Making Friends

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Neil Bradley of The Tai Chi Club up in Ripley and he’s a really great guy. I met Neil through one of the many discussion groups available on the interweb and he has a good sense of humour about him and a great way of looking at things. Neil is the sort of chap you’d be perfectly happy going down the pub with for a few hours just to chew the fat. He has a very nice school and I can honestly say that anybody in the Ripley area who’s interested in Tai Chi really should pay a visit to Neil.

The class is a really lovely class and Neil’s teaching is top notch. Neil teaches the Yang long form and he does so with nice and clear instructions. The moves are explained in detail and demonstrated with aplomb. I think that his style of teaching is one of the reasons he has such a good class. It really did remind me of my first class in the Yang style.

Back when I started I was learning the British 24 step form because, for some reason, the Chinese governing body thought the regular Beijing 24 step form was a bit too complicated for us Westerners. No matter, it was a nice little form that I can still hack my way through today. From the British 24 step form I moved onto the Beijing 24 step form and the 42 step competition form before finally moving away from the area. I really liked the 42 step competition form but there was something about the British 24 step form that just stuck with me. I just loved the form and I loved the learning process. In the evenings I’d practise with the light from the street lights providing my lighting and I would listen to Jackie Brambles presenting the BBC R1 Drive Time programme. Magical.

Neil’s class evoked a similar sense of wonder for me. Maybe it was the style, maybe it was the simplicity ( and by that I mean clean and uncluttered rather than lacking content ), maybe it was the fact it was back up North and I miss proper Northern accents or maybe it was simply the fact that, for a couple of hours, I was a complete and utter beginner again. I’m not entirely sure but for a few hours I was completely lost in an unfamiliar style and utterly in love with Tai Chi.

The people in Neil’s class are genuinely nice people and they’re all dedicated to learning the art to the best of their ability. It certainly helps that they have a fantastic teacher but you really couldn’t ask for a nicer bunch of people to be practising alongside.

The interweb is an amazing thing. It has the power to bring people together from all over the world in a common bond. Like minded individuals can congregate and discuss things that matter to them. Within a Tai Chi community debate could be had over meaning and nuance. It should be possible to talk about theory and practical application in a sensible manner. It should be possible to talk about the finer points of form. Whether form leads application or application leads form and under what conditions we should look at the differences. It should be possible to have discourse with people in a wholesome way that enhances and enriches the group.

That ideal never happens though. Discussions usually descend into a version of “I’m right and you’re wrong”. People mistake concepts as gospel and argue and bicker endlessly about why their way is the right way. Pack mentality leads and it often becomes a case of simply fitting in rather than raising issues or standing firm. Sometimes keyboard warriors start fights and it can be difficult to stand up against a tirade of abuse. Sometimes you can be the lone voice of reason in the wilderness. Sometimes groups simply aren’t worth the effort and it’s better to disappear back into the void. It’s a bit of a shame really because there are some genuinely nice people out there.

It is possible to meet some really nice people through the interweb and I really did enjoy meeting up with Neil. Good teacher, great class, good skills and a really top man to boot. I would definitely spend more time with him if I had it to spare and I would love to go back and visit him again. Neil is surprisingly tall too.