Friday, June 9, 2017

My Tai Chi Story





My Tai Chi Story

I’ve practiced Tai Chi for over 40 years, learned and experienced the tremendous benefits, how it’s kept me healthy, in mind, body and spirit.

What is Tai Chi?

Tai Chi (translated means “grand ultimate fist”) is an internal martial art created about 300 years ago, when a Buddhist monk observed movements between a snake and crane fighting.  The monk emulated these movements and created a method of martial arts.  Years passed and this exercise was developed into what we know now is Tai Chi and Kung fu.  

After graduating from college, I learned Okinawan and Japanese Karate and Judo and Muay Thai kickboxing. At this same time, I was, also, privileged to learn Tai Chi.  It was taught at the end of each class, after several long hours of basics, katas and hard thumping sparring.  It was grueling, and being young at the time, I didn’t quite understand the benefits of moving slow and deliberate, especially, after pushing my body past its limits breaking boards, exchanging shin kicks and slamming bodies to the floor. 

When I returned to Kern County, I resume the more dynamic and physical “Bruce Lee” type of martial arts, earned a black belt in karate, and trained to fight in the ring.  I was a fledgling then, but as years passed, my super healthy body was insulted by age and an onset of high blood pressure.  Thinking that more exercise would solve the problem, I added hours in the gym, lifting weights and running longer distances on the treadmill as well as continued my karate and kickboxing work outs, only to end up with no demonstrable results.

I resolved to offset this problem.

I changed my diet. 

Tried yoga. 

Meditation. 

Nothing really worked until I rediscovered Tai Chi, and learned how, in China, it was proven effective in treating chronic illnesses.  Instantly, I mentally travelled back into time and to the Bay Area, and attempted to recollect the Tai Chi form my sensei taught me those many years ago.  Surprisingly, I did well enough to remember some but not all of the movements.  

Thank goodness for the Internet.  

After reviewing an old black and white video of Fu Zhong Wen, one of Yang Chen Fu’s (descendant of Yang Style founder, Yang Luchan) students, I was able to remember and resume the practice of Yang Style 108 Long Form.  

It didn’t stop there.

I continued my research, and learned that five Tai Chi systems or schools existed:  Chen, Yang, Wo, Sun and Hua, with Yang being the most popular.  Little did I know, I was a student of the Yang style and, at the time, didn’t understand the correlation between Okinawan karate and Chinese Tai Chi, except for my instructor telling me to shut up and learn.

When I reconnected to Tai Chi, I instantly devoted myself to daily practice and research.

Tai Chi’s Health Benefits

Years ago, my instructor, Shihan Sensei, Frank “China” Yuen, said that Tai Chi is made up of three fundamental parts:

Thought. 

Movement. 

Breath.  

He continued to explain that as we lived our lives, these elements interact and communicate with each other.  But due to our hectic lifestyle, we lose balance.  He said that earth’s natural elements follow these precepts, but we, as humans and our predisposition for success push ourselves toward the brink of exhaustion.  Our search for that perfect job, home, life and body tilt us sideways; thus, the unintended results of chronic conditions, negatively, affect our mind, body and spirit. 

Many sources verify and validate that stress is the root cause for major illnesses.  

When we insist upon success at all cost, we make ourselves sick.

According to Healthline.com, when your body is in stress mode, it …”trigger(s) your body’s “fight or flight” response. Your heart races, your breath quickens, and your muscles ready for action. This response was designed to protect your body in an emergency by preparing you to react quickly. But when the stress response keeps firing, day after day, it could put your health at serious risk. (Source:  Ann Pietrangelo and Stephanie Watson Medically Reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, "The Effects of Stress on Your," Healthline.com.,June 5, 2017).

Stress is bad, and we need to recognize its harmful effects.   

Sensei proceeded to explain that the internal life force called “chi” is blocked by stress; that Tai Chi exercise turns the stress switch off and promotes flow by opening blocks and restoring balance.  By training Tai Chi, outside thoughts, distractions and influences are eliminated, and natural energy flow is restored.

Another great source is in Dr. Peter Wayne’s, PhD book The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi:  12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart & Sharp Mind.  I highly recommend it. 

Tai Chi for old folks only? 

Tai Chi utilizes movements from Qigong (chee GONG), which translated means “energy cultivation,” a series of constant movements that link mind and body through deep “dantien” or belly breathing and promote unencumbered energy flow throughout the body.  The key word is “constant” like walking, running, cycling and dancing.  Tai Chi and Qigong are differentiated through their slow, relaxed (free from strain), and flowing movements that emphasize mindfulness and coordinated breathing.  

Let the chi flow as I would instruct my students. 

With that said, Tai Chi and Qigong have been thought a senior citizen’s workout perfect for the elderly, who do not have the capacity to meet the demands of workouts like “cross fit”, “spin cycle” or “zumba”.   

When I returned to Way of Japan as a Shotokan karate instructor, I introduced Tai Chi to the curriculum and found students as young as 10-years-old with high school and college students and young professionals taking Tai Chi and benefiting.  Though perfect for old timers, there’s room for youngsters, who seek personal balance, control and peace to their hectic and demanding lives.

Tai Chi makes sick people well? 

Though stories are told of people claiming definitively that Tai Chi and Qigong cured their cancer, heart conditions, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and even the common cold, there’s no scientific evidence to prove or back its efficacy.  There is no current science nor method of identifying, measuring and quantifying “chi”; however, there is hope that, one day, a way will be discovered, and then we can make this claim.  Until then, we can only say that miraculous cures and remission from Tai Chi and Qigong are anecdotal.  

My blog/website contain links (see tabs) that you can read and review.

Regardless of the placebo effect, Tai Chi convinces people of its magical powers, me included. 

One final note, I took karate to become a good fighter, and consequently, became one, literally, a lethal weapon.  As mentioned before, Tai Chi was not a martial art I sought after.   

It found me. 

During a discovery phase later in life, I noticed a transition, an overall perspective that helped me grow and change.  I was less brash, cocky and aggressive.  My fight and “kill or be killed” attitude was replaced with a calm disposition and demeanor.  The slow relaxed movements I exercised daily, focused on “the now” not the past nor future and allowed me to surrender to the moment, trust the process, enrich my mind, body and spirit with breath and feel a sense of total gratitude and compassion, a connection with the universe, nature and, finally, a…”small measure of peace, that we all seek, and few of us ever find.”  From the movie, “The Last Samurai”.

So, if you have the distinct pleasure and opportunity of taking Tai Chi and Qigong, I recommend you giving it a try.   

You might not only like it, it just might save your life.

It saved mine.




1 comment: