Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan in New York City
By Gretchen MacLane
There have been great changes in the New York Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan group since Robert Politzer began teaching in April 1994.
Robert had lived in Taiwan studying with Wang Yen-nien mornings and evenings seven days a week. Robert is very musical and picked up spoken Chinese quickly. After three or four extended stays in Taiwan Robert married Barbara and settled in New York City, both teaching junior high school on the West Side of Manhattan.
He persuaded the then-director of the West Side YMCA to incorporate a taiji class two evenings a week. Arnold Baker and Tom Campbell have been there since that first class. Christian Bernapel created the First International Festival in Strasbourg and Robert and seven members of the class attended. The final summer weekend of 1995 Robert arranged the first Baker Camp workshop for the seven and his wife and new baby, Rachel. Subsequently there were three more workshops at Baker Camp in Harriman State Park just outside the city.
The following year, 1996, Robert organized a weekend event at the YMCA. Master Wang lectured in the Little Theater Friday evening and taught a two-day Section 1 workshop in the children’s gym. Two additional two-day workshops, neigong and push hands, took place in an upstate college. That fall Robert continued the teaching of neigong and push hands near his apartment in Inwood Park at the northwest point of Manhattan.
The YMCA has a land-marked façade in a building close to Central Park. The new executive team sold the air rights to the developers of a 40-story apartment building. The community protested the height, there was litigation but the project went through. The YMCA got additional space. Originally the taiji classes were in an auditorium, called the Little Theater. It was pleasantly higgledy-piggledy and spacious. The taiji class was relocated during construction, first to a children’s gym, then to the basement in the old cafeteria. Mice and cockroaches ran through. The original plans called for a martial-arts studio in the new construction but when opened that area was filled with ellipsoidal machines. The taiji classes, two times a week, were in the Group Exercise Studio, a lovely, high-ceilinged gym. Originally there were double-high casement windows flooding the studio with light, but they had to be boarded up against the west wall of the new apartment building.
Once the classes were upstairs in the central exercise area, there was an executive policy change and all classes had to be open to everyone at all times. Heretofore people registered and paid a small amount for three months of twice-a-week two-hour classes. Robert was able to nicely structure the classes and incorporate push hands. Once the classes were opened up there were many people, mostly older, who did not want to do push hands. The taiji classes diminished in size, yoga became hugely popular, and the YMCA ran through the money from the developer. Robert had another child, Benjamin, and his wife wanted him home more. The director shortened the class times to an hour.
Now Tom Campbell teaches twice a week: he teaches a class early Saturday morning that was added at the request of the older members. The Saturday class is the best attended; the seniors love Tom, his optimism and devotion to taiji. That class is an hour and half; thus more time can be devoted to basic exercises and form teaching. Robert teaches the more advanced class once a week and Tom takes the other evening, an intermediate class. Gretchen MacLane assists by taking the beginners to the side the two evenings a week and fills in if Robert or Tom must be away. Arnold Baker and Ilana Sheinman assist Tom with the Saturday morning class.
Visitors from all over America and France, Spain, the United Kingdom and Switzerland have contacted us to arrange for a guest pass for any of the classes. For lodging, the Y is a nonprofit organization (no hotel tax) and has hotel accommodations ranging from a room with a bath to dormitory/shared bath that can be arranged for a 10 percent discount. Lincoln Center is across the street.
This article is being republished. It was originally published in the American Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan Association Journal in the fall/winter of 2011.