The energy of self-defense
Mary Marsh, one of Matthew’s students, has studied tai chi for 10 years. She began training because she suffered from panic attacks.
“My daughter got me involved and it has changed my life,” Marsh says. “I have a tool that I can use when I’m feeling stressed. Anyone can do it. One time, I was hooked up to a heart monitor and started doing the form, just in my mind, and you could see my blood pressure numbers going down. That’s when I realized there really is something to this. “
Matthews began studying tai chi in his 20s, after working his way through a number of other martial arts including judo, kung fu and Aikido. He had heard stories of how martial arts could allow a smaller person to effortlessly defeat a larger, stronger person. But he found that never really happened until 1977, when he met Dr. Kai Sung, a tai chi teacher in Cleveland.
“Tai chi offered a way of looking at martial arts in a completely different way,” Matthews says. He discovered it meant more than just learning a fighting skill; tai chi provided training for life. His work with Dr. Sung also opened the door for further training in Taiwan with tai chi master Shen Maohui. Shen was Grandmaster of the Imperial Guards (secret service) who protected the emperor, and later the president of China/Taiwan. It was a position held for centuries by his martial lineage. He possessed incredible martial skills.
“Shen Maohui could, from 10-12 feet away, point his finger at you and you could feel his energy, or chi, as it hit against your palm,” Matthews says. “This was something I couldn’t explain. I still can’t explain it. These are the things that made me curious about tai chi. What are they doing that is different from what I do? What are the skills they have that are beyond my understanding?”
Shen accepted Matthews as one of his “indoor” students in 1977, despite Matthews not being Asian or even understanding Chinese. The tai chi teaching that takes place in parks all over Asia is often only part of the training. Those are considered the “outdoor” students. Chinese and Japanese martial arts masters are often wary of people seeking training from them.
A teacher would determine if a student was worthy of learning information and secrets of the art. “If you were not, you were considered an ‘outdoor’ student,” Matthews explains. “The ‘indoor’ students were the ones the teacher believed had good character.”
Indoor students learned the valuable secrets, and Matthews was lucky enough to become an indoor student.