A crowd of 12 local residents gathered under the Saturday morning sun at Craig City Park. Standing before them was a diminutive woman clutching a sword.
Dressed in flowing pink garments, the woman gracefully twirled and danced for long stretches of time, then occasionally interrupted the moves with a thrust of her sword.
The woman’s husband, Owen Jenrich, explained the movements.
“(Tai chi is) 4,000 years old,” said Owen, 44. “A lot of it is mind, body and spirit … but it’s also self defense.”
Saturday’s occasion was a martial arts demonstration.
Mae Jenrich, who recently moved from China to Craig, is an expert of Chen-style tai chi. She now teaches her skills to students at Holistic Health & Fitness in Craig.
“It’s the perfect sport,” said Mae, 42.
“My master (in China) is 92 years old (and) he is very strong. Tai chi is like food for your body.”
Four months ago, Mae moved from Baoding, China, to join her husband in Craig. She has been speaking English for only a year-and-a-half. For that reason, Owen does most of the talking.
“(Mae) has been doing (tai chi) for 23 years now,” said Owen, who works in information technology for Tri-State Generation & Transmission. “She knows five different styles, but Chen-style is the one she’s really mastered.
“The Chen style has a lot to do with balance.”
Mae conducts classes at 6:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 6 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays.
Despite the evening classes, tai chi is meant to start one’s day.
“In China, tai chi is done first thing in the morning,” Owen said.
“You’ll see … hundreds (of people in town squares) doing tai chi at sun up. They don’t do it the rest of the day. (The morning routine is supposed to) get the bad energy out and get the good energy in for the day.”
But there’s no contradiction in having evening classes, Owen said. Night classes allow working people to learn the moves so they can perform their own tai chi routines in the morning.
Karrie Booth, who opened Holistic Health & Fitness three years ago, said the classes are free to members, or $5 per class for non-members.
The sole purpose of the fees is to offset the fitness center’s overhead, the Jenriches said.
“In China, you don’t get paid to teach tai chi,” Owen said. “Tai chi is for the people.”
“I teach only for free,” Mae said.
Mae, who comes from a city that boasts a population of more than four million people, said she likes her new home in Craig.
“It is peaceful here,” she said. “I like Craig people. (They are) respectful. This is my home.”