Former San Antonio art professor uses T’ai Chi Chih to teach meditation through movement

Terry Puckett teaches a moving meditation called T’ai Chi Chih in a playroom with gray flagstone walls.

“It embraces everyone,” Puckett, 84, said of the international movement. “It fits you mentally. You learn to let things pass through you and over you and to focus on what you are doing.

For eight weeks, she taught seniors in Monday morning class at the Lion’s Field Adult and Senior Center on Broadway. Before the start of a recent class, each member read an art-related quote from a card. Affirmations included “Who is energy” and “Fly like a butterfly flying over a rippling pool of water.”

“You are never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream,” Melinda Lange, 71, read.

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“Amen,” said Ruth Madorsky, 85, who wears a Batman logo T-shirt.

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A 22-year Air Force veteran, Vincent T. Davis embarked on a second career as a journalist and found his calling. Looking and listening across San Antonio, he finds intriguing stories to tell about everyday people. He shares his stories about himself with Express-News subscribers every Monday morning.

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Puckett began the class with the “ping” of a tiny meditation gong. Standing in a circle, they followed Puckett through 19 moves and one pose. They shifted their weight back and forth and side to side. The students thrust their palms forward as if pushing through heavy air. Then they turned their palms and began to draw back.

T’ai Chi Chih means “knowledge of the supreme supreme”.

This was the last session of her class, where students looked for improved energy, focus, health, posture, creativity, and less stress.

Puckett, 84, has taught the non-martial art to a diverse range of students for more than 20 years. She has taught with Explore Amazing Places in Central America, churches, Haven for Hope, private homes and public parks. During the pandemic, she has been offering classes via Zoom online.

In 1999, Puckett learned art from Sister Alice Holden at the Re-Barn, a retirement facility at Incarnate Word, after she retired as an art professor at St. Philip’s College.

An avid traveler, Puckett imagined teaching his friends the art in Guatemala on a helicopter, in front of the volcanoes and clouds floating over Lake Atitlan. His dream would come true.

In November 2001, Puckett became an accredited instructor. He attended a week-long training in Albuquerque, New Mexico attended by Justin Stone, who developed T’ai Chi Chih. In 1969, Stone, after learning Tai Chi Ch’uan in the East, realized the form would be more viable for Western civilization and developed the new form, simplifying it from 108 beats to 19 beats and one pose.

At the end of the class, the students shared why they took up the art.

Alison Beam, 58, found it difficult to meditate while remaining still. Her movements helped her find peace and calm.

Professional sculptor Donna Dobberfuhl said the classes helped her unwind after busy days of creating art. Lifetime sculptures of her are installed nationwide and locally, including bronze animals at the San Antonio Zoo and longhorns at Redbird Ranch. She plans to sign up for Puckett’s next class.

Madorsky, 85, said T’ai Chi Chih lowered her blood pressure when she got angry. This was the case with a doctor’s appointment when the doctor was late at the clinic. If a passerby had looked through the cracked door of the exam room, he would have seen Madorsky in his position, surrounding positive energy with his hands.

Lange enjoyed learning how to improve his posture. He plans to share the philosophy and art quotes with his grandchildren.

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Years ago, while in graduate school in Austin, Denise Richter, 61, saw art in action for the first time. The retired journalism professor emeritus recalled sitting next to an older Chinese man on a bus as it passed people practicing Tai Chi in a park.

“This is really interesting,” he said. “I don’t know what it is.”

“This is Tai Chi,” he said. “He saved my life.”

The man said he grew up in China during a great famine when food was scarce. Practicing Tai Chi helped keep his life force alive.

“This is an endorsement,” he said. “I thought, ‘I need to know more about this.’ Now that I’m retired, here I am.”

Richter’s husband Blair, 65, a biochemist, said he felt the energy in his hands and the balance in his body. He called Puckett an original apostle of Stone, the founder of the art who helped the class find peace in their lives.

Puckett’s next T’ai Chi Chih class begins at 10:00 a.m. March 27 at Lions Field. For more information, call Lion’s Field at 210-207-5380 or email Puckett at [email protected].

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