Translator Brings Tai Chi To Mercer Island’s Ellsworth House

Tai Chi Art

Tai Chi Art

Translator Brings Tai Chi To Mercer Island’s Ellsworth House
ELIZABETH CELMS, Education Reporter
July 30, 2008

Walk through the courtyard of Ellsworth House any evening at 7 p.m. and you’ll witness a sanctuary of Chinese culture.

With a lazy black cat sauntering around their feet, a dozen senior residents move gracefully through the archaic steps of tai chi. Traditional Chinese music softens the distant murmur of traffic. A trio of birch trees rustles in the wind. The courtyard is filled with calm.

“Tai chi is very good for the mind and the body,” said instructor Li Fung.

Ellsworth House, the Island’s only senior subsidized housing, hired Fung four years ago as a live-in translator for the center’s many Chinese-speaking residents. But the Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese translator has brought much more to the seniors of Ellsworth House, including the art of tai chi.

“It is very popular in China,” said Fung, who has practiced tai chi for 10 years. “And it’s growing in popularity here.”

Dating from the 12th century, tai chi is defined as an internal Chinese martial art. Its soft style, applied with internal power, distinguishes it from hard martial arts. With a multitude of traditional and modern forms, the art is practiced both competitively and as self-meditation, working toward health and longevity. The residents of Ellsworth House enjoy tai chi for the latter purpose.

“It’s a form of meditation, absolutely,” said resident Don Yates, who practices the Yang style of tai chi — different from that which Fung teaches — every morning. “It’s a big part of my life.”

Dressed in the traditional silk tai chi uniform with white shoes ordered from Korea to match, Yates’ skilled movements defy his 74 years. His arms move with graceful precision. His legs dance deftly across the ground. Often he uses a decorated Chinese sword, whisking it silently around his torso.

Watching him balance on one leg, it is hard to believe that Yates has undergone five years of treatment for prostate cancer.

“The tai chi has really helped me [cope with treatment] mentally. Physically, it’s too soon to tell,” he said.

Indeed, one of the benefits of tai chi is its healing power.

Research has shown that long-term tai chi practice can improve balance control, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. Studies also show that it can reduce pain, stress and anxiety.

“Chi is energy. It’s a force that heals. When you’re adept, you can gather the energy and direct it, using the same pathways as acupuncture,” Yates said, explaining how he expunges “yesterday’s chi” out and circulates new energy in.

Yates first began studying tai chi under Mercer Island instructor Li Zhang, a world-class master who taught lessons through the Community Center.

“We’d practice at Luther Burbank sun, rain or snow,” Yates said.

When Zhang left the Island, moving to Connecticut with her husband, she asked Yates if he would take up teaching her class. Honored by the gesture, Yates was unable to take on the responsibility.

Yet he continued to practice the ancient martial art, in solitude mostly, every once and a while passing his knowledge on to others.

Jane Ditzler, another resident of Ellsworth House, has joined Yates during his morning tai chi exercises.

“I try to go as often as I can,” she said. “It’s very relaxing and wonderful exercise.”

Most of the Ellsworth residents who attend Fung’s evening tai chi classes are in their ‘70s. Those who are older and “can’t balance on one foot,” as Fung explained, practice their own set of slower exercises.

“The older group goes through movements that are good for the whole body; eyes, ears — even teeth,” the tai chi instructor said. “It’s very healthy for seniors.”

Hardly an evening goes by when the class does not meet in the quiet courtyard, nestled between a lush wall of foliage and well-kept rose garden.

“Our Chinese are particularly fond of this courtyard,” Yates said, adding that some 60 percent of the residents at Ellsworth House immigrated from China. “They bring their tradition here.”

When the weather is bad, the group moves inside to practice, according to Yates. Residents can often be found doing tai chi on their own.

In truth, the ancient martial art has become part of life at Ellsworth House. It has built community. It has strengthened culture.

And it has healed.


Tai Chi Symbol

Tai Chi Symbol

Senaka Senanayake – Rainforest Trail

Senaka Senanayake

Senaka Senanayake – Rainforest Trail
By Riddhi Doshi
Friday, August 01, 2008

Artist Senaka Senanayake is spreading an awareness about saving the rainforests through his works

Senaka Senanayake, one of the most famous artists in the world, will exhibit many of his sculptures and mix-media works in India next year. Currently, he is spreading awareness about saving the rainforests through his works. Some of his works to be exhibited in India will contain that message.

Though, born and brought up in Sri Lanka, Senaka is a great follower of Sathya Sri Sai Baba of Putaparthy. So he visits India at least thrice a year.

“Baba always says to squeeze out the happiness from sadness. So I decided to portray positive aspects of life in my works rather than the sad and dark side,” he says.

And when in Mumbai, Senaka just loves to chill out. “I love going to different restaurants. Mumbai is a vibrant place. It is fun to be here,” he says.

His works find a place of honour in important places like United Nations Building in New York, the White House and the National Geographic Building in Washington DC, the FAO headquarters in Rome, the International Post Office in Berne, the Lodge in Canberra, the National Panasonic Headquarters, Osaka, the Berlin State Museum, the Lidice Museum and in several art institutions and private collections abroad. Cricketers like Wasim Akram, Arvinda D’Silva and Kapil Dev are few among those who love his works and have also bought a few of them.

Senaka held the first exhibition of his works when he was just eight-years-old. And since then he has been called a child prodigy. Senaka’s great-grandparents were also well-known artists. But Senaka wanted to be a cricketer and his parents wanted him to be a doctor. They asked him to dabble in painting only as a hobby.

“I was set to take up science and become a plastic surgeon. But I finally took up arts in the Yale University,” he says.

Senaka Senanayake Art Piece

Senaka Senanayake Art Piece

Senaka Senanayake was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1951. He is Sri Lanka’s premier International artist with over 103 one-man exhibitions in London, Paris, New York, Tokyo, Moscow, Berlin, Singapore, Bangkok, Sydney, etc. Recognised as a child prodigy, Senaka has enjoyed a reputation as one of Sri Lanka’s leading artists since his early childhood. A Paris art critic remarked many years ago: “Senaka is not a supported prodigy but an authentic painter because he cannot be linked to a particular aspect of Sri Lanka – he seems to get inspiration not only from the ancient forms of traditional Buddhist art but also from the luxuriant natural beauty that surrounds him.”

Senaka has assimilated the Sri Lankan scene and has been celebrating it in his work- the green fields, the lush vegetation, the flora and fauna, the fisher folk, tea pickers and Buddhist monks: all have been brought to life with his brush. He works in oil, water colours and mixed media. Senaka’s prolific output displays an extraordinary fertility; it also remains constantly personal in style. His love for pure colour is carried to a daring pitch as he almost instinctively pumps life into every corner of his painting.

A graduate from Yale University, his paintings adorn many prestigious buildings and museums around the world. The United Nations Headquarters New York, F.A.O. Rome, International Post Office Berne Switzerland, Virginia State Museum, Hirchorn Museum, Lidice Museum to name a few. His paintings have been reproduced and feature articles in leading journals and magazines worldwide. There is no doubt his art has been a great source of joy to many in many lands.

Senaka Senanayake Art Piece

Senaka Senanayake Art Piece