Tailoring Taiji Classes to Audience – II

This is a follow-on article to the article I posted two years ago with the same title “Tailoring Taiji Classes to Audience.”  In this new article, I elaborate more on three types of Taiji students:  Those with mobility handicaps, those with memory handicaps, and children.  The key concept is how to teach Taiji to each of these groups so that they can keep their interest and concentration, and at the same time what they learn to do in class is beneficial to them.  It turns out that a subset of the stretching and Qigong exercises that we usually do as warm up exercises to prepare the students’ bodies and minds to do Taiji are good exercises for these types of students, especially for the mobility-handicapped and memory-handicapped students.  The challenge to attract children requires some additional tailoring and creativity.

Students with a Mobility Handicap:  In this section we focus on people who cannot stand for an extensive amount of time, or they cannot walk without help or without a cane, or they are confined to a wheelchair.  Therefore, we will focus on exercises in which the student will do while sitting down.  Since Taiji is known as moving meditation and requires the practitioner to be moving, the usual Taiji exercises will not be suitable to these mobility-restricted students.  But what about the stretching and Qigong exercises that we do as warm up exercises for Taiji?  We now discuss several examples of these exercises.

We usually begin our Taiji class with a series of warm up exercises, such as stretching and Qigong [1] exercises.  In my classes, often the first one we do is the “wave hands like cloud” exercise in which we rotate our hands in front of our body while breathing in or out.  Each hand can be rotating clockwise or counterclockwise, and the two hands can rotate in phase or out of phase, so there are several such exercises. These exercises relax our mind, while exercising our arms and our upper bodies, including rotating our waist, and taking deep, slow breaths.  We can do all of these exercises while sitting down.

Another set of warm up exercises to prepare the body and mind to do Taiji exercises are Qigong exercises like the 1,000+ year-old “Eight Silk Brocade” (八段錦). [2]  Six of the eight “Eight Silk Brocade” exercises can be done sitting down.  This is especially important because the “Eight Silk Brocade” is among the most popular and most ancient set of Qigong exercises.

Another set of warm up exercises is the Paida Therapy (拍打自愈法), or Patting Exercises, in which we just pat various parts of our body with the flat parts or the fingers of our hands. [3]  These patting exercises can strengthen different parts of our body by stimulating blood and Qi [4] flow in the body, and can work from the top of our head to our feet.   Most of them can be done while standing up or sitting down, and therefore can be done while sitting in a wheelchair.

Another type of exercises that Taiji practitioners should do is meditation exercises (although many do not).  Meditation exercises are another type of Qigong exercises, and can calm and clear up the mind, while at the same time involve deep, slow breathing and develop Qi flow.  Meditation exercises can be done while standing up, sitting down, or lying down.  So mobility-impaired students can practice sitting down meditation.

These are just examples of various stretching and Qigong exercises that mobility-impaired students can participate.  They can do these exercises while sitting down, including in a wheel chair, and they will benefit from doing these exercises, both physically and mentally.  These exercises usually serve as warm up exercises for regular Taiji students, but for mobility-restricted students, they serve as the core of the exercises.

Students with a Memory Handicap:  In this section we focus on people who may have trouble remembering things, especially a sequence of instructions on the placements and movements of feet and hands while doing a Taiji form set.  This includes people who may have a memory health problem or just older people with recall difficulties as a natural consequence of advancing age.  Although the exercises we discussed in the previous section for mobility-handicap people also need to follow instructions in doing those exercises, the amount of instructions and the difficulty of the instructions for those exercises are significantly less than the instructions needed to do a normal Taiji form set.  Therefore, even if some students cannot remember all the instructions, the instructor can remind the students of the instructions while the students are doing those exercises.  Whereas if the instructor does that (i.e., providing all the necessary instructions) while the students are doing a normal Taiji form set, it will take a lot of time and disrupt the flow of doing the Taiji form set. [5]

Therefore, essentially all the stretching and Qigong exercises discussed in the previous section for mobility-handicap people can also be done by memory-handicap people:

  • Stretching exercises like “wave hands like cloud”
  • Ancient Qigong exercises like “Eight Silk Brocade”
  • Paida (or Patting) Therapy exercises
  • Meditation exercises (including standing meditation, and not just limited to sitting meditation)

There should not be much problem doing these exercises in class, because the instructor can remind them of any needed instructions while the students are doing the exercises.  When they try to do these exercises at home, they could run into problems.  That is where written instructions should be provided to the students to help to remind them while doing these exercises at home.  Also, YouTube videos on most of these exercises can be found in the Internet, or videos made by the instructor can be provided to the students.  They can then do these exercises at home while they are watching the video on their TV or computer screen.

Since these memory-handicap people are not mobility restricted, you can also teach them to do simple Taiji form sets, such as the Yang Style Form Set 1 (also called the 10 Forms) or Yang Style Form Set 2 (also called the 16 Forms).  Depending on the degree of their memory handicap, doing the Yang Style Form Set 3 (also called the 24 Forms) may require too much memory recall.

