Taichi-Kungfu Interview with Sandra Balint

Interview with longtime Taichi and Kungfu practitioner Sandra Balint. Growing up training at the Capital District TaiChi and Kungfu Association, I remember at every seminar, every school demo, every event- there was one woman always there.  She was always helping to organize, prepare, clean up and TAKE PHOTOS!  I knew she was a dedicated, long time student of my Shifu, Jiang Jianye.

As I got older, I learned more about this woman, Sandra Balint.  Throughout all the years, shes always been there training in class, leading class, writing articles, and yes- taking photos:)

With great appreciation of her dedication to the arts, Shifu Jiang Jianye and CMAA I asked Sandra for an interview.  I knew she would have a lot to share, a lot of great knowledge we could learn from.

Please enjoy:)

How long have you practiced martial arts?  Chinese Martial Arts?

Sandra: For twenty-two years.  I began on March 10, 1990 on Colvin Avenue before it was officially open.  Sally Meierhoffer, my partner eventually in Mu Lan Fan and Mu Lan Chuan demonstrations, began on the same day.  At this time Grandmaster Jiang had only been in the country seven months.  He didn't speak very much English, but that didn't matter, he moved so elegantly, you wanted to copy what he did.

How and why did you begin studying?

Sandra:  As mentioned, I began studying over two decades ago.  I saw an ad for a Beginner Tai Chi class in Knowledge Network, a brochure for adult education courses in the capital region, and decided to sign up.  Since I had wanted to study this beautiful discipline for years, I thought this an excellent opportunity.

Studying with Shifu Jiang Jianye for so long, what has your relationship been like?  Its rare to find a student who stays with one teacher for so long, why have you decided to do so?

Sandra:  Grandmaster Jiang Jianye is a very unique man and an excellent martial arts teacher.  He knows Tai Chi, Kung Fu and Qi Gong and he has a broad range of martial arts knowledge, training and skill.  He also knows his students' characters and abilities and invests in them according to their needs and innate talents.  He has a high work ethic, an undaunting and competitive spirit, a deep compassion for others and a very deep love and respect for martial arts.

What have been the most significant influences in your study/practice?

Sandra:  There have been many influences in my study and practice.  But the three most significant remain:  Jiang Jianye,  Zou ZhaoLan and LuYuzhi, my three teachers in the order in which they came into my life.  And now a fourth teacher:  Lucas Geller.  The different masters that I have had in workshops from 1992-2012+ at Master Jou Tsung Hwa's Tai Chi Farm (now Loretta Wollering's Tai Chi Gala) have also had a big influence on my life, as have the masters that Teacher Jiang has brought to the studio over the years including, Professor Li DeYin, Grandmasters Chen Zheng Lei and Pan QingFu, Master Diane Naughton, Master Malee Khow and Dr. Jay Dunbar.

 Do you have any practice tips?

Sandra:  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  But make it fun by varying the routines you do on a rotating schedule.  If you are a person who works, practice during your lunch hour to relieve stress.  If you are older, try to do it even if you don't always feel up to it.  It will make you'll feel better.  Try to practice out of doors so that you can hear the birds, squirrels, branches creak;and feel the sun and breeze on your skin; and the smell of grass, leaves and flowers, and the nip of the season in the air.  Commune with nature.  Go to a local park if you can.  Play music while your practice.  It will enhance the experience.  Dress according to the weather and make sure you stay hydrated.  And around competition time put in the extra time to repeat the parts of the routines you are unsure of.  Make your practice time efficient, effective and pleasurable.

Do you have any suggested “study material”(influential books, videos, websites, blogs etc.)?

