Tai Chi – A Favorable Review of Sifu Roberto Baptista

Roberto Baptista has earned the title Sifu for his expert training and teaching of martial arts. Sifu is a Cantonese (Chinese) term for a master or teacher in the context of martial arts, especially kung fu and tai chi. The term Sifu is derived from two Chinese characters, 師 and 傅 or 父, which mean “teacher” and “tutor” or “father” respectively. A Sifu in tai chi has mastered this discipline and passes down his skills, knowledge, and cultural etiquette to his students.

Tai chi is a physical, mental, and spiritual pursuit which is suitable to both younger and older individuals. It can be tailored to a person’s capabilities and performed by people with or without disabilities. 

Sifu Baptista understands and accepts people as they are. His personality, years of education, and teaching allow him to teach people at all levels of physical capability. He can do this without embarrassment to each student. He trains us to be better no matter what our physical baseline.

Sifu Baptista’s own background helps to explain why his school is one of the best. He is originally from Brazil where he began his own training in the martial arts as a boy with a master from China. He attended a Jesuit High School where he obtained an understanding of all the major religions of the world which is important as tai chi is also in some ways a spiritual undertaking in addition to a physical and mental pursuit.

The path to become licensed as a martial arts teacher is different in Brazil than in the United States. In addition to training with a martial arts master, one must also attend formal classes in physical education before becoming licensed to teach others. Although tai chi does not have to be a strenuous activity, a background in physical education certainly helps Sifu Baptista in understanding and teaching the physical aspects of this discipline to students at all levels of physical capability.

Not only educated in physical education, Sifu Baptista originaly studied to become an engineer and then switched to study law. He was a practicing lawyer in Brazil before following his greatest passion, emigrating to the United States, and opening his martial arts school in Coral Springs, Florida. He has now devoted his working life to being a Sifu.

There are many benefits to studying tai chi with Sifu Baptista. I started training with Sifu two years ago at the age of 68 years. I had been interested in trying tai chi for many years, but, as a “couch potato” in poor physical shape and far from having any athletic talent, it took a close friend to convince me to take an introductory lesson and meet Sifu Baptista. The first lesson was part of his usual class which had several learners of various ages and experience with tai chi. The class was warm and welcoming, as was Sifu Baptista.

Tai chi is made up of several different movements. The first step is learning the individual movements. These movements are then sequentially added one after another until one completes the first form. Once the form is understood and memorized, one moves on to the next form while continuing to practice the previous form until it becomes one continuous movement. The term “first step” is appropriate because the initial classes concentrate on teaching the classic leg positions associated with each movement before adding specific upper body movements. Rather than feeling self-conscious and awkward as I learned and practiced each movement, Sifu Baptista and his class made me feel comfortable and at home.

I was surprised to find how relaxed I felt learning each movement and that this feeling of relaxation carried over after class as well as during and after practice at home. From my experience, this feeling of relaxation comes from three aspects of tai chi. The first is the mental concentration required to learn and practice each form which leaves no room in your mind for other (potentially stressful) thoughts. I quickly learned that failing to concentrate on tai chi alone caused me to lose track of where I was in the chain of movements. While doing tai chi, your mind has no room for stressful thoughts. The lack of stressful thoughts is relaxing.

In contrast to other forms of martial arts, the movements of tai chi are performed slowly and deliberately. This is the second aspect of Tai Chi which forces you to slow the pace of your life and relax at least for the hour of your class and when you practice tai chi at home. These slow and deliberate movements when associated with emptying your mind of stressful thoughts is a form of meditation.  Like other forms of meditation, the sense of peace that I have during the practice of tai chi carries over throughout the day.

Order is the third aspect of tai chi which is relaxing. Each movement follows the previous in a defined order. Each new form builds on the previous form. Aside from the first form, as Sifu Baptista teaches Tai Chi, each new form has a distinct form that precedes it and another that follows. The number of forms seems endless and is ordered defining a path to follow. Knowing the path I will be following in Tai Chi somehow reassures me that other parts of my unknown future will fall into place as well. These thoughts help relieve the stress of the unknown, making me less anxious and thus more relaxed.

Sifu Baptista’s relaxed attitude and teaching style augments this feeling of relaxation. His sense of purpose carries over to his students such that the pursuit of tai chi has added a sense of purpose to my life as well.

Attending a scheduled class with others gives me a sense of fellowship and belonging. This makes me feel good.  This sense is fostered by Sifu Baptista. Rather than a chore, I began to look forward to my next class and seeing my new friends. Being in a class with students in different stages of tai chi education allows you to observe your more advanced classmates. This helps you learn from them, see what you will be doing in the future and help teach those in the class who are less advanced than you. This helped me to better internalize where I stand in the order of tai chi.

Tai chi is an ancient martial art taught by generations of masters (Sifu). Sifu Baptista is a part of this chain of masters. His skills and knowledge were taught to him by a Sifu of a previous generation. Part of his goal is to train the Sifu that will continue to teach tai chi after him. I started to learn tai chi late in life and cannot become this Sifu. However, he is inspiring and an excellent role model so that ii is clear to me that one or more of his younger students will become a Sifu to follow him.

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