The Origins of the Pushing for Peace Program: Part 1

Deconstructing T’ai Chi, (and Qigong and Bagua) into rudimentary games that can be played alone, or with others, in the classroom or the playground, Pushing for Peace provides simple ways to feel “qi” immediately. Teachers can use this program to bring T’ai Chi into their classrooms, and T’ai Chi teachers can use it to bring children into their classes, insuring the healthy lifespan of children and the future of T’ai Chi.

I would probably not have been motivated to document this program had I not discovered new methods of teaching and training this multi-faceted art. What I discovered from trying to teach kids makes T’ai Chi Ch’uan ideals and body frame easy to understand instantly.  Even a five year old can get it.

These discoveries were not a sudden revelation. It took three years of trial and error, with a specific goal in mind. The goal was to lessen youth violence, in the classroom, and on the street. The hard part was trying to first get kids to pay attention, and then get them to move in slow motion.

Youth violence was thrust into the foreground in 1999 by the slaughter of innocents at Columbine. An ensuing rash of copycat threats made me afraid to send my daughter to school on the bus. Violence had determined my fate, and I did not want it to claim my daughter’s.

Determined to find a way to bring the inner peace I felt from practicing T’ai Chi to young people who might otherwise not be directly exposed to it, I spent the next three years at my daughter’s small, parochial school working with kids aged four through ten (pre-K thru 5th graders).  Motivating them to do something requiring discipline and repetitious practice presented the greatest challenge.  Most kids don’t chose to learn any discipline. They just want to have fun.

T’ai Chi appears to be more time consuming than other forms of exercise. The step-by-step learning process, the slowness of execution, and the time it takes to become skilled is daunting to most adults, let alone a child. Despite the fact that the rewards are so grand (more energy and focus, longevity, calmness, better balance, bone density, circulation, mental clarity, immunity from illness, self-defense skill, feeling in sync with nature and other people) and can be felt immediately, even most adults don’t chose T’ai Chi.

How could American kids raised in the electronic age of instant gratification grasp T’ai Chi? How could I keep their attention long enough to give kids the feeling of qi? T’ai Chi’s healing powers are renowned for restoring the energy of youth to the elderly. Could this art conversely give the wisdom of elders to youth?

In most ways, the kids I taught were no different from the way kids were when I was growing up. We fought on the playground, tried to beat each other, and competed for attention. There were leaders and followers, those who dominated the others, and those who were dominated by others. We defined each other and ourselves as winners, losers, bullies and crybabies. Most of the games we played were based on who could beat who, with games from hopscotch to Monopoly, and at running and hiding.

Negative stereotyping has been proven to cause emotional scars that last a lifetime. Statistics show that today’s schoolyard bullies are often tomorrow’s criminals. Further, the children who were victimized are much more likely to suffer from depression, and even suicide, as adults.

Practicing T’ai Chi causes a significant shift away from the bully/victim paradigm, and towards a mutually beneficial exchange. It provides an opportunity to play on a level playing field, a safe space where there are no winners and no losers, and everybody gains.

The workshop begins with an explanation of Chinese Taoist philosophy, made simple enough for a four year old to grasp. Participation from each student begins with easy, basic questions and answers. Because “T’ai Chi originates in the mind,” a thoughtful, reflective tone is set for the rest of the training. After T’ai Chi philosophy is made comprehensible, we do a guided, group meditation that clears the mind and relaxes the body.

Next all participants warm up their bodies systematically, from top to bottom, encouraging the “flow of qi” throughout.

The T’ai Chi Games

  • Operator
  • Turtle Races
  • Follow the Leader, Lead the Follower (eyes open, eyes closed)
  • Sword Fingers
  • Glider
  • YooHoo
  • Traffic Cop, or “Come Here, Go Away
  • Dog Chases its Tail
  • Push the Turtle (Bagua)

Stretching commences after the games to loosen up after all the concentrated activity. Muscles are strengthened from the controlled movement,  while energy pathways — such as kidney and liver channels — are opened up, encouraging a balanced flow of energy.

The many groups who have tried this training report feeling calmer, more centered and grounded, more in touch with others, and a significant increase in feelings of well-being.

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