Many years ago, i was asked to submit an entry for the TCUGB Magazine, Meet the instructor section, it was never used, perhaps it was in need of editing? It is published here for the first time, we hope it is interesting.
1 How many years have you been practicing Tai Chi?
I started with the Lee (LI) style under Chee Soo in 1976, so 3o years or so to date. (Note: Written in 2005)
2 What stimulated your interest?
Health, self defense, and fun, is a bit too glib but not inaccurate. Similarities to Yoga in breathing, use of the body and mindset, the concept that one should not set out to hurt anyone, yet need not become a victim was appealing. The individuality of martial training, where one chooses to face his own fears, desire, and ego, through respectful contest with an opponent, where failure is evident even if you win is very attractive to me. The discipline of constant daily practice, preparing the mind in a ritual manner for the meditative aspects of the physical action is something I find absolutely empowering and liberating. Tai Chi offers great depth and completeness in self development, the more I study the more there is to offer.
3 What does Tai Chi mean to you?
To begin with Tai Chi restored my health and liberated me from constant hospital care for a rare and lethal form of cancer; I believe it eventually cured me of that. It has been the anvil upon which I have forged my will, and led me to understand I could accomplish remarkable things in any area of life, if I choose. Tai Chi has brought me friends, detractors and unending opportunities to learn about the world and myself. Teaching others is a tremendous privilege, I would never have learnt so much without the questions my students provide, so many think in ways that would never occur to me.
4 What is the most important aspect to you?
The benefit to all round health, but not in the ‘wet n weedy’ way it is often portrayed. I am talking about robust, rude health, about a lust for life, an appetite for experience and learning, a desire to face life with a grin, or better with a belly laugh. Tai Chi should be practiced with thought and consideration, but also with vigour and energy. A class without rigour is likely to be a class without development. Yes we want to excite the energy, raise it, circulate and store it, but if you don’t express that energy somewhere you’ll just get indigestion. Classes should contain all types of people, but people who train with a good attitude.
5 Do you have any personal goals in Tai Chi?
I constantly review my teaching methods, as I hope to see my students achieve good levels of understanding and performance without wasting time. The way information is presented can make a difference to understanding the mental and physical aspects of practice, essential to good development. In my own practice, to develop the feeling of energy circulation, I experience in the Li and Sun hand forms and from Chi Kung, in the more vigorous Wu Dang forms. I get it in certain sections at present but it changes through the spiraling and constant opening and closing.
6 Who or what has inspired you most?
Chee Soo with his breadth of knowledge and ability, Ted Bird with loyalty and patience, Dan Docherty with detailed research and refreshing candor, Dr Paul Lam with clarity of explanation are positive examples of teachers. Students have inspired me in the same way.
I opened a class in a centre for disabled people, where a student with severe Cerebral Palsy led me to understand that Tai Chi offers benefits to the mind even through watching and visualisation only.
One of my students entered a national full-contact competition. Having trained very hard aided by his fellow club members he won his contest (despite as one well known teacher described facing a ‘better martial artist’ (?)) because he applied the strategies and mindset of Tai Chi, he demonstrated this further by declining the opportunity for publicity “unless it would help the club”.
The Tai Chi Classics of course, and always above all Gloria, whose beauty is matched only by the loveliness of her nature and her indomitable spirit.
7 What do you make of Tai Chi’s Current popularity?
Popularity is a double edged sword, it increases the demand which means more people jumping on the bandwagon So we have health clubs offering blends of Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilate’s and Aerobics under the guise of body balance or some such. There is nothing wrong with any of the above; it’s just that Tai Chi does all that, if you do it properly. The greater danger is the ‘watering down’ of Tai Chi; it works because it is complete. Not every one need practice Tai Chi in the same way, but to extract elements, is to invent the next Pilate’s or more likely something much less useful, lets keep it intact and preserve the understanding that makes it effective.
8 As a teacher what do you feel about the martial aspects of the art?
It’s an absolute dichotomy, what intelligent person wants to physically dominate another. Many of my students over the years have rejected the need for the martial elements of Tai Chi in their practice. Others are repulsed at the idea of violence, without coming to any understanding of the place of martial applications within Tai Chi.
