Student Feedback

Detailed feedback from students of the Spring 2004 Wednesday Tai Chi classes taught by Master Won Park at Dillon Gym is below. Some contributors have generously volunteered their contact details so that you can ask them questions if you're interested.

We also have a page of short feedback, from students of the Fall 2004 class.

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Won often says, "Don't do something, then try to relax. Relaxation is the movement."

I enjoy Tai Chi as an activity which emphasizes relaxation. Students are every day confronted with situations which are stressful, but more than that, students are almost encouraged to put more stress on themselves. In Tai Chi, on the other hand, one must be relaxed to be effective. Both the form and the martial application of Tai Chi apply directly to this principle.

From a more practical point of view, Tai Chi is improving my posture, and I am much more aware of how I carry myself. I notice now how ways I habitually lay, sit, stand, and walk can cause aches and pains, things I never noticed before. Tai Chi has also helped my flexibility. When working, I try to apply Won's words about relaxation: Don't work harder, then try not to be stressed. Instead, target working with less stress, which is more effective. I can't claim to be very successful at this -- it's a long road -- but I think I am improving.

I also participate in a meditation class. I find Tai Chi to be a nearly perfect complement to this class. They espouse similar principles on relaxation: both are aiming toward a deep relaxation of body and mind. Tai Chi focuses more on the body (in the beginning at least), while meditation focuses more on the mind.

Kevin Huffenberger
khuffenb AT princeton DOT edu

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The first day of class Won kept saying, "just relax," and as the classes went on, through Won's teaching, I slowly started to come to an understanding of what "relax" means. The philosophical discussions combined with helpful pointers on how to relax, such as the idea of feeling gravity on each part of your body, have helped me in this. Before taking this Tai Chi class, I had taken both Yoga and meditation classes, both of which had a central focus on relaxation. However, Tai Chi taught me a different way toview relaxation. Before Tai Chi, I thought of relaxation as an activity. For example, I would set aside time in the afternoon to practice yoga, deep breathing and meditation to relax my mind and body after a long day of work. After Tai Chi, I realize that relaxation doesn't just have to be an activity that is practiced for a short part of the day, but rather can be a state of being that can be maintained during the long day of work as well. I now understand relaxation is a state in which I only require energy for the task at hand. A state where I don't work against my own body when I try to move, or work against my own mind when I try to think. I realize that by being in this relaxed state all of the time, I can accomplish more with greater ease. Tai Chi class gives the time to both practise this state of being and to come to a deeper understanding of what it means to relax.

Adam Berman
Physics Graduate Student
asberman [AT]

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Before taking this class, I learned Taichi in China. After taking four sessions of Won's Taichi class, I realized my previous understanding about Taichi was superficial. His class greatly helped me to understand the depth of Taichi and the philosophy behind it. By applying such philosophy to everyday life, I find myself benefiting in many ways, such as fitness, stress reduction, and even in my study.

The Taichi philosophy is mostly based on Taoism. Tao essentially means "the way it is", that is, reality. A similar idea is "being here and now" in Zen. Both emphasize that by distinguishing between reality and imaginations/illusions, one can be free from unnecessary worries, fears and regrets and achieve a peaceful state of mind. This then leads to deep relaxation and optimal action. Meditation is one way to cultivate the calmness and serenity of the mind. However, I used to find it very hard to convince myself to stay "here and now" and not to be overtaken by worries and fears when facing difficult situations. In this Taichi class, for the first time I experienced that being "here and now" leads to effective action. For example, as a small sized woman, I can still escape from a disadvantaged joint-lock position if I am more relaxed and more aware of "what is".

Another useful thing Won teaches in the class is how to relax while in action. By connecting with the basic yet fundamental facts of mechanics, anatomy, and psychology, he guides us to discover the way our body works and to experience how "doing less", aka recognizing and complying with the way it is, instead of "doing more" can lead to not only comfort but also stability, suppleness, strength, and speed.

Ying Lu
yinglu [AT]

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When I first started this class, I had been looking for several months for a martial art to practise, and had considered numerous possibilities. As the saying goes, "when the student is ready, the teacher appears". Chen style tai chi caught my interest as it offers the greatest scope of skills: relaxation/health benefits, self defense, and a philosophy for everyday living, without the aggressive aspects of other martial arts. I believe that this class benefited me greatly in regard to a chronic medical condition that I have had for a number of years. This class is real tai chi chuan, not the California aerobic-style or geriatric tai chi taught at health clubs. The Princeton Tai Chi Club atmosphere is very collegial and supportive for learning.

Bill Gowen
wgowen [AT]

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I was a confirmed yogi (with 7 years of experience) before I got into Tai Chi. A couple of years ago, I severely injured my neck and became terrified of any asana (posture) that even vaguely resembled an inversion. I have been practising Tai Chi for one year now, and have found that it offers much gentler, safer, and, in my mind, deeper ways into relaxation.

There's no 'regimented' way into Tai Chi. It involves fundamental things, like gravity, mass, mental and bodily freedom. That is to say, if you don't relax, it simply doesn't happen.

Through regular practice, I have acquired a much subtler awareness of how and where I hold tension, and have found ways to establish a more balanced relationship between my mind and body. The wonderful thing about Tai Chi is that the awareness it promotes in your life isn't simply relegated to the practice-room. It has helped me confront daily stresses (e.g. spending long hours at a computer; feeling stuck in nebulous arguments) without half as much of the jaw-clenching and shoulder-tightening as I use to feel. I'm also convinced that Tai Chi helps you get down those devilishly icy double-diamond slopes.

Won is a thoughtful, attentive and inspiring teacher. He's most likely the least anxious and most graceful academic you'll ever meet. His class is worth taking just for those reasons.

