Move Softly and Carry a Big Sword

By Mika Ono

What better way to work off tension than wielding a large metal sword on The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) lawn? That's what about a dozen TSRI employees do every Monday at lunchtime under the guidance of tai chi master Jesse Tsao.

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese art of gentle, stylized movements based on martial arts forms. Designed to promote health and well-being in people of all ages, tai chi can be practiced in routines of various lengths and with a number of different props—a metal fan, a silk ribbon, or, as in the TSRI class, a sword.

"I am enjoying the tai chi tremendously," says Janet Hightower of Biomedical Graphics, who is the contact person for the group. "My balance has improved. I've also noticed more relaxation, and increased energy—but calm energy. It's been a lot of fun."

The campus group began meeting last summer, as the outgrowth of a Lunch and Learn seminar in which Tsao made a presentation on the principals of tai chi. When Tsao mentioned he could lead a class on campus, many of the seminar participants responded enthusiastically.

"I did martial arts for years," said Samuel Guello of Environmental Health and Safety, "but I quit because it was too rough. Tai chi is a martial art, but teaches relaxation, meditation, and balance. You don't have to be a Jackie Chan athlete. These tai chi classes are a great benefit of working at TSRI. And Jesse is great—he is truly a master."

Tsao of Tai Chi/Qigong Healthways has been studying tai chi for over 36 years and teaching for over 26. The author of Compact Tai Chi, Tsao won a gold medal in the Beijing Collegiate Martial Arts Competition in 1980 and has judged numerous U.S. national tai chi/martial arts competitions. Earlier this month, four of Tsao's students participated in the San Diego Grand National Championship competition, winning one bronze, five silver, and eight gold medals.

Tsao notes that tai chi has health benefits. The blood pressure of one member of the TSRI group went down dramatically after starting the class. Another participant experienced relief from computer-related back pain.

To date, the TSRI group is about half way through learning a long tai chi form without props—consisting of 108 moves—which takes about 20 minutes to complete in its entirety. The form with swords is practiced in the second part of the class.

For more information on the TSRI classes, contact Hightower at x4-8233 or In addition, Tsao is giving a free Tai Chi workshop sponsored by the City of Solana Beach, on Saturday, April 12, from 10 to 11:30 AM in La Colonia Park, 715 Valley Avenue, Solana Beach, CA 92075.




A group of TSRI employees meets every Monday at lunchtime to practice tai chi. (Photos courtesy of Jesse Tsao.)



Tai chi master Jesse Tsao, who leads the TSRI class, has been studying tai chi for over 36 years. (Photo courtesy of Tsao.)