Gill Keogh, who is a 6th Duan Wei (degree) instructor pictured with her teacher Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang.
A lifetime of dedication to the gentle oriental art of Tai Chi has brought a Rossnowlagh resident under the guidance of the foremost master of the practice and now she is working to share the benefits of it with everyone.
Gill Keogh is one of the most established and experienced proponents of T'ai Chi Chuan, or Taijiquan, in ireland. It is a system of internal martial art that is shown to have proven health benefits for those who practice it regularly.
Based in Rossnowlagh for the last 22 years Gill began practicing Tai Chi in 1977 in her native London.
Initially, she explained, her interest was in improving her health and strength and she enjoyed attending local classes but over the years she went on to become an instructor and now has established strong links to the source of the revered art, the Chen Family who founded their unique style over 450 years ago.
“I had been coming to Donegal for holidays for a couple of years, you have such freedom here and the beach so we decided to move over and try it and that was it,” she said.
Speaking of her early days in Tai Chi, she like many others, simply tried it out as way of gaining strength, health and relaxation and it has added great benefits to her life since then.
“I started Tai Chi back in 1977, so that is 40 years this month. I started with a master in London in an adult education class, similar to what I teach here now. I startedso I had something to do in the evenings but also I was not a very strong or healthy baby, child or teenager. I wasn’t very strong physically, so I joined to really strengthen my body and get some exercise and I felt, after a couple of years, a lot stronger and much better healthwise, so I continued with it,” she stated.
After a few years her instructor suggested that she should begin teaching the art to others and so began a deeper level of study that is ongoing after 40 years.
“My master said if anyone wanted to learn to teach to put their name down on a piece of paper. Of course I didn’t because I didn’t want to teach, I just wanted to do it for myself. Then he came back to me and said ‘If you want to learn Tai Chi you must learn to teach’. So I put my name down and ended up teaching Tai Chi by default,” she laughs, adding “Of course he (the instructor) was quite right. Over the year I have learned and deepened my knowledge and I have been teaching now for 35 years.”
She has trained with many Chinese masters of the art since.
“In 1994 I was very fortunate to come across Grandmaster Chen Xiao Wang who is the heir and head of Chen style, that is the family that created Tai Chi back around 450 years ago. I was just in the right place at the right time to meet this Grandmaster. To cut a long story short I ended up training with him and then ended up bringing him over to Ireland and I became his student. In 2006 I travelled to China to get the discipleship exam in the temple and I have been with his family training and going to China topractice since 2005. I’ve been to China six times now,” she added.
The grandmaster's son will visit Donegal in October to carry out a seminar in Creevy.
Gill says not only has she personally enjoyed a range of health and wellbeing benefits from this gentle martial art, which are backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), but she has also seen positive changes for others who maintain a dedicated practice of the art.
“I train most days. Maybe not Christmas day (laughs) but it is about regular practice. But everybody is different. Sometimes training with the master it is a bit deeper or a bit harder and rigorous, but the one thing I love with Tai Chi is that it is suitable for anybody because you adapt it for your body. That's what I like about it, and that is true for children through to people who are 90 years old. Just adapt it for what they can do and it helps so many things”.
“I’ve had students who have been stressed with jobs and they tell me that when they come to Tai Chi, it’s like a respite from life. It becomes about focusing the mind with the body and it gives them time out from their problems and relaxes them and relieves stress. It has been quite a major thing. Then I have done sessions with Arthritis Ireland and I have elderly students who have arthritis of some kind and the gentle movement helps to stimulate what we call the ‘chi flow’ through body and blood circulation. That helps people with arthritis. I have worked with people who have heart disease and the Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke group, people who can’t do rigorous exercise in a gym but everyone can do Tai Chi. You do it to your own ability and it is a nice gentle movement for health but at the same time it is a martial art and it can be very powerful,” she added.
There is lots of levels of Tai Chi and people do for what they want out of it. It could be just to relax, it could be to build their strength, help recover from an injury, strengthen any part of the body. A big thing at the minute is that it helps the elderly with fall prevention. We need to get them early. Once you are 90 and suffering falls it is a bit late but if we can get people to start in their mid-50s plus, it helps balance and co-ordination”.
Gill teaches at various locations around Donega as well as Letrim and Fermanagh, and further afield in Belfast and Dublin
She also advocates the art being taught more in local schools due to the positve effects it has on helping young people.
To find out more you can visit www.chenireland.com or call Gill on 071 98 52374.