Catherine A. Witt
Department of French and Italian
cawitt [AT]

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Tai-Chi martial art, which is very different from other kinds of martial arts, is an art of relaxation. The more relaxed one is, the more powerful one is. But the problem is, what is true relaxation and how to relax? Before one can relax oneself deeply (relaxation has no end) and feel true relaxation, one can never answer the questions above. So I think the most important condition to study Tai-Chi is to have a good teacher.

I learned some Tai-Chi when I was in China and I thought I could relax myself and was on the right way. However, after I attended Won's Tai-Chi class I changed my mind. When I met him the first time, he pointed out that my chest is not relaxed and too tight, which I haven't realized for years. Now I am trying to relax my chest under his instruction and I feel better. In his class, there are opportunities to feel powerful movement by oneself. After that one can believe relaxation IS power. One can also learn instructions on ones everyday life. These instructions are based on Tai-Chi principles. By following the advice one will relax more and feel more comfortable. For example, I was taught to relax my spine area in my daily life such as sitting and walking. When I read something, if I sit straight with my spine area relaxed, I feel peace and more concentrated.

Relaxation is the essence of Tai-Chi while self-defense movements are only its applications. I would say that Tai-Chi is one kind of life method, and it is a way to comfortable, healthy and efficient life.

Haifeng Huang
Frick 101G
hhuang [AT]

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I started taking the Tai Chi class with Won in Winter 2003, just a semester ago. I've enjoyed and learned many useful things from it, and plan to continue taking the class until I leave Princeton. In the very first class, Won asked us about which aspects of Tai Chi interested us the most: health exercise, philosophy, or martial arts. I primarily came for the first two, partly because of some doubt on how relaxation could be applied as powerful martial arts. I have done some meditation and learned that relaxation certainly helps with health and peaceful mind, but martial arts? Well, now I've seen at least one practice, Tai Chi, that potentially gets you all three.

I'm truly a beginner of Tai Chi, especially the martial arts part. However, in daily life, it already helps me deal with things more effectively. Don't do anything unnecessary, for instance, is among important messages often heard in class. To me, it's a challenging game, or even art, to identify what is unnecessary in daily life. Being inspired by the fact that it's easier to throw someone on the ground if you relax (i.e., don't use unnecessary muscles), I have tried to identify them. I found that, in the past, I used to worry and pressure myself quite a bit when I worked, or just walked, or sometimes even when I played soccer, which supposedly should help me relax. Once I let go of these unnecessaries, I found myself getting about the same amount of work done with less frustration and more comfort. As a result, I have more energy left, both mental and physical, to do other things. And of course, there are still many, and I mean many, other unnecessaries, more fine and vague, that I carry around and that should be relaxed away.

Another thing that I particularly like about the class: Won is a physicist. Occasionally, he gives scientific explanation of Tai Chi relaxation, which fits my appetite (I'm not really a scientist, but I like science). A good portion of my Tai Chi classmates seems to appreciate this as well.

That's it. That's my opinion and relatively short experience with Tai Chi. It is, of course, just my interpretation, not the interpretation. I think that to deeply understand Tai Chi relaxation would take quite a while, but hey, I'm in no hurry, so I'm just gonna relax my way through and see what happens.

Rachata Muneepeerakul (Chot)
rmuneepe [AT]
Princeton, April 2004

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When I signed up for the Tai Chi class I knew practically nothing about this martial art. My prior martial arts experience was almost zero - two months of Karate about twelve years ago. The first thing I want to mention is the atmosphere in the class. It is not at all like other martial arts practice sessions I have seen. The formality and all the rituals are totally missing. Also missing is the usual counting that everyone has to strictly follow - no "O-o-o-ne, two-o-o-o..., thre-e-e, fou-u-u-ur" - everyone follows but is free to change the pace a bit according to what he feels is right for him. I liked this very much.

And this leads me to the first class. It boiled down to: you should be relaxed and feel Earth's gravity with your whole body, and some hand waving. I thought, "Well I can see how being relaxed may help, but so what?" - well I simply did not get it the first time. After hearing, "Relax, relax, relax," hundreds of times more during the classes, together with actually trying to relax (surprisingly it turns out it is quite hard to really relax), and Won explaining (in many different ways) that being relaxed means that you use minimum effort in your movements and that gives you power - I started to understand. The practice sessions from the Tai Chi club helped a lot in this respect too - the martial arts applications that we practiced there really demonstrated the point.

After a whole semester of Tai Chi, two things happened to me. I really started to like it and to understand how practical and logical it is and how it teaches you the really important - fundamental - things, but I also understood that I have barely skimmed the surface. But even the little that I learned I could immediately apply. At the same time that I signed up for Tai Chi I signed up for an Aikido class, which was was a "typical" martial arts setting: the formalities, the bowing... but I only went to four classes - by that time I realized that all the hand locking that they do is simply pointless if I apply what I learned from Tai Chi; even the teacher had trouble applying some of the locks to me. So I dropped the class. There were some less "spectacular" applications of what I learned - for example, knowing some Tai Chi helps a lot with vacuum cleaning :-) Another effect it had on me... The class was on Wednesday evening, maybe the worst time one could think of; I would go to the class directly from work frustrated from sitting in front of the computer all day, but by the end of the session I normally felt fresh and light - literally light - as if thirty pounds of my weight were gone.

So after this semester I like Tai Chi so much that I will sign up for the next one, and the next one, and the next one... The only thing that worries me is that I am getting the impression it is the kind of "art" that you can dive into for twenty years and never reach the bottom. But I think the journey will be worth it - no matter how far I actually get.

Peter Ruevski
ruevs [AT]

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