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Focus on Fitness

Mastering the Martial Arts: Tai Chi Q&A

By Taylor Patton

Standing on one foot, a three-foot wooden knife in one hand and the other hand raised above her head, Jane Townsend appeared much younger than 91. Meeting Jane, I fully understood the phrase, “Age is just a number.” I had wanted to interview a TOPS member who practices tai chi. Jane not only practices the ancient art, but also teaches it. In an interview at International Recognition Days 2019 in Portland, Oregon, Jane shared her personal journey of meditation through motion—and how it saved her life.

Q: How did you start practicing tai chi?

I had just retired and was looking for something new to try. While on vacation, I went to a class and really liked it. When I got home, I went searching for a place to continue and found that the parks and rec department had a six-week tai chi course. I only needed to ask to extend the class. So, every six weeks I put in my request and the classes continued. I did that for five years. In 2000, I moved to Washington and quickly found a YMCA that offered tai chi and joined. I still belong to this YMCA and have been teaching classes there for 16 years this past fall.

Q: What would you say to someone who is interested in trying a tai chi class?

If you’ve never seen tai chi done, you should try to find a group to watch before you try it. You can find videos online and most YMCAs offer tai chi now, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a class. You’ll know right away if it’s something you want to continue. You either like it or you don’t.

Q: How has tai chi helped you find balance in your weight-loss journey?

I’ve been practicing tai chi for 25 years, which is five more than I’ve been in TOPS. The art of tai chi helps you learn how to control your body. The slow, controlled movements build muscle over time. It’s not a fast-paced exercise, but you can lose weight—as long as you’re moving. I lost over 30 pounds and have kept it off for five years.

Q: What are your classes like?

I teach Yang 108 Long Form for all levels and beginners. This common form has 108 moves, but I like to think of it as one continual move with 108 parts. It builds strength in your legs and increases balance. It’s fun! Most of my current students are over the age of 50. I have a 92-year-old couple who have been coming to my classes for years. You’re never too old or too heavy to start practicing. Take me, for example, I was 66 when I took my first class. Healthcare professionals sometimes refer their patients to me when patients are having balance issues. One of them can now walk around her yard without her walker!

Q: How has tai chi impacted your life?

Most people start to lose strength in their legs by cutting back on exercise as they grow older, but a regular tai chi practice helps build strength and balance. In 2010, I fractured my back. My back might have broken, but my legs were strong. It was a very long year of recovery, but what could have been catastrophic wasn’t because of my overall strength. Now I have to use a cane to walk, but it’s funny, I don’t need it at all when I’m practicing tai chi.

Q: I see your shirt says, “World Tai Chi Day.” Can you talk a bit about that?

On the last Saturday in April, tai chi groups all over the world practice at 10 a.m. for at least one hour. As groups practice, the energy passes from one time zone to the next and continues to build. It’s an incredibly uplifting experience.

Q: Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about the knife.

The broad knife is only sharp on one side and is actually incredibly light. The significance of the knife is self-control. Using the knife during a practice helps with mind/body coordination. If the mind forgets, the body remembers. Training with the tai chi broad knife started as protection. Many people don’t realize that tai chi is a defensive martial art. Each move has a defensive application that was passed down by generations.

As Publications Specialist, Taylor Patton’s mission is to find the everyday stories of real people that are just begging to be told. Formerly published in Milwaukee Magazine and Edible Milwaukee, Taylor loves exploring the city she’s lived in for 10 years. Share your story of success with her at

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