Kevin To Me
In September 2019 I attended my first class at the St. Albans School of Tai Chi Chuan. That was the first time I met Kevin Lannon.
Kevin is the teacher who has taken me under his wing. He put me forward for my apprenticeship training and invited me to have some one-to-one mentoring with him. I jumped at the chance. He wanted to prepare me for the apprenticeship and boy did he!
Mike Barkham said once in class that he thinks we are the perfect teacher student pair because Kevin always wants to teach more and I always want to learn more.
I grew up dreaming of being ‘The Karate Kid’ so I could have Mr. Miyagi in my life!
All these years later I feel like I am living this dream through my relationship with Mr. Lannon, the mentor who is meant for me.
I have the great pleasure of teaching with Kevin. His love of tai chi is always evident. His eyes sparkle as he shares his passion. I am destined to quote him, just like he quotes his teachers.
I began interviewing Kevin on the 8th of March 2022. It took three goes in person, plus a phone call to ask some last questions.
After many hours transcribing and editing, I sent Kevin my final draft on the 14th of September. Reading it motivated him to ask a range of family members for more information about his childhood. They shared tears and laughs as they discussed their past. I’m so happy to have played a small part in all that.
Kevin sent his draft back on Thursday (November 24th) and I couldn’t be happier to finally share this with you now…
Kevins Early Family Life
On the 17th August 1955, at the Victoria Maternity Hospital in Barnet, Kevin Lannon came into this world. He was born to an Irish father and English mother during the times of “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs”. This meant it was difficult for his parents to find rental accommodation and whilst expecting they travelled to his father’s family home in Mooncoin, in the Suir Valley south of County Kilkenny. Eventually they found accommodation in Barnet where Kevin grew up with his four siblings Yvonne, Michael, John & Barry.
Early life was not easy. The only heating in the family home was an open fire in the living room and a solid fuel back boiler in the kitchen for hot water. The coin operated pay as you go meters for gas and electricity were in the outhouse. When money ran out they had no fuel for hot water or cooking. Kevins dad bought coal in bulk and piled it up in the garden for lighting the fire, to get them through each winter. Many a time the children scraped ice off the INSIDE of their bedroom window to look outside.
Kevin recalls the winter of December 1962 – March 1963 (known as ‘the big freeze’), with joy. It was so severe his father was unable to work for three months which meant there was no income! At the time the children did not realize how tough it was for their parents. They thought it was exciting and were happy not to have to go to school. The snow was thick on the ground so they were always outside playing. They had bread and jam for dinner which Kevin thought was brilliant. He and his siblings loved it as usually money was used to buy the ‘boring stuff’, meat and vegetables.
Kevin and his brothers had daily chores like using an axe to chop wood, stoking the fire, emptying the ash pan, re-lighting the fires and pulling laundry between the rollers of a Mangle. The mangle was in the back garden which was freezing on a winters morning!
There was very little stimuli in the house apart from the black & white TV and the bible, just a few toys that they argued over and weekly comics that Kevin loved. Kevin describes himself and his brothers as “a bit feral by todays standards”, due to spending so much time outdoors in the nearby woods. He thinks it was a blessing; the freedom, the close connection to nature and to his siblings. They knew more about nature than most other children.
In tai chi terms Kevin’s father was typically ‘yang’ and in contrast to his passive ‘yin’ mother. Kevin describes his dad as a well-groomed man with very high morals, expectations and standards, whom he has great respect for. A man who was one of seven children and successfully raised five of his own. He took ‘perseverance, sticking with it, not shirking, getting it done, not being lazy, getting out there and doing something and making something of his life’ (his work ethic) from his father who always said, “Nobody’s gonna give it to you. You’ve gotta make it happen. You’ve gotta earn a few bob for yourself. It’s what you do with that money!”. He worked in building construction and told Kevin and his brothers to start a business renovating houses.
“Did you?” I asked.
“No we didn’t, we were teenagers who wanted to go out and enjoy ourselves but he was right! He was trying to give us the best he could but he had experienced a very difficult childhood himself”.
