Meet Lutheran Settlement House’s T’ai Chi Instructor Milton McGriff
For years Philadelphia native Milton McGriff has practiced and taught t’ai chi, a Chinese martial art. T’ai chi (or t’ai chi ch’uan, which translates to “supreme ultimate fist” or “supreme ultimate boxing”) is a three-pronged practice: it is a form of self-defense, a means of meditation and a way to enhance one’s overall health and well-being. And classes with McGriff are available to you.
Born in 1939, Milton McGriff grew up in North Philadelphia. After graduating from Germantown High School, he attended Penn State University, but dropped out before obtaining his degree. (He ultimately graduated from Iowa State University at the age of 59.) McGriff moved to Los Angeles in 1973 and lived there for 21 years. In 1981, after being mugged, he decided that he wanted to learn a form of self-defense in case he ever found himself in a similarly dangerous situation. He studied t’ai chi for eight years under the tutelage of Marvin Smalheiser, the recently deceased former publisher of T’ai Chi Magazine.
According to McGriff, many practitioners of t’ai chi in Western civilizations no longer recognize t’ai chi as a form of self-defense. “I would guess that a lot of people today in the West are [practicing t’ai chi] for their health,” he said. “We’re talking about circulation, blood pressure, muscle tone, a whole new level of relaxation. There are studies today that they’re doing in the West that show how good it is for your health.”
McGriff teaches a t’ai chi class in the Mural Room at the Lutheran Settlement House (1340 Frankford Ave.) every Wednesday at 12:30PM. Most of the attendees are senior citizens, though the class is open to people of all ages. McGriff also teaches t’ai chi at the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA (1742 Christian St.) four times a week. He has uploaded three videos to YouTube in which he walks through the 108 moves of the long form of his Yang-style routine.
“You should consider [taking the class],” said Raydella Sloan, 66, one of McGriff’s t’ai chi students. “You’re going to find something in it that you’ve never found in anything else you’ve done. As we get older, sometimes we’re not apt to try new things, but it’s a new thing, and it’s a really enjoyable thing to do.”
Unfortunately, class attendance has been dwindling at the Lutheran Settlement House. It is actively seeking out new members to enroll in the t’ai chi class. Each session with McGriff costs $2.
“I think that it’s really important that we have something like t’ai chi because everything else we do is very Western,” said Jesse Bilger, another student of McGriff and the senior center activities coordinator of the Lutheran Settlement House. “There aren’t many places where you can go and practice and learn from someone like Milt. We’re hoping we can keep this alive. It’s essential to have something different here.”
McGriff has worked as a journalist for publications such as the now defunct Herald Examiner and the Philadelphia Tribune. For several years he served as a senior editor for Grapevine Magazine. In 2007, he self-published a novel entitled 2236. Most recently, he and several other writers have been collaborating on an essay collection about the current political climate. McGriff also works for the United States Census Bureau.