Category Archives: Meet The Teacher

Luke Shepherd

Luke Shepherd

How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi?

16 with my first teacher and 14 under my current teacher Patrick Kelly.

What stimulated your interest?

Taiji’s highest philosophical principles appealed to my idealistic world view. Yielding and neutralizing in body and mind fascinated me, How could an old practitioner overpower a young opponent? What was going on here?

What does Tai Chi mean to you?

Taiji’s meaning has changed. At first I believed awareness to be of prime importance, and my initial training was almost exclusively awareness based. But awareness only monitors what is taking place. Later, intention became important, as the force needed to direct changes and refine subtle body movement. Later still, the meaning of how both awareness and intention can be either superficial or stem from the deep part of the mind and the effects this can have on the subtle control of oneself and one’s partner. It’s meaning keeps changing, as aspects are further trained and refined.

What is the most important aspect for you?

Connection. I believe that Taiji can create genuine connections: Between different parts of the body. Between human and earth. Between intention and subtle body control. Between people. Between nations. Between our external and internal worlds. Between our superficial minds and our deepest selves.

Who or what inspired you?

My first teacher Richard Farmer pointed towards freedom through becoming a ”whole person”, unidentified with ego. This was stimulated by Buddhist philosophy and the training made connections between heart and mind. It was a liberal and inspiring training and included elements of both taiji and self-growth relevant for daily life.

My current teacher brings a precise and authentic tradition alive through a clear, yet demanding training methodology. The exactitude of his teaching is a huge inspiration as subtle and complex internal aspects become lucid. However, genuine inspiration for me comes from alignment of one’s deepest motivation with that of one’s teacher.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?

The training that I am following offers a direction towards a deeper internal understanding and development. This is an aim and a motivating force, without the need for a goal.

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

People love art. Refinement. Engagement with a process of development. The popularity of taiji means that it is easy to talk of the highest philosophy of the art and attract students without necessarily offering a training methodology that can achieve these aims.
Students eventually seek what they need – according to their perseverance and intent.

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

I offer a training to help first develop a secure connection to the ground. This can only be achieved through letting go of external strength. Forces in taiji are developed from internal releasing and aligning which allows the body to merge with gravity and stack from the ground upwards, like a pile of falling tiles. The muscles condition form a springy stretched connection to the ground and enables the practitioner to “borrow” force from the earth. When students can feel this internal intrinsic strength, which is completely different from the strength associated with contracted muscle groups, they begin to get a flavour of the martial applications. As a martial system at a higher level, the partner’s forces are neutralized by being brought onto one’s own internal changes, not simply external movement. As the partner is becoming under control, one’s own forces are developing through a stretching chain of muscles from the ground to the point of contact with the partner. This creates the situation from which fa-jing can occur. Without training of the relaxed issuing forces the practice is incomplete, as it’s training stimulates a deeper and more subtle connection between body and mind than can be achieved without it.

What are your views on competition?

Did you say contemplation or competition? Theoretically, competition could be valuable to test one’s level, if seeking to ascertain if internal practice is truly taking place. Unfortunately, all competitions are judged by external methods i.e. the first to step outside the lines. This may be achieved with either exquisite internal skill or with brute force with no differentiation being made in the points scored. When I see a school has won competitions, I am rarely impressed, as I have no way of knowing if subtle jins are being trained and refined or if the competitors are relying on well co-ordinated contraction and timing to off balance their partner.

I hear of people winning medals after 5-7 years training. Unless they are exceptionally gifted it must be obvious that with this limited training they are using external strength and contracting forces to overpower their opponents. Is this what the classics ask us to train?

To develop stretched elastic forces takes many years of internal mind and body training. To be able to co-ordinate these internal changes (without reverting back to external contracting ie muscular habits) with the timing of one’s partner takes many more years. To empty one’s mind of any idea of pushing and to allow the partner’s force to passively stretch the body takes further training and faith in the deepening process. Will we gain deeper understanding through encouraging the winning of medals – whatever force is used to obtain them?

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi going in the future?

It is vital that every practitioner maintains a thorough link with a teacher. As a student of taiji, I feel a responsibility to honour my teacher by training to the best of my ability. As a teacher I have a responsibility to the development of my students and to ensure that they are as clear as possible, so that they can train without confusion. Being as stable a link as I am able between my teacher and my students will ensure continuity in the development of taiji and this will give it the correct direction for future development, irrespective of my personal preferences.

Open Palm Taiji – Freedom in Movement

Meet Liming Yue

How many years have you been practicing Taijiquan?
It is about 24 years. I originally began the study of Shaolin martial arts as a child in China in 1972. Eleven years later, I began my journey to understand the internal arts by studying orthodox Chen Style Tai Chi under the 11th generation Chen Masters in Chenjiagou village.

What stimulated your interest?
I love Chinese Martial Arts and practiced very hard everyday. As part of my course I studied the 24 Step Simplified Tai Chi Form in 1981 whilst I was studying at university. My emphasis was on the Martial Arts applications, so this did not interest to me at all. Two years later I was amazed by the skills of a young student from the famous village of Chenjiagou during a new academic year recruitment meeting for new members of Martial Arts Association. That demonstration broadened my knowledge and inspired my interest of Chen Style Tai Chi. To me Chen Style combined perfectly movements for both Martial Arts applications and health purposes.

What does Taijiquan mean to you?
Taijiquan (Tai Chi) is a sequence of dynamic movements that combine soft and hard, with fast and slow actions, in a balanced and natural way that adheres to the philosophical Taoist principles of yin and yang from the “yijing” (Book of Changes). Contained within its framework are spiralling, twisting, and unique silk reeling energy movements, jumps, leaps and explosive energy releases.
During practice the body remains relaxed with the practitioner’s consciousness, breathing and actions all closely connected. These unique features enhance benefits to health, fitness, and weight-loss.

What is the most important aspect for you?
Taijiquan is more than a Martial Art and health exercise to me, it is my main job and gives me future guidance in my life. The Martial Arts applications are for self-defence, the health benefits makes you ‘fighting fit’ whilst the Tai Chi yin – yang philosophy point the way in your life to deal with people and society.

Who or what inspired you?
The first person was a young student, Mr. Li Xianming, who demonstrated the authentic Chen Style Tai Chi form to me for the very first time. I was sufficiently impresses to take up Tai Chi as part of my Martial Arts training. The second person is the Shaolin Kung Fu Grandmaster, Liang Yiquan, who is one of the Top Ten Martial Artists in current China. During a summer training course with him he personally pointed out that Tai Chi is an excellent internal Martial Arts system of movements that consist of all the essential skills for both self-defence and health benefits. He said he has personally learnt many Tai Chi techniques and principles of martial arts then made them his own. This surprised me because I always believed in the hard school of martial arts. My main training up to that point was Shaolin martial arts, with a bit of Tai Chi. During that conversation I learnt the difference between Shaolin and Tai Chi. In Shaolin one starts from Yang then introduces Yin and in Tai Chi one starts from Yin then introduces Yang. Both will reach the same goal of any martial arts of Yin Yang balance (with much practise), they are just walking along a different training path. In the end all martial arts are the same, where you can see no style or form. This is the highest level of any martial artist where you just do what is needed without any restrictions. If it works then keep it, do not through it away. All martial artists have their specialities and walk along different paths. The important thing is that they are walking in the same direction to the top of the mountain. People must pick the path they want to walk down, whatever style they prefer. This was a great revelation to me and opened my eyes. I personally wanted to pursue this so called internal art of Chen Style Tai Chi. Finally I found Grandmaster Chen Delin, Kongjie Gou, Chen Xiaowang and Chen Zhenglei who showed their wonderful Tai Chi movements and Push Hands skills to me. This left me in no doubt whatsoever of the martial ability of Tai Chi. Here I was a proud, heavily muscled martial artist confident in his own abilities, humbled by these highly skilful Tai Chi practitioners. Tai Chi is my main foundation, but I am aware of other martial systems. It is just that there is so much to practise in Tai Chi that it takes up all of my time. From that point onwards I became a very dedicated practitioner of Tai Chi and a full time professional instructor of Tai Chi for the rest of my life.

Do you have any person goals in Tai Chi?

  1. I currently hold the 7th Duan Wei of the Chinese Martial Arts grade awarded by the China Martial Arts Association and I will be working towards the top grade – 9th Duan Wei.
  2. I am going to establish a new large full time Tai Chi Centre in the UK, which will make it the best Centre of Chen Style Tai Chi in Europe.
  3. I am going to train at least 100 Tai Chi instructors to teach people proper Chen Style Tai Chi throughout Europe. As well as the above I would like to continue the following:
  4. Promote Tai Chi to benefit people and Teaching Tai Chi to its full potential.
  5. Publish and produce high quality books and dvds on Tai Chi.
  6. Organise the annual Tai Chi and Shaolin Kung Fu Show around the country.
  7. Organise Study Trips to China regularly to explore the source of Tai Chi.
  8. Invite the best Grandmaster to conduct seminars and workshops in the country.

What do you make of Tai Chi’s current popularity?
Although Tai Chi has its roots in martial arts, most people practise for health benefits and to reduce stress. The training exercises to develop high level martial arts are absolutely fantastic for your health. The Qigong and breathing exercises are fantastic for your internal health and your spirit. Basically I see people becoming increasingly stressed through work related issues. People want to exercise but do not like going to the gym due to time constraints or the monotony of it all. They also want to combine this with some socialising. I think Tai Chi combines all these aspects for people of all levels, hence it’s popularity. It is also a very good way of learning about Chinese culture. We often go to eat in Chinese restaurants where I can introduce foods that they would not necessarily choose themselves!

