – interview with a Tai Chi woman from France

I am passionate about Taijiquan and Qi Gong. And I am a woman. And I think that women are a bit underrepresented in the Tai Chi and Qi Gong world. I mean, look at all the big masters, they are mainly men! So I want to raise the awareness for all the wonderful women in our community. Thus I often interview Tai Chi and Qi Gong women. In this interview I talk to Sophie Nichanian. One of my newsletter readers suggested her and I am excited to get to know her.

Sophie NIchanian - a Tai Chi woman from France

Tell us a bit about yourself (e.g. country, age, family, profession etc.)

So I live in the suburb of Paris, France. I am 46 with 2 kids (daughter is 19 and son 13), divorced. I live with my partner who has also 2 kids. I am a traditional chinese doctor, but I used to be a translator. And I also teach taiji.

Please share some details of your Taijiquan/Qi Gong journey?

I started taiji in 1990. I had stopped any sports activity around 14: I used to dance and horseride. I was aware I needed to find a physical activity but never was much into sports. In the school I was (right after high school, a communication school, I was 18 or 19) they had options, like dance, mime… on the second semester I took taiji (my mum had done it a bit and recommended it to me).

I met my teacher Eric there and then started going to his other classes. I learned the set (Guang Ping Yang 64 movements) in a couple of years. I then started going to my teacher’s teacher seminars, which took place once a year for a week: he came from California. The next year I was in California living with the guy and going to his teacher’s classes, that is his sifu studio, an old chinese dude. I practiced very regularly, with the good influence of my older boyfriend, my first teacher’s teacher – you follow? – I stayed 2 and a half years in the USA.

When I came back I did a little health-(drugs)-related break, knowing it was only a break. I went back to my first teacher who by then considered me an assistant (he actually had only spent a month or two in the US to practice with the old sifu). A few years later he was moving away to the Alps and asked me to be a teacher for his students in the suburb of Paris, along with another assistant. So I started teaching in 2000 and pretty soon opened my own club in my home town (a few km away), leaving his students with the other teacher (of course we had seminars every year with Eric).

Oh, how fascinating! I also went to my teacher’s teacher, but not as close and long as you did ;).

Finish this sentence: When I started learning Taijiquan and/or Qi Gong, I would have liked to know…

… nothing really! I was young from a stable family, confident and happy. I did know right away I was going to practice all my life. Then again I was young and naive, but it turned out to be true.

Is there anything that you specifically learnt from your first teacher that you still remember? A lesson or insight that you keep dear to your heart?

From my first teacher I learnt that it was important but not serious, that we could have discipline and party once in a while, for a good balance. I was already quite relaxed in my life as you might have understood, despite some extreme experiences. I keep dear to my heart that he was the first to teach me this wonderful art. We don’t speak anymore when I refused to follow his project which would have demanded a lot of involvement from me. He took it as a treason… but a few years have passed and I have to make a move – he did…

What are you currently practicing? Do you have any personal goals in Taijiquan and/or Qi Gong?

I am still practicing the same form, learned the sword set and the reverse one. I am much less disciplined than in my younger years, which I kind of observe with amusement. I always thought the life journey makes one wiser, I didn’t know one could still fight with this discipline.

Yes, I also feel this fluctuation in discipline. Sometime I do more, sometimes less. I think especially with young kids, it is a constant struggle to find time for myself to practice.

How does your Taijiquan and/or Qi Gong practice impact your everyday life?

It has greatly impacted my every day life. I know my body much more and feel as many muscles as possible, in order to relax them. I still learn and discover. There is no tiredness in practicing the same form, but that is also a state of mind I think. I am not so curious of other forms but trust them to be efficient for the one practicing, after all it is the same basics and philosophy.

I like my form because it can be very athletic but also smoother for elders. I actually also have classes for elders as other clubs asked me to teach their students. Along with traditional chinese medicine (TCM), my closed folks sometimes think I am too much into that balance and relativity thing (dao). Still I teach my parents who come to my class, but nor my children nor partner. I don’t mind and I understand, we each have our own life journey. I guess there are many ways…

How great that you teach your parents! I actually teach my younger brother, who comes to my place once a week.

I think that it is best to learnt from a teacher in person, but which book taught you the most? Which would you recommend to a friend?

The only book I would recommend is the Tao Te King or Dao Te King from Lao tsu. But then again I was never so much into written matter here, just practice and what my teacher taught me.

Then again I went deeper into the whole thing when I learned TCM in my later years (started around 38 years ol) As a teacher too, I recommend practice. I don’t trust much in videos (we used to forbid filming the set – well the old sifu in the US did- so as to make the memory and body memory work. Times have changed, that was before internet and youtube, and even the old sifu did a CD a few years before passing away. Bless him!)

Sophie, thank you for this open interview and for sharing your experiences and thoughts!

Now if you, dear reader, would like to know more about Sophie Nichanian have a look at her French Taijiquan page!

Happy Qi!