How many years have you been practising Taijiquan? 10 years.
What stimulated your interest? I was looking for a rehabilitive exercise after a back injury in a horse riding accident a few years previous. I had thought about taking up Yoga but a friend recommended Taiji to me and I set about finding a class. I saw taiji being practiced in a TV program and thought it was Japanese! But I liked the idea that it was practised slowly and the groups practising were always so synchronised. When I got to a class I thought it looked so graceful and beautiful and easy, that soon changed when I found out how poorly balanced and coordinated I was.
What does Taijiquan mean to you? Ultimately, Taijiquan to me is about self awareness, physically, and mentally. And also about keeping the essences in mind not only while practising taiji form but through all aspects of life: Walking with ‘high spirit’, driving with sinking shoulders and elbows etc.
What is the most important aspect for you? Practising correctly. Not just going through the motions for the sake of performance but being fully attentive throughout each and every movement. The attention to detail, but training with a light heart and having fun.
Do you have any personal goals in Taiji? My main goal is to do justice to the art and to understand it as fully as possible and practise better. Also to keep trying to involve all kinds of people in the art. So far I have been lucky enough to work with a wide range of people, from young children to the elderly and people with physical, mental, sensory and learning difficulties as well as very able-bodied people. It really can be practised by just about anyone.
Who or what inspired you? One of the earliest books on body mechanics I read was by a woman called Sylvia Loch. She has for many years been at the forefront of Classical Dressage and her book the Classical Seat, while written for horse riders is full of taiji principals. I first read this book when I started Taiji and every now and then I go back to it and understand more and more how true classical arts are intertwined and linked by the same common principles. I have also been inspired by everyone I have studied with, from workshops to prolonged study. Everyone has their own angle on things, their own way of explaining or demonstrating and I have been inspired not necessarily by what they were teaching, but more how they were teaching.
What do you make of Taijiquan’s current popularity? In theory it’s great, more and more people have access to this fascinating art. I do think that Taijiquan’s popularity has lead to a more questioning audience though and more and more people are seeking ‘the truth’ and studying accordingly.
As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art? I always find this thought rather difficult, I don’t feel there is a martial ‘aspect’ it is simply a martial art, end of story. The movements are all techniques or applications; the basic principles, are all martial art, awareness, controlling the body and the mind, the way you carry yourself, the forms training, building strength in the body etc .it is all martial art. . As for people practising the applications, well I believe that even if your basis for training is for personal development or health, you do need to understand the reason that the arms are placed like this or a foot like that. You don’t necessarily need to be throwing people around the room.
What are your views on competition? Competition has been around since the year dot. At one time it was fighting for survival, now it is fighting for points in a more controlled environment. It is a way for people to test themselves and their understanding of their art against other people’s, to open them up to criticism by allowing themselves to be judged. It doesn’t suit everyone, however along with competition usually comes advertising, so that in itself helps to raise awareness of Taijiquan and may inspire new people to take up the art.
What direction would you like to see Taijiquan going in the future? I would love to see accessibility for UK students to high level instruction, more visits from Chinese teachers to the UK and for the overall standard to rise. I would also like to see a truer representation of taijiquan in the world wide media so that potential new students have a clearer understanding of what taijiquan is about.