Sent in by Angela Fallon - County Coach Edinburgh
Having not been to a course for some time, I had forgotten what a tonic it is to be a learner and immerse myself in a full three days of Tai Chi and Feng Sau. I forgot how alive I feel when I am learning and how everything else going on my life is just forgotten about.
On the Spring Course our group worked through 82 to 102 in the Tai Chi Form. We had repeated it a few times when Howard came over and went around each of us making small adjustments to the arms. When he came to me, he adjusted my left hand as I hadn’t noticed a kink in the wrist. As soon as it was adjusted I could feel the chi flowing through my hand and arm. I hadn’t noticed I’d shut that wrist channel off. Howard talked us through keeping a smooth movement as we ‘put the ball down’ and rotated the wrists. For all of us, this had become like two movements – put the ball down – circle the wrists. Instead Howard told us to relax the wrists, and then the movement became one. Even after 20 years doing this, I feel a joy in my heart when I learn and feel something new. I always marvel at the wonder of this art. It is a limitless source of knowledge about ourselves and gives us the opportunity to not only find out more about where we hold tension, but more importantly, it shows us that we can ‘let it go’ when we choose to. That is so incredibly valuable in this busy life that we lead, full of pressures and stress.
One of the benefits of being on a course is having so much time to immerse yourself what you are doing. Sometimes, when we practice movements we are familiar with, we often stop noticing what we are doing. Our brains are hard-wired to create frameworks so when you have done something a few times over, the brain tells us that we’ve ‘got it now’ so we begin to lose the openness in which we approached the movement in the first place. We are no longer like a child exploring the world for the first time and alert to every experience. That is when we need to remind ourselves to explore the feeling in that practice again. We need to do something over and over - not to experience the same - but to be open to your body showing you something new.
We must not fear correction or change, but recognise that we are being guided to experience something even better. I think this can be an area many teachers struggle with as we want to teach everything ‘correctly’ and we want our students to trust that we are teaching them ‘correctly’. It is a subtle balance between accurately passing on what you have been taught without embellishing it, but not being so precise as to be unnatural, and recognising what is right for our individual size and frame. It is especially important for teachers to feel comfortable with being corrected.
I have seen first-hand in other associations how not being able to be ‘wrong’ can be destructive. I have experienced teachers who will fudge things, make up what they don’t know or are resistant to change because they do not want to ‘lose face.’ This is usually because people are fearful of being judged, fearful of being less than perfect, and sometimes because they view themselves as being elevated above their students instead of being equal to them. That is the ego and no one likes feeling vulnerable. However, no one is perfect and just like our students, teachers are also students of this art, on our own journeys and working on ourselves. If we are to retain this fine art, without diluting or changing it for future generations, we need to have the humility to be corrected and correct ourselves when we start to add our own habits, and to be continually open to learn.
When I look back at my Tai Chi journey, I feel grateful for all my experiences; I learned good lessons in sometimes bad situations. I had some teachers who were bullying and controlling, and some teachers who put themselves on pedestals and said their way was the only way. In my early Tai Chi journey, it was a struggle to experience this. But no one is all bad or all good, we are all just flawed in different ways. It has been an education about people, the effects of power, the importance of humility and the precious gift of always being a learner.
What all these teachers had in common was that they had stopped learning. They had become stagnant. When we stop learning and challenging ourselves then we ‘hold on’ and become resistant or fearful of what we don’t know. When I left the first association, I planned to give myself a year of exploring other associations before finding the right place for me. I was conscious that I had a class of students whom I had pulled out of an association and I did not want to jump blindly into another association only to find a similar situation. I decided to explore and experience for a year so I could make an informed choice. One of the reasons I stayed with EWTA was because Howard’s passion to pass on these arts was apparent. More than that, he was, and still is, joyful in what he is doing. And that is the secret to all learning. When you are joyful you are relaxed, you are peaceful and open to learning.
I remember early on in EWTA, someone asked Howard something about a movement in the Silk and for a moment you could see him thinking. My previous teachers would have said what they thought, but Howard went to his table and checked a folder of notes, then came back and told us. That says a lot. A number of years ago Howard took up learning to play a musical instrument. Rather than sticking with what he is comfortable with, Howard took up a new challenge to become a learner again. This willingness to learn is a choice and is not age dependent. It is a willingness to grow and a love of life and all its experiences and challenges. When we choose to be stagnant or stay in our comfort zone, we are holding on and fearful of change. It is the death of the growth of the spirit and the soul. But it is a choice. When we choose to learn, in whatever that may be, we are joyful, inspired, energised and often creative. If you are feeling stagnant right now, you can change that very easily.
