Ryan Black – Tai Chi
A hard-nosed, young Navy diver, Ryan Black was assigned to deep sea salvage and rescue missions in southern Japan. While stationed in the country, he set his sights on learning kendo, the sword fighting martial art. However, when he went calling at the kendo temple, he was informed – and not at all politely – the group did not care to have an outsider in their midst.
Not one to take “no” for an answer, Ryan kept looking and, ultimately, stumbled upon a Japanese cook wanting to improve his language skills. In exchange for English conversation practice – and ten cents to cover the local gym session – the chef agreed to teach Ryan the art of kendo.
That original group – the kendo practitioners who didn’t want any part of him – eventually, grudgingly, allowed Ryan to participate in their matches. Although “they didn’t make it easy for him,” the more he persisted the more he earned their respect. “I was 22, stubborn, and a glutton for punishment,” he laughs.
“Sword fighting is expensive, rigorous, and involves lightning-fast movement and timing,” Ryan explains. Consequently, there is not a large following in the United States. Busy wrapping up his military career, getting married, earning a Master’s Degree, and teaching high school English classes – Ryan realized he missed martial arts.
Playing basketball and running track while growing up, Ryan had also experimented with various martial arts classes. As soon as he was able to drive, he began traveling “two towns over” from his tiny, Indiana farming community – population 521.
As Ryan was longing for a martial arts practice, tai chi was picking up steam in the US and earning praise for its myriad of health benefits. An ancient form of Chinese martial arts, Ryan points out “a big connection between tai chi and mindfulness.” “It’s more of an internal martial art and something I can do until I’m 90,” he continues.
With its gentle, slow flowing movements and deep, focused breathing, Ryan says tai chi is the practice of “meditation in motion.” From the first postures you learn – with names like wave hands like clouds, hand strums the lute, and single whip – the incredible health benefits begin.
- Boosts energy, stamina, and overall mood
- Lessens anxiety, depression, stress
- Improves sleep
- Helps lower blood pressure
- Decreases joint pain
- Eases symptoms of congestive heart failure
- Enhances balance, agility, flexibility
- Builds muscle strength and aerobic capacity
In his relaxed, even-keeled way, Ryan tells me “a common point in many chronic diseases is hypoxia,” a lack of oxygen in the blood. “Tai chi,” Ryan points out, “relaxes the body and then super saturates the blood with oxygen.” This helps to reverse the hypoxic condition, and hopefully, the associated illness.
Rather than the occasional drop-in workout, Ryan emphasizes tai chi is a practice. A practice everyone, even a sedentary older adult, can do a few minutes at a time, alone, in just about any location. Snatching moments throughout his teaching day, Ryan practices in his classroom before school begins and during his AP Literature prep block.
From first-hand experience, I know tai chi is not easy to do in a beautiful manner. Watching him lead his advanced students through a form, a series of interconnected postures, Ryan’s arms and legs effortlessly glide and flow – much like he’s moving through water.
“Everyday, all of us are constantly bombarded by incoming forces – phone calls, worries, jobs, responsibilities. Our emotions rise and become unbalanced,” says Ryan.
“Tai chi is a centering process,” he continues. “The practice teaches you to yield to incoming forces, remain in your peaceful state, and truly listen to your body.”