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What's it all about?

From Jane Fonda to Paula Abdul, women of the entertainment industry love to spread the word when they find a terrific workout. After many years working as a swordmaster and fight choreographer in film and television, keeping fit in all sorts of fun and different ways that involved swords, whips, horses and chariots, I experienced the great womanly equalizers: pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood.

Motherhood squeezed most of the ways that I was used to keeping fit off the regimen, but one obscure martial art in my bag of tricks turned out to be the ideal pre-natal workout! Later, I discovered that it was also an ideal post-natal workout. And finally, I discovered that it’s a great workout to do with a toddler. It’s a tai chi form called Tai Chi Flying Rainbow Fan.

Behind that flowery name is a self defense form that uses a simple fan as a weapon. I first was drawn to it years ago for its cinematic and creative possibilities, but fighting fan is also a viable form of self defense, used historically by ordinary women and by warriors
(who often carried ceremonial fans). And although it’s a style of combat, it's practiced alone as a kata – a solo form, almost like a dance.

Developed by Professor Ju-Rong Wang (the first woman professor of Chinese martial arts in China) in 1960, this particular fighting fan form was brought to North America by her daughter, Master Helen Wu, less than 10 years ago, when Master Wu began teaching it in Canada. One of her earliest students introduced me to Flying Rainbow Fan, and the two of us, with Master Wu’s consent, began teaching the first U.S. classes in Tai Chi Flying Rainbow Fan, though only in the context of the entertainment industry.

I'm now sharing this wonderful art form as a workout for mothers and mothers-to-be. I know from my own experience that the movements remain viable throughout a healthy pregnancy, and tai chi is often recommended to pregnant women for its many
benefits – boosting the immune system, relieving back and neck pain, lowering blood pressure and relieving stress. In the early stages of pregnancy, I found that it helps with nausea and fatigue; in the later months it offers the gratification of a fun, demanding workout that's not inhibited by a growing belly.

Tai Chi Fan is gentle enough to be resumed after giving birth as soon as normal activity is approved by a doctor. And babies and toddlers love to watch, and even participate in, this workout. There are times when my son hands me the fan and demands it for his own entertainment!

And, of course, all that’s required is a simple fan – no mats, no weights, no gyms. Keep a fan in the car, and you can stop at any park at any time for a quick 10-minute workout.

Roberta Brown