Paradise Center tai chi students learn from a master | Longboat Key

As it is every Wednesday morning, the parking lot of the Paradise Center became an oasis of calm, restorative movement as a group of students practiced the slow, purposeful exercise known as tai chi. But on April 28, they weren’t just learning from anyone. Master Max G. Yan had come to teach.

Yan himself gave off a calm demeanor, but his movements belied the focus he brought to his practice. He moved with awareness and activated muscles, and 25 pairs of eyes were on him as students tried to emulate the master’s moves.

Max Yan dips to one side as students keep their eyes on him to follow.

The Paradise Center’s usual teacher, Reuben Fernandez, warmed up the students before handing them off to Yan. Fernandez has been a student of Yan’s for 17 years.

Yan practiced kung fu in his childhood but began practicing tai chi when he was 14. He still remembers the day he started, as well as the day three years later when he met his teacher, Chen Quanzhong, a grandmaster practicing his family’s art. Chen teaches the chen style of tai chi, which is the most popular style of the exercise. That’s what Yan learned, and what Fernandez teaches to the students regularly. It’s the oldest form of tai chi.

“It has very clear circular movements,” Yan said. “It’s very flowing, very graceful, elegant like a dance. Almost everybody can join. It’s a beautiful art.”

Though Yan began his personal journey with tai chi when he was 14, his familial journey began far earlier. Yan, now 54, is a 27th generation practitioner of Dragon Gate Taoism, a form of the philosophy that incorporates Buddhism and Confucianism. Tai chi is a physical manifestation of taoism and its softness and balance.

Yan has been teaching Chen tai chi for nearly 30 years. Today, tai chi is perhaps the most common form of exercise in the world, and according to an article by Medical Daily, there are about 250 million practitioners in the world and 2.5 million in the United States. Yan began promoting Chen tai chi in the United States in the 1990s.

Max Yan showed students a flowing form of tai chi after class.

“I feel extremely lucky to share this art in the US,” Yan said. “I came here in 1995 and Chen wasn’t popular then.”

The Paradise Center class drew more students than usual, but those who have come to Fernandez’s classes regularly appreciated the opportunity to learn from someone such as Yan, and enjoyed his demonstration at the end of class. Yan performed one of the forms of Chen tai chi, and in tai chi, a form is a flowing series of movements like steps in a dance.

“He was so graceful,” student Susan Landau said.

At the mid-class break and afterwards, students stayed to discuss Yan’s prowess in amazed tones. Though they had practiced the very form Yan demonstrated, they were in awe.

“Just to see the master do it was amazing,” student Angela Bennink said. “It’s like at the end of the school year when you’ve learned something and it all sinks in.”

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