South Charlotte

Martial arts students experience life-changing trip

A group of 50 martial arts students completed a two-week journey to Asia late in 2011, visiting Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China.

Many from the group were from the Charlotte area and students at The Peaceful Dragon, a martial arts school and cultural center on Steele Creek Road. About half of the Peaceful Dragon students live in south Charlotte.

The trip was organized by Eric Sbarge, 52, owner of The Peaceful Dragon and widely respected martial artist. Sbarge, who students refer to using the title "Sifu," (translated to mean teacher or father), has been involved with martial arts for 35 years and has a loyal following at his school.

The trip was meant to provide an opportunity for students to experience Chinese culture and locations that they have learned about and that hold meaning for them.

"My goal in planning this trip was to help our students, and myself, better understand the roots and heritage of the Chinese health arts and martial arts that we study at The Peaceful Dragon," said Sbarge.

Everyone who went on the trip studies Tai Chi, an ancient form of martial arts based on a holistic approach of balancing the mind, body and spirit.

Each day, they participated in a Tai Chi class taught either by Sbarge or a local instructor.

On one occasion, while practicing at a park, they drew the attention of local onlookers with their grappling moves. That is because typically in China, Tai Chi is practiced only as a healing art and does not include self defense applications.

Overall, the group was treated with hospitality and felt welcome wherever they went. Although they were aware that they were being monitored to some degree in China (a common practice there), they felt safe and were not restricted in their travels.

Communication was not a problem, as three members of the group, including Sbarge's wife, Debra, 57, served as unofficial translators. They also had local guides along the way to assist.

The group covered a lot of ground in two weeks, taking 10 planes and two trains in order to get to all the locations.

Even though some areas were remote, for the majority of the trip, hotel conditions were palatial and would be considered luxurious by American standards. Also impressive was the food, which showcased delicious and beautiful displays of culinary skill.

In Chinese culture, an empty plate signifies that the diner is still hungry and would like more, so group members quickly learned to leave a little bit of food on their plate when they were done.

In Taipei, they visited the tomb of Chang Tung Sheng, the lineage head of the martial arts methods taught at The Peaceful Dragon.

Another highlight of the trip was the Dharma Drum Mountain Retreat, founded by Chang's meditation teacher and monk Sheng Yen, also in Taiwan.

Additionally, they spent time on Wudang Mountain, which is considered to be the birthplace of Tai Chi. There they enjoyed going to the famous Purple Cloud Temple, built in 1413.

Students from The Peaceful Dragon who went on the trip ranged in age from 9 to 64, and their Tai Chi experience varied from less than a year to 15 years.

The excursion was described as life changing by several people. They also said they would welcome the chance to visit again.