You might already know, that World Tai Chi & Qi Gong Day is every last Saturday in April. (if you don’t know, read this article about the World Tai Chi Day!). This year it will be celebrated on April 29th, 2017. And I just wanted to know more about that day, so I talked to the initiator: Bill Douglas.
Could you please tell us a bit more about yourself?
I live in Kansas City (USA), which is where the very first mass Tai Chi & Qigong event – that would spark World Tai Chi & Qigong Day – was held.
I began studying Tai Chi and Qigong 40 years ago when I lived in Southern California. Today I teach Tai Chi Meditation for major medical centers mostly, including the University of Kansas Hospital and Kansas University Medical Center, but also for major corporations etc.
I know some people learn Tai Chi and Qi Gong for the first time when they stumble across the World Tai Chi Day in a nearby park. How did you get into these Chinese arts?
I grew up in a small German settlement in Western Kansas (USA) called Ellis, Kansas. Then after leaving college, where I married Angela Wong, she wanted to move to California “so she could eat real Chinese food again”. So we packed up and moved from my small town in Kansas to Los Angeles, California.
The stress of big city life drove me to find a Tai Chi class, because I was told Tai Chi was good for stress problems.
I never planned to teach Tai Chi. But years later my mother went in for heart surgery, and apparently had a premonition that she was not going to survive the procedure. Because she left me a note in a book (The Tao te Ching) I had left with her when I visited her the night before the procedure. The note read: “I wish I could go back a few years and learn the arts of relaxation Jr. had tried to teach me. I would have so loved to see my grandchildren grow up.”
I think this played a huge role in my eventually becoming a professional Tai Chi teacher. And in many ways in eventually founding World Tai Chi & Qigong Day.
The first World Tai Chi and Qi Gong Day took place in 1999. How did it all start?
Two answers to how it all started, one universal and ethereal, the other immediate and physical.
ON AN ETHEREAL LEVEL: I think, personally, although some might disagree, that the formation of World Tai Chi & Qigong Day began 36 years before 1999. When I was 6 years old, an angel came to me in the night.
The angel flew me across our town and sat me down in an alley between our Lutheran Church and my Sunday School … and it gave me “breathing lessons.” It taught me how to do Qigong breaths, not calling it Qigong but that’s what it was.
Each time I took a breath and let go, relaxing the breath out … I began to feel lighter, less burdened … and I began to lift up off the ground. By the end of the lesson, the angel had taught me how to fly in big looping circles up towards the moon and back down to the ground.
For 54 years now, I still remember that lesson like it happened last night. A lot was packed in that lesson, not just the Qigong breathing, but a bigger lesson that took me a lifetime to figure out. The flying lesson had been a metaphor for something greater and larger.
I realized over time that the Sunday School had represented our Physical, Yang, Linear, Left-Brain way of moving in the world … while the Church represented our Yin, our ethereal, what some might call our spiritual nature, the unseen.
The angel’s lesson was meant to show me that “the breath” is what can connect our “physical world” with our higher ethereal world. This balance is sorely needed in the world. This is not religious, it is spiritual, and scientific as well, as I’ll touch on below.
The word Nirvana, in Sanskrit, means “to exhale.” When we exhale, we “let go.” When we let go, we open to larger realities. All humanity’s greatest minds practiced meditation, spiritual and scientific: Einstein, Steve Jobbs, Da Vinci, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Michael Angelo, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, etc.
Scientific research on how mind-body meditative practices affect the brain and how it functions, literally show physically transforming it to be clearer, more efficient, more compassionate, less fearful. These are traits humanity needs now more than at any time in human history.
We as Tai Chi and Qigong Meditation enthusiasts are treasures to our world, here now for a reason.
ON AN IMMEDIATE LEVEL: In 1998 I became frustrated, because in my hospital classes I was seeing students, many of them health professionals, getting stunning health benefits from Tai Chi Meditation classes. The medical professionals were so stunned they began scanning the hospital database to find medical research on Tai Chi which was validating the benefits they were getting from my classes.
What frustrated me, was when I sent these studies to the media the media ignored them, even though millions of Americans suffered from health issues Tai Chi was proven to help with.
So, my wife and I decided to create a mass public spectacle that was so visually engaging the media could not resist covering it. And when we got the microphone we would use it to tell the public about medical research showing how Tai Chi could help them and their loved ones.
We worked for months to get as many Tai Chi enthusiasts as we could to show up at a huge art museum in Kansas City. And spent months alerting the media over and over again that this event would happen: a mass Tai Chi exhibition in a public square all could attend.
The day we arrived, there was no one there. My heart stopped. I remember hoping the media would not arrive and see this huge failure.
