Tai Chi in Havana Cuba

Cuba Tai Chi

This week I had an amazing experience practicing tai chi in Havana Cuba. There is an incredible Chinese martial arts school in Havana’s China Town where many locals gather in the mornings to practice tai chi. The name of the school is Escuela Cubana de Wushu and it is headed by Master Roberto Vargas Lee.  Master Lee is an accomplished martial artist who received a 4th degree black belt in karate before he began studying Chinese martial arts in China  He is now a world-class master of wushu and tai chi and heads one of the largest martial arts schools in the western world.

We arrived at Escuela Cubana de Wushu at 7:15 AM and were greeted by around 20 locals who had also arrived early to stretch and get ready for tai chi. Within the next 15 minutes there were at least 60 people filling the practice area.  Their ages ranged from their mid-thirties to their seventies and eighties.  One of the women told me she was 92 years old and had been practicing tai chi regularly for many years.  Around a third of the participants were male.  Everybody was wearing a silk Chinese jacket of various colors and several were wearing a complete silk tai chi uniform.

The Escuela Cubana de Wushu complex is one of the best martial arts training schools I have seen anywhere in the world. There is a huge outside courtyard that comfortably held the 60 plus people in our morning tai chi group.  In addition, there is an indoor training hall with Chinese decorations and martial arts weapons tastefully displayed on the walls.  Each training hall has a raised stage where the instructors are located so everyone can clearly see them.  An excellent speaker system broadcasts music and instructions, making it easy and fun to perform the tai chi forms.  With a large ying yang painted on the floor, the beautiful Chinese decorations and the Chinese flag flying next to the Cuban flag I felt like I was in an authentic martial arts school somewhere in China.

Photo by Tiffany Chang.  All Rights Reserved

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Kung Fu Granny

Kung Fu Granny III

I have long believed that continuous practice of kung fu and/or tai chi would help one maintain a healthy long life. The article Kung Fu Granny by Chieu Luu and Nanlin Fang published by CNN on February 19, 2017 reinforced this belief.  Zhang Hexian, a 93-year-old grandmother started practicing kung fu when she was four and still wakes up at 5 a.m. to practice each morning.  She has been practicing kung fu for 89 years.  Kung fu has been a tradition in her family for more than 300 years.

Ms. Zhang says “to have good body you need to exercise and keep a positive attitude”. She credits kung fu, plenty of sleep and a healthy diet for keeping her healthy.  She has never had to go to a hospital.  Zhang, who lives in China’s southeastern Zhejiang province says all of her family members have learned kung fu.  She believes it instills discipline and strength.  She also feels it is a good way to learn self defense.  I personally have been practicing either tai chi or kung fu several times a week for over 25 years and I feel great.  Hopefully I can also keep doing it until I am 93.

Photo by CNN – http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/19/asia/china-kung-fu-granny-trnd/index.html

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Can Tai Chi Be Used For Self Defense?

chinese-tai-chi

On Sunday mornings I usually go to a local park with friends and practice tai chi for exercise and relaxation. This peaceful healthy exercise is typically not thought of as a fighting martial art but it can be a critical skill for defending against attackers.  In reality, each movement in a tai chi form can be used as a fighting application that can be used against an opponent.

The best way to start thinking of tai chi as a martial art is to focus on one of the moves in the form you are practicing in your tai chi form. For example, I practice Chen style tai chi and one of the movements is a circular move with both hands circling around my face.  This is repeated several times in the form.  For years I thought of this as simply a stretching exercise until one day I was shown the fighting application.  It turns out each time my hands pass in front of my face I am blocking an incoming punch.  This is followed by a knife hand strike to the opponent’s neck and then a palm-heal strike to the opponents nose.  In reality this simple move is an amazing self-defense technique.

Unlike western fighting or many other types of martial arts, the strategy of tai chi is to flow around obstacles and to redirect the energy of an incoming attack back outward. Tai chi gives practitioners a way of dodging an attack and then responding to incoming punches or kicks.  Tai chi teaches us to remain grounded, balanced and calm.  The relaxed, circular approach of tai chi can be an extremely effective way to defend oneself regardless of a person’s size, sex, age or strength.  If you are willing to make a commitment to learning tai chi as a martial art you will be able to use these skills even in your senior years.

