August 11th, 2002
Most of his students first entered his class shuffling their feet, careful not to lose their balance.
Some have had their hips or knees replaced, others are dealing with aliments like emphysema, high blood pressure, asthma, Parkinson's disease, fibromyalgia or multiple sclerosis. But in a few minutes these students, some as young as 75, and as old as 94, will begin the slow graceful movements of tai chi chaun.
Hilmar Fuchs, 53, is their instructor. He is a master of tai chi chaun and sixth dan in Japanese karate.
“To me, tai chi and karate are the perfect ying and yang. They balance with one another. Karate is the fast and strong movement, while tai chi is slow and graceful. This is why both appealed to me,” said Fuch from his new studio in Cape Coral.
When Hilmar and his wife, Marlene, first came to Southwest Florida they were surprised by the sheer numbers of karate dojos in Lee County. But while these dojos were mostly filled with children whose parents want them to learn self-defense and self-control, the Fuchs offer tai chi chuan to the older, slower and wiser crowd.
“The Chinese say when you learn tai chi chaun,” Hilmar explained, “you will become agile like a child, strong like a wood cutter and calm like a wise man. That is because Tai Chi keeps harmony between the body, soul and spirit. This method has a healing effect on the nervous system as well as the respiratory, cardiovascular and digestive systems. We have seen it promote healthy metabolism and develop motor skills.”
Helen Chapple, who came to Hilmar a few years ago at the recommendation of her neurologist, has seen a remarkable improvement in her own struggle with Parkinson's disease.
“My class has students who are in the 70s and I have seen them learn to move with alacrity one can't help but admire.”
Fuchs began his study of Japanese karate in Germany in 1965.
“I believe in the teachings of Chu-ha-Li, which means, first you imitate your teacher's technique, then your inner creativity grows up and finally you reach your own style. Like limbs from the tree, each student should grow from the instructor's knowledge and then express their own interpretation of what was given to them.”
Fuchs finds with older students he must tailor a technique for each student's abilities.
“Some come in more flexible than others, but with tai chi chuan it is important that you have an open mind. A creative mind,” he said. “In tai chi chuan I tell my students that they will regain their balance, breathing, coordination and imagination.
“It takes time and attention because we are going to gain inward focus and direct it outward to all that surrounds us. I tell my students to imagine they are trees. Their feet are deep roots firmly planted. Now we move slowly our upper bodies, our arms are like limbs on the trees, slow and full of graceful beauty.”
Fuchs does not look his age. It is hard to believe he was once an uptight German industrial engineer.
“I was a very important person," Hilmar said with a laugh, “but I look younger now than back then, because that job, that way of life, ate me. It consumed me from inside out.”
Fuchs gives much credit to his wife, Marlene, whom he met while he was captain of the German Karate Federation attending an international karate competition in France. “Marlene was a translator and it was love at first sight,” smiled Hilmar. Perhaps yet another part of ying and yang in their lives here are two people who come from countries that are traditional enemies and who have fallen in love.
Fuchs says he loves to help others regain their health.
“I have classes in studio but I also go out to other locations, like Cape Coral Hospital’s Wellness Center, Lexington and Gulf Harbour Country Clubs, the Lake Kennedy Senior Center and Four Freedoms Park,” he said.
For Hilmar and Marlene Fuchs life is not lived until you have help others live life more fully.
Write to Hilary Hemingway c/o The News-Press, 4720 S.E. 15th Ave., Suite 112, Cape Coral, FL 33904.
Copyright © 2002, The News-Press