Tai chi, friendship, old iPhones and rock ’n‘ roll
Master Ren Guangyi led a tai chi session at New York’s Lincoln Center on July 30. The martial arts performance kicked off a day-long tribute to The Velvet Underground rock legend Lou Reed.
Master Ren, who taught Reed for 12 years before he died in 2013 from liver disease, said Reed was his best student, and none of his others have ever reached his level of understanding of the ancient art.
Ren met Reed in 2002. “Lou was very interested in Chinese kung fu and had studied with other teachers,” said Ren. “After he watched me practice, he asked if I would give him private lessons.”
For six months, Ren went to Reed’s apartment several times a week, never knowing who Reed was. “We didn’t speak much. He’d let me in, we’d practice and he’d let me out,” said Ren.
“I had never heard of Lou Reed,” he said. “The only American celebrities I knew were Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan. But I knew he must be important because two or three months in, I happened to notice a photo behind the door of him in front of the White House.”
Eventually, Ren learned about Reed’s fame and saw pictures of him on stage, never dreaming that one day he would be on the stage with him.
“One day in 2003, Lou let me in the apartment, and I said, ‘Let’s start’. But he said, ‘No, sit down, I have something to tell you’.”
Reed told him that both of his doctors said that his health had gotten a lot better since he started to practice tai chi with Ren.
“Lou said that I had changed his life and he invited me to perform with him,” Ren said.
The first show was in Los Angeles, and Reed had to serve as translator for Master Ren. “My English was so terrible that only Reed could understand me,” he said with a laugh.
The show was a hit. Master Ren’s tai chi blended smoothly with Reed’s music. The two became partners on stage.
Ren flipped through photos of himself and Reed on his dated iPhone 4S, and it was slow viewing. When a reporter suggested he should get a newer, faster phone, Ren said:
“I should, but this was a gift from Lou when it was first released.”
Ren performed in more than two hundred shows with Lou Reed. Now on his own, he performs often for his best student and close friend.
Lou (Reed) said that I had changed his life and he invited me to perform with him.” Tai chi master Ren Guangyi