Teaching Tai Chi as Play: An Interview with Instructor Richard Aries

Instructor Richard Aries - Continuing Education at Seattle Central College

Richard Aries has been teaching Tai Chi with Continuing Education at Seattle Central for ages. How long, you ask? No one in the Continuing Education office knew exactly, so we decided to find out. 

Richard cleared up the mystery in a way that sounds a bit like a riddle. “I have two plaques. Each was signed by the chancellor and the president of the board of trustees at the time. One is from May 1990 and says ‘10 years of service’ and the other was given to me in 2020 and says ‘40 years of service.’” 

Quick math makes that…. 44 years of service. Amazing! Richard Aries is still going strong and has no plans of stopping.  

Finding His Teacher "I think it's really important to keep learning your whole life. One of the reasons people get old - they stop playing." Richard Aries, Tai Chi & Chi Kung Instructor

Richard started studying Tai Chi in 1974 with teacher Dr. Hsu Shan-Tung, who students called “Sandy.” Sandy was from Taiwan and a master of Feng Shui. At that time, Tai Chi was not commonly known, and teachers were hard to find.  

In 1980, Richard and other students formed Five Willow Tai Chi to invite their teacher’s teacher, Master Tao Ping-Siang, to come to the US from China. That organization still exists and some of those students continue practicing together today.

What is Tai Chi? 

Richard says, “Tai Chi is a ‘soft’ style martial arts, as opposed to ‘hard’ style. A punch does not look like a punch, and a kick does not look like a kick.” He goes on to say, “Although it’s a martial art, you can’t use it for that unless you’re attacked by an old person who moves very slowly.” Did we mention that Richard is funny? He is distinguished not only for his many years of teaching, but also for his dry sense of humor and interesting stories.

Richard explains that during Tai Chi, the practitioner tries to move energy, called “chi,” throughout the body, using the breath and slow movements. He says, “You want to keep moving, like going back to being a baby. Keep stimulating the mind and body.”

Why would someone want to do Tai Chi? 

Richard says it’s a health practice. “The reason to do it is because it’s relaxing – it’s exercise for longevity and preservation. It also supports the immune system to fight disease.” He says that practicing Tai Chi helps to bring balance to one’s life.

Seeing Richard leading classes with agility, fluid movement, and total concentration, now in his fifth decade teaching, it seems that he, himself, is proof that the consistent practice of Tai Chi supports healthy longevity. 

Is Tai Chi hard to learn? 

Richard says, “Anyone can do it, you just have to practice.” He promotes the power of developing a healthy routine that you can stick to.  

On Learning & Play

When asked if he has any advice, Richard said: “We create our own reality, with the way we work, and what we do with our lives. I think it’s really important to keep learning your whole life. One of reasons people get old – they stop playing. You don’t have to tell a 5 year old to play. But as we get older, we work a lot. Tai Chi is play -- you ‘play’ Tai Chi.”

On Teaching

You might wonder, why does Richard continue to teach, after all these years? “The reason I teach is because I enjoy talking to people and meeting people. It gives me a reason d’etre. I really enjoy it.”

Teachers help shape who we are and can leave us with gifts that last a lifetime. Thank you for your wisdom and many influential years of teaching, Richard!

April 2024