Martial Arts Instructor Earns International Recognition

By Sophia Rahman for The Highlander, January 9 1996. Page 13.

What immediately comes to mind when you hear the words "martial arts?" Most would say karate, however, another martial art taught on the UCR campus is T'ai Ch'i Ch'uan. Thought it is taught, and performed on campus, many students do not know what it is, or who teaches it.

T'ai chi ch'uan, or T'ai Chi is a 300 year old martial art exercise that originated in China. According to UCR professor Harvey Kurland, or "Sifu" as he is more commonly known to his students, "T'ai Chi Ch'uan is a mental and physical exercise, similar to karate, but performed more slowly and fluidly to coordinate the mind with the body, rid the mind of unnecessary tension, and reduce stress." It is often performed in parks, or studios, while using traditional weapons, such as swords or sticks.

T'ai Chi has been an interest of Kurland's for the past 25 years. He began in San Francisco in 1970 with what is known as a Grand master, as well as several other masters. "Unlike karate, there is not belt system, you get a teaching certificate." Says Kurland.

After spending eight years acquiring his teaching certificate, Kurland continued studying and practicing T'ai Chi. During graduate school, Kurland practiced an average of five to six hours daily. "I basically practiced, and practiced in order to get to a certain level of competence, and I can't stop doing it, or the skills will go down."

Indeed, Kurland's efforts have paid off, because he is one of the few, and (according to teachers at the latest tournament), undoubtedly one of the best instructors of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. Kurland was one of two Americans pictured and recognized in a book recently released Internationally, titled "The Annotated Theoretical and Practical T'ai Chi Ch'uan", by Grand Master Tchoung Ta-tchen, of Vancouver, Canada. Ta-tchen is one of the last remaining high-level masters who teach the comprehensive procedures of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. Apparently only five Americans are certified to teach (Grandmaster Tchoung's system of) T'ai Chi, and of these five, two currently teach, one of which is Kurland. The two Americans are pictured in the book with others from Taiwan, South Africa, Japan, and Canada.

Kurland, an official chief instructor of T'ai Chi Ch'uan, as well as a professional exercise physiologist, has been teaching at UCR Extension since 1989, and plans to continue. In addition Kurland is an advisor to the USA Wushu-Kungfu Federation and has certification from the American College of Sports Medicine and the International Sports Sciences Association. Kurland was health and fitness editor for "Inside Kung-fu" and "Inside Karate" magazines.

Each quarter, 35-40 students enroll and participate in his class, while an average of 15 continue taking the class for four to five years.

T'ai Chi Ch'uan is taught in the way of family tradition, which is why the instructor is referred to as "Sifu," which means "father (teacher)" or "professional teacher" in a respectful way.

Various styles of T'ai Chi include the Yang, Wu, Chen, Li, Hao, and Sun styles. The Yang style is taught by Kurland, which isn't fast and vigorous as the Chen style, but is more popular than the others.

A common two-person exercise taught by Kurland, is called "pushing hands," in which two people stand in a circle, and try to throw the other out.

Regional T'ai Chi tournaments are held each year. "Pushing hands" tournaments, as well as form Championship Tournaments, which are performed solo, and on a point scale like figure skating, are held annually. "Several UCR students have won in the regional tournaments. One woman won the last four pushing hands competitions," stated Kurland, who is obviously proud of the successes of his students. Perhaps, this is why Kurland continues to pass on the tradition of T'ai Chi Ch'uan. For Kurland, witnessing his students in their moments of victory appears to be the greatest thrill of all.