One of the questions I get asked a lot by our students is, “what is your favorite style, Henry?” To which I answer with not a moment’s hesitation, “Taijiquan.”
This catches a lot of students off guard since they usually see me coaching our Kung Fu classes and demonstrating the fast and dynamic movements there. So, to help answer this question of “Why Taiji?” I’m first going to share a bit of personal history.
I’ve practiced Chinese Martial Arts since I was 13. Long story short, when I was 16, I slipped one of the discs in my lower back and was in agonizing pain all the time! (Here, let’s go down the list: moving hurt, sitting hurt, sneezing hurt…I think you guys get the idea).
At the suggestion of many, I investigated acupuncture and then Taijiquan. At first, I was resistant since I was so used to doing the dynamic acrobatics of Wushu and the powerful punch, kicks, and throws of Chinese Kickboxing (called “Sanda” in Mandarin Chinese).
Unfortunately for me, even after I had an incredibly successful treatment from acupuncture (100% of my pain had disappeared!) my pain ended up returning since I did NOT heed my acupuncturist’s advice and ended up reinjuring myself.
But Henry, didn’t you say 100% of the pain disappeared? So you weren’t cured after all?
Yes and no. The fact of the matter is that I had been injured for 4 years before seeking acupuncture. During that time, a lot of things changed such as the way I carried my body. Because I was in constant pain, I ended up keeping muscles under constant tension to try to mitigate the pain. That meant that literally EVERYTHING physical that I did changed: walking, standing, even my martial arts. So even after the pain had disappeared, I was still carrying myself in a way that predisposed myself to injury.
Fast forward to 2014. At this point, I had been studying under Shifu Master Zhou Xuanyun for a solid year or so. At his advice, I began training in Taiji with him. At first, I thought: “more forms to learn to add to my ever growing collection of forms.” During one practice, however, Shifu and I had the conversation that would forever alter my training.
“Henry, relax. You need to use your body here, not your arms.”
“Shifu, I AM using my waist.”
“No. No, you’re not. Do it slower. Stop thinking so much. Feel.”
Shifu methodically showed me both through his own demonstration and moving my waist with his hands to show the difference between his movement and mine.
In that brief exchange, Shifu showed me just how little control I had over my body I actually had . Rather than moving like a healthy young person, I had begun holding myself rigid as though I were an older man. Despite my robust exterior, in reality, I had become incredibly fragile and so prone to injury that without Shifu’s encouragement I would have given up not only marital arts but physical activity right then and there.
From that point on, I began to understand Taiji for what it was. It wasn’t just a set of forms that I memorized mindlessly. It was a method of deep introversion to learn the proper way to move my body, and to unlearn the habits, which had made me so injury prone.
Fast forward once again to 2016. Here I am fully recovered and training as though I were a thirteen-year-old once again. Hopefully a little wiser than back then though!
And that’s why: “Taiji”
Daoist Gate Senior Instructor