What Inspired me to Start Tai Chi?

 Stories of some of Dr Lam’s tai chi colleagues on their journeys

Dr Paul Lam, Sydney, NSW, Australia
I started Tai Chi from 1974 after graduating from Medical School. I have had osteoarthritis since my early teens. By the time I graduated my arthritis was quite debilitating I felt I really had to do something for myself. I remember in the village where I grew up in China, Tai Chi was considered effective for arthritis. I decided to give it a try. I tried a couple of teachers but did not feel comfortable with them. After a while I was fortunate to learn my late father-in-law was an accomplished Tai Chi practitioner and he had been my main teacher. Other great teachers have also helped me enrich my Tai Chi experience.
 
Over the years Tai Chi has virtually changed my life. Now in my late sixties, my arthritis is well controlled. I work more than twelve hours most days, teaching Tai Chi and practicing medicine. I feel happy and healthy. My Tai Chi journey has been more than just an enjoyment; it has become an integral part of my life.  My memoir shares my life story including the tumultuous years struggling to survive starvation for several years. 
 
I am glad to see so many people from all walks of life having wonderful experiences in their Tai Chi journey. I have enjoyed reading your stories; they will be an inspiration to all of us. Thank you for sharing.
 
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The Martial Arts: A Path to Good Health, Bruce M. Young, Ed.D., Senior Trainer, Maine, USA

As a young man, the martial arts had always been a mystery to me, one which I had hoped I might some day solve. Like most folks I had watched a multitude of characters perform in the movies and on television what seemed to be miraculous fetes requiring an athletic and almost magical skill, and I was convinced that I would never be able to snatch the pebble from the hand of a master, or jump wildly into the air, and with several twists, kick an opponent in the head or chest, then finally land with the ease of a graceful bird alighting on a tree branch. What I did not know at the time was that the martial arts skill which I so much desired was not real. It only existed in the minds of fiction writers who created it to entertain the masses. The real knowledge and skill of the martial arts was quietly waiting to be discovered in the concept of wu chi.

Wu chi is a Chinese term which has been interpreted as “emptiness,” and it is the key to finding the power of the martial arts, which exists within each of us. It has been said that the cup that is full cannot be useful; it is only when the cup is empty that it can be of use. This is true of the mind as well. If the mind has been filled with the busyness of the world around it, it will never be open to new concepts or ideas. It will never have the desire to discover the real meaning and power which the martial arts offer. And for the better part of my life, I had not been ready to find this path; as my mind was always full. I was busy; completely engrossed in the work that I was doing as a public school superintendent. It was not uncommon for me to work 12 to 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. I had no room in my routine for such things as the martial arts, or time in my life to relax. The stress was overwhelming, and I was not even aware of it. My body and soul were beginning to exhibit the effects of this stress, and I couldn’t stop going and doing long enough to see, or address it.

When I finally became aware of what was happening to me, I began to seek a way to relieve the stress I was experiencing. It was at this time that I met my first martial arts teacher, who was my instructor for many years in the Korean fighting art of Tae Kwon Do. While Tae Kwon Do did relieve some of the stress my career path and my type “A” personality had caused, it also opened the door to my subsequent investigation of the spiritual nature of the martial arts and its connection to the movement of God’s Spirit in my life.

It was not uncommon for my teacher and me to spend an hour or so after a Tae Kwon Do classes in prayer, seeking God’s guidance and healing for our lives. It was here that I learned about the openness of the heart, mind, body, and spirit. It was here that I learned that our ability to hear, see, touch, taste, and smell are often inhibited by the busyness of our daily lives and the mindless pursuits we follow. While Tae Kwon Do helped relieve my stress, I began to realize that this “hard form” of martial art needed to be balanced. I was able to find this needed balance in the study of Tai Chi Ch’uan, qigong, and Reiki. But, as I began to practice these arts, I also discovered that there was a healing aspect to them; and I suspect that my complete and speedy recovery from two myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) was due in no small part to the fact that I got up from my hospital bed immediately to continue my practice of Tai Chi and Reiki.

