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Tai Chi – what it means to me

by Emer Molloy

I have been learning Tai-Chi Quan under the tuition of Master Rennie Chong for the last 18 months. After arriving in Singapore from Switzerland in April 2007 and newly pregnant with my first child I was interested in a low impact exercise routine related to the Chinese Martial Arts. I found Master Chong on the internet and went to Tao Payoh one evening to join a class. When I saw the large group of Chinese Singaporeans gathered, all wearing dark trousers and white tops, ready for the group exercise, I turned on my heel and went home – this was not for me! One year later after the birth of my son I again contacted Master Chong and this time joined the Thursday morning beginners class at Bishan Community Centre. At this stage my body had been weakened by the child bearing process and I was in definite need of exercise to strengthen my body and regain some flexibility. I noticed particularly that I had difficulty getting back on my feet from a sitting position on the floor. For a person who was always sporty with a certain natural fitness, this was a shock. So I finally joined the dark trouser and white tops brigade of Master Chong.

Of course I underestimated what was involved in a Tai-Chi class thinking it was a series of gentle exercises. I was surprised how tough the warm-up exercises were at Master Chong’s classes, particularly the first half which test flexibility and strength of the back and legs. As I have learned, these exercises are a necessary preparation for the challenges of performing the movements of Tai-Chi correctly. I was, and still am the only Ang Mo in my class, which has brought me in contact with Chinese Singaporean friends and I have met a lot of lovely people. The class is conducted partly in Chinese and more English for my benefit which I find very interesting as I had taken three levels of a Chinese language course during my pregnancy. 

What impresses me most about Tai-Chi at this stage is the flexibility that can be attained from practicing Tai Chi, particularly characterised by Master Chong of course but also by Jasmine and some people in my class who have embraced Tai Chi as a regular daily exercise regime. A wonderful benefit of Tai-Chi is that it supports a person’s functional wellbeing through life and into third age - something we would all wish for. There are not many exercise programmes that can boast this advantage with most of the conventional fitness programmes gradually wearing down the joints particularly the knees and hips.

The 37 movements have taken a long time to learn – a year and a half to be precise - and at times I have to admit I was frustrated at the lack of progress. Master Chong was adamant that there would be no progression in learning new postures until we had achieved the basic movements to a certain standard and now that we have been exposed to all 37 movements I realise that there is even more to learn - improving and polishing the movements and technique which is obviously going to take many years. So Tai-Chi is also developing my level of patience which as a mother of small children is no bad thing.

And of course I cannot think of Tai-Chi only as a sequence of exercises. It has been very interesting to be shown the connection between Tai-Chi and martial arts and that there are effective blocking, pushing and deflecting techniques incorporated in Tai-Chi which are useful in self defence or simply guarding one’s own space on the streets of Singapore. There is also the breathing exercises which is a sequence practiced at every class and also gives a wonderful feeling of wellbeing, but as yet I have to learn to combine with the Tai Chi movements. 

Then, there is the all-important Chi (energy) element to be harnessed. I have experienced it as twirling sensation in my palms when I am doing the meditation in class but how to harness this Chi for greater benefits. All yet to be learned from the Master. 

19 December 2009


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