As was common then, Kevins dad liked a drink but when he drank too much he couldn’t control himself verbally or physically. This was the norm which meant the children witnessed abusive behaviour toward their mother.
Kevin always felt very protective of his mum. From her he learned resilience, nurturing and talking but also keeping quiet and listening. His mum was one of ten children and was gifted in certain ways but had minimal education. She was a housewife who didn’t have time for employed work. His dad was very strict about the house being clean. He expected it to be spotless with his dinner on the table when he arrived home.
Kevin believes his mothers body never fully recovered after each pregnancy because she did not get the rest and nourishment, she needed. She loved a good breakfast but always made sure the kids were fed first, often having only tiny portions of food for herself. He doesn’t remember her resting much or ever putting her feet up. The only calming thing he remembers his mother enjoying was knitting. “That’s the only time I saw her in her space, knitting baby clothes and jumpers whilst watching TV in her short spare moments“. He thinks she needed that to cope with meeting the endless needs of five children.
When they were old enough Kevin and his siblings put money together to buy her a bicycle as a Christmas present. She was truly overwhelmed, that bike gave her freedom and changed her life.
Early one Sunday morning the boys were playing in the house and Kevin swung his mother’s broom (an essential cleaning tool before the emergence of electric hoovers). He swung it over the back of a chair and accidently broke it in half. He remembers how he and his brothers froze in fear, knowing he would be in serious trouble. He put the broom back in the cupboard and went upstairs to lay in bed dreading what would happen. His brothers joined him.
A little later, his dad shouted for the boys to come downstairs. “Right you lot, where’s the broom?”.
Kevin told his dad he had put it in the cupboard.
His dad said it was not there and continued searching for it. Eventually he found it and returned with the two pieces.. “Who broke the broom?”.
Kevin quickly admitted it was him.
“Why did you hide it?”.
“I didn’t hide it, I put it in the cupboard”, he answered honestly.
Kevin described how his dad kept on asking him why he had hidden the broom but each time that Kevin answered “I didn’t hide it”, his dad hit him again. He suffered many blows that time because his father thought he was lying.
His brothers had hidden the broom out of fear and were too scared to own up. The experience was understandably traumatising and affected Kevins ability to respond to stress all through his teens and early adulthood.
Kevin The Hot Head
Kevin describes his younger self as a ‘hot head’ who scared people to get his own way or to get them to back off. If ever accused of lying, he would have a strong emotional and aggressive reaction. If anyone pushed him further he would “happily go to war with them“. Imitating his fathers behaviour was relatively effective but he has since learnt, through his investigation of tai chi and other internal work, better ways to express frustration and anger. Over time he came to understand he had only one way of responding to painful questions and blame etc. He responded through his fear with anger, a natural response for a man who was once a defenceless child, beaten by his father. He was finally big enough to defend himself by using his physical size to aggressively protect his emotions.
He, also much like his dad, purchased gifts for people he had upset, to make things up to them. He thought it is was what he was meant to do when he felt guilty.
Kevin says he used to swear all the time and his vocabulary was terrible. He remembers when one of his best friends Peter, was dating a girl from St. Albans who came from a good background. She was well educated and went to a posh school. “We were all going out somewhere and I was walking down the road and didn’t realise I was swearing every other word ‘F-ing this, F-ing that’.
The girl, Roberta asked, ‘Kevin you have a limited vocabulary but why keep swearing all the time?’, and do you know what? I felt hurt… attacked! I thought what do you mean and went away and thought about it. First, I thought what does vocabulary mean? I was a teenager. This is how stupid I was! So I looked it up in the dictionary and thought I need to learn more words and cut out my swearing. People say to me you never swear. I still do sometimes but generally not in conversation, no I’ve stopped swearing because of what that girl said to me.
I met that girl, now a grandmother, about three years ago and she said to me ‘Kevin, somethings always bothered me. Years ago I think I upset you. Do you remember we were walking down the road and I said you had a limited vocabulary’. I said yeah I do and she said ‘I’m really sorry about that’ and I said ‘No Roberta that was the best thing you could have done. It hurt but you told the truth and because you did, I had to question myself and change”.
