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Interview with Tai Chi Master Violet Li

Master Teachings of Tai Chi, meditation, and author of hundreds of articles about Tai Chi

Violet Li, a 12th Generation Chen Tai Chi Inheritor, certified Tai Chi instructor, an award-winning journalist, writer on Tai Chi, Qigong, Mind-body exercise, Martial Arts, and fitness. She was born in Shanghai, China grew up in Taipei, Taiwan lived in St. Louis, Missouri, USA for a long time, and then moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. Her educational background includes an Executive MBA from Vanderbilt University, an MA in Economics from Washington University, and a BA in Journalism from Chengchi University. Violet always enjoyed workouts. She studied yoga, practiced aerobic dance, and taught kickboxing. But it wasn’t until 2000 that she found her true passion in Tai Chi. Since then, she has spent more than 10,000 hours learning the art both in theory and techniques from many masters and grandmasters. She interviewed research scientists, doctors, and practitioners to understand the benefits of doing Tai Chi. Violet Li has appeared on many podcasts, TV, and website interviews. She has taught the healing art of Tai Chi and Qigong to more than 10,000 people worldwide. Her youngest students were 6 and the oldest was 106. She promotes health, happiness, and harmony through Tai Chi and Qigong. Violet Li shows that Tai Chi is more than what it appears to be: It exposes people to different thoughts, different ideas, or different ways of doing things. Tai Chi can change people’s mindsets, creating the opportunity for them to expand and grow.

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When did you begin your martial art training and what attracted and motivated you to the discipline? How long have you been practicing?

I started my Tai Chi training in my late 40’s. It was all by accident and random. During that time, my kids were going to a Chinese language school on Sundays in St. Louis, Missouri. I had nothing to do while they were in classes. Out of boredom, I took a Tai Chi class for parents. The rest was history. The more I study the art, the more I am intrigued by it, which is so profound from several aspects, not just the theory, techniques, and usages behind the art but also the health benefits, culture, and philosophy. I have been studying the art for 20 years, became an indoor disciple of Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, taught over ten thousand students in more than 30 countries, trained many instructors, and authored over 700 articles, still, I feel like a beginner.

She is extremely grateful for the opportunity to receive the private tutelage from Grandmaster Chen so she can understand the very profound knowledge of Tai Chi

Can you please tell us a little about Tai Chi?

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art as well as a healing art. It is considered the ultimate martial. Its cultural root dates back more than 5,000 years ago. It seeks the harmony between nature and humans while the entire universe continues to evolve from day to night, from winter to summer, from sunshine to storm, from drought to flood, from volcano eruption to sea-level rise, from one dynasty to another…… Tai Chi is an internal martial art that mixes softness with hard punches and maintains stillness during movements. It is an art as well as a method of meditation. The creator of Tai Chi, General Chen Wangting selected the best martial art fighting techniques infused them with the Chinese meridian system therefore scientists to discover that Tai Chi practice provides holistic health benefits including but not limited to improving cardio-vascular functions, physical balance, chronic pain management, diabetes, stress/anxiety reduction, brain health, and so forth.

When did the time come that you realized that you would make a profession?

I started teaching Tai Chi in 2006 and writing in 2009 while managing multi-million-dollar IT projects for a large telecommunication company. I enjoyed my day job; nevertheless, something at my heart was missing. In 2015, I decided to quit my regular job so I can devote myself more to the art. I am not sure about the term “a profession” since there is a little financial reward in it and I don’t have any measurable targets to grow “my business”. Maria from my Executive MBA class asked me what my marketing plan is when I left my old job. I told her that I had none. I am following the principle of Dao or Wu-wei. Wu-wei literally translates into do-nothing; however, it means that we follow our passion and let nature takes its own course.

“The usefulness of the skills in Tai Chi extends far beyond just performing routines. For me, it began more than 20 years ago when I started my personal Tai Chi journey with Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei. And, even now as a teacher, my understanding continues to develop and deepen every day.” – Violet Li

Her knowledge of Tai Chi and Qigong accelerated when she started to take lessons from Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, the 11th Chen Style Tai Chi lineage holder, one of the top ten martial art masters in China, and the honoree of the Cambridge List of the Most Distinguished Chinese People in the World in 1999.

Can you share your teaching philosophy?

