Meet Richard Odell

How many years have you been practising Tai Chi?
14 years.

What stimulated your interest?
I went to an adult education class to see what it was like and was lucky enough to find Katherine Allen a wonderful instructor teaching the Wudang style which offers a complete system all aspects of which I have enjoyed and found rewarding. I found Tai Chi to be very much the right thing at the right time and although I did not realise initially that it would become as important as it has I wanted to do more and more of it. The way Katherine taught offered understanding of what we were trying to achieve and why at every step of the way and also continually asked us to do more than we thought we could and this very much appealed to me.

What does Tai Chi mean to you?Development. It is of course not the only way of developing but I find that genuine focused practise provides genuine results and it is the most natural and rewarding way of developing that I have come across. Tai Chi puts into place a system starting with basic developments in physical health right up to levels which allow you to explore your limits and then realise that perhaps they were not your limits and there is more to be explored.

What is the most important aspect for you?
Balance. I very much believe in the principles of yin and yang and my previous reference to exploring limits means exploring them in all directions so that an overall balance might be achieved and so the real answer to what is the most important aspect is everything.

Who or what inspired you?
The most inspiring thing for me is Tai Chi itself but this might not be the case if I had not had good instructors and so Katherine is my most inspirational person. As I progressed and started going to Dan Docherty’s workshops I saw dedication and excellance at a rare level and was also inspired by people like Godfrey Dornelly and Ray White who were doing the same training but making it look wonderful.
I am continually inspired by my students in many ways.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
I hope to continually remind myself that no matter how complicated things appear to be the answer lies in the simple basics of Tai Chi and life in general.
I would like my classes to continue to reflect my belief that Tai Chi has something to offer everyone. I would also like to remember that the most important thing I do for my students is to practise. In competitions I would like to play a part in standardising and improving judging and will try to support Gary Wragg’s efforts in this.

What do you make of Tai Chi’s current popularity?
Overall I think it is splendid. There are dangers the more money there is to be made out of it but the more people who are introduced to Tai Chi the better as far as I am concerned.

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
I have very much enjoyed and benefited practising Tai Chi as a martial art. It has not altered my view on violence which is something that I hate and it upsets me and I am not cut out for it but I have found this has not prevented me from practising all aspects of a style which is well known for maintaining Tai Chi as a fully martial art. The fitness benefits are such that when I starting my first sparring practise just after my 40th Birthday for the next few years I felt fitter and stronger than ever before even though I had always played a lot of sport.
Even though I have a big variety of classes, there are none in which I pretend that Tai Chi is not a martial art and I always explain that to obtain the full benefits of Tai Chi we must practise all aspects. Limited practise produces limited results but if you have trouble even getting out of a chair those limited results may be very desirable.

What are your views on competition?
Before I began training in Tai Chi I believed that I did not have a fighters spirit and was not competitive. In my 11th successive year of competitions I now know that I do not have a fighters spirit and am not competitive.
Competition can offer a focus and increased desire for quality in training and a means of testing oneself under pressure. In my first competitions I was happy just to get through them but year on year I have used the experience and training to develop and I will move away from competing as an individual now not because I ended up winning medals but because I can now go into a pressurised situation confident that I can produce my best which is what it was all about.
I do not feel contaminated or changed by competition, it has been a very beneficial process and I have a debt of gratitude to those who have been strong and brave enough to stage competitions particularly Dan Docherty.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi going in the future?
I would really like to see the basic principles of Tai Chi being reflected in the organisations and people who are at the forefront of its development. That is not to say no one is doing that at the moment but anyone who has read the magazines and attended gatherings will know that our opposing forces are not always working in harmony. I firmly believe that Tai Chi has something to offer all people, from those who want or need to do full contact fighting to those who are just trying to slow their declining health. It is right that we should try to expose the charlatans and disingenuous and preserve the integrity of Tai Chi but the good must be together to achieve this.