Howard: I was asked a question a while back and it set me thinking that I should answer it in the form of a story of my journey to becoming a teacher of Tai Chi.
The question was: What inspired you to become an instructor of Tai Chi? It may surprise you to know I was a reluctant teacher.
After I had been training for three years, I was blessed by being invited by Chee Soo to his advanced courses in Dunstable near London. A six hour car journey at the crack of dawn to arrive before the 9am start on the Saturday morning and a six hour return journey home on the Sun night after the 5pm finish. Quite a commitment I think you will agree.
Later Chee Soo moved to Coventry. Yeh! A bonus that was only a three hour journey. Here I was blessed again by meeting Jo Hartford. Jo was Chee Soo’s senior Tai Chi instructor at that time. A wonderful generous lady, always ready to pass on her knowledge to others.
After training with her one morning, she asked me who my teacher was. I explained I no longer had one. One had gone back to Karate and the other was now working as a taxi driver, so unable to take a class anymore. I explained I could only learn by coming to courses as often as I could.
After training with Jo two or three times over the following months she said. You’re keen I will help you learn the form if you wish starting today in the lunch break. Eat your lunch first then I will spend half an hour teaching you the form. Would you like that? My answer Oh! Yes please.
So over the next two or three years I was able to benefit from Jo’s vast Tai Chi experience every two weeks in the lunch break. She also taught me about I Fu Shou and Chi & Li energy expressions etc for part of each training day as well as the lunchtime private lesson. For this I will be forever grateful. I was humbled by her dedication to my improvement and worked hard to gain the perfection she demanded. Later after Jo was no longer attending the courses, I was considered by my peers to be the foremost authority on the Tai Chi form, and the standard of my students were admired by all. Jo as far as I know no longer teaches in her advanced years. I am now so, so grateful for the help she gave me in learning and understanding our wonderful and fascinating arts.
Around this time Chee Soo was badgering me to open a class. One day whilst training with Jo I was complaining to her about Chee Soo’s consistent nagging. Jo paused in thought for a moment and then looked me straight in the eye and said. “Howard, one day you will have to make this decision. Do you train only for yourself to constantly improve your abilities or do you start to teach others? If you choose to teach others your own personal progress may seem to you to be slower. I am not saying one is right and the other wrong. Only that, you will have to make that choice one day”.
And Jo was right constantly pushed by Chee Soo to teach over the next year, who when I told him I didn’t know enough to teach anyone replied. “You know more than they do because they have never done it”. I reiterated that I was not knowledgable enough. Chee Soo Said. “If not you, then who”? Tai Chi was little known in those days, back in early 1970s.
And that did it. That was my light bulb moment. I realised if Chee Soo, Jo and the other instructors didn’t teach I would not have had the opportunity to learn this fascinating life enhancing art.
So I resolved to open a class as soon as possible, deciding that to keep this knowledge to myself would be incredibly selfish.
Once I made that decision, I suddenly became very nervous. I was just a normal working guy with no teaching experience at all. But I had made the decision and there was no going back. I am without doubt blessed with a persistent nature (some say stubborn). And with Jo’s and Chee Soo’s support over time I developed a successful class and found my new venture challenging but also very, very rewarding.
As I have become older I have given much thought as to how I can pass on my knowledge. Taking multiply daily classes is no longer an option as I did when I was in my 30s and 40s.
So with the help of a close friend and my supportive wife Gisela, together we produced a video on the Short Form which was followed by two more covering the rest of the Long Form. Later as DVDs became popular we remade them and improved the format along with adding many others. In fact now we have a library of 18 training DVDs. I am constantly receiving encouragement from students here and abroad who thank me for the quality of our DVDs as a training aid. The format is designed to teach not to show off. I sincerely hope that comes across.
However, the world moves on and everything needs to be easily accessible. So after polling students and previous customers of our training materials as to what they would find most useful, the top answer was ‘online access’. So I delved in at the deep end again, completely ignorant of the enormity of the task. Developing an online training website that allows subscribers to access videos of all aspects of our marvellous arts has been no mean feat.
But I don’t quit when the going gets tough, I dig deep and persevere. Why! Because when Chee Soo passed on, after a time of grieving and feeling lost. I made a personal commitment to:
Use Tai Chi to help people gain a greater level of health and happiness.
Then help them share that with others.
And I take that very seriously. I do my best to carry on the legacy of my mentors Chee Soo and Jo Hartford and try to continue that generosity of heart they both showed to me.
So now we have many classes students can attend, courses to attend, training DVDs and manuals to learn with, and now also an online training website. And through our teacher training programme we are creating more instructors all the time,too.
I feel privileged to have the honour to carry on this work. It gives me so much satisfaction to hear from people about the benefits and enjoyment they get from their Tai Chi practise.
And to those who choose to help me in this work by becoming teachers themselves. Often overcoming personal doubts and fears, the same way I had done, I applaud you for your courage. And thank you for your support. And to all the students we teach, thank you also for being enthusiastic about our amazing arts. And if you should feel like becoming a teacher yourself one day then please do contact me about our teacher training programme.
Howard Gibbon was born in Hull in 1946 and began training under Chee Soo from 1973. He has been an instructor of both Tai Chi Chuan and Feng Shou Kung Fu since 1976 and is the holder of the 6th Tengchi Master Grade. He lives with his artist wife Gisela in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, England.
Howard’s early fascination for Tai Chi soon grew into a life-time vocation, realising that Tai Chi went beyond a purely physical discipline, that it was also a tool for self-development, spiritual growth, and a way of helping himself and others to achieve holistic health and well-being. Extremely proficient in the Feng Shou self defence arts, Howard nevertheless felt a special love for the various Tai Chi Forms, K’ai Men and Dao Yin. In fact he is famous for being Chee Soo’s only instructor who practised the Tai Chi form every morning, with the exception of Christmas Day, for 15 years! (And he is still practising the Tai Chi form, with an odd exception, on a daily basis!)
Chee Soo had hundreds, perhaps thousands of Tai Chi students who entered his training halls through the years. One of those students was Howard, respected by his peers as the foremost authority on the Lee Family Tai Chi form. Howard’s and Chee Soo’s friendship was legendary and it is a privilege for those who today train under Howard to be shown an art so ancient, taught as he was taught, undiluted by fads and fashions, imbued with love, enthusiasm, precision and quality.
Chee Soo passed away in 1994. In order to safeguard the continuation of the Arts and their philosophy, Howard founded the East-West Taoist Association in 1999.
Howard takes regular all-day Tai Chi courses and grading days for EWTA members.
Businesses and organisations wishing to have Howard conduct a workshop for them should contact him first by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org