T’ai Chi for a Beat-Up Old Blind Guy

Leonard Tuchyner describes how he found t’ai chi and some of his favorite benefits studying with Hiromi Sensei.

My name is Leonard. I’m seventy-one years old. I’m a beginner, having studied with Hiromi for one-and-one-half years. There are a few facts that you should know about me. I’m legally blind, and have been so for many years. My condition, called Stargardt disease, is a very slow developing one which started in childhood. So I’ve had a lifetime to adapt to this condition.


I started training in the martial arts at about thirty, cycling through several different styles, never having a teacher who I would consider a master, or having direct access to one. I hated kata (choreographed movements), and was only really interested in sparring. I was reasonably effective, relying on peripheral vision to block and strike. I also had a good sense of fighting distances with my opponent.

After some time, I switched to judo, and then to Zen judo, which is directed more to right execution rather than to winning. That was the first school that had a real lineage which descended from a bona fide master. I started this discipline because I wasn’t very good at it, so it offered a greater opportunity for growth.

As time went on, old injuries, bone-on-bone knees, a herniated disk, a torn rotator cuff and extensive arthritis ruled out striking in karate, as well as bearing physical stresses in judo. So after about 40 years in the martial arts, I had to drop out. I stayed fit, but I missed the martial arts. Nevertheless, I was past the point of wanting a combat system. What I was looking for was a practice of moving meditation.

I knew almost nothing about T’ai Chi. I understood it was developed in China and that teaching the martial application had been outlawed there. I didn’t care. My wife had taken a couple of group sessions with Hiromi. Though I had never met her, it was natural for me to check out her program. (By the way, my loving wife managed to give me a fat lip while showing me something she had learned in class. That was impressive.) I inquired about private lessons, because my vision was inadequate to work in a group, so I would need individual attention.

The first lesson hooked me. It was immediately evident that Hiromi was the best teacher I’d ever encountered. When she demonstrated a move, it was like watching a symphony. Even with my poor eyesight, she seemed like flowing water.

T’ai Chi turned out to be nothing like I had ever studied before. I found myself loving kata. My background in the martial arts was helpful, but to a limited degree. I had been concerned that my accumulation of physical deficits would impose too many barriers, but I found that to be untrue. Balance, mobility, clarity of thinking, flexibility, retention, and focus were all improving.

My lessons are spaced biweekly, and that seems to be the right interval for me. I practice at least one hour per day. It is always challenging, always fulfilling. And it is most definitely a moving meditation, which is what I was seeking in the first place.

Having said that, there are times that I specifically ask what a martial application is, and Hiromi will tell and/or show me. I’m often surprised, as my assumptions are often way off the mark. This is frequently like a light going on in my brain. An ‘ah-hah’ moment. It all makes wonderful sense.

Different people learn in different ways. Some can fit into a group setting best; others do better in a one-on-one approach. In the best of worlds, a combination of both is probably best for most people. I think a lot of would-be students are discouraged because they can’t pick up the teaching in a group setting, if that is the only thing available to them. I understand that time and economic considerations make this suggestion often impracticable. I wish that it were otherwise.

The only problem with T’ai Chi is that it is addictive, at least for me. I highly recommend it to all my senior buddies. I wish they would take me up on my constant recommendations. It is one of the best habilitative and rehabilitative resources there is. Since I have a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, I feel qualified to make that statement. Too few people are aware of this resource.

Happy practice to all.