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By Wendi Winters -- For The Capital
Lane Greer and her father, Jing Ying Institute owner Billy Greer, hold the Lion Head in a stylized dance position.
Around Broadneck: Chinese New Year rolls out
By WENDI WINTERS, For The Capital

Heading north on Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard, just short of the Chesapeake Academy, a celebration that started thousands of years ago and half a world away is getting under way.

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year 4703, the Year of the Dog.

Unlike the Gregorian or International calendar, which progresses from the year 1 A.D. into the future, the Chinese calendar is cyclical, rotating around every 12 lunar years. Twelve different animals symbolize the years, among them the rat (which by virtue of his cunning got the first year) and the pig (the last for obvious reasons).

The Jing Ying Institute is bringing a little bit of the flavor of a Chinatown New Year's celebration to its school, housed inside a former shipbuilding warehouse.

Most evenings, the atmosphere is congenial and busy in the cavernous space decorated with high-quality graffiti-like "tags" of Chinese dragons and scenery. In one section, a group of middle-aged folks in black Chinese cotton pajamas quietly do silk reeling exercises from tai chi, while a few feet away, teenagers duel in stylized dance steps with Chinese broadswords and spears or practice kicks on life-size boxing dummies.

The lion dance is an especially energetic display of athleticism and gymnastics. At one point, the large lion head seemingly rises nearly 15 feet in the air. The feat is accomplished when the "tail" person scrambles up the back of the "head" person, stands on his shoulders and raises and shakes the head vigorously.

The creature is built a little like a puppet, so its handlers can make the platter-size eyelids blink and wink, or wag a giant tongue.

Formerly known as East-West Martial Arts in Annapolis, it became Jing Ying Institute when it moved to its present location six years ago. The end of the Year of the Rooster marks the end of the first full year of ownership of Jing Ying by Pasadena residents Billy and Nancy Greer. They have a lot to crow about.

The two have quite a bit of experience in running small businesses and associations. They home-school their children - Glen, 17, and Lane, 13. They founded North County Home Educators, a local support group; and Family Unschoolers Network, a national group; and they run the largest e-mail list for home-schoolers in the area. Nancy, 47, started FUN Books, a mail-order business for home-schoolers, 12 years ago. Billy, 46, is the full-time IT manager for the Arc of Anne Arundel County.

Mr. Greer didn't start out to own a martial arts studio - certainly not when he had his hands full with work, raising pigeons and other hobbies. His teens' inactivity and a set of love handles encouraged the Greers to look into martial arts. He'd taken some courses 18 years ago, but the school closed and he got too busy to look for a new one.

Two-and-a-half years ago, the family discovered Jing Ying. Though they argued that they didn't have the two free evenings a week to get the full benefit from the classes suggested by then-owner Mary Martin and head instructor Sean Marshall, they gave it a try.

"Within a month, we were coming every day," Mr. Greer said. "We got really involved."

During the 2004 Fourth of July Parade in Severna Park, in which students from the school performed the lion dance, Ms. Martin asked Mr. Greer if he'd be interested in taking over the school. Ms. Martin's elderly parents' health was failing and she needed to spend more time with them.

When she announced that the school would close Sept. 1 unless a new owner was found, the Greers stepped forward.

"There is nothing else in the area like it. We made a lot of good friends here. Taking over was a leap of faith," said Mr. Greer.

Sean, a fifth-degree black belt who's had 25 years of training, agreed to stay on.

Changes are creeping in. The Web site has been upgraded, as has the school's equipment. The schedule's been tinkered with and more programs have been added. There are now more than 100 regular students of all ages in the building from 4 to 9 p.m. A kung fu class for home-schoolers kicks off at 3 p.m. daily and a tutoring academy for 45 home-schoolers, with courses in algebra, chemistry, physics, Spanish and grammar, occupies the space two days of the week.

Last year's plans to celebrate the Chinese New Year were abruptly truncated by the December tsunami. The couple switched plans for a celebratory event to a fund-raiser for tsunami relief by hosting a kung fu kick-a-thon, bake sale and yard sale. They raised over $2,000.

This year's events are the Greers' way of introducing their neighbors to a Chinese custom that's four millennia old and to the evolving Jing Ying Institute.

Entry in all events is by reservation only. To RSVP, call 410-431-5200. For more details, visit www.jingying.org.

Please e-mail news to Wendi Winters at BroadneckNews@quantumstep.com; write to her c/o The Capital, P.O. Box 911, Annapolis, MD 21404; or fax to 410-280-5953.

Published January 30, 2006, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright 2006 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.