Shi Fu Feng's students are sweating their way through dozens of sinking stances -- crouching down, hand-slapping the pale wood floor, then rising quickly to the shouted count. This is a prelude to the most intense tai chi training in the Bay Area. While some consider tai chi chuan, or tai chi (there are many spellings), a park exercise for old folks, Feng, a Taoist master, grounds this ancient Chinese art in the traditions from which it sprang: self-defense, Taoist philosophy, qigong, and Chinese medicine. In this "soft" martial art, calming the mind and relaxing the body helps develop power, control and, ultimately, insight. Feng is unusual in offering classes in both Chinese and Japanese martial arts, with classes in "hard" forms such as kung fu sparring, judo, and jujitsu in addition to tai chi. A 1967 United States judo champion, Feng has trained numerous national and international level competitors in tai chi, judo, and sparring. That same spirit of eclecticism is alive in the refreshing mix of students he draws: carpenters and programmers, artists, doctors and workmen, old and young, of every race, nationality, and gender orientation.
Readers' Pick for Best Martial Arts Instructor (tie): Tom Gambell, East Bay Aikido/Tosh Stone/Janet Brown/John Burns, Berkeley Cuong Nhu Karate