Monday, October 3, 2011

Tai Chi: A Multi-faceted Art Form

When I began studying Tai Chi, before it received very much media attention, I learned that it was a multi-faceted art form.  A health exercise, a meditation, and a martial art.  It was profound, something you could study for many lifetimes and still glean more benefits and insights.  As it came to be a more familiar practice in the West and began receiving more media attention, this broad, multi-faceted art form was reduced to an exercise for the elderly.
 When I started to teach in the Kansas City area back in 1980 I offered a class through Communiversity (a catalog with an eclectic assortment of classes).  My class was put under the heading "Inner Paths" which I thought was good placement.  It was broad enough to encompass the Tao of Tai Chi and spoke to its being an internal martial art form.  Several years later it was switched to "Outer Paths" under the subheading "Martial Arts".  This significantly narrowed the scope of Tai Chi as well as taking away the 'internal' connection. When I decided to offer a class in the most recent catalog, I looked under "Inner Path", then "Outer Paths" and finally found my class in 'Fitness'.  Hmm.

Don't get me wrong, Tai Chi is a wonderful health exercise that can be practiced as one move's into old age and certainly anyone can choose to limit their focus to fitness, but there is so much more to it. Learning to play the piano may improve your dexterity. coordination, and finger strength, but it would be silly to practice it for only those reasons.  Meditation can be used solely as a relaxation technique, but it also can provoke great insight into life.

Over the last few years it has been disheartening to see the media pigeon-hole Tai Chi as a fitness exercise best for old people.  It has been the kiss-of-death to any interest from young adults - a propitious age to begin practice.  Fortunately there is a small glimmer of hope.  An article recently appeared in China Daily (view) which announced that the martial arts film star, Jet Li, was going to spend more time promoting martial arts, particularly Tai chi, with a foundation (TaiChiZen) and a movie to be released in 2013 about the founder of the Yang style of Tai Chi Chuan, Yang Lu-ch'an.  From

"The former national martial arts champion expects to break the stereotyped view of tai chi as a form of exercise favored by just old people in parks.

It could be a fashionable sport for young people around the world, as much as India's yoga and South Korea's taekwondo, Li believes."

Whether or not Jet Li's efforts will be successful is hard to say.  A 'fashionable sport' may be just another pigeon-hole.  However, he's been involved in the media world for many years, so his savviness may have some impact.

In any case, it is important for us to acknowledge and pass along our understanding of the truly broad nature of the art we practice.

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