by Yosley Carrero
HAVANA, Oct. 14 (Xinhua) -- Havana resident Margarita Albelaes, 79, made her way through the streets of the city's Chinatown to the Cuban School of Wushu and Qigong, where she has been practicing for 15 years.
The school recently reopened after being shutdown for seven months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first day of classes since lockdown restrictions were lifted saw the return of nearly 70 students, wearing face masks and standing two meters apart in keeping with the new regulations, but with the same enthusiasm as ever.
Roberto Vargas Lee, the president of the school, believes Chinese martial arts have helped Cubans better deal with the health risks and social stresses of the pandemic.
"We are helping people stay in harmony with nature, protect their immune system, breathe pure air, and forget their daily problems," Vargas said.
"Chinese martial arts are more necessary than ever," he added.
Albelaes, who began to practice Chinese martial arts to manage leg pain caused by diabetes, agrees.
"I have improved my flexibility and cardiovascular health," she told Xinhua.
"I am a happier person now, with a lot more body strength, and with a new life philosophy to confront difficult circumstances," said the octogenarian.
Younger generations, too, are benefiting from the practice of Wushu and Qigong.
Mathew Labrada, a 14-year-old who is recovering from an arm injury, has been eagerly awaiting the school's reopening.
"Chinese martial arts help me stay in good shape, develop my mental health, and be more disciplined," he said as he rested under the shade of bamboo trees planted at the school.
With gyms and sports centers largely closed during the lockdown, more Cubans have turned to the Chinese martial arts.
As a result of the increased interest, classes began to be aired on Cuban TV, featuring demonstrations by students from the school, which opened in 1995.
In addition, a network of nearly 120 instructors spread knowledge about the martial arts across Havana's 15 districts.
Among them is Mercedes Chapotin, 76, who still studies at the school and also teaches at a square in the city's old quarter.
"We transmit what we have learnt to many people living in the neighborhoods," said Chapotin. "Chinese martial arts are a treasure." Enditem