How many years have you been practising Taijiquan?
20+ years I believe…I remember why I started and my first class with Nigel Sutton, but it’s been such a long time I forget when..
What stimulated your interest?
To be honest, I was initially just looking for something to do. Jenny (my wife) and I were looking through night-school brochures and kept seeing the name Tai Chi. We didn’t really know what it was so got a few books to read. It was Danny Connor’s book that got me hooked. Then came the long search for a ‘good teacher’, few back then had any real understanding.
What does Taijiquan mean to you?
It is a holistic art. The Cambridge dictionary defines this as “dealing with or treating the whole of something or someone and not just a part”. The development of mind and body in a system of real self-defence; Self-defence against the stresses and strains of daily life, and an effective defence martially. Previously as a project manager and manager of people, I have used the skills of listening, leading etc to control personal interaction; why meet things head on when you can get a more effective and effortless result.
What is the most important aspect for you?
I have become more aware and have learned how to listen and create time. Because of this I would say being mindful has become the most important aspect for me.
Do you have any personal goals in Taiji?
Yes. To become effortlessly effective…!! I am working more and more in the health sector and am involved with the Taiji Forum. At present I am working in falls prevention, cardiac and COPD rehab and head injuries. By training staff to use Taiji therapeutically its acceptance into the main stream is inevitable.
Who or what inspired you?
Initially Danny Connor’s book, but from there the teachers Nigel Sutton introduced me to especially Liang He Ching of Muar, Malaysia. Such a humble yet powerful man who has dedicated his whole life to the pursuit of martial virtue. More currently I enjoy the work of Peter Ralston and Willie Lim. Both have proved their effectiveness in combat and effortlessness.
What do you make of Taijiquan’s current popularity?
We seem to be working past the tie-died brigade and into the general public. As information becomes more accessible via the internet etc. in fact I have been getting more and more martial arts instructors from different systems coming to learn about personal balance, root, effortlessness etc. As demand grows information becomes more and more available, then people can be more informed and more discerning.
As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
Taijiquan is a martial art first and foremost. Training without martial understand has no substance. I have changed my approach over the years; initially I even put open challenges in Fighting Arts Magazine and we spent a lot of time sparring. Unfortunately we therefore only attracted a certain group of people. Now I teach in a more balanced way and find a better mix of people develop into the martial side once they have a greater understanding of the real life benefits rather than just the overtly physical.
What are your views on competition?
I used to compete and judge a lot, both in the UK and internationally. Suddenly I realised I had become very good at collecting medals but not too good at Tai Chi… I stopped competing and started really training again. If competitions had the benefit of increasing the public’s awareness of the many aspects of Tai Chi Chuan, I would be fully behind them, but in their current format they only attract those currently involved. Maybe they need a little more razzle-dazzle like WWF or for the push-hands events to look less like Sumo for slimmer people.
What direction would you like to see Taijiquan going in the future?
To increase people’s awareness of “the real Taiji”. As more material becomes available and more teachers strive to teach the whole art, the hangers-on and new-agers will fade into the background. As the general public feel more comfortable with it, it will become more socially acceptable to learn and in turn as demand increases so will the places to learn. We obviously need the TCUGB and BCCMA to have more power to ensure the rubbish gets filtered and to be stricter with their membership. Maybe it’s just my view but membership seems to have been ‘dumbed down’. I realise we all want more members but not all who ask to join should be accepted. Yang Cheng Fu said something along the lines of “Not all Taiji is the real Taiji, real Taiji has a different flavour”. Surely we know what that is by now. I also realise that there is a great strain on the panel so maybe we do now need regional offices. I would be more than happy to run a West Midlands branch….!!!! I have been with the TCUGB since the beginning and believe in it’s original aims strongly.