Manitowoc Public Library Hosts “Teen Hang-Out: Meditation and Movement – Beginner’s Tai Chi” Featuring WTCA

Tag: tai chi

As part of Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy’s Corporate and Community Program, we are pleased to announce a collaboration with Manitowoc Public Library to hold an introduction to Tai Chi and Qigong specifically for teens.

The Teen Hang-Out: Meditation and Movement – Beginner’s Tai Chi session is part of Manitowoc Public Library’s Teen Hang-Out program and is a free event open to children aged 11 to 18, on Wednesday July 24 from 1pm to 2pm. Participants will be introduced to Tai Chi and Qigong basic principles and movements using the Ba Fa Wu Bu Forms and Lotus Qigong set.

“I’m always keen to get younger people started in Tai Chi and Qigong,” said WTCA’s Founder and Instructor for the program, Ray Gates. “People have a misconception that Tai Chi is only for ‘old people’, but there’s huge benefits for starting it as early in life as possible. In hindsight I wish I’d started it years before I did!”

For more information on this event and to register please refer to the Manitowoc Public Library’s website: https://www.manitowoclibrary.org/event/teen-tai-chi


Tag: tai chi

Competitors representing Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy in the 2024 Golden State International WushuChampionships Online Competition have been won a total of three gold and three silver medals in various events.

Instructor Ray Gates won three gold in the 42 Movements Taijiquan, 32 Taiji Straight Sword and Other Taiji Fan events, and silver in the 24 Movements Taijiquan and Other Yang Taijiquan events in the 36 to 55 years old males class, while student Debbie Orman won silver for in the 24 Movements Taijiquan event in the 36 to 55 years old female class.

“It’s been twelve years since I last competed,” Ray Gates said. “So I’m pretty happy with my result. It’s also the first time in competition for Debbie so her silver medal is a great result!”

Instructor Ray Gates

The 2024 Golden State International Championships attracted over 2,000 competitors in-person and over 300 competitors in the Online Competition from all around the world. WTCA has had several entries in various competitions over the last twelve months, winning a total of seven medals to date and having one student qualify for the US Team to compete in 2025 in China. It has also recently joined the USAWKF as a member school.

“My hope is that this shows people that Tai Chi is not just a slow form of exercise, but can also be a great competitive sport, and one of the few you can compete in no matter what your age,” said Ray Gates. “I’m hoping this will encourage more of my existing students to consider entering competition, and particularly hopeful this will encourage more younger people to take up Tai Chi. Most competitors at high level are under 30 years of age, so we’d like to see more younger people in our classes learning and training to bring home more medals for Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy!”

WTCA is hoping to enter a team event in the upcoming 6th Ohio International Martial Arts Tournament in Columbus, OH, in August this year.


Tag: tai chi

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy (WTCA) is pleased to announce it has become a member school of the United States of America Wushu Kungfu Federation (USAWKF).

“We’ve had several students attend and do well at USAWKF sanctioned competitions recently, and more are interested in competing, so having WTCA become a member school only made sense,” said Founder and Instructor, Ray Gates. “My hope is this will not only encourage more of our students to try competition, it will also give us the opportunity to showcase our Tai Chi to the greater wushu community.”

WTCA members recently competed in the 2024 Golden State International Championships Online Tournament and results are expected to be announced very soon.


Tag: tai chi

As scientific evidence grows for the health and wellbeing benefits of mind-body practices, Tai Chi and Qigong are becoming more popular and highly sought after. But what is the difference between the two, and how can you know which is the right one for you?

Let’s start with Qigong

Qigong is derived from two words: “qi” which can have a number of meanings including “breath”, “air” and “energy”; in this context it refers to our life-force energy, and “gong” which also has several meanings, including “cultivation”, “work”, and “effort”. Therefore, Qigong can be translated as “cultivation of life-force energy through effort”. The practice of Qigong exercises can be traced back thousands of years and has in theoretical roots in Taoist philosophy and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In simplest terms, it is a system of breathing exercise coupled with physical postures which assist in the development and circulation of qi throughout the body’s meridians, with the aim of improving one’s health, physicality, vitality and longevity.