If you love these arts and want to develop both your skills and your knowledge of yourself, I urge you to get along to some courses when you can. Recognise what a valuable opportunity you have to learn with Howard. He will not be doing this forever. Seek your opportunities to grow and develop, to challenge yourself, do not take the familiar for granted but instead look for the new in the old and enjoy the journey.
Good evening Howard, I hope you are well. I just wanted to say thank for such a wonderful spring course over the weekend. It was a privilege to meet with you and to have the opportunity to learn from you. I have been so very fortunate to have had a tremendous introduction to the Arts from Susan and I was both keen and a little apprehensive to attend the Spring course to further my knowledge. I can't speak highly enough of the wonderful welcome and support received from all of the attendees. As a beginner to be made so welcome and to learn so much was a wonderful experience. There were many highlights of the weekend with every day yielding many new discoveries. I was amazed and left with a great sense of achievement having successfully passed my first Feng shou grading.
Thank you again, take care and very best regards. Craig - Newcastle Upon Tyne
I just wanted to pass on some feedback from the students today about the course you gave on Saturday. Everybody has been buzzing about the day, your teachings have generated such enthusiasm amongst the class. They particularly liked the slower place, that enabled them to begin to embed some of the lessons and felt that they had learned some great tips to help them improve. Students also enjoyed the attention to detail given to the stances and the form. Following on from Saturday in the class today we went right back to basics. Thank you Howard for coming to Ryhope and for helping us to improve our T'ai Chi and Feng Shou. It was great to see so many instructors, too.
Best Wishes, Susan Bird
Area coach for Tyne & Wear
As a teacher I have been privileged to witness this marvel on many occasions; watching a group of experienced Tai Chi enthusiasts practising, seeing them harmonising their Tai Chi together as one flowing majestic movement. Confirming to the beholder, that with concentration and a willing heart all people can work together to lift the spirit so we can live together peacefully.
There are other aspects of Tai Chi practise that deepen the understanding on a personal and group level but these are best learnt through attending a class conducted by an experienced teacher. Many of these attributes unfold themselves gradually over the years.
The dedicated hours of practise are also an absolute requirement to gain a high level of skill in the art of I Fu Shou (Sticky Hands), too.
Check out Howard’s Article: Tai Chi/Pushing Hands
Recommended Reading: Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice HarperCollins Publishers. Available on Amazon Books
Tai Chi Awards
Tai Chi Practise
What a privilege it was to teach such dedicated students from England, Scotland, Ireland, Malta and Switzerland
Flow Flow Paterns
Defence Against Kick
Hi Howard, This years Summer Course was something special. Thank you passing on your wealth of experience and knowledge to us all I feel my T'ai Chi and Feng Shou is about to take a leap forward once I assimilate the enhancements you highlighted. That means I will have to practice the things you shared of course. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who came for creating a great atmosphere. I sensed a lot of genuine kindness and mutual support and feel blessed to have been part of such a great experience. I always look forward to training on the monthly courses but do you think it would be an idea to have a winter course as well because, 12 months is a long time to wait for the opportunity to immerse yourself in the arts for 5 whole days. I enjoyed meeting and training with new people who came from abroad. I hope to see them again next year. Best Wishes, Susan Bird - Sunderland
Hi, Howard, Just got back to Malta from holidaying in the UK, so I’m sorry not to have been able to send in my feedback for the summer school sooner. “ A fantastic opportunity to meet and be a part of this wonderful, Tai Chi family where goodwill, help, support and a goodly dose of humour was the order of every enjoyable day. I learned so much; not only about the aspects of Tai Chi but also about myself.” Thank you, Howard, for your dedication and continued support. I’ll definitely be back! Christine Duffield - Malta
Dear Howard, I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed the summer course this year. It was perfectly pitched for everyone including those who were relatively new to tai chi as well as the more advanced students. We all gained so much knowledge and insight thanks to your calm and patient instruction and guidance. It was truly a master class in every sense. Practicing for so many days surrounded by such wonderful generous people was an honour. It is a great testament to you that you have created such a family feeling of support and encouragement amongst your students. Attending the summer course buoys me up for all the practice times when I am alone at home albeit with your excellent on-line training course. I was greatly honoured to achieve the second Tengchi grading but I know that it is only thanks to your dedication and that of my teacher in Edinburgh, Angela. Thank you so much. Thanks for everything as ever - I am looking forward to next year's course already. All the best, Geraldine Jones - Edinburgh
