Regular beneficial physical activity is clearly a pivotal to maintaining good health but in the busy situation in which many of us find ourselves the opportunities to act upon this can seem limited. As modernity crept into the Chinese world in the mid-twentieth century, it was this aspect of life that concerned Cheng Man-ch’ing (1901-75), a famous T’ai-Chi exponent, doctor of Chinese medicine, poet and artist. He clearly saw the health benefits of making T’ai-Chi available to a mass audience, where hitherto it had remained fairly exclusive, access often being dependent upon family connections. Reaching the West in the sixties, it is now widely practiced internationally, with increasing research evidence pointing to its benefits in such specific areas of health as circulatory regulation and balance function.
Working on the precept that softness overcomes rigid strength, such as may be seen when hard rocky cliffs are pulverised by soft water of the sea, T’ai-Chi offers a window onto a very different way of perceiving the body as part of nature. I have also clearly witnessed the health benefits both personally and in the hundreds of students of all ages whom I have shared classes with or taught over the years. It is a great pleasure to see 80-year old practitioners perform movements that 20-somethings find challenging when they are first encountered. The diverse possibilities offered by T’ai-Chi seem a particular strength - people may pursue very different agendas, be they health-related, philosophical, meditative or even martial, whilst participating in essentially the same activity. As an instructor I do not feel it is my role to direct what these interests may be, however an open mind is always a good place to start something new.
I have studied T’ai-Chi since I first became interested in 1987, but this journey has not been especially linear: One characteristic of T’ai-Chi is that the focus of my interest has shifted over the years. Early on, I had a teenage fascination with its function as martial art, being especially intrigued with stories of elderly men (it was traditionally almost exclusively a male activity) getting the better of much younger opponents in the peak of strength and fitness. As my practice developed, I grew more interested in the sophisticated physical ‘mechanics’ that underpin the exercise, these being quite different from anything I have encountered elsewhere. The movements are based upon the YinYang model founded in Chinese Taoist philosophical tradition. They require a reasonable focus of attention to perform and offer particular opportunities to develop leg power, upper body relaxation, and agility. Appreciation of the internal structure and function of the movements helped me understand how the seemingly unlikely tales mentioned above made perfect sense. When spending time in Taiwan, I was once surprised when a sprightly practitioner with whom I had been studying turned out to be a full three decades older than I had judged him to be. More recently, I encountered a 73-year old practitioner who, standing in a normal stance, could sustain the full effort to move him of men literally twice his size and half his age, his muscles remained totally relaxed and limber when you touched him, but he was rooted into the ground like a tree.
My classes offer a firm foundation in T’ai-Chi practice, providing participants with both the equipment and understanding to fully engage with the art. At the Sunflower Centre, I teach a small group weekly allowing plenty of individual attention which facilitates swift learning, greatly enhanced by a little home practice. There are many different styles of T’ai-Chi - I teach the Yang style form as abridged by Cheng Man-ch’ing, which comprises 7 minutes of continuous movement. This provides a basic toolkit to maintain and improve the health as Master Cheng intended, as well as offering access to the wider possibilities of T’ai-Chi practice.
Please email me if you require further information or are interested: firstname.lastname@example.org