Bruce Lee is watching. With his back to the skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island, which form an irregular wall of glass and steel on the far side of the pungent width of Victoria Harbour, he stares unblinkingly from a granite pedestal. His body, rigid in bronze, is primed for action; muscles taut, legs splayed balletically, arms poised for defense or attack.
In front of him on the Avenue of Stars, a paved walkway that juts out into the harbor, six elderly people — two men, four women — maintain a similar stance. To the warble of Chinese music, they shift their weight from foot to foot in perfect unison. They each raise one arm up and pull the other down to their sides. They twist the raised palm. They step forward. They lean back. The choreography is executed slowly, with controlled grace.
It is a morning ritual that is replicated in public spaces throughout the crowded mainland district of Kowloon. The relentless bustle of the city momentarily recedes. The cacophony of traffic, of radios blaring from open apartment windows, of squabbling market traders, of barking dogs, fades. All senses are invested in each purposeful movement. For these few minutes, the stresses of age and of the modern world are conquered by tai chi.
Outsiders tend to regard tai chi as a slow-motion imitation of a Chinese martial art; a harmless daily diversion for sprightly seniors. The reality is more complex. There are five main schools of tai chi with roots that reach back centuries into the remote, misty mountains of the Chinese hinterland. From these five basic forms, many more styles have evolved. Some are athletic and combative, others are elegant and meditative.
The most popular version of tai chi is the Yang style, which incorporates an array of poetically named postures (White Crane Spreads Its Wings; Parting Wild Horse’s Mane). In a typical session, practitioners progress through a sequence of postures. A 16-posture sequence will take two minutes to complete, while a 103-posture sequence takes around 30 minutes.
On this humid morning, the six people on the Kowloon waterfront move through their long sequence without breaking a sweat. They keep their breathing deep and regular. They twist, they turn. Every posture flexes particular sets of muscles. The whole routine is designed to keep the body supple and strong.
The benefits are not only physical. Tai chi requires supreme concentration, unifying mind and body with an intensity that few other activities achieve. For the young Bruce Lee, it possibly provided salvation.
Although he had been born in San Francisco, Lee’s parents returned to Hong Kong when he was still a baby, settling in Kowloon. As he reached his teens, Bruce started to get into fights, and his father decided that his boy needed the personal discipline that tai chi could provide.
Young Bruce was indoctrinated into the Wu style, which helped to provide the foundation for the distinctive form of kung fu that he would make famous in his movies. Generations of young men have celebrated Lee’s fighting prowess, yet when his fighting set-pieces are slowed down, the fundamentals of tai chi are clear to see.
In the shadow of Bruce Lee’s statue in Kowloon, the duality of this seemingly innocuous martial art becomes apparent. Out in the harbor, a traditional junk sails in front of skyscrapers and gaudy advertising billboards. Modern China is built on duality. As the seniors wind down their routine, the kung fu master maintains his pose, perfectly balanced between serenity and aggression, youthful vigor and timelessness.
Read This Next
2004 / April 2004Sep 1, 2010
All Reads on This Topic
Read Them All
FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.
Diego Rivera’s America Presents the Most In-Depth Look at Artist’s Work in More than 20 Years
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, located in Bentonville, Arkansas, presents Diego Rivera’s America, the first major exhibition focused solely on the Mexican artist in more than 20 years, on view until July 31. Crystal Bridges is the second and final stop for the exhibition, the only remaining opportunity for visitors to experience Rivera's expansive vision of America.
Why Buy Travel Insurance for U.S. Destinations?
If you’re traveling stateside, travel insurance is a must.
San Antonio, Texas, Preserves Architectural Beauty for Future Generations
In San Antonio, Texas, old buildings are seldom destroyed. When they fall into disrepair, they are instead repurposed and restored to maintain the city’s history and traditions for future generations to appreciate. Whether it’s a former brewery or bank transforming into a chic hotel or a candy factory evolving into stylish lofts, this Texas city embraces both history and sustainability.
Here’s How to Arrive in Style to the World’s Most Unforgettable Hotels
Make a grand entrance to these equally grand hotels:
Share Your Travel Preferences with Global Traveler in a Short Survey & Win
Learning more about our readers’ travel habits and preferences ensures Global Traveler delivers the content you desire. As the travel industry has adapted and changed over the last few years, it’s more important than ever to connect. To best meet your short- and long-term travel content needs, please help us!
SponsoredJun 1, 2023
Protected: MORE TO TRAVEL
There’s more to travel than just getting there.
Park Hyatt Tokyo Prepares for Its New Look
London Concours Displays Golden Age Coupes
eFlyer ReviewsMay 31, 2023
Homer and Janet by Homer Review
The Marais District, covering swaths of Paris’ 3rd and 4th arrondissments, has a distinctively gritty glamour that reveals it to be one of the city’s great incubators for new French food, fashion and lifestyle trends. It is here Moïse Sfez took on the challenge of creating street food establishments Homer in 2017 and Janet by Homer in 2022, doing it in such a way they both transcend the novelty of being regional American comfort food offered at stylized lunch counters matching up with New England lobster shacks and New York delis. Overwhelming local response and Sfez winning the 2018 Lobster Roll World’s Championship title in Portland, Maine, solidified him as a Paris restaurateur and one of France’s hottest culinary stars.
Fill Your Heart with Ireland
Whether it's the people, the craic (fun) or the coasts, travelers always find something to love about the island of Ireland. What fills your heart?
eFlyer NewsMay 31, 2023
Air New Zealand to Introduce Skynest Sleeping Pods on Ultra-Long-Haul Flights in 2024
Starting September 2024, Air New Zealand introduces its new Skynest full-length sleeping pods on its ultra-long-haul routes. The new feature will begin on routes between New York and Chicago.