WILLIAMSPORT — Graceful movements, deep breathing and meditation are the keys to longevity and peace of mind for a group of health-conscious women in Williamsport. They've been meeting twice a week for the past 16 years with Shaolin Kung Fu Grandmaster Richard Greenlee who teaches them the Chinese arts of Tai Chi and Qigong.
"Tai Chi involves fluent motions to improve your balance and coordination," Greenlee said, "while Qigong is stationary and focuses on breathing."
Ninety-three-year-old Irma Fenstermaker is one of the group's founding members. She attends the classes with her daughter and credits the ancient Chinese exercises with keeping her healthy and mobile.
"I'm still here and all my friends are gone at the same age," she said.
Grandmaster Greenlee began his journey into martial arts when he was 14 years old. In just a few short years, he had earned his second-degree black belt in karate, then joined the Marine Corps where he taught hand-to-hand combat. While stationed in Okinawa, Greenlee met a Kung Fu grandmaster who taught him the Chinese tradition, and in 1996, Greenlee was elected Grandmaster of the Year by the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame. He has been teaching in central Ohio since 1964.
Greenlee also has a claim to fame.
"I did demonstrations with Bruce Lee in Longbeach, California, and Washington D.C., more than 47 years ago," he said.
Greenlee said that Tai Chi and Qigong can be performed at any age and any level of physical ability. Some of his students use folding chairs to steady themselves during class.
"As they get older, Tai Chi improves their balance," he said. "The good thing with Tai Chi and Qigong is we focus on internal organs and that's what keeps you alive."
Greenlee explained how simply pressing on acupressure points helps to improve circulation and decrease pain.
"When you press at the web of the hand, it sends a little spark up the arm, up the neck, and to the pituitary gland, which is in charge of building endorphin pain killers," he said.
Jane Hurtt, 91, who has been with the class for more than 14 years, said the meditation aspect of the class has also helps her control pain.
"I try to practice positive thoughts and pleasant memories and block out the aches and pains," she said.
The group takes time during class to discuss positive events from the previous week, including happy stories about grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"Thinking positive instead of negative is the key to almost everything," Greenlee said.
For more information on Tai Chi/Qigong or Kung Fu classes, contact Greenlee's Circleville studio at 740-497-6867.