Category Archives: Issue 18

What I’ve Learned from Tai Chi

Sharon Davis

Sharon Davis is a T’ai Chi student and teacher and a journalist. She teaches Chi Kung and the traditional Yang style (Yang Cheng-Fu); in between writing and studying other traditional martial arts (Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu; Wu-Shin Chi-Dao). She has had the privilege of spending the past six years living and training with her partner at the Wu-Shin Chi-Dao International Martial Arts College, in Durban, South Africa. She regularly travels overseas to further her knowledge and study in T’ai Chi and other arts.

LESSONS TO FOLLOW:

  • Be present in the now – the only moment in time that exists is
  • the present
  • The earth experience is one of duality – of good and bad; yin
  • and yang
  • Going with the flow – be flexible, yet centred
  • There is power in softness – yielding
  • Fast does not mean better – avoiding the rat race
  • Embrace Tiger – facing your fears
  • Never be double-weighted – the intelligence of not opposing
  • force with force
  • Ride the Tiger – embracing a weakness and turning it into a
  • strength
  • Meditation in motion – mindful movement and body awareness
  • Non-confrontational, yet effective – using your adversary’s
  • force against him
  • The stillness at the centre of the circle
  • Wu-Wei – not doing, but being done
  • Monkey mind – quietening the chatter
  • Maintaining balance and perspective
  • Breath deeply
  • Poise and posture – avoiding unnecessary strain and fatigue
  • The cyclical nature of life

So often, it is those apparently insignificant things that can be important – like a smile from a stranger or a compliment from a friend – that little ingredient that can brighten a day… In the same vein, it is often the seemingly little lessons that can be gained from the study of T’ai Chi that makes all the difference to how one views the world, and more importantly to how one responds to it. With this in mind, I’d like to share some of the little, but fundamentally important, lessons that I have learned from my journey along the T’ai Chi path.

Don’t be taken in by appearances – look beneath the surface: Probably the first lesson we learn from T’ai Chi is: not to take things at face value; we learn to look beneath the surface…

This lesson is learned through a simple examination of the yin and yang nature of T’ai Chi. By embracing and understanding its fundamental underlying concept of duality – that T’ai Chi is both for health and relaxation, and for self-defence; both passive and violent.

How many people are initially surprised, if not disappointed, to discover that the root and function of these slow, flowing, gentle movements of relaxation are deeply grounded in civil combat and self-protection? I have had prospective students walk out of a trial class in total disgust at being told that part of the Brush Knee involved a strike to the face Who would suspect that the graceful dance-like movements, both aesthetically pleasing and calming, could be a devastating code of selfdefence moves – in effect a long and graceful kata?

By accepting that T’ai Chi is outwardly apparently very yin but contains the possibility of extreme yang, we learn to see a deeper significance in T’ai Chi – and by extrapolation, we can learn to see a deeper significance in the world around us.

We learn not to assess people by outward appearances – their physical appearance, their clothes, or even what they have to say. We learn to look deeper, into the heart and soul of the person; and if we choose to judge at all, we judge them by their actions. What they do to make the world a better place. Clothing and fashion statements are irrelevant. We learn to look past that outward projection of ‘self’ until that projection becomes like the emperor’s new clothes. We learn that a fancy car is nice, but not important. That a smart new suit looks good, but holds no more promise of honesty or reliable service than a well worn, out-moded suit.

Why do we practice Tai Chi Chuan?

Cornelia Gruber

Cornelia Gruber originally delivered this lecture at the 5th European Taiji & Qigong Forum staged on behalf of the Taijiquan & Qigong Federation for Europe (http://www.tcfe.org), last July in Bulgaria. The question she raised stimulated much discussion and perhaps you, the reader, will feel compelled to participate in the on-going debate by way of writing your views for the next publication of this journal.