As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspect of the arts?
Chen Style Tai Chi is a highly effective, practical martial art system. There are punches, kicks, locks just like any other martial art. The source of the Tai Chi strength is what makes it different, mainly from relaxation. The martial aspect is the most important aspect of the art and it was the main purpose for creating the Tai Chi movements along with the breathing techniques and Yin – Yang philosophy. Historically Tai Chi was considered as an internal Martial Art and was recognised to be a self-defence skill. In recent years, people started to recognise that Tai Chi masters lived long and healthy lives in addition to their perfect martial arts skills. So now many people practise Tai Chi purely for the health benefits alone. I try and promote the martial aspects as this can only add to the students understanding of why they do certain movements. The more martial their form becomes the better their physical and mental health along with their Qigong development. They are all one and the same, the more you put in the more you get out of it.

What are your views on competition?
Competitions provide very good platform to give all Tai Chi practitioners an opportunity to show their skills to others, watch other people’s movement and judge the difference between themselves and others. It also gives practitioners the opportunity to learn and exchange skills with each other. The downside of these competitions is that there are many restrictions to the push-hands competitions. This makes it more like a wrestling competition. They are still very good for people to test their skill in a safe environment. Alternatively, if a student is very keen on testing their martial ability, there are many full contact competitions around the country.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi go in the future?
I predict that we will eventually see a centralised grading system for all Chinese Martial Arts systems (Tai Chi, Ba Gua, Shaolin Kung Fu, etc.) as currently seen in China. All Chinese Martial Arts use the same basic elements: body structure, posture, intention, fluidity and power of movement, and it’s against this elemental knowledge that all forms can be assessed, regardless of style.

By introducing a more accurate grading system that clearly identifies the depth of knowledge an Instructor possesses would go some way of ensuring a higher level quality control. Grading each instructor on their breadth of knowledge (Tai Chi Form, Qigong and Internal Energy techniques, Martial Art Applications and Spiritual training) would also give a student greater information when selecting their teacher.

Under this Martial Arts Association, Tai Chi would become more unified and begin to attract the highest level of knowledge and skill from all the main branches (Chen, Yang, Wu, Cheng Manching, Wudang etc). Within each branch a specialised team of the most experienced instructors could be drawn together to disseminate this knowledge (both theoretical and practical) to all instructors of that style. This would create a school of excellence and a deep pool of high level knowledge that all teachers could access and pass on.

These measures would drive-up the level of knowledge and create a form of CPD (continuing professional development) that has been implemented in so many other service industries.

If the deepest levels of Tai Chi are accessible for all, everyone will benefit – both teacher and student. A trainee instructor would be able to successfully apply the techniques and theories to maximise the benefits to all those who study. This knowledge could then be used in any field that the instructor had access; within the NHS to assist in patient rehabilitation, or to produce sporting excellence for example.

Contact Liming: http://www.taichicentre.com

Meet Libi Welthy

Libi Welthy

How many years have you been practising Tai Ji? 18 years.

What stimulated your interest? During free-time while on a residential workshop with my Meditation Teacher John Garrie Roshi, a group suggested going out into the grounds and practising Tai Chi. Having heard of it but not having seen or tried it for myself, I was encouraged to join in. They placed me in the centre of the group so I could see others movements to follow, whichever direction we faced. It was the Yang style Short-Form. I felt like a duck drawn to water and needed to begin my Tai Chi journey and find a Teacher.

What does Tai Ji mean to you? Tai Ji enables me to connect with the world in which I live. Balance, harmony, chi, wu-wei, meditation, dynamic stillness. Learning from different Teachers to deepen my Personal Practice.

What is the most important aspect for you? Connection to Traditional Chinese Arts, music, poetry, medicine, painting, calligraphy and the Classics.
Coming from dantien, breath focus, weight and ease are all important aspects while practising Tai Ji. Life long learning. Tai Ji is very important to me.
I am not interested in the competitive side of the Martial Art Form. It maybe that I was born in 1945 ‘ the year of Peace’ and I was brought up as a pacifist following my parents experience of war. I find the movements bring a peace and calm to the mind, suppleness to the body and a feeling of general well-being.
Having been in competitive sports as a teenager, (swimming and tennis) I faced winning and losing frequently. It took away the enjoyment of the activity and so, just as I was reaching my peak, I quit.

Personal Goals in Tai Ji. I have been teaching Tai Ji for seven years, beginning with an open access class at a local sports centre. Very soon I was drawn to working with people who had physical or learning difficulties. They needed to exercise and get some positive benefits from the session. To feel a sense of achievement and a progressive journey to live comfortably with themselves. I have been teaching at the Royal National College (for the Blind) and the SCORE Project (young adults with learning difficulties) in Hereford for some time and I find the students can make wonderful realizations and joyful experiences from coming to a regular class. The visually impaired suffer the trauma of sight loss. Fear overcomes many, balance is lost and inward looking stagnation can occur. By using simple Tai Ji and Qi Gong exercises these panic and negative feelings can subside. Accepting sight loss and developing new skills and strategies to cope with the new situation brings enormous benefit to these participants. Push-hands exercises offer the students who study Remedial Therapy a practical understanding of touch, balance, pressure and listening. Plus a self-defence technique, which increases self-esteem and self-confidence. Not being a victim!
The young adults with learning difficulties find themselves excluded from mainstream exercise programmes. Co-ordination and a lack of understanding of teamwork prevents them from enjoying exercise. Tai Ji helps them within a group explore their physical ability. Again concentrating on balance, breathing and dynamic focussed movement.

Who or what inspired me? I owe the Teachers with whom I study a great deal. A Teacher guides his/her students, pointing the Way from their lineage/Form/self-realization. The student bows to this commitment of their Teacher, absorbs this knowledge into their being and Practice and makes it their own.
The miracle of life inspires me, the myriad forms, the interdependence of all things.

What do you make of Tai Ji current popularity? The life-style that has evolved in the west is very fast, complicated and stressful. We are not satisfied with what we have, always driving forward, searching for the new. Tai Ji offers ‘Time Out’ from the fast track. It needs no special equipment or expensive exclusive membership. Every Tai Ji Teacher is happy to share their knowledge with others. Classes can introduce beginners to a new life style, a new way of being, less chaotic and more focused. The benefits are felt once commitment is made.

As a teacher what do you feel about the martial aspect of the art? Horses for courses. Some people need the self-discipline and skills required to take part in a competitive hierarchical system. The Way of the Warrior. For others it is the ‘feel-good-factor’. The two approaches are one, from the same origins, just different interpretations.

What are your views on competition? Personally I try to have no competitive spirit. However for those involved in Taijiquan I understand it is the way to deepen learning and experience.

What direction would you like to see Tai Ji going in the future? I would like to see the TCCK for Health provide a teaching qualification that is Nationally and Internationally recognised. It will be like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole as western concepts vary so much from eastern philosophy. In these days of more accountability and regulation it is very difficult for those without a formal qualification to be employed by the Health Service or Education, no matter how brilliant a teacher with years of practice and experience they may be. More access to these arts is required for a hungry public. I have concern that different Schools, Masters, Forms are seen by their members/followers as being ‘‘’better’’’ or ‘‘’the best’’’, ‘‘’original’’’, ‘‘’traditional’’’, rather than a homogenous whole where the essence of Tai Ji is appreciated and practised on many levels.

Libi Welthy teaches in Leominister and can be contacted at 1568 750616

Meet Lay Seng Chng

Lay Seng Chng

How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi?
I started learning Tai Chi Chuan in 1972 in the state of Johor in Malaysia at the age of 28. In 1974, I moved to Penang I have the honour to receive direct instructions from Master Tok Sing Gim of Penang who was one of the first students of Grandmaster Yeh Siu Ting who in turn is the student of Professor Cheng Man Ching (Details on website). I Joined the Penang Tai Chi Association in 1975 as a life member. I was appointed to join the group of instructors at the Association in 1981 and in 1997 I was elected as the Chief instructor of the group of instructors of the Association.

What does Tai Chi Chuan mean to you?
TCC has saved me from the misery of having to suffer the worries and torture of the migraine and heart problems my young age. It might even have saved and prolonged my life!
To me TCC is one of the most interesting hobbies I have ever enjoyed. It is a treasure of my life. It has helped me to lead a more secure life in the sense that I am relieved from worries from health problems many people face; and more important, to be able to impart to others this privilege.
It has not only helped me in my health, it has taught me to live a better life physically, mentally, and socially by adopting the principles of TCC.

What is the most important aspect for you?
Generally TCC is one of the best forms of martial arts/calisthenics/sports/excercises(or whatever one may call it) especially in its ability to help people to recover from chronic health problems and maintain good health and to be free from various health troubles many people face.
It is not just healthwise that TCC is known have benefited people. I am very sure people who have practiced TCC in the right way will agree that one will feel more secure in ones? movements regardless of age race or gender and enjoy benefits leisurewise, sportswise, socialwise, workwise…. In life health comes first, then comes financial stability, d social/communal integration.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
My personal goals is to try to improve myself so that I can improve others; help others to achieve what I have not achieved, and to discover what I have not discovered. I believe there is still very much to be achieved, very much to be discovered.

Who or what inspired you?
My poor health and hopelessness (in the ability to get it cured)in my younger days made me give TCC a try and when it proved to me that it helped, I was intent to go in search for a deeper understanding of the art.

What do you make of Tai Chi Chuan’s current popularity?
TCC’s current popularity is a good trend, but there is a danger and be counter productive if it goes on the way it is developing. Instead of studying further into the art people think that they have mastered the art and are good enough to start to develop what they think to be better sets and forms. Before one clearly understands what it means people have tried to teach what it can mean. This will lead to shallow knowledge and thus retard further research into the art. To study an art it is not just to learn to know the forms and to create new ones to give oneself a name for that form he/she has created. Example I can easily create my own set and call it LSChng’s Tai Chi and LOOK! HOW GREAT I AM!!! MINE IS BETTER THAN THE ONE I LEARNT!!! This may make new learners feel disillusioned for they have been given a wrong impression of what TCC is. It confuses the beginners. There has been in existence so many forms of TCC and people are making more sets of forms. In this sense they may retard the growth and progress of the art.

