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LPAP instructors discuss their lifetime of learning

Bryan Mendoza / Thresher

By Hongtao Hu     4/2/24 11:18pm

While Lifetime Physical Activity Program courses at Rice are required for graduation, they’re a far cry from your dreaded high-school gym class. Not only do the classes range from tai chi to fencing, but their requisite nature and one-semester duration create a special kind of environment for instructors and students alike.

For Dan Gorman, an Introduction to Fencing (LPAP 172) instructor, the level of investment in students is one difference between LPAPs and private clubs.

“Most of the students have been waitlisting for the fencing class for a while and by the time they get into the class, they’re really invested in having done that class,” Gorman said.

Chienli Wu — who currently teaches the Fundamentals of Tai Chi Sword class (LPAP 103) — says that even though he can only teach fundamentals during a single semester, dabbling in the area has profound benefits.

“Maybe after another year, another semester, you’ve already forgotten the movements in the form, maybe you don’t quite remember after a year or two. But what I want students to learn in this class is to know their bodies better,” Wu said. “You can sense every part of your body, you can control your body, even in daily life … are you 100% sure every part of your body listens to your mind?” 

LPAP’s instructors come from a variety of backgrounds. Wu, now 78, began learning tai chi in Taiwan when she was 10 years old, and after immigrating to America, she taught at the Chinese Community Center for 20 years. After one of her students, a then-instructor at Rice, invited Wu’s husband to teach martial arts at Rice, Wu eventually joined the LPAP program as a tai chi teacher. 

“Elizabeth [Slator, the Associate Director of Recreation Programs] always told me, ‘Start to teach!’, but I didn’t have time. A few years ago, I finally said ‘Okay, I have time to teach now,’” Wu said.

Gorman began fencing in college and moved to Texas as his wife was attending Texas A&M for grad school. He began taking lessons from a Houston instructor, who later asked him to become a coach.

“Pretty soon I was driving down to Houston two to three days a week to teach classes here … and then in 2005, I moved down to Houston and started coaching at a club here in town full time. It was just kind of a serendipitous thing. At no point in my life until I was hired did I think, ‘I’m going to be a fencing coach for a living,’” Gorman said.

Some instructors teach more than just LPAPs and co-teach. Janet Rarick and Benjamin Kamins have co-taught The Alexander Technique (LPAP 151), a type of alternative medicine that deals with posture and alignment training, for five years alongside a potpourri of MUSI courses at the Shepherd School of Music. As for how they do both? Kamins cites the universality of movement.

“What I like about the Alexander Technique is that it’s absolutely practical,” Kamins said. “We all move in the thought processes involved in movement, no matter what the movement is,” Kamins said. “Whether you’re sitting [at] a computer or playing a bassoon, it doesn’t matter what it is — you go through the same processes to move. This is how we can teach an LPAP as easily as we can teach a class over at the Shepherd School.” 

For the uninitiated, the Alexander Technique may seem like a different form of your average meditation course. But Rarick and Kamins assert that’s not the case.

“The Alexander Technique has seven fundamental principles that were very much part of what we learned … these principles are done all [at] once, one after another, yet all at once,” Kamins said. 

For most instructors, what students learn in LPAPs inevitably extends into their personal lives. 

“[The Alexander Technique] helps [students] clarify their intention and helps them find a way to be useful in their movement and their thinking, which is universal,” Kamins said.

Wu stressed that tai chi expands beyond self-defense, focusing also on relaxation and control.

“A very important part of [tai chi] is relaxing,” Wu said. “In daily life, you are often too tense. You are too nervous. Your muscles have nervous striations. So, relaxing is something you need to practice, you need to learn to be able to relax every part of your body.”

While Gorman said he believed that his courses teach the importance of decisiveness and self-discipline, to him, fencing is simply something that everyone can enjoy.

“If you have a group of people, and you have sticks just lying around, they’ll pick them up and start sword fighting. It’s kind of a cultural route for everybody. Everybody has some kind of sword thing in their past … when you give somebody a chance to experience fencing, there’s a good chunk of the population that’ll go back to that route,” Gorman said. 

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