I asked powerful women in martial arts how training in their discipline helped them overcome issues, be stronger leaders and become more confident in themselves and less-self conscious of their bodies. I received so many replies from amazing women I decided to do a Martial Arts Mini Series. I hope you enjoy their stories of strength and endurance as much as I do.
Martial Arts for Women: Tai Chi for Internal Power & Stress Reduction
By Maria Barrett
A friend taught me some Aikido moves back when I was in my 20s – I did not have the money to study it formally then, but showed the moves to my boyfriend who was delighted with how a small woman could move a much larger man with almost no effort.
Long story short, my boyfriend became my husband and we both started studying Tai chi chuan back in the 1980s. Why Tai Chi? Because my husband was throwing out his neck doing plastering and the chiropractor told him to do some kind of exercise that would balance out the sides of his body. I took it up just for health and to help handle stress. My husband, Rick, studied intensively with Master William CC Chen in Manhattan. I did it once in a while.
Years went by, Master Chen told Rick to start teaching. At this point we had three children and a small construction company. When he started teaching, I started going to his class and really learning tai chi. The form was great for health and stress reduction, but I found that push hands was incredible for me. Push hands is a two person exercise where you try to throw your partner off balance. (and to maintain your own balance while doing so) There were not a lot of women in class, so I got to practice push hands with a lot of men. Since they were almost all bigger, stronger and more aggressive than I was, I leaned to neutralize incoming force by deflecting, by getting out of the way, by finding their weak spots and being faster then they were.
Not only did I get stronger and more balanced, but I became confident that I could at least confront incoming force. Tai chi also has martial applications and it was fun and empowering to know how to disengage from grabs easily, how to deflect force, etc.
Years went by. The construction company hit rough times and went bust. I went back to work in an office to handle finances while Rick started to study Polarity Therapy while continuing to teach Tai Chi. Rick started teaching a yearly workshop in Sedona, Arizona called TaiChi Alchemy, bringing together Tai Chi students and teachers from around the country to share approaches, exercises, knowledge of internal martial arts.
It was at this yearly workshop that I met incredible women from around the country. All of these women practice tai chi, some teach it, some are accomplished and some are beginners. They have various occupations, an artist in Florida, a poet in NY, a musician in Connecticut, a homeopathic physician in CA, etc.,etc. We have been doing this workshop once a year for the past 15 years. You can see some photos on my husbands website.
Years went by. Rick wrote a book about his approach to Tai Chi. My whole take on it changed. Learned to practice energetic coherence. Got more and more into internal energy and using least amount of effort to do the job. Realized that I was using these principals constantly in my life and work. Started seeing correlations between the tai chi practice and energy medicine. Realized that I was rarely ever sick these days. (not true 10 years ago) As one of Ricks senior students, I help to coach others. The past couple years, Rick has been teaching us a new approach to push hands, and I have seen women in particular blossom with this approach. Confronting incoming energy of any sort – physical, emotional, mental – is easier. Awareness is up. Reaction time is way up. Ability to deal with whatever comes up is now effortless. Meanwhile, raised my kids, have been working in IT for the past 15 years. My daughter, who graduated from college last year, considers the TaiChi Alchemy workshop crowd to be her extended family.
If you want tips for women to get centered, etc., let me know and I will get you info on energetic coherence. I do not have a business and am not a leader, so I probably wouldn’t be right for your article. However, I know lots of taichi women, so perhaps I can put you in touch with someone who would qualify. Tell me what you are looking for and Ill reach out to the tai chi community.
I really think you need to consider writing about Tai Chi. Internal energy cultivation is possible for women of all ages. (I’m 60 now and better than I ever was at push hands and applications) Its a martial art that can be done at any age. It increases balance and overall health, and it can totally help you deal with life with equanimity.
Maria Barrett has been practicing tai chi chuan for almost 30 years. Tai chi works with internal energy rather than muscular force. Coherent energy can be incredibly strong, fast and effective. As a senior student of her husband, Rick Barrett, Maria especially enjoys helping students to be comfortable with incoming force and with their own power. She is a big fan of using taichi principles in life, to handle physical, mental, emotional energy, and to feel good in your own skin.