Sandra:  All of the above.  Tai Chi Magazine is a great source as is Kung Fu Magazine and Kung Fu's ezine.  Not only are they good sources of who's who in today's martial arts world, they give you information on what's happening gobally and what books, videos and DVD's are out there to aid your study.  And of course the net is an amazing place for information.  It's incredible what's available at the press of a key.  Also don't forget your local library.  Most people are not aware that the Pine Hills Library in Albany has a section on their second floor devoted to Chinese books and CD's.  Much of the material I used as resources when I first began I got from reseaching libraries for books I couldn't find in bookstores or I couldn't afford.  Remember the net as we know it today wasn't in place.  I also suggest you read more than one book on the subject so that you have a well rounded view.  Facts can sometimes be a shifting thing depending on who wrote it and when, and what information was a available at the time.

What are your feelings about taichi as a martial art?  A healing art?

Sandra:  Tai Chi and Kung Fu are wonderfully physical and rewarding exercises for the way they strengthen the body, the spirit and the mind.  I stopped doing Kung Fu last year in 2011 but loved the 7 years that I was a part of it.  It is an invigorating and exciting activity.  The three section staff was my favorite weapon.  As for Tai Chi, it remains as beautiful to me as the day I started, even more so, now that I have come to understand it better.  So both Tai Chi and Kung Fu are healing.  I have seen many people become stronger, happier and more peaceful through each of these disciplines.  It depends what your needs are and how that discipline speaks to you on a gut level.  And of course, whether you are able to do the hard martial arts as you age or after you have sustained a lasting injury, is another thing.  Certainly we cannot forget Qi Gong. Everyone, Tai Chi and Kung Fu players, young and old alike, always need the healing power that only Qi Gong exercise can bring.  Although this is not a martial art, it should be a part of a martial artist's regime to replenish energy and maintain good health.

What are your feelings about “modern taichi”? Simplified routines and competition routines?

Sandra:  The more you know, the more you appreciate what the generations have contributed to creating these various disciplines.  The simplified forms make Tai Chi more excessible to a larger number of people because of their modified forms.  All have their purpose, and past purposes in the evolution of Tai Chi, and certainly all have their benefits.  Again the more you learn the more you appreciate the nuances and what the different masters have contributed to this big broad umbrella that we call Tai Chi.

Any Interesting or unique experiences from your years of study that you’d like to share?

Sandra: When the different masters came to our studio to teach us workshops was very special.  When "Iron Fist", Pan Qing Fu came he showed us his fists with their calloused knuckles.  He said that they were like steel when he hit people.  I asked if he would just lightly tap my head so I could see how they felt.  He didn't want to do it for fear he might hurt me.  Then he gave in and obliged me.  I felt barely a brush of his fist pass my forehead, but the next day I had a brusie in the spot that he touched.  I was thrilled.  When I saw him again several years later at Malee Khow's competition in Connecticut, where I was competing and he was performing, he remembered my name and said hello, "Sandra".  What a generous martial artist!!

What are your personal favorite routines and why?

Sandra:  I love Tai Chi fan routines.  I love how the movements can make the most uncoordinated person graceful and elegant over time.  And I love Wu style.  I love it's back and forth pivoting and deep White Crane bends, how it slants, and moves and unfolds like a beautiful creature as you move across the floor.

What are your recommendations for those interested in studying (taichi/kungfu)?

Sandra:  I recommend starting with a well-trained teacher invested in his or her students.  One that has good character:  kind, patient, modest and is a task master.  One who wants to see you advance in your training.  One that will expose you to demonstrating your skills in front of the public to increase you confidence; one that will put you into competitions to improve your courage, stamina, will power and knowledge.  And one that if you don't want these things will encourage you do the things necessary to maintain good health.  One that makes coming to class fun because there is an atmophere of friendiness, acceptance, tolerance and good energy.  Like the kind of classes I have had with Grandmaster Jianye Jiang and what I now have with Shifu Lucas Geller.

Pease feel free to write about as much or as little about any particular question or area of taiji/kungfu that interests you.

Response:  Thank you, Shifu Geller, for giving me this opportunity to share with others.  Martial Arts is a wonderful way to experience life.  May you and your students have many, many years of wonderful memory making times together!!


