Tai chi first intrigued Brendan Fallon when he was a 17-year-old high school student at Buffalo City Honors.
His father started to take classes a year earlier and kept a chart with some of the movements on the family refrigerator.
By his early 20s, Fallon was hooked. He bounced from college to college — including a yearlong stint in China — and toyed with giving up higher education for a life that revolved around the 1,000-year-old Taoist lifestyle.
A chat with Master Moy Lin Shin changed his mind.
“He told me I should balance my life between the spiritual, the material and the health aspects of life,” said Fallon, now 46. “In that same talk, he told me to go back to college, and he offered to pay for my schooling if I couldn't afford it — and I'm not the only one. It wasn't an issue for me, but it was kind of him to offer.”
Master Moy emigrated from his native China to Toronto in 1970 and established a Taoist Tai Chi Society that now includes more than 40,000 students in 28 countries. About the year Fallon was born, the master established a Buffalo branch, the first of its kind in the United States.
The Taoist Tai Chi Society of Buffalo will host an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10 in its headquarters at 968 Kenmore Ave. to mark the UN International Day of Older Persons. It will include refreshments, mini-classes and testimonials from seniors who have benefited from tai chi.
Fallon will be there to help teach. The married father of three holds a bachelor's degree in world business and trade, and a master's in library and information science, both from the University at Buffalo. He has been a librarian in the Orchard Park schools since 2000.
School breaks during his UB years gave him more time to train with Master Moy in Toronto “than I would have had working 40 hours at a health food store," Fallon said.
It also gave him the chance to start what has become a quarter century of teaching tai chi at the Buffalo society headquarters and across the Northeast.
"Those of us who instruct — none of us get paid — get to focus on other people,” he said this week. “It makes you happier. It's a good way to help people and work on your own health at the same time.”
Fallon described tai chi as “moving yoga.”
"It's definitely strengthening,” he said. “Right away, you feel it working on your legs and your back. It's also stretching. Most people come to in to the Buffalo society to improve their health, increase flexibility and strength. A lot of doctors recommend their patients take it. It can be used as a martial art. Master Moy (who died in 1998) was a very good martial artist but as a Taoist monk, that's not what he emphasized. The focus was always on helping people recover their health.”
For those who are interested, there is also a spiritual side.
“It is a manifestation of Taoist practice in the modern age,” said Fallon, a practicing Lutheran who has taught Sunday school and Bible camp. “Master Moy set that up. There are meditations. There is chanting. There are many things you can practice. Most people just come, do tai chi, then go home. That's how he knew it always would be.
"The trick is that it's not a one-to-one comparison with Judeo-Christian tradition. I'd be up at the temple in Toronto and the Chinese seniors would come and make an offering, light incense and pray, and they'd wear a cross. Afterward, they'd go around the corner to Mass. There was no conflict in the mind in that regard. … “I remember one of the instructors in Toronto, a doctor, saying, ‘tai chi makes me a better Jew.’ I sort of feel it's made me a better Christian. It gives you a different perspective, a fresh look on things you've been hearing your whole life."
The Buffalo society numbers about 300 members and two dozen instructors. Two free weekday classes are designed for those with Parkinson’s disease, or recovering from a stroke or spinal injuries. All classes can be modified based on the abilities of participants.
Society leaders in Buffalo hope during the next year to make it easier for seniors who lack transportation, and caregivers who can use time to focus on their own health, to get to classes. It’s why they chose to hold a special open house during the International Day of Older Persons.
Free open houses also typically take place at 10 a.m. Saturdays and 7 p.m. Wednesdays. For more information, included class costs, visit buffalo.taoist.org, email email@example.com or call 876-7218.