When one takes a stroll round Fortune Green, particularly near to the playground, you may see a slender figure, dressed in black, practicing a slow, elegant series of movements. It’s mesmerizing, and I could stand and watch for ages, but my natural reserve prevents me from staring too long. This man has a deep calmness about him. He seems both impervious to the general goings on around him, and also very much part of his surroundings. I was intrigued to find out about him and his practice, so one day I asked him for an interview.
Taro has lived in the area since 1980, and Taiji Quan (Tai Chi Chuan) (and the wider discipline of Taiji philosophy) has been central to his life for the past five years. He teaches at Mei Quan Academy of Taiji (www.taichinews.com), which has 40 branches in London including one that meets at St Mary's Church Hall on Abbey Road. If you see him on the Green, he'll be practising Taiji form and Qi Gong, a system of movement that focuses on meditation and breathing. It works on the organs and the meridians which, Taro says, 'tunes up the body. A day without practise, indoors or outdoors, definitely makes me less chirpy.'
So why choose the Green for his practice? 'Practising outdoors is a pleasure; the fresh air, the people, being close to nature... The Green's near home, which is convenient, but I also like the fact that it's part of the community, used by all sorts of different people. It's part of the Academy's ethos to reach out to community and also to welcome everyone into the school – my students range in age from 20 to 70. On the Green I can see the sky and be in touch with the ground: clear summer nights when the moon is visible are one of my most favourite time to be there.'
sculpture to the right, the flowerbeds to the left and the red and yellow berries on the bushes behind me - it's the perfect 360 degree view.'
So this isn't the type of meditative practice that you do with your eyes shut?'As a novice, you might look down at your feet, because you really don't know what they're doing, but with experience, you learn to lead with your eyes, and then it's good to cultivate your focus outwards.'
So if you could change Fortune Green in any way, what would you do?
'I'd love to see it used by even more people all year round, in the same way that open spaces are used in China and Japan. When on holiday with the Academy 3 years ago, I remember walking through Beijing and seeing people doing Taiji, table tennis, samba lessons, sitting reading, even practising martial arts with chain whips, wow, a all sorts of activities happening together in the same open spaces. People looked chilled out and happy. That's what I'd like to see on Fortune Green... and also big groups of people doing Taiji together. Individual practice is great, but group practice, when everyone is in sync, makes it even more beautiful. A covered area, even a temporary one, would be great for this, given the weather.’ Drizzle is ok but cats and dogs isn’t.
I mentioned to Taro that I often wanted to ask him questions about what he was doing but I worried about interrupting him. 'People regularly approach me when I'm practising. Mostly they're cordial,' he smiles. 'They understand that Taiji is a process that takes time, and they wait for a break before they ask questions. Other times, I'll simply exchange a smile with people, which is fine. But I like to explain what I'm doing to people who don't know.'
- Catherine Allison