Whether you prefer fast and fast or slow and easy, Zhuang Tai Chi and Kung Fu Academy has you covered.
Like a flowing river, the ancient Chinese martial art tai chi consists of slow movements enhanced by a continuous flow of strategic grace.
Tai chi master Yajun Zhuang describes the rhythmic art as “slow, agile and harmonious”. He teaches two internal styles of Chinese martial arts, qigong and tai chi, in his studio, where “chi” is the driving force behind it all.
In contrast, kung fu is “strong, hard and fast”, he said. Despite its intensity, it also requires chi.
“You have to use your mind to mobilize your chi. Then use your chi to mobilize the body,” Zhuang reminds his students during the sessions.
Chi translates to “breath”. It is used to describe the vital life energy that flows through all things. Chi exists in all martial arts movements.
The key to tai chi is to slow things down, which is the opposite of how kung fu is seen in movies, Zhuang said.
“People don’t like to do the basic moves. They want to do (the) action movie moves like kicking really fast and jumping off trees and buildings,” he added. “I tell them to practice the slow movements with me first. Then we progress.”
Kung fu training is Zhuang’s favorite because more can be accomplished when the pace of learning quickens, he said.
“We see a lot of student progress. With tai chi, it’s very difficult to make and identify progress,” he added.
But with kung fu, Bruce Lee comes into the picture.
As part of his study, two students showed off their kung fu moves at the 13th Pan American Wushu Championships, held in Brazil in July. They participated in the event’s Taolu contest for the first time as U.S. representatives.
Maggie Cheng, 15, won a gold medal in the Chang Quan or “long fist” category. She also won bronze medals in the weapon, Dao shu and Gun shu categories. Evan Zhuang, 11, won a bronze medal in the Jian shu category.
Maggie and Evan have been practicing martial arts since they were 5 years old. Maggie is in first at Baton Rouge Magnet High School and Evan is in sixth at Glasgow Middle School.
Tai chi promotes health in the elderly
Most children attend Zhuang’s kung fu classes, leaving room for older adults to practice tai chi.
In fact, he encourages the elderly to attend tai chi sessions for health improvement and rehabilitation.
“Tai chi is good for everyone, especially for the elderly,” he said. “I think anyone can try (tai chi) regardless of their condition. It emphasizes regulating your mind, breathing and posture. Sometimes we say tai- chi is like medicine.”
Zhuang has experience researching the effects of tai chi on elderly patients.
In 2005, he partnered with former LSU Department of Kinesiology Professor Li Li on a modified tai chi program for seniors with peripheral neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease, and mobility. scaled down. He had a successful impact on the community.
Priscilla Ashworth, 74, a resident of Baton Rouge, started taking the sessions in 2006 after she ruptured her Achilles tendon while hiking. She did not have it surgically repaired, but testified that Zhuang’s classes helped restore her leg strength.
“Sometimes I tell my other classmates that I don’t know how it works, but I know it works,” she said.
Ashworth recalled she couldn’t perform the Golden Rooster, a tai chi move that requires a person to maintain balance while standing on one leg.
With the help of tai chi, Ashworth said her balance and flexibility improved. She continues to take classes with Zhuang. What she admires in tai chi is its duality of meditation and self-defense.
“As we do a routine, it may look like memorized moves, but (Zhuang) takes one of the really good students in his class and shows how slow moves are actually defensive and offensive. It’s not just graceful movements.”
Tai chi, also known as “moving meditation”, offers a peaceful balance of body and mind.
Zhujun Pan, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology at Mississippi State University, who also worked with Zhuang at LSU, continues to study the benefits of tai chi for seniors.
“The greatest fear of old people is falling.” said Pan. “Our main goal is to use tai chi to increase their balance with lower muscle and breathing exercises.”
Tai chi improves fine motor functions such as hand movement and finger grip management, she added. It also improves memory and emotional health.
“Tai chi is good for emotional health, especially for people in nursing homes, because it’s a group exercise,” Pan said. “Seniors can laugh and talk with others. They know people care about them.”
Never give up
With over 30 years of involvement in Wushu under his belt, Zhuang’s fire for the martial arts won’t be waning anytime soon.
Ashworth notes how dedicated Zhuang remains to her craft and her students, even after nearly two decades of apprenticeship.
“He’s so disciplined. He never misses a class unless he’s competing,” Ashworth said. “I look at him as if it were a call for him.”
When asked if she thought she would ever stop attending Zhuang’s sessions, she immediately denied the mere thought.
“Oh, no! With tai chi, they call it practice. Even if you’re a master or an expert at it, you’re still practicing,” she continued. “It never ends. It’s part of our daily lives and routines.”
Likewise, Zhuang said he couldn’t imagine retiring from teaching Wushu.
“First, it’s my job. Second, I love it. So, I can’t stop. I love teaching people Chinese kung fu,” he said.
In his spare time, Zhuang writes and publishes books to help beginners understand the culture, movements, and health benefits of Chinese martial arts.
“As a teacher, I always want my students to get better and better,” he said.