Dear Howard, Thank You for this beautiful week. I received more than expected, I will Look at the platinum Silver level you sent me closely. Best Wishes to You and Gisela - Bernard Noel - Zurich, Switzerland
Hi Howard, Thank you for a really enjoyable summer course. The content, people, atmosphere were all good. I learnt a lot and hope I remember some of it! Regards, Pat - Ossett
Hi Howard, Just wanted to say thanks again for a great Feng Shou day on Friday, sorry once again not to attend both days as planned. It is really great to take part in a proper Feng Shou class. I can't wait until Thomas is old enough so I can start going to Mark's class again, but that is a while off. I think I would be a lot further on if I attended a weekly class but I suppose I am learning to be patient, there is no rush. Anyway, great to see you and Gisela, take care and see you again soon. Best Wishes, Kate - Dewsbury
Hello Howard, Just wish to say a massive thank you for another amazing Tai Chi / Feng Shou summer course. Once again, due to your vast wealth of knowledge, experience and generosity you delivered a course jam packed full of valuable information and insight, together with priceless 'hands on' practice. I particularly enjoyed what was essentially a masterclass in the Lee style short form, moves 1 to 50. I am sure everyone will have gained significant benefit from this and a better understanding of some of the finer details that will help us to improve and refine our practice. In addition, I also enjoyed working with the other experienced students, as everyone always tries to help each other wherever they can and helping the several new students who showed great focus and enthusiasm throughout the week. Indeed, congratulations to all those who achieved gradings in either Tai Chi and or Feng Shou. Of course it would have been nice to do more, more, more but as the old saying goes "you cannot get a quart in a pint pot".
Looking forwards to the next training day already. Very best wishes to you, Chris Heczko - Rotherham
Hi Howard, I really enjoyed the Summer Course last week. It was good to catch up with you and lots of old friends. There really is a supportive almost family feel to the course. People are really helpful to each other and happy to share their knowledge. At the same time new people also feel welcomed. It was good to refine my Tai Chi, practice dance and sword and do some more Feng Sau. As always it is good to benefit from your deep knowledge of the Lee Arts and to have the chance to practice with you and other advanced instructors. The Tuesday to Saturday timetable worked well for me. I have booked to come to Scarborough for the courses in October, November and December, and when you fix the summer course dates for next year they will be straight into my diary. Thanks again, Kind Regards, Carl Pearson - Coventry
Hi Howard, Just getting in touch to firstly tell you how much I enjoyed this years Summer Course. Met a great bunch Students and Teachers and once again learnt much more about our Lee Style from the course. I would just say the ‘wonderful atmosphere’ on any course always starts with your good-self. It’s always a real pleasure to come and train with you. Hopefully, I will have one on my Duddingston class coming down with me to the Summer Course next year, so I would be obliged if you could let me know as soon as you have finalised the dates for next year. Thanks again for sharing your formidable skills and knowledge. I look forward to learning even more when we see you up here in Edinburgh in November. Thank you again for sharing your extensive knowledge of our art and for your excellent practical guidance. Best Regards, Jim Anderson - Edinburgh
Hi Master Howard you asked for some feedback at first l was over whelmed by all the black shirts and the energy in the room, my teacher Margaret charmed me down and made me realise that they were part of a family and we all help each other. I must thank her for giving her time up instead of getting helped herself as she was only there for the day (I get it Margaret I do). I have a better understanding of our unique Tai Chi style with all the help I received I improved my quality enough to gain two grades. I feel fortunate and privileged to be able to train along side you Master and my thanks to all who helped me over the five days of training which put a lot of strain on my knees but I enjoyed it. My father said remember three moments in a journey realising I was part of a family seeing Chris getting his well deserved blue belt and the sunrise in the morning tops it off. My best wishes to all the family around the world and at home. Victor Denton - Sheffield
Hi Howard, I just wanted to say thank you for the training yesterday, I really enjoyed it, especially the daoyin exercises. I have learnt a lot and come away with a lot to practise, such as making sure my knee is not turned in on my dragon stances. At first I wasn't sure how to correct it but Mark told me to think of it like the riding horse stance, where you push your knees out rather than bending forwards, and now I get it and can feel (and see) the difference. I just need to remind myself of it every time now until it becomes automatic. Thank you for all the refinements on the dance as well. It is such a great day at Scarborough as the people are all really friendly and everybody is happy to show you something you don't know. I suppose that's because the majority of people who attend (or at least attended yesterday) are running a class, so more than happy to teach others.
Anyway, take care for now and hopefully we will see you for one or two days on the Summer course.
All the Best Kate - Wakefield