My Tai Chi Story

By Jamee Culbertson

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Angelika Fritz for her blog Qialance.

“I am passionate about Taijiquan and Qi Gong. And I am a woman. And I think that women are a bit underrepresented in the Tai Chi and Qi Gong world. I mean, look at all the big masters, they are mainly men! So I want to raise the awareness for all the wonderful women in our community. I met Jamee Culbertson online when I participated in her 100 day practice program. She is also one of the presenters of the Immortal Sisters Conference. And I asked her if she would like to share her Tai Chi story. It’s really a great story! ~ Angelika

The first time I saw Tai Chi in person was at a local YMCA in Connecticut where my brother Bart was taking a class. Bart had been learning Karate and Zen meditation with a man named Master Pi in New York for many years. He loved it even though he came home at times all bruised and battered after a competition. I grew up watching martial arts shows on TV such as Bruce Lee on the ‘Green Hornet’, David Carradine in the show ‘Kung Fu’ and Wonder Woman. Finally a female character who could fight along side the best of them and for good. I was inspired. After years of karate Master Pi said to his students, “now it’s time for everyone to learn Tai Chi, the highest form of martial arts”. This was in the early 1980’s. I watched his class in the YMCA from across the room with great fascination. Yet, it was a few years later before I found my first tai chi class in the Boston area where I lived.

In 1985 the ‘new age scene’ was new and growing fast. It had everything to do with opportunities to learn multi cultural healing methods previously unknown beyond National Geographic magazine or history lessons in school but they were just scratching the surface. Many modalities were popping up that we could learn about by attending classes, subjects that had never been revealed to the western world before. At that time there was only one holistic center in the entire Boston area called Interface, a pioneering community where one could learn about meditation, dreamwork, yoga, the Alexander Technique, qigong, tai chi etc… . When I saw they had a tai chi class I recalled that day in the YMCA with my brother and I signed up right away. 

My very first tai chi teachers were Gunther Weil and Rylin Malone. I didn’t know it at the time but I was happy to have both a woman and a man teaching me. Male teachers were always in abundance so having a female teacher was a good role model for me in getting in touch with my own strength and femininity. Gunther and Rylin had a deep mutual respect for each other and for the healing arts. I felt I was in the right place at the right time. Gunther was one of the first westerners to study with Taoist Master Mantak Chia and was teaching us Chia’s Healing Tao System so I learned tai chi, qigong and the beginning meditations of the Healing Tao with Gunther and Rylin.

I would come to meet Master Chia a few years later on. My experiences were visceral, tangible. My kinesthetic sense was awakened, my eyes lit up, I felt so much energy. Oh, and I thought it was very cool!

Just a short time later my teachers moved across the country to Colorado so my study from them ended. I hadn’t yet learned the complete tai chi short form so I practiced what I could on my own for a while until I met Marie Favorito who had been assisting Gunter and Rylin in their tai chi class at the time. Marie had become the new tai chi teacher at Interface and she also had a studio of her own. Once again, I reflect in hindsight how I had the good fortune of having a female instructor. I signed up for her classes and picked up where I left off to learn the rest of the tai chi short form and to continue with the healing tao meditations. Opening the Microcosmic Orbit was essential to learning to sense energy and chi flow especially for my tai chi practice. It made so much sense to learn the inner alchemy meditations at the same time while learning tai chi.

I never grew up thinking I would teach these kinds of practices. But because of the remarkable life changing experiences I was having I kept studying more and more and in 1995 I became certified to teach the Healing Tao system. I teamed up with Marie at the Boston Healing Tao School of Taoist Practices where people could attend classes weekly or come to weekend workshops and retreats throughout the year. We would host Master Chia in the Boston area every year for over 20 years.

At the same time I was learning about the Tao I also began studying the Alexander Technique in Cambridge MA, USA with Tommy Thompson. The Alexander Technique is a way to understand how you do what you do. The way I use myself to do anything effects how I function doing it. Learning the Alexander Technique helped me address conditions in my body-mind attitude that interfered with my best coordination. Looking back this was a unique experience – to begin understanding how I do what I do and apply this to my tai chi training. The Alexander Technique gave me a short cut in my understanding of tai chi and qigong. With this increased awareness my tai chi practice deepened and I as able to find the internal connections necessary to access chi flow and express power. I include Alexander Technique principles in all tai chi classes I teach now.

Early on I’d have to put certain martial arts instructions through my ‘Alexander translator’. The Alexander Technique is more about intention, conscious choices and allowing while many tai chi instructors give orders as to how to position the body. Since I dropped in on a few different tai chi classes with different instructors from time to time I could see a teaching style that was more about issuing commands. These instructors would often say things like ‘sink the chest’, tuck the pelvis, open the armpits – in such a way as to hold a quails egg under the armpits…etc. I would notice students in classes become so postured and stiff while trying to attain what these commands asked of them. But they could never be soft and find flow in their movements with so much holding and posturing. Most students try to posture themselves by these commands and end up holding their bodies in positions that can cause damage over time. Posture is often put upon the body from the outside-in while tai chi is movement that flows from the inside-out in relation to the space around you. Finding flow from a held posture is contrary to where one wants to go with tai chi.…..Continue Reading on the Qialance Blog Here…

Click here to learn more about Jamee and her work 



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