The following article is translated from volume no. 1056 of the World Journal. Reprinted here courtesy of the World Journal. Part One is translated by staff at CTS and edited by staff at Master Chen and Master Ren's Taiji schools. Part Two is translated by staff at CTS and edited by staff at Master Ren's institute. Part Three is translated by staff at CTS.
Part 1, Introduction - History and Benefits of Taiji
Part 2 - Ren Guang Yi Uses the Power of Rock and Roll to Promote Taiji
Part 3 - Yang Yang Promotes the Medical Benefits of Taiji
Taijiquan Popularity Sweeps The United States
Medical studies show the benefits of taiji: the treatment of coronary artery disease, arthritis and other chronic illnesses. It has attracted a large group of students and become a popular exercise for the general public.
On a Sunday morning in a wood -floored class room in the Soho district of New York , 25 students wearing white tee shirts face a mirrored wall, concentrating in the practice of taiji. Among them are 20- something young adults, a Chinese man in his 80's, an American woman in her 70's, young karate experts, 0lympic medal winning athletes, even rock stars.
With the recent publication of taiji benefits in medical and scientific literature, a great number of westerners began taiji study. They study for various reasons, some for fascination with the beauty of taiji, some for maintaining and improving health, some for treatment of chronic illnesses, some for reducing blood pressure and others for combining gongfu foundations with taiji. In general, students include both genders, from 10 to 90 years old. The students in this classroom are a microcosm of the new wave of taiji practitioners.
Instructor Master Ren Guang Yi walks around the room carefully inspecting each student's posture. He addresses any mistake immediately. He says, "I am helping them into correct posture. If the posture is not correct you cannot practice good taiji." Chris Soule, 31, has been a professional athlete for12 years. He said with taiji he can sense the agility of his body and it benefits his daily living; to compete as an athlete one needs speed and balance. Practicing taiji for one year, his reactions have become more acute and his control of power and balance has improved. Chris has studied with 20 different taiji teachers.
Five Styles of Taiji Chuan With One Underlying Spirit
Taiji has been a traditional Chinese wushu for about 600 years. There are many theories about its origin. Some say that it was invented by temple monks. Others say it originated as Taoist breathing technique and later developed into defensive and martial skills. With sophisticated modern weapons, taiji's value as a fighting skill diminished. Instead it is regarded as a health promoting exercise. Besides taijiquan, there are taiji sword, push-hands and qigong, shaolin chuan, etc. All are related to taiji. During the 1670's one retired general in the Chen village of Henan province invented the well known Chen style taijiquan. Chen taiji lineage is now into its 20th generation. With its expansion, Chen taiji gave rise to Yang, Wu, Hao and Sun styles. Each style has its special emphasis. For example, the Sun style stresses low stance to improve leg strength. Yang emphasizes softness to counter hardness. Although every style has different postures, the fundamental principle remains the same: mind and body connection, balance and flexibility. Chen and Yang styles are most frequently taught in the U.S. today.
As taiji and qigong have entered the new age exercise arena, they have become a favorite subject of news media. Time magazine has had many articles about the benefits of taiji and called it "a kind of perfect exercise". The Wall Street Journal bravely predicts taiji could be the next yoga because taiji focuses on mind / body connection, harmony and balance, contributing to a calm and tranquil state. Advertisers find it a good avenue to promote products. Newspaper and television ads have shown pictures of taiji performers. Hopefully, consumers will transfer their health search into favorable perceptions of the merchandise. Medical insurance companies, health wellness groups, educational institutions, even the criminal justice system and drug rehabilitation centers are all actively promoting taiji.
Medical Publications Help The Growing Fame
Numerous scientific and medical articles have been published on the positive aspects of taiji. It contributes to the treatment of coronary artery disease, improves heart and lung function, increases bone healing and strength , benefits the management of arthritis, and relieves neck and shoulder pain. It also has favorable results as conjunct therapy for other chronic illnesses. With the recent publications, even the "hard data" western society is convinced of the benefits of taiji. American are more willing to sponsor medical research in taiji and qigong, hoping to uncover more data. These research findings satisfy the baby boom generation's craze for health and wellness. This may be the best promotional tactic for taiji in the U.S.
