Meet the Southsea Tai Chi instructor lifting residents' spirits through meditation

Tai Chi instructor Cristian Lopez has been teaching the practise of martial arts for more than 30 years. And to him it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.

Monday, 15th November 2021, 4:07 pm
Updated Monday, 15th November 2021, 4:07 pm
Cristian Lopez helped people during the pandemic to stay focused with methods of : Meditation, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Dao Yin Yoga. Pictured is Cristian teaching his group at White Cloud Park in Southsea. Picture: Sam Stephenson

On hearing the phrase ‘martial arts’, an image of Jackie Chan springs to mind, busting power moves with acrobatic self-defence and heart-in-mouth stunts.

But on the other side of the spectrum is an art visibly more peaceful and calming.

Although Tai Chi incorporates self-defence, it’s also about the ‘immensely’ rewarding health benefits of meditating – while standing. Focussing the attention of the mind on the here and now – and not a fleeting household worry like, ‘when are we going to get the fridge repaired?’

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Cristian Lopez helped people during the pandemic and beyond to stay focused with methods of : Meditation, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Dao Yin Yoga. Pictured is Cristian teaching his group at St Margaret's Church in Southsea. Picture: Sam Stephenson

Cristian aims to help his pupils detract from their ‘trickster of a monkey mind’ which can cause people to worry, acknowledging what is stealing their happiness and in place considering the things they do have.

He says: ‘You have to consider three simple things. Do I have a roof over my head? Yes. So be thankful. Do I have food? Yes. Be thankful. Am I still breathing? Yes. Just be thankful.’

Cristian explains that because Tai Chi embraces so many subjects it can be quite complex.

‘Imagine Tesco refers to Tai Chi’, he says.

Cristian Lopez helped people during the pandemic to stay focused with methods of: Meditation, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Dao Yin Yoga. Pictured is Cristian teaching his group at St Margaret's Church in Southsea. Picture: Sam Stephenson

‘You've got the poultry, meat, dairy products, electronics, a pharmacy. ‘Tesco and Tai Chi is kind of like the brand.

‘But inside it has meditation, fitness, wellbeing, philosophy. You have the martial arts practise, and also the soft internal practises like Tai Chi.’

In 2000, Cristian opened the first Wudang (non-traditional martial arts) company in the UK, Five Elements Academy at Southsea, and he’s taught Tai Chi and Qigong (an ancient meditation healing practise) in locations across Portsmouth ever since.

Raised in Chile, South America, Cristian moved back to the UK in 1999.

Cristian Lopez helped people during the pandemic to stay focused with methods of : Meditation, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Dao Yin Yoga. Pictured is Cristian teaching his group at St Margaret's Church in Southsea. Picture: Sam Stephenson

In the ’80s, aged 12, he found himself flicking through collectable martial arts sticker books, and grew so entranced by their stances that he started to copy those same moves in his bedroom as he wanted to be just like those people in the cartoons.

‘I was so inspired by the positions, the face, the way they move and all those body expressions that I decided to learn by myself at that time.’

But there was also a much sadder reason, which also meant Cristian almost had to get on-board with learning how to defend himself, in case a life-threatening situation cropped up in his homeland, Chile.

‘It wasn’t easy. It all started when I was assaulted by a group of gangs with knives.

Cristian Lopez helped people during the pandemic to stay focused with methods of : Meditation, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Dao Yin Yoga. Pictured is Cristian teaching his group at St Margaret's Church in Southsea. Picture: Sam Stephenson

‘That’s when the police at the time said to my dad, “I think your son needs to train in martial arts”.

‘My dad decided then and there he would put me into an academy.’

From that point onwards, Cristian has never stopped.

Inspired by his first female martial arts teacher in France, where he immigrated to after university in his twenties, Cristian learnt the principles of Kung Fu – an art similar to karate and ‘a lot of Tai Chi’.

He followed her teachings for about five years.

‘I then met a man in Germany. He was very well known for Wudang martial arts.

‘We connected and he invited me to go to China with him.

‘We went to the Wudang Mountains in Hubei and met some of the monks up there in the temples.

‘We trained and trained and trained every single year and I’d stay there for long periods of time and that’s when they said to me go back to England and open my own academy.’

‘The academy was already open in 2000 but without the blessings of the monks. So I opened it first and I was running classes at what is now demolished, Southsea community centre.’

Cristian’s training schedule in Hubei was relentless. From waking up at the crack of dawn to training until 5pm, it was tough. But the life force he gained from it was invaluable.

‘There's no breakfast in the morning at that time.

‘So you get dressed very quickly, there’s no time for a shower or anything, and we used to go running.

‘We had nothing at all in the stomach. That is a very hard thing.’

‘We’d then go straight to the temple in Hubei Province where we’d do standing meditation. You don't get energy from doing this. You get a life force.’

Cristian runs classes at St Margaret’s Church, The Pyramids, the Mountbatten Centre, Havelock Community Centre and the Butterfly Museum Garden at Canoe Lake.

Member, Val Allen, 76, attends three times a week and has participated for the last 13 years.

Val says: ‘In lockdown we still had the lessons so it gave you a purpose.

‘It stopped you getting depressed and allowed you to accept the situation.

‘The Tai Chi is my foremost interest because it treats everything.’

Cristians adds: ‘It was wonderful. We did have times where we were all doing meditation and we were in tears. But we needed to do that. It needed to happen.’