by Nemanja Cabric and Wang Huijuan
BELGRADE, June 13 (Xinhua) -- Around 1,000 people in Serbia practice Chinese traditional martial arts or health techniques. Amid this community is one enthusiastic couple that promotes the true values of wushu and qigong in order to build a cultural bridge between the two countries.
Sasa Balaneskovic and his girlfriend Ilinka Acimovic are passionate practitioners and teachers of Tai Chi as well as founders of Serbia's two associations which gather 11 wushu and qigong member clubs. They met because of Tai Chi, and it continues to shape their relationship.
They run their own club on three locations in Belgrade and finance themselves out of membership fees from people who attend their classes.
Balaneskovic said: "We are established as Serbian Wushu Association in 2013, while in the beginning of 2012 we founded Qigong Association of Serbia and started cooperation with the suggestion of Chinese Health Qigong Association (CHQA)."
Acimovic and Balaneskovic wish to promote wushu and qigong outside Serbia, and have so far held seminars in Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia and Spain.
They participated in numerous international tournaments and championships while this year they will go to Anhui, China to participate in the 2nd China International Qigong Tournament and Exchange in August.
BUILDING CULTURAL BRIDGES
Balaneskovic first went to China in 2011 for the international wushu tournament at Wudang Mountain, where he studied Wudang Tai Chi and observed Wudang qigong.
"I saw differences and similarities between what people in Serbia were doing and what was passed off as wushu. We decided to help the wushu community in Serbia to grow," he said.
Balaneskovic said his qigong and wushu associations were separated in order to clear out misunderstandings in Serbia concerning Chinese martial arts "where people believe that the Tai Chi Chuan is a form of moving qigong, or a meditation in movement."
"Though Tai Chi Chuan is promoted as an exercise, it is actually a martial art, and the most sophisticated one in the world," he said.
"I think that dealing with qigong, Tai Chi, and wushu in general is a good way for people to improve their health," he added.
"Sport knows no borders or races and it is a universal language we can all speak, and it's a good way of making good relations between people," Balaneskovic said.
In fact, for the Balaneskovic-Acimovic couple, Tai Chi sparked the beginning of their relationship.
"One day Balaneskovic came to me and asked for help to arrange a seminar. We started working together and fell in love. I would practice martial arts with him every day for two or three hours," Acimovic said.
Balaneskovic's clubs gather 60 to 80 people every month in several groups. One of the groups is at the state's Institute for Rheumatology, where patients practice health qigong.
Each Sunday, he holds a public performance at Belgrade fortress where members of other clubs also come to practice diverse techniques of Chinese traditional martial arts. Their presence in the park is amusing to passers-by, amateur photographers and families.
Among the participants is Sava Vojinovic, a 29-year-old man who has been studying Chinese martial arts for more than 15 years.
"Since we established the Wushu Association of Serbia, I regularly attend celebrations of Chinese New Year, I started learning Chinese, and I am really interested in this culture," he said.
"I think culture and sport can improve relations between people and nations. Recently, we went to Turkey for a wushu competition. It was wonderful to see all these people connected by wushu," he said.
Djenjdi Samardzija, who has been practicing Tai Chi for 22 years, runs her own club called Hua Kang. For her, Tai Chi grew into something that "changed my character, my days and led me into spirituality as well as closer to my true self."
"This connected me strongly with China and its culture. I read books: from Chinese philosophy, traditional medicine to culture, painting, tea ceremonies. I have to know, feel and be informed about everything in order to master Tai Chi," she said.