Around the middle to the end of 1985 I started to get pain in my feet when I walked, I went to the doctor who gave me some anti-inflammatory pills, but these symptoms got progressively worse. After nearly a year of dutifully taking increasingly strong medication orally I was in the position that when I walked, every step I took felt like walking on knives. I was at this point referred to a specialist who diagnosed that I had a form of arthritis, and suggested that the best course of treatment would now be to inject steroids directly into my feet.
Hearing the diagnosis and suggested treatment I had a strong feeling that there had to be a better way than this for dealing with my problem. After much inner struggle I decided to throw all the pills I had been prescribed into the bin and undertake a short course of Acupuncture.
I began to realise that underlying my symptoms was the fact that I was seriously 'stressed out' at work. I basically hated my job and the demands it put on me. At this time my Acupuncturist suggested that I might like to consider Tai Chi classes as a means of becoming more relaxed. I found a class soon afterwards of the Lee family style and within a couple of months, without any form of medication or further treatment all my symptoms disappeared! I was pain free for the first time in nearly a year. I still did not like my work, and although it didn't get to me in quite the same way again it was to be another three years until I started to seriously question my basic attitude and approach to this job, and look at how I was contributing towards my dissatisfaction and the difficulties I experienced.
18 months after I started it, the Tai Chi class folded. At this point, with my health much improved, I went back to practising Aikido for the next 18 months, which I had suspended when the pain in my feet got bad. A little while later I suffered a shoulder injury whilst training where the muscle sheath was torn and healed leaving scar tissue. This injury was still giving some inconvenience and lack of mobility in 1989 when I decided to try and do something about it. Adamant that I was not going to take pills again to relieve symptoms, I went to see a Shiatsu practitioner.
I had a strong deja vu when she suggested that I try Tai Chi! She gave me the name of a local teacher - one Alec Jones of Rising Dragon Tai Chi School. I immediately gave him a ring and on the 15th September 1989 started my first class with him.
Alec very patiently suffered my interminable questions as I persistently asked why this that and the other was different to what thought I already I knew. Gradually I began to realise that one very major difference between RDTC and what I had experienced before (beneficial as that had been to me) was that this school whilst offering a number of formal sequences of movements (forms) placed a special emphasis on the importance of principles. The very first principle I learnt with Alec was 'Soft Limit' - basically, that one should be sensitive to the limitations of ones own body. In other words not to expect that I should be able to play any particular movement exactly like he or anyone did, nor even like I did myself last week or yesterday.
Soft limit simply asks that I respect and take care of my own body as it is now, moving into postures with relaxation, releasing rather than forcing. I find after many years of working with the principle of soft limit, that the injured shoulder that originally connected me to RDTC has gradually improved and now actually has more flexibility than before it was injured! It was I believe my growing appreciation of Tai Chi principles which allowed me to take a long hard look at myself and why I found my work life so conflicted.
I stayed with that job for another two and a half years, and was able to leave on good terms finally feeling at peace with the job and the people I worked with; a stark contrast to previously where my constant thought was "how can I escape from this awful job" with every intention of waving two fingers as I left!
I think apart from meeting a wonderful group of people, my continued interest in Tai Chi, is due to my observation that Tai Chi principles offer a very practical philosophy for living skilfully and harmoniously in every day life - a practice in which I still have much to learn! Tai Chi has become for me now a path, a never ending process in which I hope that I will continue to deepen my understanding and more deeply experience my relationship to the mystery of life.