If, like me, you’ve lived in Dubai for more than five minutes, you’re no stranger to finding yourself in a world of confusion and crossed wires. Such is the result of a life spent communicating in second (and sometimes third) languages, often solely by email.
For this reason, I’m not surprised to find that Dutch tai chi instructor Master John Duval (pictured right) isn’t expecting me for a lesson when I arrive for a trial session ahead of World Tai Chi and Qigong Day on Saturday April 28. The day celebrates both the Chinese martial art of tai chi, as well as qigong, the practice of aligning breath, movement and awareness. Perhaps sensing my frustration at having travelled from my office in Media City to the Yellow Brick Nursery in Garhoud where classes are conducted, he obliges and suggests we try a slightly shorter ‘taster’ session.
Tai chi is a high-level martial art, but while its primary function is self defence, it is equally well known for its meditative impact – and once you’ve mastered it, it’s supposedly very relaxing. As I’m not in the best
of moods, I’m hoping some of this will rub off, even if my session is only a very short one.
We walk past two young boys being put through their paces with a warm-up by one of Duval’s coaches, and I get the impression this is a strict place of teaching. ‘Continue!’ Duval barks. I wrestle internally with the urge to invite him to chill out. He motions me into a separate room, with mirrors on two of the walls, and I’m instructed to remove any metal I may have on my person (save yourself the blushes by removing any piercings before your first class). Duval explains that because it is a conductor, it will interfere with the flow of energy.
It soon becomes apparent that tai chi, in its various forms, focuses on discipline – not something I care a great deal for in any aspect of my life. I instead prefer to do most things in a haphazard, non-committal fashion. But in the name of research, I’m willing to give it a shot.
Coach Roa is called into the room and given instructions by Duval (in impressively fluent Mandarin or Dengfengnese, a dialect of the city where the Shaolin Temple is located, which he also speaks), while Duval makes sure the two young boys in the next room keep up their exercises. I get the impression coach Roa would rather I hadn’t interrupted his lesson, but he begins demonstrating a position called ‘the horse’ from the Chen style of tai chi, which I’m told is harder than the more widely practised Yang style, as it requires an individual to lower their body to the ground into more of an open squat. Performing the same motions over and over, my inner thighs start to ache, and when it gets too painful, I stand and watch as my instructor carries on. Duval pokes his head around the door frame ‘Continue!’ he says. I decline.
Coach Roa next demonstrates some movements from the Yang style, which involve being more upright, though the relatively swift transition through different positions is hard to follow – particularly when I find myself with my back to him, craning my neck to look at what he’s doing next.
While I don’t think tai chi is for me (I’m simply not disciplined enough), the health benefits are huge if you can stand the heat. As well as claiming to improve sleep quality, lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety and depression and increase stamina and agility, perhaps most importantly for Dubaians, tai chi is said to markedly reduce stress levels. If you’re willing, of course.
Master John Duval hosts a free event at Dubai Police Stadium in Garhoud on Saturday April 28 from 10am. Regular classes for men, women and children (aged three and above) take place at various locations across Dubai, including Dubai Herbal & Treatment Centre. For details, contact firstname.lastname@example.org (04 447 7451).