DC metro area T’ai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan) in the park
This is an article inspired by many of the people I have met on the T’ai Chi (Taiji) path in parks and other gatherings. I started learning when I was 18 from a free class in the park and want to share with you places here in Virginia, Maryland, and DC that offer free instruction. The dominant style in this Mid-Atlantic region is the Yang short form popularized in the 1960’s by Cheng Man-Ch’ing and Robert W. Smith. Please note this article with contain Wade-Giles and Pinyin spelling of Chinese terms- example- T’ai Chi (Wade-Giles) and Taiji (Pinyin).
Virginia University of Oriental Medicine Tai Chi Class – 50 min. Sat at 8am. Jun 13 thru Aug 15, 2015.
Often called “medication in motion” it improves balance, reduces pain and stiffness, enhances sleep and more. Drop in or sign up for multiple classes. It is FREE but we suggest a donation of $10 or whatever you can spare to defray costs.
Location: Virginia University of Oriental Medicine, 9401 Mathy Dr., Fairfax.
For more info.at 703-323-5690, http://vuom.edu/tai-chi-class/
My first T’ai Chi park experience: Wilson Pitts
It was fall of 1990 and I was starting my first semester of college at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond Virginia. My sister told me about a martial arts guy teaching a free class in Maymont Park on Saturday mornings at 9am. Having interest in learning self defense, I went there to find out more. The teacher, Wilson Pitts, arrived and he guided students through a series of calisthenics called, “Ba Dua Jin” which meant ‘Eight Flower Brocade’, Bear and Crane of Huato’s 5 animal qigong., and finally some specified qigong movements using breathing and sound to stimulate each internal organ called “6 Healing sounds qigong”. We proceeded to learn some stance work that involved bending the knees and shifting weight between left and right legs. “This Taiji stance is the foundation of all the Taiji movements” Wilson explained. Later we would eventually be learning the first section of 12 movements of Yang’s short form. The martial art was called Taijiquan; meaning ‘Grand Ultimate Boxing’ and that millions of people practiced this healing art everyday in parks in China and Asia. This Taoist martial art was based on Taiji or the ‘yin-yang symbol’ using the Chinese understanding of “Qi”, the bio-electric energy that circulates in the body for health, but not only did it help the body become stronger, it was also potentially a devastating martial art. “Taijiquan has two other related arts in it family, Baguazhang (Eight diagram palm) and Xingyiquan (Mind-Intent boxing) are two sister arts to Taiji, this family is called ‘Neijia’ or Internal arts” Wilson explained. “Baguazhang teaches you to move your center of balance in circles, Xingyiquan teaches how to move the center linear and at angles, while Taijiquan teaches how to move in all directions.” Wilson had learned from several teachers himself, but was inspired to learn and teach Taiji’s Yang short form from the way Robert W. Smith taught in Maryland. Wilson continues to teach at Maymont park on Saturday mornings for 30-some years now.
Robert W. Smith brings Tai Chi to DC metro area
Let’s go back to Bethesda, Maryland, 1960s, when one Robert W. Smith came back from living in Taiwan and learning the Neijia arts from several masters. An early T’ai Chi pioneer who was Prof. Cheng Man-ch’ing’s first Western student beginning in 1959. Smith lived in Bethesda, Maryland for many years and produced 14 books on Asian martial arts including “T’ai Chi Ch’uan, the Supreme Ultimate” which he co-authored with Cheng. This was one of the very first books in English about T’ai Chi Ch’uan. Mr. Smith taught a free Taiji class at the Bethesda YMCA parking lot on Saturday morning’s beginning in 1962. He also offered a class near his home in Bethesda at Fleming Park where he started a group interested in Baguazhang and Xingyiquan . This group still meets to this day to practice every Sunday mornings at 8am.
When I first moved to the Washington D.C. area I met some people and also found some websites that advertised some gatherings in various parks in the area. Here I would like to talk about a few I have visited from time to time.
The Fleming park group in Bethesda Maryland.
This group gets together on Sundays and has been doing so for almost 50 years now. They normally begin with practicing Xingyiquan’s classical 5 element fists which correspond to a particular element in the Chinese philosophy. The names and energy are described as following: Pi quan: Splitting fist is related to metal like an ax chopping, Beng quan: Crushing fist is related to wood like a straight arrow flying, Tsuan quan: Drilling fist is related to water like a wave crashing, Pao quan: fist is related to fire like cannon fire, and Hen quan: Crossing fist is related to earth like volcano erupting.
The Fleming park group also practices the Baguazhang “Hou tien” which are a series of linear and circular Baguazhang drills. They will review some of the self defense applications of how the movements work. There are plenty of members who have been there and welcoming and willing to show you many of the basic exercises. Typically the Fleming park might practice Taijiquan at the end of the 2 hour or so class. Since they have a roofed park area, they will go year round with training, even in snow. They have since honor Robert W. Smith with a memorial at the park.
