How many years have you been practising tai chi?
I have been practising Tai-Chi and Chi-Kung for around 15 years. I tried several different styles and instructors and settled into Cheng Man-ch’ing style with Kevin Spencer (who trained with Tony Henrys). I found that I had a thirst for knowledge into the background of Tai-Chi and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and met a wonderful Instructor, Sue Woodd, and have been on some of her workshops. I have trained with many wonderful teachers including Kenny Johnson (whom I had met previously from the Karate world), Professor Mike Symonds and many others. I continue my own practice and study, and find my students are my teachers too.
What stimulated your interest?
I became interested in Tai-Chi after suffering a whip-lash injury following a car accident. I had been a practitioner of Shotakan Karate for some 21 years and enjoyed the gym and other fitness classes too, but found that type of exercise too extreme for my neck condition. Not being able to do my Karate and other exercise made me feel quite depressed. I had been having treatment for my injuries from a lady who said “instead of feeling down about what you can’t do, try something that you can do”. She suggested Tai-Chi and Yoga, and it was the best advice I ever had! It wasn’t easy at first and it took me a little while to settle into a different way of being in my body and mind, but it wasn’t long before I was absolutely hooked!
What does tai chi mean to you?
I can’t imagine being without it now. I find it very liberating for the body and mind, and there is always something new you can learn about yourself. It impacts and reflects on everything I do, and I love the connection with nature and that we are part of it. We often hear it described as a meditation in movement, and that’s exactly how it feels. I feel that it is an exciting and surprising journey I am on.
What is the most important aspect?
The connection with one’s self and the ability to be quiet enough to listen. There are so many people now that are disconnected with what’s going on in their own bodies and minds. They distract themselves from reality with mobile phones, walking around with earplugs in, over-indulging in things, and then wonder how they miss most of life! It helps with life’s challenges and gives me a mini holiday when I need it to reflect and let go.
Do you have any personal goals with tai chi?
Yes, I think there is a need to work with children as they are our future. I think Tai-Chi should be made easily available to them so they have a natural tool to tap into to help them deal with life’s challenges. There are many problems in the world with addictions such as food, drugs, alcohol etc, and obesity especially is a problem. Again, I believe it is because people have become so disconnected with themselves. With this in mind, I am working on a project to offer training to teachers so that Tai-Chi can reach as many children as possible. Another goal is to offer more workshop/day retreat type events so that students can spend a whole day/weekend and really surrender to the subject.
Who or what inspired you?
My teacher Kevin Spencer did a demonstration of the form. Wow, I was so blown away, it almost made me cry! I saw such a stillness in his expression and thought “I want whatever it is that he’s got”. I took a group of 17 students to China and visited a monk living in a cave on Wudang mountain – again, he had that same serene look on his face. Being in China and practising Tai-Chi by the river and being asked to join in by the locals – priceless – and they guessed which form we were doing too!
Sue Woodd is the most knowledgeable, influential, giving, caring teacher I have every met. She is so willing to give and share and is a constant inspiration to me. Once I had qualified to become a teacher and ran my own teacher training, she also came to help me assess my students.
What do you make of tai chi’s current popularity?
I think that Tai-Chi is slowly becoming more popular, in part due to the changes in NHS funding meaning people are now looking more towards natural ways of helping themselves, but I’d like to see it becoming as popular as yoga! I think one of the reasons it hasn’t caught up with yoga’s popularity yet is that people think it is one thing or the other – a martial art, a type of yoga, an exercise or relaxation class, for people with health problems etc – and so can be confused about what it really is. As teachers, we know that Tai-Chi is all of these things, but each individual teacher will emphasise different aspects.
As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
Mostly my classes focus on the health aspects. However, I am aware that you cannot separate the martial aspect of the form. As part of their training, we practise the martial application by way of helping the student understand the positioning of the body and the direction of the flow of energy.
Some students are often frightened by the martial side of it, and if seeking it for health reasons, are often put off. I think this it is because they don’t fully understand the connection. It can be introduced in a slow, progressive and enjoyable way so it is more easily accepted.
What are your views on competition?
Personally I have no desire to compete at present but maybe that’s because I had a few years of competition when I practiced Karate. I think that it is something that could inspire students to study and commit to their practice with a goal in mind. If you are thinking of competing, I think you need to have a good teacher/mentor behind you from a well-run, professional club who can support you and give you belief in yourself.
What direction would you like to see tai chi going in the future?
I’d like to see Tai-Chi offered to children in schools/nurseries/clubs, and on the NHS to help with a variety of problems (alongside orthodox medicine).
I would like to see more quality training offered for teachers of children, and to help the elderly in particular. I think it also important for it to be taught along with TCM so that up-and-coming teachers have knowledge from the foundations up, not merely seeing it just as a form of exercise.
Visit Karen’s website to find out more – http://www.mabconsultants.co.uk/Tai-Chi/