With the reports of record air pollution in China, I started thinking about Beijing being the capital city of the Chinese martial arts. All the internal arts gained their popularity in Beijing. Yin, Fu and Cheng, Tinghua taught Baguazhang in Beijing, and it was because of the popularity of Yang, Lu Chan's Taijiquan that the Chen family came to Beijing at all. If a martial art is well known today, it owes that popularity to those teachers working and living in Beijing during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
But, if you practiced Baguazhang or Taijiquan in the parks of Beijing on January 14, 2013 you will be lucky to survive the month. No really, it was that bad. According to the World Health Organization, PM2.5 (a measurement of particle size) levels above 25 are unsafe. The levels in Beijing on the 14th were 291.
That is a level so high, that even indoor air was bad without some equipment to filter the outside air before it entered a building. In some of the old (translated) martial manuals I own the authors talk about the Chinese being ridiculed as the sick man of the east. They brag about the great treasure martial arts are to their country, and how sharing their art will lift the country like a great tide. How devastated those authors would be to see Beijing today.
China is killing itself, and without the actions of its citizens and government it could become the greatest disaster this planet has ever seen. The problems with China's air are not unique. The same thing happened in the US. In the industrial northeast it was coal-fired plants, and industrial smog. In California was it the automobile. Northern China has the perfect storm of both. Industrial plants are basically unregulated and thousands of new automobiles hit the streets everyday.
Through agencies like the EPA and Department of Energy, and the tireless work of environmentalist educating the public, we changed the course and reduced air pollution to manageable levels in the US. While recent reports indicate we are backsliding in some cities, those metropolitan areas that suffered through the 70's are livable today.
So what does this have to do with martial arts and circle walking? We all love to hit the lawn or local park to practice our arts. This is a reminder that in the modern world the lawn or the local park might not be the safest place to practice. Not because of thieves or gangs, but because of the environment. The sad fact is that practicing indoors might be your best bet, and with limited space circle walking might be your best choice. Regardless of which arts you’re studying the standing palms practice of Baguazhang is beneficial to general health and general skill.
So take a look at the haze over Beijing, get back to your practice, and think about what we are doing to our planet, and what those old masters would think of us.