Sandra really appreciate you taking the time to do this.  I truly value the amount of time you've spent with Shifu and know how much you can teach us all.  Honestly, the real reason I thought to ask for an interview with you was because I knew that there was so much that I could learn from you!  However, I thought it better to ask for your knowledge and wisdom in a format that I could share with everyone (CMAA student and world at large) via the CMAA blog on our website. Thank you for sharing!

Shifu (Xiao:)

CMAA and CrossFit

CMAA and CrossFit

CMAA and CrossFit

My name is Lucas Geller. I am the owner of a new martial arts school in Albany, NY- The Chinese Martial Arts Academy. I teach Kids Kungfu, Adult Freestyle Chinese Kickboxing (Sanshou), and Taichi. In one day I train 5 year olds to become super heroes, tattooed bodybuilders sport fighting and help seniors in their pursuit of longevity. Let me explain to you why I know Crossfit will be a powerful addition to our current course offerings.

I’d like to take you back a few years. I started karate at 5 years old, but it wasn’t until I began training in Wushu (Chinese Kungfu) at age 13 that I found my passion for martial arts. By 16, I was waking up at 3:30am to begin each day with 2 hours of running, stretching, and martial arts practice before school. After school the training continued. It was a dedication few others could understand but I was consumed.

By the age of 26 I had spent almost 4 years in China training with the elite professional martial arts teams. During this time, I became a member of the USA Wushu Team and won a silver medal at the Pan-American Wushu Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

As a serious martial artist, conditioning has always been a central aspect of my practice. To be well rounded my regimen has always included a variety of sprinting/plyometrics, compound strength training exercises (deadlift, ATG squat, pull up and bench press), gymnastics oriented body weight strength training (parallel bar, uneven bar, rope climbing, etc.) and explosive power/hang versions of Olympic lifts. It was hard to explain my training regimen to those unfamiliar with professional martial arts strength programs, which is to say until I found Crossfit.

After I finished school, earning my MA in Chinese from The Ohio State University and returned to the States I decided to take a break from Wushu and began Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). During this time I trained at two gyms DC area which both offered Crossfit (Capital Jiujitsu and Lloyd Irvin’s NOVA MMA). It wasn’t exactly how we trained in China, but it wasn’t far off. In fact, after more analysis, it was BETTER!

Chinese martial artists are professional martial artists. The Chinese only do very basic exercises (deadlift, squat, pull up, bench press, sprints and plyo’s). However, they begin their training at a very young age, train daily and at a high intensity. As you know, functional movement at high intensity is a powerful combination. However, there is very little variation, and limited ways of measuring progress. Crossfit’s emphasis on both constant variation and not only increasing weighted loads, but also decreasing rest time and timing both rounds and complete workouts – and comparing them to previous results, ensures greater progress. The seemingly ‘chaotic’ approach is actually a much more systematic methodology.

Last year I decided to follow my passion and open my own martial arts school, The Chinese Martial Arts Academy. In teaching martial arts, I realize that one of the limiting factors in performing techniques correctly and a frequent cause of injury, is simply a lack of physical conditioning. Executing explosive jump kicks, and double leg takedowns requires not only correct technique, but also prerequisite stamina,strength,flexibility, power,speed and coordination

For the sake of my students, and the health of the general public in the local community, I need to give them the alternative to running on a treadmill and doing curls in a squat rack. I need to offer the highest quality conditioning component available. This is why I need Crossfit.

This September, I will be expanding our ‘part time’ school in to a ‘full time’ school (in Latham, NY). In addition to offering Kids Kungfu, Adult Kungfu Kickboxing (Sanshou/Sanda) and Taichi, we will be offering strength and conditioning program as well. My plan is to turn the generic strength and conditioning for martial artists program into a full-fledged Crossfit program.

