How many years have you been practising Taijiquan?
It‚’s 20 years this year, I started training in 1987 at the ITCCA under Master Chu, who spent a lot of time gently laughing at us beginners and saying things like; ‚ÄúNo, no, relax, not so serious, you‚’re meant to enjoy Tai Chi‚Äù.
What stimulated your interest?
Twenty years ago, I was just turning 21 years old and had come out of university with a degree in English Literature and Drama. I had written and directed a play in one of London‚’s fringe venues but apart from wanting to explore life and find some way to express my self and be creative, I wasn‚’t sure what direction to go in. It was then that I spotted an advert for T‚’ai Chi in London‚’s Time Out magazine and somehow I knew that T‚’ai Chi would give me a ‚Äúcentre‚Äù, something concrete to hold onto. I‚’m not sure how I knew this, but over the years students have been guided to T‚’ai Chi in similar ways. There‚’s a Buddhist phrase that might explain this phenomenon: ‚ÄúThat which you are seeking, is causing you to search‚Äù.
What does Taijiquan mean to you?
One of my students put it best, so I can‚’t really take the credit for this, but Hazel Hudson (one of my senior students and assistant instructors, who has now moved back home to New Zealand) described T‚’ai Chi as both ‚’a catalyst and an anchor‚’.
What she means by this, I‚’m sure we‚’ve all had experience of and that is, that T‚’ai Chi being such a profound form of training, actually changes a person, fundamentally and over time, which can be scary and make you feel uncomfortable, but I guess it‚’s a process of stripping away at all the layers of ego and the ideas you have about yourself ‚’ so it acts as a catalyst for change, growth and personal development ‚’ and obviously, T‚’ai Chi is an anchor point in many people‚’s lives, my own included, because no matter what‚’s going on around you and no matter what life throws at you, you can always start a new day with some T‚’ai Chi training.
What is the most important aspect for you?
Well, at the moment it‚’s stillness. I spend most of my training time right now simply standing in the Zhang Zhuang postures. At other times I might concentrate more on say, elements of silk reeling or re-working some fundamentals like the external harmonies. Bruce Lee once said that in kung-fu you cannot train for speed and power at the same time, so he would use some training sessions to develop his speed, other sessions to develop stamina and endurance and yet another session to develop power.
I see T‚’ai Chi training in the same way, so I sort of de-construct my practise and train certain aspects at a time. I think this is more productive than simply going through the form every day.
Do you have any person goals in Taijiquan?
I would like to be like Master T.T. Liang and keep learning and training up until I die, at the ripe old age of one hundred. Do you know, that Master Liang wrote, in his 70‚’s that he was just beginning to understand T‚’ai Chi as an exercise and martial arts and he spent the next 30 years trying to apply T‚’ai Chi philosophy to his life and relationships.
Who or what inspired you?
I started training at the Hine Institute in Bromley after I moved home and had to leave the ITCCA up in London. There were a number of people there who inspired me, with their presence and their dedication to daily practise. They know who they are!
What do you make of Taijiquan‚’s current popularity?
Just a natural result of the quality and depth of the art, however I do believe there is much more scope to develop T‚’ai Chi‚’s popularity, particularly amongst athletes, which is where my main focus lies. I have spent the last 10 years teaching the traditional Yang long form, and being a keen sports-woman myself and having used many aspects of T‚’ai Chi to help myself become a better athlete, I decided around 2002 to dedicate most of my time to coaching athletes in aspects of the Eastern energy arts, including Chi Kung and T‚’ai Chi.
As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
Well, the martial aspect is the art of T‚’ai Chi ‚’ it‚’s not a dance and it‚’s not Wushu, it‚’s a traditional internal martial art ‚’ as are Hsing Yi and Ba Gua ‚’ and to teach it as anything other than this, is missing the point. Having said that, however, students who come to T‚’ai Chi primarily for health reasons can obviously gain enormous benefits, but to really get the most form the art, it‚’s best to understand it and the moves as they were originally intended.
What are your views on competition?
The only person I really compete against is myself, I‚’m not into proving my worth or my ability to others, but I have the utmost respect for those who enter competition. From a fighting perspective though, a competition is still a controlled format so martial skills cannot really be judged in this situation as defending yourself out on the street is totally different.
What direction would you like to see Taijiquan going in the future?
From a personal point of view, I would like to see elite athletes and professional golfers and up and coming Olympic champions being coached in standing and seated meditation, learning to move from the t‚’an tien, developing ground strength, effortless power and all the rest of the benefits that come from T‚’ai Chi training ‚’ that‚’s my business focus and I believe there is enormous scope for other T‚’ai Chi instructors who have an interest in sport and athletics to get involved. From a teacher‚’s point of view, I would like to see a clear distinction made between Wushu and some competition T‚’ai Chi styles and the real T‚’ai Chi, which is a traditional internal martial art.