The most amazing element is that taiji, known for its slow and soft movements, can use up to 280 calories per hour. In a low stance practice it can increase caloric consumption to 350 per hour. It is known as the weight loss method without sweating. The practice of taiji needs no equipment nor specific space. One can practice taiji in a office wearing a suit and tie without worrying about being drenched in sweat. Maybe that is the reason why taiji became a favorite even with the young and has become a part of new age patter.
Taiji emphasizes mind / body connection. Long term practice of taiji can reduce anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, and short attention span. Emotions are less likely to be influenced by external events.
Within the U.S. about 70% to 80% of illnesses are stress related. The U.S. government spends about $300 million in the medical management of stress related illnesses. Taiji, with its ability to calm emotions, can be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Taiji Instructors Come to the U.S. to Show Skills
While taijiquan receives due recognition in western society, many skilled instructors with famous lineages still come from China. Many arrived in a foreign country confronted with cultural differences and a language barrier. The best way to overcome these difficulties and to make oneself known, is to enter competitions and to seize opportunities for demonstration.
Ren Guang Yi came to the U.S. from Henan Province in 1991. He immediately entered many competitions, winning many first places. The wushu community began to complain that with his skill level he should not even compete. But Ren Guang Yi says, "My purpose is not to take first place. I spent a good part of my youth in Chen taiji and already have established myself in China, but in a foreign country Americans must learn that someone like me is here. Therefore, I must put myself in the limelight to have a chance to succeed."
Under that kind of strategy, Ren Guang Yi started his taiji teaching career only a few months after he came to the U.S.. He started his taiji class in New York, made taiji teaching videos and published books in English. He also assisted his students to start taiji classes and open wushu centers all over the U.S.
Taiji and the Problem of Falls in the Elderly
Yang Yang is a PhD candidate at the University Illinois in Champaign Illinois. He is one of the few Chinese who is researching taiji movements in health. Yang himself studied taiji for 30 years. Since 1990, Yang has been studying and explaining taiji principles medically and scientifically. His research focuses on taiji in the prevention of falls of the elderly. Yang points out that demographically, in 2020 the number of 65 and older adults reached 53 million. One out of three elderly are in danger of falling because of joint problems. Among the people who fall, 20 to 30% sustain moderate to severe injuries. The U.S. government annually outlays $32 billion for injuries caused by falls. This high medical cost and human suffering motivate the government to find solutions.
Yang believes taiji can help to reduce falls, He thinks the problem of falls in older adults is often due to the lack of strength control. For example, to climb stair one step higher using too little or too much strength can result in a fall. Taiji trains the body and the mind together, improving body and mind coordination. Thus, each movement uses just the right amount of strength. Three years ago Yang started a demonstration group with adults 65 and older. The group received 1 hour of taiji practice 3 times a week. Several weeks later the group increased strength control by 19%.
William C.C. Chen Became Famous Within 10 Minutes
William C.C. Chen came from Taiwan in 1962. He is one of the early taijiquan professionals. His teaching of Yang taiji emphasizes wushu fighting which is well liked by the young. His taiji school in Chelsea, NY has been established for 40 years.
When William C.C. Chen first came to the U.S. he studied economics at the University of Hawaii. He also taught taiji there to earn his living. In 1965 he transferred to New York University. He found no opportunity to show his skills until one day he was invited to demonstrate at Town Hall. Within ten minutes he received wild applause and became known.
About that pivotal demonstration Chen said, "I participated in the N.Y.C. multicultural professional event which included gongfu, karate, kickboxing etc. My appearance was scheduled toward the end. That day the A/C at the hall broke down. The summer heat, big crowd and lengthy program made the audience restless. When I got on stage I knew I had to attract the audience's attention and make my performance short."
On stage Chen first demonstrated splitting wood boards with his hand. Then he invited the audience to hit his abdomen to experience his neigong. He got the audience's attention first and then proceeded to the taiji chuan demonstration. The total duration of his demonstration was less then 10 minutes. The very next day his phone was ringing nonstop with people wanting to learn taiji from him. Not long after, William C.C. Chen rented a small room from a friend in Chelsea, Manhattan, to begin taiji classes. Due to the increase of students, he had to move to a bigger place, his current taiji center. He instructs his son , Chen Zhejie, and daughter, Chen Fei-nei and those who enjoy competitions and many others for health maintenance.
