Thomas teaches Tai Chi and karate in Frome, Somerset. He grew up in Switzerland before traveling to South Africa to join a well-known karate school. He came across tai chi there and it has been a passion for over 30 years. For Thomas, the “beauty of tai chi is an endless discovery”.
Thomas: Tai chi is so big— this practice is so massive. For me, the best way I can express it is, if you live between mountains down in a valley, your view is what you can see when you look up the mountains. But the higher you get, the more you can see. And when you get to the top, you can see all this space and all these mountains and everything. So, even if you are the best of the best in tai chi, there are so many things you haven’t even touched on yet. To me, that is absolutely amazing and beautiful. And it is very humbling as well.
As a young man in Switzerland Thomas played many sports and rode motorbikes. But he hurt his knee and took up karate in his early 20s as part of his recovery. Eventually, he travelled to South Africa to train at a school there.
Even when I started karate, it was difficult because my knee was really bad. But I am a very stubborn, goat kind of person. So I was sticking at it, grinding my teeth and getting on with it. In South Africa I became friends with a guy who started as a dancer, then did karate and then tai chi. He was very good in expressing himself and when I saw him doing a certain movement—it was so amazingly beautiful. I just instantly got attracted to that flowing motion, slow motion. And obviously when you start doing something you start digging and you start looking into philosophy and deeper meanings and all kinds of stuff.
Q: Is learning tai chi difficult?
Thomas: It’s like peeling an onion. It hurts… it burns your eyes. It’s a painful process and you take layers and layers off your tensions and hurts and all kinds of things of your life… peeling it all off. And inside is this beautiful thing. It is like a diamond that is not polished yet or cut. And then you start cutting it and polishing it and then you really see the beauty of it.
In tai chi, we have long physical deep stances and they can be quite physically demanding. But with time the physical goes away more and more. It becomes so refined that you don’t need the heavy physical any more. Maybe some people get there in two years. Other people need 20 years. It is a very individual thing and I don’t think that is important. But the path is important—every step you take is about being in the here and now. I am here now. I do this.
Q: Has tai chi changed your life?
Thomas: I think you become more fluid in everything you do. Even when you deal with people, you become more aware and more sensitive to how people are. You can just flow with that. And tai chi is all about flowing with what there is. So you flow with nature, with the environment. There is no resistance, no confrontation, or fighting. It profoundly affects your life.
I have a teacher up in Cumbria. He is maybe 80 now. He is still in very good shape. He is not teaching any more but I go and visit him sometimes. He is a really nice guy. We discuss some stuff. If I have some questions, I ask him.
I used to get upset if I couldn’t do something. I don’t do that anymore. It almost holds you back. You acknowledge that you struggle with something but you have to let it go. One of my teachers said, “You start to do tai chi when you don’t have to think about the movement any more.”
At some point in your practice, you have to find it yourself. Sometimes, when it is given to you, it hasn’t got that much meaning. It is different when you actually dig it out yourself