Children:  In this section, we focus on children, say between 6 and 12 years old (although the discussion can also apply to young teenagers).  With children, the issue is somewhat different from the previous two groups of mobility-handicap and memory-handicap people.  For children of age 6-12 (and to a lesser extent, their parents [6]), the major issues to attract and retain these students in Taiji classes are:

  • Their interest in attending the classes
  • The ability to keep their interest and attention during the classes
  • What their parents think their children will get out of the classes so that the parents will continue to bring them to these classes

How to keep children ages 6-12 interested in a Taiji class?   The class must be fun.  The class must stimulate their curiosity.  The class must tie to their life experience or their other activities.  Here are some possible methods.

One way of making the Taiji class fun and interesting to these children is to have the children think that doing a Taiji form set is like doing a dance routine.  We know from experience that many children are very much interested in learning dance routines.  However, for a first course in Taiji, the Taiji form sets must be simple, e.g., like the Yang Style Form Set 1 (10 Forms), or the Yang Style Form Set 2 (16 Forms), or perhaps even simpler form sets that the Taiji instructors may have to create themselves.  When creating new form sets, it may be worthwhile to add some movements that involve interactions between two or more students, e.g., using some techniques in the martial applications of Taiji as discussed in the next paragraph.  Then while doing the form set, there will be interactions between different students so that the exercise is like a group game, thus generating more interest and fun for the children.

Taiji is both a good health exercise and a good martial art.  There are some basic martial art principles of Taiji that can be conveyed even to children and have them practice some simple techniques that illustrate these principles.  A basic principle of Taiji is that you do not resist a force head on, but by adding a force in the direction of the opponent’s force, you may cause your opponent to lose balance.  Another basic principle of Taiji is that a small force can deflect a much larger force (like the old saying “four ounces can deflect a thousand pounds”).  The instructor can choreograph simple movements involving a pair of students that illustrate these principles, and even include such movements into a form set that involve movements for pairs of students.

Most children in this age bracket of 6-12 probably have seen movies like Kung Fu Panda, The Karate Kid, movies by Jackie Chan or Jet Li, Shaolin Soccer, etc.  So they already know about Kung Fu and have some interest in learning Kung Fu techniques.  Therefore, including some simple martial applications of Taiji to illustrate the basic martial art principles of Taiji will generate more interest in Taiji and at the same time tie their Taiji class to some of their other life experiences, like the movies mentioned earlier.  In addition, initiating their interest in the martial arts applications of Taiji may lead to additional interest in learning Chinese or other types of martial arts, whether it is Taiji, Shaolin, Wing-Chun, or some other martial arts.

Since children have short attention spans, the Taiji class must be broken down in short segments of about 10-15 minutes each. This can be accomplished since we have a large list of activities we can choose from, including specific warm up, stretching, and breathing exercises, individual Taiji forms, integrating multiple Taiji forms into a Taiji form set, martial applications of Taiji, exercises to relax the mind, visualization of what we are doing to help retain what we have been learning.

All the above arguments that doing Taiji can generate interest in the children and keep their attention while learning something that is useful to their health and their life should be sufficient to convince their parents that their children are spending their time wisely. In addition, the parents may also notice that their children may be calmer, have longer attention spans, and get along better with others.  One friend of mine who teaches Taiji in England told me that the teachers were amazed how much calmer and cooperative of the children who have taken her Taiji classes.

Summary:  This article discusses three types of people who normally do not take Taiji classes:  mobility-handicapped people, memory-handicapped people, and children of age 6-12.  We argue that there are good reasons why each of these three types of people should be interested in taking Taiji classes.  By properly designing the classes, they can fruitfully participate in the classes and get significant benefits from it.


[1] Qigong exercises are stretching exercises integrated with breathing and meditation.

[2] See, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baduanjin_qigong.  There are many Internet links for Eight Silk Brocade or Baduanjin.  Because it has been around for more than 1,000 years, there are many variations of the exercises.  Therefore, many of the YouTube exercises you find may not be identical.

[3] See, e.g., “Lajing and Paida Therapy – Reviving Ancient Chinese Self-Healing Exercises”:  http://www.dontow.com/2013/09/lajing-and-paida-therapy-reviving-ancient-chinese-self-healing-exercises/.

[4] In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Qi is some sort of bioelectric energy, or life force, that gets circulated and stored in the body.

[5] A major reason for putting a collection of forms into a Taiji form set is to make the exercise to last several minutes so that doing one Taiji form set will result in an aerobic exercise that increases our heart rate and oxygen flow throughout our body.  If we stop in each form because we have to provide a lot of instructions, then the aerobic nature of doing a Taiji form set is no longer there.

[6] It is the children’s parents who sign up and bring their children to the Taiji classes.



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