For information on Cornelia Gruber visit her web site at:http://www.taichichuan-cornelia.com
Cornelia will be teaching at this year’s Tai Chi Caledonia

First Love
For many years I was very busy studying and practicing tai chi chuan without ever really asking myself the question, “Why do I practice tai chi chuan?” I had simply fallen in love with it during a martial arts exhibition in New York City. After spending hours watching the most splendid and mind-blowing presentations of expert martial artists, from many different styles and schools, from all over the country – the very humble presentation of a single tai chi chuan master was the one which really impressed me and left a lasting impression. The simplicity coupled with harmony and strength that was coming through these movements appealed to something very deep inside of me; and, as it is when you fall in love, you are swept away; you need no reason, no explanation and no justification. In my case it has turned out to be an extremely happy love affair, one which has endured over 30 years and one that is still continuing.

In the 1980’s Chinatown in Boston, USA was such an integrated and familiar part of the local culture that being part of a Chinese tai chi school was normal practice and caused no comments amid my non-practising American friends. They were used to seeing groups practice in the city parks and they more or less knew what it was about – at least they thought they knew, “Ah! tai chi chuan, that’s the slow Chinese movements for health!”

A Strange Practice
It was a very different situation in Switzerland 20 plus years ago. tai chi chuan, at that time, meant absolutely nothing to anyone that I knew. Anyone who did have an idea of it thought that it was probably practised by people who were ‘alternative’ and that it was a byproduct of the hippie culture. Nobody ever asked why I did these bizarre movements, they just assumed it had something to do with me spacing out and being vegetarian. People in Switzerland who had heard of tai chi chuan were very rare and none of them had the vaguest notion of the important role that these strange movements played in the lives of many people in ancient China, where it was important to know martial arts such as tai chi chuan, in order to defend themselves. However tai chi chuan has eventually caught on in Europe and has now even become fashionable.

Gradual Acceptance
25 years ago my teacher Bow Sim Mark, was teaching in several universities in the US and tai chi chuan became an integral part of more and more public organisations, as well as being included in self-development programs and in work with physical and mental therapy groups. Slowly but surely, Tai Chi in Boston was reaching beyond Chinatown into all kinds of city and neighbourhood centres. Now most people are aware that practising tai chi chuan is very beneficial to your health and keeps you fit, young and beautiful. That’s why there were more and more people doing tai chi.

Scientific Proof
Eventually serious scientific studies were being done which validated that which had only been accepted as folk-belief. From this research we now know that Osteoporosis can slow down with regular tai chi practice. Modern science has also found that connective tissue, which includes bone tissue, reacts and modifies itself according to demand. There are tissue builders and tissue removers which are continuously reconstructing our body including the skeleton. Wherever there is a regular impact because of posture or repeated body movement the stress causes a slight electric flow known as piezo-electric charge (pressure…) which can be read and interpreted by the nearby cells and communicated to the tissue organisers. This so called piezo-effect caused by repetitious exertion mobilizes the body to reinforce those particular areas. Since tai chi chuan – real tai chi chuan is whole body movement, we have a good chance of setting off this process on the whole bone structure. This very valuable asset of tai chi chuan provides another very good reason to practice, when you consider the extremely large percentage of old people suffering from osteoporosis – especially women. Osteoporosis specialists now highly recommend tai chi chuan as well as dancing or power-walking as being activities which are good for mobilising the bone-structure.

Professional Endorsement
Over the last few years I’ve had students referred to my classes by a wide range of health professionals including: osteopaths, chiropractors, psychologists and psychiatrists. One student had been referred by her neurologist and another by her otologist. These students obviously start tai chi chuan for a wide range of reasons and it seems like tai chi has finally convinced the medical profession of its health benefits. Because of this some health insurance companies in Switzerland even pay a modest contribution towards tai chi classes.

I’d like to cite one special case where I have seen such fabulous results, which were even contrary to the pessimistic prognosis of a very highly-esteemed medical professor. Françoise had been told by this professor, that her balance would be irretrievable for life since her inner ear had been damaged through several operations. But now, after many years of practising tai chi chuan she has regained 70% of her balance! Her doctor said it was incomprehensible and thought it was a miracle but Françoise told him that it was all down to her practise of tai chi chuan.