As a Teacher, how do you feel about the Martial aspects of Tai Chi?
Martial applications of TCC is not as simple as one thinks. TCC will not be called an internal art and the name ?Tai Chi Chuan? if it is just to apply this form this way and that form that way. It can be one of the best forms of self defence but it needs much training and understanding, especially in sensing and qi cultivation.
It is strange to many if I say that martial aspect of TCC can lead to prevention of direct clashes in every sense of our daily life, like avoiding direct clashes with people at home, at work, in the community. So, to train martial applications does not mean training to fight but it is as beneficial in our everyday life.
Let us not forget that while TCC is one of the best forms of self defence, what is the use of martial applications when faced with present day weapons? The Opium Wars of China is a good example of the illusions of martial arts.

What are your views on competition? and What direction would you like to see Tai Chi Chuan going in the future?
As TCC is a good form of sports, competitions should be encouraged with proper rules. It helps to develop TCC into a healthy sport which people can benefit. So TCC needs to be presented in a different approach. We have to try to think of a way to popularise TCC as a sports especially to the younger generation, but in doing so TCC as an art for health must not be compromised.
I belief, and to me it is a fact, that TCC is not just for health or as a sports, it can calm and nourish the brain, for the brain is a very powerful creation which most practitioners may not have experienced or may have experienced but not voiced out for individual reasons. In conclusion, I would say that TCC can be a very fascinating art which needs to be researched to much greater depths.

Meet Keith Sharp

meet tony hardiman

How many years have you been practicing Taijiquan?

I began in 1995. My original teacher was Rick Attix, an American who is now a resident in Thailand. When I returned to the UK in 1997 I joined Master Soon, They Tuan, at Wutan International. I now attend workshops & seminars, at the Deyin Institute as well as following the teachings of Professor Cheng, Man Ching through his books covering the 37 postures.

What stimulated your interest?

I had been to Hong Kong in the 1980’s saw the ‘strange’ exercises people were practicing in Kowloon Park. I joined Wutan around the time of my heart attack in 1997 so I was interested in the health benefits which provided mentally relaxing, enjoyable exercises and at the same time certain challenging aspects such as 42 step sword.

What does Taijiquan mean to you?

A process of exercises to improve my own and others wellbeing. A wonderful system to learn, practice and share with the community, especially Chi Kung which I hope will take on a greater significance. I enjoy presenting, demonstrating and introducing TCCK to various groups and organisations.

What is the most important aspect for you?

Health & wellbeing. By using my skills I hope that sharing my knowledge will improve the lifestyles and longevity of players.

Do you have any personal goals in Taiji?

As I am 70 this year it is to enhance my life and enjoy retirement with my wife and friends. I’m interested in gaining further awareness and skills in Chi Kung and its relationship within T’ai Chi. I would also dearly love to see the day that the NHS – City Councils – Health Workers recognise the importance of prevention and make the necessary funding and facilities available, instead of the reliance on ‘treating’ the disease or illness.

Who or what inspired you?

Normally I intend to take a lead and seek methods that work for me and others. I recall working with a lady from Social Services/ Primary Care trust to form ‘Drop In’ 45 minute sessions for the Over 50 community in late 2003. We began a 4 week taster programme in January 2004 which has now, combined with standard programmes, increased to over 30 sessions a week.

During numerous visits to Hong Kong I meet with Pyeboon Cheng and his group who welcome me as a friend and fellow player in Kowloon Park where my interest was initially whetted. Encouragement is also gained from Faye and Tary Yip and other like minded instructors throughout the TCUGB.

What do you make of Taijiquan’s current popularity?

Personally I do not feel that TCCK has reached anywhere near its level of popularity. Recognition of systems such as Pilates and Yoga need to be surpassed to permit TCCK to become a major player in the drive to reap the overall benefits for our society. The current work and efforts by TCUGB senior personnel devoting time to workshops and international events must surely form the platform for many years of future growth.

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

We should not forget the original precepts of TCC and always acknowledge that players can develop self defence skills by attending ‘Martial Arts’ schools and becoming disciples. This is an area where considerable effort will be required to encourage the younger generation to progress into the world of internal arts. Personally I have limited interest in the martial aspects although I do feel that demonstrating outcomes of postures is relevant on occasions With respect to the older person (yours truly) it is of significantly less importance than the health & wellbeing benefits.

What are your views on competition?

Having competed in numerous sports throughout my life and welcomed the chance to ‘win’ and not just ‘take part’ I would encourage competitiveness but probably keeping to ‘styles’ and not the grappling elements I have sometimes witnessed. Leave this latter aspect to the wrestlers and external arts practioners. I do however believe that youngsters need to compete physically. For those of us in our later years the competition can be more to do with the learning process, both in the history of TCCK and its application to modern society.

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

Whilst wishing not to see overall & regimented ‘standard’ Tai Chi – Chi Kung sets I would wish to observe greater co-ordination between the various schools and instructors, maybe against a rather more formal joined up approach. It concerns me that ‘weekender experts’ can jump on the bandwagon and dilute the skills necessary to convey TCCK to the public. I would be delighted if the efforts to engage the Government and its many areas (NHS etc.) were really successful and that significant values of investment funding was channelled toward TCCK to become the undisputed exercise systems for Health & Wellbeing.

Keith Sharp is based in Southampton and can be contacted on 07775 736380 or by email.

Meet Katherine Allen

Katherineallen

How many years have you been practising Tai Chi?
More than 20 short years. I started towards the end of 1987.

What stimulated your interest in Tai Chi Chuan?
I had sustained a serious horse riding injury where I had damaged my left elbow and shoulder along with other minor injuries. After two failed operations and four weeks on traction, the prognosis was not good. I had heard that Tai Chi was good for joint mobility, and my Tai Chi journey began.

What does Tai Chi Chuan mean to you?
Tai Chi is part of my life, but not all of my life. I have other interests which always vie for attention, so my yin/yang balancing act is constant and sometimes I fall off my tightrope. Tai Chi has taken me to countries I would never otherwise have visited; Tai Chi has led me into new interests, such as learning Mandarin and making sojourns into other areas of kung fu. Tai Chi leads and I follow.

What is the most important aspect for you?
Tai Chi is a mysterious vehicle. I‚’ve always wanted to fly on the wind, and Tai Chi is the closest I‚’ve come to this. I am always amazed at how Tai Chi can offer different things to different people. It is intriguing and its meanings have endless layers which can take a lifetime to unravel. Every layer has its beauty and its pain.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
Tai Chi has helped me to feel ageless and free, and I often feel the desire to pass this quality of feeling on to others who are interested.

Who or what inspired you?
I had seen newsreels of Chinese people in parks performing Tai Chi, and their grace and balance impressed me. I looked for a teacher and found Dan Docherty, who was very encouraging and didn‚’t seem to worry about the fact that my left arm movement was severely restricted.

What do you make of Tai Chi Chuans current popularity?
Tai Chi can be as easy as you wish it to be and many people are attracted to easy exercise options with minimal injury risks. There are lots of teachers around who teach a fraction of what Tai Chi has to offer, and this fraction satisfies many people. Mass popularity of anything can result in dilution and dumbing down, but on the other side, results in many people looking deeper into the art and sharing insights. So on the whole, popularity is favourable.

As a Teacher, how do you feel about the Martial aspects of Tai Chi?
The martial aspects are fascinating. Every self-defence application expands the doorway to ten thousand variations. Every martial piece of theory can be applied to other areas of life.

What are your views on competition?
Yin and yang operate in all matters, including competition. There are benefits and detriments. Benefits include: providing an environment in which people can see what other enthusiasts are offering; participating in a contest with tai chi colleagues and seeing how well you play; seeing whether you can maintain equilibrium in a competitive arena ; protecting you against the fate of being a big frog in a small well. I have been a competitor, judge, observer and go-between at many competitions, and feel that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi Chuan going in the future?
I have taught many types of people and have seen improvement in every type of practitioner. For example, I have seen the elderly improve their mobility and balance; sportspersons improve their game; the mentally unstable regain their emotional stability (for 8 years I taught in a psychiatric unit); the young develop their sense of selfworth and self-discipline (for 5 years I taught in a boys‚’ school); the aggressive become tempered; the shy become poised; the bored become enthused; the loner become a team player. Tai Chi can provide opportunities for all groups and types of people and so I would like Tai Chi to expand into every area of society as a life art.

Meet Karen Limb

Meet Karen Limb

How many years have you been practising Tai Chi?
It seems like forever and it seems like yesterday! In reality around 12 years.

What stimulated your interest?
At the time I was going through a bad period in my life and knew I had some major decisions to make. Sadly my head kept jumping from one thought to the next until I found myself in tears in the basement of Waterstones bookshop facing the books on meditation, yoga and tai chi. The first book I picked up had Ronnie Robinson‚’s contact details ‚’ I dialled the next day and the rest as they say is history. As I read through the book by Alan Peck, the idea of what looked like such a simple exercise system being able to help calm my mind and offer a degree of clarity to my life that I previously hadn‚’t encountered or even thought existed was really appealing.

What does Tai Chi mean to you?
What doesn‚’t it mean? It is still a means of keeping the nonsense out of my head. It is still a way of helping me make major decisions. It‚’s what I turn to when I want to know what‚’s going on with me – both physically and mentally. It is what I do when I want to lapse into auto-pilot mode and it‚’s what I do when I want to put 100% of my thought and energy into something.

