How many years have you been practicing tai chi?
I’ve been studying martial arts of one kind or another since my early twenties and tai chi for the last twenty five years. For the last twenty it has been only tai chi.
What stimulated your interest? At the time that I started tai chi I’d been doing Shotokan karate for 10 years and was having trouble in keeping my high kicks high.
Having read that tai chi was good for flexibility I started to learn from books and by going to what ‘open’ workshops that I could get to.
A few words by way of explanation.
I live in Shetland, 400 Km north of the Scottish mainland, remote, and difficult to get to, even these days. Then, there were three boats a week, and flying very expensive; now there are five boats, and the plane is still very expensive.
After a few years I was finding TCC the more interesting and deeper subject, so I dropped the karate.
What does TCC mean to you?
A physical, intellectual and spiritual addiction. There is such a depth and breadth to tai chi that there is always something new, just around the corner, when you least expect it. You will just be starting to ‘cruise’ in your practice when another brick will fall into place; and you start learning all over again.
What is the most important aspect?
All of it. Tai chi chuan is commonly described as being a ‘complete art’ and that there is no need to look outside it for further training.
Personally, I consider it acceptable to train outside the form, hopefully on a short-term basis, to help with individual problems and to speed up the ability to learn the form, not just the shape but also the deeper knowledge.
Do you have any personal goals?
Get better at it all. I know there are places where my practice and knowledge are sadly deficient.
I teach, not only to help people benefit from tai chi, but also to have fellow students with whom I can practice all of the parts that require a partner.
Who or what inspired you?
Many people, some of whom were not TCC practitioners. Lew, my Fencing Professor (Master), for teaching me how to learn, and teach, fighting arts; and for showing me the importance of relaxation. Dr Yang for showing me the depth of tai chi (a weekend on ‘ward-off’!) and setting me a standard to attain.
I will learn from anyone, student or teacher. It may not be what they are trying to teach me, but I will try to learn something of import.
Often, it is difficult to see what the ‘real’ lesson is. It might be in a few words uttered in passing, or could be the execution of a particular, minor, move, or it could be the overall picture created by the workshop. It might be something about me or my art but there will be something.
What do you make of tai chi‚’s current popularity?
It comes and goes, a few stay with it forever. Tai chi is ‘difficult’ to learn, even though the individual bits and pieces are not. It requires commitment and practice; and a whole lot of patience. As a result few people stick with it. Few young people start with it because it lacks the showy moves that they have become accustomed to seeing in the cinema, so it becomes an older person’s art.
As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
Essential part of the whole.
Without, at least, the knowledge of the martial application of the moves you will not know why the body and limbs need to move in just the way that they do.
Knowledge, and practice, of the martial side also forms the core of the meditation within the form.
What are your views on competition?
Dangerous! Because it plays to the ego. If you do it as an exercise in learning, it is useful as it will broaden and deepen your knowledge, of yourself and your art. Face-to-face competition (sparring in any form) is particularly dangerous because it can very easily become totally ego driven. It is also dangerous because there are rules that are in place to protect the participants from damage. The danger comes from the fact that you will train to fight within the rules; a fight is about inflicting damage! It is not unknown for karateka, with a good record in competition, to be unable to defend themselves ‘on the street’ because their strikes are ineffective. There is also a tendency to concentrate on moves that will impress the judges, rather than those that are simple and effective.
What direction would you like to see tai chi going in the future?
Greater, long term, uptake by the general public and more utilisation of the benefits of tai chi by the health and care industry. The problem is that the one wants things that require no more effort than taking a pill, and the other wants no more work than prescribing one.