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