How long have you been practicing Tai Chi?
I started practicing in 2002. I began with Cheng Man Ch’ing style hand form, sword and pushing hands. Now I train the traditional Yang Style Curriculum as taught Master Sam Masich; it covers hand forms, weapons and pushing hands and gives me enough to study for at least the next few lifetimes!
What stimulated your interest?
Between the ages of 12 and 28 I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. After successful treatment with CBT and graded exercise, I was finally well enough to begin a full life. However, I soon realized that there was more to health than just the absence of illness. I wanted to fully trust my body again. My GP recommended Qigong and so I found a local teacher and began training. I haven’t looked back since; I feel I know my body and can talk its language with an ever increasing vocabulary.
What does Tai Chi mean to you?
For me Tai Chi is about wholeness. I enjoy studying all aspects of the art as I feel this gives me the most opportunities for integrating all aspects of myself. I love the suppleness and smoothness of movement that Qigong brings; the mental clarity of moving or standing meditation or weapons practice and the emotional balance I gain from pushing hands practice. It is my time for me to be me.
What is the most important aspect?
Simply because it is my favourite it would have to be pushing hands. I love a challenge and for me the greatest one is the subtlety of applying my solo practice in the dynamic of two person work with all the questions that brings up.
Do you have any personal goals?
There are always curriculum goals and the list simply grows longer as I become aware of more layers to study; the trick, as I tell my students, is to find it inspiring rather than overwhelming.
At some point, when my children are old enough, I would love to attend one of Sam Masich’s 3 month intensives that cover the full curriculum – maybe when I retire and the kids have gone to university!
Who or what inspired you?
I am lucky, I married my teacher (Simon Robins) and am therefore constantly inspired. I have another wonderful teacher in Sam Masich, whose skill and generosity is astounding. Watching him do form or feeling his pushing hands is always an inspiration and extends the horizon into yet more unknown.
What do you make of Tai Chi’s current popularity?
I think it could be a lot more popular than it is. We’d need to work together as a community to present a coherent message; rather than focusing on the differences, we might do better to communicate the similarities. I found it quite confusing when looking for a class to begin and many teachers I spoke to dwelt on why their style was better or best. I always remember this when talking to students new to Tai Chi.
As a teacher how do you feel about the martial aspect of the art?
I’m always a little confused by the word ‘aspects’ in this question. I tend to think of Tai Chi as a martial qigong. It does improve health and posture when studied without any partner work, but it is most beneficial when taught with a thorough and detailed understanding of the martial purpose to give the choreography of solo forms integrity, meaning and purpose. As Yang Chengfu said,
‘Without an understanding of the methods of form and function, very few will obtain any benefit to mind or body.’
What are your views on competition?
For some students it is a vital part of motivating them to study. One of our students won a silver medal for pushing hands at the British Open a couple of years ago and it was the hardest three weeks of study he did. For others, Tai Chi is what they do to get out of the competitive world they inhabit at work all the rest of the week. As a teacher, it is important for me to recognise the individuality of students’ needs and experience.
What direction would you like to see tai chi going in the future?
Anything which brings joy and healing to people must be a good thing. Personally, as a secondary school teacher, I love to see an integrated curriculum which allows students to build their skills and develop along a clear path. I have been lucky to do this with both styles I have studied.