Currently William C.C. Chen is an important person in Yang taiji. He has been invited to teach taijiquan on educational T.V. In 1999 he was nominated as the premier master by "Inside Kungfu" magazine. In an amazing incident when the magazine's reporter went to interview him, William C.C. Chen demonstrated taiji applications with another person. The reporter witnessing the beautiful postures, went over to test Chen's strength. With the use of very little force, the reporter was throw by Chen 20 feet. The reporter was frightened and thankful for Chen's gentle and reserved treatment.
Du Boo Zhen Attracted Students in the Botanical Garden
With 40 years experience in taijiquan, Du Boo Zhen, an instructor of Liao Ning College of Arts, came to the U.S. in 1999. He first went to Los Angles and later to New York for a competition and stayed on. He was first noticed at a demonstration of taiji sword at an elementary school PTA meeting. Currently he is the taiji and wushu instructor for the Fu Guang Shen New York branch. He has won many first places in wushu competitions. After he received seven gold medals in 2002 and best overall gold medal in 2003, he retired from competition and serves instead as a judge.
Du believes his most interesting experience was acquiring students at the botanical garden. Because he lived near the Flushing's botanical garden, he wanted to practice taiji there. He said, "I know there are many hidden taiji experts. In the beginning, I was afraid to practice openly for fear of being inferior to others. After a month's observation I felt comfortable enough to practice there." Many who frequently exercised in the botanical garden saw Du's taiji and wanted to learn from him. He began to take students but because he was not familiar with the U.S.'s custom of paying for services, the modest Du Boo Zhen almost offended other.
Stressing that he knows how to teach but has no business sense, Du Boo Zhen said, "From the beginning I was only interested in practicing taiji myself. People interested in learning I just teach them . Later someone wanted to give me a large amount of money as tuition. I was frightened and told the person I do not accept money. That person, in fact, gave up studying with me." Afterwards, Du understood that in western society one is expected to receive compensation for work. So Du Boo Zhen started to accept tuition in his class. By word of the mouth, students learned of him and came to study. Now the taiji class at the botanical garden has about 30 regular students.
Decreased Age in Taiji Practitioners
The image of older adults practicing taiji in the park has changed. In the past 10 years. American taiji students are increasingly younger. Yang says, "In my taiji class students are from 10 to 90 yrs. old." William C.C. Chen's students are young adults thru 80s years.
People study taiji for different reasons, many because of declining physical ability and the desire to improve it. Some students see physical improvement in a short time. Yang gave an example of one student who suffered long term insomnia. After 3 month of practice the problem disappeared. The person no longer needed sleeping medications. Another student was frequently sick and generally weak. When he began taiji study he could only practice up to 2 minutes and then had to sit and rest. One year later this student has improved his physical stamina and is able to do advanced push hands.
The taiji classes of William C. C. Chen draw young people with the intention of entering competitions as well as others into their 80s. Even some boxers study taiji in order to use its principles in boxing. According to Chen, "Even with the current trend of using taiji as a health enhancing exercise, the original intention of taiji still remains as a martial art." Therefore Chen encourages students to enter competitions. And only with competition can one understand an opponent's strength and improve one's own skill.
Yang emphasizes bringing taiji into daily living. He says taiji is to train the body, concentration and balance. With the experience and understanding of taiji, one can learn to drive with more concentration, lift without injury, even how to cradle an infant without causing the infant to cry. In the area of emotional health, Yang says long term practice can assist a person to face stress, identify its origin and reach a balanced resolution. In work situations, interpersonal relationships, even relationships with the opposite sex, taiji can help to achieve harmony.
Yang believes taiji elevates one's self-worth and at the same time teaches humility. When students come to the classroom, Yang wants them to think they are the best and the finest. When leaving the classroom, they must realize that they are just beginners. Only with that framework , can students acquire wisdom and a good attitude toward learning.
Market Demand Elevates the Value of Teaching ?
