Martial arts teacher, 73, not slowing down
Suzanna Daniels beams when she talks about t'ai chi ch'uan, the form of martial arts she has practiced for nearly 20 years.
“To me, all exercises are good,” Daniels said. “But what tai chi does, it enhances anything else you do.”
Daniels is smooth in going through the 16 movements of tai chi. Her agility belies her age, although she has to think for a second before denoting she is 73.
“I don't think about age,” Daniels said. “Like my Aunt Fanny used to say, ‘I'm old enough to vote and that's all you need to know.'” The Perryopolis woman first began taking martial arts at the suggestion of her youngest son, Nathan, who was also studying martial arts at the time. He was concerned that she be able to defend herself because she lived in a rural section of the community.
She is a black belt in shotokon, an external form of karate. She was in a class of younger men, being taught by Russell Fisher in Perryopolis.
“They threw me down just like I threw them down,” Daniels said. “I had to go against two of them to earn my black belt, and I did.”
Daniels has lived in Perryopolis for the past 40 years. She grew up in Beaver County, working at the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station in Shippingport. She met her husband while he was working on refueling at the plant.
His name was Charles Daniels, but he went by the name Jack Daniels, although she never knew why.
The couple lived originally in Large, near his plant in Elrama.
The couple then moved to Perryopolis, first attracted to the Hutchinson Trailer Court, where the trailers were aligned side by side so that each residence had its own back yard.
Daniels, whose husband passed away in 2010, lives on Happy Valley Road – although you'd never know from the road signs.
“They keep stealing the (road) signs,” Daniels said. “I guess there are some Penn State buffs around. Now the sign only has Valley Road on it.”
She has four sons, Nathan, now 33, Brian, 45, and Paul, 48. Her fourth son, 53-year-old, Charlie Daniels, plays guitar like his namesake, the legendary country/rock musician.
Daniels recalled once when her son came home to visit and called Trombino Music Center in Pricedale to purchase a new guitar.
“They asked his name and he told them Charlie Daniels,” Daniels said. “They were excited, waiting for the wrong Charlie Daniels.”
Daniels began teaching tai chi at the Mon Valley YMCA about a year ago. She learned that the Y was searching for a tai chi teacher and was given the name of Peggy Henforth, health and fitness director at the YMCA. Daniels now teaches the martial art form Mondays and Thursdays.
She also teaches at the Uniontown YMCA, and at the Perryopolis Borough Building.
“She is so willing to work with you if you have problems,” Henforth said of Daniels.
As opposed to karate, which is an external form of martial arts, tai chi is an internal form of martial arts practiced for self defense and health benefits.
Daniels said the Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi said the martial arts form balances both sides of the brain, improving balance and motor skills.
“In class, they train slow in order to gain full control,” Daniels said. “We synchronize the upper and lower body, the inner and outer body.”
There are 16 moves in tai chi.
“You have to think with this,” Daniels said. “It's amazing the different things you feel with tai chi. With these movements, they learn to balance.”
Daniels said those who become proficient in tai chi “walk like a cat.”
“I snuck up on a mouse using tai chi,” Daniels said.
When practicing tai chi correctly, the knees are aligned.
She said it also helps with back issues.
“You're stimulating all of your internal organs,” Daniels said. “The deep abdominal breathing you do stimulates the heart.”
She said it helps people with Parkinson's disease move a little more smoothly.
She uses it while doing yard work to keep her back straight.
“It's great to help people, but they have to make a commitment. No matter how much they practice, they're still learning.”
Suzanna Daniels likes to quote the old oriental proverb, “Wisdom is the knowledge that there's more to learn.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.