East Midlands Zhong Ding

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A New Year Message from Master Nigel Sutton


Over the years I have observed the way in which particular areas and clubs in the Association expand and then shrink only to expand again; and this I understand is just the way that the Dao operates, yin and yang wax and wane, so it is natural and good. Over the past few years, however, the East Midlands Area has stood out as it has gone from strength to strength, building on the solid foundation established by John Higginson and then continued by his disciples, Ian Cassetari and Darren Roberts.

With Ian's passing, however there was a feeling that the period of growth might be over. This has proven to be far from the case and the reasons for the continued strength of this region lies in the very diversity and spirit of independent enquiry which is at the heart of the Zhong Ding Association.

The Association was originally founded to research, promote and disseminate the skills of Zhengzi (Cheng Man Ching) taijiquan. As the years passed, however, the range of skills being researched and taught expanded to include xingyiquan, baguazhang, wuzuquan, hongquan, Master Liang's traditional wushu, and other styles of taijiquan. Then several styles of silat and Filipino Eskrima were added. Along the way, Association instructors also shared their experience of Wing Chun, Karate, Aikido, Western fencing and other arts. Some also might remember the joyous foray into the world of Combat Sombo, enjoyed by some of the senior instructors.

In short Association members have never been discouraged from exploring or practising other arts - the only warning being that they should be of a high enough level in their base art so that supplementary studies do not interfere with their progress.

Not all members, however, have been running off willy nilly to explore all the martial path's highways and byways. There are some who have discovered in Zhengzi taijiquan, exactly what they were looking for and have devoted themselves to this study. Such single-minded dedication in every case has paid dividends. And it is just this combination and blend of those dedicated to exploring the infinite depths of the Zhengzi taijiquan way, with those who explore other ways while still continuing with the study of taijiquan as their primary path that serves to keep the organisation, fresh, dynamic and alive.

In the East Midlands region this yin and yang of central focus and diverse exploration may clearly be seen. As the senior master Instructor of the area Darren Roberts has a firm hand on the helm. Over the years he has committed himself to walking the Zhengzi path and has made continued and continual progress. He stands as a fine example of what "investment in loss" can lead to and does so with a quiet humility which I know made his brother Ian proud and which does the same for me.

Don Harradine, or Doc Don as we like to call him (I'm still waiting for the website Doc Don Dot Com!) has studied a wide range of arts, immersing himself in them to such an extent that he has earned the ranks of Regional Coach in fencing, Senior Instructor in Lian Padukan, Guru in Silat Tua, Silat Embo, Ilmu Gerak Diri, and Silat Harimau Java, as well as Master Instructor rank in taijiquan and Senior Instructor grade in Beijing Gaoshi Baguazhang. The results of all this in-depth study he has brought to bear on his further research into and teaching of taijiquan.

Ken "Junior" Mead has walked the path to the point that his full-time efforts are devoted to researching the art and teaching it to people of all ages and abilities. In addition he is furthering his own teaching career with university study. Junior's open mind, tremendous physical ability and open-hearted approach to all of humanity has led him to explore and excel at a wide range of arts.

These three exemplary teachers, however, are only the tip of the iceberg. Instructors such as Steve Johnson, Dave Porter, Spencer Rabey, Steve White, Jan Hodgson and Carol Harradine all share an attitude of openness to all sources of knowledge and a willingness to explore and research so as to make the art truly their own, and, in turn, give their students the motivation and example to continue studying and researching.

The East Midlands influence, however, has not stopped on the edge of Sutton-in-Ashfield or the outskirts of Blidworth, but now continues in Portland, Oregon where Instructor Mike Roberts carries the Zhong Ding flame in the USA.

What all of these advanced exponents share is the recognition that one cannot slavishly follow a teacher, one has to make the art their own. This means accepting that the teacher provides only the questions and maybe a finger pointing in the general direction of the answers; the rest is up to the student. We all walk the same path, at different paces, with differing degrees of enthusiasm and expertise but walk on we must. In so doing we also come to learn that there are more questions, many which our own teachers might not have posed and so we have more answers to find and more questions to pose to those who walk the road after us.

In the East Midlands the trail being blazed is a deep one, and I hope that all of you appreciate those trailblazers going before you, and realise that the greatest gratitude you can show to them is by continuing their work, continuing their research and, above all, keeping on walking!