While visiting my mother at her retirement community in Naples, Florida, I attended some exercise classes. One of them was a class called Chinese Wand Exercise, which I absolutely loved. These are slow stretching and strength exercises; they reminded me of yoga and also of the 5 Tibetans exercises Steven Barnes teaches. The “wands” are 5′ bamboo poles.
So I asked the instructor where she’d learned them. She went into her office and brought out an old hardcover book called Chinese Wand Exercise, by Bruce Johnson. She said it had been given to her by a resident at the retirement community. She’d read it, been impressed, and had taught herself how to teach the routine (which she teaches to a soundtrack of New Age, vaguely Asian music).
(Note: I expect there are readers who will take offense at the apparent scenario of white people appropriating Asian exercises. So I’ll mention that the instructor is black — and that she is not in any way commercializing the routine. She is teaching it at the request of a member of the senior community who wants to share the benefits they have received from it with out seniors; I don’t know the ethnic background of the person who suggested the exercises to her.)
I did some very brief research online and discovered that Johnson’s book is out of print (but available). A more recent book, by UK author Michael Davies, does not appear to have the quality of graphics that Johnson’s book has. However, Davies has a wand exercise blog. There is also a book about Qui Gong exercise done with a wand, and those look similar. I also found YouTube videos of Chinese Wand Exercise, which the Naples instructor said she had consulted in developing her version of the routine.
Apparently wand workouts have been used for both martial and healing arts, and Johnson’s book has fans in the martial arts community, including this blog.
Wikipedia calls the routine “obscure,” and notes: “The exercises were derived from studying animals at play, hence some of the names of the forms: “Springing of the Tiger,” “Raising of the Bird’s Wing,” “Panda Rolls,” to name a few.”
I continue to believe that the best exercise is the one you enjoy doing, and this is certainly an enjoyable routine. Once again, a fitness activity I’ve discovered in Florida that I can’t find in Seattle.