What is the most important aspect for you?
Its constantly evolving nature of. Not just my awareness of it, but when I see the students making similar realisations about themselves and their own form. To realise that it is a lifetime of change ‚’ you think you know it, then you realise you‚’ve only scratched the surface and after another few years you‚’ll still only be scratching the surface. To know that it is a thing that grows with you and that you can continue to grow with it ‚’ there are not many things in life like that!

Who or what inspired you?
Initially it will have been my first teacher and the first qigong class (and later in his form class) that I went to. Seeing an intensely physical being doing something so inherently graceful and with such quietness of spirit was quite awesome. Now my students never cease to amaze and inspire me ‚’ they keep coming, week after week, working on the same movements over and over again. Students ages 12 to 96, all happily practicing away, questioning me, themselves and each other, their openness and willingness to learn, to be corrected, gently chided and praised for what they have achieved and to see them leave with even more enthusiasm for it than when they came in!

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
To never lose the sense of awe. Whether it‚’s qigong, form, weapons, applications, or even the dreaded pushing hands (which I freely admit to not enjoying); whether in my own practice, or when I‚’m teaching, or practising in a group ‚’ to know that individually each part can be a whole entity in itself, and together it can be mind-bogglingly simple and effective ‚’ quite simply blows by mind. I can go through periods of being completely at peace with my form and also go through months of being heartily fed up and frustrated at my many and varied inabilities with in it. It is a personal challenge for the rest of my life.

What do you make of Tai Chi‚’s current popularity?
I think that world needs more exposure to good tai chi! Like most things quality shows. For those who go to a class and are quite happy to wave their arms about and feel nice and relaxed then fair enough, no harm done. Those who go to such a class and feel that there should be something more will always find a teacher more suited to their needs and will move on to better things. There will always be those who are simply out to make money, no matter what walk of life you are talking about. Instructors who care about what they are doing will always take on those students who show promise but can‚’t necessarily pay for instruction ‚’ thank heavens mine did!

As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
It is impossible to separate the martial aspect from tai chi. The softness and gentleness is only possible if the root, balance and focus are present. Within any tai chi form, a move is just a movement unless the application is explained. Tai Chi can still be learned without hours and hours of martial practice but knowledge of what you are doing and why is essential otherwise it becomes merely a dance exercise.

What are your views on competition?
The only competition I have, or want, is with myself. I have been to a few of the British Open Championships and have always come away with mixed thoughts. On the forms and weapons front I have enjoyed seeing people doing different styles but always feel somewhat dejected when I see someone who has clearly practiced and practiced and practiced a particular routine until all of the soul and enjoyment has been leeched away. On the other hand when you see someone who is simply going through their routine purely for their own enjoyment and pleasure this always makes me smile ‚’ no matter how technically incorrect it is. With pushing hands I‚’m afraid I always find competitions reducing me to giggle fits. Two people will start out with the best of intentions and within seconds most tai chi principals seem to fly out of the window, the grappling starts and a grim determination not to be pushed over at any cost kicks in. Hysterical – but clearly since I haven‚’t been able to master the intricacies myself and gave up quite a while ago, the subtle techniques undoubtedly being employed are therefore lost to me.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi go in in the future?
I would like to see it continue to grow as it has in recent years. I would like to see more tolerance between the two main branches of qigong and chuan. Too often the more martial practitioners derogate those who practice with less martial intent. Surely the whole would not be the whole, without the various parts it is made up from?

Meet Karen Green

Meetkarengreen

How many years have you been practising tai chi?

I have been practising Tai-Chi and Chi-Kung for around 15 years. I tried several different styles and instructors and settled into Cheng Man-ch’ing style with Kevin Spencer (who trained with Tony Henrys). I found that I had a thirst for knowledge into the background of Tai-Chi and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and met a wonderful Instructor, Sue Woodd, and have been on some of her workshops. I have trained with many wonderful teachers including Kenny Johnson (whom I had met previously from the Karate world), Professor Mike Symonds and many others. I continue my own practice and study, and find my students are my teachers too.

What stimulated your interest?

I became interested in Tai-Chi after suffering a whip-lash injury following a car accident. I had been a practitioner of Shotakan Karate for some 21 years and enjoyed the gym and other fitness classes too, but found that type of exercise too extreme for my neck condition. Not being able to do my Karate and other exercise made me feel quite depressed. I had been having treatment for my injuries from a lady who said “instead of feeling down about what you can’t do, try something that you can do”. She suggested Tai-Chi and Yoga, and it was the best advice I ever had! It wasn’t easy at first and it took me a little while to settle into a different way of being in my body and mind, but it wasn’t long before I was absolutely hooked!

What does tai chi mean to you?

I can’t imagine being without it now. I find it very liberating for the body and mind, and there is always something new you can learn about yourself. It impacts and reflects on everything I do, and I love the connection with nature and that we are part of it. We often hear it described as a meditation in movement, and that’s exactly how it feels. I feel that it is an exciting and surprising journey I am on.

What is the most important aspect?

The connection with one’s self and the ability to be quiet enough to listen. There are so many people now that are disconnected with what’s going on in their own bodies and minds. They distract themselves from reality with mobile phones, walking around with earplugs in, over-indulging in things, and then wonder how they miss most of life! It helps with life’s challenges and gives me a mini holiday when I need it to reflect and let go.

Do you have any personal goals with tai chi?

Yes, I think there is a need to work with children as they are our future. I think Tai-Chi should be made easily available to them so they have a natural tool to tap into to help them deal with life’s challenges. There are many problems in the world with addictions such as food, drugs, alcohol etc, and obesity especially is a problem. Again, I believe it is because people have become so disconnected with themselves. With this in mind, I am working on a project to offer training to teachers so that Tai-Chi can reach as many children as possible. Another goal is to offer more workshop/day retreat type events so that students can spend a whole day/weekend and really surrender to the subject.

Who or what inspired you?

My teacher Kevin Spencer did a demonstration of the form. Wow, I was so blown away, it almost made me cry! I saw such a stillness in his expression and thought “I want whatever it is that he’s got”. I took a group of 17 students to China and visited a monk living in a cave on Wudang mountain – again, he had that same serene look on his face. Being in China and practising Tai-Chi by the river and being asked to join in by the locals – priceless – and they guessed which form we were doing too!

Sue Woodd is the most knowledgeable, influential, giving, caring teacher I have every met. She is so willing to give and share and is a constant inspiration to me. Once I had qualified to become a teacher and ran my own teacher training, she also came to help me assess my students.

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

I think that Tai-Chi is slowly becoming more popular, in part due to the changes in NHS funding meaning people are now looking more towards natural ways of helping themselves, but I’d like to see it becoming as popular as yoga! I think one of the reasons it hasn’t caught up with yoga’s popularity yet is that people think it is one thing or the other – a martial art, a type of yoga, an exercise or relaxation class, for people with health problems etc – and so can be confused about what it really is. As teachers, we know that Tai-Chi is all of these things, but each individual teacher will emphasise different aspects.

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

Mostly my classes focus on the health aspects. However, I am aware that you cannot separate the martial aspect of the form. As part of their training, we practise the martial application by way of helping the student understand the positioning of the body and the direction of the flow of energy.

Some students are often frightened by the martial side of it, and if seeking it for health reasons, are often put off. I think this it is because they don’t fully understand the connection. It can be introduced in a slow, progressive and enjoyable way so it is more easily accepted.

What are your views on competition?

Personally I have no desire to compete at present but maybe that’s because I had a few years of competition when I practiced Karate. I think that it is something that could inspire students to study and commit to their practice with a goal in mind. If you are thinking of competing, I think you need to have a good teacher/mentor behind you from a well-run, professional club who can support you and give you belief in yourself.

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

I’d like to see Tai-Chi offered to children in schools/nurseries/clubs, and on the NHS to help with a variety of problems (alongside orthodox medicine).

I would like to see more quality training offered for teachers of children, and to help the elderly in particular. I think it also important for it to be taught along with TCM so that up-and-coming teachers have knowledge from the foundations up, not merely seeing it just as a form of exercise.

Visit Karen’s website to find out more – http://www.mabconsultants.co.uk/Tai-Chi/

Meet John Rowland

John Rowland

How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi?
I started in 1982 at the British Tai Chi Chuan Association classes in central London.

What stimulated your interest?
I had done a lot of Judo, Jujitsu and some Aikido. However I was in my late forties and found I was was not bouncing off the mat as easily as previously. Also I had an extremely stressful job and wanted something to give me a bit of relaxation. I was impressed by the demeanour of the Tai Chi practitioners whom I had met and their obvious serenity.

What does Tai Chi mean to you?
Tai Chi is the ideal vehicle for self development, both physical, mental and spiritual. From a mundane point of view it means that at nearly 70 years of age I am fit and active and rarely catch a cold. Also I had always been interested in Eastern spirituality and began to understand that Tai Chi was a philosophy and that theTaoist concepts of Change within Changelessness could be expressed with one’s body.

What is the most important aspect for you?
Apart from the personal aspects described above I have seen Tai Chi and Chi Kung working as a great force for healing. People feel and get “better” if they attend sessions regularly. I would like to be a great martial artist, (Who wouldn’t!) but seem to mainly attract those requiring help of one sort or another.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
My first teacher said that one should become “One with the Tao” and acquire “Tai Chi Mind,” this is what I strive for. Another teacher states that interpreting energy is the highest accomplishment to which one can aspire.

Who or what inspired you?
My first teacher was John Kells, who was a disciple of Dr. Chi Chiang Tao. John was totally dedicated to his Art, practicing and teaching several hours a day, seven days a week. I believe he is still active somewhere in North London. He is a remarkable man with great internal and external power. His Tai Chi was also very soft. Without wishing to restart the empty force controversy, I have seen this phenomena demonstrated by him on many occasions both in controlled conditions and also spontaneously. His students used to regard such manifestations as commonplace. Being pushed by him was like being hit by a wave. I later studied with Dr. Shen Honxun who has similar powers and great knowledge of Tai Chi, both technically and historically. Over the last few years I have also studied with Professor Li Deyin and Master Wang Yanji. These gentlemen have a different approach, which, I would suggest, is of a very technical, athletic and modern nature. Recently I met Dr. Paul Lam who is first and foremost a healer. With him I have completed the Tai Chi for Arthritis programme. Other sources of inspiration have been my fellow teachers in the North of England and my students.

Finally, and this may seem odd, I gained much insight into Tai Chi by working briefly with Karel and Eva Koscuba on their Yi Chuan course. I hope to continue with them in 2006.

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

I am not surprised. Tai Chi attracts very nice people. It makes them feel good. Those who are prepared to persevere with their training find that they are making new and meaningful friendships. As a formerly active participant in the Dance Camp/Community camp movement I see Tai Chi as a form of “Networking.” This is important nowadays when people feel increasingly isolated.

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

It is very important. Even when teaching your average intake in, for example, Adult Education, it is important to demonstrate basic applications, if only to show how the energy is focused and to demonstrate the principles of Yin and Yang. It is also important to practice pushing hands whenever possible. The martial function is inherent in the Art anyway. Two lady colleagues of mine, both Tai Chi teachers, have told me of how they quite easily coped with aggression in incidents in their everyday lives. As Master Yu Yong Nian states, ” He who tempers himself can ride the tiger.” Thus constant thoughtful and dedicated practice should give us confidence and an edge in these troubled times.

What are your views on competition?

Personally I think the expression “Tai Chi competition” to be a contradiction in terms. Not a Taoist concept. It appears to me that such competition can become very much like what happened to Judo. Two big fellows grunting and groaning and straining for the advantage, forgetting the exquisite principles of their discipline, as propounded by Professor Kano. This is a personal viewpoint and despite my previous remarks I can see that Competition meets a need and that there may benefits for those who take part.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi going in the future?

Tai Chi, though Chinese, is a gift to the world. Cheng Man-ching said it was primarily for the health of the nation. As such it should touch as many lives as possible. With this in mind I should like to see much greater emphasis on Chi Kung. This is generally less complex and more people can handle it. It also obtains quicker benefits from a health point of view. It can be a good stepping stone to Tai Chi proper. I’m also a great believer in Forums, e.g. Linda Chase Broda’s Special Needs Group and our recently formed teachers’ group in West Yorkshire, which has been and is very successful.
I think Tai Chi will go its own way and it will continue to grow and prosper. It will always have dedicated followers and there are plenty of skilled and dedicated teachers to help it along its way.

John Rowland
John Rowland began practicing Tai Chi in 1982. He studied initially at the British Tai Chi Chuan Association in London with Dr. John Kells. He was a student of Dr Shen Honxgun. His present teachers are Professor Li Deyin of Beijing , Master Wang Yanji of Stockholm and Dr. Paul Lam. He is an accredited instructor with the T’ai Chi Union for Great Britain and also Longfei Taijiquan Association. He practices Yang and Sun styles of Tai Chi, Tai Chi Sword,Yi Chuan, Chi Kung and T’ai Chi Ruler. Also Pushing Hands and martial applicatons. In addition to the above he is a qualified instructor in the worldwide Tai Chi for Arthritis programme.
Classes are currently being held in the Skipton and and Ilkley areas.

He can be contacted on 07989 452570 or email, john@little-napoli.fsnet.co.uk

Meet Jenny Smith

How many years have you been practising Tai Chi?
14 years – I started in February 1993 enrolling with the Taoist Tai Chi Society.

What stimulated your interest?
An Australian girl, just passing through in 1975, showed me some Tai Chi moves she had learnt in London and that was it. I was hooked although I didn’t start learning it till 18 years later – I felt it was always there just waiting for me. I remember, too, seeing a demonstration in Leamington around 1976 but nothing else ‘live’ til I started in 1993. I was a bookseller for the first 20 years of my working life and always contrived to stock as many books as possible on Tai Chi, Taoism, Oriental Philosophy etc. But as everyone knows this is not the same as practising and having a teacher. There really wasn’t that much in print on Tai Chi in those years though, however for many years it was the best I could do and the closest I could get to it. In spite of that when I did start I had not expected the impact it would make on me. My first and most important instructor, Cliff Slater, was an incredible inspiration to me as he has been to many other people. His dedication, generosity, energy, skill, teaching ability, respect for humanity, and professionalism were/are exemplary – a great role model.

strong> What does Tai chi mean to you?
When I read this question that I’ve been asked to answer – my mind went blank. I suppose because much of what Tai Chi means to me is something felt, and in many ways beyond semantics but with a language of its own in which there are no words. On one level, really good teachers do make a difference, but at another, possibly, higher level, it is nothing that can be caught, taught, stolen, explained, described, captured, owned, freed, honed, practised, promised or copied. It simply is and for moments at a time one has the privilege to tap into it and know that there is something very special about this space and that if one practised it a great deal (as opposed to just enough) this is the sort of energy that could make significant changes in the way one lives one’s life and the way one dies one’s death. It has already restored my lost health, and I think keeps me alive when over the years all sorts of unpleasant symptoms have come and then gone as a result of additional practise. On a mental level it has bought me into the here and now, neither worrying about the future nor regretting the past and much more able than at any other time in my life to deal with things as they happen. One of the things I noticed after practising Tai Chi for the first six months was what I tend to call ‘the lobotomy effect’. All the inside head chatter was gone, just peace inside which is rarely invaded. At the same time I noticed that I really hadn’t got a clue what was going on half the time but somehow, and in spite of everything, became more efficient, more, unaccountably, punctual, things one planned moved into place against all odds, and curiously my sense of direction, which had never been too bad, mysteriously seemed to heighten to what was almost another sense. What does Tai Chi mean to me? I think it means if I was ever looking for a path I found it and just to be on it is enough.

What is the most important aspect for you?
No doubt about it – health. . I have had personal experience of how the practise of Tai Chi can seriously affect one’s health for the better. Additionally I am constantly delighted by the aesthetic beauty of its simplicity coupled with economy and efficiency of movement continually proving that less is more.

Who or what inspired you?
My first Instructor, Cliff Slater, through his introduction to Tai Chi inspired me initially. I sometimes wonder if I had not had that particular quality of teaching at the beginning whether I would have quite ‘got’ it. He had had many years experience of other martial arts before studying Tai Chi which he came to after having been injured in karate. Cliff is an inspiration to so many in every way. He has spellbinding skill and technique along with an understanding and study of that skill and technique, and he also had the ability to teach it as well as demonstrate it. He has professionalism and commitment while teaching but combines it with a mischievous sense of fun making each individual within the classes (which were always huge) feel included and wanting to work hard and get on – and they did. We laughed a lot and never noticed how hard we were working. He was very much a role model; an inspiration not only for his personal practice of Tai Chi but the way he taught it. I learnt so much in those first two years and he communicated such enthusiasm, (not just to me but to many many students). I am still trying to practise a lot of the stuff he taught me 13 or 14 years later, I could not do it then and still can not do it now! I do feel incredibly privileged to have had him as a teacher right at the beginning because although I have chosen a different path since then his introduction to Tai Chi remains for me something of a gold standard.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
On a physical note, ‘to be able to do snakes like Cliff ‘ was something I wanted to be able to do right from the beginning and am still trying otherwise, and to continue learning and working and getting nearer the source of my own original nature and the ancient teaching of Tai Chi and the Tao. On a more spiritual note – I would wish to die in my own time. A great luxury, in today’s world, but one I have always aspired to and I really do believe that if you do enough Tai Chi you can choose when you die.

What do you make of Tai Chi’s current popularity?
Its practice here there and everywhere through every age group and part of society must necessarily be beneficial but there could be a concern that being over popularised might lead to being over simplified and that great and wonderful intrinsic components of this extraordinary art might not only remain unappreciated but be lost. Increasingly it may be difficult to distinguish the charlatans from the serious students and practitioners. But then…who decides… in the end I suppose it has to come down to lineage.

As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
This is quite complex. I learnt a form originally where the only physical contact was push hands and that was definitely taught as ‘sensitivity training’ and in no way for fighting. We were not expected to do anything that would hurt someone or put any one on the floor but if you worked hard you could get a lot of torque on the spine thus strengthening it. Absolutely no fighting at all, just the form, although if you began to push hard and forgot the softness it might develop into a competition!

However, understanding the posture of a move from a martial aspect is absolutely vital if you are to get your hands and feet in the right place in relation to the rest of your body in almost all moves and understanding the logic behind the move gives you a physical security and confidence. As a beginner my instructor told us that practising the Tai Chi style we were learning would balance our energies and that, as a result, we would be unlikely to want to attack anyone and unlikely to be attacked. This did make perfect sense to me. Isn’t it true that as we go about our daily lives we unconsciously compute judgements about people in relation to their energy? As we walk down a street, into a shop, in a queue, in a traffic jam, in our home, everywhere, we decide without thinking about it…is this person a possible danger to us, will they help us if we ask, can I ask in such as way that they will have to say no, can I ask in such a way that they will have to say yes, will they leave us alone and get on with their own business but still be ready to interact if approached? The ability to be able to sense who will help us as well as who will harm us is as much a martial aspect as the fisty cuffs side of things in that your life depends on it, if not your life, then the quality of your life. Shall I cross the road now? If I ask my boss for a raise today will I get one? Perhaps I should leave it til next week when I might feel stronger? Intent not intense, I was taught and try to teach. Being able to get on in Society matters so much in life as we go about our ordinary day to day business that it seems to me all part of the same thing whether one is aware of it of not. Can I ask this person if they have change for the parking meter or should I ask that person? Why do the people on the street who ask ‘have you got 10p for a cup of tea’ ask one person and not another? How do they choose? It must be part of the same thing. Its not actually martial, its not war, but its something about energy interchange, taking or giving by force, lending or borrowing with good heart, and something about a very genuine life skill which can impact on your health both mental, physical and spiritual. We’ve all met the person who talks so much and so inappropriately that you think you will die if you stand there any longer listening to them…..I think that’s a martial activity – the talking – unconscious though it may be. There is often no sensitivity to anyone else except themselves and I have known people who, even if you were bleeding to death in front of them, would still keep talking and never notice! I do try to avoid these people though. A good martial ploy I feel and continue to feel that the sensitivity training we learn in push hands can help in this area.