“Well you didn’t HAVE to, but you did“, I said
“But I did, yes true I didn’t HAVE to”.
Kevin feels the ability to do so must have come from his mothers nurturing but he wasnt aware he could self-improve at that age. He lacked confidence.
Kevin trained as an apprentice confectioner at a local bakery earning 12 shillings and sixpence a week (about 62.5p). He moved on to work through a range of mundane jobs including factory work before realising his two younger brothers were earning much more than him working in construction. So like them, he to decided to follow in his fathers footsteps and worked his way up to foreman enjoying the good pay. However it was a very physically demanding job and as time went on he began to feel the effects of burnout and losing his youthful strength.
Kevin & Tai Chi
Kevin had seen some forms of martial arts and had tried a few karate lessons but it didn’t interest him so he gave up. He played football, darts and other pub games. The first time he saw tai chi was when his nephew who was around eight at the time and involved at a karate club, was asked at an event to hold up a banner at the side of the stage at a local event. That evening lots of martial artists performed on the stage including students of kung fu and Jiu jitsu but then a married couple came on. They moved around slowly, in symmetry, connected in every way. “Watching it calmed me down. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen. These two energies working together. I thought to myself I would like to do that someday. It planted the seed“.
It was ten years later that Kevin began tai chi classes. He was at a low point in his life after the breakdown of a relationship.
“I did come for an additional reason actually. I noticed I was getting aches and pains and I thought I shouldn’t be feeling this at my age. So, it was a bit of a motivator with the emotional element. I needed to change my life. I needed to do something and I saw a tai chi class in Stevenage advertised in a local paper”. Kevin was living in Welwyn Garden City and he felt it was the right time to get started so rang up to enquire. He was sent a pack full of formal instructions like, “When you come into class you have to bow to your teacher”. Kevin thought this seemed too strict so he found an alternative class in St. Albans. He recalled his first class, entering a room full of people. The main teacher Joop Brouwer (who now teaches in Lancaster) introduced himself and asked everyone to form a circle and introduce themselves one at a time. Kevin found this suitably easy-going but remembers feeling so nervous introducing himself to complete strangers that he rushed and garbled his words.
“Then we started the class and that was it, that was me hooked!“.
I interjected here about how we, the students, rave about how relaxed our teachers and classes are. Walking the talk, they are noticeably NOT in their egos, enjoying themselves as they express immense curiosity.
The TCF framework is designed to support teachers to continue to learn.
So, Kevin added, “It’s the most gratifying thing that I haven’t achieved it. If I had achieved it I might have given up! I shall carry on learning and so I don’t like being called a master. I’m on my journey“.
Kevin has played with other forms of tai chi. His good friend, Ian McDonald who originally taught tai chi in Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City, studied lots of martial arts including ‘Bagua’ and ‘Xingyi’.
“Ian was very unassuming which belied a tough guy you wouldn’t want to mess with. His style of tai chi is the opposite to ours and he couldn’t quite understand ours or believe how soft and ‘yin‘ I was”.
They trained or ‘played’ together a lot and Ian could never get hold of Kevin or apply the thing he was trying to show Kevin. Ian’s school taught to students push against each other with substance in order to feel the force and react to it. Our school teaches ‘sensing’ hands which yields to an opposing force.
Tai chi styles vary but regardless of style there are two different applications; health and wellbeing or combat. They share the same principles but are taught differently to achieve different outcomes. Ian’s form was for martial application whereas ours focuses on wellbeing.
What Is Tai Chi?
“It is different to everybody. To me it is an opportunity to discover, an opportunity to observe, an opportunity to change, an opportunity to be the better self“.
Kevin says, “Tai chi increases awareness of the intrinsic connection between the mind and body, and their actual connection becomes one. We have different brain parts for different reasons, they can oppose each other and we might not realise and become disconnected with our bodies. The mind and body can and want to do different things. Just like that male and female I talked about on the stage performing tai chi, you have the same dance with yourself, the external self and the internal self in a constant dance always pushing against each other. When you can meld them together to work in unison, it’s amazing. It’s amazing what they can do and how calm you can feel. It’s about finding BALANCE, not just physical but mental, emotional and spiritual balance between the five elements”.
