Meet Mike, loved by all for his gentle nature, strong spirit and good sense of humour. Why did he take up Tai Chi and what does he get from it that keeps him coming back for more? Over to you Mike.
I am not sure when I first became aware of Tai Chi, but I do remember the odd broadcast from China, when there were hundreds of people in the parks, all doing this mesmerising dance. It was also a vital last scene in the film Notting Hill, where Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts are sitting on a bench in a London Park. She is pregnant and looking happy, he is reading a book and in the background are some folks doing Tai Chi. Aaah.
Then I read a book called Angry White Pyjamas by Robert Twigger about his life in Japan and his training in Yoshinkan Aikido, which was hard and brutal. Somewhere in the book was a comparison with other martial arts. As I had done some Aikido I was naturally expecting the author to say his art was superior. However, no, amongst the list is Tai Chi which is said to be either a gentle art of exercise and contemplation or one of the most deadly and effective martial arts ever seen.
I was hooked – I had to find out more!
The first class I went to was held in a gym I attended. The tai chi teachers there were teaching short form. At this stage I did not know that there were different forms of the art, or that it was divided into family names – Yang, Chen etc.
This was in 2003. The class folded after 12 months, and I was looking around for other tai chi instructors, but fortunately I heard about Steve Jones’s class and I have never looked back. When we had a restructure at work and I found myself for the first time in my life working “normal” office hours, I could attend more classes.
I am a bit of a slow learner and I think I have only started making progress with the form during the last couple of years. Now I am retired I have even more time to attend classes, look at Youtube, which has many examples and read background material, and of course, ask questions of my Taichi teacher.
Although one does not have to be a Taoist to practice it, reading books like the Tao Te Ching, by Lao-Tzu, can help in detecting the flow of what is called Chi in the world, and through our bodies. All good Tai Chi teachers will be able to tell you what Chi is.
As well as attending classes with Steve Jones, I went to the late Erle Montague’s summer camp in 2010, where I met practitioners from all over the world. Many of whom had been practitioners in “hard” arts like Karate, Taekwondo, Judo, and Kung Fu, and found Tai Chi to be less harsh on their bodies, but just as effective as a martial art. Master Montague was an extremely inspiring Tai Chi teacher.
I did venture into other places to check out other self-defence arts, either via the internet or physically going to a class, and found that while some arts like Systema, and the American system called FAST (Fear, Adrenaline, Stress) have their strong points, they were not for me.
Overall, I would say that attending classes with Tai Chi Stuff has done me a great deal of good. There is a terrific sense of friendliness to the classes and I have made many friends. We have a great deal of fun! We also learn a great deal as well.
It seems to me that there will always be new aspects to uncover and a continued need to improve on what one does. As well as the hand form, I am also undertaking stick form – maybe when I feel ready I will also try sword.
However, that’s the beauty of it. You go at your own pace – aided by some excellent teachers. There is no competition for honour or grades – just enjoyment and concentration on what you are doing at that moment. As Lao Tzu said:
“The most difficult things in the world
Must be accomplished through the easiest.
The greatest things in the world
Must be accomplished through the smallest”
I’d like to say a big thank you to Mike for sharing his Tai chi instructor insights on our blog. If you’d like to receive further information about tai chi, why not sign up to our newsletter? We’ll be updating this blog every week, and coming up soon we’ll feature a treatise from the late great Master Montaigue, one of the Tai Chi teachers I was fortunate enough to learn from.
All the best,