Category Archives: Issue 43

Meet Cher Robins

meet-cher-robbinsCher Robins is based in Brighton and teaches at Tai Chi Wisdon School. She can be contacted on 01903 369501 or you can visit the website at: www.taichiwisdom.net

How long have you been practicing Tai Chi?

I started practicing in 2002. I began with Cheng Man Ch’ing style hand form, sword and pushing hands. Now I train the traditional Yang Style Curriculum as taught Master Sam Masich; it covers hand forms, weapons and pushing hands and gives me enough to study for at least the next few lifetimes!

What stimulated your interest?

Between the ages of 12 and 28 I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. After successful treatment with CBT and graded exercise, I was finally well enough to begin a full life. However, I soon realized that there was more to health than just the absence of illness. I wanted to fully trust my body again. My GP recommended Qigong and so I found a local teacher and began training. I haven’t looked back since; I feel I know my body and can talk its language with an ever increasing vocabulary.

What does Tai Chi mean to you?

For me Tai Chi is about wholeness. I enjoy studying all aspects of the art as I feel this gives me the most opportunities for integrating all aspects of myself. I love the suppleness and smoothness of movement that Qigong brings; the mental clarity of moving or standing meditation or weapons practice and the emotional balance I gain from pushing hands practice. It is my time for me to be me.

What is the most important aspect?

Simply because it is my favourite it would have to be pushing hands. I love a challenge and for me the greatest one is the subtlety of applying my solo practice in the dynamic of two person work with all the questions that brings up.

Do you have any personal goals?

There are always curriculum goals and the list simply grows longer as I become aware of more layers to study; the trick, as I tell my students, is to find it inspiring rather than overwhelming.

At some point, when my children are old enough, I would love to attend one of Sam Masich’s 3 month intensives that cover the full curriculum – maybe when I retire and the kids have gone to university!

Who or what inspired you?

I am lucky, I married my teacher (Simon Robins) and am therefore constantly inspired. I have another wonderful teacher in Sam Masich, whose skill and generosity is astounding. Watching him do form or feeling his pushing hands is always an inspiration and extends the horizon into yet more unknown.

What do you make of Tai Chi’s current popularity?

I think it could be a lot more popular than it is. We’d need to work together as a community to present a coherent message; rather than focusing on the differences, we might do better to communicate the similarities. I found it quite confusing when looking for a class to begin and many teachers I spoke to dwelt on why their style was better or best. I always remember this when talking to students new to Tai Chi.

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?

I’m always a little confused by the word ‘aspects’ in this question. I tend to think of Tai Chi as a martial qigong. It does improve health and posture when studied without any partner work, but it is most beneficial when taught with a thorough and detailed understanding of the martial purpose to give the choreography of solo forms integrity, meaning and purpose. As Yang Chengfu said,

‘Without an understanding of the methods of form and function, very few will obtain any benefit to mind or body.’

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What are your views on competition?

For some students it is a vital part of motivating them to study. One of our students won a silver medal for pushing hands at the British Open a couple of years ago and it was the hardest three weeks of study he did. For others, Tai Chi is what they do to get out of the competitive world they inhabit at work all the rest of the week. As a teacher, it is important for me to recognise the individuality of students’ needs and experience.

What direction would you like to see tai chi going in the future?
Anything which brings joy and healing to people must be a good thing. Personally, as a secondary school teacher, I love to see an integrated curriculum which allows students to build their skills and develop along a clear path. I have been lucky to do this with both styles I have studied.

Meet David Gaffney

meet-david-gaffneyDavid Gaffney has been training in the Asian martial arts since 1980 and received an instructor’s certificate from the Chenjiagou Taijiquan School. He holds a 6th Duan grade with the Chinese Wushu Association. He teaches in Manchester and Cheshire and can be contacted on 0771 2616920. Website: chentaijigb.co.uk

How many years have you been practicing tai chi?

I was introduced to TCC in the mid- 1990s, so about 18 years.

What stimulated your interest?

I was practicing and competing in external martial arts and initially used TCC as a form of cross training to increase my looseness. After about six months I met Chen Xiaowang for the first time. He gave a short lecture on Chen TCC and then stood up and unleashed a series of fajin that blew my mind. At that point I had spent about 15 years training, first in Karate and then in Shaolin gongfu and kickboxing. I had trained with some very strong teachers, but this was just on a different level. From that moment I have trained only Chen TCC.

What does TCC mean to you?

TCC is more than a martial art, it is a complete way of life. At its heart TCC involves the search for balance in both physical and psychological terms. Using the vehicle of martial arts we try to balance the internal aspects of the emotional and logical mind and external aspects such as body structure and the equilibrium of hard-soft, fast-slow, open-close etc. The road to mastery in Taijiquan (and anything else) is the path of patient, dedicated effort without attachment to immediate results. Great success in any physical endeavour, including Taijiquan is built upon consistency and patience. We must be prepared to pay the price both in time and energy.