Blood Group A There is a current diet fashion which is based upon feeding you according to your bloodtype. Each of the four blood types has its own foods and specific hygiene to observe. If your blood is group A – tai chi chuan is your sport! If you are from the group A, your brain functions in acceleration and you pass through phases of anxiety, irritability and hyperactivity. The more stress invades your system, the more you weaken. Your hypersensitive nervous system works to slowly crumble your fragile protecting antibodies which become too weak to fight infections and bacteria. If you don’t do anything against your natural tensions you risk contracting heart disease or cancer. If your blood type is Group A then try tai chi chuan.

Relaxed Gamblers
The most extraordinary reason to practice tai chi chuan that I’ve heard of comes from Atlantic City USA. One of the famous casinos created what they called a ‘stress-out room’ where the high-rollers would stress-out before they approached the games and feel perfectly cool gambling their fortune away. In that room a person covered with a veil was actually playing a tai chi form on a small stage to create the calming ambiance. – I am including this story as a hint, in case you ever run out of money – you might apply for doing tai chi in the casinos in Atlantic City, they’ve got plenty of it there!

Against Violence
Some of the following experiences are from people with a similar idea – Why Practice Ta-Chi? – but from a completely different perspective, with perhaps a more virtuous intention. The idea of tai chi chuan being a valuable educational support has arrived in public schools with great hope being put forward for tai chi chuan as a tool for orienting our future through our school children. A couple of years ago I accepted an invitation from a primary school to introduce very young children to tai chi chuan as part of a programme entitled, “A Day Against Violence” The teacher put forward the idea of planting a seed in very little children by letting them enjoy a playful martial art experience rather than the usual tough youngster’s choices such as judo or karate which didn’t fit with their new concept of non-competitive education. Maybe they would remember, the teacher thought, this one Tai-Chi experience from their primary school, and as a consequence, when they are looking to join a club, they will choose something with a constructive vision. Of course I could not refuse this class when the teacher had such good intentions and I fought against my initial response of “I don’t have classes for children.”

It turned out to be a great afternoon. To be really honest though, I will have to wait about 10 years to see if that class served its initial purpose, to whether or not that this is a good reason for doing, or in my case, teaching tai chi chuan

On several previous occasions I had taught children of secondary and high school age, where the teachers also had the idea of introducing the adolescents to a more constructive way of channelling their energies. With that age group, between 13 and 17, I was not all that convinced of the impact of such a crash course in tai chi chuan. Maybe it had more impact on me as their teacher, since I had to call on every very last bit of patience, creating spontaneous improvisations in order to retain their interest, bearing in mind that they were forced to attend the class. Nevertheless I must admit that each time a couple of surprisingly positive reports came back from individual students.

Against Burn-Out
For seven years I taught summer camps for the public school teachers organized and sponsored by the federal department of education. This was my happiest experience with the public education system, probably because the teachers came voluntarily. Many of them attended to help them recover from their yearly almost burn-out at the end of the school year. Some of them wanted to learn tai chi as a relief from their cerebral occupation, to get a improved bodysense and some hoped to find exercises to integrate into their classes as a way of calming down an agitated classroom. Most of them enjoyed the experience and went home refreshed and some of returned the following year and some even took up regular classes in their respective towns. From the obligatory reports they had to write, I understood that it is justified to play tai chi chuan for the support of professionally stressed out people.

Therapeutic Applications
We can also find answers why in looking at therapeutic environments. Using tai chi chuan for therapy with people who have a serious mental handicap has not proven fruitful for me. I have tried over a period of time, working in a specialised home, where the staff were very open to the idea. We spend several lessons just swinging our arms around before I finally accepted that the students would simply never get beyond that stage. I do admit that this failure might very well be due to my personal shortcomings in that patience is not my strongest point and therapy is definitely not one of my chosen areas of work. I aborted the idea of using tai chi chuan in these situations immediatly after that experience.

