Erik Foxcroft

Sally and Erik

I started learning Tai Chi and Qigong in 1990 and am still learning. One of the things I like about these arts is the way you can go on improving and discovering new things your whole life.

My original ideas about what Tai Chi would be like proved to be wrong but I stuck with it and gradually came to understand how it works. I found that Tai Chi is full of what seem to be paradoxes, mainly due to the limitations of language to describe how we move in any detail. This is what makes learning and teaching Tai Chi a slow process. The only way to resolve the paradoxes and understand the Tai Chi way of moving is to practice the movements with the proper degree of relaxation and full attention.

Although research has shown that Tai Chi training can produce measurable results in as little as six weeks most people take longer to realise that it is making a difference. This was true for me as well but I enjoyed the lessons and practicing at home enough to keep going until I could feel things starting to change. These were indirect changes at first, such as fewer minor health problems and reduced feelings of stress but they added to my desire to continue. It probably took a couple years before I began to feel the connections within the movements themselves. Improvements would often come and go: one week I would feel that every part of my body was connected in a particular movement but by the next week that feeling had gone again only to come back in a more sustained way later. This was rather frustrating at first but after a few times I began to accept that the feeling would return and improve. This process has continued over the years in different ways and is still going on.

I have found partner exercises to be a great help in developing my understanding. When practicing solo forms it is easy to fool yourself that you are doing everything perfectly but Tai Chi's martial origins have given it a wide range of exercises which allow people to work together to develop the right degrees of relaxation, grounding and attention and accelerate the learning process. 'Push hands' is a deceptively simple set of exercises which quickly shows you where you are holding too much tension, collapsing your posture or are not standing as stably as you think you are. I had the good fortune for several years when I was first learning to have a group of friends near where I lived who were as keen on these partner exercises as I was. We would meet up each week outside our normal classes to practice together. This had noticeable results and helped us to relax more and develop a connection to the ground much stronger than the forms alone.

My first teacher was Christian Birch, a student of John Kells, one of the first Tai Chi teachers in the UK. Christian is an excellent teacher and is still teaching in the Hertford area. He gave me a very good foundation in Tai Chi. From time to time, when I come to a deeper understanding of one of the Tai Chi principles, I realise that it was something Christian was trying to teach me many years ago but I had not progressed far enough to fully understand it at the time. I studied with Christian for many years until he moved to Hertford.

In 1994 I started studying with Dick Watson of the Longfei Taijiquan Association. I was still studying with Christian Birch, but I wanted to learn a sword form and Christian did not know any at that time.

Dick taught me the Beijing 32 taiji jian (sword) form but also the 24 step hand form, which was gaining in popularity at the time, and some Qigong exercises called Daoyin Yangsheng Gong. He introduced me to Professor Li Deyin, nephew of Li Tianji who had devised the 32 sword and 24 hand forms, through his annual summer visits to the UK. He also brought over Master Wang Yanji, another student of Li Tianji and a formidable martial artist, who has been visiting the UK three times a year since about 1996. Through learning Daoyin Yangsheng Gong I also came to work with Professor Zhang Guangde, who created that system.

To be continued...