Rooted in China, tai chi branches out A di­rect de­scen­dant of one of the mar­tial arts’ leg­endary founders, Yang Jun car­ries on a tra­di­tion

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - By LINDA DENG in Seat­tle lin­dadeng@chi­nadai­

Seat­tle is not only the city where Chi­nese movie leg­end Bruce Lee launched his first mar­tial arts stu­dio and de­vel­oped his kung fu phi­los­o­phy, it’s also where the North Amer­i­can head­quar­ters of Yang Chengfu Tai Chi Chuan Cen­ters are. Tai chi chuan, pop­u­larly known as tai chi, a tra­di­tional form of mar­tial arts de­vel­oped in China over 5,000 years, com­bines slow, de­lib­er­ate, low-im­pact move­ment, med­i­ta­tion and breath­ing ex­er­cises.

Gra­ham An­drews, a former soft­ware en­gi­neer at Mi­crosoft and cur­rent grad­u­ate stu­dent in pub­lic pol­icy at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton, has been en­rolled in a tai chi class for two months at the Yang Chengfu Cen­ter in Red­mond, where the Mi­crosoft cam­pus is lo­cated.

“As a pro­fes­sional go­ing back to school, I have a much more stress­ful life,” he said. “So I wanted to find some­thing that’s re­lax­ing and med­i­ta­tive.”

In the West, tai chi has be­come a more ac­cepted method of ex­er­cise to pro­mote phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal well-be­ing. Classes are avail­able at count­less se­nior cen­ters, as well as a grow­ing num­ber of hos­pi­tals, as both a pre­ven­ta­tive and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive ther­apy.

Ac­cord­ing to a Na­tional Health In­ter­view Sur­vey, an es­ti­mated 2.5 mil­lion peo­ple prac­tice tai chi in the US.

“Mar­tial arts, re­lax­ation, phys­i­cal and mental prac­tice,” An­drews said, sum­ming up tai chi’s ap­peal.

An­drews said the Yang Fam­ily Tai Chi Chuan cen­ter was well known. “If you want to learn au­then­tic tai chi chuan, you have to ei­ther go to China or come to this school,” he said.

The Yang fam­ily style of tai chi is the most pop­u­lar and widely prac­ticed style in the world to­day and the sec­ond in terms of se­nior­ity among the pri­mary five fam­ily styles of tai chi.

Born in 1968 in Taiyuan, Mas­ter Yang Jun is a sixth-gen­er­a­tion de­scen­dant of the cre­ator of the Yang style of tai chi. Since 1995, he has served as vice-pres­i­dent of oper­a­tions and train­ing of the Shanxi Province Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan As­so­ci­a­tion with more than 30,000 mem­bers in his home province of Shanxi. In Oc­to­ber 1998, Yang Jun cre­ated the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion and has served as pres­i­dent since.

The first Yang Chengfu Tai Chi Chuan teach­ing cen­ter in the US was founded in 1995 by masters Yang Zhen­duo and Yang Jun and their stu­dents.

Yang had been trained by his grandfather, Mas­ter Yang Zhen­duo, since age 5 to carry on the Yang fam­ily tra­di­tions. He is cer­ti­fied as the high­est level judge in China and served as head judge for the 1998 Na­tional Tai Chi Com­pe­ti­tion in China. In 1995, he was given the ti­tle Shanxi Province Fa­mous Wushu Mas­ter by the Chi­nese Wushu Academy. In July 2009, he was named head of Yang Fam­ily Tai Chi Chuan.

In Au­gust 1999, with only four suit­cases and the dream of spread­ing tai chi chuan abroad, Yang moved to Seat­tle with his wife Fang Hong to es­tab­lish a school.

“We came with the goal of bet­ter pro­mot­ing teach­ing and aware­ness through­out the coun­try,” Yang said, re­call­ing how their school started from scratch.