Does the popularity of taiji, Hollywood's fascination with Chinese wushu, the new wave of taiji magnetism, and an increased market place contribute to higher teaching fees? Many community centers, health clubs and after school programs charge very little for taiji classes; some are even free. But private wushu centers and other taiji classes for a weekly two hour sessions run about $200-$300 per month. One to one private lessons run 10s to 100s of dollars per session.
Intensely pushing taiji into the mainstream and in elevating taiji into higher status, Ren Guang Yi feels American physicians and lawyers charge high fees because of their special training. Taiji teaching is also dependant on special training and the teachers should be able to charge professional fees. In his one to one private classes Ren Guang Yi charges high fees. He says if the student feels the lesson is valuable, he would willingly pay the fee.
Ren Guang Yi hopes to improve the image of taiji and dispel the idea that taiji is an exercise only for older people in the park and free classes in community centers. But he also asserts that taiji teachers must have self confidence because the ability to teach is the result of decades of hard work, not just the performance of beautiful movements.
It is said that ten minutes on the stage requires ten years of gongfu practice. Just like any other athletic pursuit, taijiquan needs persistent daily practice. Yang with his busy teaching and business schedule, still gets up at 5 A.M. and practices for two hours. "If I don't practice I will not have gongfu," says Yang. While Du Boo Zhen's daily practice in the botanical garden is already an established habit, when Ren Guang Yi teaches, he leads the students in movements so he also gets a chance to practice.
Every taiji teacher in America has different encounters but their goals are the same. They hope to use the current taiji popularity to spread it's meaning and value. If the prediction of the "Wall Street Journal" comes true taiji, following yoga's path, can emerge as the exercise for all.
On May 17th rock star Lou Reed was David Letterman's guest on the CBS Late Show. He was there to promote his new album. Mr. Reed played guitar and sang while his band provided string accompaniment. In the background, a Chinese man wearing a new style of gongfu outfit floated in and out of view, complementing the music with taiji movements. The Chinese man was Ren Guang Yi, a taiji instructor originally from Henan, China. Not only did Master Ren intertwine taiji into American music on the Late Show, but he also is also a part of Lou Reed's troupe performing at New York's Carnegie Hall.
Since coming to America 12 years ago, Master Ren evolved from being an immigrant who worked in a Chinese restaurant to a well-known master in the American music and entertainment scene. His story is not just one of success, but also a tale of taiji as a new vista for advancement.
Master Ren has depended on his taiji acumen to raise his stature in America. Today, his students include the VIPs of business, singers, performers and movie stars. All year long, Master Ren travels to teach, demonstrate and lecture on taiji. However, even though he as successfully navigated from not knowing a single word of English to wining wushu competitions, Master Ren's journey has been wrought with difficulty.
Too Active, Study Taiji to Quiet His Spirit
From an early age, Master Ren studied shaolin style martial arts. It was not until the age 16 did he get his initial exposure to taiji. Master Ren recalls, "My first wushu teacher thought I was too active. He suggested I study taiji to calm my temperament. But my image of taiji was the old people exercising in the park for health. I thought it was too slow and really did not want to study it." Master Ren changed his mind after his teacher brought him to meet Chen Xiao Wang, the 19th generation successor of the founder of Chen taiji. It was then that Master Ren decided that he would someday bring Chen taiji to the world.
From his first exposure, Master Ren was impressed by the explosive power of Chen taiji. He recalls, "Once a group of students went to pay respect to our teacher Chen Xiao Wang. Four of us held down his arms to test his strength. With one little yank all four of us fell back. We tried one more time and this time our teacher used a little more strength we were knocked back even further." Master Ren finally understood taiji could be both fast and slow and soft and hard. Once started, its power could be explosive and tremendous. On that day, Master Ren officially became a student of Chen Xiao Wang.
In his early years of study, Master Ren's young and hotheaded temperament caused a lot of trouble for his teacher. According to Master Ren, when he practiced people would ridicule him and make him look bad. So he started fights. However, Master Ren was worried that his actions might result in his teacher not wanting to keep him as a pupil. But Chen Xiao Wang told him that learning taiji is not just about learning the movements, but really about learning how to live - how to grow and how to be patient and resilient. That is the true meaning of taiji.
Study Companion and Worker in the Chinese Restaurant
In 1991, a 26 year old Ren Guang Yi accompanied his wife to Hunter College in New York. This began his new life in the United States.