The challenge for us all is to preserve the value of the martial heritage, to recognise that the desire to adopt an approach requiring intelligence rather than brute force, overcoming the adrenalin fuelled aggression of external systems is the only way the strategies and tactics of Tai Chi can be employed successfully. The mind, directs the muscles to obtain correct posture through appropriate relaxation and tone, this alters the respiration which causes changes in the blood chemistry that influence the activity of the brain, leading to a calmer and clearer response.
Taoist philosophy informs the way the mind and the body must be used. These are the things that make Tai Chi good for your health in any aspect. Push hands develops responsiveness and flexibility of mind and body, applications and weapons forms develop characteristics like decisiveness and spontaneity, whilst remaining calm under pressure. In my experience those who neglect these aspects of training develop unevenly and more slowly. It is a matter of personal choice of course and a good teacher should teach in a way that suit’s the individual. I enjoy the martial aspects and teach predominantly from that understanding, but not if it interferes with a students progress.
9 What are your views on competitions?
Another dualistic development; competition provides the social highlights of the Tai Chi year and for some perhaps the only opportunity to see different approaches to Tai Chi. This seems like a good thing, and could be further improved by including short workshops for those who aren’t captivated by two guys pushing each other about with less than subtle technique..
The downside is of course the predominance of competition orientated attendance, might lead to either the deterioration of technique in favour of strength, conditioning, and gamesmanship, or perhaps the abandonment of traditional forms in favour of the dramatic gymnastic movements. All this would divide Tai Chi into many camps and result in less understanding and tolerance.
10 Which direction would you like to see Tai Chi going in the future?
Tai Chi should be inclusive, I have met Tai Chi Fascists (their description) who would not teach a disabled person “because they wouldn’t be able to do it” It should be practised by many people, in many ways, for many reasons as it has much to offer, but always to the best of their ability, with authenticity. The development of modern forms aimed at competition or specific health conditions is something that could go the wrong way, unless that which defines Tai Chi is preserved.
I hope for an improvement in the availability and veracity of information on Tai Chi and internal arts, to see the traditions and depth of knowledge preserved, indeed improved upon..
The growth of bodies such as the TCUGB and European Federation providing they don’t become poletised, is good as it will help disseminate different views and understanding,. If the good and the great cooperate to provide events such as Tai Chi Caledonia etc, develop a voice that governments can hear and remain representative of Tai Chi people as a whole, the future looks good.
Before long I was treated to the spectacle of 4 of the senior student sparring first one to one, then one to three etc. while the other 30 or so members practised techniques at the other end of the hall. Shortly the Master joined the sparring seniors, they stopped immediately and bowed, he took a relaxed stance in the centre of the space and they surrounded him, all was still. Watching the seniors spar I had been impressed at their agility, the speed and sheer variety of techniques. The Master nodded his head and his protagonists exploded into action, they moved fast, their limbs blurred, the Master seemed to move slowly, calmly, without hurry, yet he ran rings round them. Where they kicked, he span, they punched he was gone, yet his hand passed across a face softly without harm, a deft sweep of an arm would send one into another, he had all the time in the world This was my first live exposure to the Chinese internal arts, I had read about them, but this was real, this was great and I was hooked. I joined the Thetford Wu Shu Club under that Master, Ted Bird and thrived on it.
My kicks were intercepted half way, my hand strikes never landed and not a single technique of my fiendishly contrived combinations got through. Astonished and somewhat demoralised, I questioned my now superior and very pleased training buddy as to how this dramatic improvement was accomplished, generously he shared the secret and at the next session we were back at it hard as ever and even in skill once more.
To put this into perspective, as Master Grade teachers we had all acquired the ability to deal with up to five assailants in mass attacks, whether they were unarmed or armed with a variety of Chinese weapons we would spin in and out, throwing, tripping, locking and controlling, all without harming or being harmed, if you were hit in these tests you failed. So to see people with this level of skill handled like novices, made to look inept and inexperienced was somewhat awe inspiring, to be directly on the receiving end humbling.
