British master teaches Chinese Tai chi
Updated: 2014-02-24 13:40
SHANGHAI - Rose Oliver started out like many other foreigners whose perceptions of kung fu were taken directly from movies. But now, the 50-year-old British woman is teaching Chinese people authentic tai chi, a form of Chinese martial arts that is often practiced for its health benefits.
"I enjoy being involved in cultural exchange, because you are giving. I like to give. I'm not so interested in receiving," she said.
On a chilly spring morning in a Shanghai park, Oliver demonstrated tai chi moves to scores of disciples, who range in age from old to young.
"We have a warm-up set and we do several structural exercises, " Oliver said.
The structural Oliver mentioned are not routine patterns that ordinary practitioners use. To popularize the 100-year-old martial art, China's sports regulators simplified tai chi into 24 common movements in 1956.
But Oliver teaches genuine sequences that have faded out of use since then. Although fans of these older movements were once worried that they would eventually become lost forever, Oliver has proven that they are not necessarily doomed to obscurity.
Oliver began practicing kung fu and tai chi in her 20s. In the early 1990s, she and her late husband opened their own tai chi school in the UK, holding workshops across the country.
But despite having a successful school with many followers, the couple felt something was missing.
Inspired by their interest in the philosophy behind tai chi, they decided to embark on an adventure to China.
"It was our destiny to come here," Oliver said.
Determined to do something practical to save the martial art's older styles, Oliver began seeking out one of the last remaining masters of tai chi.
This, however, proved to be a difficult quest. The more doors she knocked on, the fewer would open. In China's sectarian kung fu circle, few masters were willing to teach a foreigner true tai chi.
But Oliver's insistence paid off. Dong Bin, who has amassed considerable fame in China as a tai chi master, agreed to pass on some of his wisdom.
"He was like my favorite kind of grandfather. Not just in terms of teaching tai chi; I felt that he really wanted to help you and improve you as a person," Oliver said.
Oliver has fooled many tai chi masters with her skills. They assume that a foreigner's tai chi ability can't possibly be that impressive, but she often proves them wrong.
But it is the philosophy of tai chi that she's trying to foster in her adopted countrymen and women.
"When I first came, most people were quite innocent and kind. But people have become more materialistic than before," Oliver said.
Zhang Yufeng has followed Oliver for seven years. She said tai chi has completely changed her as a person.
"I used to always focus on little things, but after practising tai chi with Rose, I've come to be a happier and different person, " Zhang said.
In Oliver's view, giving can be more rewarding than receiving. In 2005, she established the Double Dragon Tai Chi Club to carry on the tradition of tai chi in both China and Britain
Oliver was happy to show off the medal she received from the British Queen. In 2011, Oliver was conferred the title of Member of the Order of the British Empire for her services to martial arts and the global community.
"I'm trying to expand my global experience so that we can all have a better understanding of each other," she said.