Rolling the Panda
I may have become guilty of passive cultural appropriation. Or I am learning an ancient Chinese exercise form. Or maybe both, I’m not quite sure.
Here, at my community, there is a “Chinese Wand” class twice a week. Our class leader is an incredibly fit octogenarian. Like all group leaders in our community, she is a volunteer.
We gather in the still morning at the lake’s sandy beach and engage in a series of seventeen exercises.
The scene is idyllic. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a movie. The breeze rustles in the Florida bamboo as juvenile cranes practice flying at the water’s edge. Turtles bob up and down in the water, occasionally snapping at jumping fish.
From a boom box comes a meditative Asian flute.
A bamboo stick (the wand) is the centerpiece of sixteen of the seventeen exercises. The exercises have exotic names such as “the Twisting of the Snake,” “Peeling the Octopus” and “Rolling the Panda.” I am proud to report that, at present, I am the only person in the class who can actually get the panda to roll.
We count our repetitions with the Chinese elements, raising the chi life force with our breath.
The exercises are just the right amount of challenging. If my instructor is any measure, the exercises are quite effective. Supposedly the precise order and motion of the seventeen exercises work all the organs and muscles.
I am so enamored of this exercise form that I did some research on it. Chinese Wand was brought to America by Minnesotan Bruce L. Johnson, who claimed to have been taught the ancient form in Shanghai during his time in the Navy.
The only information about Chinese Wand comes from Bruce L. Johnson himself. The limited information about the form is explained by a tradition of secrecy. According to Johnson, Chinese Wand was just for the use of the ancient Chinese rulers and their families.
Johnson himself has a remarkable history of fitness, health and healing. He also has an interesting personal story. He was at one time a psychic mystic. His ultimate conversion to Born-Again Christianity caused him to renounce both mysticism and the practice of Chinese Wand.
There are many who continue to promote and practice Chinese Wand, also known as Jiangan.
It is very possible that Bruce L. Johnson is the Chinese Wand equivalent of Wiccan Raymond Buckland; simply a person chosen to bring a new spiritual practice to the United States.
It is probably more possible that Johnson himself invented the form, and gave it a romantic and ethnically-appropriated origin story.
Regardless, the practice feels good. Many good practices come of ignoble beginnings.
Tarot started as a simple game.
Most of what we believe to be our history was made up to gain sponsorship for exploration.
I do have a nagging question, though.
I don’t have a problem with people making stuff up – everything was made up by someone. But now I wonder how many origin stories that we hold as sacred trusted history are as likely untrue as this one?