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Tai chi instructor brings benefits to Butler

Bill Weber, who has taught tai chi for more than 20 years, leads his class through a short-form routine at the Butler YMCA on Monday, Jan. 29. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

Most people would not usually think of martial arts as “meditation in motion,” but most people are not certified to teach martial arts in Pennsylvania, Texas and Canada.

In the group exercise studio at the top of the Butler YMCA, Bill Weber, 85, teaches advanced tai chi to a group of nine older adults every Monday and Thursday.

His Taoist tai chi that he’s been practicing for 24 years is not the fast, bone-breaking combat he has experienced in taekwondo and other martial arts, but a slow, methodical, smooth exercise that leaves him and his students feeling relaxed and rejuvenated after every practice.

Taoist tai chi stretches and turns the spine to focus on exercise instead of self-defense. Weber leads his class through the 108 Taoist forms and two 24-form styles of Yang and Sun, which is supposed to help with arthritis.

The movements of the forms focus on smooth motion, breathing and bodily alignment. Many of them resemble a push-and-pull motion with the hands while incorporating one-legged squats and lateral movement. Most students practice in athletic wear or comfortable clothes.

Weber uses tai chi to achieve similar results as to when he was able to dance and lift weights.

The tai chi class of Bill Weber goes through a short-form routine at the Butler YMCA on Monday, Jan. 29. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

“I was a weightlifter, and my shoulders were shot,” he said. “I can’t do it anymore, but I can get almost the same benefits. Like, my legs won’t be as big as when I was doing squats, but they’re strong legs.”

Weber said tai chi is less popular among young people in the United States because the cultural norm for men when exercising is to develop big muscles. In other countries, tai chi is usually covered by insurance because of its health benefits, he said.

Weber has used tai chi to stay mobile and mentally sharp with age, and he has also used it to manage a back problem that would otherwise require surgery.

Weber said he developed a back problem about 10 years ago. He was being told he was limping, but about three years went by before he felt any discomfort. His back problem affects a nerve that runs all the way to his foot, but tai chi has helped him to manage his pain and mobility while avoiding surgery, and he said his foot feels normal most days.

Weber said he has also seen a shift in his personality since learning tai chi. He said he was very high-strung when he was younger, and practicing every day has helped him slow down, learn patience and lift his mood. Several of his students also said it helped them to slow down and challenge their brain with focus and memorization of the 108 Taoist forms. The forms are executed slowly with no pauses until after the set.

One student, Cynthia Marshall, had COVID-19 four times and could not complete the circuit on her first attempt, she said. Tai chi helped her to focus on her breathing and regain her stamina.

Bill Weber, a tai chi instructor for more than 20 years, leads his class through a short-form routine at the Butler YMCA on Monday, Jan. 29. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

Before Weber began practicing tai chi, he and his wife were dancers. He stopped dancing in Pennsylvania after falling twice on the ice, and then started traveling to Texas to dance. Weber had retired at 55, and when he told his wife he wanted to travel to Texas to dance, she retired to go with him.

When they first started, Weber could make the 1,840-mile drive in one trip, he said. They spent six months of every year for 12 years in Texas, and Weber taught tai chi in Texas for two years.

At one point, they were traveling for 10 months in an RV before returning to Pennsylvania. The pair were considering living on the road, but his wife wanted a place to call home, so they continued to live in Pennsylvania.

While in Texas, Weber began taking tai chi classes and liked it so much that he started learning from multiple instructors, taking about 10 classes per week, he said. The ballroom dancing he was doing helped him quickly grasp the martial art’s smooth movement.

Tai chi also took Weber to Canada, where the Taoist style was further developed by monk Moy Lin-Shin. He once stayed with a Japanese family who opened their home to him after participating in an eight-hour intensive session together.

He said in Canada, classes were silent, and students were there strictly to learn tai chi. If students arrived late to class, they would stand at the door until the instructor allowed them to enter.

As Weber got older, he and his wife had to stop more often on the trip to Texas. The couple decided to stop traveling when they had to stop four times along the route.

“Once I stopped going to Texas, I knew I had to do something here,” he said.

Weber began by approaching Butler County Community College to see if the school needed a tai chi instructor, and he taught there before transitioning to the Butler YMCA.

Butler YMCA members can sign up for his advanced class for $40.

Weber likes to play calming music in his class. He also teaches classes at Concordia’s assisted living facility in Butler.

Despite his experience and practicing every day, Weber described tai chi as a lifelong learning process and would not consider himself a master.

“I just do tai chi because I enjoy it,” he said.

Bill Weber, tai chi instructor, leads his class through a short-form routine at the Butler YMCA on Monday, Jan. 29. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle
Bill Weber, tai chi instructor of over 20 years, leads his class through a short-form routine at the Butler YMCA on Monday, Jan. 29. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle
Bill Weber, longtime tai chi instructor, leads his class through a short-form routine at the Butler YMCA on Monday, Jan. 29. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

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