Yes, I was practicing martial arts in public, but I wasn’t looking for trouble. I wasn’t looking for attention, just wanted to enjoy a beautiful fall afternoon at the park.
I was only twenty minutes into an outdoor routine (that is, an indoor routine stripped of any provocative elements) when I heard a group of teenage boys approaching behind me. I continued to mind my own business, but they were not content with theirs.
Did they taunt me with the standard Bruce Lee kung fu yelps? Well, of course they did; and I ignored it, just as I have ignored it three dozen times before. But unlike three dozen times before, this group did not have a few laughs and keep walking.
They dared each other to throw a rock at me, and that I could not ignore.
Excerpted from Qigong Fever: Body, Science, and Utopia in China by David A. Palmer
There were no officially sanctioned qigong activities in China until its rehabilitation in 1978, after the end of the Cultural Revolution. However, one woman, Guo Lin, an artist and cancer victim from Guangdong province who had cured herself by practicing qigong during the 1960s, was brave enough to teach other cancer patients in the parks of Beijing as early as 1970. Her ‘New Qigong Therapy’ inaugurated a new, collective form of qigong teaching and practice that would later be adopted by most qigong masters. Guo Lin can thus be said to have triggered the qigong wave of the 1980s.
Born near Zhongshan, Guangdong in 1909, Guo Lin was trained as a young girl in traditional body technologies by her paternal grandfather, a Taoist in Macau, where her family had fled following the 1911 revolution. Later, as a student of landscape painting, she visited several holy mountains; the breathing technique she used when climbing the steep slopes would become the basis for her future qigong method.
In 1949 Guo Lin was hit by uterine cancer, which was treated by hysterectomy. The cancer recurred in 1959 while she was teaching at the new Beijing Painting Academy. Guo Lin remembered the techniques that she had learned in her youth, and decided to practice them to treat her cancer.
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?
Dear Mr. Chi,
I prefer not to play Tai Chi at home. Each of the Five Directions holds an unwelcome distraction. Look left: unpaid bills. Gaze right: a pile of laundry. Whenever possible, I head to a local park instead, where the sunshine, fresh air, and vibrancy of nature provide a pleasant environment for practice.
I have practiced outside daily for years, and I would recommend it to anyone, with one caveat: you need to know how to handle your audience. Here are a few tips to keep you safe and out of trouble.
The annual celebration of World Tai Chi and Qigong Day will be held this Saturday, April 28, 2007. Many Seattle-area groups will meet for practice at this auspicious time, weather permitting.