“The five-elements help us recognise and manage our emotions. There are different types of emotions depending on where we are in the cycle. The anger could be fire. What happens is fire burns away water? There are no tears! Once the fire and rage has died down a lot of people do cry because theres still something there. When I am sad, I cry and when I feel joy or see people very happy, I cry. It could seem like I am unbalanced!”, he laughed.
Can Tai Chi Calm The Mind?
“Tai chi definitely calms the mind in my opinion“.
Has it calmed your mind?
“Oh absolutely!“. There are times when people around me are panicking and I think why don’t they just sit back and look at the problem and deal with it? Rather than panic and not do anything positive. Something happens and in a moment of panic yang energy comes up in reaction. Some can respond from a good place because they can deal with that but most people can’t do anything because they freeze. I have learnt over the years to stay calm. Whenever things are tough around you just stay relaxed. Those are easy words to say but through practising tai chi I found out I can do it. It gives clarity of mind. Thats what happens when you stay calm, you have clarity of mind“.
How does tai chi calm the mind?
“By being present, being in the moment, not thinking about what’s going to happen tomorrow or what has happened in the past. Just being in the moment. I think that’s the most special thing. It’s when you connect to what you call the river”.
I have no words to describe the buzz I felt that my teacher overstands what I call the river.
Benefits Of Tai Chi
Other than CALMNESS and CLARITY, tai chi makes Kevin feel JOY. As soon as he starts doing tai chi he feels joy, his passion and some sort of CONNECTION.
Tai chi also gives him GROUNDEDNESS, DIRECTION, FOCUS and THE ABILITY TO START LETTING GO (possessions, memories, perfectionism etc.).
Being called a liar still evokes emotion but he is aware of it and it doesn’t determine his behaviour anymore. “I can recognise the emotional response through physical signs (e.g., dryness of mouth, uprising surge in the body, the tensing up) and with that awareness I do something about it because I understand what it is. I can reflect and chose not to lose my temper. I don’t need to be a bull in a china shop to suppress someone else. I can accept what they are saying and say to myself this can’t hurt me anymore because I know what it is and I don’t need to do that”.
“I know I have worth now; this is what tai chi has brought me. I have value. I have worth. I have confidence. I have a sense of self now. I didn’t have to be educated to normal standards, just by life, by self-observation“.
“You think tai chi has grown your confidence?“, I probed.
“Yes absolutely. When you find that peace other things start to change. Your confidence starts to change and your esteem changes. Your place on this planet changes. You feel you have some worth now. I used to be very conscious of who was around looking, when I did tai chi outside. I was one of those people who had no confidence whatsoever. I always remember the first time I taught with Joop. He said ‘Stay calm I know this is your first time” and I said ‘Yeah yeah, no problem’, but when it came to it, the sweat was pouring off me! I was rambling as fast as I could like a machine and I just wanted to get it over and done quickly. How that has changed over the years! So yes, I have gained a lot more confidence. Tai Chi has given me the confidence to connect with people and change my voice and bring everyone into a quiet place or to excite everybody. When you can do that for other people and yourself… I could find that quiet place right now or be spontaneous and have that spark. When you are being your best self, being YOU, whether it’s the quiet, ‘yin’ you or the ‘yang’ you, you’re being present”.
From practising tai chi Kevin also noticed his weight was often on the outside of his foot. “I had already caused a lot of damage to my knees because I hadn’t noticed it before“. He thinks he had a twenty-year habit of walking that way, following an accident. “If your weight is not centred over each foot, the knee joints will not be in the right place (out of alignment), so of course that damage got worse and worse. I didn’t know tai chi could change that but it developed my self-observation and I noticed it. I had X-rays of both my knees. My left knee looked to be the worst and was going to be operated on but I said ‘No I want the right one operated on because it gives me terrible pain!’. It even affected me getting in and out of cars. Even just lying in bed it was painful. Whilst doing tai chi it was fine but the damage was already done. Maybe I started too late and became aware of it too late. I had a full knee replacement. With the tai chi awareness, I changed the way I walk by adjusting the weight in my foot to be more evenly distributed. I learned and practised the principles and the tension in my knees went, from changing the weight in my foot. I looked at my shoes recently and they are slightly more worn on the inside now so I have over-corrected and have to adjust again slightly so my weight is centred.. But I don’t get any pain in this knee at all. You can hear it click now and again but I don’t get pain! The knee specialist said I have chronic arthritis. When he looked at the X-Ray he said ‘this shouldn’t be happening, you should feel pain!”.