Now I delight in telling folks that Tai Chi is the one best ways I know to help others lead a happier and healthier life; and I delight in teaching them how they can share this skill. What better gift can we give to one another than the gift of physical and spiritual healing?

(This article contains excerpts from my forthcoming book: Christian Spirituality and the Martial Way)
 
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Why I Learned Tai Chi: Listening to the Inner Voice of Wisdom, Caroline Demoise, Master Trainer, NC, USA

When I was in my early 40’s I had this persistent, recurring thought “If you want to be healthy when you are old, see a nutritionist now.”

One evening at a meditation class, I overheard a woman talking about a nutritionist, a shaman who had studied Chinese Medicine and decided to honour that inner voice. At the first visit, he radically changed my life. Sugar, salt, grains, alcohol and coffee were out. Fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, low fat meats and Tai Chi were in.

Because of these preventative practices, I have avoided several genetic health challenges in my family. I know in my heart that if I had not made these life altering changes in diet and embracing Tai Chi 25 years ago, I would not be the vibrant, healthy person I am today at 66.
 
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Christine Campbell, Canberra, ACT, Australia

I began Tai Chi for health reasons, 6 or 7 years ago. I had osteoporosis. I was a regular swimmer. Weight-lifting was out, I couldn’t walk any further than I already did – I felt like doing less rather than more exercise because I had contracted poliomyelitis in 1954.

A friend, Wendy, talked constantly about Tai Chi, clearly under the influence of some acute Asian fever. She took me to an outdoors practice. I asked the teacher, Elizabeth Halfnights, if I could join a regular class. She later admitted that she thought it would be too hard for me, but then, so did I.

I joined all of her classes: Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced. The following year, I went to the St Vincent’s January workshop, and now I try to go every year, as well as to the Sydney updates. I have found something that I can do, despite a very fragile left side.

This year, with Wendy, I began to teach two classes a week, taking over from Elizabeth. What a big difference there is between demonstrating and following! We teach Long Yang and Tai Chi for Arthritis. Some of the more physically challenged members of the class are interested when I demonstrate toned down movements, in place of the more energetic kicks. Others are delighted when I suggest that they experiment to see how certain movements will fit in with their particular disability and disabilities are not only physical. We take in Tai Chi ‘refugees’ whose past teachers have reprimanded them for their weaknesses. We also teach strategies for remembering the routines, something we have all struggled with.

My bone density has returned to normal. I can finally perform TAI CHI without a prompting list of moves. We are helping others to experience the benefits of Tai- chi. Thank you Dr Lam and the wonderful Tai Chi workshops.
 
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Debra Leonard, IN, USA 

I can’t remember just how old I was when I first heard the words “Tai Chi”, 10-12 possibly? I do know it was on a Sunday morning news program, reported by a man named Charles Kuralt, a fairly popular journalist in the US until his death in 1997.

When and where that news article was made I don’t know, but I was struck dumb, “Look at how they move, I want to learn that!” was all I could think, then it was over. Years, no decades went by, rarely did I see the words Tai Chi again.

Working in a church office, while on the internet, I was looking for interesting events for the church congregation when I saw a class listed. I called that instructor up and asked him if he could give lessons at our church, and he said yes! Finally, after more than 40 years, I was going to have the chance to move like those people I saw in that article. It has changed my life, how I look at everything. I love teaching Tai Chi and performing it, I have so much more to learn, but it is like nothing I’ve ever done or worked at before and hope sincerely that I can keep another person from saying “I wish I’d started this 30 years ago.” 

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Wendy Mukherjee, Canberra, ACT, Australia
 
I came to Tai Chi for medical and mental health reasons. Nearly seven years ago my son, Omar, having been diagnosed with schizophrenia and duly medicated, he came from Sydney to live with me in Canberra. Omar has the ‘negative’ symptoms of the disease, which predispose him to withdraw from people.

In Canberra, he did withdraw, not even wanting to leave the house unless accompanied by me. I tried to interest him in many groups and activities, but nothing would stir him from his isolation.

