Tai Chi, but no men with long white beards

Many years ago, after suffering with an acute back episode, I was given the option of back surgery. My wife’s friend who is trained in both Chinese traditional and western medicine suggested that rather than the surgery I should try Tai chi. My wife phoned her sister back in Hong Kong it was arranged for us to have an extended visit in order to benefit from both my sister and brother in laws expertise in this field. My wife’s family are based in the new territories.

Every morning we would rise early and head for the park. Hundreds of people packed into a small concrete space surrounded by trees and in very high humidity weather wise. The Hollywood imagery of a misty mountain top where men in flowing robes and long white beards advised obedient students on the way to seek enlightenment was not what I was experiencing. The playground had every conceivable activity taking place. The group I was part of consisted of 99.9% women and me. I was placed at the front so everybody could enjoy the entertainment.

There were five or six other large groups near by practicing different forms, an aerobics class, a badminton match going on over the group, a man practicing meditation walking around the edge. An elderly man had hooked up a pulley system to a tree and was pulling an old nylon cord through a rusty wheel. Two women had giant prayer beads made of wood around their bodies and were carrying out hola hoop exercises to tone their waists. Each group had different music and there were large groups of people just standing (chi gong practice) The trees around the playground were dwarfed by the sky scrapers that house the Hong Kong population. The class began and I did my best to copy those around me.

Learning a short form 24 simplified form would sound to the uninitiated a fairly straight forward process, however my Cantonese is non existent and my wife and son refused to get up early and translate so it was sink or swim. After a quarter of an hour a man and woman arrived with large boxes full of shoes and clothes. Everyone stopped what they were doing and gathered around to buy the bargain wear. I was left mid form totally confused, dripping in sweat and unsure if I had made any progress.

Over the years I have been back and forward to China, every time attending classes in both the main land and Hong Kong. I still haven’t seen any one with a long white beard except in the remake of the Karate kid with Jackie Chan.


Stephen Green is a strength and conditioning coach in high performance sport. He has worked with many world class sports men and women. He has travelled the world in search of training knowledge and now spends his time quietly living on the south coast.

Sarah MaxwellComment