Working with the Elderly

I’m also sorry to admit that I initially felt the same way with regard to working with the elderly. Many years I tried to get elderly people interested in tai chi chuan. Maybe it was because they held the class in a dining room where people were finishing off their lunch, not, in my mind, an ideal environment to practise. Around 3 years ago, in our school, we created a programme called “Tai Chi For the Elderly. This time, thinking about my previous experience in this area, I ensured that the elderly students would step into the tai chi chuan ambiance from the very beginning with no distractions. However, in my experience this specialised class is proving to be more like an ergotherapy and social event. Carmen, who is teaching that class is taking good care of the development in that group and going out of her way to bring these old ladies closer to tai chi chuan as at least a moving art. Despite this, after several years the personal investment of most of the participants is very limited and their motivation is disproportionate between social interaction and the real practice of the art. None of them has moved to regular classes as originally hoped. (The course was offered as an introduction to people to encourage them to do more exercise. (Maybe Linda Chase Broda of the Tai Chi and Special Needs Forum can provide some good hints on how to get that group onto a more fruitful track.))

Specialised Work
I’m not personally convinced of the usefulness of specialised groups unless they serve as a bridge to the regular classes. It seems to me, that often the above mentioned people are already kept apart, as if society was only made for young and perfectly functioning members. Practicing tai chi chuan on a daily basis should be enough to mirror one’s constant change in the body and in one’s mind. Mixing ages and physical abilities has a real possibility for positive development in tai chi chuan. Working in this way Special Needs students would be able to explore the adaptability of the art. Every elderly person can become a light for the future of the art by proving that there are no age-limits to practice. I have one middle-aged student whom I’ve heard on several occasions say that they know they can practice tai chi chuan until they die. – That in itself is a good enough reason to practice!

Mental Disorders
With respect to mental disorders; if the student is able to come to a tai chi chuan class, then he or she can benefit, not only from the calming effect of the movements but also from the discipline and the interaction with other players. According to modern research 20-25 % of the population suffers from depression one time or another and in the last 10 years the University Clinic of Psychiatry in Zürich, treatment for depression has increased 250% times. It is therefore in our interest to make a special effort to include people with such problems in our tai chi chuan classes. Sometimes tai chi chuan is just about the only possibility left for interacting unless you have access to specialised psychological training. In our school we have had many people going in and out of such moods and tai chi chuan has proven itself very useful for maintaining the contact.

Good for Bankers
I recently had an opportunity to work in the very famous UBS bank. They hired me to give a tai chi introduction to their executives before a staff meeting in order to create a cooperative ambiance. I ended up really liking this training, surely because it was to have an immediate effect on the group and therefore was to be a very goal-oriented class. We did 10% warm-ups to get them a bit tired and respectful for the art, 10% theory to get a glimpse of the extent of the art, 50% partnerwork to get them to inter-act and to put everbody on the same level, (Director Supervisor and Vice-Whatever) and finally 20% form to bring calm and centering with 10% form application in loyalty to the art. The result was positive. Because I now know that it works, I accepted a request from a very prestigious consultant firm to teach their sales executives an early morning class before a seminar. This time the work was not quite as specific since all they needed in this case was a completly new experience which was a contrast to their normal activity. Yes, this turned out to be a good reason to step into tai chi, the need to take a break from habitual mind and work patterns.

Competitions
Tai chi chuan now also offers something for those who enjoy sport as competition. More and more countries are running competitions. These competitions are a reasonable alternative to more violent confrontations in hard martial arts and form competition is certainly more accessible to the average person than a figure-skating competition! Of course many tai chi players find the practice of competition in direct conflict with tai chi philosophy. To those people I recommend a visit to the Swiss competition of the so-called ‘libres pousseurs’ (free pushers) in Geneva, where the spirit is guaranteed friendly and the winners are honored with a medal made of cookie-dough as a reminder that winning is relative and ephemerial and where they might share their medal with you over a cup of tea if you did not get one this time.

