There is a saying in Tai Chi that 'one can spend a lot of time training and achieve little'. This was true for me before I discovered the Lancaster School of Tai Chi Chuan.
I have been training in Tai Chi on and off since the age of 16. As a young martial artist Tai Chi was secondary to my external martial arts training, mainly Taekwondo, which I practised for 18 years and taught for 10.
As I got older (I'm now 53), I became more interested in the internal martial arts and particularly Tai Chi, along with an associated interest in Qi Gong and meditation.
I used Tai Chi to rehab from a serious spinal injury that ended my Taekwondo career, and after ankle surgery following a bike accident. Over the years I've had several very good Tai Chi instructors who I have the utmost respect for.
Whilst these instructors were very good, their Tai Chi had limits. They taught Tai Chi as a health exercise, supplementary to other Kung Fu styles. These instructors all taught a form of Tai Chi described as Yang Style, and used the popular, modern 24-Step form as the basis for their systems. Whilst some teachers incorporated pushing hands, none taught Tai Chi as a true martial art.
Eventually, I reached a point where I felt I had learned all I could and it was time to move on. After a lot of searching I discovered the Lancaster School of Tai Chi Chuan. I now travel regularly from Blackburn to attend classes.
In my experience, two types of Tai Chi are taught in the UK today. There is health based Tai Chi, which is quite common, and then there is true martial Tai Chi Chuan, which is extremely rare.
In health based Tai Chi you'll mainly learn a short Tai Chi form alongside Qi Gong, and perhaps some pushing hands practice. This is suitable for people of all ages and isn't too physically demanding.
True martial Tai Chi, such as that taught at the Lancaster School, is different. Here the Tai Chi is taught as a martial art. The forms remain a central element of training but are the original Yang Cheng Fu and Yang Lu Chan long forms that take years to perfect. There is varied and regular pushing hands practice. Martial applications are developed with pad work, partner exercises, and sparring. At an advanced level there is weapons training with sabre and long sword. Alongside all of this, there is also Qi Gong. This is a complete classical system of Tai Chi Chuan. The training is physically and mentally challenging. The practice is rich and deep. There are no gradings, no uniforms, and no competitions. Just a lifetime of learning that cannot be exhausted.
The Tai Chi taught at the Lancaster school is first and foremost an internal martial art. It concentrates on developing the body's internal energy or Qi through proper body alignment, controlled breathing, correct mental intention, application of the principles of Yin and Yang, and development of the internal structure of the body. All of this leads to a soft but overwhelming power that is devastating when applied to to the body's vulnerable points.
Developing the body's Qi also provides a foundation for controlling and settling the emotions, which in turn calms the mind and opens up a path of spiritual development that students of the school are encouraged to follow.
I have been training with the Lancaster School for over 4 years, and my experience has been excellent.
The lead instructor, Paul Florkowski, is a fine teacher. He exemplifies what it is to fully commit to Tai Chi as a lifestyle and he inspires through example. As a teacher Paul is knowledgeable, supportive and patient. His style is to gradually expose students to deeper levels of the art as their skills develop and they become ready for the next step.
Students of the Lancaster schools of Tai Chi Chuan are very committed to the art, with most having many years of experience. Like me, it is common for students to have practised external martial arts to a high level, with Tai Chi providing a natural way to continue their martial arts careers. I would gauge most of the school's students to be at least comparable to black belts in other martial styles. Turnover is very low with few students leaving the school and a small intake of new students who are made welcome.
Given the school's high standards, I would thoroughly recommend it to sincere students interested in martial Tai Chi Chuan. I would particularly recommend the school to existing Tai Chi practitioners who wish to deepen their training and to experienced external martial artists who want to continue their martial arts practice for years to come.