Since their introduction into the UK, martial arts such as karate, judo and jujitsu have steadily grown in popularity. However Tai Chi has been overlooked, although there are a number of schools across the UK and a loyal legion of practising students; as a martial arts form it has been misunderstood. A lot of people seem to think that it is just a slow moving dance for old people to enjoy. Steven Flavell attended one of the new classes on offer at Colchester Wado Ryu Karate club to see if this was the case, or if there was a little bit more to his hidden art form then meets the eye.
A year and a half ago I wanted to do something that would allow me to regularly exercise but was a little more interesting than simply lifting weights down the gym, so I signed up to do Wado Ryu karate classes and haven’t looked back since, but I have a confession to make… those guys I was talking about just now, the ones who think Tai Chi is for old people, I was one of them. So when Darren invited me down to the dojo to try out one of their new Tai Chi classes I was intrigued. When he told me that they are taught by Master Ch’ng Lay Seng; an instructor who can trace his masters back to Cheng Man Ching, who is credited with bringing Tai Chi to the West in the 1970s, I was not only intrigued, but excited.
I arrived at the dojo and Darren introduced me to the other students and Master Ch’ng. I was instantly glad that I came he seemed like the real deal. We moved into the Dojo and began the lesson.
We began by practising our stances and posture; it’s all about maintaining a relaxed stance while concentrating. Master Ch’ng demonstrated a couple of basic exercises before we moved into a routine consisting of a number of steps and postures with obscure names such as white crane spreads its wings.
Our movements were slow and I had to concentrate quite hard on following the rest of the students. I soon realised that although I was relaxed, my legs were getting an incredible workout. Each movement that I thought looked simple turned out in practice to require balance, strength and concentration. If this was a martial art for old people, I wanted what they were having!
After about an hour or so we moved on to the famous pushing hands exercises. This was the bit that I had been looking forward to, it’s where students can learn the self defence applications to the delicate movements of Tai Chi that most of us take for granted.
The pushing hands exercises on the surface involve you and another partner rotating your hands in a circle together, but it’s actually all about relaxing, and sensing the movements of your opponent. If they push towards you, you go with their movement and turn it back on them. It was pretty cool, and really different to what I was used to in my karate classes.
After the class I spoke to Master Ch’ng and told him how much I enjoyed his class, but I wanted to understand a little more about what the classes meant. He said “It is mainly about training how to let go and relax. So it helps physically, as well as spiritually and mentally.
Once you let go the muscles relax, once the muscles relax energy can flow, once energy flows blood follows through and allows proper nourishment to go to all the cells, which means they become healthier as well as the person.
Also when the energy can flow you have the ability to sense and read opponents better, but this needs training to build up that ability.”
I was really impressed. After the class I thanked Darren for inviting me along to the class and asked him why he decided to offer Tai Chi classes at his dojo. He said “Because it’s a martial art. A lot of people don’t realise that it is a martial art. We wanted to offer something different because although a lot of schools offer Karate, MMA and Jujitsu they don’t do Tai Chi.
Although there are specialist schools around, the element of this particular style that we offer that I like is the pushing hands and applications of the moves, which you don’t normally find in most Tai Chi schools.
Because Tai Chi is form based a lot of schools will only teach the form and you won’t learn the self defence applications. Whereas the Tai Chi classes we provide are quite unique in this area because they do. We provide a two hour class on a Wednesday from 7-9. The first hour and 15 minutes cover form and posture. After that we move onto the applications of the movements and practice them in relation to self defence.”
As I left the dojo my aching legs reminded me of something, Tai Chi is definitely not just for old people!