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Jake Pinnick: An unlikely US disciple of tai chi

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chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: Jul 09, 2024

Dressed in a black Taoist robe, tall and imposing with a long brown beard, hair styled into a bun and carrying a long sword or a flute, Jake Pinnick exudes an ethereal appearance.

Encountering this ‘Taoist priest’ on the winding paths of Wudang Mountain in Central China's Hubei province on a dark night, one might easily mistake him for an ancient immortal dwelling in seclusion.

Despite his Western features, Pinnick, a North American, identifies as a 16th-generation disciple of the Wudang Sanfeng martial arts lineage, named after the legendary Taoist reputed to have lived on Wudang Mountain and to have invented tai chi.

Pinnick was born in 1991 and grew up in a small town on the plains of Illinois. His youth coincided with the golden age of Hong Kong cinema and he was profoundly influenced by movie stars like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, which sparked his love for Chinese kung fu.

In 2010, Pinnick finally realized his dream when he journeyed alone to Wudang Mountain, where he became a Taoist disciple and dedicated himself to studying martial arts for five years. Today, Pinnick still resides on Wudang, but his role has evolved from student to teacher. He has married a woman from Shaanxi province, and together they have a lovely daughter, who also enjoys practicing tai chi.

During his 14 years of seclusion on Wudang Mountain, Pinnick discovered his own ‘Peach Blossom Spring’ — a fabled Chinese utopia — through the richness of Chinese traditional culture.

Every day, he meditates, practices tai chi and reads the Tao Te Ching, a classic text of ancient Chinese philosophy. He identifies deeply with the philosophy of Dao Fa Zi Ran (Tao Follows Nature) and aspires to share his understanding of the Tao with people worldwide. On his social media account, ‘Wudang Jake’, he frequently shares glimpses of his daily life and engages with followers who share his passion for martial arts, Taoist philosophy and Chinese music.

Jake Pinnick (front) teaches tai chi and Baduanjin to young people at the Bond with Kuliang: 2024 China-US Youth Festival in Fuzhou, Fujian province, on June 25, 2024. [Photo provided by the Foreign Affairs Office of the People’s Government of Fujian Province]

"I have been advancing on the path of promoting Chinese traditional culture," Pinnick said during the Bond with Kuliang: 2024 China-US Youth Festival, which was held in Fuzhou, Fujian province last month.

During the event, Pinnick taught tai chi and the Baduanjin exercise routine to young people from both China and the United States. He also discussed Chinese culture and participated in cultural activities with his wife and daughter that included tree planting and exploring youth markets.

Pinnick said that that he originally came to Wudang Mountain to learn martial arts, but decided to stay because he was drawn to its rich cultural heritage. To him, Wudang martial arts embody not only skills for combat and surpassing others but also a philosophy of harmonizing strength and flexibility that can be applied to life in general.

He applies this perspective to his view of Sino-US relations, believing that enduring friendship and goodwill between the peoples of both nations are crucial, and that enhancing communication is paramount for the future.

The Bond with Kuliang: 2024 China-US Youth Festival issued invitations to 500 young guests from various sectors in both China and the US to participate. The event was one of the largest and most influential China-US youth exchange events of the year, providing a significant platform for enhancing friendship between young people from both countries.