Senior Kung Fu is bringing the classic martial art to seniors with an eye on improving balance and mental clarity at the Naperville Park District.
Finding her way to Senior Kung Fu at the Alfred Rubin Center was a matter of keeping up (and even impressing) a grandson for Kathy Schreiner.
Kathy Schreiner: “My grandson when he was 6, well before that, my husband and I started taking Tai Chi from Master Troy and I really liked the way I learned to move an balance and my grandson seemed to be at that end so I said why don’t you take Kung Fu from Master Troy, so he started the kids Kung Fu class and after a while I thought maybe I should take Kung Fu so I signed up for Senior Kung Fu and just blew my grandson away when I started doing the form.”
Why Do Kung Fu?
While Schreiner has been doing Kung Fu for a few years, the discipline itself has been around for more than a thousand years.
Originating in China, the martial art is based around self-defense, with a tangible side benefit for older participants, according to Master Troy Walzak.
Troy Walzak: “Mental clarity, because they have to concentration, they have to think. They are using their bodies, their hands and their feet their elbows in a flowing manner that you’ll see and so it brings them balance and then the work with each other doing applications.
Kathy Schreiner: “Oh absolutely, it does so much. It’s improved my balance and there is a recent study that shows that people who do Tai Chi for an hour once a week have 58% fewer falls. And one of the people said she fell but she didn’t hurt herself and she was back up. It’s good for upper body strength. If we can hold our arms like that for a fair amount of time, that’s great for seniors.”
Gloria Ryder and Angel Whitt are also in the class, which on this day contains about half of its normal 15-member roster. Not only is Kung Fu physical, it has a mental component as well.
Mental Components of Kung Fu
Gloria Ryder: “Balance is a big part of it, and brain is a big part of it, if you saw our routines you have to remember all that and the words, it’s hard to do both at the same time so yes, a lot of benefits that way.”
Angel Whitt: “Well we come in and we warm up which is good, especially since we are seniors, ya know? We need to warm up the joints. And then we start with the exercises and then we do our form which is what we are practicing now which is wonderful, it helps with memory skills to which I think is important as we get older, so we learn a routine and we have to remember the words and the motions which is very helpful and then towards the end we have a practice where it’s two of us together and we practice our moves and it helps us learn the proper way to do our form.”
Troy Walzak: “I teach kids but it’s good for the kids, it’s good for the seniors. It’s not so serious, the have fun doing the kung fu moves like they do in the movies, it fun.”
It’s so much fun, in fact, that when we showed up nearly a half an hour prior to the start of class, most of the participants were already there and practicing.
The Joy of Kung Fu
Gloria Ryder: “Because we have a lot of fun together. The group, most of them have been together since the beginning of the class and they jst bounded learning all of this together, in fact some of them meet outside the class and will practice. So we have fun and we ask each other questions so when class time starts we are ready to go, ya know?”
Kathy Schreiner: “We just love it, that’s all it is, and we just want to practice and it’s difficult to practice at home when you don’t have someone like John who knows all the movements so it’s good to come early and do the practice.”
And while the martial art is for defending yourself, no one in the class has any grand illusions of turning into movie and martial arts star Bruce Lee when they leave class.
Angel Whitt: “This class is about fun and exercise not so much learning to be professionals and to fight, ya know?”
Gloria Ryder: “Obviously we are doing it for fun, no one should sign up thinking you’re going to learn how to fight and you can go out on the street and take down anybody, that’s not what it is. I think it’s a real mind-body awareness or your capabilities connecting your brain and your body to your movements. For us, that’s what it is. And it’s also a nice time to be together with people you enjoy.
But while they may not be throwing chops and slinging kicks, Kathy Schreiner does have a move or two to teach her grandson.
Reporting for Sports Story Sunday, I’m Kevin Jackman