Brad Thompson has spent much of his adult life consciously exploring movement, first through Chinese martial arts, then the Feldenkrais Method. However, in Brad’s world, the two are “the same entity, just the other side of the coin”. This may not be surprising when you understand that Moshe Feldenkrais created the Method on a foundation of Judo mastery.
In fact, when Feldenkrais was asked to establish the Judo Club of Paris, he had to modify his teaching to suit Western bodies. “In Japan, they were kneeling on the floor all the time, the knee and hip joints were already in a well developed state,” Brad says. “But for many Western people, kneeling on the floor in adult years is not comfortable, so Feldenkrais had to start modifying how he would teach Judo. That was one of the beginnings of him looking at how to teach people to organise themselves for complex patterns of movement. From that I can get a sense of how he started to develop Awareness Through Movement lessons.”
Brad began training in Shaolin Kung Fu in 1978 in Sydney, following a childhood fascination with the exotic Samurai and Kung Fu shows that had begun to pepper Australian TV, and of course Bruce Lee. He soon realised he was opening up to a lifetime of learning. “I liked the philosophical practices of the Chinese martial arts – that’s what really drew me – the idea of really cultivating yourself as a person.”
After first encountering Tai Chi in San Francisco, Brad returned to Sydney to study at a Kung Fu and Tai Chi school for two years, before being asked to set up a branch of the school in Melbourne. In 1987, after travelling and training in China, Brad set up his own Tai Chi and Qi Gong Academy based in Melbourne, which grew to take in more than 2000 students across Victoria.
Brad’s partner at the time happened to be in the first professional Feldenkrais training program in Melbourne. “I got really interested in what she was doing – it was having a massive impact on her professional life,” he says. Brad began to read Body and Mature Behaviour by Feldenkrais, and went along to a weekend workshop. He woke one morning days later “and it was like an epiphany that I just had to do this”.
The first Brisbane training program took place from 1990-93, and Brad jumped in. He would leave his busy Tai Chi academy in Melbourne every January and June, stay on the Gold Coast, surf in the morning and go to the Brisbane Feldenkrais training in the afternoon. Brad discovered a profound congruency between Feldenkrais and Tai Chi. He began to incorporate Feldenrkrais lessons into the curriculum at his academy.
During the course of the training, Brad moved to the Gold Coast and put a Tai Chi advertisement in the Yellow Pages. “When I finished my training I had a call from some people who were in the process of setting up a new health retreat called the Golden Door Health Retreat.” Brad was first recruited to train the staff in a simple Tai Chi Qi Gong form that would become the cornerstone of the morning exercises at the retreat.
Brad soon introduced the Feldenkrais Method to guests at Golden Door through both group Awareness Through Movement lessons and hands-on Functional Integration lessons. In his 20 years at the retreat, he had the opportunity to develop himself intensively as a practitioner and to introduce the Feldenkrais Method to thousands of people’s lives.
One of the “best things I ever did” was to create a breathing workshop for the retreat, which grew out of some of the Feldenkrais lessons on breathing. Brad noticed its popularity and began researching more deeply into the anatomy and physiology of breathing, authoring and publishing a book in 2008 called The Breathing Book: a Practical Guide to Natural Breathing.
“That program has really changed thousands of people’s lives because most people don’t have any clue about the process of breathing; it’s just something they automatically do, and I find posture is a major contributing factor to poor breathing. So I developed this program that taught people how to change their posture and develop their natural breathing,” Brad says. “But I realised I was teaching people the very beginning elements of what’s required in Qi Gong and Tai Chi practice.” Brad was suddenly working on the “fast-track” that Feldenkrais had offered, showing people how to allow their bodies to be open to the change asked of them in martial arts.
“From my point of view I put on two hats. I put on my Tai Chi hat and talk about chi and ki or prana – in fact I do a workshop now called Chi-Ki-Prana, which is all about breath and breathing and energy. And the other hat is the Feldenkrais hat where I don’t talk so much about that, I talk more about biomechanical connections in the body.
“But my understanding over the last 20 years is that you can’t really develop chi without this incredible biomechanical connection in your body. So the idea of chi to me now really means the perfectly organised body where blood and biomechanical force can move without stiffness or limitation. So it’s not really mystical at all – it’s possible to be explained in a very scientific way.”
Brad says Feldenkrais has enriched his life “in ways that I can’t begin to describe”. But one way that can be named is the deepening of his daily Tai Chi and Kung Fu practice.
“I say to people Tai Chi is not something you ‘go to’. It’s not even something that you do. For a really dedicated practitioner, it’s something you become. And Feldenkrais has helped me to become more Tai Chi.”