I discovered Tai Chi originally in 2004 when I was searching for something to improve the state of my lower back. I had been suffering since the mid-1980s from intermittent crippling pain from two prolapsed discs.
I found Wu's Academy via a web search for a conveniently-located club, did a short introductory course and signed up as a beginner member in April 2004, but a few months later another bout of back pain left me unable to walk, and I had to stop training.
Having recovered, although with some permanent weakness in one leg, I finally mustered the will to "get back on the horse" in spring 2006, and I've been training hard ever since. I go to the club 4 or 5 times a week and since January 2010 I have run a Saturday morning 37 Forms class. I'm currently working to learn the Wu Family style Sword, which I enjoy immensely.
I regularly compete in events in the UK and overseas, in fixed step pushing hands and sword and sabre forms, and am on the organizing committee of the London Competition for Traditional Tai Chi Chuan which has been going from strength to strength for the past six years. I have been on the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain's Judges' Training Program for several years and have served as an assistant judge at a number of competitions.
I had the honour of becoming a Closed Door student of Sifu Gary Wragg in April 2009, and underwent a discipleship ceremony before Grandmaster Wu Kwong Yu in May 2012. Also in 2012 I passed the Level 3 Duan Wei grading at the Hong Kong Academy, and became a Wu Style Federation Certified Instructor, having attended the instructor training program in the UK for several years.
Before I took up Tai Chi some friends had suggested I should try yoga or Pilates for my back problem, but I just couldn't see myself sticking with either of those. I didn't know at the time that Tai Chi was such a great martial art -- an aspect I really enjoy now -- but gathered that it offered benefits similar to those of yoga -- stretching, breath control, meditation -- while also being much more complex and interesting. I reckon I made the right choice, and consider myself particularly lucky to have chosen the the best possible club. Sifu Gary keeps things quite traditional and is a (fairly) hard taskmaster. The depth and breadth of his knowledge of Tai Chi, his skill and his meticulous approach make him an inspirational teacher.
Since I began training again in 2006 I have not had another serious episode of back pain, despite frequently being twisted up and thrown to the floor in my role as the Bethnal Green club's Crash Test Dummy. I only wish I had found Tai Chi thirty years ago when I was a bit more flexible, both physically and mentally – making progress would have been much less like hard work!