Then his case worker suggested Tai Chi, wisely, for both of us. So we presented ourselves at Elizabeth Halfnights’ class at the Belconnen Community Centre. Under Elizabeth’s gentle and kindly instruction, everything changed. Omar began to open up. He quickly learned the form; he gained confidence and was ready to move about on his own. He did not stay with Tai Chi, preferring to work out in the gym. The spell had been broken. I shall always be grateful to Elizabeth and to Tai Chi.

And myself? I continued practising, attended the Paul Lam workshops and have now taken over Elizabeth’s classes at Belconnen. Tai Chi has changed two lives. I plan never to be without it.
 
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Jennifer Chung, Singapore
 
“Seven years ago, I was passing by the park and stopped to observe a group of Tai Chi participants practicing Tai Chi. I was inspired by the beautiful, slow and smooth movements of Tai Chi, and I told myself I have to learn Tai Chi. Having gone through the most difficult part of learning, I am now passionate about teaching Tai Chi.”

My health has improved and I am getting stronger each day. Tai Chi is a great exercise.

Will keep you informed on our new development of Tai Chi for Health program.

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Lisa James-Lloyd, Victoria, Australia
The Tai Chi classes were initially started by Wilfred Kwok, physiotherapist/master trainer at the West Footscray Senior Citizens Centre, Victoria.

As a Carer for my 84 year old mother who is affected by osteoarthritis, poor balance and dementia, Wilfred could see the benefit of Tai Chi classes for the both of us. I was anxious, sleep deprived, eating on the run. Being diabetic and overweight was also a hindrance to my health. My body felt stiff, barely able to turn my neck and sore to touch. The serene and easy going person was long gone.

Within 2 months of weekly Tai Chi classes and regular repetition under the night sky, I noticed the improvements. I felt refreshed and relaxed after each routine. That “serene” look one gets, usually from meditation/quiet contemplation has returned. I “don’t sweat the small stuff”, sleep better and have lost 5kgs. My neck movements are surprisingly better and my knees don’t “creak” like they did. Naturally feeling better inspired me to want to do more. I am planning to undertake the course in the next nine movements and Tai Chi for Kidz.

I am thankful for the opportunity given to me not only by Wilfred but also by Colin Brown from HealthWest, Sunshine,Victoria. For the most part Colin was instrumental to our role as Tai Chi Leaders and the survival of our group. He obtained full course funding through HealthWest, including cost for the required CPR training without which most of us would have been unable to undertake financially. He was involved in our weekly class for over one year, over seeing the progress, participation and referrals to other Health Professionals where necessary. The goal was to build a self sustaining Tai Chi group and to the surprise of some, success is evident.

The plan for the New Year is to run other classes within the municipality and we don’t need to advertise to get the numbers! In her role as Community Project Officer, Mary Jo Quenette from Maribyrnong Council will continue to be involved in Tai Chi, taking care of logistics and coordinating the classes to be run by the 4 recently qualified leaders.

Inspiration comes in many guises. Mine has been through the enthusiasm, encouragement and dedication of Health Professionals and Tai Chi Leaders, group and self progress. Observation, perseverance, participation of those with debilitating health issues, improvement of mental and physical health. They all play a part.

My sincere gratitude goes to all those who have guide me along the way. Good health to all.

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Trevor Reynaert, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, UK

At school I had no co-ordination or balance and was useless at sport or dance. In my late thirties, after a fall from a ladder I resigned myself to chronic back pain and spasm from a deteriorating spine compounded by a damaged arthritic ankle. Business often took me to the Far East and to the US where I witnessed Tai Chi performed in parks by all age groups. Everyone looked so supple and appeared to have no joint problems. I had embarked on my journey. Initially I struggled without a teacher as all I found were strict MA mentors not suited to my physical constraints.

One Sunday sitting by the riverside in Hong Kong, filling time between a noon checkout and a midnight flight home, I watched an old man’s graceful and gentle Tai Chi. Encouraged, I approached him, and although we couldn’t speak each other’s language, he spent 3 hours “teaching” me his stance and form. I had truly started to learn Tai Chi.

