Local tai chi instructor Yuka Freeman has been recognized as the third nominee for the 11th annual Lompoc Valley of the Flowers Peace Prize, for her dedication to the well-being of her students.
After learning the basics from her father who was an acupuncturist and doctor of Chinese medicine in Japan, Freeman continued her 10-year study of the ancient art, which she explained has evolved over thousands of years from Chinese martial arts.
While in Hawaii, Freeman eventually mastered Yang-style tai chi, and vowed to share it with others.
First pointing to her own transformation, the tai chi instructor said evidence of art's power to create harmony within also can be found in the lives of her students.
Upon witnessing the televised murder of Floyd in late May by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, Dunaetz and Costa recalled feeling shocked and concerned about the issues of fair policing and social justice.
One student, age 86, she said, now can balance on one foot while putting on her pants — without sitting down.
"Your balance gets better, you relax your mind and gain mobility and flexibility,“ Freeman said. "At first I was worried, hyper, but now I am more well-balanced."
Geri Royce, a third-year student of Freeman's, described his own transformation.
He admitted that he once had "lousy balance," and it wasn't until a friend pointed out to him that his reliance on using handrails while exercising at the YMCA had diminished, he understood the power of tai chi.
Azyiah, Amia and Maliah Simmons, each of whom attended Lompoc High School in the 2019-20 school year, earned the nomination for their music video, which they created for a performing arts competition sponsored by EduHam, an educational spin-off of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton. The girls were featured on "Good Morning America" this summer for their efforts.
"The improvement was so subtle that I didn’t even notice it," he said. "I was shocked myself."
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Freeman has adjusted her teaching schedule and continues to instruct students at local parks and in open parking lots.
To nominate someone for the Valley of the Flowers Peace Prize, call 805-733-3333, or mail to 1536 W. Cherry Ave., Lompoc, CA, 93436.
The annual Peace Prize ceremony is scheduled for Jan. 31, 2021, at the Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ, 3346 Constellation Road, Vandenberg Village.
The first 2020 nominee is the singing Simmons Sisters, while the second is Robin Dunaetz and Ashley Costa.
Lisa André covers local news and lifestyles for Santa Ynez Valley News.
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