Tai Chi for Humanity

Recently, I was recognized for my volunteer work teaching Qigong and Tai Chi at a local Cancer Center.  I was both humbled and appreciative and thank my teachers and mentors who helped me be a vessel of their wisdom and contributions.

One of my revered instructors, Shihan Frank “China” Yuen, at the time, was a high ranking Butoko Kai instructor, one of the late Soke Richard Kim’s original black belts from Hawaii, a wonderful, straight forward man who spoke in “pigin” English.  Come to think of it, almost all of Master Kim’s original blackbelts and associates, ie., Wally Jay, “Lucky”, and Robert Leong were Hawaiian, who ended up in the Bay Area and San Francisco, and I had the pleasure and honor of knowing and learning from their “da kine” island humor and wisdom.

I was brash, young, flexible, strong and athletic.  They were in their late 50’s and mid-60’s, still enduring the three hour, four to five day-a-week workouts, that ended in Yang Long Form Tai Chi and Qigong breathing.  It was incredible, and those who were fortunate and privileged enough to go through those workouts can attest to the value of very “old school” training.

I left the Bay Area and, after four years of this worldly training, focused on karate and kickboxing.  I, not only became adept in fighting and forms (“kata”), I promoted tournaments and kickboxing shows.  My workouts focused on “banging” and getting “banged”.

After reaching the mid-century stage of my life, my body no longer could meet that demand where the rigors of karate, kickboxing and judo workouts took its toll.  In addition, complimentary weight training and long miles on the treadmill and streets were out of the question. 

Change was necessary.

As an old baby boomer, we did not have written resources, videos nor the Internet. What we had were an instructor, dojo, repetition, muscle memory and “not forgetting.” 

I decided that Tai Chi was my solution.

Surprisingly after many years of not practicing the Yang long form, I was able to remember some of the exercises but not enough to be useful.

Thank God for the Internet.  This was around 2005 when I started reading up and reviewing YouTube videos.

Because I trained in the Bay Area, I knew Chinese practitioners, who trained in various forms of Kung fu, Tai Chi being one of the disciplines, but nothing like I learned through my research.  I didn’t know that five Tai Chi styles existed, though I did witness the Chen style, thinking that it was Kung Fu because of its quick and snapping techniques.  My instructor briefly taught me Baguazhuang, but I was not that good at the intricate “mud walking” and circle shifting skills.  I was happy to learn the long form that I was, then, adequate but not adept.

Within a short period, I recalled the many hours of training as a young adult in the Bay Area and segued, quickly, into the softer and internal discipline that now pays dividends beyond my wildest dreams and expectations.

Tai Chi, that became a personal culture and philosophy, is a slow motion martial arts dance: methodical, mindful and purposeful. I was fortunate enough to learn it many years ago, as part of my karate training, unheard of, at the time because karate was Japanese, and Tai Chi was Chinese.  They represented two sides of the spectrum:  Japanese karate was strong, fast and powerful, the Chinese art being soft, relaxed and delicate.

Thanks to the Internet, I learned the history of the many styles, but I focused on what I learned those many years ago, which was the Yang Long Form. 

Because of my education and profession, I’ve learned to be a strong researcher; however, as hard as I tried, I could not grasp the essence of Chinese Tai Chi history and philosophy.  It’s enamored in many years of antiquity that, if I were to have done it right, I would’ve started when I was a child.  This disability of being “not Chinese” inhibited my quest to, thoroughly, understand this art. 

The challenge was not in learning the forms: Many years of training afforded me the ability to learn these particular nuances with certainty; and, teach to others.

However, I lacked that all to important esoteric “spirit”.

Then I picked up the book, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi:  12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart & Sharp Mind by Peter M. Wayne with Mark L Fuerst. 
It opened my eyes to a Western frame of mind that I was not able to wrap itself around in the past.  Bear in mind, I practiced Tai Chi and Qigong for the past ten years daily and, though I tried, could not fully grasp 3,000 years of ancient metaphors.  Their points of reference and mine did not coincide. 

With Dr. Wayne’s book and the “Eight Active Ingredients”, I started putting pieces together and the “aha” and “making sense” parts fell in place.

Awareness (including mindfulness and focused attention).
  1. Intention (including belief and expectation).
  2. Structural integration (including dynamic form and function). 
  3. Active relaxation of both mind and body
  4. Strengthening and flexibility.
  5. Natural, freer breathing.
  6. Social support.
  7. Embodied spirituality (including philosophy and ritual).

This book is comprehensive and for, someone like me, complete with both layman and erudite explanations.  I have read it through but am working on reading it the second time and plan on reading it over again. 

Tai Chi, unlike my past karate and kickboxing training, has many exceptional variables, each enamored in years of history and wisdom that can be passed down to many generations forward.

It is my goal to use this knowledge to continue my volunteer work at a local cancer center, help wounded soldiers suffering from PTSD,  and introduce it into the educational system where techniques and mindful mediation can help students deal with their growing pains, personal angst, and now, dangerous environment. 

Those of you who are in the position to teach this wisdom, please do so, not only yourself, but for the sake of humanity.


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