What are your views on competition?
Competition can really push someone to their limits and as a result it can be chillingly beautiful to see something done with excellence. Competition in itself doesn’t interest me – it’s the high standards that may come out of it that fascinate me.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi going in the future?
I don’t know, sorry…..maybe North, South, East and West?

Meet Joanna Zorya

Joanna Zorya

How many years have you been practising Taijiquan? 8 years.

What stimulated your interest? I was looking for a good fighting style and my research drew me towards Baguazhang, Xingyiquan and Taijiquan. I also studied some Eskrima, Silat, and a little Seven Star Praying Mantis, but for me the Daoist styles were the most suitable because I am a Daoist. These arts make sense to me philosophically, intellectually and spiritually.

What does Taijiquan mean to you? It is a martial art, pure and simple. I interpret the words Tai ji quan to mean Great Polarity Boxing. So to live up to its name, Taijiquan has to be practised as a boxing style and it must also have differentiation between hard and soft, fast and slow. The Taiji symbol is 50% yin and 50% yang, so I don’t think Taijiquan should be considered as being limited to a single tactic – that of soft overcoming hard. Zheng Manqing stressed the importance of looking to the Taiji Classics for guidance. Chen Wangting wrote about ‘charging back to reclaim the victory’, Wang Zongyue wrote about ‘crowding a retreating opponent all the more.’ So it’s clear to me that Taijiquan must have yang as well as yin methods. The most crucial thing is learning how to fight: you can work on refining your power when you have some power to refine. The motto of my school is ‘Safeguarding Oneself, Defending Others.’

What is the most important aspect for you? Chen Xin emphasised the importance of reeling silk power. Taijiquan has really helped me to get to grips with the reeling silk movement method as well as teaching me how to be soft sometimes. Before I studied Taijiquan, I only really knew how to advance.

Do you have any personal goals in Taiji? Yes. It is my personal mission to try to help to restore Taijiquan’s martial credentials in the public eye and elevate it from the quagmire of new-age fads and so-called ‘Alternative Therapies.’ I will feel like I have succeeded when I start getting a few more phone inquiries from actual martial artists and a few less from new-age pagan Buddhist shamans looking for the fountain of eternal youth without ever having to break a sweat. As it is, most potential students are put off when I tell them about the martial emphasis of my classes or that I use a compulsory grading syllabus. ‘What you mean you actually have to learn this stuff?’ If anyone ever does ring me to inquire about martial arts classes, they are usually put off by the fact that I teach Taiji, so the current situation is very bad.

Who or what inspired you? I resisted studying Taijiquan until I encountered the work of people like Dan Docherty, Nigel Sutton and Feng Zhiqiang. They convinced me that Taiji could actually be practised as a martial art. Although I mostly teach the Zheng Manqing style, aesthetically I’ve only ever really liked the Chen style because it is powerful as well as graceful. My desert Island book would be My desert Island book would be “The Sword Polisher’s Record” by Adam Hsu, I always find something useful in that. I always find something useful in that.

What do you make of Taijiquan’s current popularity?

Well I don’t think that real Taijiquan is at all popular. I wouldn’t actually call most of the popular stuff that’s around Taijiquan.

As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art? Taijiquan is a martial art, so there is no separable ‘martial aspect.’ If you’re not practising it as a martial art, you’re not practising Taijiquan.

What are your views on competition? I’m not particularly interested in competitions because I prefer to emphasise the mutual benefits of practising real martial applications with fellow students. Getting hit or thrown around can be as educational as doing the hitting or throwing – it teaches you how to root and helps you to develop fearlessness. I don’t think it is possible to be relaxed in a combat situation and ‘move second, arrive first’ unless you’ve had plenty of martial experience. I don’t have anything against competitions, but I don’t think Taijiquan should become too stylised away from actual combat.

What direction would you like to see Taijiquan going in the future? More fighting, less fluff.


http://www.reelingsilk.co.uk Tel: 01422 881 587

Meet Jayne Story

How many years have you been practising Taijiquan?
It‚’s 20 years this year, I started training in 1987 at the ITCCA under Master Chu, who spent a lot of time gently laughing at us beginners and saying things like; ‚ÄúNo, no, relax, not so serious, you‚’re meant to enjoy Tai Chi‚Äù.

What stimulated your interest?
Twenty years ago, I was just turning 21 years old and had come out of university with a degree in English Literature and Drama. I had written and directed a play in one of London‚’s fringe venues but apart from wanting to explore life and find some way to express my self and be creative, I wasn‚’t sure what direction to go in. It was then that I spotted an advert for T‚’ai Chi in London‚’s Time Out magazine and somehow I knew that T‚’ai Chi would give me a ‚Äúcentre‚Äù, something concrete to hold onto. I‚’m not sure how I knew this, but over the years students have been guided to T‚’ai Chi in similar ways. There‚’s a Buddhist phrase that might explain this phenomenon: ‚ÄúThat which you are seeking, is causing you to search‚Äù.

What does Taijiquan mean to you?
One of my students put it best, so I can‚’t really take the credit for this, but Hazel Hudson (one of my senior students and assistant instructors, who has now moved back home to New Zealand) described T‚’ai Chi as both ‚’a catalyst and an anchor‚’.
What she means by this, I‚’m sure we‚’ve all had experience of and that is, that T‚’ai Chi being such a profound form of training, actually changes a person, fundamentally and over time, which can be scary and make you feel uncomfortable, but I guess it‚’s a process of stripping away at all the layers of ego and the ideas you have about yourself ‚’ so it acts as a catalyst for change, growth and personal development ‚’ and obviously, T‚’ai Chi is an anchor point in many people‚’s lives, my own included, because no matter what‚’s going on around you and no matter what life throws at you, you can always start a new day with some T‚’ai Chi training.

What is the most important aspect for you?
Well, at the moment it‚’s stillness. I spend most of my training time right now simply standing in the Zhang Zhuang postures. At other times I might concentrate more on say, elements of silk reeling or re-working some fundamentals like the external harmonies. Bruce Lee once said that in kung-fu you cannot train for speed and power at the same time, so he would use some training sessions to develop his speed, other sessions to develop stamina and endurance and yet another session to develop power.
I see T‚’ai Chi training in the same way, so I sort of de-construct my practise and train certain aspects at a time. I think this is more productive than simply going through the form every day.

Do you have any person goals in Taijiquan?
I would like to be like Master T.T. Liang and keep learning and training up until I die, at the ripe old age of one hundred. Do you know, that Master Liang wrote, in his 70‚’s that he was just beginning to understand T‚’ai Chi as an exercise and martial arts and he spent the next 30 years trying to apply T‚’ai Chi philosophy to his life and relationships.

Who or what inspired you?
I started training at the Hine Institute in Bromley after I moved home and had to leave the ITCCA up in London. There were a number of people there who inspired me, with their presence and their dedication to daily practise. They know who they are!

What do you make of Taijiquan‚’s current popularity?
Just a natural result of the quality and depth of the art, however I do believe there is much more scope to develop T‚’ai Chi‚’s popularity, particularly amongst athletes, which is where my main focus lies. I have spent the last 10 years teaching the traditional Yang long form, and being a keen sports-woman myself and having used many aspects of T‚’ai Chi to help myself become a better athlete, I decided around 2002 to dedicate most of my time to coaching athletes in aspects of the Eastern energy arts, including Chi Kung and T‚’ai Chi.

As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
Well, the martial aspect is the art of T‚’ai Chi ‚’ it‚’s not a dance and it‚’s not Wushu, it‚’s a traditional internal martial art ‚’ as are Hsing Yi and Ba Gua ‚’ and to teach it as anything other than this, is missing the point. Having said that, however, students who come to T‚’ai Chi primarily for health reasons can obviously gain enormous benefits, but to really get the most form the art, it‚’s best to understand it and the moves as they were originally intended.

What are your views on competition?
The only person I really compete against is myself, I‚’m not into proving my worth or my ability to others, but I have the utmost respect for those who enter competition. From a fighting perspective though, a competition is still a controlled format so martial skills cannot really be judged in this situation as defending yourself out on the street is totally different.

What direction would you like to see Taijiquan going in the future?
From a personal point of view, I would like to see elite athletes and professional golfers and up and coming Olympic champions being coached in standing and seated meditation, learning to move from the t‚’an tien, developing ground strength, effortless power and all the rest of the benefits that come from T‚’ai Chi training ‚’ that‚’s my business focus and I believe there is enormous scope for other T‚’ai Chi instructors who have an interest in sport and athletics to get involved. From a teacher‚’s point of view, I would like to see a clear distinction made between Wushu and some competition T‚’ai Chi styles and the real T‚’ai Chi, which is a traditional internal martial art.

Meet Jane Launchbury

Jane launchbury

How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi?

I started over 20 years ago and have been teaching alongside my partner Patrick Foley in our school ‚’Longwater Tai Chi‚’ for 6 years. Originally I learned a Yang Style Long Form, then switched to Wu Style. I also studied Qigong and Nei Gong from the ‚’Energy Arts‚’ System and have absorbed aspects of other internal arts and exercise systems from Malaysia and in the UK.

What stimulated your interest?