There are numerous different types of Qigong exercise, each with its own specific purpose. These exercises may be performed in standing, sitting, or even lying down, depending on the technique and the reason for performing it. Some Qigong exercises look very dynamic, with wide stances and large movements, while others appear more static, relaxed, and meditative. Regardless of how it is performed, the focus of Qigong is internal: the nourishment and support of all the structures of the body through the circulation and refinement of qi.

Because Qigong is a mind-body technique, learning from a qualified instructor is essential to get the most benefit from it. An instructor will be able to guide you through the exercises and give you feedback on your technique as well as helping you understand any feelings or sensations that may arise from practising.

 What, then, is Tai Chi?

Though some may argue that Tai Chi and Qigong are the same thing, they are quite different. Tai Chi is the common name used for the martial art taijiquan. Though more commonly practiced today for its health benefits, it is still a martial art: its movements and techniques all have martial applications. It is the application of these techniques that explain why certain postures and movements are performed in a specific way. Like Qigong, there are many different Tai Chi sets which are often classified by the primary family lineage that developed them. Of these the four main recognized lineages are: Chen, Yang, Wu (Hao), and Sun. The Yang family style is perhaps the most recognized and practiced around the world.

Where Qigong is defined as an internal art, Tai Chi is often recognized as being both an internal and external art. The internal aspect is likely derived from its Qigong roots, while its external aspect comes from its martial application. Unlike many other external martial arts which focus on hardening the body against attack, Tai Chi utilizes softness or yielding to avoid or redirect an opponent’s attack, keeping energy in reserve and waiting for the right opportunity to counterattack. In this respect it is often compared to the flow of a river: winding and taking the path of least resistance, yet able over time to cut through rock.

Like Qigong, learning Tai Chi is also most effective when done with a suitably qualified instructor. As well as ensuring correct postures and techniques, an instructor can help adapt the Tai Chi forms to allow for any physical limitations you might have, while still adhering to the basic principles of Tai Chi.

So, which is right for you?

Both Tai Chi and Qigong have been, and continue to be, well researched and the scientific evidence for the benefits of both is growing every day. Many healthcare practitioners are beginning to incorporate one or both practices into their wellness plans; for example, Veteran’s Affairs has implemented Tai Chi as part of its overall wellness plan to deliver good health outcomes for veterans. Both have great benefits to offer, and practising either will make tangible differences to your health and wellbeing. Both are very accessible to a wide range of people, with little to no prerequisite level of fitness or ability required to commence them. It’s for this reason that they are considered especially ideal for older adults as opposed to other forms of exercise.

With that in mind, the deciding factor arguably comes down to two components: 1) what type of exercise/activity are you looking for; and 2) what is your current level of ability?

For some people, the martial aspect of Tai Chi is not very appealing and puts people off. They only want the health benefits of Tai Chi, and so go searching for “medical” or “health” based Tai Chi. The thing to understand is that all Tai Chi styles are designed to improve health and wellbeing. In fact, most research into Tai Chi’s benefits have used traditional (ie: martial based) styles of Tai Chi in their studies. Inclusion of the martial basis of Tai Chi does not mean you are going to be learning how to fight: rather, it gives your mind a focus, which in turn leads your energy and gives your movements purpose and form.  To separate the martial aspect from Tai Chi is to take away part of the essence that makes Tai Chi what it is: at best it reverts to Qigong, and at worst is little more than low impact aerobics.

However, because of its very nature and principles, Tai Chi does require a person to be able to stand and move on their feet. If you are unable to stand or take a step without some form of support, then Qigong may be more appropriate form of exercise for you to commence with. Because there are Qigong exercises which can be performed without necessarily being able to stand, or even sit, unsupported, it is often a good introduction to a mind-body practice for health, regardless of physical ability. It may even be a useful starting point to help develop the physical capacity to commence Tai Chi practice; if not, the benefits to one’s health can still be obtained and maintained through regular, long-term practice of Qigong.

