Tai Chi – my new movement happiness.

The third time is the charm, right?

Ever since I was young I’ve wanted to take up a martial art. Twice before I’ve started but something else came up at the same time and I would wind up not having the time for martial arts.

Grandmaster James Shyun demonstrating the stance of 8 Step Praying MantisBack in 1998 I started training in 8 Step Praying Mantis Kung Fu and Shyun Style Tai Chi. I’m very fortunate to live in San Francisco, a city with an incredibly high number of high level martial arts teachers. When I started with the 8 Step, I was going to the school of the world grandmaster, Shyun Kwong Long (Dr. James Shyun). Being able to take training at the school of the world grandmaster is a rare opportunity. The primary reason I became interested in this school was not the kung fu, but rather the tai chi. Master Sun taught both the health form AND the fighting set. I was highly interested in learning the fighting set and in order to be eligible to learn the fighting set, you first have to complete your first dan (black belt) in both 8 Step Praying Mantis and the health form of tai chi. It would have been a long process but highly worthwhile and enjoyable.

But of course, in 1998 I also discovered GYROTONIC®. And we all know how that turned out. GYROTONIC® captivated me and I went full bore into studying. This left me no time for kung fu/tai chi, so opportunity one slipped away.

For my next effort, I switched to a Korean martial art, Hapkido.

In 2002, I had my own GYROTONIC® studio in the Marina district of San Francisco. People were always welcome to come into the studio and get a free demo on the equipment. One day a couple came in and the husband wanted to try GYROTONIC®. After working with him for about 20 minutes, he told me that he was a 7th dan in Hapkido and a direct student of the founder of Hapkido, Ji Han Jae. I was so interested, we probably talked for another hour after that. He offered to give me a training session, which I happily took up. I then went to the primary school where to taught and it was loaded of great, high level intructors; two 7th dan and several 5th and 6th dan. To have that many instructors of that level is rare. I began going to classes regularly on Mondays.

However… around that time I also began getting serious about my Buddhist practice and studies at the center I was going to for my meditations had their main weekly practice when?? Mondays, of course. At that time, the Buddhism meant more to me, so another opportunity had to be put aside.

This time, I’m going to make sure the third time IS a charm.

I recently decided I was now solid enough in my work schedule to begin to look at more extra curricular activites and for me, that’s always movement. Like I said above, what got me into the 8 Step Praying Mantis was the tai chi. I definitely still want to learn tai chi so I began looking up schools in my neighborhood. And I saw this…

When I saw that video, I immediately knew that Swimming Dragon was the style I wanted to learn.

Swimming Dragon tai chi is very different from Yang tai chi.

Most likely, any tai chi you’ve seen video of or seen people do in parks or health clubs is the Yang style, generally referred to as the health form. This is a very good video of a sifu demonstrating the full 108 form Yang tai chi. As you can see, the movement is very different than the Swimming Dragon. I had seen lots of Yang style and when I saw the Swimming Dragon, I was spellbound.

One thing to notice is the amount of movement around the room. The Yang style slowly and methodically moves about the room as the 108 forms are completed. But when you watch Liping Zhu performing the Swimming Dragon, she hardly moves from one small area. This form of tai chi was apparently developed when the originator was in prison, thus restricted to a 6 x 6 foot space.

Another aspect that I notice is the greater apparent use of the movement from the fighting set in Swimming Dragon. While it is an internal art, the relationship to the fighting set is more evident to me.

Once again, I’m fortunate to be in San Francisco.

Not only am I able to study Swimming Dragon in San Francisco, but Liping Zhu, one of only two of Master Yu Anren’s students who teaches outside of China, is right here in San Francisco. Recently I was fortunate enough to take a two hour qi gung & tai chi class from Liping in Golden Gate Park. (Man, trail running and tai chi in that park two blocks from my house? Lucky me!) And in the “it’s a small world after all” category, it winds up the owner of the GYROTONIC® studio in Marin where I work is also a student of Liping.

Currently I’m working through the 20 movements of the first form (there are three forms of 20 movements each) using Liping’s instructional video. Then in September I’ll be starting a 12 week workshop on the third form. I’m really looking forward to it.

So… what have you been wanting to do but haven’t committed to?

For me, it was martial arts. First it’ll be the Swimming Dragon, then I want to study Aikido. What about you? What have you taken stuttering steps toward? What has been rolling around in your mind for years? Have you been telling yourself you really “should” start practicing meditation? Is it an internal, personal practice involving movement, like tai chi, yoga, or Wing Chun Kung fu? Or have you wanted to learn a new language? Right now I’m beefing up on my Spanish and am starting to learn Japanese.

Whatever it is, get to it. You DO have the time. Internal & personal practices that fulfill goals improve your self esteem, give you a sense of success, keep your mind fresh and sharp and help you feel young and energized. You know why little kids are always so excited, happy and smiling? Everything is new. They’re constantly learning. Keep youthful. Constantly learn.


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