How many years have you been practicing tai chi?
I was introduced to Tai Chi in the mid nineties, and immediately got a little obsessive about it. I should have noted the date, because I can’t be much more specific than that. Let’s say I’ve been practicing for 18 years or so, and began teaching 11 years ago.
What stimulated your interest?
I’ll be honest: I had no interest in Tai Chi at the time, but agreed to go to one of Bob Lowey’s weekend residentials in Allershaw out of a sense of duty to my girlfriend at the time. I expected a lot of New Age nonsense, but instead met lovely people and discovered something that seems to just fit with my ideas about how the body could work, about movement being an art.
What does TCC mean to you?
To me, TCC is a structured and rational way to look at how we use our bodies, and to investigate the relationships between how we move and our mental and physical health. Where it really stands out, is that it gives us a way to change our instinctive and learned behaviours over time.
What is the most important aspect?
Those who attend Tai Chi Caledonia, or any of the other big Tai Chi events will know that there are almost as many different approaches and objectives to the art as there are practitioners. This, to me, is one of the greatest strengths of the arts – it is a process, not an objective in itself. Using the same core principles and training methods, I can apply them to such a wide range of students’ needs. Falls prevention, mental health issues, the needs of inmates in prisons, stroke victims, martial artists, people with a wide range of debilitating illnesses, Alzheimer’s sufferers…the list of my client groups is long and very varied. The teaching I offer is varied too, but the core systems are the same.
Do you have any personal goals?
To be better.
Who or what inspired you?
I was very lucky to have two very different, but very good teachers at the very start of my training: Gordon Faulkner and Bob Lowey. Between them they introduced me to a wide range of skills, approaches and philosophies. They also introduced me to some frankly amazing people in the Tai Chi world, and made me feel part of a connected, worldwide network of Tai Chi obsessives.
Notable people would have to include Professor Zhang Guande in Beijing, Luigi Zanini, John Bolwell and John Grocott, Chris Thomas, Epi Van De Pol and Mantak Chia.
What do you make of tai chi’s current popularity?
Great. This is how I make my living – the more people interested, the better. Yes, there will always be quality issues about those that are supplying the demand, but the really obsessed will end up with the good teachers.
As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
Most of my students are interested in the martial side, but mostly at an academic and abstract level. They want to know and to see that there is a physical validity to what they are learning, but have little interest in the fighting arts themselves.
It is part of my teaching that the qualities that need to be mastered as a fighter apply to every aspect of living, that controlling and choosing our responses to stress is one of the core outcomes of tai chi training.
What are your views on competition?
I haven’t been involved in any competition, so I would be wary about passing judgement on them. All the same, I am not convinced that competition is especially meaningful in terms of a learning process, nor as an indication of ability.
What direction would you like to see tai chi going in the future?
There’s some amazing cross- pollination taking place at Beijing Sports University, and elsewhere, where differing views and research on related subjects are being absorbed and played around with (see the Youtube video of a Chicago cop brought into BSU to teach grappling techniques to Wushu Students). I’m looking forward to Tai Chi being developed and changed, growing from a minority past-time towards something that is influencing teaching in all aspects of life, while maintaining it’s core truths and validity.