From powerlifting to Tai Chi

I have only been a student of Tai Chi since the start of this year, under the guidance of Joy Muir at the Moonee Ponds branch. Joy asked if I would consider writing an article regarding my experiences so far and I feel it appropriate to offer a bit of my background to give some context to my observations.

I developed an interest in martial arts in the late seventies and found a teacher who would show me the basics of gung fu over the next few years. I also began reading many books on Taoism and Buddhism to further my understanding, although it would be several decades before I would have direct instruction from a Japanese teacher in the Zen tradition.

In the mid eighties I was introduced to the sport of powerlifting and began competing in local and state level competitions. I also added to my martial arts experience by finding a Muay Thai school to learn the fundamentals. Ultimately I needed to focus my attention on one or the other and I chose powerlifting. I spent more than twenty years competing in state, national and international events, coaching and officiating. I do still train consistently but my competitive days are now well behind me.

After retiring from powerlifting I found my way back to the martial arts again and began many years practicing Japanese swordsmanship in the arts of Iaido, Jodo and most recently Kendo with my seven year old son Charlie. Kendo is a highly dynamic art that involves full contact sparring with bamboo training swords. The strikes are made safe by the wearing of protective equipment and the practice is governed by strict etiquette and codes of conduct.

I have also long had a fascination for the graceful movements of Tai Chi. It has for many years been my intention to learn the basic movements and to start a long term practice. Now although I practice meditation on a regular basis, my other ‘activities’ have always been quite ‘intense’. I needed to find the right opportunity to open the Tai Chi door. Last year that opportunity presented itself.

During kendo practice last year I quickly drove forward to land a strike on my opponent. There was a loud snapping sound and the sensation of being struck in the ankle. I had just snapped my Achilles tendon. I had surgery to reattach the tendon to the calf, several months on crutches and many more months of ongoing rehab. This did however appear to be opportunity presenting itself. Once I was able to walk again I determined that Tai Chi would be a great addition to my rehabilitation.

So how have my first months of Tai Chi practice played out? As my injury heals I am able to move more freely and enjoy the practice more and more. I am more used to martial arts forms that are faster and change speed, so I have found the slow rhythmical pace of the Yang style both easier and more difficult at the same time. Easier because you have more time to think about your next movement. More difficult for example, because any problem with balance cannot be hidden.

As I moved through the first levels I would have moments of practice at home where I was in an calm meditative state, not really ‘thinking the movements’ but rather flowing through them without thought. I know my technique was by no means perfect but the flow sensation was quite interesting none the less. I would then repeat the process expecting the same sensation and find myself completely lost . It did make me laugh at myself I must admit.

I am greatly enjoying the process of learning the forms and readily admit that I need to visualise an opponent or two in order to absorb the movements. I know that I am not learning Tai Chi as a martial art but its roots are readily apparent to me and this is my way to relate to it.

I am exercising my mind by memorising the movements and striving to understand each parts connection to the whole. I am gently exercising my body focusing on balance and rhythm, control and flow. I am learning a new art form with a wonderful group of people and guided by patient teachers. Enjoyable and beneficial. As I expected but more than I expected as well. As my practice deepens I am sure my appreciation of this beautiful art form will grow and as my injury heals, I hope my movements will more closely emulate those of the teachers who guide me.

Steve Giffin
Student, Moonee Ponds

Updated: 4 August 2019