Ronnie Robinson, Caledonia’s wizard
Now that Ronnie Robinson is not any longer here with us, it strikes me even more evidently the importance of his contribution to the development of Taijiquan and Qigong in Europe. Caledonia has been an excellent vehicle for helping people meeting and sharing, for the promotion and the evolution of our arts, and for the social impact the event had. I would like to remember here Ronnie the way I knew him, the way I lived the Tai Chi Caledonia experience, starting from the first edition until the twentieth anniversary. And when I talk about Caledonia, I really mean Ronnie, since they were the same thing in the end.
We met twenty years ago somewhere in Europe. After having seen the “Rencontres Jasnieres” in France, organized by Serge Dreyer, Bob Lowey and Ronnie decided that they wanted to replicate such an event in Scotland. Ronnie was teaching Qigong at that time, he had just opened his own company, Chiron, and started his new career as a teacher in Qigong and Taijiquan and selling books. I remember still the genuine enthusiasm for this new adventure, they really wanted to start a new era in Scotland. And they made it.
When the Caledonia project started, we were in the mid ’90s, and the world was quite different from what we know today. Twenty years ago there was no common use of emails, only fax. Mails and telegrams were made of paper, and the global communication was one way: television. Mobile phones were few and expensive, and you could only talk or message, nothing more. Communication was much slower and more local then today. Time was slower. It was a much less connected world, no images and sounds in real time. To start a new business project like this, you had to be a real pioneer inside, investing youself, money and work, ready to go forward no matter what, against all odds.
In the beginning Caledonia had two souls, one yin and one yang: one was Bob Lowey, the man of music, of laugh, of confidence. The other was Ronnie, the man of numbers, organization and decisions. As it happens, at one point the Caledonia Brothers separated, Ronnie took the drive, but luckily enough Bob managed to remain somehow always present in Caledonia with his music, his classes and his jokes. To me the two of them have been always equally important for the balance of the event.
For Tai Chi Caledonia, Ronnie had clear goals: first, he wanted Taijiquan and Qigong to become spread and recognized; second, he wanted to enhance the technical quality via qualified teachers; third, he wanted to foster exchange of knowledge among practitioners, it means more choices for those who practiced. In order to do that, he started inviting a little group of teachers he had met in France, and this way the first edition of Tai Chi Caledonia was born. It was 1996, the location was Rothiemurchus Lodge, close to Aviemore, in the Highlands, in an old Royal Air Force refuge lost in a huge park, in wooden chalets.
The following year the event took place in Castle Toward, in Dunoon, where we had a complete Caste at our disposal, big greens and an amazing sea sight. After a third edition in a different place, we finally landed in Stirling, in the prestigious frame of Stirling University Campus, which really worked fine for Caledonia (by the way, we were hosted again in wooden chalets, like the first edition). In Stirling premises, Caledonia progressively took value and found the right address for Taijiquan, the Sport University of Scotland indeed. Being directly under the Braveheart Memorial contributed to the magical fascination of the venue, and the european martial community started to ask for his stage, loved to be there, wanted to come back again. As soon as money was there, Ronnie invited famous teachers from the States and abroad, and Callie (as “veterans” call Caledonia) became even more international.
Years passed quickly, and the 2008 edition was one of the most brilliant: the mayor of Stirling asked Caledonia’s teachers to perform in the external courtyard of Stirling’s Castle, for the joy of tourists. Taijiquan is becoming famous, and even the economical crisis that burst in 2009 does not affect relatively the figures of Caledonia. People like and supports the event, and numbers grow. In 2015 twenty years are gone, and Ronnie knows that he has to play his best: this edition must be top notch, there must be investments, a real theatre gala, a professional organization behind. The project goes on stage, small details do not work in the last minute, but the spirit of Caledonia brings the atmosphere beyond expectations. Everybody was very excited to be there, to meet people again they had met 15, 20 years before, and still the same genuine feeling of happiness and gratitude for all we exchanged. And then… fish and chips for everybody!
Ronnie knew by experience that this event was a mix of three basic elements: common sense approach in the organization (“make it easy”, relaxed style), taking care of the social aspect, make the best out of staying together, and the best possible quality in the tuition offer, from Qigong to Tuishou and weapons. But the secret component of the soup, which gave taste and flavor to every very day, was invariably the “third time”, the spontaneous Tuishou sessions in the evening, the nights in the chalets, beer in a hand and chatting for the whole night, making new friends, discovering. The sweet, “vintage” portrait of lady Gerda Geddes, pioneer of Taijiquan in UK, who studied in China, when China was closed and far away, was another good choice to create good mood and add value to the event. If you consider dances, music, Chinese dinners, ceilidh, pipes, highlands and whisky, then you have the whole picture.
Tai Chi Caledonia has been an incredible laboratory for interpersonal alchemy, where everyone could express himself. It was a protected ambience, where relationships could develop and barriers could be removed easily. People arrived alone and isolated, but often shared tears one week later leaving Stirling, and every year was like a “who is gonna missing this year?”. Even if it sound like a commonplace, in Caledonia we could witness the birth of new families, new professionals started their careers, todays known teachers had a chance to introduce themselves. Taijiquan in Callie has literally saved lives in subtle ways, often giving people a meaning of life when they had lost theirs. Of course not everybody in Martial Arts appreciate this social aspect of the event, but this has become the trade mark, the beauty of Caledonia for many of us.
I owe Ronnie the possibility of teaching in Scotland, but also – even more important – to meet some of the best teachers I could reach in my martial growth at that time, to make new friends, to know and share time with great persons that made my life richer. Strange as it may sound, Ronnie has been generous to me many times. In 2001, just after the Twin Towers, I had no job and was looking for alternatives, but with no results. Ronnie decided to organize a two days event in Glasgow for me, and the result allowed me to keep on going. Years later, Ronnie rung me up in Italy and asked: “do you like Leonard Cohen?”. As a matter of fact, during Caledonia that year I was in Edinburgh castle in a fantastic concert, I would never been able to see. When Ronnie was exhausted, he took the plane and spent a week with us, a bike to ride the country side of Vicenza, or in the Alps, walking through forests. It was nice to have him here.
As Ronnie said jokingly, I’m the only person that has participated to Callie “more then him”. In these days of uncertainty and goodbyes, I discovered something I didn’t know: that Ronnie was born in a fisherman family. Now I understand his passion for Venice, since he started teaching at “Aquavenice” years ago. There he found again the right place for his melancholic sea spirit, which makes Venice unique. Also his determination, that often bordered on stubbornness, was typical of a fisherman that never loses his prey, until the end. And he never lost the grip, even in the last days. In the end, Ronnie has carried out and washed ashore the biggest fish of his life, a little bit like Hemingway’s old man of the sea. In my mind, his two fishes are Tai Chi Caledonia on one side, and his son, Paul Robinson.
What could I now wish to you, my dear friend? A serene transition for your soul to your next life, perhaps a lot of chitchat over there with Chan Sanfeng, Lao Tsu and all old wise Qigong masters. Sure, they will too find amazing to know what you have been able to realize here with Taijiquan and Qigong, for the good of so many people, which will never forget you. Yes, a nice daoist way to become an Immortal, by the way.
Thanks Ronnie, from heart.
Obituary by Luigi Zanini
Ronnie Robinson, Caledonia’s wizard