My friend Jack McGann loved Tai Chi. He and I practiced Tai Chi together for six or seven years. We took classes and seminars together, we taught in the same room, and we practiced informally, both alone and in groups. And we pushed hands at least twice a week for most of that time. We pushed hands in back yards and school yards, in parks and parking lots, in classrooms, therapy rooms, and living rooms. Our favorite place was an old Jewish cemetery overlooking Buffalo Bayou. Once we were run out of the Transco Tower Water Wall. The guards said we couldn’t practice contact sports there.
In push hands, we each had our strong points. Jack was hard to uproot. When I managed to find a trick or technique that could put him off balance, he would rapidly discover a countermovement that turned my technique around and uprooted me.
For Jack, Tai Chi wasn’t just an activity or a style. He believed in Tai Chi, and his belief was evident in many ways. It showed in the devotion of his daily practice, which went beyond pleasure and necessity, into the realm of fulfillment. He had this great quote that he said came from a world-famous musician. “If I don’t practice one day,” the musician said, “Only I can tell. If I don’t practice for two days, my colleagues can tell. And if I don’t practice for three days, everybody can tell.”
Jack’s belief in Tai Chi also showed in his support of other students of Tai Chi—not just his friends or his own students, but anyone interested in the art. He was always at Sunday morning group practice at Rothko Chapel. Even more, he was the prime mover and organizer of Houston’s early annual Chang San-feng birthday parties—celebrations of Tai Chi in all its varied forms for all its many practitioners.
And it showed especially in his particular dedication to his own students. He taught with perception, wit, and gentle charm and gave of himself as well as of his knowledge. And if Jack was sometimes obstinate or demanding where Tai Chi was concerned, well, more often than not he was right. Like I said, he was hard to uproot.
But uprooted he was—too soon uprooted from life. There is consolation, though. We can delight in the fact that he is where one no longer does Tai Chi, but is Tai Chi.