(I wrote this piece about my tai chi laoshi for Lake Erie Life Lifestyle Magazine)
There are no techniques in tai chi — only those principles,” says Ed Matthews, tai chi laoshi (teacher), as he points to a blackboard in the corner of his school, “Body Awareness.”
The board has these words on it: “Relaxed, Calm, Grounded, Centered and Unified.”
These concepts comprise the foundation of all tai chi chuan, a 300- to 700-year old martial art developed in China. Translated as “grand ultimate boxing,” tai chi has been called the greatest low-impact exercise and has been scientifically proven to better one’s health, balance and flexibility.
(Ed Matthews practices “push hands” with student Dan Sloppy)
Learning for life
Some may think of tai chi as a slow-moving martial art for senior citizens, but it’s really a martial art for people of all ages who are willing to invest time in practice and study. A classic tai chi saying is, “We study tai chi when we are young so we can use it when we are old.”
Matthews says tai chi has taken slow movement to an insane level. It is like a baseball batter, or golfer, taking practice swings before stepping into the batter’s box. Only in tai chi, you do those slow movements of the tai chi form thousands of times. The power is generated through the use of body alignment and mental intentions. Tai chi also seeks to avoid struggle, and work with the laws of nature instead of trying to fight against them.
Matthews, 61, has spent more than 40 years of his life mastering and teaching tai chi (pronounced tie-gee). Matthews doesn’t look like a tai chi master. First off, he isn’t Chinese. He doesn’t ask his students to call him “Master” or “Sifu.” They just call him Ed. He — and his students — also do not wear the traditional silk kung-fu uniforms, opting instead for regular street clothes. Matthews tries to make tai chi as accessible as possible. For him, it is not about fighting — though his punch hits like an express train — but about health.
“When you say ‘self-defense,’ most people think of being attacked on the street,” Matthews says. “The teachers I have had say the best self-defense is not to get sick, not to have pain. Most of us are not being shot at, or accosted, every time we step outside our door. But slipping and falling, pulling a muscle moving incorrectly, or getting a disease is a constant around us.”
Tai chi, as Matthews teaches it, is about body mechanics. The graceful, slow-moving form of tai chi allows us to understand how to move our bodies. It also strengthens the body’s internal energy that the Chinese call “chi (or qi).”
Modern medicine has found that tai chi lowers blood pressure, lessens stress, strengthens muscles, and improves circulation and balance. Doctors are prescribing it for people who suffer from arthritis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety. After many years of study, tai chi can also be used as self-defense.