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Flint, MI – Dawei Li, owner of Kung Fu Flint, has been passionate about the ancient practices of Chinese martial arts and kung fu for more than thirty years. He hopes to inspire more people to get involved and says that the best way to begin your kung fu path is to “Just get started.”
Li was born with displaced hips and other physical ailments that he says the medical field didn’t know what to do with.
“So, I found martial arts and I found body work and that’s where I really started learning,” he said. “When my kids were very young, as a matter a fact…and we were running around the front yard (my son) came to me and he said, ‘Daddy, when I fix my posture, I run faster!’ So, it’s just a testament of how powerful we truly can be.”
Li’s legal name is actually David Joyce but instead goes by the Chinese name he gave himself.
“Dawei is Chinese for David.” Li says, “I found that out the last time I was (In China) and I liked it better than David, so I kept it. And when my ex was pregnant with my first boy we found out that because we weren’t married we didn’t have to keep my name, which legally my last name is Joyce, and I hated it. So, I decided, I’m not going to give them a name that I hate. So, one day I was meditating, and the name Li popped up. Li in Chinese is strength and power. So, I gave them powerful names.”
In English kung fu has taken on a meaning that is almost synonymous with martial arts, but in its original Chinese sense, Li said kung fu is quite literally any discipline or skill that requires patience, energy and time to complete.
“You can be a kung fu journalist, you can be a kung fu chef, it’s all about skill, it’s not anything specific,” he said.
The list of different styles of Chinese martial arts is endless, but he said that a couple of the best styles for people starting out are tai chi or qigong.
“They’re very powerful energy building disciplines and they can be done very softly and gently,” he said. “Then of course, if you really want to learn the fighting, you can do that with tai chi as well. Thai chi has come to be known as this soft gentle little movement thing that old people do but that’s not even scratching the surface. Thai chi is actually one of the most powerful fighting techniques out there so it’s much deeper than most people know.”
Li’s classes begin with a focus on standing, walking and breathing, simple acts that Li said are crucial to our lives, but that most people are never taught. Posture being a key element.
“If you don’t have good posture, nothing works right. It’s just like plumbing or electrical, you bend the pipe or you short circuit the electrical line, nothing works. That’s ultimately what we’re doing is we’re learning how to realign the body, open up the tissues, open up the energy pathways, deepen the breathing, connect the movement, and it takes on a life of its own.”
Li has also been a massage and structural therapist for twenty-seven years. He says it ties into kung fu.
“Ultimately it’s all the same thing,” he said. “I mean we are energy, so in the kung fu we’re learning how to work and manipulate the energy, whether it be for healing or for harming, and the massage is a more physically based and yet still energetically healing discipline… learning tai chi, my body work skills jumped… the training has made my body work better because I’m much more sensitive and aware.”
Li teaches at several locations including, Pierce Park, The Ferris Wheel, and Genesys Health Club. Like many others, having their jobs and businesses affected by COVID-19, Li has had to put his classes on hold for the time being. But it hasn’t stopped him from practicing and incorporating martial arts into his daily life. He hopes that others will continue with their practices or begin a new, from home, as a way to cope with the stress and anxiety of these uncertain times.
He hopes to be able to offer some online classes soon, but in the meantime has videos posted on YouTube.
Talking about the pandemic, Li says, “when you go into dark times you get the opportunity to look at your own stuff and there’s a lot of people saying, ‘oh, I think it’s time for me to improve my life and my world.’ Plus, –less travel, pollution is down, there is a whole lot of benefits going on– I think that those who are doing the spiritual work are going to come through this just fine and when we get to the other side of this whole mess it’s going to be a much more amazing world.”