They had only three stu­dents en­rolled in their first classes in Chi­na­town. Now they have 40 cen­ters, hun­dreds of schools and thou­sands of mem­bers in 18 coun­tries in­clud­ing the United States, Bri­tain, Ger­many, Swe­den, Italy, France, Switzer­land, Canada, Brazil, Ar­gentina and more.

A ma­jor fac­tor con­tribut­ing to the spread of the Yang style in the US has been the im­mi­gra­tion of Yang style masters over the past cen­tury.

“My grand­uncle moved from Guangxi to Hong Kong in the 1930s,” Yang said. “Dong Yin­jie (1891– 1960), one of my grandfather’s se­nior dis­ci­ples, also moved to Hong Kong. From there, more and more dis­ci­ples of Yang brought tai chi chuan to the West.”

Patrick Wat­son (1935-1992), one of Zheng’s eight se­nior stu­dents, founded the School of Tai Chi Chuan (STCC) specif­i­cally to train teach­ers to teach Yang-style tai chi in 1976.

Three years later, he founded the Tai Chi Foun­da­tion Inc in New York, which now man­ages all teach­ing, train­ing, re­search and de­vel­op­ment. Over the next 16 years, Patrick guided the growth of the STCC into an in­ter­na­tional school with branches in seven coun­tries.

Ac­cord­ing to their 2014 an­nual re­port, the school of tai chi founded by Wat­son has trained about 50,000 in­di­vid­u­als. Last summer, the foun­da­tion spon­sored four in­ter­na­tional in­ten­sive train­ing ses­sions in­clud­ing two in the US — in Chicago and in Whid­bey Is­land, Wash­ing­ton.

Yang has been teach­ing sem­i­nars overseas with his grandfather for more than 20 years.

“My goal is to help build up the stan­dard of train­ing for the fu­ture,” Yang said. “Tai chi chuan is com­pli­cated. In the past, there was no sys­tem, no way to give the Yang style con­ti­nu­ity. That’s a real chal­lenge.”

Be­cause of its com­plex phi­los­o­phy, tai chi is not easy for the begin­ner to un­der­stand.

“Thanks to the in­ter­net, to­day more and more peo­ple can learn some­thing about tai chi chuan and know what to ex­pect when they step into class,” Yang said. “But still tai chi chuan is not an easy art.”

“Be­cause of tai chi chuan’s com­plex­ity, the best way to pro­mote and spread it is to cre­ate more good in­struc­tors,” Yang said.

In the US, tai chi in­struc­tors don’t have to be li­censed, and its prac­tice is not reg­u­lated.

“We have tried to stan­dard­ize a tai chi chuan rank­ing sys­tem and of­fer cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to teach through the teacher-train­ing pro­gram,” Yang said.

The in­ter­na­tional as­so­ci­a­tion in China is in the process of im­ple­ment­ing a rank­ing sys­tem for tai chi to es­tab­lish a stan­dard­ized train­ing sys­tem for Yang style tai chi.

There are nine ranks as­signed ac­cord­ing to a va­ri­ety of fac­tors, in­clud­ing the amount of time spent prac­tic­ing, the level of skill and the­ory at­tained, achieve­ments in re­search, the de­gree to which the moral code of mar­tial arts is fol­lowed and con­tri­bu­tions made to de­vel­op­ing Yang style tai chi.

“I think tai chi chuan has a big fu­ture in the US,” An­drews said. “Amer­i­cans are known for be­ing un­der stress, and tai chi chuan is good for stress. And tai chi is good for peo­ple get­ting older. They will tell you in the hospi­tal (if you are fall­ing) to go to a tai chi class to keep joints work­ing and good bal­ance,” An­drews said.

Tai chi is not easy. “It is com­par­a­tively diffi es­pe­cially for be­gin­ners,” Yang said. “You have to un­der­stand the phi­los­o­phy and med­i­ta­tion part be­fore you ac­tu­ally ben­e­fit from it. The prac­tice of tai chi chuan is based on sev­eral prin­ci­ples, in­clud­ing mind­ful­ness, breath­ing aware­ness, ac­tive re­lax­ation to go with the slow move­ments.”

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