Every morning, Roberto Vargas Lee walks through the streets of Havana's Chinatown to the Cuban School of Wushu and Qigong which he founded over 20 years ago.
The 53-year-old master of Wushu (Chinese martial arts) never imagined that he would get this far since he founded the school with an aim to develop Chinese martial arts and Qigong, a traditional Chinese exercise that aims at exploiting the human body's inner energy to achieve both physical and mental harmony.
When he was a child, his mother used to take him to her Cantonese opera performances at the Chung Wah Home, an organization made up of Chinese immigrants and their descendants.
"She learned (Cantonese opera) from my grandfather, who was a Chinese immigrant from Zhongshan City, in the province of Guangdong," Vargas Lee told Xinhua at the end of a training session.
The master, as his students respectfully call him, has long been particularly attracted by Chinese culture.
He has become the country's leading promoter of Wushu which currently has over 6,000 practitioners in Cuba.
As a fan of Bruce Lee's films during his youth, Vargas Lee became the first Cuban to be sent to study Wushu at the Beijing Institute of Physical Education (now the Beijing Sport University) in 1994.
"I really fell in love with Chinese culture while I was studying in Beijing, and it went well beyond sports. I also had the good fortune to meet my wife there, who is from Shanghai," he said. The couple married in Havana in 1996.
Upon his return to Cuba, he was determined to share what he had learned, especially how the activity can be a competitive sport and also be used to keep senior citizens in good health.
His students have won multiple international competitions since 2001.
Vargas Lee, who speaks perfect Mandarin, cherishes many memories from his career, such as meeting Fidel and Raul Castro, as well as current Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel.
The Wushu master splits his daily activities in two: teaching Wushu and also managing Tientan Restaurant, credited with having the best Chinese food in Havana.
The school is housed in an old cinema, and it has become a center for the dissemination of Chinese culture in Havana.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, instructors of all ages meet with Vargas Lee to keep up with the latest techniques and then go to teach classes across Havana and surrounding areas.
Every day, the class begins with the Cuban and Chinese national anthems, followed by the school anthem which speaks about the virtues of practicing Wushu and having Chinese heritage in Cuban culture.
"I always thank my students for embracing Chinese culture," Vargas Lee said.
Vargas Lee is at level six in the Duan system in Wushu and also has a fifth degree black belt in Jyoshinmon Karate-Do, among others.
But all these sport titles have not changed his humbleness.
Vargas Lee's older disciples, such as Domingo Antonio de la Pena, 75, have only words of praise for him.
"The most remarkable thing about him is his teaching method. He knows how to make people feel good and give them confidence," said Pena, a practitioner of Wushu for 12 years.
Margaret Espinosa, a young teacher, highlighted the way in which Vargas Lee helps people stay in harmony with themselves and with nature, using Chinese culture as a guide.
"We have learned from him to have discipline based on harmony, on peace, on relating more to nature, and moving our vital qi," Espinosa said.
In Friday's class, Vargas Lee praised Eusebia Garcia, a former elementary school teacher and a practitioner, who has just turned 79.
The students applauded their classmate, and for a moment the class turned into a party where the cultures of Cuba and China mixed under the watchful eye of Vargas Lee, the Cuban keeper of Chinese heritage.
(Taken from Xinhua)
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