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Tai Chi: Fantastical Reality

Posted by on September 15, 2012

Initially, I chose to come to Wu Dang Shan (rather than other sights in China) because I wanted to participate in the culture—by way of doing tai chi. But let’s not neglect the fact that sight-seeing is part of the appeal here, too. Come along and enjoy the scenery that is also the history at Wu Dang Shan, stretching way back and housed in a series of Taoist temples, one of which was used by my school.

Revealed was that the lines between the past and present, the artistic and the real are beautifully woven on this mountain…

Straight out of a movie, isn’t it?

Further Up the curvy road only a few miles, the students and teachers made a couple trips out to this temple:

Taoism is quite similar to Buddhism, another version of the Eastern spiritual practices of meditation and harmony with all that exists. For more info, here’s the wikipedia link: Just make sure to click it after you finish this article. 😉

The first of these Wu Dang temples was built around the year 0.

One of the times everyone went, I was going to stay back and lay low. But the staff really encouraged me to come. I relented and arrived to the temple that was holding a press event. Amateur and professional camera folk were present.

I guess we were putting on a show for these folks, and I suppose my school wanted me to come to show the press that they can even teach a lanky Westerner like me the ropes of tai chi. What the heck; I did my best for ’em. And the event didn’t disappoint.

First some simple stuff:

Then the men separated themselves from the boys:

The headmaster, now airborne, with another teacher–the one who got upset with me last post.

Off camera, I got to play around:

well, off most of the cameras, anyway.

Here were a couple of my younger tai chi peers:

also two of the English students of mine

The whole setting—the landscapes, and temples, and martial arts masters—felt so fairytale. Of course, I was out of my element. But for the locals, these fairytales maintain their place as the arts and customs are still pronounced in everyday life.

For example…

The second part of the “show” was a ceremony taking place this afternoon. The female student pictured above was graduating to discipleship.

The ceremony:

Our headmaster addresses the new disciple.

Elders look on:

She will be training under the tutelage of a new teacher, proud to have his first disciple:

And then what every good disciple does: tends to their teacher’s feet:

Along with the formal bows and gestures there were resonant “bongggssss” from a stately, cool, and solid bronze bell. Who knows how old that thing was; same with the origins of this ceremony. The press sort of turned it into a spectacle, but the actors didn’t seem to notice. It was a solemn and proud event.

It also revealed that though communism stripped much of the country of its religious tradition, here on Wu Dang Shan, culture proved stronger than political ideology. Thankfully it’s difficult to separate a people from 2000 years of history.

Here’s a bit of video of the ceremony:

Lastly, and aside from the usual interplay of reality and art here, there was, coincidentally, another wrinkle in this continuum that overlaps the two.

A movie was being shot in one of the buildings below!

I got the feeling these fellas were extras– soldiers or something in this period piece.

(Here’s a quick note about Chinese movies: I swear a quarter I saw were about their old kingdoms and empires; another quarter depict their battles with Japan in the 1930’s and 40’s. The other half are a spattering of other present-day pictures.)

Today, it was one of those old “empire” pieces:

Me and a couple movie stars.

Man! Suddenly my analogies of performers and actors and fairy tales was kicked up a notch—or maybe shifted over a few ticks. I don’t even know how to express the strange ball of yarn that was the real actors on this set v. the actors of the real during the ceremony; the cameramen depicting the reality in the ceremony v. the cameramen re-creating the historic reality for the movie. Then there’s the living history of these temple walls and present-day customs v. the raising of the past ways for present-day audiences to relive.

I guess I can say that this was all a bit surreal, a unique blend of art and life.

May you get to live out your fantasies, Readers: as imaginative as a child, as present and grounded as a Taoist.

til next week,


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