I initially chose Crossfit because I believe strongly in the science which supports the training protocol and because I know from personal experience that it works. I have chosen Crossfit because I believe the online community and resources surrounding Crossfit are invaluable to those in search of fitness and happiness. With Crossfit as a central component to the course offerings at The Chinese Martial Arts Academy, I am confident that CMAA is on our way to giving back to our community, by providing a positive and healthy environment for people of all ages to pursue their interest in fitness and wellbeing.

To have a better idea about what Crossfit Latham would be coming a part of please visit:


CMAA Competition and Demo Team


CMAA Competition and Demo Team!

As a member of the CMAA Competition and Demo Team you will receive additional training and more individualized training attention.

Kids who are on the team will be allowed to train up a level.  This means select 5-7 year olds may be allowed to train in the 8-12 year olds and that group may be allowed to train in the 13+/Advanced class.

The team will be given additional after class instruction and specially trained for performances and competition.

Do you have what it takes?

Who can be on the team?

ANYONE can be on the team!  All you have to do is put in the hard work.  Anyone can be on the team, but there are requirements!

To be a member of the team it is required is that you train at least 3 times per week at CMAA. It is required that you be available to assist with performances, demo's and/or competitions - annually!

Remember if being on the team is not possible now, do not fret.  Keep up the hard work and maybe you’ll find yourself able to dedicate more time in the future.  Hard working teammates are always welcome!

Monthly Newsletter - August

Chinese Martial Arts Academy

Monthly Newsletter August, 2012

Dear Students,

Major Announcement

The Chinese Martial Arts Academy (CMAA) will be moving to a new location- our very own home! Find out what this means for you! Read more here:http://www.martialartsalbany.com/889/

Class Cancelations

8/4- Kids Kungfu 9-10, Beginner Tai Chi 10-11

I will be attending a CrossFit certification seminar/exam for the weekend in NYC August 4th-5th. To learn more about what CrossFit is and why you should be excited about this, please read more here! http://www.martialartsalbany.com/crossfit/

8/18- All classes will be canceled for the quarterly Pil-Sung Tae Kwon Do School Testing

Why I teach Kungfu

When I tell people I teach Kungfu they think I mean I teach a kind of martial art. After all, Kungfu is what Bruce Lee did, it’s the stuff in Kungfu Panda, the action in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, right? It is a martial art, isn’t it? What if I told you the truth, that it’s all a big misunderstanding? What if I told you that Kungfu isn’t a martial art at all? Read more here: http://www.martialartsalbany.com/why-i-teach-kungfu/

Watch and Learn, Kungfu Documentaries!

Did you ever wish you could just sit back, relax and learn Kungfu from the comfort of your couch? Well, now you can! “But how much does it cost?” NOTHING! Thats right, you can learn more about Kungfu, for FREE from the comfort of your own home:) Read more here: http://www.martialartsalbany.com/807/

CMAA Monthly Challenge, August

Having addressed many areas from flexibility, exercise, meditation and diet, I’d like to focus this month’s challenge on an entirely separate area of martial arts development. While nothing is better than actually training at the Academy, these monthly challenges can help us develop outside of the school setting. To read more about this month’s challenge read more here: http://www.martialartsalbany.com/monthly-challenge-august/

Chinese Cultural Gala 7/29

Thank you for coming out and supporting the school! For those of you who demo’d for your first time- you did excellent! I was so proud of all of you. I will be posting pictures of the event to Facebook soon! We impressed a lot of people and have already been invited to perform at several large venues! More details to follow. To read more about the event please go here: http://www.martialartsalbany.com/cmaa-at-the-chinese-cultural-gala-day-729/

I apologize for any inconveniences the schools closing may cause you this month. I am working very hard to bring you new and exciting classes, courses and events! Good things are on their way!



Monthly Challenge - August

CMAA Monthly Challenge, August – Read More!

Having addressed many areas from flexibility, exercise, meditation and diet, I’d like to focus this month’s challenge on an entirely separate area of martial arts development. While nothing is better than actually training at the Academy, these monthly challenges can help us develop outside of the school setting. For the month of August, I’d like you to take the time and read a book about martial arts. No matter what your specific interest in martial arts is, there is most certainly a book out there that can help you progress in your own practice.