Everyone is an individual with different physical capabilities and constraints, varied goals, diverse lifestyles, and needs, I respect each person and try to accommodate him/her in my teaching. Tai Chi is not just about the movements. My teaching focus is always on the fundamentals and principles; once students comprehend them, it is easy to expand their knowledge base and skills.

What does your training routine consist of? What would you say is the biggest positive influence Tai Chi has had upon you? What benefits for life do you think that Tai Chi can provide?

My training routine, not just for my students but for myself as well, consists of how to relax the mind and body, how to breathe properly, the proper body alignments throughout the movements, what is the real purpose of each move, and how to accomplish that end, and being patient and kind to ourselves. Tai Chi Chuan is a healing art with a multitude of health benefits; I have been helped hence. The biggest impact on me actually is how I see the world and my value system. Tai Chi Chuan is not a religion. People with all faith backgrounds practice it. It is spiritual and it brings tranquility to life and lets us understand the rule of nature and respect everything in it.

Outside Tai Chi, Violet Li was a Senior Program Manager in the IT industry until she quit the job in May 2015 to devote herself to the great cause of Tai Chi/Qigong.

Are there any cultural differences and approaches with respect to when you started to study martial art? Do martial art students get into the discipline due to the “health” or “personal growth” side nowadays?

Tai Chi is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. People with all cultural heritages or even ideological beliefs have learned the art and appreciate it without a barrier. Some of my best students who are none-Chinese-speaking have a better understanding of the art than my average Chinese students. After all, true art speaks to the heart and strikes a common cord with souls. Most martial art students get into the disciple due to its health benefits especially when their body has been beaten up badly by their hard style martial art practice; I also had a student who was an MMA fighter who wanted to learn better fighting techniques and loved it. The majority of people learning it are for health purposes and some for self-defense.

Have you come across some inaccuracies or misunderstandings of the information that has been reported concerning the arts? What are some common, incorrect assumptions?

I am pleased to see that more and more Hollywood movies and TVs and media include Tai Chi in them. However, they got it almost all wrong and Tai Chi is always portrayed for seniors and some of the Tai Chi posts or movements they exhibit are poorly done or unsafe. People told me that they understand that Tai Chi is good for them but they want to pursue other exercises while their body still can handle those and they will come back to Tai Chi later. Tai Chi is a mind-body-breathing exercise and looks soothing and easy. People only find out how difficult to learn an authentic form once they study it. Due to its complexity, Tai Chi is not a mindless set of movements but a brain exercise as well and it is fun to practice.

Previously, she served as the director of Operations, Market, and MIS for a Fortune 500 company. She taught International Communications at the Graduate School of Communications at Webster University (St. Louis, MO), Economics 101 at National Chengchi University (Taipei, Taiwan), and Money and Banking at Soochow University (Taipei, Taiwan)

Do you find that Tai Chi is more suited to a certain type of person or do you think it has something for everyone?

There are over one hundred Tai Chi forms with the same underlining principles and they are good for people of all ages and physical conditions. My youngest students were 6 and the oldest was 106 and I have taught all age groups in between.

Since childhood, you have lived in different parts of the world. You were born in Shanghai, grew up in Taipei, and lived in the States. How much does martial art has influenced your way to see life and appreciating living and moving in different countries?

I was born in China, grew up in Taiwan, and spent most of my adult life in the U.S. I have traveled for work and pleasure to 20 some countries and enjoyed the diversity of culture and history around the world. Learning a martial art never crossed my mind until I accidentally stumbled upon it. Tai Chi Chuan is not just a martial art. It heavily embodies the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang. Growing up, we were told to have razor-focus goals and work diligently toward the goal regardless. Now it is no longer the goal that I am chasing but the process and keeping everything in perspective and balanced during my life journey. Tai Chi is truly a way of living.

What was the best teaching you received from your Master? If you could give one piece of advice to somebody that is beginning their martial arts journey now, what would it be?

I am fortunate to be taught personally by Grandmaster Chen Zhenglei, who is ranked the 9th Duan by the Chinese Wushu (Martial Arts) Association. The 9th Duan is the highest honor a martial artist can earn. He has bestowed the title due to his enormous knowledge of the art and superb skills. What amazes me most is not just his art and his devotion to promoting it, but his humility to embrace all different Tai Chi styles and never criticize other martial artists’ skills. My advice for anyone who would like to start the journey of learning Tai Chi is relaxing, being humble, and savoring the process of learning.

Photos courtesy of Violet Li

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