Many Tai Chi instructors will include some form of Qigong exercise as part of their classes, and many Qigong instructors will have some familiarity with, if not directly practice, Tai Chi. The easiest way to determine which is right for you is to speak to a suitably qualified instructor, outlining what your current abilities are, and what your goals are, so they can help you determine the right choice for you.


Tag: tai chi

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy has been successfully nominated for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal’s 2024 Community Choice Awards in the category of Sports and Fitness – Fitness Center/Gym.

Founder and Head Instructor, Ray Gates, said he was very grateful to all those that nominated WTCA for the awards, and looks forward to the voting round.

The voting round is open and will close on May 20th, 2024. Votes can be cast using the following link: https://jsonline.gannettcontests.com/2024-Milwaukee-Top-Choice-Communitys-Choice-Awards/gallery/437787608


Tag: tai chi

It’s well known and scientifically proven that Tai Chi can make great improvements in a person’s balance. What’s less talked about is how these improvements happen: what changes does the body undergo in order for balance to be improved? One of these mechnisms involves changes to your body’s self-perception of where it is and in what position. Medically this is known as proprioception and kinesthesia.

Understanding Terms: Proprioception and Kinesthesia

Proprioception and kinesthesia are closely related, however they are different things.

Proprioception is what gives us the ability to know what our body’s position is in relation to itself and the world around us. Our bodies have specific sensory nerves called proprioceptors, which feedback information about position, movement and strain. For example, some proprioceptors can tell what angle a given joint is at, while others can tell how quickly a muscle is contracting or how much stretched it is. It is an independent system, meaning it doesn’t rely on other sensory input, like touch or vision, however if often works in conjunction with other systems.

Kinesthesia refers to your ability to perceive extent, direction and weight of movement. It is essentially how your brain processes the information being fed back to it by proprioceptors. It’s what allows you to be able to stand on one foot or hold your arms out to your sides without having to actually watch yourself lift your leg or your arms.

An example of understanding the relationship could be this: if I ask you to close your eyes and then give me a “thumbs up” at chest height, your kinesthetic sense will allow you to raise your arm in front of your chest, close your fist and stick your thumb up all without having to watch what you’re doing. It can do this because your proprioceptors are giving feedback on where your arm, hand, fingers and thumb are in space and in relation to each other and your body. Your kinesethetic sense will tell you if you are in the correct position; if not, your proprioceptors will provide the information your kinesthetic sense needs to make the necessary adjustments.

Unfortunately there are a number of things that can decrease our proprioception and kinesthesia, from injuries and diseases to the aging process. As one or both of these things deteriorate, so to does our balance, which further limits our function and potentially increases our risk of injuring ourselves.

How Does Tai Chi Help?

Clinical research has demonstrated that people who practice Tai Chi on a regular and ongoing basis are able to maintain or even improve their proprioception and kinesthesia across their lifespan. For example, a study by Li and colleagues1 showed that experienced Tai Chi practitioners demonstrated increased ground reaction forces (ie: the force exerted by the ground when you stand or move), and increased joint loading, range of movement, and torque, versus inexperienced practitioners, all of which improve neuromuscular feedback and kinesthetic sense. Similarly, Wang and colleagues2 demonstrated that long-term Tai Chi practitioners have greater postural control, as evidenced by having significantly less postural sway (the amount of involuntary movement the body makes when attempting to stand still; a greater degree of movement suggests impaired proprioception and/or kinasthetic sense) under a variety of conditions, than a non Tai Chi trained control group.

Researchers such as Chu and colleagues3 suggest a number of reasons why Tai Chi in particular helps with proprioception and kinesthesia. These include:

  1. Tai Chi’s slow, controlled movements allow time for proprioception to occur, and kinesthetic sense to interpret and make adjustments to positioning, speed, and posture; in effect it trains the neuromusculoskeletal system to interpret, adjust and learn safe movement;
  2. Tai Chi’s focus on mind-body awareness encourages development of kinesthesia through relaxation and activation of neural pathways; and
  3. Tai Chi’s ability to direct ground reaction force and torque to reduce body stiffness and sympathetic arousal to achieve effortless action.

