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Learning Mandarin, with assist from martial arts master

  • Martial arts instructor Justin Eggert, center, leads Montgomery High School students in Denise Long's Mandarin language class through the movements incorporated in Long Fist Kung Fu on Friday, March 8, 2013. Long tries to incorporate cultural activities into her class to help teach the language. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Montgomery High School freshman Camden Dahms doesn't usually get to throw punches in class.

But on Friday, Dahms and his first-year Mandarin classmates learned the basic moves of Wushu, a Chinese martial art, from a local expert brought in by Mandarin teacher Denise Long to give students a glimpse of another aspect of Chinese history.

"I wanted to expand students' understanding of Chinese culture and invigorate their interest in learning the language," Long said.

The three-dozen first-year Mandarin students are expected to spend more than an hour for three Fridays this spring stretching, learning forms and getting lessons on the meaning behind moves and seemingly simple hand gestures and greetings.

"I wanted to expose them to as much of the culture as possible," Long said. "I also wanted to get someone who the kids could connect with."

Long teamed up with Justin Eggert, a Santa Rosa High School graduate who runs the Wu Academy in Santa Rosa. Eggert, 29, and is a nationally and internationally decorated "Sifu," or master of wushu, an ancient martial art. Eggert agreed to volunteer on three Fridays with the students, teaching them movements and explaining — alternating between Mandarin and English — the meaning behind the forms.

Between moves, Eggert explained that a simple greeting of putting a left fist into the open palm of the right hand symbolizes the oceans and lake regions around ancient China coming together in peace.

"If you salute someone like this then you are signaling that we should be brothers, we should be sisters," he said. "You would never do that unless you really meant it."

To do the reverse, a right fist into the left hand, has an entirely different meaning, he said.

Dahms, who studied the language for two years at Slater Middle School, said the lessons make Mandarin come alive in a new way.


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