What comes to mind when you think of tai chi? An elderly person crouching and bowing in the park? A bad Keanu Reeves movie, perhaps? Most likely your first thought is incongruent with its role in society today.
Taiji, or tai chi, is a series of slow meditative movements that improves a person’s ability to relax, be fully present and enhance balance and health. It is an internal martial art that relies on the senses and responding to situations rather than reacting.
“Tai chi has been in Columbus for a long, long time. For a city in the middle of the heartland, Columbus is way ahead of many major cities in its internal martial arts offerings,” said Lucy Bartimole, owner of Shift Grandview. “In the ‘60s and ‘70s, tai chi was generally taught in kung fu studios, training the body and mind to redirect incoming force calmly and easily.
“It wasn’t nearly as sexy as external fighting martial arts, however. High, fast jump kicks, impressive 360 turns with explosive punches drew the younger age groups. It took a special student to understand the power tai chi as a martial art.”
The traditional forms are still practiced in many places in Columbus, but they have been reorganized and modified for people who are using it to ease joints, increase balance, lose weight or control diabetes—all of which are increasingly becoming points of focus across all age groups. It’s not just for the older crowd.
“It trains the mind to end the unnecessary chatter; the judging and the analyzing that can take over and tends to be the impetus of stress. When our minds are continually busy thinking of things that have happened in the past or trying to control outcomes in the
future, we forget to live in the present moment.”
“Younger folks are migrating toward tai chi for several reasons. Some are athletes and understand the need for balance in the body,” Bartimole said. “Tai chi opens joints while lengthening facial tissue, bringing overall flexibility and mobility to a body that has been beaten up physically.”
You’ll see the presence of martial arts more in fitness facilities, recreation centers and, occasionally, you’ll see people practicing in the city’s parks.
That definitely wasn’t the scene 20 years ago. Few knew what tai chi was, and many assumed it was some new age, slow motion fad. Now, due to research uncovering the health benefits, most people don’t realize it’s a martial art—and a really effective one.
There’s also a large connection between tai chi and body mechanics in sports.
“Tai chi actually enhances performance by training to move from the most powerful joint in the body—the pelvis. The swing of a baseball bat, golf club, boxing jab, volleyball jump, lineman tackle, Frisbee throw; everything emanates from this powerful area,” Bartimole said. “In tai chi it’s called the ‘qua,’ but the energy that powers it is from the ‘dantian.’ That center of energy—the dantian—is what all athletes experience when the perfect play unfolds … and for folks who aren’t going to play football but want the experience of feeling that whole body presence, tai chi will take you there.”
Regardless of the physical reasons for practicing the ancient art, it’s important to focus on the marrying of the body and mind.
“It trains the mind to end the unnecessary chatter; the judging and the analyzing that can take over and tends to be the impetus of stress,” Bartimole said. “When our minds are continually busy thinking of things that have happened in the past or trying to control outcomes in the future, we forget to live in the present moment. Tai chi brings awareness to the present moment, and that’s all we really have.”
Bartimole stresses that tai chi is not easy to learn, but it’s a class people benefit from taking occasionally, as classes build upon one another. It takes discipline and daily practice.
“But if you’re looking for a mindful and meditative challenge, look no further,” Bartimole said. “It’s all here in tai chi.”