“I will always remember my mother when she broke her fibula and tibia bones falling off her bike. The consultant said she would never walk or ride her bike again but she was strong-willed. She exercised every day. Every Friday afternoon I visited my mother’s house and one Friday there she was, in the back garden riding her bike. I asked ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and she said ‘I’m ok, I can ride my bike’. When she went to see her consultant, she said ‘You told me I would never walk or ride again but I am walking well and I am back on my bike’.
The doctor replied ‘Well done. I wish there were more people like you. That is the power of the mind!’.
That stuck with me because when I had my operation, I kind of knew internally that I could not become lazy in terms of not doing anything about it or feel sorry for myself due to the pain. I went out every day. They said I wouldn’t be able to drive my car for seven weeks but I was driving in half the time. It is just the power of the mind. I had only one month off tai chi classes because I couldn’t wait to get back. I let my fellow teacher Anne-Marie Gent performed and demonstrated any 100% fully weighted moves on the right leg. I was fine to demonstrate anything on the left leg.
I WANTED TO DO TAI CHI and that was part of my road to recovery. Once I have made my mind up my willpower is strong. During the late 1980s, I went on a diet and packed up alcohol and smoking all at the same time. Four months later I had lost 3.5 stone. I have never smoked a cigarette since but do still enjoy a drink!”.
“When I was doing my B1 lessons, because I had this focus on becoming a teacher, I repeated the form over and over again. Someone eventually said to me ‘you are too much of a perfectionist, you need to let go’ and that changed everything. Saying that, I used to arrive early to the construction site and practice before work, where ever the site was! One time it was in Oxford and there was a beautiful park nearby so I’d be there at 6:30am practising. People walked past wondering what I was doing but I just loved it, just on my own, fresh air you know. It gives you that sense of connection and waking up. It always set me up for my day’s work. I would practice at lunch times too. I would work on moves I struggled with like the Lotus spinning kick. I would spend the whole half an hour of the lunch break just practicing. I wanted to get it under my belt and move in principle, from the ‘tantien’, from the rotation. It paid dividends. My hips started loosening up. The first thing I noticed was my golf swing changed.
Also, I used to have pain in my back from pulling the trolley up hills, not excruciating or anything but I noticed it. It didn’t make sense because I was fit and strong, but after so much training I was much looser in my back and little but dramatic changes started happening and I didn’t have those pains anymore. It must have been from the way I pulled the trolley, (before I learnt to move in principle) the unnecessary tension from using arm strength but twisted behind me. My golf improved as well”, Kevin giggled.
I walked into a large hall once that had a ramp for wheelchair users. Normally on a dry day it was fine to walk down the ramp but that day it had been raining. The ramp was wet and I slipped and thought I’m going to get hurt here but tai chi kicked in. I put my foot down flat as I was falling and lifted my body onto it. Everyone expected me to fall and I even amazed myself! That was tai chi, being centred“.
In summary: calmness, a quiet place, clarity, joy, spontaneity, connection, groundedness, direction, focus, acceptance & letting go, confidence, worth & value, sense of self, improved temper/responses balance, falls prevention, looser hips, no more back or knee pain and an improved golf swing!
“I find the more I involve myself in meditation and find the quiet place, the calmer I become“.
At first Kevin found it very hard to meditate. “I thought it was rubbish!“.
The first meditation Kevin learned involved visualising colours. He could not do it, all he could see in his mind was something like TV fuzz, static, just all grey, black and white. He was resistant to sitting meditations at first.
