Number One Native Son

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Published in "The Jerusalem Post" on April 16, 1998

Number One Native Son

By Gwen Propps


Haim and Alien (Shiu-Lien) Bender believe in martial arts. Not the kind Bruce Lee demonstrated with such awesome virtuosity, but the softer martial arts of Tai Chi, and The Five Animals, which they teach at the Hua Tuo Center in Ashkelon and Tel Aviv.

Haim, a native Israeli who grew up on the Ivory Coast and studied at French and Hebrew schools, is a certified acupuncturist and Tai Chi master who studied earnestly in Japan and Taiwan for 17 years before returning to Israel to be closer to his retired parents. Alien is a Five Animals master.

Haim's youngest brother Oded lives and works near Tel Aviv. He recalls that learning karate became an obsession with Haim when he was about 13 years old. According to Oded, Haim completely ignored his academic studies and spent all of his time practicing karate. "Our parents threatened to cut out Haim's karate lessons if his grades didn't improve so Haim ran away to Haifa to find a job on a ship that could take him to Japan."

Luckily, a friend of Moshe Bender's (unknown to the karate-struck kid) worked on the ship and made sure Haim was returned home safely, before the ship set sail. But visions of superhuman strength so deftly demonstrated in the Bruce Lee movies popular at the time had worked their charm and our yet to be humbled devotee could not be deterred. "In those days Haim ran in the sea every morning with big bags of sand on his back", Oded remembers, "He ate, drank and breathed karate."

On reflection Haim says he realizes an error in that kind of extreme physical training. "After studying karate for four years in Japan and seeing all kind of injuries to the body that get worse as the person ages, I decided to concentrate on Tai Chi because I saw in this graceful discipline a way that a person could help cure himself of diseases without injury to the body."

Shmuel Payne, a serious Tai Chi student who studies at the Hua Tuo Center in Ashkelon, agrees with Haim. He, too, finds karate too stressful and doesn't want to add more pressure to his already fastpaced, tense, technologically charged lifestyle. "I study Tai Chi to be relaxed. It's a meditative martial art-healing and Haim is a very good teacher. I studied before with a student of a student of a master, but with Haim I'm getting the benefits of learning from the master himself and it's like learning from a friend.

He's so approachable. You can ask him anything. He encourages you to ask questions. It's a very different way of teaching."

Elisha Kehimkar, a well-known patent draftsman from Ashdod who also studies with Haim echoes Shmuels sentiments. "I come from a background of Tai Chi and had been studying for three years before I joined Haim. I've been studying with him for almost a year now and he's still open, approachable, pays attention to the smallest detail of your movements and is very down-to-earth. He doesn't try to make you feel he's way up here, a master, and you're way down there, although he could. The guy studied for 17 years religiously in the Far East where the martial arts originated."

How did Haim get to Japan and begin his long journey to Tai Chi, acupuncture mastery and humility?

"He worked for 3 years and saved his money so he could go to Japan and study the martial arts. I remember telling him to buy a return ticket, but he wouldn't hear of it, so I told him to at least leave enough money so a ticket could be bought for him if things didn't work out. So, he said okay, but it was for my peace of mind that he did it. He was determined to make it on his own there," beams Haim's mother, Martha Bender, sitting at the kitchen table in her Ashkelon home.

Haim landed in Japan, a stranger in a strange land. For four arduous years he taught English, worked as a lifeguard, and did other odd jobs when he wasn't practicing karate or Tai Chi (which took 15 to 16 hours from his day), while he learned to communicate with the people. He switched to Tai Chi after about a year, and did so well at it that his teacher advised him to go to Taiwan, where the art form of Tai Chi had originated, because he couldn't leach him anything more.

I remember landing in Taiwan and feeling less frightened than when I landed in Japan because now I could talk with the people," recalls Haim, "but still it was a new place with new people. I didn't know anyone and I had been told in Japan that some masters I may want to study with wouldn't even speak to me. I saw a beautiful girl practicing in a park. I started talking to her eventually she introduced me to her teacher Kou Ting-Hsien that became my teacher."

That young woman, Shiu Lien - Alien, became his wife some years later. Petite Alien Bender, a descendant of Emperor Lui Bay, is skilled in the Frolic of the Five Animals. When she ! begins a lesson, you know she's in charge. Feisty and strong, she demonstrates movements with gracefulness and control. Her formal study of the Five Animals began as a child, pretending to be different animals as most children around the world do, and became more formal at age 7 when she was enrolled in a private school for three hours a day after regular school hours.

She is the first Taiwanese national given permission to teach the ancient healing art of The Five Animals outside of mainland Taiwan to Westerners. The Frolic of the Five Animals is just what the name implies, mimicking the play and stance of five specific animals for the purpose of strengthening and cleansing the internal organs and restoring the "Chi" - life energy. The animals studied are the tiger for the lungs, the monkey for the spleen, the bear for the liver, the stork for the heart and the deer for the kidneys.

Alien says most westerners cannot go immediately into Five Animals training after many years of inactivity. She begins her courses with a two month study of Pa Tuan Jin, a series of stretching movements that prepare the body for the more strenuous Five Animals discipline. Students practice one or two hours a week in a class with Alien, but must practice at home everyday, preferably in the morning, to see the greatest benefits. The exercises are easy to do at home and require no special clothing.

Later Haim tells me his earliest memory is of wanting to be a doctor because he didn't like the feeling of being sick. He once believed that only a doctor could keep or stop people from experiencing the trauma of illness. Today, he believes the individual has to improve himself with exercise, relaxation techniques and a positive mental attitude.

The Hua Tuo Center, which they established, is Haim and Alien's way of living. They stress moderation in all things, and their aim is to help anyone with a sincere desire grow and ! maintain vibrant health.

"In Tai Chi, which is not using force or physical strength but inner strength, I saw something that you keep on doing and at which you become better and better at all the time," Haim observes.

"You're not limited by size, you're not limited by strength and you're not limited by age. If you are healthy, you grow stronger and more relaxed, but if you have a disease like arthritis, then you can see a vast difference. People who have arthritis after about 3 months of Tai Chi can feel a positive difference if they practice seriously. When you start to experience positive results after studying Tai Chi and The Five Animals that is what's called "green" health, it is not completely ripened. You must continue to strengthen yourself so that you feel joy and peace, free from any pain, that is real health."


Published in "The Jerusalem Post" on April 16, 1998



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* Number One Native Son: Haim Bender


* Haim Bender practicing the Tai Chi form.


pushing hands

pushing hands

pushing hands
* practicing the Tai Chi form.










* Shiu-Lien Bender demonstrates the frolics of the five animals.


* Kou Ting-Hsien practicing the frolics of the five animals.


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