Robert Galeone is the head instructor for Mountain State Tai Chi.
With apologies, there is really no other way to do this than in the first person.
Cheng Man-Ch'ing is reported to have said that to progress in a martial art three things are needed: A good teacher, a good system, and a good student. While history will be the judge of how good a student I have been, I have been more than fortunate in having met some extraordinary teachers.
I began the study of martial arts in 1963 in a dojo that taught Uechi-ryu Karate. At that time the headmaster of the system in Okinawa was Uechi Kanei. Uechi Sensei was unusual in that he did not much emphasize the extreme muscular tension which permeates much of the karate world. Rather, his technique was fluid, graceful, and subtle, and harked back to the system's original Chinese roots, the name of which was "Pang Gai Noon" (half hard, and soft). Okinawan karate is very different now than it was in those days, and Uechi Sensei was somewhat unique.
I studied and taught Uechi-ryu for nearly 30 years. Uechi Sensei died in 1992, and the karate world lost a great teacher.
A senior colleague of mine in karate introduced me to Aikido in 1967. I practiced the art somewhat sporadically until 1978 when I moved to the Washington, DC area on business, and began studying regularly with Saotome Mitsugi Sensei. Saotome Sensei had been an indoor student under the founder of Aikido, and was technically extraordinary. What made him rather unique however, was not only his technical excellence (there were, and are, many excellent Aikido teachers), but rather that he thoroughly avoided the abuse and exploitation of students which plagued much of the Aikido world. Aikido, especially back in those days, was a very vigorous martial art, and yet Saotome Sensei was the gentlest of teachers. In all the time I spent with him I never saw him injure anyone. Not a bad legacy that. I remained with Saotome Sensei until 2012 until parting ways for professional reasons. Saotome Sensei has been one of the most influential Aikido teachers in America, and has many affiliated dojo. Additionally, he is a very talented designer and artist.
GM Canete was a very famous escrimador, had fought in WWII, and was a renowned fighter. He also had a background in both Judo and Aikido, both of which arts infused his style of Doce Pares. In his seventies those times when I met him, he had endless stamina, and would teach for hours on end. I also vividly remember his broad smile while he would effortlessly disarm you time after time.
Escrima is an excellent art for anyone, especially for those in Law Enforcement, who wish to develop a familiarity with sticks, batons, and edged weapons. Although Doce Pares remains a minor path in my journey, I still enjoy practicing the art, and teach on a private basis those wishing to learn.
A natural precipitate from the study of Aikido is an interest in Japanese weapons, in particular Japanese swords. In 2003 the Aikido dojo at which I was teaching invited Sugawara Tetsutaka to teach a seminar in Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. Sugawara Sensei is not only a senior teacher of Katori Shinto ryu, he was also an indoor student of Aikido's founder, holds a 7th dan in Goju-ryu karate, and interestingly is also a long time student of tai chi chuan. Although now in his late 70's Sugawara Sensei continues to travel regularly to China to both train in taiji quan, and also to research the history of martial arts. He also travels to the U.S. each year to teach at his affiliated dojos. Under Sugawara Sensei, I am privileged to have been awarded a menkyo (teaching license). Those early seminars have grown into Capital Katori , where I travel to teach on a regular basis.
The introduction to the Chinese internal martials came from, Paul Cote . I met Paul in 1992 and began training with him. Over the years Mr. Cote has shown himself to be the most gracious of teachers, and has always put the needs of his students first. At that time he was a long time student of tai chi chuan in the Cheng Man-ch'ing Yang-style lineage, (under Robert Smith) and a teacher of Gao style Bagua and Xing I . I began studying Bagua under Paul, however, after Paul met, and began studying the Northern Wu style taiji with Master Zhang Yun, he rather unselfishly introduced me to this remarkable teacher. After studying with Master Zhang for a decade I was privileged to have been accepted as an indoor student in July of 2012 .
In ways which go far beyond the scope of this page, the study of taiji under Master Zhang has been remarkably rewarding. My health, my teaching ability, my ability to deal with conflict, and much more, has changed vastly for the better. As I get older and can no longer rely on abilities which deteriorate with age, I find I can train now in more interesting and fulfilling ways than were possible before the practice of taiji quan.
This Wu style Taiji, under Master Zhang Yu, I find to be the defining concept that infuses, at the cellular level, all my other martial activities. From time to time I still practice my Uechi-ryu kata, and occasionally I still step onto an Aikido mat; but despite the dogi it is all Taiji by any other name. Even when practicing or teaching Katori (a magnificent and unique art which I truly love) I am constantly trying to apply Taiji principles. After many years I truly feel I have found a martial arts home. There is a certain peace which I find comes with a devoted study of the art. The external world will take care of itself in its own way. The internal world has proven far more interesting.
I have met some remarkable teachers along the way. I have been blessed multiple times with good teachers and good arts. I can only hope that, in some small way, I have rewarded their efforts by having been a good student. If the truth lies elsewhere, the fault is all mine.
I recently retired after having spent the last eighteen years as a civilian firearms instructor with a major metropolitan police department. In addition to my martial arts activities, I have kept up my certifications as a firearms instructor and continue to provide instruction to those wishing to become both safe and proficient in the use of firearms. That, however, is a martial arts story for another time.