Meet Alison Gardiner

Alison Gardiner

How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi?
11 years. I went along to a 10 week adult learning class, got hooked and have never looked back.

What stimulated your interest in Tai Chi Chuan?
I’d long had an interest in Chinese and Japanese art but I knew very little about T’ai Chi when I started. I was at a low point in my life, depressed, in a job I hated and with no self-confidence. I needed something to help me relax and switch off and when I read a about T’ai Chi in a college prospectus it seemed like the perfect solution.

What does Tai Chi mean to you?
Quite simply – everything. If you had suggested to me in those first weeks of learning T’ai Chi that in a few years time I would have the confidence to teach a class of complete strangers I would have thought you were insane. T’ai Chi has given me self-belief, stability and a sense of peace when times are hard, new friendships and new opportunities. It has completely altered both the path of my working life and my priorities. I count myself immensely lucky to have found T’ai Chi and my two main teachers, who were exactly what I needed at different points in my T’ai Chi journey.

What is the most important aspect for you?
T’ai Chi’s accessibility and its adaptability. Its accessibility through some of the Chi Kung systems which are relatively simple to follow and can be practised seated or standing by people of all ages and physical abilities. Its adaptability in that practitioners can gain some benefit mentally and physically purely by concentrating on the health aspects of T’ai Chi but, if they wish a deeper understanding. they can explore the martial side of the art in so many different ways (weapons, applications, pushing hands, etc.) and to whatever level they choose.

Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
None, other than wanting to continue to develop my own skills, both in my own form and push hands practice and in my teaching.

Who or what inspired you?
Like most people I would have to say my teachers. As I mentioned earlier I was very fortunate in finding the right people at the right time but also, through a ten year association with T’ai Chi Caledonia, I have been lucky enough to have met and worked with many exceptional instructors from all over the world. I’ve also been inspired by T’ai Chi itself – the way it makes me feel and the benefits it has brought myself and many others of my acquaintance.

What do you make of Tai Chi Chuan’s current popularity?
As someone who would love everyone to benefit from T’ai Chi the way I have, I can’t be anything but happy that it is increasing in popularity. I do regret, however, that some recently developed and hugely popular exercise systems, which protect their own trade names so carefully, feel its okay to claim to be teaching aspects of T’ai Chi when I’m sure the vast majority of the instructors they produce have never been to a T’ai Chi class in their life!

As a teacher, how do you feel about the martial aspects of Tai Chi?
I think they are extremely important. Even if your main interest in T’ai Chi relates to the health aspects I don’t believe you can get the full benefit of practising the form without some knowledge and understanding of what the moves are for. The quality of a movement can be transformed simply by knowing and acknowledging its true purpose, even if you have no desire whatsoever to put it into practice.

What are your views on competition?
Hmm – difficult one. I certainly didn’t come into T’ai Chi wanting to enter competitions and I don’t see the advantage in practicing a form to perfection if it means you loose the enjoyment and physical and mental benefits you get even when it’s not quite right.
However, it does introduce participants and spectators to styles other than their own which I think is always a good thing. As far as Pushing Hands is concerned I have discovered over the last few years that I do have a distinctly competitive streak (particularly when pushing with the lads for some reason!) so I can’t really knock anyone who wants to compete. That said I do feel I’ve learnt the much more about this aspect of T’ai Chi when I’ve been “co-operating” with my partner, either accepting that I have a lot to learn from them and letting go of my pride or helping someone less experienced that me so I’m not convinced that formal competition will necessarily make you a better Tai Chi player.

What direction would you like to see Tai Chi going in the future?
Onwards and upwards! I hope more people take up T’ai Chi, standards of instruction continue to rise and opportunities for students to experience the full gamut of the art increase. I would also love to see more press coverage which doesn’t only emphasise the health benefits, important though they are, but which shows younger people that T’ai Chi is for all age groups, can teach some valuable life lessons and can be part of your life for many, many years and you still won’t run out of aspects that intrigue you and inspire you to continue to learn and explore.