Internal "Energies" and Takedowns -- The Holy Grail of Tai Chi Self-Defense

The Joy of Teaching Tai Chi to an "Older" Group of Students

Ken Gullette Tai ChiSomething happens when you start getting older, when your health begins to go South and the hair turns gray.

Suddenly, you feel differently about the old people you see in the store or on the road. You suddenly develop empathy.

Oh, I get it. That old man still thinks of himself as the strong 25-year old that he was just a few minutes ago. Wasn't it just a few minutes ago?

No, it was 40 years ago, before the losses started piling up; before his parents died, before his friends started dying, before his earning power began dropping, and before his heart began beating like a bad carburetor.

Now, when I see a healthy 25-year old, I think to myself, "It seems like just yesterday." When I was 25, life seemed endless and everything seemed to come easily.

As the years passed, I lost a daughter, I lost jobs, marriages, and eventually, my perfect health declined. There were some gains along the way, too, but the losses pile up.

As we get older, it becomes even more important to maintain our mental and physical balance as we try to ride the ups and downs of life.

Ken Gullette Tai Chi ClassLast week, I started a free Tai Chi class for people aged 40 and over. The first class was packed with more than 70 people. The oldest was 83.

I had forgotten how much fun it is to teach a more "mature" group.

When I first began teaching Tai Chi in 1999, I was still teaching the Yang style. My first official Tai Chi class attracted students from their twenties to their eighties.

At that time, I had already begun studying Chen style and was in the process of switching from Yang to Chen in my practice and in my kung-fu class, made up of mostly teens and young adults.

By 2001, I was teaching Chen style in the Tai Chi class, and the older students began slowly dropping out. Chen style was just too athletic for them.

Nancy and I closed our school in 2007, when I took a job in Tampa, Florida. A year later, that job ended and my health began to go South. I lost the lung and developed cardiomyopathy. For a couple of years around 2012, I was living in heart failure.

Ken Gullette-Nancy Gullette-Tai ChiStarting another Tai Chi class did not appear to be in my future.

But a few weeks ago, I decided to do it, only this time, I would not do it for money, I would do it as a labor of love. The class would be free, and it would be for anyone aged 40 and over -- a free, 6-week class in Qigong and the Chen 19 form.

The turnout was surprising. More than 70 people came in for the first class -- so many that I decided to teach two classes per week.

It is surprising how much I enjoy the class. No one is seeking perfection, and so I make it easy for them, remove the pressure, and make them laugh. My wife, Nancy is in the class, and I use her to demonstrate fighting applications, giving me an opportunity to flirt and tease her. The class really enjoys it.

I encourage heckling in my classes, and always enjoy it when someone cracks a joke. 

On the first night, we do some very light warmups, working down from shoulder circles to side stretches and hip circles. Then, I say, "Touch your fingers to the floor," and I bend over, touching my fingers to the floor. There is usually some giggling, and comments such as, "Yeah, right."

"Okay," I say, "Keep your legs straight and touch your head to the floor." 

That gets a big laugh. Then I say, "If you can touch your head to the floor, you get a black belt."

More laughter.

So here are my tips for teaching Tai Chi to a mature group of students:

** Teach them Qigong exercises and tell them how to use it in their daily lives.

** Lighten up. None of these students wants to be Chen Xiaowang. Don't take it too seriously.

** Go over movements slowly, with a lot of repetition and corrections.

** Encourage laughter. They need it and they want to have fun.

** Have patience. Many older people have little experience with athletics, and as they mirror your movements, their arms and legs will often be in drastically different positions than yours. Give them gentle coaching and expect to go over it several times.

** Ask for questions regularly.

** If you put yourself up on a "teacher pedestal," climb down and be a real human being. Show an interest in them personally.

When I taught the class back from 1999 to 2007, we would occasionally have parties at my house. Sometimes, if a new kung-fu movie was coming out, like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, we would pick a showing at the theater and meet there, sitting as a group. It was a lot of fun.

I believe one of the best reasons to teach a class like this is to make new friends. Mature people make great friends. You can add value to their lives, and they can add value to yours.

It is a win-win situation, and nothing is better than that! 

 

 

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