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
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 Shmuel’s 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
"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
“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
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
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
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