by Bob Giovanisci
Activities: music audio-video producer, arranger and composer, studied jazz piano and French horn. BA in psychology from LaSalle University. Enjoy cycling and playing horn in the South Jersey Pops Orchestra, Tri-County Symphonic Band and South Jersey Youth Orchestra and Friends.
In 1968 I was really feeling my age since both my day job and my hobby involved sitting for extended periods of time in front of a computer. I soon came to a realization that I needed some form of exercise or routine that would help keep me in shape. I was never interested in going to a gym as it just seemed repetitive and boring nor did I want to build muscle. I had heard about Tai Ji so I began my search for a school in the south Jersey area that offered a qualified teacher in the martial arts. Since my passion and hobby is music I also wanted to find a good teacher who would challenge me and be goal oriented.
The more I searched the more I kept seeing Master Li’s school come up in my search. After reading Master Li’s impressive bio I decided to make a visit and see first hand what it was all about. I attended one Tuesday evening class in November and I jumped right in even though I wasn’t dressed right for what we were doing. Besides the enthusiastic greeting and demeanor in meeting the instructor there was an overall sense of community and Master Li is always there to guide us through our journey.
I realized right away that this required a commitment on my part much like learning to play an instrument. So you must warm up before you practice which is what we do at the start of every session. The first thing you learn is the 24-form, a series of movements that are set in a steady rhythmic pace with Master Li as the conductor who we are to follow in tempo. The initial challenge is to understand what each move entails and where they belong in the sequence. As with anything you want to learn there is no substitute for practice, so as you repeat the form you begin to learn the sequence, pace, balance and breathing that goes into each motion. Unlike riding a bike or being on a treadmill which doesn’t require much thought in Tai Ji you must memorize your moves so you can stay in sync with the entire group. This requires mental concentration and focus a meditation of body movements. The basic 5 stances is another basic necessity as they are incorporated into the many forms we have to learn.
As you continue to learn the various forms you reach a goal and a belt (sash). There’s always someone in the group to help you along especially the black belts Inna and Kevin, who help Master Li in training the group as we move along. Tai Ji is a discipline that incorporates both the mind and the body which is what kept me going. Your mental focus and concentration is needed to perform the various forms and skills with the straight sword and broad sword which all go into developing your strength and chi (energy) and how to direct it.
After 5 years I earned my black belt in October of 2023 at the age of 72. It’s never too late, my mental focus has improved as well as my physical well being and overall health. As a group activity we went through a 2 year pandemic and actually grew in membership with the careful guidance from Master Li. Kudos and thanks to all those who stuck with it through some trying times. The journey never ends so it’s on to the Chinese staff and the next challenge.