In 1997, Mark Allen, then the IT manager for Winchester School of Art, now a senior Projects manager for the University of Southampton met Gary Robinson, a tai chi instructor and Buddhist lay priest, along with others - most notably the twins Gordon and Matt backhouse - all part of what was the Southampton City Dojo. What evolved from that was a small group of what we would loosely call 'tai chi thinkers', exploring the wider view of tai chi and its related aspects.
When at school I was a "sporty type". I competed in Athletics and Rugby at County level. I was a sprinter and at my best in the one and two hundred meter sprints. As far as Rugby is concerned I was a little too small to survive in most positions but I was a good as "pocket-rocket" on the wing going heads down towards the goal line. Later in my youth I took up Amateur Boxing and got given the nickname "Relentless Robinson". Just a little paradoxically I was also very keen on Art, Music and Religious Studies and my working life at first followed the artistic route.
In the early eighties, following a period spent earning an unhealthy and sometimes dangerous living as the Landlord of a Live Music Pub (loud music 5 nights a week and alcohol 24/7) I took up Martial Art. First I looked towards the 'hard' fighting arts - because I considered my size to be a handicap, as it was against some of the irrational and angry 'heavy weights' I encountered in the ring, on the rugby field and at "time gentlemen please" on a Saturday night. However, what I found on the Judo mat was that the biggest and strongest won i.e. I lost! And then I remembered David Carradine in the TV series "Kung Fu" ... and how "Grasshopper", the central character dealt with all odds stacked against him with a gentle certainty. Soon I discovered that there is no martial art called Kung Fu and that those words actually mean "deep study", but nevertheless, the nearest equivalent to Grasshoppers style and attitude is Tai Chi ... studied deeply. Thus I began my deep study of Tai Chi in the mid eighties. Alongside this I began a similar study of Buddhism.
In 1995 I opened my first Dojo - a place set aside for training and practice in Zen Meditation (Zazen) and Tai Chi. Inspired, encouraged and supported to do so by Raymond Wood, Ray Wood, a 7th Dan, I began teaching Tai Chi in 1996. As my acquaintance with Ray deepened he began to tell me more and more about the late Sensei Kensherio Abbey and his system of KyuShinDo. In part, KyuShinDo is a 'soft' or smooth and curved Judo. However, the study principles of KyuShinDo may be a way in to understanding Universal Laws and applied to any field of endeavour, interest or study. Inspired further by Sensei Kenshero Abbey's aversion to 'Organisations' in general, particularly to those claiming un-earned authority, I take pride in being 'un-affiliated'; proudly and successfully independent. Just an individual doing what I do. In 1998, by creating a website for Southampton City Dojo, Mark enabled out Tai Chi Dojo to become multiple!
A very good friend was leaving town and would not be able to continue with his weekly study and practice sessions with me. I quite flippantly asked the group if any of them knew how we might as a dispersed group continue to engage in sessions together. Mark's answer is the website that we now call taichido.com. The rest is history and there for all to see.
I likewise continue to be deeply engaged in Buddhism as Editor of a quarterly Journal called ""Pure Land Notes", representative to the Network of Buddhist Organisations for the Pure Land Buddhist Fellowship and webmaster of the www. purelandnotes.com.
I started practising tai chi in 1995, primarily from a variety of 'how to' books. On a pivotal day in 1996, I saw an advert for local tai chi classes run by Ray Wood, a 7th Dan Kyushindo (plus more Dans for other martial arts) and I decided to go along. One of the first things that Ray did to this new class was to demonstrate Part One of the Long Yang Form, and I realised very quickly that I could either walk away and 'pretend' to do tai chi with my book, or I could forget everything I thought I knew, start afresh with a teacher. Ray is an extarodinary individual who would prove to be hugely influential to many through his Kyushindo budo and Cheng Man-ching-influenced softer tai chi.
In 1998, two years into my training with Ray, he made the decision to step back from instruction and I met with Gary Robinson, a former pupil of Ray's and now a Yang Form teacher in his own right. Gary runs his life through his Buddhism and his tai chi, and his insightful and often askance view of things in the wider cultural, practical and intellectual aspects of tai chi and my interest and technical skills brought us together ultimately with the Taichido (and sister wheelswithinwheels) website. A partnership was born that has seen us through over a decade of collaboration with a number of projects and I feel privileged to have been a part of that.
Influential too was my interest in providing resources for learning tai chi via the web - and remember that in 1998 it was only four years old and very much in its infancy. What was frustrating about tai chi books was that they didn't give you a visual idea of how the moves actually worked, and the problem with tai chi videos is that they showed you the moves but left out the details and instruction that the books had to offer. With the web (and later with cd-roms and DVDs) here was a medium where we could combine the two and get it out to anyone anywhere in the world should they wish. Now in 2009 it is great to look back and see where we have come to in both strands of Taichido.