Thursday, October 9, 2008

Taoist Conference in Oakland October 24-26

The Fifth Annual Taoist Gathering will be held the last weekend in October in Oakland, California. The theme is renewal.

The Taoist Gathering is organized by Zhi Dao Guan, the Taoist Center in Oakland, founded by Dr. Alex Feng and Charlene Ossler. Zhi Dao Guan offers classes in martial arts and qi gong, acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatments, and Taoist meditation classes.

Dr. Alex Feng has been my martial arts teacher, mentor and spiritual guide since I was eight years old. Our family had the good fortune to be living around the corner from his martial arts school when The Karate Kid came out, sparking renewed interest in martial arts in kids across America, including me and my brother. Dr. Feng's teachings reflect his multi-cultural heritage: born in Guangdong province in southern China to a Chinese father and a German mother, his family moved to Taiwan after the Communist party won China's hard-fought civil war in 1949. There he was forced to defend himself against both people who suspected his family of having Communist sympathies as well as narrow-minded bigots who disapproved of his mixed heritage. At the age of 16, the family moved to the racial and cultural melting pot of Oakland.

From an early age, Dr. Feng studied martial arts, starting in China and continuing in Taiwan and America. The Bay Area was fertile ground for martial arts in the 1960's and 70's. Besides Bruce Lee, who opened his first school there, there were many who promoted the path of martial arts before there was a Tae Kwon Do school in every city.

At Dr. Feng's first location in Berkeley, the system of Wu Jian Pai included both kung fu and judo. I remember there were classes five days a week: on Mondays and Wednesdays there would be kid's kung fu classes followed by adult's judo, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays there was kid's judo followed by adult kung fu class (there was also an open Sunday class for anyone to come and practice). As a youngster I often came to the kids class and stayed on through the adult classes. Although we wore different uniforms and bowed differently in each class, Dr. Feng and his senior students taught all the classes and made the connections between the traditional Japanese and Chinese systems. Long before the term "mixed martial arts" could even be Googled, we were mixing judo's highly refined and powerful throws and groundwork with our kicks and punches during sparring.

Later, as interest increased, Dr. Feng started teaching tai ji quan, qi gong and other internal energetic work. Wu Tao Kuan School of Martial Arts recently celebrated 35 years of teaching.

Dr. Feng is an electric, charismatic teacher who has probed the depths of his self and come out with important lessons for anyone willing to listen. Refusing to be bound by orthodoxy, he has searched the world for superior teachers in the spiritual, medical and physical arts. Some of these great teachers will be at the conference in Oakland. Acupuncturists, martial artists and anyone interested in Taoism should take advantage of this opportunity.

In these perilous economic and political times, when the whole world seems to be collapsing around us, it should be wonderfully refreshing to rub elbows with people who are more concerned with things like this, for instance: Research Project on Higher Consciousness: What Inner States Do People Experience when Emitting High Frequency Brainwaves from the Upper Forehead Region? (To be presented by Dr. Beverly Rubik on the second day of the conference) than with this or that.

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