Years ago, while training for an international broadsword tournament in his own Maryland backyard, Kung Fu Master Pat Hancock caught something moving out of the corner of his eye. It was his 4-year-old daughter, Eileen, mimicking his movements with a stick. At that moment, he knew — she was ready to learn Kung Fu.
When Eileen was 5, her father opened his own Kung Fu school in the family’s backyard, and she became an eager participant.
At 7, she learned that Tai Chi could calm her down when she couldn’t sleep, and at 13, the practice helped her heal a severely injured shoulder.
These early experiences are what set Eileen, now known as Shih Fu Eileen (shih fu means “teacher” in Mandarin), down the path to establishing her own Grass Valley school featuring Kung Fu, Tai Chi and yoga. In January of 2008, Shih Fu Eileen — today a world-ranked Kung Fu and Tai Chi practitioner and gold medalist — opened the doors of Body Balance Academy in Grass Valley.
“People thought it was a little bold to take over the entire upper floor (of The Union’s old building at 151 Mill St.),” said Shih Fu Eileen. “But things seemed to unfold naturally.”
Now in its sixth year, Body Balance Academy boasts more than 100 students ranging in age from 4 to 86. With four instructors and two trainees, the academy offers a variety of Kung Fu, Tai Chi and yoga classes for all levels and ages.
“Over the years, we seemed to shift from being primarily Kung Fu to 80 percent Tai Chi,” said Shih Fu Eileen. “Many of our Tai Chi students range from mid-50s on. The practice really gives you the tools to extend your quality of life, such as balance, flexibility, strength and stress-relief tools like breathing. I love to see people vital and healthy into their 80s.”
Having graduated in psychology and neuroscience from the University of Colorado, Boulder, Shih Fu Eileen says there is hard science behind the benefits of martial arts and yoga.
For example, studies published by the National Institutes of Health suggests that Tai Chi may enhance the immune system of older adults and lower blood pressure. It has also been proven to have a positive effect on the mental and physical health of participants.
“I am someone who likes things that have been tried and true and proven over time,” she said. “My mission is to keep the practices as they were 1,000 years ago but make it palatable.”
Instructor Summer Lujan teaches yoga, Kung Fu and Tai Chi to children and teens. In addition to being the academy’s program coordinator, she runs a teen leadership program.
“We teach young people how to use the virtues of Kung Fu in daily life,” she said. “Students must get good grades and be respectful at home. In addition, we bring in specialty teachers, such as a gymnast and a Buddhist nun who teaches them Mandarin and calligraphy. It’s all about integrating self worth and believing in self.”
Having just returned from a training session in China, both Lujan and Shih Fu Eileen say they — along with their students — strive to be lifelong learners.
“Breathing is probably the biggest piece of all,” said Shih Fu Eileen. “People carry that out the door and into their daily life. People integrate what they learn here and learn how to move. They feel more centered and relaxed. It’s rewarding to see someone gain overall equilibrium in life.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4203.
“People integrate what they learn here and learn how to move. They feel more centered and relaxed. It’s rewarding to see someone gain overall equilibrium in life.”
Shih Fu Eileen