Finding Strength
To find one’s optimal strength is a reason to practice tai chi chuan. Tai chi chuan training provides a fabulous method of developing ergonomic skill. We practice repeatedly how to achieve the best result with minimum effort; this is not just useful for martial purposes but also for normal everday life. I see how this ‘increase’ in overall strength brings reassurance to fragile people, especially to women who can discover that mass and muscle does not add up to superiority.

Cultural Exchange
There are many activities which promote cultural exchange but tai chi chuan is one of few that offers such a profound exchange on so many different levels. It is quite amazing to imagine people training in tai chi chuan everywhere from Africa to Alaska and from South America to Australia. On the other hand it is fully understandable when you consider how tai chi chuan works as a mind and heart opener. It has that wonderful quality to go beyond culture and connect with something universal. So one can practice tai chi chuan for reaching out and use it like a passport, one which gives you access to places you never dreamed off before!
With tai chi chuan having such a varied range of training methods and so many layers of benefits, it is useful to take whatever is appropriate to one’s current need whilst also considering what one needs to progress further in the learning process.

Why do I practice tai chi chuan?
The answer reflects the place of development you are at, and vice-versa, realising where you are at, helps to put purpose into the practice. If you bear this in mind, tai chi chuan will serve you as a development tool for life.

Conclusion
In conclusion, I like to tell you how I came to the decision to talk on this perticular topic: I had been teaching for many years and practicing for even more and I had to answer many questions, some easy, some difficult. If you teach, you know what I am talking about. One day in a rather large class, in the middle of doing the form, one of my students froze in action looking at me and saying out loud, “Why do I do this?” I busily started to explain the posture, the rules, the benefits but she said, “No, no, not that. I mean, why do I do tai chi chuan instead of something else, do you ever ask yourself that question?” I was at loss with words – but in my heart I knew, this is a perfectly justifed question. And it has never left me since that day.

Meet Richard Farmer

How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi? I began practicing Tai Chi in 1977 so I guess that means 26 years! I founded The Rising Dragon Tai Chi School in 1979.

What stimulated your interest? I saw a friend of mine playing the form and I was struck dumb by its beauty, grace and ‘other worldliness’. I was very unhappy at the time and new that I needed help of some sort. So when I asked him what he was doing and learnt that it was Tai Chi Chuan, I thought I would give it a go. I quickly realized that if I didn’t give it 100% how would I know if it would help me? So I decided to give Tai Chi 100% for 10 weeks and if it did not help me, I would stop and seek something else. Well as you can see I am still exploring and it is still helping

What does Tai Chi mean to you? Tai Chi Chuan means everything to me. It is a wonderful way to move – it is a disco with only one record that I move ecstatically to each time! It keeps me healthy and flexible by showing me the mind of resistance, which when released allows that part of the body, where the mind of resistance was stored, to be completely free. It is a gentle way to learn to deal with any kind of threat because it shows me where I am in the way. It is a perfect mirror. It is a true spiritual path as it gracefully and sometimes fiercely, allows me to understand the meaning of non-action and how Richard Farmer can live rather than survive this life.

What is the most important aspect for you? The understanding of non action and the ability to rest in the centre of action

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi? To become totally natural

Who or what inspired you? Dr Chi Chiang Tao. Dr Chi was a personal student of Cheng Man Ching for many many years and I believe vice president of the Taiwan Tai Chi Chuan association as well as one of its senior instructors. He was very good. When he pushed me it was like being lifted by the wind. When I went to approach him all I felt was air. One of his favorite things was when you went to push him in double push hands, he would suddenly be behind you! He would get between my intention to push and the action so fast that I could not see him move. However after a personal meeting with Jesus in a dream, he gave up official Tai Chi in favor of a spiritual life. Some time later, he did begin teaching again but mostly on a one to one basis and then only through recommendations from people close to him. I was fortunate to have spent some time with him. I asked him to teach me spiritual Tai Chi and after testing me thoroughly he agreed. I am still exploring what he showed me. He said the essence of Push Hands was, “When your partner move, you move”. He was not just talking about physical movement.

