Balancing mind and body

Tai Chi master brings workshops to Maryville

Liu Ji Fa demonstrates one of the Tai Chi movements.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Liu Ji Fa demonstrates one of the Tai Chi movements.

Tai Chi enthusiasts from Blount County got a rare treat recently when Tai Chi master Liu Ji Fa visited at Clear’s Silat in Maryville.

Liu spent time working with Richard Clear’s students and shared with instructors from around the country. The master took time to speak with Blount Today using interpreter Rose Oliver, founder of the Double Dragon Alliance Cultural Centre of Shanghai, the organization that brought Liu to Maryville.

Liu answered questions and touched on some of the mysteries and benefits of Tai Chi. Tai Chi, he explained, is an ancient system of internally harnessing softness and hardness as a means to provide balance.

“In Tai Chi, you move your arms and every part of your body. Everything is moving together,” Liu said.

The exercise can also help integrate left and right brain activities.

“(For) people who are recovering from accidents or strokes, the movements are very large and open and expansive,” he said. “You get full flowing movement throughout the whole body.”

Liu said the exercise also helps older people maintain their agility. Seniors who practice Tai Chi have better balance and increased reaction speeds, he said. Tai Chi is about maintaining equilibrium. Practitioners go through extreme movements akin to gymnastics, but the movements are more flowing.

“It is to look beautiful. It maintains a natural way of moving,” Liu said. “It is very good for old and young and people with infirmities. It also helps many old people with chronic illnesses and helps them recover from these problems.”

Liu said studies have been done in China in which people with the similar conditions have gone to doctors and been prescribed medicine.

“People who’ve done Tai Chi or took up Tai Chi take medication for half as much time as people who didn’t,” he said. “It improves blood flow to the whole body so the rate of recovery is much faster.”

Liu began training in 1960 when he was 26. He is now 70.

“Tai Chi in Chin is one of the best treatments for elderly people and those with chronic illness,” he said. “It’s so good for promoting circulation and keeping the body healthy.”

Clear praised Liu for his ability, not just in using Tai Chi for health purposes, but also for how he used the exercise as a form of self-defense. Using a “push hands” technique, Liu was able to throw men much larger than himself.

Push hands is a method by which two people push against each other trying to focus their energy suddenly to throw the other person.

“I’ve seen him do stuff a strong 25-year-couldn’t do, I guarantee,” Clear said. “It’s incredible. He is one of the top living Tai Chi masters in China today. If you took the top 10 people in the whole country, he’s on that list.”

Clear was amazed at how Liu could manipulate his torso using Tai Chi.

“He can take this part of his body and shrink it down thin and expand it to look like a bull frog. It’s incredible,” Clear said.

Liu also uses Tai Chi to absorb a punch.

“You try to push him and you feel the force disappear in front of him. He shrinks it to the point you’re falling down,” Clear said. “You thought you had him and he’s not there. When he expands, he’s taking every person in the room and the popped them up in the air 3 feet.”

Clear said he’s been studying Tai Chi since 1979 and visited Shanghai in 1994. People of all ages can benefit from Tai Chi, he said. In sports like football, where players are trying to get as low as possible to get underneath opponent, “What a Tai Chi player knows how to do is move that mass and their body better,” he said.

Clear said golfers can also benefit from Tai Chi. Better body control can prove a plus in grappling sports like wrestling as well.

“It’s not absorbing the push, you’re dissolving the force,’ he said.

Clear said there are several misconceptions about Tai Chi.

“It’s a simple practice,” he said. “It’s learning to give your inner body a message. It’s very simple and there’s nothing mystical. When you understand and apply it, it looks like magic but there’s a real science here.”

Clear said learning Tai Chi isn’t something people should feel apprehensive about for fear they’re going to have to spar or get beat up.

“It’s healthy,” he said. “Kung Fu is much more about fighting; Tai Chi is not about fighting. It’s learning how to use your body more completely and fully with better movement and better balance.”

The movements can eventually become a form of self-defense if so desired.

“After that it translates into good health and the emphasis is on that,” he said. “A good Tai Chi master can defend themselves but also they’re very healthy.”

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