I wondered out loud if tai chi works for me because it is a moving meditation.
“I can do both now“, Kevin smiled.
He persevered and eventually got used to the idea of meditating.
Then came some strange experiences. Kevin saw peoples faces coming into his mind, people he had never met, full of character and always smiling. He would see all kinds of faces in great detail including their facial hair and wrinkles but as soon as he engaged his thinking brain they would disappear! So he would try to get the smiling faces to come back in to his mind but he could not will them there. He couldn’t put his finger on it but he says there is a place you can go to and something just happens.
I mentioned reading many times about a creative source. One that people can tap into in certain mind states. Many musicians and artists have claimed their work ‘came through them’.
Kevin didn’t hesitate “I BELIEVE THERE IS A SOURCE“, he said. When he teaches tai chi he is in the moment and the words he says come through him freely. He isn’t searching for something to say, it just happens. It’s just there and he feels like he taps into it. “When you feel calm and relaxed you can be open and connect to it but as soon as you have an agenda you block it and lose that inspiration. When we get fixated on a plan (or the ‘correct’ words to teach) and it doesn’t go right we get frustrated. The feeling manifests in the class. Students and other teachers pick up on it. When we express authentically in the moment we are connected with what we are saying or doing and others can connect better to that”.
During a summer tai chi training program Kevin took part in a Hypergnostics course (Oscar Ichazo, July 1931 – March 2020, founder of the Arica school) which was delivered by Barbara Carlisle (London school of Tai Chi Chuan) and Patrick and Patrice Wooldridge (who teach tai chi in Chicago). He didn’t understand all of the terminology used but it gave him tools to look at himself internally. He learnt how to be a witness of his own emotions and to reflect back on times in the past that he had felt a similar emotion. He left the training thinking “what a load of rubbish” but as time passed and he tested it he realised it actually works. It enabled him to pinpoint precise moments in the past that left him internally distorted. Like the broken broom incident.
“It is one of the best tools I ever got in my life“.
Kevins Thoughts on ‘Mind Like Still Water’
“Personally I like the analogy of still water and the stones causing disturbance. Are your stones actually rocks that are causing tsunami’s in your life? Some people carry big heavy boulders that become tidal! I believe it’s a hugely helpful analogy because the mill pond also represents for me the place of clarity, the place of calmness, the place to be inspired, the place to make changes because you are self-observing. If you can keep that mind still you have all these opportunities open up to you“.
“The analogy of the mill pond is a true reflection of self. A mirror image of you. When we find that place we have pure essence. We connect to our inner self but what happens is that when we have a thought that comes into the mind, a lot of us don’t have the ability to let go of the thought. We attach to the thought. That attachment to the thought is the stone that drops into the water, creating the distortion and you don’t have that clarity any more. By becoming aware of the attachment to any thought, that you are thinking, you can let it go. It is not an easy thing to do! I have had to work with that and I can do it. I can switch off but I have to notice that I am trying to think. If I hear a sound and think ‘what was that?’, straight away that’s a stone!”.
“So every noise or stimuli can potentially lead to a stone (distortion)?”.
“Yes thats right because we bring our attention to it. Really and truly we lose attention from our inner-self and from being in the moment. You can have all different types of clouds (thoughts) some might be lovely and fluffy but don’t forget your thoughts could be dark clouds. Then you attach to one (a negative thought) then maybe pouring rain and thunder and lightning come into it. Miserable! Attached to it all we get into that phase where we just can’t let go of it. We hold on to it. It’s training our mind to say ‘hey there are different types of clouds’. Some are more serious. We don’t want to discard them but when we are in a meditative mood recognise it as a dark thought. Can I let go of the dark ones as easily as the light fluffy ones? It’s easier to let go of those” .
What Can Help Settle the Mind? (other than tai chi and meditation)
“Exercise helps relax the body and because the body is relaxed it releases tensions in the mind. The mind starts to settle and become connected to the body. This is the goal. We are not there yet but the mind and body become one”.
“I walk a lot yeah. Always have. I used to be in the woods all the time as a kid. When you walk you do have that sense of being in nature. It’s quite empowering. I can understand why people in cities want to move out to the suburbs and have more walking space in open countryside”.
