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Shanghai UTCM students demonstrate martial arts as rehabilitation exercise

Engaging a conversation between ancient practices and modern ones has long been a hallmark of Creighton University’s ongoing health education partnerships with several universities in China.

The exchange continues this summer as 25 students from four different Chinese universities are in the midst of a three-month course of study at Creighton as part of the Creighton Rehabilitation International Summer Program (CRISP).

The relationship between Creighton and the Chinese universities was on display again June 28 as students from Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine demonstrated some of the rehabilitation techniques they learn as part of their curriculum, and talked about how those ancient practices converge with the Western notions of physical therapy and occupational therapy they’re picking up at Creighton.

“We hope we are teaching something about traditional Chinese medicine to Creighton,” said Jessie Bian, a physical therapy student at SUTCM. “It’s what we know more about, going to a university that specializes in traditional practices. But we know we are also learning a lot about the practice of physical therapy in the United States and in a modern setting, as well.”

To capitalize on this interaction, students from SUTCM led the Creighton audience through a series of physical and diaphragmatic breathing exercises known as the six-character formula. The techniques were first implemented by Tao Hongjing, a Daoist master who lived in the fifth and sixth centuries. Each exercise is accompanied by a sound and an element, and each helps stimulate an internal organ — liver, heart, spleen, lungs, kidneys and the circulatory system, generally.

Students from SUTCM also showed off some moves from the martial art of wing chun, popularized by Chinese-American actor and martial artist Bruce Lee.

In a demonstration of tai chi, nine SUTCM students moved in seamless harmony through various poses of the martial art, which was founded nearly a millennium ago. Rehabilitation students at SUTCM take courses covering tai chi as a means of aligning body, mind and spirit, building strength and relieving stress.

“Every person in our class must learn tai chi,” Kevin Hong, another visiting physical therapy student from SUTCM, said. “I find it’s very helpful when I’m studying to take a break and do tai chi in my room. For patients, it’s great to build strength, to stay focused.”

Tai chi has become popular in the U.S., in recent decades and can be seen being practiced by groups in parks and in other open areas. Hong and Bian said the exercises and techniques in tai chi and other Chinese martial arts have similarities to Western approaches and the combination of the two makes sense in the growing field of rehabilitation medicine.

“There are many similarities,” Bian said. “There are differences, too, but I think the main thing that we all share in common is care for the patient and a desire to get our patients moving.”

The next cultural exchange program by the visiting students is slated for July 12. On July 27, the Chinese visiting students will bid farewell to Creighton with a gala event featuring food and demonstrations of traditional Chinese healing practices, dancing and martial arts.

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