Tai Chi (or Taiji)

Tai Chi ChuanI’ve always been fascinated with the martial arts. As a kid I wanted so badly to take karate lessons. I loved the way the robes looked and the idea of working my way up the different color belts. There was also something very appealing about being able to defend oneself using nothing more than my hands and feet. (This was helped in no small way by the fact that I was beat up relatively often by bullies in my school and the subsequent desire to return the favor should they try it again.) The opportunity to learn never did present itself, however, due to lack of both time and money.

I have recently begun learning Taiji (Tai Chi), however, as therapy for my back and fueled in no small part by my long-time desire to learn a martial art. Taiji is an internal martial art, relying not on speed and muscular strength _per se_ but on core strength and balance. Taiji is a defensive martial art, and as such, focuses on redirecting an opponent’s attacks and using the body core to stop the attack. As a result, the moves of Taiji are very powerful and controlled.

Taiji has been used as a form of exercise, therapy, and meditation for centuries, and it is this aspect for which I am studying the art. One of the most important things my surgeon wants me to do is develop a stronger body core so that my back isn’t doing all the work and thus be more likely to become injured in the future. Research has shown that Taiji can increase core muscle strength by 15-20%. It can also improve one’s balance and provide a better overall sense of well-being.

My teacher is “Master Stephen Hwa”:http://www.classicaltaichi.com of the Penfield, NY, area. He has produced a fabulous set of DVDs to teach the Yang Wu style, provided detailed, step-by-step tutorials from multiple angles for the best overall view. I am currently working on the first lesson, Taiji Walking, which focuses on using the abdominal and back muscles to lift the pelvis, and subsequently the legs, in a controlled and powerful step. The process exercises the core muscles and stretches everything from the lower back down through the legs and feet. It has been interesting to note how much even this simple exercise makes me feel stronger and more energetic overall.

My intention is to focus on one lesson a week, taking about six months to go through the entire course. Of course, there may be lessons where a week simply isn’t sufficient enough time for me to feel like I’ve accomplished what I needed to, in which case I’ll devote as much time as necessary to it. Master Hwa, as well as many other practitioners, has stated that it takes years to fully master the art of Taiji, but I believe it will be well worth the time spent.

And who knows? Maybe somewhere down the road a few years, I’ll go for certification as a teacher of Taiji and open my own school. But that, of course, is putting the cart well before the horse.

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