Ian Harkin

Twenty years of Tai Chi with Jan and Tai Chi Ireland

“I first took Tai Chi lessons with Jan Golden in spring of 1999, in Westwood Gym, we tore through the Wu style short form in an amazing six weeks and I loved it. What we were doing was so relaxing compared to the frantic activity on the exercise machines outside.

After that I didn’t do much Tai Chi for about a year, but then a friend mentioned that Jan was giving lessons close to where I lived. I joined the very next course. It was clear straight away that Jan had developed a new teaching style in the meantime, because he had broken down the form into sections and now taking four months instead of six weeks to go over the Wu short form, and he was teaching in more detail.

Jan has developed and progressively slowed down the pace of teaching and emphasises principles over memorising long sequences of moves. When he feels students have grasped the outline of the form he will often go back and give a greater grounding in the principles behind the particular posture or move, and has at different times tried to make us more aware of this by using posture corrections, static testing, standing, and cloud hands, and shown us push hands practice and some of the possible combat applications of many of the moves to convey the original intentions of the creator of that move.
Whenever he feels he has mastered a new technique of piece of Tai Chi lore he is very quick to pass it on to his students and he is never too proud to admit a mistake or to change a teaching practice when he discovers a correction or a better way of doing it. Also, he has shared with us his growing understanding of bio-mechanics and anatomy and how the different tai chi moves affect the structure of the body. The disadvantage of this is that when some of us learned the Wu Long Form, it took almost a year to reach the end of the sequence! Over the years he has introduced us to other tai chi forms, including two different variants of Yang style, and most recently a variant of Hun Yuan style.

As a ‘head person’ who enjoys working with the brain rather than the body, I knew I had developed the habit of ignoring problems with the body, and I hoped that Tai Chi would help me with this. At first, I was fascinated by the movements, and I enjoyed the intricacies that force you to pay attention and focus your mind on your practice.
However the physical benefits began to come after a few months. I found that my balance and posture improved as I paid more attention to the way I walked. Some people even commented that I seem taller. Also I became more aware of my breathing, and noticed that it I was naturally using slower and deeper breaths while doing Tai Chi and discovered that the same breathing techniques could help me relax outside my practice.
I am healthier because I do Tai Chi – this is not just because tai chi in itself is a healthy practice, although this is true, and if you don’t take care of yourself in any other way, just doing Tai Chi as a form of exercise will help to keep you healthy.
But for me, it is the unexpected lessons that I learn that are the most rewarding. I discovered how much we are distracted in our every-day lives and in Tai Chi you quickly learn that to get the best out of it you must use all your attention and be completely present in the moment.This made me more aware of my bad habits and their effects. If I didn’t get enough sleep because I drank too much coffee and stayed up too late, maybe I should try drinking less caffeine and getting to bed earlier. By being more conscious of such things, the overall quality of my life is improved.
And finally I discovered that you can use the will to relax – Tai Chi allows you to relax without really thinking about it consciously, but you can also come to a point where you can actually order a certain muscle or group of muscles to relax. I have not mastered this, but the fact that I can do it at all when I previously thought it was impossible is an indication that there may be further surprising rewards to be gained from continuing to improve my Tai Chi.”