Rick Pukis, associate professor in the Department of Communications and co-director of the Cinema Series at Augusta University, has accepted a full scholarship to Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine beginning June 19 and ending July 15.
Over the years, Pukis has worked extensively with the Confucius Institute and the Department of Kinesiology and Health Science to teach tai chi to students, faculty, staff and community members.
Now, he said he’s excited for the opportunity do some learning of his own.
“I’m looking forward to learning more about Chinese medicine, culture and martial arts,” Pukis said. “One of the greatest things, I think, is that I’m going to learn more and be able to share that knowledge with students.”
Pukis said he first learned of the scholarship while working with the Confucius institute.
“I’ve been involved with the Confucius Institute now for a couple of years, and they’ve been bringing over some coaches from the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine Martial Arts team,” he explained. “Getting to know all these folks and their university a little bit made me curious about one of their summer programs.”
Despite his curiosity, though, Pukis said he’d never previously been to China. He’d tried — twice — but had been stopped both times by the same tai chi master. Once for attempting to visit China with another master, and again for reasons Pukis never discovered. Still, the desire to visit the world’s most populous country never left him.
Having seen the power of the relationship between the two universities firsthand, he expressed his interest to Dr. Cindi Chance and Professor Wenxin Zhou, director and co-director of the Confucius Institute respectively.
“Dr. Chance and Professor Zhou were instrumental in helping me get this scholarship,” Pukis said. “I’m very thankful to them both for the opportunity to visit China.”
Despite never having visited in person, though, Pukis already has a long history with the so-called “Middle Kingdom.” Or rather, he has history with one of the country’s most well-known arts.
It began in high school, when he and a friend discovered a martial arts studio run by a master in the next town over. Pukis said he and his friend would routinely run the seven-mile distance from their small town outside of Chicago to practice. There, he said, the master, a man named George Hu, first encouraged him to take up tai chi.
“He always stressed the importance of learning tai chi,” Pukis said. “I studied kung fu with him throughout high school, but he would always say tai chi was the way to go.”
So, in college, Pukis took up his master’s advice. He began to study the art, learning all he could about the benefits and cultural and historical significance of tai chi. On the surface, it seemed like a good fit for him. Several sources cited tai chi as an effective stress reliever and a thoroughly enjoyable exercise.
“It’s the ultimate exercise, in fact,” Pukis said. “You can practice it your entire life, and the more you practice, of course, the better you’ll get.”
But despite the physical benefits associated with this “soft” martial art, Pukis said it was the spiritual — or “magical” — aspects of tai chi that really sold him on the practice.
“The Chinese believe that we have this internal energy running through our body — they call it Chi,” he said. “When we have a blockage of this Chi, that’s when we get ill.”
The “magic” of tai chi, and the energy and health benefits it produces, continue to fascinate Pukis. He said that, even though he continues to teach tai chi, he still practices often on his own. Even after a 10-hour day, a single session of tai chi will leave him feeling invigorated.
Having the opportunity to learn more about his chosen art from instructors in China, he said, made the thought of his scholarship that much more exciting.
“I think this is going to make me a better instructor and a better individual,” he said.
For more information about similar opportunities for faculty and staff, contact the Confucius Institute at Augusta University at 706-721-8399.