Master Ren arrived in arrived in New York not knowing a soul. In addition, he was physically separated from his wushu and taiji communities, which caused him to feel that he could not do anything to pursue his goal of bringing taiji to the world. Soon, however, Master Ren discovered there were wushu communities in New York. His first stop was to see Ma Long, the head of the Flushing Wushu Center, to seek advice about establishing oneself in America. After Ma Long learned of Master Ren's experience, he thought he had good chance for success with taiji. However, Master Ren's English was limited to the 26 characters of the alphabet which limited his ability to start a career in taiji. So, in order to earn a living, Master Ren went looking for work in Chinese restaurants. At first, he was turned away due to a lack of experience. Later, he fabricated his experience and was hired eventually.
After working in a restaurant for one and a half months, Ma Long suggested Master Ren enter a wushu competition in order to demonstrate his wushu and taiji expertise. The San Francisco international wushu competition was being held in May 1991, which corresponded with Ma Long's vacation plans. Ma Long knew Master Ren was financially challenged, so he offered him room and board in San Francisco, leaving Ren Guang Yi to come up with the airline ticket. To this day, Master Ren remains very grateful to Ma Long for his assistance.
At that time, Master Ren's three-member household living expenses totally depended on his wife's $10,000 per year research scholarship. Still, he decided to spend $360 on airline ticket to try his luck.
Master Ren took two first places in San Francisco. But, because he was unable to understand English, he made a major mistake during the "push hands" competition. He recalls, "At that time I didn't understand one word of English. I heard the referee called out 'ready' and 'go'. I did not know what it meant but I saw the opponent advanced toward me. Instinctually, I stepped back then went forward to lift him up. I did not realize that slight lift would result in my flinging my opponent out of the ring and landing upside down. This brought an uproar from the audience and judges. The referee was angry and yelled at me. After, Ma Long translated things to me I understood my little actions were against the rules. The referee told me the way I push hands could result in injuries." Master Ren, who sometimes practiced taiji 14 hours a day, did not consciously realize his body contained gongfu energy all over. When all was said and done, Master Ren received first place honors in taiji and in weapon but did not receive any points in push hands.
Many First Places in Competitions
As a result of his two first places in San Francisco, Ren Guang Yi's reputation began to soar. He had more opportunities to demonstrate and he also began to teach. Once, he was invited to demonstrate with a one-hundred-member taiji group in New York State. Participants witnessed his explosive power, which is different from other taijiquan. They were impressed. Two members from that group offered Master Ren $400 a month for weekly private lesson in his special taijiquan.
While Master Ren taught taiji, he still sought opportunities to compete. But entering competitions proved to be very expensive which was a financial burden on him. Once, at a Virginia wushu competition, a lawyer in the audience felt that the judge was not fair in awarding a second place to Master Ren. The lawyer voiced his objection and invited Master Ren to Houston for an even bigger competition. The lawyer generously offered to help with living expenses during competition. Mr Ren's self-confidence surged with this support from total stranger. He remembers, "This time before I went, I memorized the two words 'ready' and 'go'. I also learned rules and regulations about competition." Master Ren took home three gold medals from this competition.
Within six month, Ren Guang Yi's reputation spread across New York and all over America. More and more, students came seeking instruction. Master Ren and his wife moved to upstate NY and he taught classes in both Connecticut and in New York. Frequently, he was invited to lecture and demonstrate both in the U.S. and abroad. Simultaneously, he diligently studied English and his wife helped him with translations. However, it was not until his wife received her Ph.D. and a job with a pharmaceutical company did his family become financially stable.
With his ever growing prominence, many American gongfu, qigong, and taiji magazines and traditional Chinese herbal magazines wanted special interviews with him. His picture often graced the covers of these magazines. Master Ren also started making his own instructional videos and published a taiji books with 2 of his closest American students.
Becoming the Teacher for a Rock and Roll Legend
More doors opened for Master Ren after he met the legendary rock star Lou Reed in 2002. Master Ren would become Lou Reed's teacher and from this he gained contacts in the entertainment world. Gradually, Master Ren became the taiji teacher requested by renowned business executives and entertainment moguls.
