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University’s Tai Chi master constantly perfecting art

By : Meghan Lynch

Lai Mui Ma demonstrates Tai Chi movement at her school, New York State Tai Chi & Chi Kung Center, Inc., located at 234 Vestal Parkway West.
Lai Mui Ma has been studying the art of Tai Chi since she was 12 years old and living in Hong Kong. Few still teach the original art of Tai Chi. But she does. “My mother is a Tai Chi master and I’m lucky to have learned from the creators,” said Lai.

Her respect for the craft spills over into her teaching at Binghamton University, where she’s a member of the faculty.

“I am very honored to teach at BU. I consider it one of my greatest accomplishments and shining points in my life,” said Lai, who said she’s most proud to be able to pass along her skills.

Upon arriving in the United States in 1976, she decided to open a Tai Chi school. Soon after, she was invited to teach at Binghamton.

Other schools and classes of Tai Chi may teach a modernized, simplified form. For Lai, that wouldn’t be possible.

“Here we do it the right way, rather than cut down the benefits our students always practice,” said Lai, who has confidence in, and respect for, her students here at the University and at her school.

She subscribes to the “quality, not quantity” philosophy.

“Focusing on performing the styles correctly reduces risk of injury and gives the practitioner the full range of health benefits,” she said.

The style Lai prefers to teach to highly motivated students in search of a stringent workout is called “Chen.” For less active adults, she recommends beginning with the “Yang” style - a gentle, mind-stimulating form.

The payoffs from practicing Tai Chi could easily be underestimated, Lai said, adding that people should be aware of what the practice can do for the mind, body and soul.

For more physically mature students, Tai Chi can strengthen bones while also helping with balance and blood flow, she said. Many find it beneficial for hips which have a tendency to weaken with age.

For youthful students, Tai Chi offers a wide range of self-defense techniques. But for all, the stress-relieving effects from Tai Chi are the most rewarding, Lai said.

“Everybody has stress and this can help the mind focus and the entire body become peaceful,” she said. Tai Chi is like an inner wake-up call that can “focus the mind and let the chi channel our body,” allowing the brain to think clearly, the blood to flow and internal organs to prosper.

Tai Chi is an art form that will never be perfected, but through dedication, Lai said steady improvement is within reach.

“I still e-mail my teacher if I have a question,” she said.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08