Photo by Richard Barton – http://preview.tinyurl.com/jdsve8a 

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Tang Soo Do Korean Martial Art

Tang Soo Do

Although Taekwondo is now the most famous Korean martial art, Tang Soo Do is also an important Korean martial art with an interesting history. When the Korean nation was released from Japanese rule the President of South Korea gave approval to begin a new national martial art, which became Tang Soo Do. It is one of the key martial arts that Korea developed after the Japanese occupation ended. Some people refer to Tang Soo Do as Korean Karate although it is really a combination of Karate, northern Kung Fu and other styles. Today Tang Soo Do is typically used for sports competitions and exhibitions.  Although Tang Soo Do is a Korean martial art, one of its most famous Grandmasters is Chuck Norris of the well-known American television series Texas Ranger.  While Chuck Norris studied Karate, Taekwondo and Judo it was Tang Soo Do that interested him most and he was the founder of the National Tang Soo Do Congress.

Photo by Chocolatemilkisdelicious – http://tinyurl.com/hco6z5h

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World Tai Chi & Qigong Day

Tai Chi Demo

Today, April 30, 2016 is World Tai Chi & Qigong Day. Right now it is 48 degrees in Connecticut at 8:00 in the morning. I am putting on some warm clothes over which I am wearing my official Tai Chi T-Shirt and heading off to the cold waterfront to do Tai Chi with a group of friends.  Like me, thousands of people around the world are celebrating these ancient Chinese martial arts. Tai Chi fans in hundreds of cities in six continents across all time zones will be practicing and introducing people to this amazing healing form of exercise.

The reason I like Tai Chi is not only for the physical exercise. Tai Chi teaches me balance and helps stimulate my memory.  As I move through the various positions in a form my mind becomes active and my whole body moves in a balanced rhythm. Tai Chi also teaches me to be calm.  The slow precise movements help me learn to abandon the burdens in life and remain calm no matter what happens.  Tai Chi is practiced by over 250 million people worldwide to help in stress reduction, balance improvement and to build physical strength in leg muscles.

Photo by National Museum of Australia – http://tinyurl.com/gtyxn6z 

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Why Do Shaolin Monks Study Kung Fu?

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A few years ago, while training at the Shaolin Temple Overseas Headquarters, I was able to have a conversation with Master Guolin about why Shaolin monks study Kung Fu. Master Guolin founded the Shaolin Temple Overseas Headquarters in Flushing, New York and then eventually moved it to Northport, Long Island.  He was born into a Buddhist martial family in Henan, China and began training in Kung Fu at the age of seven.  At age 15 he dedicated himself to Buddhism and one year later joined the Shaolin Temple in China, thereby becoming a Shaolin monk.

My question to Master Guolin was what does the practice of self-defense offer to peaceful monks? He explained that Kung Fu teaches the monks, and everyone else that practices it, how to understand yourself and control yourself.  Kung Fu requires a tremendous amount of discipline.  By using movement and breathing techniques together you can achieve a unification of the mind, body and spirit.  The practice of Kung Fu can promote both mental and physical health.  He explained that this is not only good for monks but it is perfect for today’s busy and hectic society.

Picture by Kevin Poh – http://tinyurl.com/hr6flg7

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The Difference between Kung Fu and Taekwondo

Kung Fu Girl

Although I regularly practice Tai Chi for stress reduction, I have also been practicing both Kung Fu and Taekwondo for many years for exercise. Because I am involved in both of these martial arts many people have asked me to explain the difference between them.

If you watch demonstrations of Kung Fu and Taekwondo you will immediately notice a significant difference. The Kung Fu participant will be using a lot of flowing circular movements. Often one Kung Fu movement will smoothly flow into the next. The Taekwondo participant will use strong snapping movements with hard blocks, straight punches and a variety of different kicks. They are both fun to watch and provide a lot of great exercise.

Kung Fu comes from China and is often based on the movements of animals. The style I practice, for example, is Shaolin Five Animal Kung Fu which is based on the tiger, leopard, snake, crane and dragon. The emphasis in my style of Kung Fu is generally on hand fighting. Taekwondo comes from Korea and employs a lot of snapping motions where the emphasis is mostly on kicks rather than hand strikes. Northern schools of Kung Fu also emphasize kicks more than hand strikes.

Photo by Peter Gordon – http://tinyurl.com/zuk5gwk