a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA)

Return to Topic List

Transcripts: 484.1 to 484.3

Week: 484.1 Guest: Master Paul Olivas Topic: Tai Chi - Part One Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: This is a three part series on Tai Chi Ch'uan and its value to your health. My guest is a friend of 20 years and my own Tai Chi and Kung Fu instructor, Master Paul Olivas from the Chattanooga Martial Arts Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

NEMA: Mr. Olivas, would you explain what Tai Chi is and where it originated.

Olivas: Tai Chi Ch'uan is a Chinese cultural art form that's practiced in the squares and parks in China at dusk and at dawn by the old and very young in China and it is an external exercise of principles of self-defense that's choreographed to make like a dance. It's done in slow motion and it's really done for balance and coordination and concentration for centering and this external form is coupled with an internal body mechanics that makes this Tai Chi Ch'uan really a totally different exercise in that it has an internal aspect to it which pumps intrinsic energy throughout the meridians in the body and this intrinsic energy which the Chinese call "chi" sets this exercise apart from all other forms of martial art. It is not an external art. It's an internal art.

NEMA: It's hard for many people, particularly from the West, to understand how something that appears to be done so slowly and with such apparent minimal force can get a person into good physical condition. Would you talk about that a little bit.

Olivas: Sure. It depends on which part of the Tai Chi you want to talk about. For instance, I was involved in a study at Erlanger Medical Center where Tai Chi Ch'uan was used as part of a cardiac rehab program and we got some pretty interesting results from that. We were aired nationally on ABC back in 1981. One of the reasons for it is that when a person is recovering from say, a heart attack, this person doesn't want to go out and do real strenuous exercise necessarily. He may want to bring his heart up to about 60% of heart rate and no more than that and so as a result this Tai Chi allows a person in recovering in cardiac rehab to bring that heart up to like a 60% maximum efficiency.

NEMA: There are different styles though of Tai Chi. I take it some of these would be more appropriate for someone being brought back from a heart attack and some would be more appropriate for someone who is already in good physical condition?

Olivas: Yes. Let me explain about that. The same style basically can do both. What happens is that when one gets into a lower stance, imagine like you're in a squatted position, there's a lot of tension on the quadriceps and on the lower back and when I say tension I don't mean that there's a stress. It's just that it is working more, okay? And at that point you're talking about 80% of heart rate efficiency there and so that may be a little bit too much for somebody coming out of cardiac and going into rehab and so a higher stance using the same form will do adequately to give that person a good exercise and to develop a stronger heart beat. It also does something else. The Tai Chi, because you're working in a squatted position, helps to push the blood or squeeze the blood back toward the heart and so this takes a load off the heart and it's much healthier. A side benefit of that squatted position is that you're pumping more blood into the legs and the bones get more oxygen and nutrients and so they become stronger and there's a real real good benefit of the Tai Chi in that it emphasizes relaxation and stillness and so what happens - it develops a deep tissue muscle relaxation.

NEMA: Join me for part two on Tai Chi with Master Paul Olivas.

Week: 484.2 Guest: Master Paul Olivas Topic: Tai Chi - Part Two Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: This is part two in a three part series on the health benefits of Tai Chi Ch'uan. My guest is Master Paul Olivas from the Chattanooga Martial Arts Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Olivas: It develops a deep tissue muscle relaxation and this stimulates the parasympathetic system and basically what that does - it helps to open up or dilate the blood vessels, it slows down the heart beat, it pumps more oxygen throughout the whole body. It just lowers blood pressure. Now when people are under stress, what happens is that you have more adrenaline in the body and that makes for a faster heart beat and it also basically constricts blood vessels and it raises blood pressure so the Tai Chi practice by emphasizing stillness and relaxation is just excellent for reducing the high blood pressure and relaxing the body and making it easy for the heart to work.

NEMA: In spite of how gentle Tai Chi appears to the onlooker when it's being done, is there anything about the practice of Tai Chi that is dangerous or stressful?

Olivas: I've been in the martial arts for 34 years. I've been doing Tai Chi for about 24 now and I've not run across anything that is going to be dangerous for a person practicing it. It is a very mild form of exercise. It's almost anaerobic. It's done in slow motion so there's no sudden impact on the joints and in fact I got into Tai Chi because I'm arthritic but I don't see anything in Tai Chi that would harm anybody. Because it's done slowly and it's done with relaxation and it's done deliberately, you have something that is not like other sports where you can tear muscles or damage joints.

NEMA: Tai Chi is not just for exercise but has been referred to by many experts as a memory bank of the movements of the martial arts. Would you talk about that.

