Today’s letter was sent to us by Jackie Li from Little Australia in Hong Kong, who asks, “Does tai chi make you fat?”
Okay, here is the thing:
Historically, some very famous tai chi masters have been very fat. In fact, some have been famously fat.
Some famous tai chi masters have been very skinny, and I mean very skinny. I’m talking about people who need to wear water skis in the show so that they don’t get washed down the drain. Drinking cranberry juice would make them look like a rising thermometer. If one of them stood in front of me and stuck out their tongue, it would like like I had a zipper.
Some tai chi masters have been very tall. Some have been very short.
Some have been very rich. Some have been very poor.
Some have been very intelligent. Some have been merely clever.
Some have been very old. Some have been… less old.
Some have been very HANDSOME,
…while others have been VERY beautiful. * Sigh*
Tai chi can be very good at helping you to loose weight. Tai chi routines can burn calories at rates of up to 1000 calories per hour. Maintaining that level of intensity is rare, however.
But even lower levels of intensity can improve the metabolism and greatly aid digestion. If you eat at a buffet, and get so full that you can’t eat any more. Try doing 15 minutes of slow, gentle tai chi, and then you can eat again.
As a martial art, the average tai chi students often don’t seem to have the same physique as students of other martial arts. Sumo wrestlers tend to be bigger. But the average karate or TKD students certainly seem to be skinnier than the average tai chi students. But the average karate or TKD student is also 7 years old. So, it is not a fair comparison.
For most martial arts, tournaments are like the Land of OZ, heavily populated by munchkins.
Tai chi tournaments (and conferences), on the other hand, especially those of the 1980’s and 1990’s were more like a Jerry Garcia convention. Lot’s of balding middle-aged, intellectual, musicians, with baggy clothes and pony tails.
The scene has changed a lot over the past couple of decades, and there is a higher level of athleticism apparent at international tai chi events, showing a shift in body type similar to that happened with elite curling bonspiels. And, the young competitors at modern Wushu competitions have usually been young, skinny, and athletic.
Many athletes put on weight as they get older. When I was younger and training hard for competition, it was not difficult for me to make the lower weight class. I was a middle weight who could be a lightweight for a weekend. The challenge was getting my hands on enough food. I could easily burn over 6000 calories teaching and training 6-10 hours per day. But after getting a life, and spending the last 25 years successfully running my business into the ground, I don’t get to train nearly as much, don’t sleep regular hours, and I often find myself doing shift work at various jobs that made it difficult to have an athlete’s eating schedule. And running a business requires me to spend a lot of time sitting down. When you are self-employed, your boss is a jerk.
My brain still wants to eat 6 000 calories per day, however.
To loose weight, I would need to sleep 8 hours per night, stop eating by 6 p.m. and burn 4 000 calories before breakfast. I’d like to try that. I’d also like to make a profit.
But that is not why I carry the extra weight now. The real reason why I carry an extra 100 lbs of body fat around is that I find it is very good exercise. You try doing your regular daily workout with a hundred pounds of extra marbling in your muscles.
Now you might say, “Surely, being old and fat must make it difficult for you to defend myself.” Well, that depends, and don’t call me Shirley.
I frequently have the opportunity to test my skills against people from many different styles, and I find that I can still defeat martial artists who are less than half my size. In fact, at 55 years of age, and weighing 260 lbs, I can still beat martial artists who are less than a quarter of my weight and a tenth of my age.
Of course, there was that one kid……
But really, one of the reasons why so many tai chi students are overweight and/or out of shape, is because they can be.
Tai chi is infinitely adaptable. I had one student who started learning from my online videos because she had a medical condition that kept her in bed. She started practising while lying down. Then progressed to sitting, then standing, then going downstairs to practise. Eventually she was able to attend classes. The first time I met her was at a seminar in a park in Belgium. That last time I saw her, she was doing Chen style tai chi at a tai chi conference in Switzerland. So, some beginners start learning tai chi because it is the only comprehensive exercise that they can do.
I also teach elite professional and amateur athletes, actors, and musicians, as well as martial artist from around the world. They come to train here for days, weeks, or even months at a time, seeking that extra biomechanical advantage, or work on mid-range skills, or simply to gain a different perspective, or broaden their experience. I can make their training as challenging or accessible as they need it to be.
Many of my students have been black belts or instructors from other styles. Some martial artists come to me to help rehabilitate themselves after years of self-destructive training methods. In my school, the first rule of martial arts is “Don’t beat yourself up.”
I am about to start rebuilding my school from scratch after the past 16 months wiped out years of progress. Teaching online has helped. But my work life has become far too diversified. I want to focus full-time on the teaching. If all goes well, I will start a new training routine this week, and I will be able to demonstrate how tai chi can make you skinny. I’ve said it before. But this time, I mean it.
Thanks to all of you who have donated to my website. Without your support over the past year, I would have already had to switch to a more profitable career, and the school would have been closed, possibly forever. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Video production has stalled recently. But I will try to put up 3 new lessons per week. Each one requires at leat 2 day’s work. But I know you have been very patient with me, and I need to get the material out there.
Let’s all get vaccinated, and we might get partly back to normal by the end of 2021.