I wholeheartedly recommend reading both fiction/non-fiction martial arts books (for different reasons). However, for this month’s challenge we are going to focus on non-fiction. Listed below are two books that I have found to be very influential. While I have read many books over the last 15 years, these are two of the more important ones I’ve come across.

Taichi: The Tao of Tai Chi Quan (Zhou Zong Hua)

Kungfu/Sanshou: The Book of the Five Rings (Miyamoto Musashi)

These are just two books that I've liked in particular. I've got dozens of books on nutrition, strength training, stretching, wrestling, striking, and meditation for martial artists. I am a firm believer that you always get something out of reading. Please feel free to recommend any books you have read and have found to be informative.

I look forward to having a CMAA library full of wonderful books for everyone to share in the near future!



Chinese Cultural Gala Day


Dear All-

Come join the Chinese Martial Arts Academy for a day of fun with Chinese culture at the Chinese Cultural Gala Day, this Sunday from 10:30am-3pm!

Please feel free to show your CMAA pride and wear your school shirt to the event:) I look forward to seeing you there:)

The Town of Clifton Park will host the first-ever Chinese Cultural Gala Day on Sunday, July 29, 2012. The FREE event is sponsored by the town’s Community Arts and Culture Commission in partnership with Clifton Park resident Xinhua Lee and Asian Culture Inc.

Residents of all ages will be able to participate in a hands-on Tai Chi work out, as well as Chinese ribbon and fan dances. Enjoy Chinese martial arts demonstrations, Chinese musical and dance performances and ethnic food (available for purchase.)

The Chinese Cultural Gala Day strives to bring Clifton Park residents together to enhance the understanding and appreciation of Chinese music, dance and culture.

I have asked several CMAA students who are also associated with the Chinese Community Center to help participate in a small demonstration. For those of you performing, please note:

1. Arrive at 10:30 am!

2. Bring your CMAA uniform (pants, shirt and shoes! - this is why it's important that we train in indoor shoes, so we can demo in footwear and feel the same as practice!)

3. We will be going on at about 11:30am.  Please meet at the stage at the Clifton Common, located at Vischer Ferry Road in Clifton Park. (Turn in Clifton Common, turn right is parking, go into the back end is the stage area)


Please contact me at (518) 755-7512 is you have any other questions about the event.

For more information about the event read more here! http://www.cnweekly.com/articles/2012/07/26/news/doc501154f20446b098128006.txt



Major Announcement!

Major Announcement! Dear Students-

One year ago, with great excitement, I wrote to all our students announcing that Grandmaster Jiang had passed his legacy, the Chinese Martial Arts Academy, on to me. I accepted this honor with great pleasure and a huge sense of responsibility.

In the letter I spoke of making improvements to our school. We have added eight new classes to the schedule and have grown a substantial children’s Kungfu program. As promised, Shifu has continued to teach every day on which his classes are held.

It is now with the same excitement and pleasure as last year that I am making a very special announcement to you all today.

The Chinese Martial Arts Academy (CMAA) will be moving to a new location- our very own home!

What this means for you!

1. We will have our very own home! Just as when Grandmaster Jiang originally founded the school we will again have our very own facility. With a new open space, specialized mat system, new bathrooms, ample parking and air conditioning (among many other wonderful improvements) you are sure to love our new home!

2. New classes at regularly scheduled and more convenient times! Not only will we be in a SAFE, new, clean and spacious facility of our own, we will be adding many more classes and new programs as well!

3. Convenient location just off the Northway! CMAA’s new home is located at The Crossroads Plaza in Latham:

The Chinese Martial Arts Academy 3A Johnson Rd Latham, NY 12110

4. Monthly Events! CMAA can now host events more easily than ever. You may now look forward to monthly Kids Kungfu Parties, Taichi- Kungfu documentaries/films, seminars (on everything from Simplified Chen Taiji and Traditional Shaolin Black Tiger to meditation and nutritional talks), Saturday Fight Night showings and many other great events!