My partner Patrick and I wanted to do something together. He‚’d suffered serious knee injuries in martial arts competitions and had been told to stop all contact sports. He remembered Tai Chi from his childhood in the Far East, so we went along to a local class and got lucky by finding Brian Cooper, an excellent and inspiring teacher who was at that time involved in the early days of TCUGB. Brian introduced us to his teacher, Bruce Frantzis.

What does TC mean to you?

It makes me feel really alive and gives me a focus for developing my full human potential. It has changed my life. I love the combination of structural precision and the art of going with the flow. I practise for health, energy and wellbeing and to share the benefits in the wider world. I love the constant changes and challenges that help you to relax into naturalness.

What is the most important aspect to you?

I am engaged on a spiritual path and Wu Style Tai Chi is an excellent vessel for exploring this when it is taught by a Lineage Master in both Taoist Meditation and Tai Chi. I am slowly and steadily learning to integrate the path of meditation deeply into my Tai Chi, in the traditional manner.

Do you have any personal goals with TC?

I want to share my knowledge for the benefit of others. I really enjoy teaching beginners as I have seen how even very simple tai chi and qigong foundations can help improve people‚’s lives enormously. I have practised in the Far East with big groups of people who do not aspire to be great tai chi players, but who glow with health and enthusiasm after their daily exercise. There are many millions of these ordinary people with stories about what tai chi has done for them and it would be wonderful if the same thing could come about in the West.

Who or what inspired you?

My teachers inspire me, as does seeing some real talent and dedication amongst much younger instructor trainees. The Tai Chi Classics are a great inspiration and give guidance again and again, from every angle. At present I find inspiration in dipping into shorter texts and www.taichimaster.com is just right. Pouring Taoist Meditation and Nei Gong into the Wu Style Short Form is an inspiring and pragmatic solution for those of us wanting depth of practice alongside many external commitments in life. I also find it inspiring to visit other teachers and Masters when the opportunity arises.

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

The aging population, global economic situation and lack of spiritual focus for many people mean that we are heading for a vast crisis in terms of both physical and mental health. Tai Chi is tried and tested and is incredibly valuable to humanity. It‚’s a good thing that it is becoming more popular in the West, but it still has a long way to go. I applaud the efforts of the TCUGB to promote it in the UK and now with Taiji Europa.

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspects of Tai Chi?

It‚’s important for serious students to understand the context of the art within the moves of the form, but it‚’s difficult and inappropriate to teach to many people doing tai chi for health. When I first started studying Tai Chi with Bruce Frantzis he was very, very martial and there was no doubt about the extraordinary efficacy of this art for fighting. Everyone got to viscerally experience the physical and energetic aspects of internal versus external punches and throws as the groups were small. I think it‚’s important for teachers to have encountered the martial applications as demonstrated by someone at top level who can genuinely use Tai Chi to deal with whatever anyone throws at him/her in martial terms. I often talk to men and women who are teachers but who have never once been on the receiving end of a serious internal punch or Fa Jing throw by a Tai Chi Master. It simply has to be experienced.

What are your views on competitions?

I like the old adage ‚’invest in loss,‚’ you gain experience by learning from your mistakes. I don‚’t think this is why most people enter tai chi competitions but it‚’s the best way to play push hands.

What direction would you like to see TC take in the future?

I would like to see more widespread awareness of the benefits of tai chi and qigong and more good quality teachers. It would be great to see less ego and more co-operation and exchange between teachers to promote the art. I think serious students and teachers should also be more willing to visit teachers other than their main one, to gain insights from different teaching styles and practices.

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.

Meet Glenn Belton

How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi?
Just about 17 years now. I set a very high standard for myself and was not prepared to think about teaching until I had practiced Tai Chi for some 16 years. Others begin teaching much sooner. I am not saying that is necessarily wrong, as it depends on various circumstances.

What stimulated your interest?
The all round nature of Tai Chi appealed to me: exercise, flexibility, mobility, posture, balance, relaxation, philosophy, self defence. The diversity of types of people attending class was also an inspiration

What does Tai Chi Chuan mean to you?
It is a way of keeping fit. Nothing else will maintain aerobic fitness, flexibility, co-ordination and balance as well as reducing stress and maintaining mental focus. Other forms of exercise address one thing or the other. Although, I think it can be good to combine Tai Chi with other more vigorous exercise.

What is the most important aspect for you?
Keeping fit and healthy is the most important. From there, everything else flows.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
I constantly seek to use what ever is around to improve and understand my Tai Chi practice. Teachers, DVDs, books, TCUGB mag are all good sources. I am teaching in the West Norfolk area and look to attract and help people to benefit from Tai Chi.

Who or what inspired you?
I have a Chinese video of people doing Tai Chi Forms. I watched this very early on in my learning and just wanted to be able to learn this for myself. There is a quality in Tai Chi movement that is hard to put into words. The slow, fluid, relaxed movements were so precise and yet appeared to be effortless when performed by the Master. Then to realise that these gentle movements were the basis for a very effective martial art was truly fascinating. I think that Tai Chi is unique and very special. So seeing others do the Forms has been the main inspiration for me.

What do you make of Tai Chi Chuans current popularity?
Is it to do with Calendar Girls?

As a Teacher, how do you feel about the Martial Aspect of Tai Chi?
Well, we are more likely to die from a heart attack than a knife attack. As far as the Martial aspect is concerned, I think that personal protection is more important than competition, but that health and fitness should be the main focus. I am a Martial Arts fanatic and have trained for many years in what may be called external methods, such as, Kung Fu, Kickboxing and Street Self Defence. As well as in Tai Chi Chuan.

What are Your Views on Competition?
It is an opportunity to test oneself. So I would see a competition, in say Push Hands, as an opportunity to train rather than win.

What Direction Would You Like To See Tai Chi Chuan Going in the Future?
I think different people will take Tai Chi Chuan in different directions. This creates a diversity that we can all plug into. Someone out there may be doing something entirely different to me and perhaps I will learn from them. I do not think that diversity is new to Tai Chi ‚’ just look at the numerous family variations and many forms of Tai Chi and other internal arts.

For myself, I want to take a modern approach. So I translate Tai Chi thinking into the modern drive for people to exercise and protect their circulatory system from heart attack and stroke. I continue to take an interest in other Martial Arts.

Eventually, I find, everything I do intertwines and that the modern and traditional can coincide. I hope I can bring something unique. I would like to see diversity in Tai Chi rather than a funnelled movement in a particular direction.

West Norfolk Tai Chi Chuan

Meet Faradina Affifi

How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi?
8 years in total so far, although I started learning martial arts in 1987 or possibly ’86, I think.

What stimulated your interest?
My interest was while at Leeds University in 1995, I was already training in Aikido and a Bujutsu weapons style, I had heard about a martial art called T’ai Chi Chuan. Ed Hines was teaching Tai Chi and also Ba Gua. In my first class with him, I was not too impressed, it seemed to involve a lot of standing about, moving excruciatingly slowly and no applications. Ed very kindly showed me how it can be used effectively to hit or throw people, so I continued in both his classes, fully reassured that I was learning something useful. What re-stimulated my interest was not being able to train in martial arts at all as I had damaged my joints through overtraining, but had to do something that involved movement. I looked around for a teacher near where I was living (Cambridge) and ended up training with Mike Tabrett learning 24 step and Chen style.

What does Tai Chi Chuan mean to you?
Practising T’ai Chi Chuan means that I can feel healthy, relaxed and hit people.

What is the most important aspect for you?
The meditational aspect of Tai Chi Chuan is very important for me. In my day job, I work with people who have challenging behaviour and/or mental health issues, being centred, or able re-find your centre, is a useful skill to have. I also used my Tai Chi Chuan in a recent self defence situation, keeping calm and centred was very important while I diffused some aggressive behaviour from somebody. The quiet and still aspects of this martial art are fascinating to explore.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
My personal goals are to keep practising regularly and improve.

Who or what inspired you?
I am being inspired now, by all my teachers and students. My ideas of what Tai Chi Chuan is about are constantly being challenged attending Tai Chi and Chi Kung Forum for Health (TCCKF) seminars, with whom I did my teacher training. Because of the Forum, I will teach anyone with a pulse who wants to learn Tai Chi Chuan from me.

What do you make of Tai Chi Chuans current popularity?
I think it is very good, for a start it means I am being paid to teach it! Another good thing about the current popularity, is that it is now much easier to find high level tuition in this country without having to travel thousands of miles, which is what teachers of much more experience than me have had to do.

As a Teacher, how do you feel about the Martial Aspect of Tai Chi?
Tai Chi Chuan is a martial art, and without the martial side, it is empty. Knowing the applications or possible applications of a movement help with understanding the form and the internal energy. Applications practise also help with understanding push hands. However, the martial aspect of the art is not just about how to thump somebody or stop somebody thumping you. A martial situation can be any circumstance in which you feel uncomfortable, someone being verbally or physically aggressive, teaching a group of young adults with dementia, driving in a big town. Tai Chi Chuan is an excellent way of practising how to deal with adversity. Through Tai Chi, you can potentially deal with all sorts of awkward situations, you can adapt, you can “let go”, or you can throw a few strikes, whatever is appropriate for the situation.

What are Your Views on Competition?
Once I get round to trying out, or at least attending, a Tai Chi competition, I will be able to say what my views on competition are. I would however like facilities made available for people with disabilities who might wish to enter Tai Chi competitions.

What Direction Would You Like To See Tai Chi Chuan Going in the Future?
I am involved with the TCCKF, so from a personal perspective I would like Tai Chi Chuan made available to anyone who wants to learn it, regardless of health condition or disability. I would also like more people with disabilities teaching Tai Chi Chuan. You don’t just have to be able to stand and move around on two legs to be able to produce good quality Tai Chi Chuan.

Meet Fay Yip

Fay Yip

How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi?
I began taijiquan training 22 years ago in China, in 1983. I started training in the wushu team to which my father, Li Deyin, was the coach at the time.

