“I apologize for not bringing you something to drink,” Frank Fong says with the utmost graciousness. Never mind that he’s sitting on a park bench in a rose garden, decidedly far away from any beverage station.
A compact man with a long, gray ponytail and tanned skin, Fong exudes a sense of quiet power. An expatriate from Hong Kong, he’s cagey about how long he’s lived in Omaha, as well as how old he is. “I’ve lived here for more than 20 years,” he says. “Let’s leave it at that. And for my age, you can put down ancient.”
He will tell you how many years he’s been practicing tai chi: 45; and how many years he’s been teaching it: about 30. He teaches pretty much everywhere—at University of Nebraska-Omaha as a faculty member, at the Om Center, in private classes, and at Universal College of Healing Arts.
In whatever he teaches, tai chi, yoga, or music, Fong tries to expose his students to what he calls the art of living well. “It’s a whole-view approach as to how to live one’s life,” he says. “It’s getting to know the laws of nature that we all have to abide by. If you go with that flow, usually we’ll have an easier time.”
What laws are those?
How much better your body behaves when you give it enough rest. How much healthier you are when you give your mind time to be calm. How much better your mind and body perform when you feed both of them correctly.
“We all come with two things that nobody can take away from us,” Fong says. “One is our mind and the other is our body. We all own those two things.” The current definition of “to own,” he suggests, means to know it, to control all aspects of it.
For example, knowing your body closely can head off illness. “Everybody gets the common cold,” Fong says. “Chills, nose starts to run…that’s too late to do anything about it. There are symptoms that come sooner and are less obvious. It’s an awareness you have to learn about yourself. It’s like not feeling anything until someone punches you versus when someone taps you lightly on the shoulder.”
Staying well and living well for Fong mean engaging daily in each of his three main disciplines: tai chi, yoga, and music. This may seem like a lot of activity to the casual observer, but they all provide what he refers to as active resting. Tai chi slows down physical movement, allowing the mind to slow down as well and gain clarity. “The mind habit is to not want to stay simple. It does not like to be still.”
Meditation, he says, is any kind of technique used to slow down the mind. “Instead of 10,000 things, you give it one thing,” he says, “so that it will stay with that one thing.” Focusing on the smoothness of the flow of tai chi is one such method, but Fong finds rest in the flow of many art forms. Painting, calligraphy, cooking…and then there’s music.
A musician and composer, Fong plays with his band, Rhythm Collective, every Thursday at The Hive at 19th and St. Mary’s. The island flavor of Rhythm Collective differs sharply from Fong’s other group, The New Humans, whose sound ranges from blues to country to jazz. He plays guitar, bass, keyboard, and percussion, and sings as well.
For Fong, making good music is similar to perfecting the art of tai chi. “If you’re too much into the technicality of it, you can lose the musicality of it,” he says. “That’s the flow. Same thing with tai chi. You can say I’m going to do this posture in very exact geometry. But where is the energy flow that you can express through that art form? You can be technically perfect, but that’s only one half of the equation.”
He and his partner, Tina Bloomquist-Korth, who is also a music instructor, have launched a business in their home this fall called Love ‘n’ Heart Music Together. “It’s a style of music class for families. It’s parents with their kids under six,” Fong explains. The new business will afford the couple a schedule that enables one of them to always be available to care for their two sons, Gregory, 3 and a half, and Samuel, 1. “I want to grow up with them,” Fong says with a laugh, “because I’m still growing up.”