East meets west, teaching natural movement in China.

“Follow the beard man”

Thus spake the old chinese women in the park dressed in silk pajamas and practicing internal martial arts or Qi Gung. At least that is what the translator told me.

This was one of my most surreal movement teaching moments. I was teaching a basic joint integrity sequence in the Gongqing forest park in Shanghai. The students at the seminar ranged in age from their mid twenties to mid forties and knew nothing about joint integrity practices. At the same time the park was filled with people between 50-70 practicing the traditional Qi Gong and internal martial arts which are probably the biggest origin of the joint integrity practices now growing in popularity throughout western movement culture.

A small group saw my seminar group and decided to follow along. When I lead the group through the mountain pose which I learned from Fighting Monkey and Tom Weksler, we had young athletes who weight lift who were barely able to hold the pose for a minute, while the old ladies who chose to join us easily held the pose for the full 5 minutes.

Just before arriving in China I spent a week with Simon Thakur studying Qi Gong and discussing the balance between internal and external practices and the origins of these practices, so it was strange to then go to China and see this practice completely having completely disappeared among the the younger generations.

My own background in joint integrity practices looks something like this: an early introduction to joint circling exercises in kung fu 11-13 year of age. Then deeper into the ideas via Scott Sonnon’s body flow system which derived from the Russian martial arts system at 25-26. Then exposure to Ido Portal’s approach at 29 which was also so far as I can tell descended at that time largely from russian influences, more recently FRC, and The Fighting Monkey Practice and Simon Thakur’s ancestral movement approach. All of these very likely descend to a significant degree from Chinese Qi Gong. The Soviets studied chinese and japanese martial arts extensively and hybridized them with traditional russian pugilism and wrestling. Major aspects of Systema and related systems seem to be derived from internal martial arts including very likely the joint integrity and breath practices. Simon and Fighting Monkey’s approach are both rooted in years of studying internal martial arts practices. FRC is the only system which teaches these kinds of joint circling exercising where I personally do not know of a direct tie back to the chinese systems.

It seems that just as western physical culture is adopting these joint development exercises and scientifically elucidating their benefits, the younger generations in china are abandoning these same practices and adopting an incredibly reductionist and poorly developed copy of western physical culture practice. The quality of movement among the younger generation in China is so poor that it seems you can expect the average 55 year old to be more coordinated and capable then the average 25 year old.

The old women in the park said to follow the beard man, I told the participants to go learn from the old ladies in the park.



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