Tai Chi court built at county park

Devotees flock to Arthur Storey site for martial arts


PEOPLE have been coming to Arthur Storey Park to practice tai chi for years.

Now, they’ve got their very own spot to do it.

In January, Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack‘s office paid for the addition of a tai chi court to Arthur Storey Park, 7400 W. Sam Houston Parkway. The growing popularity of the ancient Chinese martial art, particularly in the heavily Asian community near the park, made the addition of the court a natural fit, said Mike McMahon of
Precinct 3.

“We look for needs,” said McMahon, special activities coordinator for Precinct 3. “We’ve had a group utilizing the park for tai chi for years, some of them with as many as 50 people. They’ve been using the park’s gazebo, but it wasn’t their own space.

“Since we had a large user group, it made sense, especially since we have tai chi classes at a number of our community centers near the park.”

Mike Cunningham, a tai chi disciple for five years, designed the court for the commissioner’s office.

“The commissioner recognizes the health benefits of tai chi, and I think that doing this also says to the Asian community that we recognize their needs for the park and want them to have what they need to be able to best utilize it,” Cunningham said.

The park’s new tai chi court is a round, 50-foot elevated concrete slab that can accommodate as many as 20 people at a time. The court is painted in the well-known black-and-white symbols of yin and yang, the centerpiece of the teachings embodied in tai chi. The court will also be surrounded by weeping willows and other flora that will enhance the tai chi experience, McMahon said.

“We wanted to hold all of the symbolism and all of the atmosphere for the people who are going to use it,” he said.

Tai chi master Cheng Jincai, one of the leading tai chi masters in the nation and president of the USA Chen Tai Chi Federation, spent a recent Saturday on the new court with a group of his students, including Cunningham.

“There are lots of benefits of tai chi,” Cheng said. “Americans always say they have headaches, neck pain, back pain, a lot of joint aches, and tai chi helps all of that. It is also used a method of self-defense.”

It’s also a moral code

Cheng teaches the Chen method of tai chi, from which all other methods of the art originate. An 18th-generation grand master, Cheng has been teaching tai chi for almost 30 years.

“Tai chi is not just physical exercise; it is also a moral code,” Cheng said. “It teaches us how to behave. Tai chi is like a person. If a person is too hard, he is not going to be healthy. The same if he is too soft. You have always got to find the balance.”

Finding that balance is the essence of tai chi, and it is embodied in the dynamic of yin and yang, Cunningham said.

“Tai chi is based on the dynamic of opposite forces: dark and light, male and female, softness and hardness,” he said. “Tai chi helps us find the center of all of those opposing forces.

“If you have a sick person in your family, the entire family won’t be happy,” Cheng said. “You have to have a healthy body to have a healthy mind.”

The tai chi court at Arthur Storey Park features all of the symbolism of the art form. Along with the yin/yang surface, it also features eight granite blocks set in the pavement, which represent the eight major points of the compass. Tai chi requires certain moves to be aligned with certain compass points.

Circle symbol of happiness

The entire court is bordered by a red circle, symbolizing good fortune and happiness. And a small step leading up to the court around the perimeter symbolizes the higher level of awareness those who practice tai chi enter.

McMahon said cost of the project for the park was minimal. The major expense, he said, was $3,500 the commissioner’s office spent on the granite blocks.

While the new tai chi court is currently in use, a few final tweakings are to be completed.

“We still have to do a little resurfacing, so we’re waiting for a stretch of sunny weather to finish that up,” McMahon said.

Growing in popularity

Cheng said more than one billion people worldwide practice tai chi, and its popularity is growing in the United States.

“In 1994, we had a national tai chi competition and 10 people were in it. This year we had 2,000 people,” Cheng said. “It’s exercise, it’s medicine, it’s self-defense and it’s balance. The more people see the benefits for them, physical and mental, the more popular it will become.”