Blind­ness no bar­rier to Tai Chi


An en­trepreneurial Taranaki Tai Chi teacher is still achiev­ing no­table mile­stones af­ter more than 35 years in the busi­ness.

Af­ter a life ded­i­cated to help­ing oth­ers, Mar­garet Un­der­wood is turn­ing her con­sid­er­able skills to teaching the blind to im­prove their bal­ance, flex­i­bil­ity and abil­ity to lead more ac­tive lives.

One of of her key aids in this is tech­nol­ogy. Be­cause she reg­u­larly trav­els to Amer­ica and if her stu­dents don’t want to miss a class, she uses Skype to link to them.

Tai Chi is a gen­tle Chi­nese mar­tial art that can be used to im­prove blood flow and help peo­ple to achieve a bet­ter bal­ance and greater flex­i­bil­ity. It is a great aid in help­ing peo­ple pre­vent falls.

Un­der­wood said teaching peo­ple who can­not see was a new and daunt­ing task for her.

‘‘Nor­mally when I work with sighted peo­ple they are able to watch what I do and repli­cate it. With the blind I have to find a way of let­ting them feel what I am do­ing.’’

She said she first be­came in­ter­ested in Tai Chi when she learned about it from a Je­suit Sem­i­nary dropout. ‘‘He per­suaded me on its val­ues and when I travel to Ar­gentina I met a Chi­nese mas­ter who was able to con­tinue my ed­u­ca­tion over 10 years,’’ she said. ‘‘My mas­ter was a for­mer gen­eral in the army of Tai­wan lib­er­a­tor Chi­ang Kai-Shek.’’

She re­turned to Taranaki and in 1985 started teaching Tai Chi in

‘‘I have to find a way of let­ting them feel what I am do­ing’’ Mar­garet Un­der­wood

the Val Deakin Dance build­ing in St Aubyn St.

Be­cause of her travel bug and in­ter­ests in Amer­ica, she has a class of 70 to 90-year-old peo­ple in Cal­i­for­nia.

Un­der­wood said many peo­ple were un­aware of the im­por­tance of stim­u­lat­ing the bone struc­tures in the mid­dle. These gen­er­ate brain ac­tiv­ity but re­quire move­ment to do this. That is why so many hy­per­ac­tive stu­dents are treated the wrong way when they made to sit down and be calm.

This is the first time that Un­der­wood has worked with blind peo­ple and she is find­ing it a de­mand­ing but very re­ward­ing busi­ness. Peo­ple want­ing to en­roll in her classes should call the Blind Foun­da­tion rooms in New Ply­mouth on EN­TER PHONE NUM­BER.

Tai Chi will be one of the fall preven­tion tech­niques dis­cussed at a sem­i­nar in the coun­cil cham­bers on Satur­day, Feb­ru­ary 17.


Lance Gir­ling-Butcher gets in­struc­tion from Tai Chi Mar­garet Un­der­wood.

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