BY ANY OTHER NAME:
Whatever you call it—T'ai Chi Ch'uan or Taijiquan (Supreme Ultimate Fist), T'ai Chi, Tai Chi, or Taiji—it's still an internal Chinese martial art that comes in many flavors, each with its own special style.
Stanley Graham likes talking about Tai Chi almost as much as he enjoys doing it. And with good reason. Graham, who teaches Tai Chi, credits it with relieving his chronic pain, reducing his blood pressure, increasing his lung capacity, saving his knees, lowering his pulse rate and enabling him to lose over 100 pounds.
Years ago, Graham, production design manager for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, worked on a TV show featuring restaurants and cooking styles from all over the country. "We ate at some wonderful places. … I got so excited about eating and cooking that the idea of a diet left my brain!" he says. But the gourmet foie gras took its toll. His weight ballooned, worsening his physical problems.
Walking with a cane and facing knee surgery, Graham turned to Tai Chi. "I was a big ole fat man with knees that were crumbling, in constant pain, and with really high blood pressure. Tai Chi brought me a great deal of peace. Now, over 10 years later, I still have my original knees, and I don't have pain anymore."
Wikipedia says the three primary subjects of all forms of Tai Chi are health, meditation and martial arts. Graham, who will soon be 60, practices Chen-style Tai Chi, the oldest form. This style is often described as "iron wrapped in cotton"—softness with a hard core. The movements flow smoothly with names like "White Crane Spreads Wings" and "Leisurely Tie Coat." It's the mind's intention that channels the energy. The body follows. Graham describes Tai Chi as "an internal art form, energy studies, slow soft movements, learning to relax your mind, learning to relax your body and learning that everything is interrelated." Getting results from something that sounds as easy as this seems unlikely. Graham explains that Tai Chi is "not aerobic, but it is cardiovascular" and it causes you to breathe deeply and fully.
The Chen style includes a standing meditation called Wu Ji, warm-up exercises designed to rotate 18 major joints in the body, and 12 movements performed in soft flowing motions.
At one time, most of the people in the U.S. who practiced Tai Chi chose the more familiar Yang style, a direct descendant of Chen. Structured and combative, Yang was taught to Chinese soldiers and then became more widely known. Chen's martial aspects, Graham says, are not as apparent as in other martial art forms, but almost every move has a martial aspect. For example, Silk Reeling movements, the graceful hand and arm motions that you may have seen Chinese people do in parks, are "a wonderful way to deal with carpal tunnel syndrome. They're also a wonderful way to cause someone who has grabbed your wrists to let go" without their ever knowing what you actually did. "It's good to be able to be pain free, and it's good to be able to be free of someone's unwanted closeness," Graham says with a laugh.
If the idea of improving your body without jumping, sweating and pumping or deceptively simple self defense techniques appeals to you, give it a shot. As Graham says, "Improve your health, improve your spirit, lose the pain, get relaxed and get healed."
Graham teaches introductory and second level Tai Chi class through the Millsaps Enrichment Program. New classes will be forming in the spring. Call 601-974-1130.
Yield and overcome;
Bend and be straight;
Empty and be full …
Soft and weak overcome hard and strong.
– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching