Five Questions with Master Dào of Shaolin Tai Chi

If you’re getting tired of doing the same old workout routine, or you haven’t found something that totally works for you, it may be time to try something new! Shaolin Tai Chi, a brand new fitness and wellness series on ONE, focuses on strengthening our body and minds with the ancient art of Tai Chi. Airing daily at 9am ET and Mondays to Saturdays at 6:30pm ET, you’ll love feeling both energized and totally relaxed with this dynamic series created with all ages and all fitness levels in mind.

Hosted by Tai Chi Master Shi Chang Dào of STQI Toronto School of Martial Arts, each episode takes viewers through a specific routine that addresses various physical and mental health concerns. From stress and anxiety control to gut and menstrual health, Master Dào shows us that the powerful art of Tai Chi has something for everyone. Regardless of your skill level, you can get something great out of it.

We asked Master Dào himself some questions to learn more about his unique take on Tai Chi and the direction of this new series.

How long have you been practicing Tai Chi, and what initially drew you to the art?

I have been practicing Shaolin Tai Chi for almost 15 years. I was first drawn to Shaolin Kung Fu because I grew up watching Shaolin kung fu movies like the Shaolin Temple movie with Jet Li (1982). That movie taught me that kung fu can be used for good and is a practice of peace. I think for that reason I wasn’t interested in learning any other martial art.

Shaolin Kung Fu eventually led to Shaolin Tai Chi through an ancient form that is over 500 years old. That form is called Shaolin Gentle Fist and takes the concept that softness can overcome hardness. Only after many years of training did I finally come to truly understand this idea in martial arts.

You explore many different health benefits of Tai Chi throughout the series. What are some of the benefits that people may not know about?

Shaolin Tai Chi has a lot of exercises that move the core in different ways. This promotes circulation in and around the vital organs in the torso like the heart, lungs, kidneys, spleen, stomach, intestines, etc. You can think of this as exercise for the vital organs. Is it important? Think of it this way… most people will spend their entire days sitting or standing with very little movement in the core. It’s like a pool of stagnant water where bacterial growth explodes.

Circulation is very important for your body to do its job of cleaning out pathogens and waste, and to supply it with nutrients. Shaolin Tai Chi makes it easy for people to exercise their vital organs.

In each episode, you’re joined by students from many different professions, ages, and skill levels. Is this representative of who you typically teach at your downtown Toronto school?

Yes, it is a great representation of my students. Many have limited mobility, have no background in martial arts, may even be considered to be below average in athleticism, or are in their elderly years.

My eldest student is over 85 years old! We wanted to bring her onto the show but felt the hilly path to the set was a bit tough and risky. Having said all this, some of my students are advanced kung fu practitioners who are seeking to further their skills and capability through the ideas of yin and yang and softness overcoming hardness. I am truly blessed to have a balanced environment where everyone can train together in harmony!

A major component of Tai Chi is learning how to meditate to have a calm state of mind. Can you tell us more about the importance of mindfulness and meditation during tai chi?

Meditation is a discipline that is part of the Shaolin philosophy called Chán 禪. It teaches people how to find peace and wisdom through introspection and understanding their perceptions and emotions. That’s why each episode of Shaolin Tai Chi begins with standing still meditation. When the mind is calmer, one can become more present to their practice and improve their focus in learning.

When students are practicing the Shaolin Tai Chi techniques including stretching, martial drills, and cool down exercises, they are continuing to practice what is called ‘moving meditation’. They are not thinking of their day-to-day problems and are instead being mindful of their breathing and movements. This draws their attention inwards which leads to a greater discovery of themselves and continues to promote feelings of calmness and peace.

ZNews: Gentle Shaolin Kung Fu

What advice would you offer to someone who thinks they don’t have the skill level to start Tai Chi, or may have previous injuries or mobility issues that might limit their ability to participate?

Shaolin Tai Chi is very easy to get into because the movements are practiced slowly and repeated often. They can all be adapted to people with injuries and mobility issues. In each episode, I explain what we’re doing, why it benefits, and how it is done.

The show is designed so that each episode does not require any prior knowledge or experience, and yet the teachings of one episode can be applied to other episodes! This makes it fun and exciting for people will different skill levels to train together and share their experiences. Each episode is designed to be repeated for continued improvement and benefit.

My eldest student at 85 years old is proof that anyone can practice Shaolin Tai Chi.

Try Shaolin Tai Chi on ONE daily at 9am ET and Mondays through Saturdays at 6:30pm ET.

– Tessa Giftopoulos

– All photography by Chris Robinson Photo

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