My name’s John Rogers. I’m 62 and I’ve been in Montenegro for just over fourteen years. I first worked as a teacher trainer for British Council, and then as a freelance writer of English Language Teaching materials for Pearson Education. At the same time, I also worked as a lecturer in Semantics and Discourse Analysis at the Faculty of Philosophy in Nikšić. Since 2012, I have been lecturing on the same subjects at ‘Mediteran’ University.
My interest in Taiji dates back to the 1970s, and is partly linked to my lifelong curiosity about Asia, which I think I may have inherited from my father.
I have been an active Taiji practitioner since 1992, when I was studying for an MSc in Edinburgh. My studies, and the part-time jobs I had to do to finance them, were depleting my energy, and my health was deteriorating. One day in a supermarket I saw an advertisement for Taiji classes. I already had a fairly good idea what Taiji was about, so I went along, ‘just to have a look’. Then I went back, twice a week, never missing a class until I left Scotland.
The club I had joined was part of the International Taoist Tai Chi Society created by Master Moy Lin-shin (1931-1998). I was taught by two different instructors, who soon encouraged me to work towards accreditation as a Beginners’ Instructor. I completed that
process in 1995 while working in Budapest, where I founded the Hungarian branch of the Taoist Tai Chi Society. I remained in the Society till 1998, when my job took me to Serbia first, and then to Montenegro.
Meanwhile, my dream of going to China for a few months to look for a Taiji teacher that I would enjoy working with was recurring more and more often. It is not until March 2011, however, that it was to come true.
I first went to Yangshuo, a beautiful town in Guanxi province, where I worked intensively one-to-one with Master Yang Dong Bao.
I then went north to Xi’An (Shaanxi province) to work with Master Zhao You Bin, from whom I had the privilege of receiving intensive one-to-one training.
Master Zhao You Bin is the son of Zhao Bin, who was a senior disciple of Yang Chengfu. Mr Zhao is the President of the Xi’An Yongnian Yang-style Taiji Quan Association and the Head of a Yang Taiji Association in Hong Kong. He often gives workshops in various Chinese cities as well as in Japan, Thailand, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Xi’An May 2011 A special evening organised by the Shaanxi Wushu Association. Mr Zhao You Bin is in the front row, 5th from left.
The last lap of my journey was Hong Kong, where I was coached by Ms Jane Chow, an
instructor who is one of Mr Zhao’s students.
I became a certified Overseas Instructor with the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain in August 2012. The Tai Chi Union for Great Britain is the largest collective of independent Tai Chi instructors in the UK.
I was accredited by the Chinese Wushu Association in October 2013 (see below).
What does Taiji mean to me?
Unlike food and drink, Taiji is not a vital necessity. But we are fortunate enough not to live in a place and time when access to the barest necessities of life might have been a guarantee of complete personal fulfilment. Of course, like most people I could live without
listening to music, for example. And I suppose I could also live without doing Taiji.
But are we talking about survival or about life? Before, I was happy when I simply had the opportunity to do Taiji. Now, it’s not only a question of enjoying practising, it’s also a question of feeling bad when I can’t practise. Something’s not alright then; something’s missing. A bit like when you go to bed and you haven’t brushed your teeth.
Having said that, Taiji is not just part of my ‘personal hygiene’, it’s much more than that. It took me a long time to realise that I had a tendency to get uptight about things, and that my uptightness was threatening to affect my whole life, – how I interacted with people, how I reacted to events, how I behaved at work and at home. One of the great things
about Taiji, which it took me a while to discover, is that it demands so much concentration that you have to relax, to put aside all other thoughts, as well as all your worries big and small. When you do Taiji, you can’t be in two places at the same time – it’s all there and then, otherwise it’s not really Taiji.
The more you practise, the more you learn to relax. And the more you’re able to relax, the better your Taiji gets.
So … give it a try, and you’ll soon understand deep inside what I mean.
Taiji also opens up the opportunity to discover whole new worlds, such as other related martial arts, Chinese civilization, alternative medicine, Taoism and meditation, to name but a few.
China Trip 2013
My third visit to China had to be different from the first two as I had one single destination in mind – Xi’an -, and this time, unlike in 2011, I was not going to ‘look for a Taiji teacher’. What I wanted was to work with ‘my’ teacher, Master Zhao You Bin.
Anyone interested in Yang Style Taiji will be interested to read this article about Zhao Bin, Master Zhao’s father:
(This blog, by the way, contains a wealth of fascinating articles and reliable information and is well-worth exploring.)
For information about Master Zhao’s Taiji Training Centre (often referred to in Chinese as wuguan, i.e. martial arts school), you can open the leaflet here:
Xian Taiji Centre.1
Xian Taiji Centre.2
Xian Taiji Centre.3
Xian Taiji Centre.4
The atmosphere at the wuguan was relaxed and convivial, as well as professional and hard-working.
Training was every day (except Saturdays) from 7:00 to 10:30, followed by afternoon practice from 15:00 to 17:30. On Saturdays, there was morning practice outdoors on the campus of the University of Architecture, and these get-togethers generally drew a large number of students and teachers.
Understandably enough, Master Zhao is generally very busy. However, his students are well looked after, and if Master Zhao has to teach elsewhere, they are usually given the choice either to accompany him or to work with a high-level teacher, usually one of his senior students or disciples. And so it was that on October 11, I found myself on the night train from Xi’an to Jinan (Shandong Province) to attend what had been described to me as ‘an important Taiji event’ to be held in Tai’an. My knowledge of the Chinese language being extremely limited, I didn’t really know what to expect, and it is not until the opening ceremony the next day that I understood I had enrolled on a one-week international master class for Taiji instructors organised by the Chinese Wushu Association!
The daily schedule was no more no less intensive than what I had got used to in Xi’an, and the general atmosphere was equally congenial, despite the fact that all the participants knew the course was to culminate in a practical examination in front of a jury.
It is at some point during the master class that I decided to ask Master Zhao if he would accept me as a disciple. A couple of days later, I was informed via an intermediary that his reply was affirmative, and that he was making arrangements for the baishi ceremony to be held on October 21st, a few days before my return to Montenegro. It is only later that I learnt I had thus become Master Zhao’s first foreign disciple.
The Chinese word for ‘disciple’ is tudi, and it has practically none of the religious connotations of the concept of disciple in the West. While a student simply attends classes, a disciple has more commitment to one particular teacher and his or her teaching. The teacher becomes the disciple’s master, and the relationship thus formed is much closer than between a student and a teacher. In a way, the master becomes like a parent, and the disciple becomes part of the family after promising to practise diligently, to continue developing his or her form, and to promote and disseminate the master’s teachings.
If you would like more information about the master/disciple relationship and the significance of the baishi ceremony, go to these websites:http://www.taichichuan.co.uk/information/articles/bai_shi.html
With over eight million inhabitants, Xi’an is one of China’s most populous cities. Well-known worldwide for the Terracotta Army found at an archaeological site east of the city, Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province and one of the ancient imperial capitals of China, is becoming a popular tourist destination in its own right.
I didn’t have much time for sightseeing, but I was living in a popular district with countless small shops and eateries and thoroughly enjoyed it thanks to the kindness and helpfulness of the people.