Pilates or Yoga?
Interestingly, Kevin said our tai chi school see’s them as in conflict with our form. I will dig deeper with more interviews later.
We discussed some of the similarities (increasing body awareness, relaxation) and differences (toning and flexibility vs internal work).
We agreed that tai chi seems to be underestimated by many but that it makes sense. The inner-work is unseen and the external slow movements can seem easy!
Kevin has never tried either Pilates or yoga but he mentioned Bob Ethrington who believes we need to roll about and stretch on a mat like babies. Kevin said we can store lots of emotional tension in our lower back and that Greg Woodson has tried to help him relax his lower back but he is still working on it.
“I was out gardening yesterday. I’m not a brilliant gardener but I do enjoy gardening”. Kevin finds it calming, connecting and like escaping.
“I used to do a lot but I haven’t for a long time. I spent a good few years doing pen and ink drawings of tiny little black circles. It took seventy to eighty hours to do one picture so it required a lot of patience. People would say oh wow they are really fantastic! I’m able to escape when I do that by just focussing on what I am doing. That was when I was younger. I don’t feel so troubled these days“.
I randomly mentioned liking to handsaw wood (over using a jigsaw). I find it soothing. The noise and smell.
Kevin agreed and said about keeping it straight as well and doing a nice clean cut.
“Eyes down the blade just keeping this motion, it’s lovely. Theres something about it. The joy of the straight cut. It’s not forcing the blade either it’s being the blade“.
“I taught a class today and was working with metal and I got myself mixed up. I said to the student it’s interesting because metal is the element I am really working with. I surrounded myself with objects all my life, bits I could sell on because I was always scared of having no money in the future. I bought antiques and collectables and surrounded myself with all this gear. I’m in the process of slowly letting go. I know I need to be a little bit faster because when I truly let go that’s it. I think it represents my life. I’ve sorted through lots and lots of things but metal is the element because I still struggle to let go of the things that I attach myself to. I vow to do a few more car boot sales this year and just get rid myself of a load of toot!”
Kevin has never experienced a professional massage.
I have always loved massages more than most things, so I am always stunned when others haven’t tried it!
Before Kevins mentoring I fully believed I needed massage to reduce the tension in my shoulders, neck and back. Now I believe that I can and will let it go with my tai chi practice. I kid you not, Kevins shoulders feel like marshmallows!
Kevin has been making and drinking his own tea blend every morning for three or four years. He says it’s a ritual for him. His special hot tea contains: ground chilli, ginger, turmeric, paprika, black pepper, lemon and honey. The honey is from one of his brother-in-laws forty hives!
We had to stop ourselves talking about food for hours!… But I learned of Kevin’s love of watercress and Amla (Indian gooseberries) and how good for us they are.
Kevin is currently working with an exercise bike. “I use tai chi principles with that”. He is upright (doesn’t lean into the bike, palms resting lightly on the top of his thighs then moving them to the side of the legs halfway through the practise), soft (holding no tension in the shoulders or the hands), rooted (feet evenly placed, weight going down into the centre of the feet) and sensing using an advanced technique called sensing (or push) hands to notice any tension building up.
“I use meditation every day“. Kevin does a standing meditation that he has developed for himself.
“I’ve been working with the breath in a different way to what we do in tai chi. I feel it’s a bit more energetic. I feel the change in me energetically”.
Kevin has customized his practice over time which he does once a day every day without fail.
He moves his awareness to his lungs, then heart and then to his mind and believes he moves his energy with his breath.
“I just get into a place where I use my breath to feel I am energizing my whole body or any part of it that I bring my attention to. The inhale is like drawing the manor from heaven. It nourishes my body. The exhale helps me release and let go to absorb that new energy. I place my palms over my heart, that place where we often feel emotional pain. I also place my palms over my lung meridians”.
“I believe the mind has so much capacity that we can, with positive thought, actually heal ourselves. If I am getting a cold, I always get a feeling in the back of my nose or my throat first. A little indication so I go to bed and do some meditative deep breathing and move my chi to those points. It’s almost like I am moving my anti-bodies there. Something inside me thats going to fight it”.
