Lightly, powerfully, George Curnoles leads his students through the dance of life on a bitter Sunday morning.
The tai chi instructor moves rhythmically, as if to waves, pulling and pushing the air around him and exhaling oceanic gusts that keep his class afloat on an inward sea.
"I'm a meditation teacher," Mr. Curnoles says as he works his way through the karate studio. "I don't teach martial arts."
In their own movement and concentration, Mr. Curnolesstudents honor his words. After class, they hug him.
Tai chi "helps you realize what priorities need to be in your life," says Lynn Levi, a dancer who has studied with Mr. Curnoles intermittently for 14 years. "It's a way to ignore the world and just breathe and center. It's peaceful and enervating at the same time."
Mr. Curnoles, 62, has always been fleet and strong. As a youth, he and his East Baltimore buddies lived a rough-and-tumble life. Later, as a member of the Air Force military police, he studied judo. Karate and hatha yoga came later -- as did the spiritual dimension of Eastern physical arts. "Like osmosis, it gradually crept into my being," he says.
His early classes, some 30 years ago, were as solemn and silent as a monastery, Mr. Curnoles says. Today, they are infused with quips.
Besides offering weekly tai chi and hatha yoga classes at thKenpo Karate studio in Pikesville, Mr. Curnoles teaches at Goucher College, the College of Notre Dame and the Heritage United Church of Christ. Also known for his torrid tango and way with a drum, Mr. Curnoles has gained a reputation as a charismatic body-work guide without peer. But asked if he considers himself a guru, he demurs: "I'm not a guru, I'm a guy."