At the time I started studying with my tai chi teacher I had been reading books on meditation and was very interested in learning how to do it. I had never heard of Tai Chi Chuan at that point. I decided to seek out a teacher to study meditation with, long story short I had been seeing master Li practicing chi kung in a secluded garden at the college I was attending at the time, I approached him and asked him to teach me meditation and he agreed. I thought it was amazing that a man in his 80’s could do the movements he was doing.
My First Tai Chi Teacher
The core of master Li’s system was a very meditative practice, a form of xie xi chi kung, it is a seated practice, the yong quan point (kidney one) is one of the most important points in it. He told me that he had integrated this chi kung method ino his Tai Chi with this practice and acupuncture, and accupressure. It was essentially all a medicinal system. After a few sessions of studying the meditation master Li began practicing his Tai Chi form. I said whats that, he said that is Yang family Tai Chi Chuan. I had no idea what that meant but I asked if I could try, he said oh you want to learn Tai Chi now too? He made it feel like I was asking a lot but he started to teach me. One of the first things he told me was, if you want to learn my tai chi it is not for fighting, if you want to learn to fight just use a gun, again emphasizing that it was a health system.
In addition to the chi kung meditation, I studied the Yang Family Public Tai Chi Form (108), Taichi weapons, push hands, Da Lu, Ba Duan Jin and some other related practices. After a few years of dedicated practice, I made a little progress, at that point master Li asked if I would like to learn his accupressure methods, however, I had to move back to Donegal for family purposes shortly after that. I was not able to return to the states very much. Master Li passed away while I was in Ireland.
After I moved back to Ireland I felt that my practice was cut short and I attended a Tai Chi class in Letterkenny, Donegal to meet people and keep my practice-focused. I took a couple of local eight-week tai chi classes in Northern Donegal. I also traveled to Dublin, Cork and London to attend seminars and visit Tai Chi teachers from different styles. I made new friends but I didn’t find a system that was compatible with what I had already learned.
My honest opinion from all of this was that authentic or traditonal Tai Chi teachers are very hard to come by.
At this time I was reading a lot of Chinese martial arts books. One of the books, was very well written and introduced the idea that Tai Chi, Xing Yi and Bagua were all branches from the same root martial art, and that to get the idea you had to study them all. I found there were several great historical martial arts masters in China that shared this belief.
I thought that maybe if I couldn’t find another tai chi teacher I should try to find a teacher in Xing Yi or Bagua that had this philosophy. That is how I met my current teacher, Shifu Victor Chao.
Shifu Chao was a student of the Yi Zong school in Tawain, and at the core of his system is a practice that is similar to master Li’s meditation except it is done done standing. The yong quan point was important in this practice. With his standing meditation practice, Shifu Chao is able to generate a lot of energy, and also a lot of forward-moving force. Of all the teachers I met Shifu Chao’s system was the most compatible with what I had learned previously.
The Yi Zong school is one of the few remaining schools that teaches the three arts of Tai Chi, Xing Yi and Bagua together with a traditonal approach. Like Master Li, the Zi Zhong school has a low tolerance for bullshit or performance-geared wu-shu training so prevelant in Chinese based systems now.
Since dedicating myself to the Yi Zong curriculum I have attended seminars with Loashi Luo De Xiu and also have been receiving instruction from Edward Hines in Paris. I was very lucky to get a private Tai Chi lesson with Luo, during that lesson I realized that training in Tai Chi and Xing Yi was what I wanted to do.
In 2018 I moved back to the west of Ireland and started up a class in Westport, Co. Mayo to spread the health benefits of Tai Chi and art to focus my own practice. The class was going very well until the pandemic. I moved back to Donegal for the lock-in and I began returning to training the way that master Li had tough me, out of doors in nature and making chi kung and meditation more of a focus. I now train in a mixture of second and third generation Yang Family Tai Chi and Li Cun Yi, Hebei Xing Yi. Both of these are very meditative arts and complement each other well. I have also studied Bagua which is the core of the Yi Zong curriculum but I don’t have time or talent for all three arts so I’ve limited my focus on Tai Chi and Xing Yi. I was very lucky in having great Tai Chi teachers and will be lucky to achieve a minute fraction of their skill.