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Wong People Offer Free Tai Chi Classes

Michael P. Moss | 8/12/2009, 10:43 a.m.

Beneath the shade trees of Mt. Vernon Square, six people on the grounds of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. practice the slow, trance-like movements of the ancient art of Tai Chi. One of them, Barbara Oliphant, who is recovering from hip replacement surgery, said that she has practiced Tai Chi for four months.

€I wasn€t satisfied with the pace of my recovery,€ Oliphant said. €Since starting Tai Chi, my balance, strength, and flexibility have improved and my whole outlook on life has changed. I€m so much more positive.€

Oliphant, 63, said she practices Tai Chi at least three times a week on her own.

Tai Chi was developed in China as a practice for self-defense. Over time, people began to use it for health purposes. Many consider Tai Chi to be a beneficial exercise for older people because it is a gentle form of exercise and can be easily modified for people with physical limitations due to their health.

Most of the people who practiced Tai Chi in Mt. Vernon Square on Sat., Aug. 1 said they were there to improve their health or stay healthy.
Jonathan "Willow" Cunningham, Tai Chi Master Courtesy Photo
In the practice of Tai Chi, the body moves slowly and remains in motion. Practitioners said they believe Tai Chi improves a person€s spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health. Instructor Charles Meadows, of the Wong People Kung Fu Association, calls Tai Chi a form of martial art.

€Basically, it€s the same fighting technique as Kung Fu, only slowed down,€ Meadows said. €Tai Chi really helps with balance and coordination. It€s a good, low impact way to stay in shape.€

Meadows, 41, credited Raymond Wong, his teacher, for his development in the practice.

€Tai Chi is a style of Kung Fu that emphasizes the internal function and energy flow of the human body,€ Wong said.

€The purpose of Tai Chi is to improve the efficiency level of the mind and body working together as a system. When this mind and body are operating at the proper efficiency level, the body is able to ward off and cure itself from most illnesses,€ Wong said.

Wong, 52, has been practicing Tai Chi for 27 years.

€The great thing about Tai Chi is you don€t need special equipment or clothing,€ he said. €You can do it anywhere at any time.€

In addition to movement, two other important elements of Tai Chi are breathing and meditation€"a conscious mental process using certain techniques such as focusing attention or maintaining a specific posture to suspend the stream of thoughts and relax the body and mind. With Tai Chi, it is considered important to concentrate; put aside distracting thoughts; and breathe in a deep, relaxed, and focused manner.

Ilauna Ogunloye, 58, also had hip replacement surgery. She agreed with Oliphant aboutof the physical benefits of Tai Chi and the value of its breathing techniques.

€It has a real calming effect on me,€ Ogunloye said.

Michael Peters, 23, who said he has €always been into martial arts,€ started practicing Tai Chi two years ago because he wants to €live a long life.€

The Wong People Kung Fu Association offers free Tai Chi Classes to the public at the following locations: Chinatown Cultural Community Center in Northwest, 2nd floor (Sun. 3 p.m.-Tues and Thur. 7 p.m.); Wong People Studio in Northwest (Mon. and Wed. 7 p.m.); and the Historical Society of Washington in Northwest (Sat. 1 p.m.).