By: Ron Smith
Hard for me to believe, but we are now well into the third year of T’ai Chi and Qigong classes with the Cancer Support Community, having started in April 2018. When we were actually in the Tarrant Clubhouse, students asked me a lot of questions like: how did you start doing this stuff, what is T’ai Chi (or Taiji) and what is Qigong? Now that we have been doing video/remote classes for a while, I miss the dialogue and the Q & A. So, I jumped right on the offer to provide some material to inform and perhaps prompt discussion.
How and why did you start doing this?
In 1998, my family and I were living in Brussels, Belgium and I had just retired from the US Air Force to take a demanding and stressful position with NATO. My wife and daughter had started taking T’ai Chi lessons on the advice of one of my daughter’s teachers. They (who had been enduring my stress on a daily basis) suggested that I attend a class with them. So, I went and was introduced to Master Li Changduo and Madame Hu Yang.
Master Li and Madam Hu had come to Belgium to do research at the University of Leuven. Jesuit missionaries had gone to China in the 16th century and brought back with them a trove of documents in Chinese. Many of these documents were rare, as most other copies had been destroyed over the centuries, in various conflicts and suppression of certain types of knowledge. Master Li studied Wushu (martial arts) for many years and he won national championships in Beijing in both 1980 and 1981 along with a well-known contemporary martial artist and movie star – Jet Li (no relation).
Madam Hu Yang told me she did not study martial arts as a child (in the 1960s), because if you learned family martial arts secrets and married outside your family those secrets might be revealed to outsiders. She learned her skills later at university and from Master Li.
Their classes appealed to me immediately.
We learned how to warm up and loosen the body with exercises like the Ba Duan Jin, or 8 Pieces of Brocade that I still teach today in my classes. We learned some fundamental Qigong techniques.
What is Qigong?
Qi is your vital life energy and gong means the cultivation or development of something; thus, practicing Qigong is the cultivation of your vital energy. Qigong practices date back thousands of years. In the US, Qigong (pronounced “chee gong”) is considered alternative medicine, but in China Qigong is an integral part of their health system.
How do we get Qi?
Well, some Qi is in our bodies from birth. More Qi enters our bodies through breath, food and drink, and through our skin; especially at certain gateways associated with acupuncture. We will cover some of those special gateways in class this year.
According to a book I recently read, there are over 10,000 different Qigong forms/sets of exercises. I teach a few of the forms that I feel are the most useful and interesting: especially Soaring Crane Qigong and the Five Animal Frolics along with the 8 Pieces of Brocade.
Other effective Qigong exercises are Clearing the Small Universe, the Microcosmic Orbit, Organ Strengthening Exercises, The Secret Smile, Boosting Your Wei Qi (protective Qi), Shaolin Finger Bending, Eight Sublime Channels meditation and Zhan Zhuang, which can be translated as Standing Like a Tree. Qigong is the great-great-great-great-great grandmother of Taiji.
What is T’ai Chi?
The full name of this art is T’ai Chi Quan (pronounced “tie-jhee-chwan”). The more current way of spelling it is Taijiquan, but I also use T’ai Chi because this spelling is more popular in the USA. Literally translated it means something like: Supreme Ultimate Fighting or Boundless Fist. Taijiquan is a Chinese martial art that has a documented 400-year history and some Chinese authors say Taijiquan was practiced over one thousand years ago. So, it has old roots. We use the shorter term T’ai Chi/Taiji to refer to practice with emphasis on movement and little or no emphasis on combat.
There are five major family styles: Chen, Yang, Wu, Hao and Sun. I teach mainly Yang family style, which is the second oldest Taiji style.
Taiji is characteristically slow, flowing and graceful. It combines Nature, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Martial Arts. What do we mean by that? Well, briefly, a lot of the movements used in Taiji, and Qigong for that matter, have animal names and come from observing the behavior of animals. Traditional Chinese Medicine comes into play with the flow of Qi and breathing. These first two parts are employed to enhance defensive and offensive moves that we call applications.
In my classes, we focus on the aspects of gentle movement, physical and mental exercise and Qi (energy) flow. There isn’t really that much difference between Taiji and Qigong, except your intent.
Join Ron live Tuesdays at 10am, either on Zoom or Facebook, to try out one of his T’ai Chi and Qigong classes! You can find our full calendar of events, here, and you can learn more about Cancer Support Community North Texas, here.