Achieving balance, confidence and self-defense through the ancient practice of tai chi
To tai chi instructor Frank Tuma, there is nothing better then the ancient practice of tai chi.
Tuma, who holds three different black belts in various forms of martial arts, contends that the practice is multi-purposeful, offering wellness of spirit, mind and body.
“As people age,” said Tuma, “they have a tendency to get clumsy and they sometimes stumble, if not fall. One of the biggest things tai chi will do is give someone stability. Even if you start to fall, tai chi gives you the confidence to quickly stop it.”
Tuma claims the ability to achieve balance when standing, walking or running is another very important component of this art. Foot placement, he said, is something often overlooked and underestimated for use in self-defense. Tuma points out that if one is met with a confrontation while standing with their feet together, for instance, the practice of tai chi will teach them to immediately reposition their feet while simultaneously turning their body in preparation of defense. Tuma said the stance one takes after having practiced tai chi for a span is one of confidence, the likes of which he hasn’t seen anywhere else.
“The confidence people gain in practicing tai chi is a marvelous thing to see,” said Tuma. “You can always tell when people have really done it for a while.”
According to Tuma, the practice of tai chi takes much time and patience to perfect, saying it’s very important to keep going with it, since it can fade from memory if not continuously exercised, much like learning a new language. He said it’s also a practice that requires one to stay in the present moment, which can take a lot of focus. Once begun, a routine, which consists of 126 moves, and takes approximately 15 minutes, needs to be done in full, he explained.
“When you’re doing tai chi, you constantly have to be thinking about what you’re doing. If you suddenly start thinking about what you’re going to eat, you’ll forget where you were and have to start all over again,” said Tuma.
Among the most impressive things Tuma has seen as an instructor, he said, seem to be some degree of relief from depression, and an assurance of oneself. In addition to better balance and state of mind, he said the most amazing phenomenon is the improvement of recorded brain activity, once someone has engaged in tai chi.
“There has been a recent scientific study performed in China in partnership with an American medical university to evaluate, by actual brain measurement, the value of tai chi,” said Tuma. “A representative sample of 120 non-dementia elderly people, split into three groups, had two MRIs taken, one before doing their assigned tasks and one after. Significant increases in brain volumes and cognition were measured in the tai chi, non-aerobic exercises group. The same MRI tests were performed on people who walked and performed other aerobic exercises, and very minimal brain enlargement or increased cognition was measured. The reason assumed for these results is the very extensive brain to body interaction required to learn and perform tai chi.”
Tuma believes it’s important that people know in order to learn tai chi, they must learn its five qualities: steadiness, balance, constancy, centeredness and grace. He insists all of these components must be practiced when performing tai vhi, with the development of awareness being the most important aspect of all.
“The development of awareness is sensing all the energies around us,” said Tuma. “The very slow tai chi movements go in many precise directions, moving all the body parts. Moving slowly is very difficult, because when you do something slowly you also are showcasing the details of the other qualities, and you do not get to use the momentum from speed, which normally gives you balance. In tai chi, we are simulating a real battle, and if you fall down you are at a definite disadvantage. Body parts not in use must be relaxed or you are using up energy. Relaxation gives us energy and speed that is needed throughout the battle. Continuous turning protects us from the enemy coming from many directions, therefore moves are not only continuous but they must be very efficient. For many people, spatial concepts are very difficult and constant turning sharpens this skill. Learning to breathe through our entire body helps to bring energy back to the most used body parts. We learn that breathing out is a yang or aggressive move, and breathing in is done during yin moves, which helps keep us as charged up as possible. We need our confidence to be at our peak level and learning the most efficient breathing and movement techniques are the very key to our continued success as we age. Increasing our longevity doesn’t count for much if we can’t enjoy and count on a certain level of quality in life as well.”