Kevin doesn’t practise the form at home as much now. He feels like he doesn’t have to because his body doesn’t have to get somewhere anymore. He sees great value in being ‘Yin’ and tries to find balance within his daily life. It is his mind that has to get somewhere. “If I feel good why do I need to practice every day?”…but then he does teach two to three one-hour classes, three days a week. “It’s the tai chi, when I teach the Tuesday classes, they charge me up until the Thursday classes, then those and the Friday classes charge me up for the weekend. I have this cycle“.
Kevins friend Ian McDonald died just over a week before we began this interview. Rest in peace Ian.
“I spoke to him a few days before he died. He said something to me that I will never forget. He had a very positive mind and a great attitude towards life. He didn’t want to go down the typical cancer treatment route. He wanted to use alternative medicines. What he said to me on the phone call was, ‘Kevin, keep ringing me. I really appreciate the fact that you keep ringing me’. I said I will Ian and he said ‘Kevin, I love you” and I said ‘I love you too’. When he said that to me I thought ‘Wow! He has never ever said that before’. He knew he was going and it would be his last phone call to say goodbye”.
“My mother died in the July of 2016. The following year during a session at the tai chi summer training, Ravel’s “Bolero” was played”.
“As soon as I heard it I thought of my mother and I got all emotional. It worked my metal element. I got emotional and I had to leave the room. I thought no I am not going to show this in public, so I left the room. Then the thought came to mind that mum enjoyed that music. Why run away from it? I should embrace it, enjoy it, listen to it. Feel the joy instead. So I re-entered the room and embraced the music. Why hide my upset? I’ve done it in class before, had tears! I’m not afraid to show it but I don’t show it often”.
“If you need to calm down quickly just focus on your breath. Just take a few deep breaths. It can quickly bring some calmness. In time you can come to feel in control of your emotional chaos. I have gained control of my emotional chaos“.
“The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle was significant for me. It opened my mind in a different way. I had already started tai chi so the book felt symbolic. Observe yourself, mind and body. Become a witness of self. I’m sure if I read it again now I would take even more in”.
Kevin mentioned some key tai chi books like:
‘Cheng Tzu’s Thirteen Treatises on T’ai Chi Ch’uan’ by Cheng Man Ching and
‘The Essence and Application of Taijiquan‘ by Yang Cheng Fu… But added,
“Books are useful but they are not the be all and end all. Just reading about tai chi wont make sense. It’s another person’s interpretation. You have to feel it for yourself, your own interpretation”.
Learn by doing. Kevin told me, just as his teacher told him, not to write notes. Just do it and let it sink into you.
“It’s the doing, it’s the exploration, it’s the awareness, it’s feeling it inside“.
Kevin watches loads of vloggers, for example Adam Minzer.
He was particularly impressed once with a video of young woman doing our form with a bottle of water on her head. “The Lotus spin kick was incredible!”.
Favourite quiet places?
Panshanger park, Welwyn.
Ashlet’s Creek near the New Forest.
Any woods! “When you become quiet and still inside, you see all the movement“. Kevin described Ivy flowers during Autumn which embrace trees for support. “When you stand quietly and rest your eyes, the tree comes alive with multitudes of bees, butterflies wasps and many other insects vying for the late pollen…It is so easy to walk by and not notice!”.
He also described an Intense feeling of connection to something greater in Lanzarote. One night there, driving into the desert where there was no light pollution and he experienced internal quietness & wonder, under a sky FULL of stars * * * * * * *
COMING SOON: AN ARTICLE ABOUT MY MINDFULNESS (MBCT) TEACHER – HILARY ROBERTS . . . . . . .
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Tolle, E. (2001). The Power of Now. Hodder Paperback
Cheng M.-C.I., Lo B.P.J., Cheng T. (1985). Cheng Tzu’s Thirteen Treatises on T’ai Chi Ch’uan. North Atlantic Books
Cheng, Y. (2005). The Essence and Application of Taijiquan. North Atlantic Books