Meet Karen Limb
How many years have you been practising Tai Chi?
It seems like forever and it seems like yesterday! In reality around 12 years.
What stimulated your interest?
At the time I was going through a bad period in my life and knew I had some major decisions to make. Sadly my head kept jumping from one thought to the next until I found myself in tears in the basement of Waterstones bookshop facing the books on meditation, yoga and tai chi. The first book I picked up had Ronnie Robinson‚’s contact details ‚’ I dialled the next day and the rest as they say is history. As I read through the book by Alan Peck, the idea of what looked like such a simple exercise system being able to help calm my mind and offer a degree of clarity to my life that I previously hadn‚’t encountered or even thought existed was really appealing.
What does Tai Chi mean to you?
What doesn‚’t it mean? It is still a means of keeping the nonsense out of my head. It is still a way of helping me make major decisions. It‚’s what I turn to when I want to know what‚’s going on with me – both physically and mentally. It is what I do when I want to lapse into auto-pilot mode and it‚’s what I do when I want to put 100% of my thought and energy into something.
What is the most important aspect for you?
Its constantly evolving nature of. Not just my awareness of it, but when I see the students making similar realisations about themselves and their own form. To realise that it is a lifetime of change ‚’ you think you know it, then you realise you‚’ve only scratched the surface and after another few years you‚’ll still only be scratching the surface. To know that it is a thing that grows with you and that you can continue to grow with it ‚’ there are not many things in life like that!
Who or what inspired you?
Initially it will have been my first teacher and the first qigong class (and later in his form class) that I went to. Seeing an intensely physical being doing something so inherently graceful and with such quietness of spirit was quite awesome. Now my students never cease to amaze and inspire me ‚’ they keep coming, week after week, working on the same movements over and over again. Students ages 12 to 96, all happily practicing away, questioning me, themselves and each other, their openness and willingness to learn, to be corrected, gently chided and praised for what they have achieved and to see them leave with even more enthusiasm for it than when they came in!
Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
To never lose the sense of awe. Whether it‚’s qigong, form, weapons, applications, or even the dreaded pushing hands (which I freely admit to not enjoying); whether in my own practice, or when I‚’m teaching, or practising in a group ‚’ to know that individually each part can be a whole entity in itself, and together it can be mind-bogglingly simple and effective ‚’ quite simply blows by mind. I can go through periods of being completely at peace with my form and also go through months of being heartily fed up and frustrated at my many and varied inabilities with in it. It is a personal challenge for the rest of my life.
What do you make of Tai Chi‚’s current popularity?
I think that world needs more exposure to good tai chi! Like most things quality shows. For those who go to a class and are quite happy to wave their arms about and feel nice and relaxed then fair enough, no harm done. Those who go to such a class and feel that there should be something more will always find a teacher more suited to their needs and will move on to better things. There will always be those who are simply out to make money, no matter what walk of life you are talking about. Instructors who care about what they are doing will always take on those students who show promise but can‚’t necessarily pay for instruction ‚’ thank heavens mine did!
As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
It is impossible to separate the martial aspect from tai chi. The softness and gentleness is only possible if the root, balance and focus are present. Within any tai chi form, a move is just a movement unless the application is explained. Tai Chi can still be learned without hours and hours of martial practice but knowledge of what you are doing and why is essential otherwise it becomes merely a dance exercise.
What are your views on competition?
The only competition I have, or want, is with myself. I have been to a few of the British Open Championships and have always come away with mixed thoughts. On the forms and weapons front I have enjoyed seeing people doing different styles but always feel somewhat dejected when I see someone who has clearly practiced and practiced and practiced a particular routine until all of the soul and enjoyment has been leeched away. On the other hand when you see someone who is simply going through their routine purely for their own enjoyment and pleasure this always makes me smile ‚’ no matter how technically incorrect it is. With pushing hands I‚’m afraid I always find competitions reducing me to giggle fits. Two people will start out with the best of intentions and within seconds most tai chi principals seem to fly out of the window, the grappling starts and a grim determination not to be pushed over at any cost kicks in. Hysterical – but clearly since I haven‚’t been able to master the intricacies myself and gave up quite a while ago, the subtle techniques undoubtedly being employed are therefore lost to me.
What direction would you like to see Tai Chi go in in the future?
I would like to see it continue to grow as it has in recent years. I would like to see more tolerance between the two main branches of qigong and chuan. Too often the more martial practitioners derogate those who practice with less martial intent. Surely the whole would not be the whole, without the various parts it is made up from?