Tai Chi in Ireland slowly becoming a big movement

Róisín Burke is put through her paces by Master Sang. Pic: Gavin Browne

Chinese martial arts expert Master Sang, a former classmate of actor Jet Li, has come to these shores to teach his craft and have the odd cup of tea, writes Róisín Burke

 

Like most people, my life is a chaotic checklist of things to do and finding time to relax and unwind never seems to happen.

Between work and socialising as well studying and training, I often find myself overwhelmed with stress and finding peace and tranquillity feels impossible.

Tai Chi Master, Shouhui Sang is a man for whom calm and serenity is always at hand, despite his gruelling workload.

At 50 years of age, the man has skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom, not a wrinkle in sight, just a soft smile, playing on the edge of his mouth.

A smile of calm contentment on a face of sage wisdom and knowledge gained from over 40 years of training in the ancient Chinese art of Tai Chi.

Tai Chi is a form of Kung Fu martial arts that is said to enhance mental and physical health in many ways, including relieving stress and clearing the mind.

One look at Master Sang and his smiling class of students and I am inclined to believe it.

Master Sang, who was taught his art by the same man who now teaches the president of China, is on a three-year trip to Ireland to help Irish people learn more about Chinese culture and traditions, such as Tai Chi.

But since moving to Ireland, Master Sang has also learned a great deal about Ireland and Irish culture.

The great martial arts expert, who was classmates with the famous martial arts expert Jet Li, has become enamoured with the great beauty that can be found in the Irish countryside as well as the taste of a good cup of Barry’s Tea.

Master Sang, an international teacher who is teaching Tai Chi on behalf of Confucius Institute UCC in conjunction with Irish-Chinese culture and Arts association at the Himalayan-Yoga centre, Penrose Wharf. Pic: Gavin Browne
Master Sang, an international teacher who is teaching Tai Chi on behalf of Confucius Institute UCC in conjunction with Irish-Chinese culture and Arts association at the Himalayan-Yoga centre, Penrose Wharf. Pic: Gavin Browne

Living in Ireland for the past two years, Master Sang said he loves the Irish people who he finds friendly and kind, but he is not always a fan of the wet and windy Irish weather.

The world renowned martial arts instructor, who has a number of prestigious gold medals for practising the art of Tai Chi also said he often misses his homeland and in particular Chinese cuisine as unfortunately Irish Chinese food is in his own words “So-so.” A very softly spoken man with broken English, Master Sang warns me although Tai Chi has a list of benefits to it, the effects are not instant.

“It is not like eating your dinner and then feeling full.” Master Sang told me, “Tai Chi takes time and patience to master.” Intrigued by the art and inspired by the prestigious Master Sang, I decided to give the ancient art a go and see how I got on.

The first thing I noticed about the class was how slow the movements were. This is easy, I thought to myself, I’m a prodigy, I’ll have this picked up in no time. Sadly I was very wrong.

These movements developed into sequences and soon I was struggling through an intricate string of actions that engaged my entire body in an intense workout.

However, as the class developed, I found myself accessing an oasis of serenity through focusing on fluid motions that needed precise execution and deep concentration.

Master Sang, who travels to primary and secondary schools around the country showcasing Tai Chi, described the art as a very gentle exercise that increases a person’s flexibility and strength.

“It takes about three months to really see the benefits, but once you do, you will notice your body is more balanced and your mind more relaxed.”

Martin Fitzgerald, who has been practising for the past five years explained the basis behind the principle of the ‘Chi’. “It is all about the Chi or energy that flows through our bodies. As we practise Tai Chi we are pushing the Chi around the body.” Martin said he finds Tai Chi useful for combating stress and exhaustion from his everyday life. “I sometimes find myself using Tai Chi movements or breathing exercises to regain a sense of calm when work is hectic.”

Cora Burke, who has been studying Tai Chi with Master Sang for a year and a half said she hopes to keep up the art for the rest of her life.

“It is a very gentle martial art that is both fierce and beautiful. I find it very beneficial in my daily life and I have noticed a change in my lifestyle since taking up Tai Chi.”

Master Sang who is the 12th generation of Chen style Tai Chi has this advice for anyone thinking of taking up the ancient martial art. “Patience is key to access the great benefits of Tai Chi. It is not an instant fix, it takes time to learn and appreciate, but with practice it can enhance your life with great physical benefits and improved mental health.

Tai Chi is taught by Master Sang at the Himalaya Yoga Valley Centre, in Penrose Wharf, Cork city every Saturday at 3.30pm.


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