Did Taiji save my life?
by Doh Liew Yeng
It is unclear whether this martial art form dates back to the 12th or the 19th century. It is however, known that the formative years were influenced by Taoist and Buddhist monks. Zhang Sanfeng is widely believed to be the creator of Taiji quan. There are 5 main Taiji styles, Chen, Yang, Hao, Wu and Sun. The 3 most popular in the 21st century are Chen, Yang and Wu.
Chen-style Taiji is from the family line of Chen Wangting 1580 - 1660 (17th century). The current Master is Chen Xiaowang (1945) and is the 11th generation leader.
Yang-style Taiji is from the family line of Yang Luchan 1799 - 1872, the 1st non-family member admitted to the Chen family. The current Master is Yang Jun (1968) and is the 5th generation leader.
Wu-style Taiji is from the family line of Wu Chuanyou 1834 - 1902, branch from the Yang family line. The current Master is Wu Guangyou (1946) and is the 5th generation leader.
There are three main components of Taiji quan - i) martial art ii) defense & health iii) meditation.
In the early 20th century, Taiji quans' health benefits gained wide spread support as an exercise. And, it is also this which has drawn me to join Master Rennie Chongs' class.I first joined Master Chongs' Toa Payoh class in August 2004, on the recommendation of my ex-classmate, whose brother and sister-in-law were enrolled in his Bukit Batok class. Before then, my knowledge of Taiji was "zilch".
Over the years, I came to know of Master Chong as a selfless instructor. His enthusiasm to teach anyone willing to learn and his tireless demeanor is what I respect. In my 9 years of Taiji, I have taken breaks in between at least twice. Each time, Master would personally call and enquire about my absence and coax me to re-join the class.
Each session of Masters' class is conducted in 3 segments - relaxation and breathing exercise which work the whole body and is an important part of the routine, followed by the 37 steps of Taiji.
During the initiate years, I was keen to quickly learn all the 37 steps and found it tedious when my seniors require me to repeat over and over, the same posture. To memorize the whole sequence of the 37 steps was testing and took a long time. However, it is also because of these various postures that made Taiji interesting. The additional information on the purpose of each pose, made it meaningful. To me the most difficult, which are also the most important to achieve are relaxing the whole body, and especially relaxing the groin, which, to date I am still incapable of doing so.
Benefits reaped from the continuous practice of Taiji helped me in two very unfortunate incidents. The first was in 2009 when I had "frozen shoulder" it hurts so bad that I gave up Taiji class for a while because I could not raise my right arm above my shoulder and exerting force cause excruciating pain. It was also during this time of misery that I chanced upon an article written by Si Xiong, Kim Foong - "Healing Frozen Shoulder with Taiji Quan". I took his advice and continued with Taiji classes. I was soon cured.
The second incident happened more recently, on 7th July 2012, when I was on holiday in Bandung, Indonesia. I was inspecting a hillside restaurant, admiring the scenery on the 1st floor. Without warning, I was suddenly falling through the stairwell, down the whole flight of stairs, all the way to the ground floor. During the fall, I was calm and was capable of thinking clearly. I felt light, as if my weight was lifted from my body and I was running in the air, with my feet bouncing off, at most, 3 of the more than 18 steps. When I reached the ground floor, I fell on my front. The momentum pushed me forward, stopping at the edge of the restaurant, which opens out to the garden. The only injuries I sustained were some abrasions on my right elbow and left knee when I was sliding forward on my stomach. No sprain or broken bones. I was over 55 years old then, with osteopenia. Even my doctor was amazed. How could I come out of this with no major injuries? Am I alive today thanks to Taiji? Was it the meditation exercise specifically and/or the practice of Taiji?
Other benefits which are felt in my daily tasks are the flexibility of my body. Before Taiji, I could not touch my toes when bending down from the waist, whether standing up or sitting on the floor. Kicking high was not possible too. My Personal Trainer was very surprised at my flexibility. Exercises not possible for younger people were achievable for me. I say, Taiji is the way to go!!