Master Michael Cimino teaches a free Tai Chi lesson in Memorial Park on Lake and Union streets in Hamburg on Wednesday evenings during the summer. All are welcome to join.
Michael Cimino had a desire to practice martial arts since he was a small child.
“My uncle worked in a factory with a man from Asia who practiced martial arts,” said Cimino. “I started with him when I was 12.” But Cimino’s instructor was secretive when it came to sharing all of the ancient tradition.
“It wasn’t like the real stuff,” he said. Cimino craved to learn more.
He began practicing karate in college, but that, too, left him unfulfilled.
“There was always a desire to learn a Chinese martial art,” he said, adding that he did not want to learn just a martial arts “style,” but a complete “system.”
Then Cimino discovered Eight Step Preying Mantis kung fu.
“This is probably one of the best systems for self-defense that I’ve seen,” he said. “ The thing that attracted me to this was its effectiveness, and the fact that it is a system and it offers all these different levels of learning.
Cimino began learning the system in 1997 and only became a master three years ago. Yet he said he still has at least another five to seven years of learning before he truly understands the complex system.
“The volume of knowledge in this system is tremendous,” he said. “You are constantly learning new material and still are challenged.”
Cimino owns Alternative Fitness Systems of Western New York, Inc., located at 350 Union St. in the Village of Hamburg, where he teaches Eight Step Preying Mantis Kung Fu as well as Tai Chi Chuan.
“Tai Chi was initially designed as a martial art, and then around 100 years ago it was introduced to Chinese royalty...and it was changed somewhat to become a health exercise,” Cimino said. “Tai Chi is a bridge between health exercise and self-defense.”
Tai Chi is slow moving, and focuses on balance, coordination, breathing, posture and inner strength. While it may not burn calories, it does tone muscle.
“It falls into a mind-body exercise, much like yoga,” Cimino said. “The thought process you practice while you are doing the physical aspect is the most important part.”
In addition to the classes he offers at his Union Street studio, Cimino teaches a free Tai Chi class every Wednesday at 5:45 p.m. in Hamburg’s Memorial Park. He plans to continue to offer this service as long as the weather is nice. All are free to attend, no matter one’s experience or ability.
At Alternative Fitness Center, Cimino is dedicated to teaching, and unlike early martial arts instructors, he is willing to teach as much as he knows. Classes are offered daily except Fridays and Sundays. There are no contracts and Cimino tries to keep the cost low to benefit families.
While Alternative Fitness Centers offers classes for young children and curious beginners, Cimino himself only teaches students willing to dedicate themselves to the art.
Unlike other martial arts schools, Alternative Fitness Center is not interested in using belt systems.
“Our philosophy on the matter is that you can be a black belt by your wardrobe but not your ability,” Cimino said. “In my school, you can tell what level a student is at by what they are doing.”
Cimino cautioned that this complex martial arts system is not for everyone.
“I have had a few people that wanted to learn martial arts so they could be the tough guy on the block,” he said. “After a few months of training they find out how much work it is and they don’t want to do it anymore.
“I stress to my students that you have to practice as though you were going to use it to get the full experience, but that type of practice is restricted to the school or if their life is in danger.”
Cimino said martial arts is not about fighting, but about good character, honor and discipline.
“Through the process of learning a martial art, kids learn how to succeed in life. It’s based on practice, and keep trying and not giving up until you accomplish your goals,” he said.
Students will also learn about patience, diligence and determination, as Cimino said the system is so intricate that it takes 20 to 25 years to learn.
As a reference standpoint for both himself and his students, Cimino has co-authored nine books on the fundamentals of Eight Step Preying Mantis Kung Fu.
One of the topics he is particularly interested in writing about is Chinese medicine and how it goes hand-in-hand with martial arts.
“You need to know Chinese medicine in order to do the advanced levels of Chinese martial arts,” Cimino said. “It has a lot to do with acupuncture points and how to reverse the affects of being hit on certain areas of the body.” He added that there is another level of Chinese medicine that deals with health maintenance and disease prevention.
“My goal and reward is to preserve the system,” Cimino said. Yet he knows the system can not be preserved solely through his texts.
“You cannot write it in a book and hope it survives,” he said. “You have to practice it to understand what it is all about.”
For more information on Alternative Fitness Systems of Western New York, call 864-9352 or visit www.8stepschools.com.