Accem Scott and Michael Clark are working hard to get people moving—literally. When Xpress caught up with Scott recently, he was in Ohio, between stops on the Tao Brothers Tour: Conscious Movement Across America, which so far has brought free conscious-movement instruction to Baltimore, Philadelphia and Chicago. An acupuncturist, and martial-arts instructor, Scott is one-half of that dynamic duo.
And now it’s Asheville’s turn: Our local week of conscious movement runs Aug. 27 through Sept. 2. On Saturday, Aug. 30, the two will lead a Wellness Walk from City/County Plaza to Montford Park, where they’ll present a taste of tai chi and qigong. In the following excerpts from our conversation, Scott talks about how you know when you’re moving consciously, why he’s introducing martial arts to communities of color, and some enlightening experiences he’s had along the way.
Mountain Xpress: Tell me a little bit about the tour.
Accem Scott: About five years ago, Eleanor (my wife) and I moved down to Asheville to have Oolu, our daughter. We started our center, where we do retreats and workshops in alternative medicine. With the first series of classes I ever did, I met Michael Clark. He taught tai chi, but he came because he wanted to learn more about pa kua. Michael and I organized World Tai Chi Day in downtown Asheville, and over 150 people showed up.
From that we organized Conscious Movement Day, a yearly event at Montford Park in October. We wanted to bring this awareness that it doesn’t really matter what your style of movement is: You just need to move. So we had belly dancers, we had tai chi practitioners.
Michael and I said, “We need to take this on the road.” He has since moved to Mexico—fell in love with a Mexican woman and left the country—so I didn’t think it would ever happen. But he contacted me and said, “You know, I think this is the year we should do it.” And that’s how it happened. We had a real short window to prepare for it, but we did it.
Can you give us a preview of what we can expect here in Asheville?
The event I’m most proud of is a walk in the Shiloh community. With my work it’s mostly, you know, white. And all over the country I’ve had this problem: You see some of the most unhealthy people in the African-American community. There’s this huge movement going on where people know they have to do yoga or some kind of movement, but I haven’t seen that kind of insight en masse in the African-American community. So I’m really proud that the Shiloh Community Center has agreed to host a walk.
We’re also showing the movie The Best of Conscious Movement, which is based on our URTV program, at [Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co.]. And we’ll be having workshops … to teach more in-depth tai chi, qigong and meditation. I wrote a book, The American Barefoot Doctor’s Manual, and I’m going to be doing a book signing and talking about conscious movement at Malaprop’s.
How would you define “conscious movement”?
When you go to the gym and you’re working out on the treadmill [while watching] TV, I would describe that as not conscious movement. You’re not conscious of what your body is doing. You put yourself on automatic and you just kind of zone out on the TV. With conscious movement, you’re conscious of your breath, you’re conscious of your body, you’re conscious of what’s going on, and you’re trying to actually get an effect within yourself. You’re conscious that your breath is going from the top of your head internally through the channels of your body. And sometimes, if you’re really in the right space, you’ll feel your blood moving. You’ll feel the chills running through different parts of your body. The idea is to get to a place where you can feel all these micro movements inside the body.
How do people respond when you start teaching them about this?
Last night I did some qigong with Michael’s relatives. His grandfather is 92, and he’s got a girlfriend that’s 89. We had a variety of responses, but the typical response is, “I feel more relaxed.” The more interesting responses come from the little ones. They’ll get really giddy and happy, but then they’ll calm down. They’ll still have a level of energy, but they’ll have this kind of controlled energy. And that, I think, is amazing. With adults, it varies from feeling chills to energy running through the fingers and toes and inside the body, to just feeling calm and peaceful.
What kinds of martial arts have you practiced, and for how long?
I was raised as a Black Muslim, and I started training in martial arts in the hard style—karate and shotokan. It really reflected what was going on at the time: This was a tough period in our history.
I didn’t learn the softer arts until I went to college. That’s when I had my first tai chi teacher, and it was the most amazing, amazing experience, because at this time I had a lot of inner frustration and anger. Tai chi was a very powerful remedy for some of my inner demons that I was battling. It helped me to just calm myself down.
Much later, I had the opportunity to travel to China and do training, and that was my introduction to acupuncture. That’s also when I first had the opportunity to see qi gong and pa kua. Qigong, tai chi, pa kua and another art, called xingyi, are all considered internal: You’re not focused on making your body hard or beating somebody up. Instead, you’re working on internal breathing or meditation. It’s less about being in a battle: It’s about not being a victim of your condition. That was the most powerful thing for me, to have that kind of metaphor, because I always felt like a victim of my condition. And I feel like the internal arts have given me more of an ability to master myself.
So you consider all those practices as conscious movement?
I would characterize those as major conscious-movement practices. But I would also consider belly dancing as conscious movement. I mean, you’ve got to be very conscious of your hips. I tell all my male students, you’ve got to find a way to open your hips up. Women naturally have their hips open, and they make incredible martial artists in the internal arts. A lot of martial artists kind of frown on other practices, but I don’t believe in that. I believe you should train in as many other conscious movements as you possibly can. Latin dance—I love it. My wife and I have been learning some merengue and salsa. If you’re not conscious of your movements, you’re not going to be a really great salsa dancer.
To learn more about Conscious Movement Across America events in Asheville, visit www.tao-brothers.com.