Why I do Tai Chi

September 25, 2020

Teachers at the healing school I was attending in the late 90’s basically demanded that I learn some lower body exercise, like Tai Chi. I had strong legs from all the hiking, backpacking and mountain climbing I’d done, but they didn’t recommend that I simply become stronger. I had developed my strength through will-power, which had created lots of tension and discomfort in my body, particularly my low back. They wanted me to learn Tai Chi, so I could learn how to relax and develop inner strength and grace. I wasn’t a graceful one.

A couple years ago, I had one of my bodywork clients ask me if I was a dancer, simply by how they observed me as I moved about my office. I was floored and a bit pleased. Never in my life did I think I would be mistaken for a dancer! Tai Chi has helped turned my stiff and awkward body into a much more fluid and graceful one and I am thoroughly pleased with the results so far.

I took my first Tai Chi classes with Ronald Jorgensen from Enumclaw, WA in 1999. I enjoyed his careful explanation of the movements and his sprightly personality made learning easy. He taught me a lot of skills I still use today, such as the “walking upstream” exercise.

Ronald also introduced me to his teacher, William CC Chen. Grandmaster Chen (we call him ‘Master Chen’ for short) has been teaching Tai Chi since 1950. He has blown my mind in his power, humility, grace and ability to teach. When I first met Master Chen circa 2000, he first spent about 60 seconds teaching me one day during a workshop. I struggled to “find my root” as he was teaching me to do, but then I got it! How did he teach me so quickly, something so seemingly difficult?! I walked out of that workshop, feeling like I was literally walking on clouds. It was such a surreal feeling that lasted for over a week, I wouldn’t have believed it without feeling it myself.

Soon after that, I got distracted by “life” and forgot the form. Instead I did “fake tai chi” off and on for years. In 2011, I found another Master Chen student, Bob Iden, who has been studying with Master Chen for over 30 years. I spent two years in small classes with him in Seattle. I also attended a couple more Master Chen workshops during this time and he again blew my mind with his presence and skill…I was literally laughing most of the time because I couldn’t believe anyone could move the way he does! When my wife and I moved to the Methow Valley in 2013, I kept up my lessons with Bob over Skype and Zoom. I still go back to Seattle a few times a year for in-person instruction with Bob (pre-Covid, anyways!) and attend Master Chen’s workshops when he comes to Seattle.

I started teaching Tai Chi in the spring of 2014. Bob said that Master Chen was coming to present a workshop in Seattle that fall. I was thrilled! Master Chen hadn’t been to Seattle to teach in perhaps 10 years. I have been so inspired by my experience with him, that I knew I really wanted to help make it possible for others to go to his workshop. No prior experience is ever required to attend a Master Chen workshop, but having at least one Tai Chi “form” class under your belt can make a big difference. It’s not customary for a Tai Chi student to start teaching others until they’ve been studying for at least 5 years. I only had three years at that point studying with Bob, but I’ve learned so much from his excellent teaching style and he gave me the green light to start teaching. I initially only taught the first 20 movements (Part A), which is a complete and excellent form by itself. After a couple more years of practice with movements 21-60 (Part B), I started teaching the whole 60-movement form. I’ve been teaching one or more multi-month long classes every year since.

A lot of things have helped my back pain. Hellerwork Structural Integration made a permanent and dramatic difference in my whole body, including my back. However, once I started doing Hellerwork sessions with clients, within a couple years, my back pain returned. As I received more bodywork, my back improved once again, but there was clear and direct correlation to my posture while doing sessions and my back pain. Hellerwork had “straightened me out” but new bad habits were forming. Tai Chi taught me a better way to use my body while I worked and my back is very happy for it. I can now also chop firewood, work in our large garden and move many bales of hay without angering my back.

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