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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Tai Chi Kicks Students’ Taoism into Shape

<m, many students and passersby have noticed a large group practicing Tai Chi outdoors, usually on the Bald Spot, Mai Fete islands, or the lawn in front of Olin. Their synchronized moves, flowing between various poses, mesmerize those who stop to watch and often prompt questions about the class’s identity.

“The class is run part theory, part practice,” explained Tai Chi student James Morrissey ’12.  “Each class usually begins with a 30-minute lecture component on Taoist philosophy. Afterwards, depending on the weather, we practice Tai Chi outside.”

Professor Qiguang Zhao of the Chinese Department aims to introduce students to the philosophy of Taoism and the Tai Chi lifestyle. He first came up with the idea for the class in 1997, after teaching a course about Taoism that included only a scarce amount of Tai Chi. According to Zhao, students asked for more Tai Chi to accompany the philosophical text.

“I like the text, but I also want to apply Taoism to life,” he explained. “Not just philosophy, but attitude.”

This attitude and practice has a mass appeal to students. Right now, this is the eighth time that the class has been offered and it has grown exponentially over time. What started as a six-person class over 15 years ago has grown into a 60 or 100 student waitlisted course, making it one of the most popular classes taught at Carleton.

The lecture part of the class often includes illustrations done by Zhao, to fully express the technique or sentiment that he is explaining. The class also occasionally includes stories from Zhao’s life, and students say that one of the highlights of taking the course is hearing about his life philosophy.

“Zhao’s stories are very interesting and engaging,” Cassie Burke ’12 said. “He tells us stories of his life or he has stories with a lesson. He often illustrates the stories as he goes on the chalkboard, because he is a very talented artist.”

Not to mention relaxing. “As you might guess, Tai Chi is a very relaxed class,” said Niall Bachynski ’12. “Even though I’ve taken four philosophy courses at Carleton, I’ve had very little exposure to Eastern philosophy, so this is a good class to explore an area I’m not familiar with. Also, I find some of the mediation and relaxation techniques useful.”

Added Jon Aranda ’12, “Taoism is a much more carefree and individualistic approach to social pressures. [It] is also very influenced greatly by nature and this obviously appealed to me and made me want to learn more.”

The practice of Tai Chi connects meditation and philosophy to the art of moving yoga. “It’s following the course of nature, letting things flow in their own direction,” Zhao said. “By doing Tai Chi, we’re expressing something, an internal healing.”

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