The older Chinese men and women of the park usually perform Tai Chi in the morning. While Tai Chi is sometimes referred to as an “old person’s” exercise, it is actually an exercise for all ages. The Chinese in Seward Park would often explain that Tai Chi is healthy because it helps them relax. Keith, an immigrant from Hong Kong, said, “I recommend people to do Tai Chi because it is good for the health.” He also explained that everyone is doing Tai Chi now and it is becoming widespread. From our visits to Seward Park, this exercise has shown prominence and many Tai Chi Masters can be seen teaching Tai Chi to others in the morning.
A small Chinese group performing a Tai Chi form that requires a sword
One of these men is Master Thomas, a Vietnamese Tai Chi Master, who took the time to explain the concepts of Tai Chi to us. He said that, “Tai Chi is based on the concept of Yin and Yang.” Yin and Yang makes up everything in the world and the Chinese use this duality throughout Tai Chi. Thomas demonstrated this concept with a simple stretch with his legs. In his stretch, he explained that one leg can have only 10% Yin and the other leg has 90% Yang. Ultimately, performing these stretches and other movements should benefit both the body and spirit.
A woman performing a movement in one of the Tai Chi forms
Master Thomas continued to emphasize that Tai Chi helps the body and the spirit. He explained that Tai Chi loosens up the muscles in the body and helps you in any activities for the day (including basic activities such as running or carrying objects). Furthermore, if the person wants to go further into martial arts, Tai Chi instills the basic skills for martial arts. In addition to the body, Tai Chi benefits the spirit or the mind greatly. According to Thomas, these exercises make your mind “calm and pure”. By getting your mind calm and pure, you will be more patient. He explained that if you are impatient and anxious, you are less likely to accomplish tasks for the day since you will not think rationally. Lastly, Thomas described Tai Chi as a way to gain unlearned wisdom that you find deep within yourself. He described wisdom as something you have to earn by saying, “Once you understand your mind, you find out about unlearned wisdom inside you.” Master Thomas learned most of his Tai Chi from Buddhism, but he explained that most people in the park learned Tai Chi from a Master. As a weekend visitor to Seward Park, he mostly focuses on teaching Tai Chi to his son.
Students of Tai Chi found the exercise to be extremely beneficial. Those who learned from Master Gan, another Chinese man who teaches Tai Chi at Seward Park, claim that, “Tai Chi loosens your muscles for the day and also wakes you up in the morning.” Master Gan and his students come from the Fujain province of China. One of his students, who immigrated from Hong Kong, explained that they chose to use Seward Park because there is plenty of space in the morning and other Chinese also come to perform Tai Chi or similar exercises.
It is interesting to note that Tai Chi in New York City is the same as Tai Chi in China. Master Gan’s student explained that the people in New York City have learn Tai Chi from the Masters in China. As a result, the Tai Chi techniques in NYC are the same as the ones in China. In addition, the basics of Tai Chi do not appear to have many regional differences. Chinese generally agree on the concept and benefits of Tai Chi.
For an introduction to Tai Chi, click here.