Martial Art in Unison

On an April morning in Kansas City eight years ago, 200 people started a worldwide transformation. They gathered quietly on the lawn of a local art museum and began moving in slow motion. A sea of bodies moved gracefully, practicing the martial art t'ai chi. On that day, World T'ai Chi and Qigong Day was born.

According to worldtaichiday.com, the event is celebrated the last Saturday in April in 60 nations. At 10 a.m. in each time zone, groups gather to practice t'ai chi together. A "healing wave of calm" moves from east to west, starting in New Zealand and ending in Hawaii. Tucson is participating in the celebration with gatherings at Reid Park and in Oro Valley.

"T'ai chi is an ancient, century-old martial art that leads its practitioners to a healthy lifestyle--mentally, physically and spiritually," says Master Aaron Kravetz. Kravetz and his wife own the American Wu Style Taijiquan Association school in Green Valley. An instructor for the past 23 years, Kravetz speaks highly about the martial art. "T'ai chi is a very specific ... science that trains people on how to relax. It gives people actual and specific tools they can use in their lives.

"T'ai chi is a safe, gentle, slow, thoughtful form of exercise," continues Kravetz. "The three main styles are Yang style, Wu style and Chen style. Chen is a bit more dynamic and martial in its movements. Yang is a softer style and doesn't give the impression of being a martial art. Wu style is even softer and is the best one for senior citizens," he says.

There's much medical research on the positive physical affects of practicing t'ai chi, and Kravetz is keen to point out the benefits. "It slows aging, reduces anxiety and depression, helps to relieve chronic pain, reduces pain of fibromyalgia, has a profound affect on ADD, gives relief from migraines ... ." Senior citizens can especially benefit from practicing t'ai chi with a qualified instructor, as it gives them "more flexibility, strength, balance, coordination and circulation. They learn how to walk correctly so they don't fall," says Kravetz. At the worldtaichi.org Web site, more than 50 health issues are listed, with benefits and medical research cited.

According to Kravetz, there's also a profound emotional benefit for those who practice t'ai chi. "Because of the mind-body connection, as you are trained to relax physically, you immediately begin to relax emotionally. The exercises bring the mind to be focused in the present moment and turn off the internal dialogue. The brain opens up in a way people are not used to. You hear people say they are blissed out."

Kravetz will participate in World T'ai Chi and Qigong Day events at Reid Park. "For the last several years, we take several students and demonstrate forms of t'ai chi, lecture on the benefits and give free classes," he says.

The free events at Reid Park begin at 8:30 a.m. when participants meet instructors and get a free lesson. At 9 a.m., demonstrations of various martial arts begin. At 10 a.m., groups gather to do 30 minutes of t'ai chi. Demonstrations continue until 12:30 p.m.

According to event coordinator Maria Lee, one focus of the Reid Park installation of World T'ai Chi and Qigong Day will be the martial arts demonstrations. "The demonstrations will show a lot of different weapons forms and Qigong. ... There will be a focus on the variety of t'ai chi forms. You will see 100 to 200 people moving together in their own styles," she says.

Lee says World T'ai Chi and Qigong Day was not well publicized in Tucson in the past. "I'm hoping to get the Tucson community mobilized to do t'ai chi together," she says. Lee was initially attracted to the martial art because of its beauty. But she also appreciates the art for its usefulness with self-defense.

While the Reid Park events will focus on the forms of t'ai chi and other martial arts, Oro Valley events will have a more health-related focus. Held at the Oro Valley Farmers' Market at the corner of Naranja Road and La Canada Drive in the Town Hall, World T'ai Chi and Qigong Day in Oro Valley will offer free demonstrations, lessons and presentations.

The farmers' market has not sponsored other events before, but manager Roxanne McElmell "thought the farmers' market would be a great way to promote the health benefits of t'ai chi." The market has a strong focus on healthy life choices, offering organic fruit and vegetables, grain-fed meat and various types of teas.

Events begin at 8 a.m. and end at noon. There will be demonstrations of Wu style, sword form and Yang style t'ai chi, lessons in the Wu style and presentations. The presentations will cover the health benefits of tea, better backs and balance, healthy hearts and how t'ai chi cultivates chi energy. There will be cooking demonstrations and food samples from two local restaurants to entice passersby.

But for those looking to satisfy a different hunger, Kravetz provides substantial food for thought. "There are a lot of people out there who wish they can find some magic to heal themselves, physically, mentally and spiritually. T'ai chi is that magic. It comes to those who practice it two or three times a week. People feel they cannot alleviate their problems, but that's not true."

For information on t'ai chi classes by Master Kravetz, call 393-1000. For information on the Reid Park events, call 370-3537. For the Oro Valley events, call 918-9811.

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