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How Tai Chi Saved My Life

book cover


After a double knee replacement I fell and severed 3 quadriceps on both legs, this went unnoticed for 4 years, then 2 x 5hr attempted and failed rebuilds.  My right leg became infected and I had another knee replacement with an antibiotic spacer and 3 months of intravenous antibiotics. Two years afterwards, that leg became infected again (I had been fighting the infection for the whole 2 years)  leading to 5 more surgeries including removal of the knee, another antibiotic spacer and eventually an arthrodesis (fusing the leg straight with an iron bar through the middle) and another 3 months on intravenous antibiotics. For a prolonged period it was ‘touch and go’ as to whether I would survive and a cocktail of strong painkillers and 5 strong antibiotics often took me to the brink of both pain and madness.

All through this time my Tai Chi never left me. I practiced neigong, qigong and tai chi, laying in and sitting on my hospital bed, wheelchair and perching stool until I could do it standing and stepping (in my own inimitable fashion) doing tai chi ‘like a man with a broken arse’.

At one time I was apparently begging the doctors to amputate my leg, (I don’t remember this) and often didn’t know who was visiting me, I had phantom visitors and was stroking dogs that weren’t there. I suffered severe panic attacks caused by the drugs and could only control them by sitting on the edge of the bed and practicing neigong. The Buddha asked “where do you go for refuge” and luckily after 40 years of meditating I knew where to go in my mind that couldn’t be touched by anything to do with life. I would sit there repeating “this is not me, it’s not reality” again and again, each time I stopped meditating the panic would return and I would meditate again until I won.

Prolonged surgery and bed rest leads to a tortured, twisted body so the seated postural training coupled with correct breathing and mental awareness, focus, sensitivity and intensity meant that I could combine posture, breath and my mind to adjust, soften and relax the muscles around my lungs, leading to deeper more relaxed breathing, my heart, to stop arrhythmia and my spine to loosen and lengthen it.

The Qigong meant that I could open the myofascia and joints and soften, connect, open, close, stretch, compress, twist and release the body core (referred to as the ‘Deep Front Line’ in bodywork) enhancing blood and neurological flow.

The Tai Chi meant that I could put all this together and engage in my favourite skilled exercise, albeit seated, keeping connected to the life I love. At times the pain I had to endure bought those around me to tears wondering if I would ever make it. I think the continuous practice of Tai Chi and the support of family and everyone around me helped, including a large group of my long term Martial Art friends that kept my classes going – and along with my wife and daughter fed the news of what was going on back to me. The Martial Art thread through everything in my life kept me on the road to healing and good health. I even managed to publish my book ‘Warrior’s Mind’ from my hospital bed!

My last surgery was in October last year and I’ve been ‘clear’ of infection since the beginning of this year but am still in deep recovery.  Chronic fatigue and coping with a right fused leg, only one quadricep in each leg, a metal knee and seriously displaced kneecap in the left leg mean that my training options are limited, but still a total of a couple of hours of neigong, qigong and tai chi throughout the day keep me healthy and happy.

Never underestimate the power of the softer arts, not only combatively with others but in the fight for your own heath, sanity and life.  That 40 years of ‘insurance’ training for when I needed it paid off for me in ‘spades’. I am sure that without it I wouldn’t be here now.

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Don’t Think – Feel…

Photo on 18-03-2016 at 09.21


“If you work on your mind with your mind, how can you not be confused?”

A very common problem with the students I teach. They know that they are stuck, they know that they are suffering as a result.  It’s all very well telling them to ‘think outside the box’ or to find the ‘infinite stillness within’ or as Bruce Lee would say “don’t think, feel” but if thinking is the tool that you’ve always used to problem solve, you’re stuck.  You can only work on your mind with your mind up to a point.

And the mind is arrogant, particularly if you see yourself as a thinker and more intelligent than most, that thing that’s made you what you are is now your worst enemy. When you think that you have been meditating and think that you’re good at it, you know all the philosophy behind it and can quote all the great masters, when you’re giving great ‘re-quoted’ advice to others, you’re only digging yourself a deeper hole.

You don’t understand why you’re still suffering. Why you still feel that deep discomfort. Why you can’t just ‘do’ a good technique, why you never look natural. You constantly strive to follow your own advice and yet it still doesn’t work. You’re still scared, scared of sickness and death, scared of not having enough money, scared of not being well though of by others, your ego will hold on like grim death and the more you think….. the worse it gets.

Knowing ‘about’ something is not the same as ‘knowing’ it. Thinking about it is not the same as ‘feeling’ it.  It’s simple, but simple is not always easy. This is why we have to find stillness, why we have to work on good posture, deep breathing, mental awareness, focus, sensitivity and intensity. We have to learn to focus on one thing and every time the mind goes dull or wanders, dispassionately bring it back until that focus can be sustained.

When focus can be sustained the mind will spontaneously become ‘absorbed’ and still, this is when true insight and wisdom can be accessed, a direct experience that is felt rather than thought, the ego has come to a standstill and the true infinite can be directly experienced. Completely different to what you thought it was.

I have many ‘friendly’ arguments with students that think that they have it but are still working on the mind with the mind and despite thinking in circles cannot accept what I’m trying to tell them, often they will blame me because they think they are doing everything they can. It’s there for the taking but the arrogance of the ego and false humility will constantly block them until they go through this process and find it for themselves.

It’s no coincidence that a ‘proper’ Tai Chi form takes 20 minutes to complete in good posture, good breathing and focused, soft continuous spiralling, it’s by design that some moves are repeated several times in the form so you have to be aware of exactly where you are to know which sequence comes next. “Short Forms’ are for the impatient and those that want a quick fix.

The intellectual arrogance of the ‘thinker’ knows no bounds – but the ‘way’ is simple and requires no thought.

By Steve Rowe

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Kung Fu Kids Codes


Below are listed the Kung Fu Kids codes that we teach at our club listed in the briefest and most memorable way to help you remember….

Our 4 Rules (recited in Dojo every lesson)

Practice every day

Never attack anyone

Balance training, nutrition and rest

Good behaviour at all times

Good Values

Respect yourself

Respect others

Value the environment

Seek Knowledge

Achieve your potential

Contribute positively


Good Manners

Say hello/goodbye

Say please/thank you/excuse me

Be on time

Wait your turn

Sit properly

Ask before using

Ask before moving

Don’t interrupt or yell out

Don’t swear

Don’t embarrass others


Good Behaviour

You are responsible for your actions

We all have rights and responsibilities

Negative behaviour = consequences

Care courtesy respect responsibility – code of behaviour

Bullying and harassment aren’t fair and hurt people

Positive behaviour = reward

Our rules protect your rights


Good Social Skills

Develop self esteem

Develop good values

Use good manners

Develop good people skills

Communicate effectively with others

Build and maintain friendships

Work cooperatively in groups

Manage and resolve conflict

Make good choices in challenging situations

Avoid anti social behaviour


Good People Skills


Use good manners

Acknowledge others

Use greetings

Use people’s names

Look at people when talking


Accept differences

Respect opinions of others

Give compliments


Code of behaviour


For others

For the school environment


Acknowledge others

Speak politely

Use good Manners


Others and their property

School rules


Be well presented

Be punctual and prepared

Do your best




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What Tai Chi Gives Me

Photo on 03-03-2016 at 10.27


Tai Chi allows me to let go.  When we can’t let go we are consumed with anxiety, fear, anger and desire. Often we don’t know it because we are it, we are consumed and unhappy. Some people darken a room when they enter and some light it up. Those that darken it are consumed by all those negative traits and can’t understand why their life is so bad. Those that lighten it have learned to let them go and are ‘awake’ to the balance of light and dark known as yin and yang – they have found balance.

If we cut ourself, we treat the injury, clean it, dress it and allow it to heal. If our emotions are hurt we can do the same or keep repeating the injury again and again. If we’re not wise to how this works and haven’t developed an emotional toolbox to deal with these problems, we are destined to keep repeating the process and get darker and more troubled inside the trap.

Tai Chi is for all abilities and ages, it physically calms me down and empowers me, good posture and good breathing is an excellent tool to release excess physical tension. The yin standing postures remind me to be kind, patient, compassionate and tolerant and the yang to have resolve, courage and determination. The qigong opens the tissue and joints flexing the spine and core and the form gives a 20 minute meditation where the mind has to remain aware, focused, sensitive and intense in a never ending spiral dance of movement. Push hands teaches me how to work with others, to be able to harmonise with both their body in movement and mind. The weapons how to blend with the inanimate and make them extensions to my body.

The martial aspect teaches me how to keep the peace, within myself in times of stress and negate the imbalance in others maintaining my dignity and protecting those around me.

Tai Chi keeps an engaged heart, it doesn’t turn away from life, it fully engages in it and enjoys the balance of a constantly moving and changing universe without trying to ‘own’ or ‘possess’ things or people, it’s an engagement of positivity and wisdom realising that joy and happiness can only exist in contrast to pain and suffering, that one creates the other in a constant spiral of yin and yang.  When we ‘try’ to happy, we can’t, it’s spontaneous, borne out of that deep wisdom that comes from a daily training regimen of ‘letting’ go of trying to own, possess, attract or push anything away.

When the body has no excess tension, neither does the mind, one is a reflection of the other, when the mind is bright it animates the body, when it is focused, sensitive and intense anything can be achieved in harmony with those around you and your environment.

Why not give Tai Chi a go?  The benefits are more far reaching than most people realise.

If you are in Medway Kent UK click on this link to find the author’s club.