Chee Soo could judge distance with the precision of a micrometer, timing to perfection, furthermore he understood and could exploit every angle or change of alignment with uncanny precision. This was the stuff he clearly enjoyed, even when well past retirement age.
Grand master Chee Soo, gave me a fantastic foundation in the Chinese internal arts. Thanks to his knowledge, tireless work and generosity over the 18 years I ‘Took from him’ I was inspired to continue my studies for a further 18, with other great teachers. Through constant research and practice, I have learned to see the connections between the martial arts and the therapeutic, the spiritual and the practical. I have observed that the gentlest of activities can be of tremendous benefit to those with reduced health, and yet those same movements can become vigorous and challenging, demanding the skill and stamina of an Olympic gymnast. Yet the combination of passive and active phases of the Chinese internal arts can also become a catalyst in the search for peace of mind, strong focus and balance in the fast paced world of today. Based upon Daoist precepts, stretching back through the millennia, they inevitably lead one to ponder the nature of life and our place within it, and almost as inevitably to appreciate the true nature of ourselves.
I am proud to be able to pass on this legacy.
Christmas Day, and after a morning of discussion of art and artists, over a Blueberry pancake breakfast, conducted with the intensity, variety, and range that only Gloria and Henry together bring to a conversation, I decided it’s time for a walk.
The air is clean and the sky blue as I carefully negotiate the back step.
Closing the door i make my way a few yards down the track, calling Dorothy to accompany me. Taking a few steps, she quickly decides that there is too much mud for Dachshund legs, and heads off in the opposite direction. With something of an effort, I comply and follow her through the long wet grass, teetering along the beech hedge to the edge of the pond. I stop and prepare to practice some zhang zhong (standing meditation) while Dorothy snuffles in the grass.
Facing South, the December sun is warm on my face, and the sounds of Rooks Chattering, and the cooing of Wood Pigeon interspersed with Blue Tit, Sparrow and Robin song is reminiscent of a late spring day.
With my feet shoulder width, i shuffle my boots down through the uneven grass until both feel level and even. Gradually, i begin the process of relaxing upward, adjusting back, knees, hips, and chest repeatedly, in an effortless effort to release to my full height.
As i coax my resistant body to central and upright (Zhong Ding), i can finally pay attention to my shoulders. Playing about with position until both feel settled and even. Releasing throat and neck, my face relaxes and my breath slows down, my mind slows with it..
Twenty minutes pass in a moment, and the sound of flies buzzing in the heat of the sunlit South wall draws me back to the here and now. I call Dorothy and we make our way back down the Beech hedge to the house, my steps looser and easier than before.
With a soft click of my fingers, we begin the journey back, over the river, past the Beeches, up the slope and once more we are in the room. Movement follows stillness; I call everyone together for round form, and we flow through the moves.
As the form finishes, I close the windows, people are filing out and giving their goodbyes. There is gentle laughter as someone mentions how loud the Blackbird seemed, someone else mentions the smell of the leaves...
One of the marvellous benefits of Chinese Internal Arts is the development of conscious awareness, Indeed it is impossible to practise these arts effectively without developing awareness. The whole point of the Internal Arts is developing your self and your skills consciously. By becoming aware of our body and how we use it, we increase our ability to tune in to the subtle messages that are always there, reflecting our physical discomfort, stemming from unsympathetic body mechanics, or more simply poor posture. Whether you realise it or not your posture reflects your current psychological state:-
Our internal arts practice teaches us to become aware of ourselves, observing our posture is one of the keys to a richer life.
Hello, if you have been directed here expecting to find blogs and stories etc, please be patient. we have just transferred to a new host. dated 13/04/2015
You can visit my main site keithroost.com or the school while we rebuild this site.
Thanks for visiting. 18/05/2015
Keith has studied the Chinese Internal arts for over 40 years. He lives in England and Portugal with artist and writer Gloria Dean and teaches in Portugal and the UK..
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