Please tell us a little about your background in the internal arts
I started out with external martial arts with my family and their teachers at age 4. I don’t remember much of it apart from being pretty scared of all the big, sweaty adults shouting and stamping up and down the hall but it was a good start point for me. My martial arts developed from there and by age 14 it was the Chinese arts, initially Taijiquan, that grabbed hold of my imagination. I started out in Yang family Taiji and medical Qi Gong before moving onto more advanced practices with teachers in Europe and then Asia. I first went out to Asia to study for a few months. I was to go to Thailand for meditation in the monastery schools there and then on to China for alchemy in the mountains and some Chen style Taiji. As is usually the case, plans change, a few months turned into 9. Then I came home, stayed for 10 minutes and went back out into Asia to carry on with my studies. This kept extending until I was basically living between China, SE Asia and the UK. I was absorbing the internal martial arts, Nei Gong and alchemy mostly with a number of different teachers spread across the Far East.
After a decade or so had passed I decided that I could not keep living out of a suitcase! The flights were taking their toll and so I had to bring myself back into Europe (Portugal now) to live and teach my own students. I still return out there each year to train with my teachers but now the trips are shorter and I only stay for a few weeks at a time.
Over the last 33 years (at the time of writing) I have studied numerous internal arts with a number of lineages and teachers, some famous and some not. These days I focus upon three main internal martial arts systems, Nei Gong and alchemy. In order to provide service and help people who are experiencing disease I also practice Chinese medicine of both contemporary and classical origins. If you want a more complete bio then you can always visit my page on the Lotus Nei Gong International website. (accessed here)
What is the most important aspect of the internal arts for you?
The most important thing for each student training in the internal arts is to find some benefit in their practice. This might sound obvious but many people miss this simple fact. We may be training for our health, fitness, spiritual growth or simply for the fun of it. Any of these reasons are just fine; none are better than any other, but we should keep this in mind. If there is no benefit; don’t do them!
If we are looking at what is the most important aspect of the arts themselves, for me it has to be their age. We live in a time where everything always has to be the ‘newest’, the ‘shiniest’ or the ‘fastest’. We want everything now and we feel we have a ‘right’ to whatever we choose. In miming this has made many people in modern (western) civilisation somewhat spoilt. To me, the internal arts are the antithesis of modern life. They force us to engage with something that has existed for many generations and been passed down from an age where ‘Gong’ was valued; a skill and quality built into us over a long period of time through a systematic process of diligent study. For myself, having access to an art form like this keeps me sane and grounded in the modern world!
Tell us a little about your approach towards your own practice
The key thing to me is that training is a continual process. I have no ‘end’ in sight and since I am in it for the long haul I ensure that my practice is regular and consistent. If I look at the error many make in their training it is that they think they can train intermittently and still develop or maintain their level of skill. The practices are like a hot air balloon floating in the sky. Gradually the air is going out of the balloon and so we must keep topping it up to keep the balloon afloat. Every day or two missed is going to cause our practice to weaken and I always remember this. I even see high-level teachers making this error. They used to train all of the time and then they reached a certain level of skill or development; the result of this was that they got some kind of renown for themselves. With renown seems to come complacency and so their practice starts to drop off. This to me is a major issue; training should be for training’s sake. The aim is to simply keep going and see where we end up! If we rest on our laurels then we have lost sight of what these arts are about. This is how I approach my own practice.
Tell us a little about your approach to teaching.
When I teach I try to teach in as open a manner as I can according to the level of the students and I try to hold nothing (relevant) back. I use the word ‘relevant’ as it would be no good to teach way beyond where the students are since this would confuse them and waste their time. I often see movements towards dumbing these arts down or simplifying them. We even have ‘simplified’ forms now that people can learn. I personally don’t think people are ‘simple’ so why should they train ‘simplified’ forms? For this reason, I teach the arts in all their complexity, even if it is difficult sometimes to pass the arts on. It takes a long time to teach this way!
I am a stickler for basic drills and lots of repetition. I also believe in clear and tangible results being required. Underlying principles are more important than external aesthetics to me and I think this comes across in the classes and courses that I run.
I make people work pretty hard but it is also important that people enjoy themselves. I long ago dropped all the ‘Laoshi’ or ‘Sifu’ nonsense since this seems completely out-dated and more of an ego-trip for the teacher than anything else but I also like people to train in a traditional manner. All whilst having a lot of laughs of course!
What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?
Firstly it is to relax! Physical relaxation is a reflection of mental relaxation and that should come before anything else we do. From here I work on the ideas of developing a diligent approach to training, respecting the arts, being kind in your dealings with others and then how to develop some inner strength. If people can achieve at least some of these qualities then I think they are working on themselves in the right direction.
Finally, please share with us your insight into what Daoism means to you and how these teachings can best help people in modern times.
Daoism is an art form that is sadly dying out in my opinion. The practices have become watered-down, changed by the new age and altered to suit modern people. This is a real shame. If people just engage with traditional Daoist practice rather than the modernised form of it then they generally find there is a whole benefit to practicing these arts. Aside from the obvious health benefits it is also a highly fascinating study that just seems to have no end to its depth. In a time where ‘distraction’ seems to be what society wants to feed us it can bring profound change if we allow an ancient and authentic practice such as Daoism into our lives.
I can only talk for myself but without these arts I would have been lost. I have a tendency towards addictive behaviour and easily find myself getting into trouble if I lose my focus. Practicing Daoism has changed this for me and so I am not exaggerating when I say that it has changed and possibly saved my life I have seen this in other people too and this is one of the many reasons I feel blessed to be able to ass it on.