The following was submitted by Dr. Robert A. Leedle, author of Making Taiji Work for You. Robert Leedle has studied Taiji (Tai Chi) and martial arts under Grandmaster George Ling Hu since 1975. In the early years physical fitness and exercise were his goals. Later he became interested in exploring Tai Chi's martial function and health benefits.
Why study Chinese Martial Arts?
My reasons are personal. For one I can punch faster and more powerfully than I could 40 years ago. Not that punching speed and power really matter, but the comparison is useful. Another reason is that I do hiking trail construction—digging, moving rocks, bridge and boardwalk construction, and all the other things. I can move dirt and do these other things better than almost everyone as much as 30 years my junior. This I care about; I am giving back in a way that few people can--it reflects my overall health. I also care that no one thinks of me as a soft target.
I began CMA because I couldn’t run. Everyone needs exercise, myself included, but running made my knees feel tired when they didn’t actually hurt. Martial arts was an interest. I found an instructor I liked, who treated me with respect, and who I could respect. Further, the style advocated using the body in a safe manner. No one had destroyed knees or hip joints, as is common in many martial styles. (Look for joint braces; their presence says a lot about whether the school and style value safe practice.) No one strutted around pretending to be tough. There were no mind games. There were no secrets doled out according to rank.
Fast forward to today. Those of us who teach CMA, Taiji (Tai Chi), or the other arts do so with the needs of our students in mind. What do our students need? There are many answers. Some wish to study martial arts and wish to become expert. (A black belt does not indicate expertise; it indicates that the holder is no longer a beginner.) Some want more self-confidence. Others want an exercise system that doesn’t include competition or running. Others want an exercise system that stops joint or back pain. Still others want to age gracefully, resisting the inevitable decline associated with advancing years. CMA (and Master Colman) can address all these needs and wishes.
Let’s look at self-confidence further. What is it? Does it mean that no one will bully or pick on you? Not really. These things are a part of life. Self-confidence means that you don’t care about it. That’s the mental picture. There’s also a physical aspect. Self-confidence is reflected in the way in which you carry yourself. People with good posture feel more self-confident. It is also true that learning good posture will give a person self-confidence. Really good posture is often characterized as “poise.” Good posture, combined with exercise, minimizes depression—this is true regardless of a person’s age.
How are posture and CMA related? Let us back up a moment. Humans are considered a cursorial species, meaning we are adapted to long distance running. From this it stands to reason that the closer we adhere to our developmental history the better our overall performance will be. It took me years to understand this: CMA requires the posture, balance, and movement coordination of running. It all boils down to stepping. The posture, balance, and coordination that make stepping easier will foster better overall athletic performance and address all the other needs and wants listed above. In regard to martial expertise stepping is the key—to execute techniques and escape them we need to move into and out of place with ease and skill.
So, why study CMA? Because it’s good for you on many levels. But mostly, it is fun. And the people you meet are genuinely good people.