Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Benefits of Tai Chi, imagined or otherwise


Mr. Roach

I am the son of one of your students and I am a graduate physical therapy student at Ithaca College and I am currently taking a class called Wellness and Prevention. One of my assignments in this class is to interview an instructor of an alternative medicine/exercise field of study. I remember my father talking to me about the benefits that your Tai Chi instruction has provided him and I immediately thought that an interview with you might provide me with a new and interesting outlook on a different form of wellness. If you could help me out by answering a few questions regarding your field of Tai Chi, I would be greatly appreciative. The interview has to be handed in on Friday so I would be extra appreciative if you could respond to this by thursday night. If time constraints or your schedule do not allow this, I understand and would appreciate a response just so I can know to look elsewhere for another interview. The questions are as follows:1. How did you first begin practicing Tai Chi? Was there a specific event causing you to begin practicing Tai Chi? 2. After many years of practicing, what is your most valued benefit in terms of wellness?Have there been any negatives to practicing Tai Chi, if so what is the largest? 3. What do you hope that those who take your classes will gain from the experience?

I first began practicing Tai Chi in 1976. The Taoist Tai Chi Society was the first location in the U.S., and the Yellow Pages provided me with the address. I thought that all Tai Chi was the same in those days and by the same I mean at least similar to why I was motivated to study. I was motivated to study after reading "Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts by Donn Draeger and Robert W. Smith. Smith was a former CIA agent that ended up studying Tai Chi in Taiwan. I left the "Taoists" after 2 years and studied Yang Style for awhile with a Chinese Family in Toronto, then on to Wu Style with Wu Kwong Yu in Toronto, and finally with Stephen Hwa Ph.D. in Rochester, NY.


The book describes what I would call the fatuous and fantastic in terms of martial arts and Tai Chi is no exception. However, Tai Chi is described as having an "internal" component or "qi" (chee) which as the book describes in the case of the 18th and 19th century masters in China was used to great advantage in both fighting and for health. I'll let you read some of what is said for yourself, click here: Tai Chi.
There was no specific event, except that I had started Shorin Ryu Karate while in the Marine Corps and always maintained a great interest in the martial arts. I am pretty sure the enormous ego I had at the time had quite a bit to do with why I got into things such as Tai Chi as well. That's ok, ego brings us to the door, and the discipline takes care of the rest. The key is not to let the ego stand in the way of progress.

I came to find out over years and several teachers that all Tai Chi is not the same, nor is it of equal benefit in terms of health. I had novice teachers that did not know much about it and famous teachers that were interested in teaching it as a martial art. I now have a teacher for the past 7 years that truly believes the ultimate purpose of Tai Chi is "longevity while living in the springtime of one's life", I believe that as well. I am 63, he is 76, his teacher lived to be 101, dying in 2005. I feel the greatest benefit has been the vigor and zest for life that the Tai Chi has bestowed. I very, very rarely get sick, and when I do, my recuperative powers are excellent.

I teach people that are decades younger than me, some of them have been famous martial artists in their own right. It is a fair deal, it gives back what one puts into it. I suppose the largest negatives are what I have seen in terms of both teachers and students. In terms of teachers, I see teachers who teach from what I call a "new age" point of view, they see Tai Chi as some sort of spiritual panacea. I see students who want to learn from that same point of view. The common denominator is they believe Tai Chi can be learned in a weekend or a couple of weeks without the discipline of long study of the Tai Chi Form. I think this negative is directly proportional to the amount of misinformation promulgated by the popular media. This is what I call half-assed Tai Chi. I once had a student arrive at my studio as I was closing the door. He promptly said, "can't you stay open for awhile and can't I just half-assed learn it"? One of my students said very succinctly: "That's the problem with the world, everyone wants to do things half-assed".

I hope that those who take my classes will come away with not only some appreciation for the discipline and work that it entails. But, I also hope they will come away with an appreciation for what the discipline and work can offer. That however, is merely my fantasy. Fact is 99% of students who start it will not experience the very long cycle of learning that leads to its eventual excellent consequences. Seeing Tai Chi as a panacea without seeing what it really entails in order to do it is, as my teacher says, called "being a frog in the bottom of a well". All the frog can do is croak to anyone who will listen "how big the sky is". In other words a myopic view or perspective on things.

Most of why they don't continue is not really what they tell me or even don't tell me regarding their departure. I have been doing this too long to believe such fiction. Many people don't stick around long enough to break through ego and habits that are as hard as concrete. As Tai Chi Master H.H. Lui said: "Things in this universe endure because they are selfless". I have students now who I have great hopes for. My hopes are they will come to understand that doing service and justice to Tai Chi is the key to getting the benefit. I hope that some will become teachers, themselves. Passing on to their students, that being selfless entails understanding finally that practicing it is its own reward, enjoying the practice and not continuing to look for "pie in the sky".

My own teacher, Master Stephen Hwa, started study with many other students in 1974, among them were numerous Ph.D. engineers from Xerox. He is the only one that continued study and that for over 30 years, one teacher...one student...30 years. My teacher's teacher was Grandmaster Yang Wabiu and he was the personal student of Great Grandmaster Wu Chien Chuan...Wu was an officer in the palace guard of the Chinese emperor. His father had the same job.

Good luck,
Jim R.


1 comment:

Russell said...

Very well spoken. You've inspired me to simplify my practice and get back to training just because I love the training. Thank you.