Camp Zama tai chi class offers wide range of benefits

Eiko Kato, a cataloguer at the Camp Zama Library, participates in her second tai chi class at the Yano Fitness Center at Camp Zama, Japan, Jan. 9, 2020.
Eiko Kato, a cataloguer at the Camp Zama Library, participates in her second tai chi class at the Yano Fitness Center at Camp Zama, Japan, Jan. 9, 2020.

Camp Zama tai chi class offers wide range of benefits

by Winifred Brown
US Army Garrison - Japan

CAMP ZAMA (Jan. 14, 2020) – If there is one fact Michael Hammond has learned since he began practicing tai chi here four years ago, it’s that the more he learns, the more he realizes what he doesn’t know.

“[Tai chi] seems very simple and very graceful,” Hammond said. “It actually seems like it’s easy when you look at it, but as you’re doing it, you work up a sweat, you get tired and your muscles are starting to ache. It’s deceptively calm.”

Hammond, however, has kept with the class because of the stress relief it provides, the health benefits it offers and the fact that instructor Kazuhisa Kato, a local national employee at Camp Zama who has 18 years of experience with tai chi, does a great job.

Kato said he primarily recommends tai chi, a martial art form developed in China several hundred years ago, because of the health advantages it offers, but also because of the self-defense techniques it teaches.

Not only does tai chi build more muscle overall, it particularly improves the body’s core muscles and makes people more flexible, Kato said.

While most of Kato’s Jan. 9 class included the slower, free-flowing movements many associate with tai chi, Kato also demonstrated faster, more advanced movements, some of which include the use of a sword or fan.

It is also important for people to know that as a martial art, tai chi also teaches self-defense, Kato said, and at tournaments, participants fight.

The hour-long class meets weekly at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays at the Yano Fitness Center, and Kato said he begins with stretching and then focuses on breathing before moving on to the fixed formation of the practice.

Hammond, installation manager of U.S. Army Garrison Japan, said he began taking tai chi classes with Kato when he realized his body wasn’t up for the difficult moves of taekwondo, a Korean martial art, any longer.

“The kicks [of taekwondo] are way up here and it’s very dynamic, so I thought I would do tai chi because I thought it would be easier,” Hammond said. “But it’s not necessarily easier, and it demands a lot of flexibility, a lot of core strength and a lot of concentration.”

In the end, however, Hammond said he enjoys tai chi.

“I just like it,” Hammond said. “It helps calm me down from the stress of the day, even though sometimes it stresses me out because it’s so complicated.”

Hammond said when he began taking Kato’s classes he practiced more outside of class than he does now, mostly because he wanted to master the 24 forms, or basic movements.

“Once I got all the movements down, where I didn’t need to watch the instructor, I would come in, and before or after a different workout I would do the movements again as a cool down or something,” Hammond said. “Sometimes I would spend an hour in here just going through it over and over again. I’m still no good at it though.”

Newcomers with no tai chi experience, however, can follow Kato’s movements during the class and still reap the benefits.

At the Jan. 9 class, Eiko Kato, a cataloguer at the Camp Zama Library, brought along her sister, Noriko Takahashi, for what was Eiko’s second class and Takahashi’s first. Both watched the instructor and followed his moves carefully.

Eiko said she joined the class because of the health benefits and likes it so far. The day after the first class her muscles were stiff, so she knows it is working, she said.

Eiko said she plans to return and would like to see more people join the class.

Hammond said newcomers need to know that while tai chi isn’t easy, it is rewarding.

“You have to exercise patience,” Hammond said.

For more information, visit the Yano Fitness Center in Building 205 on Camp Zama or call (DSN) 315-263-4664 or 315-263-7980 or (COMM) 046-407-4664 or 046-407-7980.

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