Taiji softball (also know as Tai Chi Tennis) has to be one of the most graceful-looking sports I've ever come across, and according to the China Daily today, it's fast becoming a national pastime.
And though I'm not sure about China Daily's sweeping statement—the only time I've ever come across Tai Chi Tennis was in the park by Beijing's Temple of Heaven three years ago where there several groups of people playing—it is an amazing sport.
It was fascinating to watch two septuagenarians in that Beijing park, whirling and twirling in perfect harmony, the ball remaining on their rackets as if by magic before being gently released into the air with absolute control.
The two old boys saw us watching with amazement and handed over their gear so we could have a go and they could have a giggle—it's trickier than it looks.
The idea, unlike tennis, is not to hit the ball but to keep it on the racket for as long as possible using one smooth movement. Using the principles of Tai Chi, the gentle movements improve circulation, agility and hand-eye coordination.
Despite being completely useless at it, we splashed out RMB 30 on two latex-covered rackets and a sand-filled tennis ball with ribbons flying out like a tail that go to make up the kit. We've used them a few times since in various parks around Shanghai and it's always drawn a few onlookers who seem as curious about the game as they are about us. Unfortunately, the rackets are made for gently scooping up an incoming ball, and they don't stand up too well to my natural reaction--which is to hit the ball--and they're now in pieces, collecting dust on top of the wardrobe.
And though we've given up, at least for now, on the sport, it seems to be doing well enough in China. This last weekend, for example, Taiji softball was featured in the Ethnic Minorities Traditional Games (though according to Wikipedia, it was invented in 1991 by one Professor Bai Rong of Shanxi University, a boxing trainer with a background in Tai Chi, so I'm not convinced it qualifies as either "traditional" or "ethnic"), which also featured other park-side retiree favorites such as "Kongzhu" (like Diablo this involves a spool being whirled around on string attached to two handles) and "Spinning Tops."
Check out this video clip from China Daily to see some Taiji softball moves in action.