Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, a room in the Physical Education and Recreation Center becomes unlike any other. There are no bouncing basketballs or ballroom dancers. The gym is silent except for the soft-spoken voice of Kayo Robertson encouraging his students to let go of the tension in their bodies.
A female student in the front row asks, “What are we supposed to be feeling like?” “Happy, Easy, Relaxed,” Robertson answers. “Don’t collapse. Collapse is relax’s evil twin.”
Robertson has been teaching the art of T’ai Chi for nearly 30 years, eight of those at Utah State University. After being bullied as a child, he said he discovered martial arts to be a form of protection.
“After a while I wanted to give he up,” he said. “I sensed the way that it was approaching violence, and it didn’t satisfy me.”
Within a short time of his decision to quit, Robertson said he discovered a martial art not based on fighting, but on relaxation.
“I heard that the Chinese had a martial art all about mediation and philosophy,” he said. “It used the advice of Jesus of Nazareth, Confucius and Buddha.”
Robertson had found T’ai Chi. After trying a few jobs, including bee-keeping and teaching English, he settled down near Logan and eventually became the director of the Bear River T’ai Chi Ch’uan Society.
Taggart Williams, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, said he loves taking two hours out of a stressful week.
“Before this, I hadn’t tried T’ai Chi itself but I was big into martial arts,” he said.
“T’ai Chi is more about flow than any other martial arts. I realized that by taking this class, it would help me in every aspect of my life.”
Taggart said he has enjoyed the class, but doesn’t think it’s a good fit for every student.
“It’s not fast moving,” he said. “It’s not for people who always have to be doing something. It’s about knowledge and wisdom.”
Chris Axtell, a junior pre-health major, took a different view.
“It would fit anybody that is open and willing to learn,” he said.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, T’ai Chi may have possible health benefits. Its gentle movements are not only relaxing physically, but they help connect the brain to the body.
“Here in the western culture physical health is all about strength. They put you on a treadmill,” Roberston said. “In China, everything is about energy. In the Middle East health is about vitality. They’re different conceptions.”
Axtell, who said he boxed as well as participated in other athletics in high school, has struggled with knee, back and ankle pain, especially right after working out. He said after only three days of class, he started to feel changes in his body.
T’ai Chi is not competitive and allows people to go at their own pace. There are many different styles and variations of T’ai Chi, so it accessible to almost any age.
“I used to do it when I was young,” said Robertson. “Now I do it to keep me young.”
Instead of being based on talent, T’ai Chi is a sport that relies on progress.
“T’ai Chi is the one thing in the world that you can know everything about, but not be good at it,” Robertson tells his class. He said its openness attracts people from all walks of life.
“I’m LDS and a returned missionary,” Axtell said, “but I’m open to all spiritual views.”
Nathan Clark, freshman, said he had never thought much about T’ai Chi before he took the class.
“It’s awesome, fun, and it helps you feel better,” he said. “Tae kwon do seemed all about fighting. This is how you relax.”
As the students move into a hip-relaxation stage, Robertson walks up and down the rows, occasionally fixing a stiff elbow or crooked spine. He talks to each student personally, complimenting, giving tips and cracking an occasional joke.
“By the end of the class I want them to know where their spine is, to be strong-footed and to be upright and easy.” he said. “I would like them to be a little more stable, a little more calm, and a lot more aware of their bodies.”