We are working around the clock to make this transition as smooth as possible. While it’s hard to predict the exact date, we are hoping to be operational and make our move in to our new home by early September!

This is a very exciting time for all of us. Thank you for your continued support. I will keep you all updated with more information as we move forward on many new and exciting initiatives!



CMAA Challenge - July 2012

CMAA Monthly Challenge: July

After writing this entire challenge I changed my mind. While, the months challenge had been originally geared towards diet and nutrition, I thought of something else of great importance, something much easier to implement and something that we should make habitual right now- DRINK MORE WATER! Drink your 8 glasses a day and then work up to 9 (for women) or 13 glasses (for men). Also drink more if you’re outside in the hot weather or working up a sweat training (as I expect we all are!).

That’s it, that’s the challenge. It couldn’t be easier. Now do it and be healthier.

Now some of you may already be doing drinking enough water. Since I already wrote the dietary challenge out, and since you ambitious over achievers already know you need to drink, keep reading to refocus yourself on what you (already know you) need to eat!

Having spent the last few months focusing our challenges on flexibility, mental clarity, and physical conditioning, I would like to now address another element of a martial artist’s lifestyle- diet and nutrition.

Diet alone is one of the greatest factors in our overall health. From our body composition (fat to muscles ratio), energy levels, physical performance, recovery rates during rest periods, and our own continuum of illness->wellness->fitness, our “diet” is one of the most important components.

If we look at the Shaolin Kungfu monks, the Daoist Taichi priests, or the secular martial artists who train and compete professionally – diet is a common area of concern.

Please note, when I use the word “diet”, I do not mean it to be “a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight”, or the removal of a specific nutritional category (ie. low fat/no fat, low carb diets). I use the word to refer to our habitual nourishment as considered with regard to nutritional qualities, composition, and effects on health.

Diet and nutrition can be a very complicated subject and there are MANY different approaches. In keeping with the Chinese way of “Zhong Yong” the “Middle Road” we may best approach diet and nutrition with the western idea of “everything in moderation”. However, we can take this one step further and say, “everything healthy in moderation and sweets sparingly”.

Greg Glassman, fitness guru and founder of CrossFit said it the best with “Diet lays the molecular foundations for fitness and health” and adds, “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.”

Are any of us really surprised to hear that? I don’t think so. Is it possible that the greatest martial artists in the world like the Shaolin monks and Daoist priests had it right?

Well, if you were wondering whether or not there were any more specific dietary guidelines you could follow, the answer is yes. It’s not called the Shaolin/Daoist or Martial Artist’s Diet (although it could be), it’s called the Paleolithic Diet. The diet is also known as the Paleo Diet, Caveman Diet, Stone Age Diet and Hunter-Gather Diet.

General guidelines for the Paleo diet include lean protein sources, such as lean beef, fish, poultry and wild game with a variety of fruits and vegetables. Foods to avoid include dairy products, sugars, refined carbohydrates, processed foods and starchy vegetables.

Personally, I follow a slightly a modified version of this diet known as "The Paleo Diet for Athletes" by Loren Cordain, Ph.D. This modified variant outlines several Paleo foods that are acceptable for athletes. Martial artists can add certain foods such as pasta, bread and rice during periods of extended recovery between workouts.

Again, I use these dietary guidelines as a general guide to nutrition. I still eat oatmeal, yogurt and drink milk. I still eat sweet potatoes and enjoy dessert foods. However, I do think focusing our diet on non-processed, whole foods and a well-balanced diet is the key to nutritional health.

For more information please visit: http://www.crossfittheclub.com/nutrition/the-paleo-lifestyle/

This month’s challenge is to focus on restructuring your food pyramid. Good luck. Drink your water, eat healthy, train Chinese martial arts and be happy!