What do you make of Tai Chi’s current popularity? I think it’s great

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art? Martial artists dance, self defense people fight. Tai Chi Chuan is the ultimate martial art; in fact it is a martial art of life. We use the body to understand the mind and we explore that mind in relation to living this life. As a means of dealing with aggression, both physical and mental, Tai Chi works, this has been proven to me in reality. However, ultimately, the aim is to become Tai Chi and create harmony even amidst chaos.

What are your views on competition? I think in competitions there should be no winner or medals or belts, that way people would attend because they want to play Tai Chi rather than to win. Of course people do attend to play together, but the medal distorts the view, in my opinion.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi going in the future? In what ever way the Tao decides. The art of Tai Chi has unlimited potential, there are so many aspects that could be developed and that means the paths are limitless. So which ever way each practitioner is inspired to develop Tai Chi, that is the way to go and the Way may be opened for you to share it with others. It is in the hands of the Tao.

http://www.risingdragontaichi.com

Mandeigh Wells

How many years have you been practising Taijiquan? 10 years.

What stimulated your interest? I was looking for a rehabilitive exercise after a back injury in a horse riding accident a few years previous. I had thought about taking up Yoga but a friend recommended Taiji to me and I set about finding a class. I saw taiji being practiced in a TV program and thought it was Japanese! But I liked the idea that it was practised slowly and the groups practising were always so synchronised. When I got to a class I thought it looked so graceful and beautiful and easy, that soon changed when I found out how poorly balanced and coordinated I was.

What does Taijiquan mean to you? Ultimately, Taijiquan to me is about self awareness, physically, and mentally. And also about keeping the essences in mind not only while practising taiji form but through all aspects of life: Walking with ‘high spirit’, driving with sinking shoulders and elbows etc.

What is the most important aspect for you? Practising correctly. Not just going through the motions for the sake of performance but being fully attentive throughout each and every movement. The attention to detail, but training with a light heart and having fun.

Do you have any personal goals in Taiji? My main goal is to do justice to the art and to understand it as fully as possible and practise better. Also to keep trying to involve all kinds of people in the art. So far I have been lucky enough to work with a wide range of people, from young children to the elderly and people with physical, mental, sensory and learning difficulties as well as very able-bodied people. It really can be practised by just about anyone.

Who or what inspired you? One of the earliest books on body mechanics I read was by a woman called Sylvia Loch. She has for many years been at the forefront of Classical Dressage and her book the Classical Seat, while written for horse riders is full of taiji principals. I first read this book when I started Taiji and every now and then I go back to it and understand more and more how true classical arts are intertwined and linked by the same common principles. I have also been inspired by everyone I have studied with, from workshops to prolonged study. Everyone has their own angle on things, their own way of explaining or demonstrating and I have been inspired not necessarily by what they were teaching, but more how they were teaching.

What do you make of Taijiquan’s current popularity? In theory it’s great, more and more people have access to this fascinating art. I do think that Taijiquan’s popularity has lead to a more questioning audience though and more and more people are seeking ‘the truth’ and studying accordingly.

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art? I always find this thought rather difficult, I don’t feel there is a martial ‘aspect’ it is simply a martial art, end of story. The movements are all techniques or applications; the basic principles, are all martial art, awareness, controlling the body and the mind, the way you carry yourself, the forms training, building strength in the body etc .it is all martial art. . As for people practising the applications, well I believe that even if your basis for training is for personal development or health, you do need to understand the reason that the arms are placed like this or a foot like that. You don’t necessarily need to be throwing people around the room.

