Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tai Ji Chuan - Interview with Michael Blackburn

How would you describe Taiji?

Taijiquan ("tai chi," see Note below) is a Chinese internal martial art that is practiced for health and self-defense. The taijiquan solo form is a graceful sequence of smooth and continuous movements which is often described as meditation in motion. Taijiquan study also includes standing meditation, qigong, push hands (which describes a wide range of training done with a partner), and weapons study.

What style to do you teach?

I practice the traditional Yang and Chen styles. Most of my teaching is in the Yang style.

What interested you about Taiji initially?

I was originally drawn to taijiquan as a teenager through an interest in Eastern philosophy and culture, including daoism. I enjoy physical activity but have never been drawn to team sports, so the more introspective and non-competitive nature of taijiquan resonated for me.

How long have you been teaching for?

I have been practicing taijiquan for 22 years, and have been teaching for about half that time.

What are the benefits of a regular practice?

Before taijiquan's introduction to Western students, its health benefits were largely explained through the lens of traditional Chinese medicine, which is based on a view of the body and healing mechanisms not always studied or supported by modern science. Today, taijiquan is in the process of being subjected to rigorous scientific studies in the West. Researchers have found that intensive taijiquan practice shows favorable effects on the promotion of balance control, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness and reduced the risk of falls, and has shown to help students who are recovering from chronic stroke, heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attacks, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. Taijiquan's gentle, low impact movements burn more calories than surfing and nearly as many as downhill
skiing. There have also been indications that taijiquan might have an effect on noradrenaline and cortisol production, with a positive effect on mood and heart rate.

How frequently do people need to practice?

As with any activity, benefits increase with more regular practice. I strongly encourage my students to make a commitment to practice on a regular basis, at least a few times every week, and those that do so learn more quickly, take more satisfaction from lessons and enjoy much greater health benefits. Even doing a little taijiquan offers substantial benefits, and the more one practices the more they will enjoy it!

Are there any contraindications?

One of the special things about taijiquan is that it can easily be modified by a qualified teacher to suit students with various health challenges. Although there are high-level taijiquan practices which are contraindicated for certain conditions, a beginner student would not be exposed to such training until the teacher was confident it was safe for that individual.

Do you have any upcoming classes/workshops?

Regular classes are held Tuesday evenings at the Dunbar Community Centre (7- 9 pm) and Sunday mornings at the Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (9 - 11 am). A special tui shou ("push hands") intensive class will also be offered this summer on Tuesday evenings at the Dunbar Community Centre.


NOTE: There are many ways to write Chinese characters in roman script. A popular, older style is called Wade Giles. in Wade Giles, the capital of China is written "Peiking," internal energy is "c'hi," and the art I practice is "t'ai chi ch'uan." The international standard format for writing Chinese characters in roman script is called pinyin, and today most Chinese terms are written using this format. In pinyin, the capital city of China is "Beijing," internal energy is "qi," and the art I practice is "taijiquan." In other words, "taijiquan," "Tai chi," and "t'ai chi ch'uan" are all the exact same thing.

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