The Martial Art of Tai Chi Mistress: Julie Hastings
It was a pitch dark-moon night in Guangxi Province, southern China. Julie Hastings and a Spanish colleague were walking home from the town of Yangshou to their small village on the outskirts when they heard the thumping of footsteps rapidly approaching. The two ladies, Hastings soon to be sixty and her friend in her mid thirties, whirled around to see two men clad in black rushing up to attack. “There was no time to think or to fear,” said Hastings, “we both just reacted on instinct.” A few seconds later the two men, both 20 years old, were on the ground and scampering away. One has since been arrested and is in jail.
When I was first told this story by a friend, I couldn’t help but see Hastings in a whole new light. Who would have thought that this beautiful blond Californian, who has lived in Chiang Mai for five years and is often seen at the many city functions, was such a – there is no other word for it – badass!
Hastings came to live in Chiang Mai in 2004, following a successful career in the United States as a real estate agent in San Francisco’s bay area. Seeing a sign advertising tai chi one day, she decided to try it out, and has since been a devoted and dedicated student to the martial art. The same year she went to China, where she studied Yang 81 tai chi, five hours per day for three months. “It took a hundred times to remember the moves, a thousand times to make them beautiful, and ten thousand times to grasp their essence,” said Hastings, who is now a certified level 2 tai chi teacher. “It was love at first movement for me,” she laughs.
Since then she spends every three months, for three months, in China, studying, and the remainder of her time here in Chiang Mai, teaching, tai chi. “I was fortunate enough to have worked with Master Fu Nengbin, who is a student and one of the four designated successors to one of China’s ’10 Living Treasures’, Master Chen Zhenglei, who is soon to retire. Anywhere between one and ten students from all over the world come to live in his very small village, and practice five to ten hours per day. That is all we do,” said Hastings, who is normally the oldest student by many decades. “It is kind of like going to a health camp, we all take it very seriously, though we do go to town for an occasional beer,” she smiles.
Last spring Master Fu Nengbin asked hastings to join a competition, the Third International Chen Village Tai Chi Kung-Fu Elites Championships. Competitors came, not only from every corner of China, but from all over the world, many of whom had decades of experience under their belt. For the competition Hastings had to create her own routine which showcased her fluidity and style. Incredibly she walked away with a gold medal for the 55 and over female age group.
“While most people think that tai chi is only a classical Chinese exercise, it is actually a martial art,” Hastings told me, as she suddenly swipes her pretty fan mere millimetres from my throat. Gulp. “In the old days, you see, the fan would have iron in them and were used to slice throats,” she laughs, while I join in nervously. “The goal is to synchronise the energy centre and to move the energy around the body at will and control it. I love it because it is graceful in movement, slow in tempo, relaxed, yet dynamic and a very real form of self defence. Not only that, it rejuvenates the body, improves posture, flexibility, balance, circulation, metabolism, neuro-muscular functions and strengthens the immune system. Regular tai chi practice develops robust physical strength, emotional calm and serenity, mental clarity and latent powers.”
Hastings plans on continuing with her Chiang Mai/Yangshou double life for many years to come, spending spring and autumn learning tai chi under the towering limestone mountains of Yangshou and summer and winter living the life of an active and social expat as well as introducing and teaching the art of tai chi in Chiang Mai.
For more information, or to contact Julie Hastings please visit www.taichichiangmai.com.