Tai chi & rock ‘n’ roll

Meet the mas­ter who taught Lou Reed how to let the en­ergy flow

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By HEZI JIANG in New York hez­i­jiang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

It used to be a unique scene in New York’s neigh­bor­hood parks when Chi­nese im­mi­grants would gather in the morn­ing and go through the grace­ful and mys­te­ri­ous mo­tions of tai chi.

Nowa­days prac­ti­tion­ers of the tra­di­tional mar­tial art in New York can be seen reg­u­larly on Times Square, the Brook­lyn Bridge, Lin­coln Cen­ter, vir­tu­ally ev­ery­where.

“Tai chi is like an open se­cret among the up­per class of New York,” said film di­rec­tor You Jun, who has been shooting a doc­u­men­tary of New York-based tai chi mas­ter Ren Guangyi and his US stu­dents, who in­clude a busi­ness­man, a Broad­way ty­coon, a doc­tor, mu­si­cian, painter, po­lice­man, writer, psy­chol­o­gist and a pho­tog­ra­pher, among oth­ers.

“I was sur­prised by [the Amer­i­can stu­dents’] ex­ten­sive knowl­edge and deep un­der­stand­ing of tai chi,” said You. “It’s a big part of their lives.”

So de­voted were those stu­dents to the mar­tial art and their teacher that many of them, who have con­sis­tently turned down me­dia re­quests, agreed to be filmed for You’s doc­u­men­tary.

Jonathan Miller, for­mer CEO of AOL and chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer of the News Corp, wel­comed You and his film crew to visit his new tai chi re­sort in Up­state New York, which is cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion.

Lau­rie An­der­son, avant-garde artist and widow of rock leg­end Lou Reed, who was a stu­dent of Mas­ter Ren for 12 years be­fore he died, per­formed some of her elec­tronic mu­sic that was in­spired by tai chi’s con­cept of yin and yang.

“Tai chi has be­come more and more pop­u­lar in the past 25 years in the US, and in the world,” said Ren, who stud­ied with Chen-style Tai Chi Grand­mas­ter Chen Xiaowang for eight years in China’s He­nan prov­ince be­fore mov­ing to New York for his wife’s ed­u­ca­tion in 1991.

His weekly group class has grown from two stu­dents to more than 30, and he has be­come a fre­quent visi­tor to many of Man­hat­tan’s lux­ury apart­ments and brown­stones, giv­ing pri­vate lessons to the likes of ac­tor Hugh Jack­man, Leonard Lauder, chair­man emer­i­tus of Es­tee Lauder, and Fred­die Ger­shon, chair­man and CEO of Mu­sic The­atre In­ter­na­tional, a the­atri­cal li­cens­ing agency.

Many of the stu­dents orig­i­nally came to Ren for health rea­sons. One of them is Dr. Daniel Rich­man, a pain man­age­ment spe­cial­ist who of­ten rec­om­mends that his pa­tients try tai chi, which sig­nif­i­cantly helped his own neck pain that he was not able to cure him­self.

Oth­ers came with a fond­ness for the Chi­nese mar­tial art. A writer said tai chi helped him get in touch with the world and look peo­ple in the eye; a painter said tai chi helped her find in­ner peace; and a pho­tog­ra­pher said she just found tai chi to be very cool.

“Tai chi was born in China, but it’s for the world,” said Ren. “Now we see peo­ple around the world prac­tic­ing yoga. Maybe one day they will turn to tai chi.”

You’s doc­u­men­tary will be aired on China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion some­time around the next Chi­nese New Year, the big­gest an­nual hol­i­day in tra­di­tional cul­ture hon­or­ing the glory of an­ces­tors.

“We of­ten think Chi­nese im­mi­grants in the US live in Chi­na­town and die in Chi­na­town, and they have no in­flu­ence on main­stream so­ci­ety,” said You. “It’s not true. Now we see mas­ter Ren, who doesn’t speak much English, but makes a huge dif­fer­ence in the lives of these Amer­i­can elites.”

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Top: Ren Guangyi prac­tices Chen-style tai chi. Above: Lou Reed and Ren Guangyi prac­tice tai chi.

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