Warren Conner- McLean Virginia
Warren Conner who has taught T’ai Chi in the Washington, DC area since 1975, has offered a free Yang style short form T’ai Chi beginners’ practice since 1993. On Saturdays at 8:00 a.m. in McLean Virginia, a group gets together at McLean Central Park at the outdoor basketball court located behind the Dolley Madison Public Library. The group normally performs the beginners’ set of Cheng Man-ch’ing’s Yang style short form about a dozen times. After a short break, the beginner group performs the beginners’ set three more times while a more advanced group performs the entire short form. It is an all year event which meets indoors at St. Luke Catholic School’s gym from November through March during the cold winter. Warren began his training with Robert W. Smith in 1973.
More info- Warren Conner’s Tai Chi Center
Paul Ramos: Wu Shen Tao Push hands gathering in Takoma park Maryland.
In late 1990’s Wu Shen Tao, a martial arts school in Silver Spring Maryland offered a Monday night ‘push hands’ gathering. It is now a 7pm Tuesday night push hands gathering at the Liz Lerman school of Dance in Takoma park. Many people would get together and practice “Tui Shou” which translates as ‘push hands’. It is a relaxed sensing drill used to interpret and redirect an opponents attack in the middle-to-close ‘hand to hand’ combat and grappling range. Wu Shen Tao also expanded to include ‘push sword’ and internal sword sparring on every other Saturday. Paul Ramos is a certified Judge for several Chinese Martial Arts organizations for Neijia arts including fixed and moving step push hands competitions. Paul has been involved in coaching and had produced many National competition champions.
More info– Wu Shen Tao School
Dr. David Walls-Kaufman- Lincoln park Washington D.C.
I originally met David at the Wu Shen Tao group in late 90’s but later started joining his Saturday morning group at 8am in Lincoln Park off East Capitol Street in DC a few years ago. Having played push hands with him, I knew of his ability. David had been practicing since 1988 and is a long time student and disciple of Ben Pang Jeng Lo, Cheng Man Ching’s senior student from Taiwan. David was able to “get it”, that is…the real ability to be able to relax, sink, and push an opponent very far. David had competed and won several major push hands events. His class usually begins with a few rounds of the entire form along with standing in the Taijiquan postures for a long amount of time to make the legs strong. “I emphasize the same stress Ben Lo puts on separating the weight in each posture and the cultivation of chi,” David says. The form class ends with doing another round of the entire form after the prolonged standing, then an hour or so of push hands. David not only is a Taijiquan expert, he also is a Doctor of Chiropractic and a singer/musician in the band, “Lands of Malls”.
-more information for David and his Chiropractic clinic can be found at: www.Capitolhilltaichi.com
Joanne Chen – Wu Wei Tai Chi – Cabin John Regional Park – Rockville, MD
David Chen enjoyed the lively Taiji practice he found in the parks of Taiwan and China and wanted to recreate that experience here. He started a free, weekly practice in Cabin John Regional Park, in Rockville, over a dozen years ago, and watched it grow in popularity. David was a tireless organizer of taiji activities and he loved to share with others. Sadly, David passed away after surgery in 2005, but, thanks to his wife Joanne and his senior students and friends, the practice is still going strong. The group meets year-round on Saturday mornings from 10am to Noon to practice the Taiji form, push hands and Taiji wooden sword. Friends are welcome and encouraged to share in the fun and learning.
This summer, a beautiful Taiji practice court is being built in the park to honor David Chen’s contribution to the community. The court will be a cultural landmark that will encourage visitors to practice Taijiquan, meditation and other health related activities.
To find out more about the Tai Chi court please visit the website at http://www.wuweitaichi.com/founder.htm
More info: www.wuweitaichi.com
Julian Chu- Carderock Potomac Maryland (2012: now at the “Tai Chi Court” in Cabin John regional park.)
I also found out from some students that Julian Chu was teaching a free class where Taiji enthusiasts could get together and practice. On Sunday mornings at 8am in Carderock Park, Potomac Maryland in every summer since 1992; Julian Chu guides a large group through the Yang short form. This group really spends a lot of time on every aspect of Taijiquan. Class will start with a series of joint opening calisthenics, then do the entire form twice, and wrap up with standing meditation. Then the class will go on to perform Taiji sword, Taiji saber, and Taiji long pole, before going into Tui Shou or ‘Push hands’ practice. The free class is open to Taiji practitioners of all levels who are interested in enhancing his/her Taijiquan capability for health and self defense. Julian also offers other regular classes in Maryland (at Julius Middle School in Rockville) and Virginia (at Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale Campus) on weekends. Besides, he has co-sponsored the quarterly Greater Washington D.C. Area Push-Hands Get-Together in Rockville Maryland with then David Chen and now Joanne Chen since 1995. Julian has taught Taijiquan for over 30 years, and is a senior student of Benjamin Lo.
Free practice and Push hands at the David Chen Park.
Robert W. Smith is credited to leaving a legacy here in the DC metro area and America in general for people to enjoy the rich benefits of this unique martial art and preserve their health. Enjoy your Tai Chi practice, train hard, stay soft.