This weekend, I was wandering about outdoors waiting for a first-grader’s birthday party to end when I realized that the clouds had parted and that a walkway between two mid-height apartment buildings was now bathed in the light of the late afternoon sun.
After a day of clouds and rain, the sun was warming in every possible way. I stood at the edge of the walkway, savoring the sunlight, and then one little movement led to another and I ended up doing some incredibly satisfying qigong and then taiji. A number of people passed by, but the walkway was wide, so I wasn’t in their way and they seemed to be “over there.”
Practicing taiji and qigong outdoors can be exquisite, and there are plenty of places you can do it if you’re not afraid of being seen—parks, detention ponds, trails through the woods, pockets of lawn outside office buildings. They’re all good so long as you feel safe and have enough physical and psychological space.
Yet I know many people are afraid of being seen—and I’ll admit I wasn’t comfortable at first. But I’ve been doing taiji in public parks for more than 10 years now, usually in a group but sometimes alone, and in the last year or so, I’ve also done qigong in public places, most often alone.
And here’s what I’ve learned:
Most people simply aren’t interested. They won’t look at you longer than, say, 17 nanoseconds. They see slow movement, and they think “taiji.” They’ve read about taiji in newspapers and magazines, and they’ve seen it in movies and on television, including during the spectacular opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics. They’re not sure about the details and won’t know if what you are doing is actually taiji or qigong, but they have a label for it and know they needn’t be alarmed, and they quickly return to whatever they were preoccupied with before they saw you.
There are, of course, exceptions. If you’re swinging a sword or saber while practicing a taiji weapons form, they may call the police. I know of this happening. They may also call the police if you’re using qigong to discharge negative energy and you’re roaring “huh” or “hey” with utmost feeling. I know of this happening, too.
But if you’re doing ordinary taiji or qigong, the only people likely to pay much attention to you are children and people who also do taiji or energy work. I don’t understand this. Sometimes doing taiji or qigong feels so amazing that you’d think it would look amazing, too. But apparently not so. Martin Mellish, my former taiji teacher, used to say that unless the person doing taiji is very, very good, most Westerners find watching taiji about as exciting as watching paint dry. Sigh….
But I mentioned children….
A couple of summers ago, while my friend Karl and I were doing taiji in a city park, a group of children attending a day camp emerged from a nearby building and headed for a play area—except for two boys, who hid behind some shrubbery for a while so they could watch us.
As we were leaving the park after finishing our practice, we walked past the play area and saw one of the boys, who grinned at us.
“Just like Kung Fu Panda,” he said.
Karl and I were both in our late 60s and both grandparents. We knew Kung Fu Panda was the tubby panda who became a martial arts superhero in a children’s movie of the same name. We also knew that nothing we had done remotely resembled Kung Fu Panda’s superhero moves.
But we smiled, and Karl said, “Well, sort of like Kung Fu Panda.”
And secretly, I was tickled pink.
“Just like Kung Fu Panda….”