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It was a bright, fresh, October morning in 1997 and I was on my way to pick up the teacher for our weekend course in Swansea.
A weekend course that would change the course of my life and a meeting with a man who would be (and still is) a huge influence on me, my training and skill, but don’t worry, I’ll get to those details soon.
I’d been training in many different martial and health arts since 1979 (when I was 12) and Chinese arts in particular held a deep fascination for me. I’d come up against a huge problem though.
I was bored.
I felt stagnant, discontent and frustrated, like I was just treading water and going nowhere and I’d felt like this for around 18 months. Practising t'ai chi sets was, quite simply, boring, repetitive and a huge chore for me.
That was all about to change too.
My current and previous instructors, among them Prof. Chee Soo in the UK and Erle Montaigue from Australia, had all been great but I still had a feeling something was missing. I was an instructor with both of their associations and had been running my own t'ai chi classes for around a year or so.
When you start teaching, you have to understand your art well and although I taught in the traditional method, by rote, once I’d taught the choreographed set, I didn’t have much more to offer than martial skills, which were not t'ai chi but gongfu (kung fu), although I was under the impression it was t'ai chi. You see, at the time I didn’t know any different…
So I’d been researching more t'ai chi and Daoist practices and was particularly interested in learning Daoist meditation to enhance my Qi (Ch’i, pronounced chee, the vital bio-electrical energy of your body).
A good friend (and teacher) of mine ran a shop in Swansea where you could by many different books on many different subjects, and I’d got a book or two on daoist meditation from there. My appetite was sufficiently whetted and I was puzzling where to find a teacher.
By a strange coincidence, I walked into Tony’s shop one morning and he told me that our association had just been accepted by the T'ai Chi Union for Great Britain and he had their latest magazine there.
He passed it to me to look at. I flicked through the pages, scanning a few articles that may be of interest. And in the middle of the magazine was a large instructors section, with contact details and a short list of what each instructor taught.
I read quickly, scanning through the lists, excited, almost holding my breath. I found 3 teachers advertising Daoist meditation. One in Bristol, one in London and one in Scotland.
The Bristol and London guys were nearest but on phoning, the numbers were unobtainable. Just the guy from Scotland left then.
I phoned and chatted to him a little while, eventually asking if he’d consider coming to South Wales to do a workshop. He agreed to come along and teach part one of the Daoist meditation course - Transforming Stress into Vitality. I didn’t realise I’d been on the phone with him for nearly an hour! Where did the time go!
So there I was, knocking on the door of the Alexandra Guest House in the Uplands where the teacher was staying while in Swansea. He’d travelled down from a place called Forres.
He came to the door, ready to go. We shook hands. He was a little shorter than me, greying hair, slight build and wearing glasses and a fedora hat. I was distinctly unimpressed.
We’d spoken a few times over the last 9 months or so and this guy was a professional martial artist and Daoist arts teacher. To me, he looked more like a quiet accountant with an odd taste in hats.
But, we’d got along really well on the phone and our greeting was genuine. I drove to the venue.
Within a couple of hours, my opinion had completely changed. His knowledge blew me away and his demonstrated skill was head and shoulders above anyone I’d met so far in my martial arts career.
He always used me to demonstrate principles and structures for meditation in sitting and standing postures and expanded those into how they could be applied to t'ai chi and even everyday life.
His explanations of the human energy system and how it worked were simple and direct. He used analogies like the wiring and fuse system in your home electrics to explain how the body adjusts it’s capacity to deal with more energy and how that tied in to basic quantum theory. And what he explained was simple to understand and follow for everyone.
I scribbled furiously in my notebook, not wanting to miss a single gem. (I still have those notes today). I’d never encountered any teacher who could impart such knowledge with clarity and ease and despite some others claiming that ability, in reality, no one matched up to this guy.
His name? Gordon Faulkner.
Who? Exactly. Best kept secret in the UK. Well, until now.
Anyway, three months later I asked him to come back to Swansea to do a Taiji dynamics workshop. The sense of elation and excitement I got during that weekend was brilliant. I learned things in one day that made my 18 years of training a joke (like the 3 circulations, for example).
I said as much to Gordon:
“I feel like I’ve wasted 18 years of my life”. Gordon’s reply?
“Nothing’s ever wasted. Look on those 18 years as an apprenticeship, and now the real learning begins. You’ve got an excellent foundation to work from”
I asked him why not one of my other teachers had shown me these things before and he said simply, they probably didn’t know them. That’s when he taught me a very valuable lesson. He said that if someone says they can’t teach you something because you’re not ready, or it’s a ’secret’, then they likely don’t know it in the first place and they’re lying to you to cover their own lack of understanding.
And then he shared one his favourite Chinese sayings:
“There are no secrets, there is only practice”
It’s one of my favourite sayings now, too.
I’ve studied with Gordon (and even some of his teachers) ever since, looking to master the whole of his system which has five branches:
Taijiquan, Daoyin (medical breathing exercises), Daoist Meditation, Therapeutic Massage and Martial Arts.
After a number of years, he honoured me by making me an “Inner Door Disciple”. That won’t mean much to you at the moment, but I’m very proud of that.
And now? Well, I’d like to share my knowledge with you. For free.
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Allow me to guide you on a small part of the fascinating journey that I’m still travelling myself. Buckle up, and let’s go…