Wisconsin Wen Wu School of T'ai Chi Chuan

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大  太

雁  極

氣  拳


Class times

     Larry Riddle teaches classes three times a week, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays at Wausau East High School and 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at D.C. Everest High School in Weston.

     For more information on the free classes, call Riddle at 355-5366.



The Wausau Area News & Entertainment Weekly



February 17-24, 2011


Health/Fitness by Pat Peckham

Stretch, breathe, move

It’s tai chi, known as the martial art for all ages


You've probably seen that quintessential image of China: A group of people (often seniors) doing deliberate, graceful movements in some public park as if in a slow-motion exercise class. This is the most well known part of tai chi and a similar practice, qi gong. These martial art disciplines are rooted in ancient Asian culture and,  more than defense, focus primarily on health, flexibility, balance and longevity.

     Larry Riddle, an instructor in Wausau for more than 15 years, teaches tai chi (pronounced tie-chee) on Thursdays and qi gong (chee-gung) on Tuesday, both at the First Universalist Unitarian Church in Wausau. UW-Stevens Point has a six-session Tai Chi for Seniors class starting Wednesday, Feb 23. That instructor, Gus Hartigan, who has a doctorate in physical therapy, says the practice also calms the mind and helps those with arthritis, high blood pressure and osteoporosis.

     Joy Foye of Wausau, age 60, was one of Riddle's first students in Wausau. She was seeking stress relief at a time when she was going to college while holding down a full-time job. Tai chi and qi gong tone her muscles and leaves her calmer, Foye says. After a car crash in which six of her vertebrae were compressed, doctors warned she'd probably develop arthritis in her back, but she has staved it off. She also says practicing the disciplines have made her taller. After losing some height from her back injury, she regained almost all of it - over 1.5 inches - which she attributes to the spine-lengthening stretches.

     Her flexibility is incredible for any age. She can touch her toes without bending her knees, something she could never do before. Foye can do front-to-back splits and nearly side-to-side splits. Riddle can do both. "It is a very flowing thing. It is very pretty," Foye says.

     Riddle's brand of tai chi is closer to dance than fighting. His qi gong and tai chi classes start with an hour of stretching. Riddle teaches the dayan or "wild goose" qi gong, where the class mimics the graceful, controlled avian movements. On tai chi nights, Riddle (or Foye) leads the class in a prescribed set of 64 movements.

     Riddle's tai chi journey began in California more than 30 years ago. Admiring the fight aspects of martial arts which he studied as a teen, but feeling there was more to learn, he found Master Y.C. Chiang in 1981. Tai chi's entirely defensive approach was drilled into Riddle from the start when Chiang would challenge him to "try to catch me." Chiang was in his 50's at the time, and Riddle in his early 20's. "You could chase him and you couldn't even touch his clothes," Riddle says. "He would say, 'Can't touch me, Can't hurt me. Can't touch me, I live longer."

     In 1986 Riddle's back was severely injured in a car crash. When he still couldn't stand up straight a year later, he started tai chi again and has used it ever since to manage his chronic condition. Even his doctor, Riddle says, was impressed with how little pain Riddle suffers from his multiple, badly herniated discs. Riddle credits it all to the stretching and increased core strength.

     "Before you know, you can do things you never thought you could do. It's not about grunting and groaning. It's about relaxing and breathing," Riddle says. "You learn to focus, to concentrate."

     Riddle founded the nonprofit Wisconsin Wen Wu School of T'ai Chi Chuan. Students pay according to their own conscience and have ranged in age from 14 to 81. His classes in Wausau begin at 6:30 pm. 715-845-8767 or wiswenwuschool.com.