Trying Out Tai Chi

I have always wondered why there aren’t more bodies littering the streets here in China what with the crazy traffic vs. pedestrian daily battles over turf.  Now I know–Tai Chi.  Embracing Tai Chi and practicing every morning on any street corner that’s available, locals here are nimble, stress-free and can gracefully leap out of the way of the buses bearing down on them without breaking a sweat or screaming obscenities.  Me, not so much.  Hardly a morning goes by without me starting my commute with a rude gesture to a motorist trying to kill me.

So off to Tai Chi Class we went today.  We had tried a Tai Chi class when we were on the boat cruise in Halong Bay but it was very brief and meant to be just an intro to what this ancient sport was all about.  Now, we were headed to a class for a hour long session to give it a whirl.  Old people here embrace it and do it daily.  And by “old people”, I mean WAY older than me.  How hard could it be???  Right???

Thom's first attempt at Tai Chi when we were in Halong Bay.
Thom’s first attempt at Tai Chi when we were in Halong Bay.

Now having personally attempted it, I know why Tai Chi is not that popular in the U.S.  I just laughed myself silly when the class instructor performed a move which involved bending like a pretzel while lowering your entire body to the floor only to bounce up like a jack in the box and fling one leg in the air, slapping it hard with your hand for some unknown reason.  Unfortunately, there was no way I was able to do that and not injure my body and dignity so I abstained.  Damn-this was way harder than Yoga!  Thom dipped a little but didn’t make it all the way to the floor but I give him credit for trying.

I guess I thought of Tai Chi as an exercise routine but it is really a martial arts form of  training used for both defense and also for its health benefits.  The slow movements looked so interesting when I watch the ladies in the park outside my window every morning.  I have all new respect for them, especially those who practice it with the shiny swords.  I can’t even imagine the “guns” these ladies are packing on their arms to be able to hold up that sword for any length of time and practice their moves.  You go girls!  Ain’t nobody messing with you!

After the class, I did some research and Wiki says, “Medical research has found evidence that t’ai chi is helpful for improving balance and for general psychological health, and that it is associated with general health benefits in older people.”.  I would say that anyone who practices this daily could whip anyone’s ass without breaking a sweat.

I bestowed several  of the moves with western-style nicknames like the “No Way In Hell” and the “No F*&King Way”.  At least the instructor didn’t come up to me and manually twist my body to demonstrate moves like he did to Thom and the other guys.  I guess the ladies are off limits to touch-yippee!  I had a yoga instructor try that on me in Seattle and I about backhanded her after she kept pushing and prodding me to do moves that were physically not possible, at least for me.  LIke it bothered her that I was sullying her class with my imperfect moves.  End of yoga time for me.

It was fascinating how these complicated hand gestures were really a complicated way to defend yourself.  Coming from the US where we typically defend ourselves with guns not Tai Chi, one has to wonder how many lives could be saved if we worked out all differences with our hands and feet instead of with a bullet.  First off, any incident where “alcohol was involved” would end up being resolved quickly because no way anyone could perform Tai Chi after having a few beers or shots.  They would just fall over after the pretzel move and pass out.  I had a hard time following the intricate precision movements stone cold sober–good luck if you’ve had a few too many.

Of course, I was thinking as I watched Thom get his personal training in protection that a good “knee up” would take care of any male attackers quickly but Tai Chi was definitely more elegant.  Since I have the attention span of a gnat, it was really hard for me to concentrate for a hour on at least showing some mimic ability of the moves being shown.  I would give myself a “C” for effort and “F” for execution if I’m being honest.  It wasn’t pretty.  At.  All.

Afterward, a nice couple who live in our complex (class was part of our onsite gym) came up and told us that they had been coming to class for a year and still were learning.  That made us feel not as inadequate and they encouraged us to keep coming to learn our moves.  There’s hope for us after all!  Tai Chi baby–watch out motorists in Shanghai–you won’t hit me now!

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