What are your views on competition? Competition has been around since the year dot. At one time it was fighting for survival, now it is fighting for points in a more controlled environment. It is a way for people to test themselves and their understanding of their art against other people’s, to open them up to criticism by allowing themselves to be judged. It doesn’t suit everyone, however along with competition usually comes advertising, so that in itself helps to raise awareness of Taijiquan and may inspire new people to take up the art.

What direction would you like to see Taijiquan going in the future? I would love to see accessibility for UK students to high level instruction, more visits from Chinese teachers to the UK and for the overall standard to rise. I would also like to see a truer representation of taijiquan in the world wide media so that potential new students have a clearer understanding of what taijiquan is about.

http;//www.taijiscotland.org.uk

Meet Don Wells

How many years have you been practising tai chi?
Since 7th September 1987, a day that changed my life in many ways. What stimulated your interest? Connubial loyalty. My wife Margaret, who was recovering from a heart attack, saw an ad for a tai chi class. She said, “I think I’d like to try that.” I said, “I’ll come with you.” Simple as that.

What does tai chi mean to you?
As well as transforming my movement, my breathing and the way I look at the world, it has helped me through three traumatic events. I was diagnosed with tongue and neck cancer in 1999. Thirty six hours after the operation I was in the deserted dayroom before breakfast, practising nei kung exercises. Recovery from a coronary bypass in 2002 took a little longer. The third crisis was when Margaret’s heart finally succumbed to the attack that had first brought us to tai chi. The love and support from our tai chi “family” was as important in my grieving as the practice of the art itself.

What is the most important aspect for you?
I remember once moving into “grasp the bird’s tail” and for the first time, instead of turning the body, shifting the weight and pushing the hands out, I just allowed the focus of my body to change and let the arms extend to their natural length in the new direction. It was a revelation. Ever since then, the quality of movement has been the most important thing for me, whether it’s in forms, fighting applications, pushing hands or standing still.

Who or what inspired you?
My Aunt Elsie, who did her Swedish exercises every morning and lived to 101. Every student who ever left a class saying, “Thanks, Don. That was good tonight”. And my sifu, Ian Cameron. I have met other teachers – some of them worldrenowned. I have seen them in the flesh and in action. I have not yet met one who has seemed to me to be more skilled than Ian. His inspiration over many years is still as strong today.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
None at all.

What do you make of Tai Chi’s current popularity?
In 1988 we were the only club in town. Now there are probably 25-30 classes on offer each week. But with all this apparent explosion of interest, the public is no more knowledgeable about the depth of the art and any media coverage is no less superficial or trivial.

As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
It needs to be taught to every student to some degree – at the very least, demonstrated. Even my little old ladies are taught how to make a proper fist, whether or not they hit anyone. They know that tai chi chuan is essentially a martial art which, practised properly and regularly, can be of great benefit to their health.

What are your views on competition?
Forms competition is just dressing up and showing off. Surely pushing hands is a training method, where “winning” should come second to learning. The only meaningful competition is fighting – but is it a test of tai chi chuan? I have fought in the past (though not under TCC rules). I still like to watch any kind of contest and I find a lot to admire there. Practising techniques and sparring are important, but I believe that fighting of any kind is more a test of courage, aggression and conditioning. I was pleasantly surprised to read that such luminaries as Wong Kiew Kit (The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan, p.140)and Nigel Sutton (Searching for the Way, p.78) each quote a Chinese saying that almost exactly matches my thoughts.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi going in the future?
Less insularity in styles and schools. I’ve often invited other teachers into my class and whenever I’m away from home it’s my pleasure to find a class somewhere, stumble through their form and join in their partner practice. Please don’t let tai chi become an Olympic “sport”. The surge in interest would be great for business, if tai chi is your business, but the silk suits and somersaults would turn tai chi from a martial into a performance art. By the way, if any little old ladies are upset by that description, I am fully though reluctantly aware that I could be described as a little old man.

Don Wells teaches in Aberdeen and Ellon. He has a page on the Five Winds School’s website and can be contacted at 01224 310904 or email Don Wells .