Sunday, December 14, 2008

Changed by Tai Chi

by Julie Li

"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."

Having heard that tai chi was beneficial for the elderly,I signed up with my 73-year-old mother for an introductory 8-week adult ed course at Peter Kwok's Kung Fu Academy in Emerson, NJ. That was a year and a half ago and I haven't looked back.

I had always been curious about tai chi, but had no real idea of what to expect. Faced with the typical frustrations of a beginner--"What? There's a short form too?!"--the first six months were especially challenging.

I wasn't completely naïve however: I knew there would be a learning curve, especially at my age and less-than peak physical condition. What I didn't anticipate was how much I would be changed by tai chi. The things I've lost have been tangible --some unwanted pounds have disappeared--but what I've found has been even more valuable: increased confidence and patience, newfound mental and physical strength, and a core of inner resources I didn't know I could possess. In addition to opening these doors within myself, tai chi has also connected me more with my husband's family and culture--we joke that because of my interest in martial arts and Taoist philosophy I am now more Chinese than he is. One special moment I will never forget is doing tai chi with my mother-in-law and her siblings at a family reunion last year. They were eager to see what I had
learned and I was nervous to show them. But their enthusiasm at even my rudimentary knowledge of tai chi was obvious as they followed me through a shaky demonstration of the Guang Ping Yang long form. What came next was even more of a surprise, when, after we finished, they bowed and expressed their thanks, affectionately
calling me "master."

Equally as important to me as experiences like this are the very people who make up my martial arts family. There is a real sense of community at my school, and I don't think my "tai chi friends" know how much they have come to mean to me. I do know that while we may have only a limited knowledge of each other, the connections are meaningful, and, I hope, longlasting. Each one of my teacher-sisters and teacher-brothers has been just that--a patient and supportive teacher who has in their own way opened another door. This kind of accepting and nurturing environment doesn't happen by accident. Our teacher, Master Randy Elia, embodies the Chinese expression, "Teacher for a day, parent for life," and the knowledge, enthusiasm, and encouragement he shares with us so freely is infinite and inspiring.

Still a beginner with a lifetime of practice ahead, I know I have only begun to scratch the surface of what tai chi has to teach me. I look forward to the journey and, although my kicks may not be as steady years down the road, I know my spirit will only continue to grow stronger.

Julie Li is a Board Member and Membership Coordinator for the GPYTCA

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