Olivas: Sure. What it is is a set of principles of self-defense. These are concepts that are common in all forms of the Oriental martial arts. Now you have to understand that all the Oriental martial arts trace their roots back to Kung Fu, what we call Kung Fu, the Chinese call it Wu Shu or Ch'uan Fa, but all those Oriental arts trace their roots back to the Chinese arts and there are some principles in those Chinese arts that have withstood the test of time - like 4000 years - and those are the principles that make up the Tai Chi form. And remember when I was talking about the internal energy of this form? What we are doing is basically learning how to apply internal energy into these postures or these forms and so that no matter how you move, you'll always have this very tremendous power that - it's very deceptive, it doesn't look powerful, it looks slow but when you speed it up it hits like a train.

NEMA: Though your years of study, have you had the opportunity to see elderly practitioners of Tai Chi and do you feel that Tai Chi played a significant role in their health and their mobility?

Olivas: As a matter of fact, back in 1979 I was doing volunteer work at the Senior Neighbors here in Chattanooga for 2-1/2 years and I was basically emphasizing strengthening the legs. Part of the reason for it is this - I know that when you do Tai Chi more blood goes into the legs and it will carry the nutrients in there and the blood will supply the bones as well and so what happens is with older people, they will develop balance because the weight's on one leg and then it shifts to the other leg so you're going backward and forward all the time and there's going to be less chance of falling because that's what practicing all the time is balance.

NEMA: Join me for part three on Tai Chi with Master Paul Olivas.

Week: 484.3 Guest: Master Paul Olivas Topic: Tai Chi - Part Three Host: Richard Roeder Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: This is part three in a three part series on Tai Chi and health. My guest is a longtime friend and my own martial arts instructor Master Paul Olivas from the Chattanooga Martial Arts Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Olivas: As people get older, their bones tend to decalcify. The bones get soft and they're brittle and one of the fears of older people is falling and breaking bones such as hips and so the people who practice Tai Chi really are practicing balance and strengthening the legs and again that by strengthening the legs, they're taking a load off the heart. It's just a very marvelous exercise for old people and as a matter of fact the federal government just two months ago gave a grant to Emery University here in Atlanta and there's a Dr. Tsu who is going to be leading a program to do the testing on geriatrics because the government has come out and said that Tai Chi is an excellent program for older Americans.

NEMA: The dilemma of anyone wanting to learn something new, especially if they're very unfamiliar with it, is knowing how to pick the right instructor. How critical is it to have proper instruction in Tai Chi to reap its benefits and what does a listener need to know to make that right decision?

Olivas: How critical it is is everything. You can get a book and you can read about it but you can't learn it. You can pick up a film and you can't learn it. And you can go to a wrong instructor and you'll never learn it. What a person has to do is to have that internal energy, the "chi" and to demonstrate it and to be able to teach you how to do it because the form by itself without the developing of this "chi" is not going to mean anything. I'll share this with you. I was involved in a stroke rehab program with a group of physical therapists here in town and one of the things I found out is that they use remedial therapy and they can use electric or laser and so the physical therapists today are very aware of these meridians or energy paths within the body and they use these to help to find different ways of getting the message to the muscle after a stroke and so this energy that I'm talking about is the whole bottom line so an instructor had better know about the "chi" and be able to demonstrate it and teach you how to do it, otherwise you're wasting your time - go find somebody else.

NEMA: Well then the question remains - how does someone find an instructor? Is there a sanctioning body in the United States for qualified Tai Chi instructors?

Olivas: There's not a sanctioning body per se. There are organizations and generally the heads of the organizations are very well-known. For instance one of the ways of finding out is looking at lineage. In my case, my instructor is William CC Chen and he's one of the foremost Tai Chi instructors in the world today. His teacher, and he was a disciple of this man - he grew up in the house, was Cheng Man-Ching who was considered one of the greats of this century and then Cheng Man-Ching was a student of Yan Cheng-Fu who was a grandson of the founder of this particular style. Now it's important to note this because the Yan style is the most known style in the world today. What's interesting about it though is that when Yan first started teaching, he was invited to teach at the Court in Beijing and the Manchus were in power then and he was not about to give them this energy. He didn't like the Manchus very much and so he watered the form down by making it a little more circular and he took the energy out of it and all these people left the Court and started teaching Yan throughout China but he kept that energy just for the family.

NEMA: The average person who wants to reap some of the benefits of this - can they get in at a level that's somewhat lower than that and still reap some of the health benefits of it?

Olivas: Oh yeah. They can do that because again the squatted position is going to be strengthening the legs, the relaxation - that will affect the parasympathetic system. There are still a lot of benefits that they can get from it.


Return to Topic List

Send mail to info@nemahealth.org with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright © 1997 National Emergency Medicine Assoc., Inc.
Last modified: April 23, 2022