There are other ways Tai Chi can improve balance as well, such as improving muscle strength and activity tolerance. However, Tai Chi’s ability to influence proprioception and kinesthesia, combined with it being a relatively easy and low-stress form of exercise to undertake, make it particularly effective as a means of maintaining function and reducing falls risk throughout the lifespan.

References

  1. Li, H. et al. (2023). Newly complied Tai Chi (Bafa Wubu) promotes lower extremity exercise: a preliminary cross sectional study. PeerJ 11:e15036 DOI 10.7717/peerj.15036 ↩︎
  2. Wang, D. et al. (2023). Effects of Tai Chi practice on postural sway for older people during COVID-19 pandemic. Research Square DOI 10.21203/rs.3.rs-3703201/v1 ↩︎
  3. Chu, T. J. et al. (2020). Biomechanical aspects of Tai Chi Chuan countermeasure against health threats during spaceflight. MedCrave Online Journal of Applied Bionics and Biomechanics; 4(5): 118 – 123. ↩︎

Tag: tai chi

Though I might be biased, I’ve known for many years that Tai Chi makes you happier; I wouldn’t have been practicing and teaching over 20 years if it didn’t! There has been a wealth of information on the effects of Tai Chi practice on mental health, with evidence demonstrating showing that Tai Chi can improve factors such as cognitive performance, depression and anxiety.1 While these results allude to the idea that improving your mental faculties or decreasing stress and anxiety would, logically, make you happier, a number of researchers are specifically looking at the perceived happiness of Tai Chi practitioners, and finding that practicing Tai Chi can actually make you happier.

For example, Cezario and colleagues2 examined stress, anxiety and perceived happiness of older health professionals and younger pre-university students planning to enter health related courses. They used standardized measurement tools to determine pre- and post-class levels of stress, anxiety and self-perceived happiness using standardized, qualified assessment tools. Almost all participants reported an increase in their happiness after attending their Tai Chi class. The researchers reported this finding as significant because happiness is associated with positive health outcomes, such as being better able to adapt to everyday experiences, deal with social situations, and recover from adverse events. Further, their study demonstrated that age was not a factor in determining Tai Chi’s affects on perceived happiness.

Gender identity also doesn’t seem to influence Tai Chi’s ability to make a person feel happier. Studies by Galeh and colleagues3 on men, and Hatamipour and colleagues4 on women, both show that practicing Tai Chi can significantly improve happiness despite gender identity differences.

Again, while it would seem logical that improving our mental health would make us happier, researchers are also considering the direct affect that mind-body practices, such as Tai Chi, can have on happiness, as compared to other forms of treatment or exercise. For example, Osypiuk and colleagues5 have proposed that the interrelationship between body posture (like those adopted during Tai Chi) and mental state allude to the postures themselves having a significant role in the overall outcomes for psychological health, including happiness.

So if you’d like to find more happiness in your life, as well as many other health and wellness benefits, Tai Chi might be just what you need!


References

  1. Sollway, et al. (2016). An evidence map of the effect of Tai Chi on health outcomes. Systematic Reviews, 5:126 ↩︎
  2. Cezario, et al. (2023). Effect of Tai Chi on stress, anxiety and self-perceived happiness: a longitudinal intervention study. Bioscience Journal. 39, e39039. ↩︎
  3. Galah, et al. (2018). Effect of “Tai Chi” on happiness in elderly men. Iranian Journal of Nursing Research, 13:5 ↩︎
  4. Hatamipour, et al. (2019). The effect of Tai Chi Chuan exercises on happiness, sleep quality and blood pressure of elderly women. Iranian Journal of Rehabilitation Research in Nursing, 6:1 ↩︎
  5. Osypiuk, et al. (2018). Can Tai Chi and Qigong postures shape our mood? Toward an embodied cognition framework for mind-body research. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 18:12 ↩︎

Tag: tai chi

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy has launched its new Youth Scholarship Award, with two scholarships being offered for young people aged between 15 and 24 years of age in 2024.

The scholarship covers a full year’s tuition in Tai Chi and Qigong for the year of the award.

