GARRETH HODGINS

1.  How (and when) did you start?
I started training in Practical Tai Chi Chuan in 1993, when I was studying in University College Dublin. My initial interest in training Tai Chi was motivated by an interest in learning a martial art which had a philosophical element to it. I was interested in learning something which had a higher purpose, possibly due to my years spent as an altar boy and choir boy, which circumvented the aggression of the attacker rather than encountering it head on. I had already had several unpleasant experiences with violence before I began Tai Chi and was always acutely aware of the resonances which remain when you go head to head against a violent and aggressive person. I wanted an art which would allow me to function efficiently in the face of such encounters without sullying my humanity too much.

2.  Why Practical Tai Chi Chuan?
The U.C.D. Tai Chi club attracted a lot of very interesting people, some of whom were very talented. Firstly, there was Alan Peatfield, the man who introduced Practical Tai Chi Chuan to Ireland. Alan is a very insightful and highly educated individual who always enriches my understanding of Tai Chi, martial arts and meditation (amongst other things). Secondly, there was my coach when I competed, Paul Mitchell. He gave me the focused determination and practical skills to overcome many of my own personal demons and become an effective martial artist. I was never at his level, in terms of competitive success, but am happy that I fought in a professional full contact San Shou event (Open weight) on the Lei tai, won a British Shuai Jiao heavyweight championship and three European silver medals in pushing hands (open weight). Thirdly, there was my old sparring partner, Niall Keane, whom I had a few ding dongs with in training. Lastly, but most importantly, there is Dan himself. Anybody who persists in learning Dan’s style is receiving a magnificent gift. His own experiences, both as a fighter and a police officer, make his approach remarkably sound and practical. Subsequent to training in Dan’s style, I also became an Instructor in Systema under Vladimir Vasiliev and Martin Wheeler (and taught seminars in the U.K., Belgium and the U.S.) and scenario training for combatives under Rory Miller. Dan’s practical Tai Chi Chuan works against fully adrenalized and committed opponents. However, it is also a rich source of Chinese culture and wisdom. Dan’s understanding of Chinese culture makes him a unique blend of the practical and the abstract. Before accepting us to Bai Shi, Dan asked those students wanting to learn nei gung to write a short explanation of the reasons why. I remember my tongue in cheek response was “To make the world a better place, with me in it”. As I’ve gotten older, as a teacher, as a Father and as a man, I’ve realised that Dan’s Tai Chi has fulfilled this promise.

3.      What is your favourite technique - and why? (in 50 words)

My favourite technique is the transition between “Separate hands” and “Tiger embraces head” because this dynamic movement is such a practical entry technique which opens up so many opportunities to break the opponent’s will. It is great “dirty boxing”. It is genius martial arts.

 4.  One piece of advice or knowledge you would like to give to fellow practitioners:
Be resilient. Too many people talk the talk. We all make mistakes, but Tai Chi Chuan is about achieving integrity in everything you do. Go about your business quietly and always emphasise the internal journey. You are your own teacher. The noisiest teachers can negate your own development. Trust the quiet one’s who really know their stuff, like Steve Wooster. Also allow yourself to explore everything that the art means. Meditate on the meaning of the names of postures. I, myself, began to learn Mandarin Chinese a few years ago and am now moving towards achieving the HSK 5 level fluency exam in the language. Learning the characters has really opened up a new way of thinking and feeling about the art.

5.       How do you train now?
I always emphasise conditioning, nei gung and getting the basics as correct as you possibly can. I still do my handstands and 20 minutes punching with weights along with kettlebell work and static holds 4 – 5 days each week. I am returning to getting my nei gung, chi gung and hand form done at 6 a.m. So, I follow the changes of ying and yang. I teach secondary school students at the school where I teach so I don’t get to play rough so much at the moment. As I said before, resilience is key. Keep some quiet pride in yourself as a Tai Chi practitioner and as a martial artist because the clock never goes backwards. I can attest that regular practice of Tai Chi Chuan has also helped me to keep the many women in my life happy.