What stimulated your interest?
Before I took up Taijiquan, I had been training in Shaolin Kung Fu and modern Wushu for some years. I enjoyed practicing high kicks, fancy jumps and spins. I was 14 when my father felt that I was old enough to learn Taiji and get a balanced training. It might sound uninspiring, but most wushu team members would include all major martial art styles in their training.

What does Tai Chi mean to you?
First and foremost, Taiji & internal martial arts for me means a family tradition that saw the past 100 years and four generations of teachers. From my great-grandfather Li Yulin, a true traditional disciple and teacher, my grandfather Li Tian-chi who applied Taiji as alternative treatment in Hospitals, grand uncle Li Tian-ji who was a great pioneer for standard Taijiquan in China, and of course my father who dedicated his whole working life to promote Taiji to young generations and international enthusiasts.

On a personal level, Taiji represents good health, peace and friendship.

What is the most important aspect for you?
The most important aspect for me is to interpret the Taiji theories into practice. All the classic writings of Taijiquan theories that we treasure today came from countless practice and training of great masters of yesteryears. They made the practice of taijiquan accessible at an intellectual level. Now the learning curve can only be completed by putting these theories back into practice correctly and with good understanding of them, because in the end it is the physical movements reflect the level of understanding.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
My personal goal is to carry on my family tradition in promoting Taijiquan. Continue to improve my own practice and to be a good teacher for my students so that they can realise their best potentials in Taiji.

Who or what inspired you? Undoubtedly is my father’s teaching. In his teaching, you learn about the meanings of words in Chinese language, philosophy, history and tradition, legendary tales and Taiji classics. He almost takes you on a journey of discovery like a treasure hunt. During my teenage years, I used to watch my father coach a few selected top national athletes before competitions. He would look at the athlete’s practice time and time again to examine their strength and weakness and then work through the form movement by movement down to every little detail. Many well known Chinese athletes went on to win many championship titles under his coaching.

What do you make of Tai Chi’s current popularity?
I think it is wonderful that Taiji is welcomed by more and more people from all walks of life. I hope the popularity continues to grow.

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
First, Taijiquan is a type of Chinese martial art. It bears strong martial art techniques in its practice and the understanding of these techniques is important to make the correct practice. I understand why many people want to make a firm stand on the classification of the art.

However, at the same time, we must realise Taijiquan IS also a very effective system to improve health. According to tradition, one of the primary aims of all Chinese martial arts is to improve one’s physical fitness and well-being. And thanks to Taiji’s positive impact on health, we have the great popularity today both in China and worldwide.

What are your views on competition? I think competition is good for raising the standard of one’s form and pushing hand skills. It also motivates one’s training, and one can set realistic goals to achieve.

What direction would you like to see Taijiquan going in the future?
I would like to see more involvement from young people, for they are the ones to carry on this great tradition and bring it to a new height.

Faye can be contacted at:
taichilink@blueyonder.co.uk
or by telephone at: 01902 883565

Meet Emma North

Bob Lowey

How many years have you been practising tai chi?
I started practising in 2002.

However, I think that the question should be; how many years have you been practising tai chi and, within that time, how often and with how much diligence, awareness and enjoyment have you practised? What stimulated your interest?
Initially, fate/destiny… I had always had a romantic idea of practising martial arts, and I had been mugged three times so could have done with practising martial arts! But I had no plan to practice taijiquan. I just saw a flyer in a shop, attended the class and have never looked back (nor have I been mugged again!). After I started, it was my teacher who predominately stimulated my interest. Also, I found motivation in the routine of attending class, and enjoyment in exercising again for the first time since being at school some ten years earlier!

What does tai chi mean to you?
It is a therapy; for body, mind and spirit. It is a practice for life. I am very grateful for taijiquan and for my teacher. Living out my twenties in London, I know that my life could have turned out very differently had I not fallen in love with the practice of taijiquan. It has 100% changed my life for the better.

What is the most important aspect?
The doors taijiquan have opened to allow me to develop mindfulness.

Do you have any personal goals with tai chi?
While I am young I would like to take the opportunity of utilising taijiquan practice to challenge my body physically – stretching, strengthening, conditioning – having fun with the aesthetic and martial potential of the forms, and having a good play with tui shou. That aside, I would like to continue to develop my sensitivity to, and work with, chi. As Master Wang Yanji says, “First power, then technique, then feeling”. I would also like to train at the Beijing Sports University which we visited in 2008.

Who or what inspired you?
My teacher Barry McGinlay continues to be my primary inspiration. His skill and motivation constantly enables me to achieve more than I can imagine.

Also, the physical, mental and spiritual benefits that I gain from practising taijiquan and qigong are unquestionably motivating.

What do you make of tai chi’s current popularity?
Taijiquan helps to heal the world – bring it on! However, my concerns are that one may not find a good teacher – and be ignorant to the fact, and that the essence of taijiquan be diluted due to the diversity and scope to practise within the art. As the years go by and teachers pass on, will the apprentices and disciples of this day and age do their duty as effectively as those that have come before them – preserving the original treasures of taijiquan?

As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
The martial ‘aspect’? Taijiquan is a martial art! However, the reality is that students in a taijiquan class are different to those in, for example, a karate class. In my experience, this is because taijiquan is practised more often as a health system than a martial art. Our school aims to teach all components of taijiquan, including slowly, gently and safely introducing applications to students.

What are your views on competition?
One has their private practice and their public practice. Competing is like performing a demonstration – a way of promoting what you are demonstrating. It is also a way of goal-setting and of focusing. Competing encourages practitioners to train more often and with more diligence and awareness, thus accelerating their practice. To compete, I have travelled around England and to Sweden and Amsterdam. At competitions you get to see, meet and befriend fellow practitioners, including well-known teachers.

Competing challenges the poise that is being learnt through one’s practice. It has increased my confidence to teach. It brings you face-to-face with your fears.

But without challenges, and conquering our fears, we do not develop – as my teacher says, “diamonds are forged under great pressure”. I believe that with clear, consistent, rules; good judging and refereeing; and a friendly atmosphere, competitions can provide a good means for selfdevelopment.

Teamwork can be developed; there are learning and networking opportunities.

What direction would you like to see tai chi going in the future? I would like to see prominent associations, like the TCUGB and the TCFE have the opportunity to further collaborate with the aim of overseeing the quality of teaching of taijiquan. I would like to see taijiquan recognised by the general public as the effective martial art that it is, and I would like to see more people practising it, competently.

From my experience working as a nurse for the last five years, I believe that many patients would benefit from health systems such as taijiquan complementing their conventional medical treatment, and I would like to see this integration develop.

Tai Chi Life School – Taijiquan and Qigong classes in North and Central London

Douglas Hardie

 Douglas Hardie

How many years have you been practicing tai chi?

I was introduced to Tai Chi in the mid nineties, and immediately got a little obsessive about it. I should have noted the date, because I can’t be much more specific than that. Let’s say I’ve been practicing for 18 years or so, and began teaching 11 years ago.

What stimulated your interest?

I’ll be honest: I had no interest in Tai Chi at the time, but agreed to go to one of Bob Lowey’s weekend residentials in Allershaw out of a sense of duty to my girlfriend at the time. I expected a lot of New Age nonsense, but instead met lovely people and discovered something that seems to just fit with my ideas about how the body could work, about movement being an art.

What does TCC mean to you?

To me, TCC is a structured and rational way to look at how we use our bodies, and to investigate the relationships between how we move and our mental and physical health. Where it really stands out, is that it gives us a way to change our instinctive and learned behaviours over time.

What is the most important aspect? Those who attend Tai Chi Caledonia, or any of the other big Tai Chi events will know that there are almost as many different approaches and objectives to the art as there are practitioners. This, to me, is one of the greatest strengths of the arts – it is a process, not an objective in itself. Using the same core principles and training methods, I can apply them to such a wide range of students’ needs. Falls prevention, mental health issues, the needs of inmates in prisons, stroke victims, martial artists, people with a wide range of debilitating illnesses, Alzheimer’s sufferers… the list of my client groups is long and very varied. The teaching I offer is varied too, but the core systems are the same.

Do you have any personal goals?

To be better.

Who or what inspired you?

I was very lucky to have two very different, but very good teachers at the very start of my training: Gordon Faulkner and Bob Lowey. Between them they introduced me to a wide range of skills, approaches and philosophies. They also introduced me to some frankly amazing people in the Tai Chi world, and made me feel part of a connected, worldwide network of Tai Chi obsessives. Notable people would have to include Professor Zhang Guande in Beijing, Luigi Zanini, John Bolwell and John Grocott, Chris Thomas, Epi Van De Pol and Mantak Chia.

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

Great. This is how I make my living – the more people interested, the better. Yes, there will always be quality issues about those that are supplying the demand, but the really obsessed will end up with the good teachers.

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

Most of my students are interested in the martial side, but mostly at an academic and abstract level. They want to know and to see that there is a physical validity to what they are learning, but have little interest in the fighting arts themselves.

It is part of my teaching that the qualities that need to be mastered as a fighter apply to every aspect of living, that controlling and choosing our responses to stress is one of the core outcomes of tai chi training.

What are your views on competition?

I haven’t been involved in any competition, so I would be wary about passing judgement on them. All the same, I am not convinced that competition is especially meaningful in terms of a learning process, nor as an indication of ability.

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

There’s some amazing cross- pollination taking place at Beijing Sports University, and elsewhere, where differing views and research on related subjects are being absorbed and played around with (see the Youtube video of a Chicago cop brought into BSU to teach grappling techniques to Wushu Students). I’m looking forward to Tai Chi being developed and changed, growing from a minority past-time towards something that is influencing teaching in all aspects of life, while maintaining it’s core truths and validity

.

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 .