Martin Mellish: An Enthusiast of Tai Chi

Authors: Go Chengdu


There is an increasing number of foreign Tai Chi enthusiasts in Chengdu. Mr. Martin Mellish who is from the US, is one of them. He shares his own experience on practicing Taichi in this article.
You’ll probably notice that most Chinese Tai Chi practitioners seem to take their practice quite casually — they show up very early or very late, they smoke, they argue, they gossip, they talk on their cell phones. Don’t let that mislead you. They come every day, even if it is freezing cold or unbearably hot, and chip away, day by day, at the limitations of their bodies and their minds, until eventually they reach a level of expertise almost unheard of in the West.
One of the Chinese people’s best characteristics is that they are prepared to work hard at some art with no expectation of reward, or even of progress. They have no desire or need to be special, and that, paradoxically, is precisely what makes them so special. I have won gold medals in Tai Chi competitions in the US, Canada, and even in China, yet in many respects my Tai Chi still doesn’t measure up to the standard of a group of old people who fit their practice in between shopping the early morning vegetable market and picking up their grandkids.
If you are staying in China over a somewhat longer period, you may want to make some more formal arrangements with a group whose practice appeals to you. You’ll often find that Tai Chi groups are almost unreasonably flexible in making arrangements to help you get the most benefit from the time you have. I still remember a previous visit in which a teacher was more than half way through teaching a sword form to quite a large group of students, then started his whole teaching cycle all over again just so I could join in! If you want to participate over a longer time period, you may be asked to pay some kind of subscription. Typically this will be fairly modest. The group I belong to, for example, charges a new student 30 yuan per month — just a little less than the cost of a latte in Starbucks.
Most Tai Chi practitioners are older and may not speak English, but if you need an interpreter, remember that most Chinese under the age of 25 will have learnt at least some English in school. You may want to learn a few basic terms such as ‘left’, right’, ‘hand’, ‘foot’, ‘relax’’, and so on, but one of the charms of Tai Chi is that its movements transcend language and speak for themselves.
If you decide to study for a long term, you may want to buy a couple of Tai Chi uniforms, some Tai Chi/martial arts shoes, and/or a Tai Chi sword. The best area to buy these is near the Wuhou Temple (Wuhou Shrine Museum) in the Southwest quadrant of Chengdu. Start at the gate of the Wuhou Temple, cross the street, go right (south) a couple of hundred meters, then turn left into an alley where you’ll see half a dozen martial arts stores, a couple of Tibetan restaurants, and a youth hostel. Unless you are over 185 cm tall or take shoes larger than a European 45 size, any of those stores should be able to sell you a couple of uniforms, a sword, a sword carry case, and some suitable shoes, all for around 500 yuan in total.
If there’s anything else you’d like to know about Tai Chi in Chengdu, you can find me most mornings in the central plaza of Renmin (People’s) Park between 7:30 and 9:00. Most people know me: you can ask for "Martin" or the “Tai Chi Foreigner (taijiquan laowai)”. See you around! All the best, Martin.
About the author:
Martin Mellish, from the US, now works as a math teacher at Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu.
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