AL DORAN - MARTIAL ARTS COMMANDO
I last played rugby when I was 16. I quit because in a game with fellow students, I ended up at...
1. How (and when) did you start?
I started in about 1993. During Freshers week in University College Dublin I stumbled across a bunch of lads promoting their Tai Chi Chuan club. I'd been interested in Tai Chi as a martial art for a long time - and didn't expect to find one in Ireland. Anyway - I went along to training, and that was that. The teacher at that club was Alan Peatfield - you may know him by the name that Dan gave him - Doctor Death. About half way through that year, Dan came and gave a seminar. Anyway, after I'd learned the Short Form, the Sabre Form, and the rudiments of Pushing Hands, I got the chance to Bai Shi with Dan and to begin the journey of learning the internal strength exercises. That was it. For those few years, I was only ever to be found in the gym, in the bar, or at a party. I wasn't the most dedicated of students towards my academic studies. I couldn't get enough Tai Chi though - and I'd say, that on average, I probably put in 2-3 hours of training, per day, every day. I was lucky that, two months before my finals, I totalled my ankle while sparring with Paul Mitchell. If it hadn't been for that stroke of good luck, I'd have failed right out of university.
2. Why Practical Tai Chi Chuan?
When I first discovered the club, the only thing I knew about Tai Chi was all the magical nonsense that we've all heard - you know - energy from the fingertips throwing people across the room, or a touch on the body that would result in the fellow's spleen erupting 48 hours later, and so on.
As soon as I heard of Dan, I began to buy Combat Magazine, as Dan had a column every month - and I was trying to soak up everything that I could about Tai Chi as Dan saw it. Dan in his writing and his teaching removed all the silliness from it, and brought it to an eminently practical, and evidently honest level. Everything Dan showed worked, and was clearly pragmatic. There was no question of remaining in a cocoon of forms for 20 years, before emerging as a fully-formed fighter and enlightened sage. There was practice hard, train hard, pay attention, and think carefully. This appealed to me a lot more than magical ideas. And then there was the fact that we had evidence that our style was practical. We'd hear the stories of Ray White, and Godfrey Dornelly, and Neil Rosiak, and Aidan Cochrane, and Steve Wooster, and all the other heroes who trained with Dan in London. Stories of fun, and drinking, and winning pushing hands and full contact competitions all over the place. And there was, of course, THAT video of Dan and the redoubtable Roy Pink. There was, at the time, nothing like our style anywhere, of which I was aware. I was hooked. In short - the style was practical by name, and it was practical by nature (and still is!).
3. What is your favourite technique - and why? (in 50 words)
Probably Grasping the Bird's Tail. It is just so eminently practical. (There's that word again). There are so many ways to use it, and so many things into which you can flow from it.
4. One piece of advice or knowledge you would like to give to fellow practitioners:
For me, it is to remember that it is a martial art, and the martial comes first - even where your interest is solely in the meditative aspects, the enjoyment of the beauty of the physical movements, and the harmony of the partner work. For me, I get the best out of all these when I keep in mind that these are martial practices for martial purpose. It helps me to keep a better structure, and to, I suppose, "stay in the moment" which is all the rage these days. It also helps me to transfer the physical learning from the forms and pushing hands into the practical fighting side. Mind you - I'm no Paul Mitchell or Dan Docherty. I am not sure that Dan's expression "Fine work, neatly done" could credibly be used to describe my Tai Chi. There is always more refinement, and more improvement, another dimension, and another interpretation. I'd also add that for me, it is important to have fun, and to get to know other people across our broad and deep network of Practical Tai Chi Chuan practitioners across Europe and beyond. I would say that traveling to a seminar elsewhere, or to a gathering is always a fantastic experience. The chance to meet and train with a wide range of people always delivers a huge boost to my own learning, as well as giving me a chance to meet fantastic people, and to party with them. I'd encourage everyone to pay attention to the events on our page, and to pick at least one every year, and make sure to get to it. You will be delighted that you did.
5. How do you train now?
Because of my professional life, and having young kids - my training is more like a wave than a straight line. Right now, I'm in a trough - so I am ticking over with punching weights, hand form, weapons forms, Nei Kung, and general calisthenics. I don't have much opportunity at the moment to meet up with my local pals for training. But Niall Keane and Anthony Carney and I will soon get back up and running with regular training together - and that will be great. Naturally - anyone will be welcome to join in to train with us.
We will also seek to bring together anyone else who trains or who has previously trained in PTCC in Ireland for some training and some food and drink, divers alarums, and general mayhem.
Cormac is the admin for the group on: https://www.facebook.com/groups/PPTCC/