My first involvement with Shufa was back in the 1970s when I was a student at Art College; but it was many years later, when I started to learn T’ai Chi with Tew Bunnag, that this world really began to open up for me. Over the next 15 or so years, I studied with a number of teachers – both Japanese and Chinese before finding my true teacher, Cai Xiaoli.
Cai Xiaoli had come out of China with her husband Jianan in the late 1980s. A scrap of paper on a notice board at the South Bank University, where I was attending evening classes in Chinese language, pointed me in her direction. I learnt that there was to be an opportunity to see this art at Covent Garden market. On getting there, I noticed an elderly gentleman practicing away, he was Xiaoli’s uncle. Having asked for him to do 3 characters, I then asked Xiaoli would he teach me. After conversing with him she suggested I phone her in a fortnight, by which time she’d have an answer for me. Her response was to be that she would teach me. Xiaoli turned out to have taught at the top University for the arts in Beijing. More recently she painted something on the scale of Monet’s larger works for the Shaolin temple in China, it took her 3 yrs to complete.
Four yrs after starting with Xiaoli I found myself in front of television cameras, journalists and high officials at the Cultural Department of the Chinese Embassy exhibiting and demonstrating Shufa; I am happy that I received many appreciative comments on the qualities I brought to the work, as well as the resulting pieces. It was only a few months after this, however, that I found my confidence draining away and this continued to be the case for the next 20 years. Xiaoli continued to encourage me, showing unending patience; Tew continues to show me love; and Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, an ordained Tibetan Buddhist nun, teaches me perseverance.
At present I feel in a good place for catching up with my art. I’ve been practicing fairly regularly, despite recently having had some problems of loss of feeling in my right hand. And, whenever I do experience a period of absence from the art, I come to remember a time in my 50s when Xiaoli asked me how I felt about Shufa. I responded by saying that the moment I do pick up the brush after a long break it feels like coming home. This still holds true for me today.