It’s always good to introduce yourself to your audience, that way they understand where you come from and why you say and do things a certain way. So, I’d like to go over how I came to learn Tai Chi Chuan and why I still train in it after over well 20 years. Here goes.
I started with Judo and Ju-Jitsu when I was 13. A childhood friend did that and it seemed cool, so I joined up. It was fun and I got a good grounding in throws and break falls, but I didn’t get much further than orange belt. Not for lack of training, but because a few years later, I found something that was a better fit for me: Traditional Kung Fu.
By total coincidence, I saw a demonstration of my future teacher, Mr. Jean-Louis Gonsette, at an event. His style was aggressive, fast, and tremendously impressive to a young kid at the time. I joined up and trained with him for many years, eventually earning the instructor level of black sash.
Hung Chia Pai was an extremely physical style and the training methods were old school: an exhausting one-hour warm-up and then another hour of actual martial arts training. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it tremendously and routinely turned up early in class to practice or train on the heavy bag. In many ways, my time in this style taught me mostly about what a martial mindset can be.
When I was 18, I started competing in full-contact tournaments. At first in Quinda (sort of like Kyokushinkai rules but with throws) and later Sanda aka Sanshou. The transition to the latter was difficult due to the different rules and I wasn’t very good at first. But I stuck with it and eventually got better. After I retired from competing, I ended up coaching the Belgian National Sanda Team for a while.
I trained in many other arts and styles along the way: Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Shooto, MMA, Wing Chun, Pentjak Silat, Kuntao and countless informal sessions with violence professionals (law enforcement officers, military personnel, etc.) I believe there is something to learn in every art, you just have to find what speaks to you. That happened to me when, purely by accident, I discovered my teacher’s Tai Chi Chuan school.
I was working in a gym with one of my personal training clients and the owner came over to chat. We used his aerobics room to spar and he asked me about my training. He casually mentioned they had a great Tai chi Chuan class on Fridays. In my youthful arrogance and ignorance, I replied that was for old people. He said “No, no, these guys fight.” I was immediately intrigued and excited to find out more.
So I came to class and was greeted by the teacher, Patrick Couder. He graciously showed me the basics and I found them hard to do after training in a hard, external style all those years. After a while, we moved on to what would become a life-changing moment for me: free-style pushing hands.
In short, it’s an exercise similar to wrestling with the goal of breaking the balance of your partner and getting him to the ground, without following him there. I was paired up with a senior student whom I outweighed by at least 50Lbs. He was also much shorter than me.
He tossed me around like a rag doll.
The harder I resisted his techniques, the harder I tried to attack, the faster I hit the ground.
My first response was to bristle. I had fought against some of the toughest fighters in the world in Sanshou and this little guy was handling me like a child? What was going on?!
My second response was to shut my bruised ego up.
I understood that if he could do that to me, what would I be able to do with guys a lot bigger and stronger than me? Because he wasn’t even the best guy in class, the teacher was so much better.
I signed up and have been with my teacher ever since. I discovered there was so much more to Tai Chi Chuan than the moving meditation I thought it was. Yes, that is a part of it and it does indeed improve your health, but it is first and foremost a martial art. Only by training it as such can those mental and physical benefits actually fully materialize, but that is something I explain in more detail in the videos.
A few years later, I became an “Inside the door” student in a ceremony conducted by the head-instructor, Dan Docherty. I made a vow to train hard and pass on the art to the next generation of students.
This site is one of the ways in which I intend to keep that promise.