"The ten-thousand-mile journey begins beneath your foot." Dao De Jing, Chapter 64, trans. Ursula K Le Guin
I'm Andrew Howard, instructor at the Bamboo Grove Tai Chi School. I began my professional career as a school teacher and spent almost thirty-five years in a variety of schools in the UK and overseas, taking early retirement in 2017. I hold a Master's degree in Education.
I began my training in Taijiquan in about 1992 with a local Yang-style class. The bug bit almost immediately, which was a bit of surprise given that I was not a sportsman at school - in fact, rather the opposite, tai chi for me was the first physical activity that I had really enjoyed for its own sake.
After being inspired by witnessing a demonstration of Chen-style, and being impressed by its energy and dynamism, I resolved to study both styles while working in Singapore for four years. During this time, I was privileged to meet Grandmaster Zhu Tiancai on one of his early extended stays in Singapore, though, naively undervaluing my luck in being able to learn directly from one of the "Four Tigers" of the Chen village, most of my time was spent with other capable local teachers from strong lineages.
Certificate presentation by Master Fu Neng Bin
After my return to the UK, I focused more and more on the Chen family system, learning from several students and disciples of Chen Xiaowang, the current standard-bearer for the style, as well as attending seminars with the Grandmaster himself. By 2009, I realised that, if I were really to improve my level of tai chi, I would need to devote an extended period of time solely to my training, so I took the decision to spend a year in China, drinking from the stream as close to the source as possible. Fortunately, my research led me to Master Fu Nengbin and I spent a year at his school in China's deep south. Master Fu's enthusiasm and constant attentiveness to his students broke down many barriers for me and upon my return to the UK I decided that I would continue to study in his same lineage, which is derived from one of the other giants of the Chen village, GM Chen Zhenglei. Luckily, one of his senior students, Master Wang Haijun, lives and teaches in the UK and I attended workshops with him over many years. Master Wang learned his tai chi from an early age in the Chen family village itself and his high-level skills, as well as the clarity of his teaching, have been an inspiration.
I currently focus most of my time studying the Beijing-based line of so-called "New Frame" Chen tai chi with Li Xuelong of the Southampton School of Tai Chi, whom I now regard as my principal teacher. His eye for detail and the depth of his teaching are exceptional and my private lessons with him are some of the most challenging and fascinating that I have ever experienced.
In addition, I have studied some Baguazhang (another, less well-known Chinese martial art), as well as various qigong sets, much of which complements my tai chi training, though I no longer practise everything that I have ever learned. However, I am pleased to acknowledge the influence of every single one of my teachers over the last thirty years; they have taught me a huge amount and often far more than they know.