At the time I started studying with my tai chi teacher I had never even heard of Tai Chi Chuan. I had been reading books on Eastern meditation and was very interested in learning how to do it. I decided to seek out a teacher to study with, long story short I had been seeing master Li practicing chi kung in a secluded gardern at the college I was attending, I approached him and asked him to teach me meditation and he agreed.
My First Tai Chi Teacher
Oddly enough, the core of master Li’s system was the meditation practice. He told me that he mixed his Tai Chi with this practice and acupuncture in order to keep healthy and added that his teachings were not meant for fighting.0
In addition to the meditation which was xie xi chi kung, I studied the Yang Family Public Tai Chi Form (108), Taichi weapons, push hands, Ba Duan Jin and some other related practices. After a few years of dedicated practice, I made a little headway, at which point master Li wanted to begin teaching me acupressure. However, I had to move back to Donegal for family purposes, I was not able to return to the states very much. Master Li passed away in 2014, may he rest.
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 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 was0 entirely compatible with what I had already learned.
Once during this time, I went to a class with a teacher from a different type of Chinese martial arts, he heard I did Tai Chi and wanted to train and teach me. During a supposedly friendly push hands drill, he launched a surprise attack. Without thinking I uprooted and threw him. He landed badly, but when he got back up he attacked me with a fast foot sweep and knocked me to the floor.
At that time I had no defense for foot sweeps and many other types of attacks. I was angered and left, although his actions were not appropriate he had taught me an important lesson. I realized all of the tai chi teachers I had visited most of them could not fight, nor were they acupuncturists and healers like master Li.
My honest opinion from all of this was that authentic 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 which was now lost. 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 can be done standing. 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. Like Master Li, the Zi Zhong school has no tolerance for bullshit or performance based wu shu type training.
Since dedicating myself to the Yi Zong curriculum I have attended seminars with Loashi Luo and also have been receiving instruction from a great coach who lives in Paris. I was very lucky to get a private lesson with Laoshi Luo on Tai Chi, during that lesson I realised 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 the 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.