Ronnie, The Friend I Knew
It is my great privilege to contribute some words about my very good friend Ronnie Robinson.
I first met Ronnie at the third Tai Chi Caledonia, the first one to be held on the Stirling University campus. I remember on the last night I bought him and Bob Lowey a drink. It was nothing personal, I just wanted to say thanks to them for providing the chance to attend such an awesome week which had opened my eyes to how much was out there in the world of internal arts.
From what I have seen and heard over the years I am not alone in having such an experience and to have been able to not only maintain, but continuously improve, that initial standard speaks volumes for the man and his commitment, Bob having had to step back some years ago as a result of work priorities. As the years went on I got to know Ronnie extremely well and in recent years we often travelled together to events in Europe. As well as having the privilege of meeting some of the many wonderful friends in various countries he had made on his travels, this has given me an insight into how he worked.
The original idea for Cally, as it’s affectionately known, arose from Ronnie and Bob’s attendance, not at a single workshop in Italy or somewhere, but from Serge Dreyer’s annual Rencontres Jasnieres gathering at Marcon in France. The first Caledonia was in a glorified hut in the highlands and the second in a castle in Argyll! Improvements already! However, having settled on the more accessible and comfortable base in Stirling Yoonie Ronnie and Bob focused on bringing to Scotland instructors of a high standard.
It was always important to Ronnie that the quality of the teachers was high. Equally important was their ability to fit into the ethos of Caledonia: to be accessible and sharing outwith their own workshops. As the years went on and his taiji family grew Ronnie succeeded in introducing new highly-skilled teachers to taiji players in Europe. Ronnie was keenly aware that there was something special about his event. Klaus Engelaender, a regular participant in many European events for many years, agreed and, when asked what it was, he replied “You care”. This is very true and is due to Ronnie having created this caring atmosphere through his meticulous attention to detail: from his choice of teachers to his attentive Cally team who strive to make people feel welcome.
Ronnie was never standing still, always seeking to improve. When travelling we would discuss the events we had just attended to identify any ideas that might benefit Cally. Ronnie’s flight time was equally divided between this, editing photos and videos he had taken during the event and, with his outgoing personality, speaking to the passenger in the seat next to him. Especially if this happened to be an attractive female. We would often land with him having spoken more to that person than me and knowing their background, where they were going and why. That was Ronnie.
For Ronnie the peak of Tai Chi Caledonia was last year’s 20th anniversary event with its Saturday night gala. His idea was to combine Scottish and Chinese culture in illustrating the progression of taiji and internal arts: from warmups through to applications and involving all styles with participants of the highest calibre. Going by the feedback and the participants involved he achieved this spectacularly. Perhaps even more significant than the success of the evening was the goodwill exhibited by many of these participants from various parts of Europe, who were happy to give of their time to support both the event and Ronnie (not necessarily in that order!). Also very telling was the financial backing received from ordinary taiji players and some unexpected sources who knew what Tai Chi Caledonia was all about. Disappointingly (though this word doesn’t quite cut it, it will have to do) from these people’s perspective, as well as all involved, no such support was forthcoming from the most obvious source.
Ronnie always sought to promote taiji and qigong as widely as possible. In doing so he recognised that most practitioners do not involve themselves in competition. Consequently, the successful promotion and support for these arts as a whole, rather than just one, albeit important, aspect of them, was required. It concerned him greatly that this was ignored in certain quarters. He saw it as imperative for the future of the art that all players should be afforded equal support and opportunity by their representative body.
Through all these years one constant subject in discourse with Ronnie was his son, Paul. The Boy. I received regular updates on his latest achievement or stupid idea with equal enthusiasm! This culminated a couple of years ago in The Road Trip To Jasnieres when Ronnie and I shared the driving and Paul tried to get shotgun before whichever driver was off duty. We all stayed in one of the mobile homes on the campsite. Paul did some growing up that week, coping very well with Ronnie’s idea that the couple in the home opposite probably thought we were a gay couple with our surrogate son. He even joined in, complaining to his dad and his “other dad” that, amongst other things, he was getting bullied at school because he had two dads and no mum! As well as Jasnieres, Paul attended the last three Callies and it is evident that he has continued to grow as a person and why his dad (his real one) was so proud of him. It is just so sad that Ronnie’s wish to at least see Paul become eighteen did not come true. Mind you, knowing Ronnie, that was probably just so he could get The Boy to buy him a drink to celebrate.
Much has been written elsewhere about what Ronnie has contributed to international taiji, both through his direct involvement and in bringing other teachers to a wider audience. From this it is clear that his absence will leave a big hole in the European taiji community.
I think we all will have our own special memory of Ronnie. I know I have a number, but I’m sure many will be of him standing before a crowd of us, crumpled Rohan trousers often seeming just about half an inch too long, making one of his famous announcements. I was very proud when he introduced me at last year’s Cally as his “very good friend”. He was certainly mine and his absence leaves a big hole in my life.