When Master Ren first met Lou Reed he did not know Lou Reed to be a famous rock musician. Master Ren was requested to travel from Connecticut to New York to give Lou Reed a private lesson. However, Master Ren was reluctant to go because of the trouble and expense of parking. Lou Reed understood the issue and offered a generous teaching fee and allowance for parking. Ren Guang Yi remembered that after his first private class, as he was leaving he noticed a picture of Lou Reed with President Clinton in the White House. He thought that perhaps Lou Reed was a well-known person. It was only later that he discovered Lou Reed to be a famous rock and roll superstar. One who often was a guest performer at the White House and was well respected within the American music community. In addition, he discovered Lou Reed's music reflects the dark side of America and possessed the ability to influence public opinion.
While Lou Reed studied Chinese wushu for 20 years, his health was poor due to singing engagements and irregular schedules. In addition, he became diabetic. However, after studying taiji for one year, his health improved and many of the chronic illnesses disappeared without treatment. His outward appearance became radiant and vibrant. To this day, Lou Reed still studies with Ren Guang Yi two hours a day, seven days a week.
Taijiquan on Stage with Rock and Roll
When magazines and newspapers interview Lou Reed about his music and taiji, he never fails to mention Master Ren. Once, a Chinese herbal magazine in America interviewed the two of them and placed "the story of two intriguing idols: one rock and roll icon and the other taiji master." as the lead article. It mentioned, "Lou Reed lived for the dark, gloomy streets of New York, while Ren Guang Yi came from the poor countryside of China. Ren Guang Yi study hard to obtain the exquisite taiji gongfu. After experiencing poverty and difficulty in America, he successfully entered a new frontier of taijiquan."
Grateful to taiji for restoring his health; Lou Reed interwove taiji spirit into his music. In 2003, Lou Reed and his band covered America, Australia and Asia on a 16 country, four month tour. He eagerly invited Master Ren to join and perform with the band. Master Ren would use taiji movements to complement the music and singing. He playfully told, "Once during a concert, my foot stepped down and cracked the floor and made a hole on the stage."
When Master Ren performed with the band at Las Vegas, he was very emotional. He said," 12 years ago when I first came to America I could hardly afford an airline ticket to Vegas. I sat and watched the show then, but now I am in the show."
Ren Guang Yi still considers teaching taijiquan as his main profession. Aside from group lessons, he gives private lessons to many well-known entertainment and business VIPs. He said," Sometimes, after a private lesson these famous people took backyard helicopter to Washington D.C. for meetings. I feel a sense of bewilderment."
Master Ren thinks that Americans pay special attention to the entertainers and other public figures and thinks that to use their popularity to promote taiji can help to raise the image and awareness of taiji. He said, "My aim is to let more people learn what is taijiquan and to help pave the way for other Chinese wushu practitioners. Hopefully, when they come to The U.S. they won't have to start with manual labor and can use their wushu expertise. Together we are able to promote taiji around the world."
At 43 years of age, Yang Yang is currently a Ph.D. candidate in kinesiology at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois. His research focuses on the benefits of taiji and its ability to help prevent the falls of elderly. Yang says that his ambition has always been to promote taiji in the West, but to work towards a Ph.D. degree related to taiji is beyond his wildest dreams.
Due to a heart defect, Yang began his study taiji when he was 12 years. His goal was to promote taiji; but was unable to due to various circumstances. As a result, Yang worked as engineer and lawyer before coming to the U.S. to pursue a master degree in economics. He thought his life and goal of promoting taiji were forever on divergent paths. But six years ago, by coincidence, a professor at the University of Illinois medical school encouraged and assisted Yang in pursuing taiji as it related to medicine. This opened up another door for Yang.
Engineer, Lawyer, Taiji Instructor
As a child, Yang immersed himself in the world of taiji and other martial arts. After studying taiji, Yang's physical stamina improved and his defective heart was cured. Yang entered college in Shanghai in 1979 to study engineering. In 1981, Yang began entering the Shanghai University martial arts competition where he took first place three years in a row. While in college he also taught taiji. He was constantly striving to reach a higher level in taiji. He even considered dropping out of college and going to Beijing to pursue this goal. Yang sought guidance from Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang, the president of Beijing Chen Style Taiji Research Association. Feng was against his dropping out of school and advised him to first finish college. Following college, Yang did not get assigned to work in Beijing. However, not to be dissuaded, he applied to study law in Beijing and was accepted. While in Beijing for four years, Yang studied regularly with Grandmaster Feng. Later, he went to Guangzhou to practice as a lawyer and engineer for the central government.
