Martial arts demonstrate more than self defense

Tai chi offers balance between health and happiness.
Sunday, April 8, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:51 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rebecca Colbert walks with the help of a cane. She began practicing tai chi four years ago because somebody told her, “If you practice tai chi, you’ll be so good you won’t need the cane.”

Colbert had to stop her tai chi lessons when she had her knee replaced and was diagnosed with cancer last June.

She started her lessons again two weeks ago and said she can feel a difference in her body because it doesn’t hurt as much as before.

“I can tell I’m getting stronger and getting better,” Colbert said.

Colbert made her way to the Armory Sports Center on Friday to attend a free tai chi demonstration class for people over 50, led by internationally-recognized tai chi master Yang Yang.


Sarah Grubisich, left, practices tai chi during a class led by her uncle, Yang Yang. The tai chi master is in Columbia to teach a workshop on the meditative movements. (STEVE BARTEL/Missourian)

More than 65 people came to the event, which was sponsored by the School of Health Professions’ Health Connection and the city Parks and Recreation Department.

The bulk of participants were current tai chi students and tai chi teachers from Missouri and other states.

Yang said the aim of the demonstration was to give the public an idea of the seven-movement form of the essential elements of tai chi, which he designed for a research program at the University of Illinois.

Tai chi originated as a form of martial arts in China. Yang sees tai chi not only as self defense but as a means of building the foundation for daily activities.

“Traditionally, you get energy from nature, like the mountains and rivers. You must be heavy like the mountain, but light like the cat,” Yang said. “Power comes from having the right structure.”

Jwo Yueh-Guey, a participant in the class, comes from Taiwan and started practicing tai chi when she was 16. She recounts an experience in London where her tai chi skills came in handy when she was robbed by a man.

Jwo said she immediately planted her feet firmly to the ground and lowered her body. “My whole body combined with strength from the ground, and I got the power and held on to my handbag. The robber ran away because he couldn’t succeed.”

Since the incident, she has been encouraging people to practice tai chi. “It’s boring to do the same steps for many minutes, but it works immediately,” she said.

Yang said that when someone practices tai chi they must relax, smile and have the attitude that they are the best.

“I have to remind you that you are too serious,” Yang told participants during the class, which resulted in bursts of laughter.

Ginny Gardner, a retired MU instructor, said the class was refreshing and invigorating. “(Yang) was able to source such joy from us.” Gardner used to be a long-distance runner but stopped due to hip problems. She decided to try tai chi a year ago and attends classes for the fun, joy and fellowship of the tai chi community.

“It’s always new. It brings up new energy and a freshness in your spirit,” Gardner said.

Participant Oliver Reimer, from Thunder Bay, Ontario, met Yang during a conference and followed him here for the three-day tai chi workshop.

Reimer is a visual artist who finds tai chi very similar to painting.

“You have to get your mind, your body, your spirit and everything connected,” he said.

Although the class was structured for adults over 50, tai chi is for everyone. Six-year-old Sarah Grubisich has been practicing tai chi for three years.

“I just like doing it with my daddy,” she said. “I also like to do it when I can’t go to sleep.”

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