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Desert Companion

Steven Baugh: 'This is what kept me alive'

The prognosis: death. The doctors had all but given up on Steven Baugh, who says he'd been diagnosed with a form of sickle cell anemia at age 12. "They said I was going to die before I was 16," says Baugh, 57, founder and sifu (master instructor) of the Lohan School of Shaolin in Chinatown, where he teaches tai chi, chi kung and self-defense. The cure? Baugh's grandfather took him to a Chinese doctor. But not just any Chinese doctor. Baugh was treated by Ark Wong, the kung fu master widely credited as a pioneer in bringing the martial art to the West. His healing regimen? Not pills, drips and injections. Instead, think acupuncture, herbal medicine and lots of chi kung. "[Wong] taught me traditional Chinese medicine and kung fu," says Baugh, a transplant from Los Angeles. "The chi kung helped make me physically strong. I thought, wow, this is a cool exercise. It wasn't jumping jacks or stuff like that." Today, Baugh's nonprofit academy ( aims to strengthen the bodies - and spirits - of the community. The training room is lined with practice swords and spears, all overseen by a golden dragon - a gift from action star Jackie Chan after the school's Lion Dancers appeared in last year's remake of "The Karate Kid." Thanks, Hollywood! "We went from about 20 kids to 60 overnight." Crash course: "Lohan" is Chinese for "enlightened being"; "Shaolin" refers to martial arts originating from the Shaolin temple in ancient China. Chi kung is a 2,000-year-old exercise system that emphasizes slow, gentle movements. Tai chi combines chi kung and martial arts. But it's not about kicking butt - unless it's your own. "Most of the people who do chi kung have extreme health problems and they just want to become normal," says Baugh. "They just want to be able to walk again." And many of them do - walking well into old age. "My grandfather would take me to Chinatown (in Los Angeles) and I would see all the elderly people doing tai chi. The old people in my neighborhood were old. The elderly Chinese people were moving everywhere and I was amazed. They weren't frail."

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