Several years later after persevering with practice, I discovered Paul, and attended his first UK Tai Chi workshop. I was recovering from spasm, was in a back brace, could not sit properly and needed a stick for support standing; however Paul welcomed me to the class and the 2nd phase of my Tai Chi journey had begun.

Now in my early 60’s, it is to these two people that I owe my warmest thanks for a creating a passion which keeps me active and focused, and enables me to instruct and, in a small way, help people of all abilities, from kids to active and not so active 80/90 year olds, especially the elderly that enjoy Tai Chi with me despite disabilities of stroke, Parkinson’s or dementia. 
 
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Toni Stoker 
Toni Stoker started doing tai chi while dealing with cancer. She was in Ralph Dehner’s class, a Master Trainer inCincinnati, OH, for more than a year and was supposed to have died well over a year ago.  She is a sweet lady who
blessed all of us at the Tai Chi class.

I began going to Tai Chi because I saw a flyer at the Christ Hospital where I was getting my chemotherapy treatments.  It offered a form of exercise and it was free.  I was trying everything I could to find company, to normalize my life, to get out of the house and to try to forget about the incurable cancer I knew that I had.
I knew nothing about Tai Chi and had no expectations at all. 
 
The form we were being taught was mild enough for us to be able to do, given the condition of some of us, but it was still a form of exercise.  We could sit down and rest any time and just do the arm movements. Most of us never did.  I came to love the physical control I was gaining over my body. I loved trying to learning the movements more precisely and practicing them over and over again.  It had a calming, almost mesmerizing effect.  Being forced to concentrate on one movement or on one part of my body at a time produced an escape from the thoughts about what was going on inside of that body. There was a gentleness to the movements, that soothed me in a very hurried world, where I could no longer keep up anyway.  It helped me set a new pace, a pace I could maintain.
I loved the concept that there is no perfection. only levels of excellence and I struggled to achieve the next level of excellence.  I came to embrace the concept of chi.  This took some time for me, and I still struggle with it, because I want to get to that level of calm.
Other people in the class told me they felt the spiritual end first and that has moved me to keep trying too.
Something that can touch so many people in so many ways must be worth pursuing.  I loved being a spectator on the days when I could only watch, and a participant on the days when I could get up and try. I am in Hospice care now, off all treatment and waiting to die. 
 
Tai Chi  remains with me as one of the things I did that had inherent value in its peace and calmness.  Sometimes I sit and move my arms or assume a position with which I used to have trouble. For me, Tai Chi provided a glimpse into a new world of serenity and wellness that helped me cope with the last few years of discomfort and
fatigue.  I believe Tai Chi fended off the stress of facing the unknown and that it has the power to stay with one much longer than I would have believed.  It is with me now, even though I no longer can practice it.
 
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Dr. David Borofsky Gig Harbor, WA, USA
 
While I have not had the pleasure of meeting Dr Lam, I felt like I knew him through his videos and more importantly through my wife, Mady.
What I want to share is how tai chi has affected not only Mady, but our lives, as husband and wife, as well.  My wife is, simply put, my best friend and the most amazing person I know.  She has learned the lessons of tai chi to the point of now being able to teach.  I was her first pupil and I continue to learn from her.
While I have a doctorate in education and am a successful president of a two year college in the United States, discipline is, unfortunately, not my strength.  I am 40 pounds overweight, although I have been an athlete in my near distant past.  Mady has taught me the Tai Chi for Arthritis and about 60% of the Sun 73 form.  I am a tough student.  I am used to being in control and used to being right.  After all, I am a president.
Tai Chi has taught me that it does not matter who I am or what I do.  The breathing, the power, the movements, all work together to make oneself be whole and within.  I could not have learned any of this without my wife and my partner, Mady Borofsky.  She takes everything she learns through the videos, her training seminars, and shares it with me.  She is truly a teaching machine, sharing with me all that is important and being supportive, yet tough when she needs to be.  All of this, about tai chi, she has learned from Dr Lam.
Her life, and my life, and our lives together, have been changed forever because of what Dr. Paul Lam has done.  I can only humbly thank him, for being willing to share his knowledge and strength with everyone he touches.
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