Category Archives: issue-31

Meet Sue Weston

Sue Weston

How long have you been practising T‚’ai-Chi?
23 years, I have continued to study and deepen my practice over the years and have a particular interest in Chinese Medical Qigong.

Who or what stimulated your interest?
In 1986 I injured myself in performance, I was a professional dancer for many years. I needed something slow to keep me moving. T‚’ai-Chi intrigued me and as it was slow, just what I needed after the injury. It was difficult then to find a T‚’ai-Chi teacher but I finally found John Kells in London.

What does T‚’ai-Chi mean to you?
T‚’ai-Chi and Qigong are practices that liberate our natural wisdom and compassion. Through the cultivation of inner and outer poise: a clear, calm mind, a relaxed, flowing posture and ease in breathing, the practitioner gradually discovers their confidence, stability, strength, flexibility and softness. This enables the dissolving of neurotic tendencies and the engagement of the power of our innate wisdom. Our stability allows us to connect with the kindness and compassion of our vulnerable hearts.

What is the most important aspect for you?
Awareness, a consciousness of self, leading to empathy for others. In my classes and retreats I am inspired by the ah-ha moments of realisation as participants link the internal aspects of the forms to their every day life. Taking the essence of these movement philosophies into life brings wholeness to the practice so it does not exist solely in the studio, but everywhere. Ultimately T‚’ai- Chi and Qigong are preparations for loss and death. This awareness releases the practitioner to live life joyfully, creatively and outrageously.

Who or what inspired you?
My first classes were confusing: the class was extremely crowded, there were mirrors covering two walls of the studio and there was none of the discipline and generosity that I had become accustomed to in my professional dancing life. It was shocking. The class had more men than women and the martial art aspect dominated. It wasn‚’t a comfortable environment for me, after my dance world. John launched us directly into pushing hands, most of the time this manifested as pushing anger, very uncomfortable. At one class I pushed hands with one of his long-term students and it was like dancing with sparkling water. That inspired me and I yearned for that quality. I knew from years of working physically and philosophically with movement through my dance that this quality was not going to arise overnight. I then committed to the long-term uncovering of this quality within myself. And learnt to be flexible within the class and give up expectations of the sociability of my dance world.

Do you have any personal goals in T‚’ai-Chi?
I wish to continue adapting my practice to a body that sometimes fails: I already have one new NHS knee. I wish to continue learning and teaching as I grow older. My changing and aging physicality has its advantages – when I am working with elders and differently-abled people I can empathise with their conditions, uncovering ways to mould the techniques to their capabilities.

What do you make of T‚’ai-Chi‚’s current popularity?
Marvellous! My heart swells with gratitude to Gerda Geddes and her inspiring life‚’s work that gave T‚’ai-Chi to the West in a way that makes it available to every church hall in the land and not a minor martial art practiced by the few.

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial art aspect of the art?
I did not know that T‚’ai-Chi was a martial art when I started learning it. A few classes later I realised that I had been setting myself up as a target, being a ‚’visible‚’ sort of person. My curiosity aroused I began to see that this could be something I might practice, and would be available to someone like myself (woman, not so young etc.). The internal aspects of self-defence interests me more than the external physically of uprooting another. For me the martial art aspect, the protection, is contained in awareness of the mind, the breath and the posture, three simple and yet almost impossible qualities to balance within ourselves.

What are your views on competition?
I was and still am more interested in the inner meaning, the psychology, of our moving physical beings. Competition implies some are right, others wrong, instead of each doing their best with what they have at that moment.

What direction would you like to see T‚’ai-Chi go in the future?
I love watching the way that different directions are opening up for T‚’ai-Chi and Qigong: as a full-on martial art, as a gentle practice for physical and mental health, in schools, refuges, prisons and hospitals, on retreat, in the spa, the gym, the art centre… My own T‚’ai-Chi practice and teaching focuses on empowering and healing through meditation (which I have been practising long before T‚’ai-Chi came into my life) and Chinese Medical Qigong. It continues to be a daily resource; a treasure trove of philosophy and insight.

Meet Ian Kendall

Ian Kendall

How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi?
About 15 years, i started learning TC in 1994 when i was 22 years old while working in Nottingham. What stimulated your interest?
Having previously spent 10 years practicing Shotokan karate and a few years of western boxing and Wing Chun, i was looking for a MA with less bowing, expensive gradings and head/joint injuries. I remembered reading an old magazine article about TC that was written by Dan Docherty for ‚’Fighting Arts International‚’ when I was doing karate. I found the article very interesting, so the seeds where there but they didn‚’t start to grow until i started at a Wudang TC class in Nottingham. What does TC mean to you?
Good friends, great fun and hard work. Over the years TC has kept me sane in dealing with the daily challenges life throws at you, whatever was happening i always went to class or trained on my own. Now as a full time teacher I find the physical, intellectual and emotional benefits just keep increasing the more I practice and teach. I feel very lucky to make money from something i love doing and still pay the mortgage. What is the most important aspect for you?
Its all important, to really understand the art all aspects have to be practiced on a daily basis. Too may people spend a large amount of time and money trying to ‚’cherry pick‚’ so called secret techniques or methods from many different styles and masters of TC. Pick one style, do it for the rest of your life, study the classics and the secrets will be revealed along the way. Do you have personal goals in TC?
Become an immortal and learn to speak, read and write Chinese. One is easier than the other. Who or what inspired you?
In the beginning when studying MA it was many teachers, then it was some teachers but now its one teacher and my students. Every day they teach me something new. What do you make of TC current popularity?
The general public and certain organizations that give support to the elderly and physically/ mentally disabled are now much more aware of the health benefits of TC than ever before due to positive mass media and NHS health information . This can only be of benefit to the TC community in general.
As teachers we must be careful of not dumbing down TC or deluding people with pseudo- scientific claims to make it more palatable to this new audience. TC can be taught and practiced in many different ways but it is still a fighting art and should be promoted as such equally. Good TC is hard work and takes time and effort to realize the benefits whatever way we choose to teach it and should remain challenging for both students and teachers alike. As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspects of TC?
The martial side is not more or less important than the health aspects, its just part of the whole art. Students should practice as much of the art as they can based on their level of interest and their physical,emotional,mental and intellectual capabilities.

What are your views on competition?
I think competing is an important phase that all students must go through. Its a great way to test your skills safely against others in a pressure environment. And to improve your technical knowledge and rid yourself of self doubts regarding your own ability or style. But there is a danger of becoming hooked on just competing or winning, to the detriment of the higher benefits TC/martial arts have to offer. To be successful in competitions requires only doing techniques or performing forms in a way that will win the gold medals, long term this makes you very close minded and fixed, preventing you or your art to progress and evolve.

Forms become more about what you are wearing and fighting techniques become competition only techniques. This results in a watered down version of the original art trading on its past glory that is now only a sport played to rules.

What direction would you like to see TC take in the future?
I would like TC to avoid the politicalization by any one style to promote their way as the only way to teach and practice TC. The many various styles and methods is what makes TC so accessible and appealing to such a large number of people throughout the world. Modern consumer marketing strategies are best left to Coca- Cola for world domination.