“The Bang (Stick) Gave Me Back the Full Use of My Right Hand”
– interviewed by Instructor Lis
When Mark started classes with the Academy, he wondered why we did warm-ups, the Chan Si Gong (Silk Reeling exercises) and Qigong. He had done a couple of years with a different Tai Chi group some years before, and they spent the whole class learning the form. The contrast at first was a little frustrating.
“I thought, ‘Why can’t we get on with it instead of wasting all this time on this extra stuff?’ ”
Now he understands. In fact, it didn’t take long, perhaps a couple of weeks, for him to realise the importance and relevance of the preliminary exercises.
“Everything is connected. All those joint loosening exercises help you do the movements. Bits of them appear in the form. At first, I had lots of clicks and clunks in my shoulders doing the Arm Rotation, but after about a year, the noises disappeared. It feels smooth now. My posture has improved, too — makes me keep my shoulders back instead of stooping. Tall people tend to do that.”
Mark admits he should spend more time on the Qigong at home. “I don’t practise it. I know it would make a difference. I think I’m calmer from my Tai Chi practice, but my wife and son would probably disagree. I do go through the ‘Lower the Qi and Cleanse Internally’ movement from the Hun Yuan Qigong, before I do the Bang (Stick) set, though.”
The Bang has been an extraordinary find for Mark; regular practice has resulted in the arresting of debilitating arthritis in the right wrist.
Mark is an engineer with Urban Services. Several years ago, he had a change of job, moving from field work to desk bound duties. He noticed his weight creeping up, his posture deteriorating and his general fitness level declining. He embarked on home gym training complete with punching bag, but this resulted in a very sore wrist. Using a computer mouse right handed was impossible, shaking hands extremely painful and his arm ached. His doctor diagnosed arthritis and said, “Stop punching, take up Tai Chi.”
Mark went home, opened up the Chronicle, and there was an Academy advertisement announcing classes would commence the following week (Term 3, 2004). During his first term, he saw students practising the Stick at the back of the room. It looked intriguing. When the next workshop was offered, Mark, having read of the benefits for arthritis sufferers and of increased grip strength, signed up. In the class, he remembers Fontane telling him to bend his wrist more and replying that it didn’t bend at all.
Six months of daily practice resulted in an amazing improvement. Although not as flexible as his other wrist, Mark’s right wrist definitely bends now. He can use the mouse normally, and shaking hands means pain for the other person rather than for Mark. The Bang training strengthens the tendons and muscles in the hands and forearms. In Mark’s case, these had been rendered weak and useless by his arthritic wrist joint.
Spinoff benefits of the training were an awareness of particular body movements used in the form and increased flexibility of the shoulders and waist. The phrase “engage the back” suddenly took on meaning. He could feel what Fontane had been talking about and this new understanding permeated his Tai Chi practice. “So that’s what she means!”
Another breakthrough came recently when the Aranda Refinement class did the Centering Exercise. Mark was surprised at how solid he felt when his partner pushed against his chest. He had no idea he had developed such a strong feeling of “groundedness”, although he is aware, in a general sense, of better balance and posture.
“Remembering the sequence was difficult at first, but it comes with practice. Having different instructors was good. They each emphasised slightly different aspects and sometimes something would click. It’s good when you get the feeling for the whole thing.
I like the way the form flows. If you stop at all, it’s really noticeable, an interruption.
I practise some part of the training every day. When I travel, the first things into my bag are the Bang and my flat soled shoes. If it’s carry on luggage on a plane, I can’t take the Stick, though. They think it’s a weapon!”
(This is an actual interview, but the name has been changed for reasons of privacy.)