Letter From a Seattle Tai Chi Exhibitionist

A Seattle Weekly reader asks:

Credit: Rod Filbrandt

Dear Uptight Seattleite,

Please explain the compulsion some Seattleites feel to practice tai chi in public. This week on the Seattle-bound run of the Winslow ferry, I observed a middle-aged man practicing tai chi who looked like he was going to mate with the bulkhead, until he almost fell down. Note that it was a calm day and there were no swells. A regular on the ferry told me the man does this every morning. My dog and I always see this other guy who’s tai chi’d to death all the grass around a tree in a park near my house. I see the same thing at Volunteer Park, Green Lake, and other places around the city: middle-aged white guys sweeping the air in elaborate, self-conscious slow motion. Why do they have to do it in public?

Why Chi?

Dear Mr. Chi,

We feel compelled to practice Tai Chi because it improves balance, strength, circulation and flexibility; decreases blood pressure and stress hormones; and promotes relaxation and general well being. In fact, some regard Tai Chi as the most perfect exercise routine ever created.

As a fellow resident of the best-educated city in America, you are no doubt aware of Tai Chi’s impressive health benefits, but none of this explains our strange penchant for exhibitionism, does it? We share and respect your inhibitions, sir, but practical matters force us to perform under your jaundiced eye.

We need a large open space to practice our elaborate sweeping motions, and the secluded confines of our houses are regrettably too small. Furthermore, by adjourning to the park, we absorb as much vitamin D as the dreary Northwest weather will provide. Without this regular infusion of sunlight, you see, our vital yin/yang balance would be lost.

We understand that our public displays of harmonious movement may offend you. In that case, please feel free to exit the scene. There are some good shows on the TV for you to enjoy. Or so I’ve been told; I don’t own a television myself.

A Seattle Tai Chi Exhibitionist


  1. What’s wrong with practicing Tai Chi anyway? Geez, If I were you, I might have reacted differently. More negatively, probably. While I don’t practice the craft, I have seen many of them practitioners in our local park. In fact, I sometimes feel a wave of jealousy because they get to exercise be around nature most of the time. They take charge of their own health. By the way, you handled the letter extremely well!

  2. I dont do tai chi, but theres nothing nicer than exericing / practicing forms outside in the early morning inspring or summer; i really love it. It can be difficult not to be self-conscious sometimes though, and it can put you off if you know people are watching you – maybe that’s why the poor guy on the ferry was stumbling, becuase some idiot was staring at him.

  3. When you train at the park, you do not have a right to privacy; though you would hope for some civility. I once had two people stand just out of reach, and give a running critique of my entire 20-minute form!

  4. Great response Chris!!!!

    It is amazing how ethnocentric people can be. I presume the writer thinks almost being run over by people in Speedos is perfectly acceptable.

    Practicing Tai Chi in nature is one of the most enjoyable activities of my life. Thanks for defending my right to enjoy it.

  5. This is a great article, and I’ve experienced some of the same things while practicing martial arts outside. I practice Shaolin Kempo, and class is 30 min. away from my home so I opt to stay in town after I get off work rather than drive home and back. When I’m in town, my only option is practicing outside at the park. Personally, I hate it when people stare at me. A couple of teenage boys even mocked me with fake kiais once. I was so tempted to yell at them but fortunately I have better control than that. I’d love to be able to practice in a real dojo but my class is held in a Community Arts Center and I can’t practice in there. Oh well. Maybe one day.

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