"Taiji is born from Wuji. It is the mother of
Yin and Yang"
The Taiji Classics. Wang Zongyue
My fascination with the Martial Arts began when I was a boy in the 1970s. Bruce Lee’s films were in the cinema and most boys I knew wanted to learn Kung Fu. I loved watching the TV series ‘Kung Fu’ with David Carradine and the wise masters of the Shaolin Temple. My father had taken up Shotokai Karate in the sixties and I remember watching him practise his Kata at home: all those strange moves and kicks, they looked so magnificent.
I didn't start learning Karate until I was about nineteen with Sensei Gabriel Operanta in Cardiff. I was always a shy and sensitive child and as I got older I knew that I needed to practise something to grow my self esteem and of course to learn to fight. Karate was the natural choice, but I was also drawn to the deeper potential of this Eastern art even at this early stage. The style I studied was Shotokan and I became totally absorbed by it. The training was tough in the early eighties and although I felt out of my depth at times, I had a stubborn side to me that wouldn’t give up. Over the years I studied with some fine teachers from the Japan Karate Association and the Karate Union of Great Britain, but the person who had the greatest influence on my development was my Sensei, Owen Sumner, who invested time and patience in me.
I took my Shodan or first degree black belt with Kenosuke Enoeda in 1994 and continued to study for my next belt, Nidan. In order to understand my Karate better, I decided to cross-train in other martial arts. As I researched, I slowly realised that these arts were not just about fighting: we need to cultivate our health and spirit, without which we have nothing. I had always found it difficult to totally relax, in Karate or for that matter life in general, especially with work deadlines, so I decided to study Buddhist meditation for a while. This helped me focus my mind and relax me to a point, but I was still searching for something more. I had reached a crossroads and I had new questions I needed the answer to.
Years ago, I had watched a TV documentary called 'The Way of the Warrior' which showed masters in the Asian martial arts. I particularly remember the internal arts of China and especially Taijiquan. These arts resonated with me, and I began reading about masters of the past with their amazing abilities, and this mysterious 'Qi'. But was it really a martial art? I naively thought, how could these slow movements work in a fighting situation, or was it just for health? It was so confusing, but the more I researched the more I wanted to learn this strange art. I read that a famous Karate instructor, Sensei Hirokazu Kanazawa, practised Taijiquan alongside his Karate, so I thought there must be something in this.
I had long conversations with a good friend Mike Caluan, who taught Aikido, so I decided to have a go. It was quite different from Karate-do much more relaxed and softer but equally devastating. I studied it briefly and it helped me to relax even more, but it still wasn't quite what I was looking for although it was a stepping stone to the internal arts and it gave me more answers. I also did some Taijiquan and Qi Gong locally but again it didn't feel right for me, not deep enough. I was still looking.
Then one fortuitous day quite by chance my Aikido teacher introduced me to Laoshr Damo Mitchell (When the student is ready, the teacher will appear) who was opening a Taijiquan class in the Aikido Dojo in Cardiff. I went along and soon realised that this is what I had been searching for. I was in my mid-forties and Damo was in his mid-twenties when he started teaching me, but I knew this young teacher was different, and what he was teaching was more profound, nothing like I had experienced before. This felt like an art rather than a sport. This is when I began my journey into the internal arts.
I studied Taijiquan, Nei Gong and for a short while Xingyiquan and Baguazhang with Damo, and Taijiquan and Nei Gong with Paul Mitchell, his father. Over the coming months my body began to slowly change, the small muscles and tissues softened and I began to relax properly. It felt so good, and this relaxation didn’t stop after training but carried through into my daily life. Over the next couple of years I found myself on a life changing course where my health got better. I became more sensitive to the movement of energy or Qi and I was finally beginning the long process of change. I remember the first time I experienced my lower Dan Tian or energy centre turning: it was a very strange sensation, I knew about this area of the body in a theoretical sense, but to experientially feel it was something else.
"Over the next couple of years I found myself on a life changing course where my health got better, I became more sensitive to the movement of energy or Qi and I was finally beginning the long process of change."
Eventually Damo left Cardiff to travel to China and entrusted the class he had built up to me. I started out teaching a basic syllabus, but over the years Damo would teach me new things and my development continued. This was the early roots of Lotus Nei Gong and as an organisation it has grown massively and Damo now teaches in many countries around the world. I can not thank him enough for his kindness, patience and generosity in showing me this path and entrusting me with the lineage. I know I have a great responsibility to pass it on.
My personal training mainly consists of Taijiquan short and long forms, the Jian (Taijiquan sword), Qi Gong, Nei Gong and Nei Dan (Alchemy), Hunyuan Taijiquan 24 form, and finally Karate-do, although in a much softer and relaxed way than I practised it years ago. In 2019 I completed a three-year diploma in Chinese medicine, Acupuncture and Tui Na massage with Xian Tian College.
Even though I am a teacher, I see myself as a perpetual student: you should never stop learning. As a teacher my role is to help develop my students and pass on this information I been given to the best of my ability, so it can help others find ‘the way’ too. You have a lot of responsibility when you teach. Now it’s not about you, but about your students. I see it a bit like having children and watching them grow. Before it was about you, then it changes and now it’s about them.