“We’ve launched this award as a way of encouraging younger people to experience the benefits of Tai Chi and Qigong, and hopefully become lifelong learners,” says WTCA’s Founder and Head Instructor, Ray Gates. “We want to dispell the myth that Tai Chi is ‘just for old people’. Younger people have a lot to gain by starting Tai Chi and Qigong early in life. I started over 20 years ago and wish I started 20 years before that!”

Gates is a strong advocate for Tai Chi and Qigong classes to be inclusive and accessible to all people, and hopes this new award will open the way for young people from diverse sociodemographic backgrounds to gain the benefits of Tai Chi. “Tai Chi and Qigong are for everyone, however, we need to make it accessible to everyone, so the benefits can be experienced by all,” he said. “I actively encourage young people from all sociodemographic backgrounds to apply for these scholarships, because one day it might be you leading classes for people from your communities.”

“Plus, it’s a lot of fun!” Gates added. “And for those who are interested, it can be quite competitive. There are national competitions held regularly each year, and in 2026 Tai Chi will feature at the Youth Olympics in Senegal. It’s a great time to get involved!”

Applications for the 2024 scholarships are open from now until December 31st, 2023. More information including the scholarship guidelines and application form can be found at the WTCA website on the Youth Scholarship page.


Tag: tai chi

What’s in a name? When it comes to Tai Chi, there seems to be a lot more than there should be!

Much of the general public has at least heard of Tai Chi, yet relatively few will be familiar with the term taijiquan. Yet there are numerous Masters and Instructors who will insist that taijiquan is the “real” Tai Chi, and that anything calling itself “Tai Chi” is not Tai Chi at all. Along similar lines, more and more exercises programs titled “Tai Chi” are appearing and boasting that they are faster and easier to learn than “the martial” Tai Chi – when the truth is, these programs may emulate the forms and postures of certain Tai Chi styles, but any resemblance to Tai Chi ends there.

Confused yet? Wait til someone tells you that it’s “really T’ai Chi”. Or “Taiji”. Or “Taijiquan”. Or “T’ai Chi Ch’uan”, and that any other variation is incorrect, or not really Tai Chi.

At this point you could be forgiven for asking, “would the real Tai Chi please stand up?” And while linguistically there is an argument that these terms can mean different things, when we are talking about “Tai Chi”, we really are talking about the same thing. Yet how is anyone without background or experience in Tai Chi supposed to know this?

Hopefully this will help you understand the difference – or lack thereof.

What’s in a name?

The first step towards understanding lies in understanding that the translation of Chinese to English is, under the best of circumstances, quite challenging. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least being that Chinese uses syllables to make up words, as opposed to English words made up of individual letters. This is compounded by the fact that there are a number of different versions (dialects) of Chinese, and over time different methods used to translate Chinese to English, and this has resulted in different English transcriptions of the same words. The following table demonstrates how Tai Chi could be written using three different romanization systems:

Wade Giles (circa 19th Century)Pinyin (from 1950)Modern English (today)
T’ai Chi (originally T’ai Chi’h)TaijiTai Chi
T’ai Chi Ch’uan (originally T’ai Chi’h Ch’uan)TaijiquanTai Chi Chuan
Table 1: Comparison of written translations

The important thing to realize is that regardless of the system used, the meaning is the same: Tai Chi is Taiji is T’ai Chi.

Is there a difference between Tai Chi and Taijiquan?

Again, in linguistic terms, there is a difference in translation between Tai Chi (Taiji) and Tai Chi Chuan (Taijiquan). However, for the purposes of describing the martial art, I’m going to tell you that these terms are one and the same. Here’s why.

First, understand that taijiquan IS a martial art. When you see a group of 80-year olds practicing their Tai Chi in the park, they are performing the martial art taijiquan. This can be a challenging concept for those not familiar with taijiquan. How can an elderly person moving so slowly be considered to be practicing a martial art, like kung fu or karate? It is because all the movements (forms) have been designed with a martial (combat) application in mind. Though taijiquan is performed slowly, there is no reason that it cannot be performed at a greater speed in order to be used for self defense. In fact, there are many taijiquan Masters who were famous for their martial abilities; one example would be Yang Luchan, the founder of Yang style taijiquan, who was so renowned for his martial prowess he became known as “Yang the Invincible”.