What is the most important aspect?

I believe in a ”whole syllabus” approach rather than picking out separate bits of the system. Every part of TCC is inter-related and there for a reason. Basic exercises like standing pole and reeling silk exercises, hand and weapon forms, push hands, pole-shaking etc complement and support each other. To get the most out of TCC, practitioners should also appreciate

the history and underlying philosophy of the art. What is the most important aspect to a person can change over time. The young are naturally active and like low postures and explosive movement; the strong may be drawn to the combat side; as people get a bit older health maintenance suddenly seems like a good idea; the elderly may look to maintain their mobility and suppleness. Ultimately to be successful in our practice we need to be able to adapt our TCC over time, all the time staying in line with the principles that have been laid down.

Do you have any personal goals?

Really Taijiquan is about the journey rather than the destination. I just want to carry on training with great teachers, following the traditional Chen village method and continue to develop naturally. A saying that is often repeated in Chenjiagou is that ”you can’t force the fruit to ripen”. There are no shortcuts. The students I like the best are the ones who quietly show up week after week, year after year and just get on with it. No hurry, no impatience to get on to the next thing. Just consistent honest effort…

Who or what inspired you?

First I’d like to mention John Bowen the teacher who first set me on the martial arts path back in 1980. His passion for the Oriental fighting arts sparked an interest that has taken me to China and the Far East almost 20 times. He died tragically young, but I do wonder sometimes what he would make of my martial arts journey. Over the years I have been fortunate to learn from some great TCC teachers who have each inspired me in different ways: The aforementioned Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Zhenglei, Zhu Tiancai, Chen Ziqiang and Wang Haijun … The first time I went to China in 1997 it was like opening the door to a different world. For the last decade I’ve been training in the Chenjiagou Tai Chi School with Chen Xiaoxing. Anyone who has trained with him will be aware of his penchant for simple, repetitive and excruciating emphasis upon basic training, with no truck paid to entertaining students. He offers what works and then it is up to you to put in the effort. Don’t think about success. Just follow the rules and grind out the skill.

What do you make of tai chi’s current popularity?

For sure TCC is popular in terms of numbers, but there are still a great many misconceptions about the art. Many people come to TCC classes with the idea that it is an easy option that doesn’t need any effort or commitment. I read a recent article during which a person mentioned that his seventy something year old mother had gone to a Tai Chi class. She said she wouldn’t be going back again as ”she got more exercise during the walk to and from the class than during the class itself ”. The continuing move towards shorter and more simple forms and to fast-track instructor courses all feed into this. Taijiquan is much more than just learning a few sets of movements or a few push hands tricks. It is the development of complete physical and energetic coordination. It means striving to follow a set of rules that have been passed down for many generations. If it is to maintain its credibility newcomers to TCC need to be steered towards qualified teachers who have taken the time to learn the art properly, and teachers need to be encouraged to continue working on own development.

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?

TCC is a martial art. Within Chen TCC we can trace back almost 400 years during which every generation, until recent times used their skills to defend themselves and their community. People often try to understand the martial aspect of TCC by comparing it to other more obvious martial arts. TCC has its own unique way of training martial skill. It requires us to train the whole body as a system rather than training individual techniques. Many learners become fixated on training set applications rather than the underlying method. Simply training hard is not enough. We must understand and train in line with Taijiquan’s principles and philosophy. For example if we are to develop effective fajin we should first learn to ”fang song” or loosen our body. Taijiquan’s unique brand of looseness allows us to use strength effectively. We should also understand spiral force, the requirements for each part of the body, how to coordinate the crotch and waist, how to use the floor to employ the system’s ”rebounding force” …

What are your views on competition?

Competition has its place. Before I came to TCC I competed many times in external martial arts competitions and once taking up TCC was successful in several push hands competitions. All valuable experience in terms of being tested under pressure. If your goal is to achieve fighting skills, you can learn a lot about yourself and your ability when faced with a non-compliant opponent. It’s okay to talk about this or that technique, but can you continue to fight after you have been hurt? Can you control your emotions when facing a strong opponent in a full contact bout. Do you realise how much punishment you or another person can take, without even being aware of it, when your adrenalin is flowing? Answering these questions gives confidence and a sense of realism to your training. Forms competition can motivate some people to train harder. Ultimately I find that the majority of students are not that interested in competition, which is also okay.

What direction would you like to see tai chi going in the future?

Regardless of style, I would like to see more people keeping confidence in the traditional systems. The traditional way is harder to learn, but it is worth learning.