Tai Chi Center of Chicago
Flows in New Directions
For Elizabeth Wenscott, t’ai chi isn’t just a job, it’s part of her DNA. As the founder of the Tai Chi Center of Chicago, she instructs students in the art of this ancient Chinese moving meditation.
She says, “I want my students to use t’ai chi for three reasons: for health, to gain the ability to remain centered as much of the time as possible through challenges [self-defense] and to find the fullest expression of their own nature, in the t’ai chi form and in life.” She describes her work as building a bridge between the needs of her current students and the gifts she has received from her teacher and the Taoist systems of the past.
Responding to nature’s cues has always been part of Wenscott’s life. Growing up, she was always near water. While sailing, she learned to listen to the wind, which is similar to the sensitivity training she received while learning t’ai chi. “As sailors, strong balance is a key component,” she notes. “There is a lot of organic movement, and the terrain is constantly changing.”
Wenscott began studying under Master Hsu Fun-Yuen in 1982, and three years later, he encouraged her to begin teaching. “Among the three key learnings of t’ai chi is to be an excellent student—an open vessel,” she explains. “The second is to pass those learnings to the next generation, and the third is self-practice, where you find your own personal path.”
With Fun-Yuen’s encouragement, she began teaching professionally in 1992, and in 2006 opened the Tai Chi Center of Chicago, which allowed her to include programs in wellness qigong, meditation, health and philosophy, and one of her personal favorites, sustainable return, which supports the return to a natural, sustainable lifestyle and provides opportunities to students to jointly volunteer for environmental causes.
Wenscott’s center teaches t’ai chi chuan (grand ultimate fist), and while there are many more forms within her curricula, all spring from the foundational, 64-postured, yang-style t’ai chi chuan. It takes students years of training and practice to master them all.
“Over the years, I have had many students come through my doors, from athletes to seniors, who benefit from coming to our center,” says Wenscott. “T’ai chi helps them refine their motor skills and improve their games. My seniors often use t’ai chi as part of their preventive health care”
Wenscott encourages those interested in learning more to begin with her introductory four-week class. Students learn the first eight postures, which introduce the t’ai chi chuan philosophy and serve as the foundation for all the other postures. She quotes a saying about the process of learning t’ai chi, “How high is the heaven, how deep is the sea?” The meaning, she explains, really depends on each individual person and how far they want to go with the practice.
“There is no right or wrong way to approach it. Rather, it’s all based on individual need and interest,” she adds.
“There are several different styles of t’ai chi chuan,” Wenscott says. “Even within each style, the emphasis will vary. By that, I mean some schools will teach it primarily as a martial art for self-defense, some for its artistic qualities, while others will lean more towards teaching it as a method of improving a persons health. Proper training can easily accomplish all three goals. It does not have to be one or the other. That is another unfortunate thing that has been perpetuated by those that don’t know any better.”
Wenscott is involved in the outdoors and active in her neighborhood’s environmental efforts, planting parkway corners and heading out to the forest preserve to help restore prairie lands.
To learn more about Tai Chi Center of Chicago, located at 4043 N. Ravenswood, in Chicago, call 773-396-2653 or visit TaiChiCenter-Chicago.com.
Megy Karydes loves spending time outdoors, especially exploring with her young children. Find her at KarydesConsulting.com.