Before I came to the US, I heard people would ask if all Chinese people practice Kung Fu like they do in the Crouching Tiger, Hidden dragon movie. To my disappointment, no one had asked me yet, until last weekend.
I went to the school of Oom Yung Dow for a free Tai Chi seminar last Saturday. The place was a tiny little store surrounded by “food and liquor” emporium, goodwill store and take-out pizza house in North Cambridge. A logo featuring one tiger and two dragons on Yin-Yang symbol was printed on the signboard, accompanied with Chinese characters “Yin”, “Yang” alongside, which has nothing to do with the English translation of “body”, “mind” and “harmony” printed beneath it.
I was five minutes late for the session. When I rushed into the room, eleven people were seated in the meditation pose on floor. They crossed their legs and placed their hands on knees, eyes closed.
“Welcome,” said a 30-something man in a tight working-out T-shirt. Chinese calligraphy of “hardworking” was printed on his left sleeve. He has blue eyes and wide jaw, with beard and hair style like Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine. “I’m John,” said the man, standing up and shook my hand. He is about 5’7’’ and well-built. I was then assigned a spot to sit down. It was between a couple of skinny old ladies.
I tried all my best not to breathe hard during the ten minutes’ meditation. The air was suffocated with a strong smell of sweat. Japanese wooden swords, Chinese bamboo spears, metal fans and nunchakus were decorated with calligraphies on the wall.
“Where are you from?” The skinny old lady on my left side asked when she opened her eyes after the meditation.
“From China,” I answered.
Her green eyes behind the thick glasses immediately lightened for a second. “So, do you practice Kung Fu?” she asked with a smile blossomed on her face.
That was how I met the 75-year-old retired high school teacher Jackie Longwood. Before coming to the free Tai Chi seminar, she has already spent over $1,800 on practicing Energy Medicine, a Martial Art program taught by a woman named Donna Eden. Eden claimed herself a true martial art master.
“I paid for two stages of certificates. Then I figured out I would not stop paying her if I continue the session. So I quit,” said Longwood when she stretched her arms as told by the coach.
Longwood said she turned to yoga for exercise the first year of her retirement. “I was looking for something gentle, not too intense,” said Longwood, stopped the posture to rub her back. “But it turned out to be still too intense for me. I got my back hurt after one thermodynamics session,” Longwood said.
Longwood signed up for the Energy Medicine class after a free seminar, “Donna said she has former students having similar back problem and got better after practice,” said Longwood, stretched her arms to another side.
The Energy Medicine program, which Longwood later learned, was actually a mixture of yoga/Pilate/Kung Fu movements. “Honestly the practice didn’t work that well. And it just seemed a bottomless pit which I didn’t even know how much more money I would have to throw in,” said Longwood.
The whole free Tai Chi session ended up after ten minutes’ meditation and twenty minutes’ arm stretching. John the Master said this is the essence of Tai Chi Chung. “I have practiced this for eight years. The mental and physical problems I used to have were all gone,” said John, jumped up to demonstrate a Kung Fu movement.
“People gain energy and inner peace out of all this. Like Christina,” he paused and pointed towards a girl wearing karate uniform in the other side of the room. “She just got promoted into a job she said she would never dare to acquire before practicing,” said John, busying handing out pamphlets on which other magical effects such as curing arthritics and headaches were listed.
“Oh, you are a student?” John’s blue eyes blinked when he turned to me, “that’s even better. I have students practicing with me and their GPA all roaring up afterwards.”