In recent times, and especially today, taijiquan is sought out more for its health benefits than its martial applications. In line with this, the “quan” – meaning “fist” – part is often dropped, resulting in taiji, or its more popular English term, Tai Chi. This does not mean that the martial aspect is not there; rather it demonstrates that the focus of Tai Chi training has become health and well-being rather than self defense. Any Tai Chi Master or Instructor should both know and be apply to explain and demonstrate the martial applications of the forms that they are teaching. Otherwise, one has to question whether what is being taught is in fact Tai Chi.

When is Tai Chi not Taijiquan?

Hopefully you can see that when are talking about Tai Chi, we are actually talking about taijiquan, and that they are one and the same thing. Today, Tai Chi is the popularized name and the one most people will recognize. Put “Tai Chi” into Google, you will get about 240 million hits. Put “taiji” into the same search, you’ll get less than 10% of that (and “taijiquan” will get about 20% of “taiji”). This is why a number of Masters and Instructors like myself are pushing for “Tai Chi” to be used as standard nomenclature so that the general public does not have to be confused by a variety of different names or terms.

However, there are an increasing number of exercise programs that are claiming to be modifed, or simplified forms of Tai Chi, or claim to be only for health, or specific health conditions, without any of the martial aspect included. These programs have often been developed based on real Tai Chi forms, however have had much of the background and fundamental principles that are essential to Tai Chi stripped out of them, to the point where, to the trained eye, they no longer resemble Tai Chi. Further, there are so-called “Tai Chi Instructors” who using the name and concept to promote their activities – often with accompanying claims that their programs are easier, quicker, better for specific demographic groups than “traditional” Tai Chi – who are actually teaching, at best a form of qigong, and at worst, a form of low-impact aerobic exercise. They rely on the fact that the general public does not know the difference, but will recognize the name “Tai Chi” and see it as a desirable form of exercise.

Let’s be clear: while these programs may actually be beneficial to one’s health and well-being, if they do not contain all the elements that make Tai Chi what it is (not just the martial aspect but the underlying theory and philosophy, as well as the techniques themselves), then they are not Tai Chi, and should not be called by this name.

I hope this helps clarify what Tai Chi is, and perhaps equally important, what it isn’t.


Tag: tai chi

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy student, Benedetta Bonacci, has tied for equal first place in the Yang Senior Group Female section of the 2023 US Challenge, hosted by the United States Wushu Academy (USWA) in Lanham, Maryland.

Benedetta Bonacci (center, dark blue) with other medal winning competitors and officials.

Benedetta presented the Beijing 24 Forms (also known as Yang 24 Forms or Yang Short Form) and received an overall score of 8.76, which was the top score received by another competitor in the same group. Her score also qualifies her to join the USA Wushu Kungfu Federation’s (USAWKF) team and potentially compete at the International Wushu Federation’s (IWUF) World Kungfu Championships to be held in Emeishan, Sichuan, China in 2025.

“This is an outstanding result for Benedetta and I’m sure I speak for everyone associated with Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy when I say we’re all very proud of her achievement,” said Founder and Head Instructor, Ray Gates. “This was her first attempt at competition level Tai Chi and she worked very hard to get this result. She deserves this result.”

Having been a State and National Tai Chi competition winner in Australia in past years, Ray hopes this student’s success will inspire others to try competition. “It really encourages you to develop your Tai Chi to a higher standard, and it’s just great fun,” he said. “I would love to see more of my students get involved, and it would be great to one day have Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy represented in a team event at competition. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll have some of our students performing Tai Chi at the Olympics.”

The IWUF continues to promote wushu for inclusion as an Olympic sport, and has successfully petitioned for the inclusion of wushu in the 2026 Youth Olympic Games in Dakar, Senegal. They see this as a pivotal step in seeing wushu included in the modern Olympic Games.

Wisconsin Tai Chi Academy congratulates all competitors at the US Challenge and looks forward to future competitions.