A moment of instantaneous delight occurred when I first observed people doing tai chi chuan (tai ji quan) in the early 70's in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Being mesmerized by its slow, rhythmic, dance like motion and feeling quite emotional and captivated by its beauty, I soon realized I had to study this art form. And much to my delight, I soon learned that hidden within tai ji were both a powerful martial art and a meditation through movement.
Returning to Ann Arbor, my long study of tai ji (yang style) was initiated with a local, colorful, and soft-spoken Volvo mechanic, Bob Thorson, and his teacher, Phil Ho. In Madison, Wisconsin, while doing a residency in psychiatry and in Chicago while practicing holistic medicine, I continued to practice tai ji, although yoga and meditation became my primary focus.
We moved back to Ann Arbor in 1981 and from time to time Bob and I would get together to talk of old times and practice our tai ji form. In the late 90’s, I had decided to study other forms of Chinese martial arts and had often heard that Richard Miller had great skill in many of these systems. Nine years ago, I happened to meet Richard in Burns Park practicing with his group, was very impressed, and soon began studying tai ji and bagua with him.
In our class, we study chen style tai ji, the original and oldest form of tai ji, as well as baguazhang, another Chinese internal martial art.
My good friend, colleague and lawyer, Marty Kriegel, and I have had many discussions about the interface between tai ji, qigong and the concepts and practices of yoga. Recently, Marty asked me if I’d like to learn a short form of Yang tai ji that he learned while living in Hong Kong. We spent a few weeks in the summer of 2009 studying and practicing the sweet little form. It is the form that Mao Tse Tung asked to be developed so that all Chinese people could practice that was a bit less complex than the longer more rigorous Yang form. It is practiced all over the world, from the innumerable parks in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong to the China towns in Vancouver, New York and San Francisco.
My office manager and colleague, Cinda Hocking, herself a kung fu practitioner, also learned the form with me from Marty. We now have a study group in Ann Arbor, where we meet once or twice weekly, and have several fellow students where we teach, learn and practice together.
Another tai ji form I have studied a bit is Swimming Dragon. It is taught by Liping Zhu, an acupuncturist and qigong practitioner from San Francisco. We met at Tassajara Zen Center in Northern California and have taught a seminar there together integrating Zen, qigong and yoga philosophy. Her from is quite beautiful, combining the practice of tai ji, dance and the internal system of the microcosmic orbit, the latter method being a meditative system of qigong and Taoism. I really have just dabbled in this and someday I’d like to learn the whole form from Liping.
Bagua is a powerful fighting form and at the same time, like tai ji, meditative. We practice three days weekly, spending the first hour and a quarter on tai ji and the next two hours on bagua.
The chen tai ji and bagua we practice take concentrated effort, involve both slow and fast movements, and often are quite athletic. To quote from Richard Miller’s website, greatlakeswushu.com, “Chinese martial arts (wushu) is a rich and challenging discipline; the unification of body and mind is its supreme goal. Strength, health, and fighting skills are rewards and the cultivation of inner qualities such as steadfastness, humility, and will are the bedrock upon which the art is rooted.”
Since working with teachers Scott Berry, Richard and the group, my physical health has never been better and old back problems are much improved. Whether it’s doing the slow meditative movements of tai ji, turning the circle in bagua, or wielding our 7 pound, 5 foot bagua saber, I always feel stimulated, challenged, and sometimes a bit sore.