The first time Kevin Lannon saw tai chi was when his nephew was involved at a local Karate event. That evening lots of martial artists performed on the stage and then a couple came on. They moved slowly, in symmetry, connected in every way.
“Watching it calmed me down. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen. These two energies work together. I thought to myself I would like to do that someday. It planted the seed,” Kevin stated.
Ten years later Kevin began tai chi classes. He was at a low point after the breakdown of a relationship. “I noticed I was getting aches and pains and I thought I shouldn’t be feeling this at my age. I needed to change my life,” he told me.
He called a locally advertised class and was sent formal instructions including, “When you come into class you have to bow to your teacher.”
This felt too strict, so he found another class in St. Albans. Kevin recalled his first class there while entering a room full of people. The main teacher Joop Brouwer, who presently teaches in Lancaster, England, introduced himself and asked everyone to form a circle and introduce themselves. Kevin found this suitably easy-going but remembers feeling so nervous that he rushed and garbled his words.
“Then we started the class and that was it; that hooked me!” he declared.
What Is Tai Chi?
“It is different for everybody. To me, it is an opportunity to discover, an opportunity to observe, an opportunity to change, an opportunity to be a better self.”
“Tai chi increases awareness of the intrinsic connection between the mind and body and their connection becomes one. We have different brain parts which can oppose each other, and we might not realise and become disconnected with our bodies. The mind and body want to do different things. You have the external self and the internal self in a constant dance always pushing against each other. When you can meld them together to work in unison, it's amazing what they can do and how calm you can feel,” Kevin remarked.
“It's about finding balance, not just physical but mental, emotional and spiritual balance between the five elements,” Kevin added. The five elements help us recognise and manage our emotions.”
Can Tai Chi Calm the Mind?
“Tai chi definitely calms the mind in my opinion.”
Has it Calmed Your Mind?”
“Oh absolutely! There are times when people around me are panicking and I think why they don’t just sit back and look at the problem and… do something positive rather than panic.”
He continued, “In a moment of panic, yang energy comes up in reaction. Some can respond from a good place because they can deal with that, but most people freeze. I have learnt over the years to stay calm. Whenever things are tough just stay relaxed. Those are easy words to say but through practising tai chi I found I can do it. It gives clarity of mind. That’s what happens when you stay calm; you have clarity of mind.”
“How Does Tai Chi Calm the Mind?”
“By being present, being in the moment, not thinking about what’s going to happen tomorrow or what happened in the past. Just being in the moment.”
What are Other Benefits of Tai Chi?
Kevin told me that other than calmness and clarity, tai chi helps him feel joy, passion, and a type of connection. Tai chi also helps him feel grounded, gives him direction, focus, and the ability to let go.
“I can recognise an emotional response through physical signs such as dryness of mouth, an uprising surge in the body, tension, and do something about it because I understand what it is. I can reflect and choose not to lose my temper,” he said.
Has Tai Chi Grown Your Confidence?
“Yes absolutely. When you find that peace other things start to change. Your confidence starts to change and your esteem. Your place on this planet changes. I used to be very conscious of who was around looking, when I did tai chi outside. I had no confidence whatsoever. The first time I taught with Joop he said, ‘Stay calm I know this is your first time’ and I said ‘Yeah yeah no problem,’ but when it came to it, the sweat was pouring off me… and I just wanted to get it over and done quickly. How that has changed over the years!” Kevin reflected.
“So yes, I have gained a lot more confidence. Tai chi has given me the confidence to connect with people. When you are being your best self, being you, whether it’s the quiet yin you or the yang you, you’re being present,” he added.
Because of his tai chi practice, Kevin also noticed his weight was often on the outside of his feet. “I had already caused damage to my knees because I hadn’t noticed it before,” he told me.
He thinks he had a twenty-year habit of walking that way, following an accident.
“If your weight is not centred over each foot, the knee joints will not be in the right place, so of course that damage got worse and worse. I didn't know tai chi could change that, but it developed my self-observation, and I noticed it. I had x-rays on both my knees. My left knee looked to be the worst and was going to be operated on, but I told the doctor, ‘No I want the right one operated on because it gives me terrible pain!’”