In 1993, Yang had the opportunity to come to the United States. However, his law degree was not recognized in the U.S. so he switched his field of study to economics and applied to a master's program in economics at the Illinois State University. Still, Yang could not forget his ambition to promote taiji. Yang thought his taiji skills could benefit more people in the U.S. and to him this was more meaningful then being a lawyer or an economist.
Beginning in 1998, a wave of research on taiji began in the United States. Medical and scientific research stressed taiji and its benefit to the elderly of increasing balance. During this time, Yang offered his first taiji class in Champaign, IL. More than forty people registered for the class. Among them were two professors from the University's medical school. The professors told Yang that promoting taiji directly through classes was limited. They suggested that Yang pursue academic research and combine his years of taiji expertise with Western medicine and science. This would elevate the status of taiji more effectively than through teaching classes.
From that encounter in 1998, Yang made up his mind to enter the University of Illinois to pursue a Ph.D. Thus began the long and difficult research process, which is now entering its 6th year. Yang acknowledges that there was a risk when he first entered the field as there was no foundation for taiji research in medicine or science. Literature and statistical data were minimal. After six years, Yang is one of the few to study taiji from a medical and scientific point of view.
First Gong, Second Dan, Third skill
As far as the actual practice of taiji, Yang believes it is best to study form, push hands and qigong together in order to reach mind and body balance. But in the usage of taiji Yang stresses first gong, second dan, and third skill.
He elaborates: so called gong is the usage of qi and dan is the increased level of self-confidence. These stages can be reached with the practice of taiji. He gave an example that once he returned to Guangzhou from the U.S. and was confronted by robber who tried to take his wallet. The robber had a knife. But Yang was not afraid and used his push hands skill to toss the robber aside. Yang said this incident exemplified the "dan" training from taiji. After reaching certain level of taiji training you understand your own abilities and limitations. You are not afraid because you know the degree of danger faced and whether you can overcome it or not.
Research and Writing a Book
Yang is very optimistic about the future of taiji in the U.S. The teaching quality is getting better mainly because many high level taiji teachers are now coming to the U.S. These teachers have decades of experience and are able to impart traditional taiji skills.
But Yang is also concerned that English taiji books and videos are often too mystical. They are not easily understood by beginners, and are often misunderstood. In addition, some taiji teaching books contain numerous pictures and diagrams but lack descriptions. In most cases, those attempting to learn taiji from books without the benefit of a teacher cannot even enter the door of taiji.
Because of these shortcomings, Yang began to write a book about taiji three years ago. Its content is oriented at the three-fold practices of qigong, taiji and push hands. He hopes the book will be easily understandable. It may also help to correct some misconceptions regarding taiji. For example, Westerners often do not understand the concept of gong as in taiji qigong. This is largely due to its ambiguity and resulting obscure and mysterious descriptions. Yang thinks it is one of the primary misconceptions of taiji in Western society.
He suggests the best way to study taiji is to practice qigong, taiji and push hands together. He believes that taiji instructors should teach form and qigong together without holding back. He stresses that teaching taiji is not just teaching beautiful movements in the form. He also proposes that taiji instructors utilize modern equipment and marketing methods to simplify taiji. This would also make it more enjoyable so the students would be more interested in learning. For example he asked his sister, a musician, to compose taiji teaching music using traditional Chinese instruments. Playing this music while teaching helps students relax their minds and bodies, thus resulting in better learning.
Right now, Yang's main concern remains on the research of "taiji and qigong in the prevention of falls in the elderly". He believes that in the promotion of taiji in the Western society one must use Western language and meet Western demands for research criteria. Combining Eastern traditional resources and Western science to find a solution for the critical problem of medical care of the elderly in the U.S. is the main reason Yang gave up his career in law and economics, and devoted six years in research. He hopes in the future taiji will enter the mainstream of medicine.
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