Finding inner peace

Jeffrey Kelly found an early interest in Chinese healing and now teaches qi gong

Kelly studied at Chen Tai Chi Chuan in the Chen ancestral village.

Kelly studied at Chen Tai Chi Chuan in the Chen ancestral village.

Jeffrey Kelly is a teacher, Chinese medical practitioner and martial arts specialist, who at the ripe age of 14 became interested in martial arts.

After college, and before Kelly became a police officer and 911 dispatcher, he spent two years in China soaking up that country’s centuries-old martial arts and medicine.

Kelly grew up on the East Coast, but it was during his college years that he became more interested in China.

During that time, he took a Chinese language arts class and received a teaching certificate from Wake Forest University. He also graduated cum laude from the University of North Carolina with a major in history and theater.

In the late 1980s, he went to China and spent two years teaching English at a technical university, and learning Chinese, martial arts, meditation and Chinese medicine.

“I lived in an ancestral village in the middle of nowhere for a month studying tai chi,” he says. “The buildings were made of mud bricks. There were no showers, no heat and no rice; we had noodles, but not much food and there were lots of mosquitoes. I ate a lot of bok choy and eggs.”

Once, he was invited to a family’s home. They knew he was a vegetarian, but they weren’t sure how to cook that way so they made eggs.

“They provided at least a dozen different types of egg dishes,” Kelly says. “We had scrambled, sugar, salt, 100-year old, duck eggs and (very) hot pepper eggs among others. In Chinese culture, if the dishes become low, the host makes more, and there was no way out. Almost everyone in China keeps chickens so there are always eggs. Outside the village, especially in the cities, there’s plenty to eat.”

Early on, he says, he lived pretty much a solo existence, but that changed when he found a flier describing qi gong (pronounced chee-gong) classes at a local hospital.

Qi gong covers all the Chinese martial arts including tai chi, he says. Nearby was the Shaolin temple, which he called “sort of the origin of Zen Buddhism, where martial arts were developed.”

At one point, one of Kelly’s Chinese friends persuaded the abbot of the temple to take Kelly on as a student.

Shi took only a few disciples on and was leery of taking on a foreigner. But he did and learned to respect Kelly as the student who worked hard to show his teacher his eagerness to learn and understand.

Shi had been through a lot, Kelly explains, to become one of the best martial arts practitioners in the Shaolin Temple.

For example, during a long famine, the vegetarian monks stayed at the temple and were unable to get the white steamed bread (like pork buns without the pork). They were forced to eat less desirable black bread, Kelly says.

During the Cultural Revolution, the temple was closed, Shi was arrested and the government treated him like an animal.

“They made him do anything they wanted, much of it demeaning, and they beat him,” Kelly says. “That resulted in his getting Parkinson’s disease later in life.”

Shi encouraged Kelly to become a lay disciple.

“He asked me to take the vows of enlightenment and I did,” he says. “The weeklong rite included learning and following the five precepts, declining to kill, not to use alcohol or mind-numbing drugs, not to be promiscuous, and to not lie. My teacher later invited me to take the Bodhisattva Precepts, which include being a vegetarian. We also had to spend four hours on our knees, although we did have knee pads.”


Jeffrey Kelly demonstrates one of the “qi” moves that he teaches in his movement and meditation classes.

In 1989, after the Tiananmen Square massacre, he felt encouraged to leave.

“Hundreds or maybe thousands of people were killed,” he says, and living in the country became scary for him and his Chinese friends who came to visit.

On his return to the United States, Kelly spent a year living in Seattle and then moved to a Buddhist monastery in northern California where he spent two years teaching English at the private school there.

In 2005, he began attending Five Branches University in San Jose, California, where he earned a master's degree in traditional Chinese medicine. He also completed a 322-hour program that earned him a specialty certificate that allows him to treat patients with medical qi gong.

“When treating a patient, I examine the patient's vital energy or ‘qi,’ Kelly says. “When I feel a problem such as a deficiency or stagnation, I am able to treat it using my own qi. I use certain techniques to purge or remove the negative or stagnant qi and then nourish the area that I just purged. I then regulate the flow of it in their body which will return them to a state of good health.”

It’s not really a religion, he says. It is based on the Chinese theory of qi as the foundation of life.

“We all have qi, unless we are dead,” Kelly says. “It’s not magic, but a proven concept that has been used thousands of years in China. As a form of treatment, medical qi gong is effective for treating many types of illness and disease. It is very safe. At its best, it will cure the patient, and at its very worst, it will do nothing.”

While at the monastery, Kelly met and married his wife Margaret, a fencing master teaching at San Jose State University.

“I was studying fencing in Ukiah, and San Jose State had a fencing program — every weekend we’d drive to San Jose to study fencing,” he says. “It’s one of the weapons arts that Bruce Lee recommended.”

Today Kelly works as a doctor who makes house calls and teaches a variety of qi gong classes in the Corvallis area.

For more information, contact Kelly at


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