The pain was so bad that it affected Kevin while getting in and out of cars, and even lying in bed was painful for him.
“Whilst doing tai chi it was fine, but the damage was already done,” he admitted. “Maybe I started [tai chi] too late and became aware of [not having his weight centered over each foot] too late.”
Anyway, he ended up having a full knee replacement.
“With tai chi awareness, I changed the way I walk by adjusting the weight in my foot to be more evenly distributed,” he told me. “I learned and practised the principles and the tension in my knees went. I don’t get any pain in this knee at all. You can hear it click now and again but I don’t get pain!”
Kevin was focused on becoming a teacher, so he repeated the form over and over. Someone eventually told him he was being too much of a perfectionist and that he needed to let that go. That changed everything for him, he told me.
Kevin told me how he used to arrive early to whichever construction site he was working at and practice before work.
“One time it was in Oxford and there was a beautiful park nearby, so I'd be there at 6:30 AM practicing,” he told me, continuing, “I just loved it, on my own, fresh air you know. It gives you that sense of connection and waking up. It always set me up for my day’s work.”
“I would practice at lunchtime too,” Kevin continued. “I would work on moves I struggled with like the Lotus Spinning Kick. I would spend the whole half an hour of the lunch break just practicing. I wanted to get it under my belt and move in principle, from the dantian. It paid dividends. My hips started loosening up.”
“The first thing I noticed was my golf swing changed! I used to have pain in my back from pulling the [golf] trolley up hills. It didn’t make sense because I was fit and strong, but after so much [tai chi practise] I was much looser in my back. Little but dramatic changes started happening, and I didn’t have those pains anymore. It must have been from the way I pulled the trolley before I learned to move in principle, the unnecessary tension from using arm strength twisted behind me. My golf improved as well,” Kevin chuckled.
Kevin mentioned several key books on tai chi he recommends such as: Cheng Tzu’s Thirteen Treatises on T’ai Chi Ch’uan by Cheng Man-Ch’ing and The Essence and Application of Taijiquan by Yang Cheng Fu, but added, “Books are useful, but they are not the be all and end all…. It’s another person’s interpretation. You have to feel it for yourself, [develop] your own interpretation. Learn by doing,” Kevin told me.
Kevin summed up, “As my teacher told me…just do it and let it sink into you. It’s the doing; it’s the exploration; it’s the awareness; it’s feeling it inside.”
Kevin Lannon has taught tai chi for twenty years in St. Albans & Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, England. Having worked in construction for most of his life, especially groundwork, he stated, “It’s the preparatory work carried out that many individuals don’t see; they only see the finished product. All the utilities need to be in place and other provisions made before the concrete foundations are poured.”
The foundation--our feet--is most important,” Kevin stated, adding, “Once we have developed a good sense of foundation, we can build upon other concepts. Invest in your foundation! A good foundation will be supportive with finding your true self.”
After years of practising and teaching tai chi, Kevin still feels passion and inspiration as he continues to enjoy the process of internal development. Since Kevin feels too young to retire, in addition to teaching tai chi, he also works part-time in front of the house at a local theatre which keeps him connected to the younger generation.
Rachel Sharpe began classes in September 2019 at the St. Albans school, in England, and she quickly and easily adopted a daily practise because in her own words, “I just LOVE tai chi so much. In fact, my whole world feels different now and it's all come from within.” Kevin encouraged Rachel to take an apprenticeship which she completed in Cheltenham in the summer of 2022. The following month she began teaching. Rachel feels honoured to be part of the Tai Chi Foundation, and is passionate to serve people by sharing the wisdom that has served her so well. Aside from her love of and teaching tai chi, Rachel has extensive experience in community support work, seven years of health research experience and she is certified in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.
Photo by Javardh
These are excerpts from a much longer interview with Kevin Lannon. Read the full interview here:
Copyright Tai Chi Foundation 2023