Paying respects, with marigolds

| 07 Jul 2014 | 02:41

There’s a charming wooden gazebo in the Warwick Town Park, surrounded by colorful flowers, with an engraved marble bench next to it that catches many a shade-seeker’s curiosity.

“It has long been my dream,” the bench reads, “that one day Americans of all ages, creeds, and colors, will be practicing taijiquan in the parks of this nation as they do in China. The result would be a tremendous improvement in mental health and physical well-being. It is my hope that we can work together to revive taijiquan which is fast becoming a lost art.”

What is taijiquan? And who is this enigmatic Master Jou Tsung Hwa, “scholar, teacher, author, dreamer”?

Taijiquan, it turns out, is tai chi, the slow-moving martial art you see old folks practicing if you ever take a stroll through Chinatown in the morning. Master Jou was a world renowned teacher of the art, and the creator of the 103-acre Tai Chi Farm on Route 94 – an international mecca for tai chi practitioners and a landmark in Warwick. People came from around the world to practice and live on his property.

The era of the Tai Chi Farm came to a close in 1998 when Master Jou died in a car accident. Even though he was in his 80s, Master Jou was still full of life and energy, and his death took the community by surprise. His disciples came together to build a gazebo in his honor. Over time, though, the flowers planted around the perimeter began to wilt.

Classes from Chosun Taekwondo Academy, which practiced in front of the gazebo during the summer, took notice. A group of taekwondo students – which does other community work like volunteering at a soup kitchen – approached area nurseries and the Warwick Valley Gardeners. Everybody gave some plants, and the flowers “just transformed it,” said Patty Cook, the wife of Master Doug Cook of Chosun Taekwondo Academy in Warwick.

It’s turned into a tradition to clean up around the gazebo every spring to honor Master Jou. Early on a Sunday morning in May, 10 taekwondo students happily weeded, raked and planted annuals, keeping this mystical piece of Warwick’s history alive.