Reprinted from an annual retrospective, written for students of the Tai Chi Center of Chicago.
I was recently reflecting upon the significance of a thirty-year old memory. It was toward the end of a Tae Kwon Do class, and we had just completed free sparring and our instructor was taking us through some cool-down exercises. Wearing Jeet Kune Do gloves, he knelt down, placed his fists on the ground and went into a Yoga crow pose, and then pushed into a handstand.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were routinely cross training in other areas of fitness (yoga, sprints, plyometric exercise) to help get the most out of our martial practice.
Not surprisingly, our study of the internal arts at the Tai Chi Center of Chicago also benefits from supplementary exercises. Master Hsu continued to teach from his library of Kung Fu forms, which strengthened the legs for Tai Chi weapons practice. Elizabeth followed suit by creating her 50 lb. jacket, and later became an advocate for integrating Pilates to strengthen core muscle groups.
As each of us continue dig deeper into the study of Tai Chi, we will likely need to create (and evolve) our own personal cross training routines to supplement our practice. That said, consider what you would like to work on in the coming year, and how that change could be brought into reality. Perhaps some swimming for some low-impact body strengthening and joint rejuvenation? How about some Yoga (or a foam roller) to open tight muscle groups and improve balance?
Keep in mind that cross training for an internal art need not be about physical gain. You may want to take on a more in-depth study of meditation to develop better concentration or work on your breathing skills.
Tai Chi provides numerous benefits, and it only makes sense that we listen for ways to support our practice that could make our experience more profound. So take some time to find a point of focus, get creative (or feel free to ask an instructor for advice), and explore.
Finally, if you venture into some social spaces for group study (which is a good thing, especially during these winter months), be sure to share your experiences and invite others to try Tai Chi…!