Then, people started walking in from all directions, and soon 200 people were there to do Tai Chi together. The media showed up, lots of them.
That afternoon one of my assistant teachers called me and said, “We were on CNN today!” Apparently one of the local TV channels that covered the event got picked up by CNN News, and we began getting contacted by other Tai Chi and Qigong groups in other cities and countries.
So, we went online to see if “WorldTaiChiDay.org” was available, and it was. And it spread rapidly from there, and my wife and I struggled for 17 years to keep up with the event as it got bigger and bigger, investing our life savings in creating this mass global event.
When was the first time that you thought: wow, this is a truly global event, an international Tai Chi day?
It happened very quickly. See this South China Morning Post interview from the year 2000.
You live in the US, but celebrations are held now in over 80 countries. Have you been to other countries to participate a local World Tai Chi Day?
Yes. We were the official guests of the Brazilian government in 2009 when they incorporated World Tai Chi Day into their nation’s capitol’s 40th Anniversary celebration. Master Woo and Professor Jose Milton Olivera made that happen. They recently got a Brazilian government proceeding to open with a Qigong exercise (see this video). This has been our vision for 17 years, to eventually see every government meeting, every court proceeding, every United Nations meeting open with a mind and heart clarifying Qigong practice. It would change the world.
In 2011 we were the guests of an Australian Tai Chi organization headed by Bev Abela, as well as guests of the Perth, Australia Council. The event was held on Aboriginal ground, and was opened by an Australian Aborigine man with a sacred Aboriginal dance.
In 2018 we hope to be the guests of either the Cameroon government or Egyptian government in Africa. And we have had interest by an Iranian group who hopes to get us flown to Iran for a future WTCQD event one day.
Many years ago we were also the guests of the group in Los Angeles, California for their World Tai Chi & Qigong Day event.
As far as I know, the World Tai Chi Day is not that popular in China yet. What do you think, when will the Chinese start celebrating it, too?
The first massive World Tai Chi Day event was held in Hong Kong, which is now China, and some small events have been held in various Chinese cities.
It may never be celebrated in China on a massive scale, because most of what is celebrated in China must originate in China. However, China has created an “International Tai Chi Day” held in April, not on World Tai Chi Day though. But, we think we may have inspired them to do this, and one day hope to get China to declare April “World Tai Chi Month”. And that could connect the global event we created with the day China has created.
It was interesting that the motto for the China Olympics was “One World … One Dream,” which made us really excited, because as you know, for 17 years World Tai Chi Day’s motto has been “One World … One Breath.” Did we influence them? Who knows, but it’s a fun thing to ponder. We do know that our early use of the internet to create a mass global event has been followed by many other groups doing similar things over these nearly 2 decades.
I think when we expand our mind, it causes a rent in the fabric of reality that enables other things to follow in your wake.
The motto on the official T-Shirts is “One World … One Breath”. Why did you choose that?
My father, like many of our fathers, was damaged by war. In fact, one of the things that drove me to Tai Chi was not just the stress of big city life, but also when my children were born and the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) of my father and my childhood came back to haunt me.
My father was a unique man. He never hated the soldiers he fought. He told me, “I always felt like they were caught up in the same machine I was caught up in.”
Over the years, as I began to see these photos and videos people sent us each year from all around the world. bI began to see “that look” – that same look we all get on our faces when we experience the Qi, the life force relaxing through us as we flow through our Tai Chi and Qigong.
When you see that same look on people’s faces, all colors, all races, all religions, you cannot help but be struck by the commonality of humanity. The fact that we are “One World … One Breath.”
Each year when I see people all over the planet coming together to breathe together, to play together, I wish that my father were here to see this, a world so different than his world. I would have loved to see his reaction.
Some people think we are here to replicate our parent’s lives. I think we are here to dream a “new” world.
Thank you, Bill Douglas, for the interview! And I totally agree: people practicing Taijiquan and Qi Gong do have the same look on their face!
Now please save the date: the next World Tai Chi & Qi Gong Day is on April 27th, 2017! To find events close to you, have a look at the official homepage: WorldTaiChiDay.org.
If you are a teacher, you could even plan your own event or come together with other teachers in your area! It is a good way to promote Tai Chi for beginners. And don’t forget to tell the local media about it. Let’s spread the news about Tai Chi and Qi Gong all over the world!
P.S.: I haven’t read it yet, but Bill Douglas told me that you can read more about his Tai Chi World in his book The Tao of Tai Chi: The Making of a New Science: One Man’s amazing 55 year journey from an angel in Kansas to a Taoist Temple in Hong Kong, which inspired a quest involving the entire planet.