When people see Mark Lee Pringle on the street, they liken him to Charlie Chan, a fictional Chinese-American detective from movies made in the 1930s and 1940s.
But seven years ago, Pringle was said to resemble Elvis Presley from the 1950s, complete with pompadour hair and long sideburns.
''I wasn't even particularly an Elvis fan,'' Pringle said. ''I just think it's important to be historically accurate.:"
Pringle no longer impersonates The King, but instead finds balance in his life with his Chinese kung-fu and tai chi training. For the past 17 years, Pringle has been passing on the culture to his students, more than 175 of them, each week with his teachings at the Girard Multi-Generational Center, Youngstown State University and several other venues throughout the county.
''It is a balance of hardness and softness, not only in martial arts but in daily living, whether it's in the workplace or the home environment,'' Pringle said.
Pringle, who has some Chinese heritage several generations removed, became interested in Kung-fu through Bruce Lee and the Kung-fu television show of the 1970s. He began training in 1972 and his interest evolved into learning more about the Chinese heritage through touring Chinatown areas of Cleveland, Chicago and New York City. He studied the Chinese language, Chinese writing and culinary arts at the former Chinese American Culture Institute in Cleveland in addition to Kung-fu and Tai Chi.
Pringle, whose Chinese name is Si-Fu Li Ma-Keh, formerly taught tai chi to senior citizens at area S.C.O.P.E. centers. He currently teaches Tai Chi to senior citizens at Central Christian Church in Warren and Lake Vista in Cortland. He has been the tai chi and Shao-Lin kung-fu coach for the last 11 years on the YSU campus.
Pringle's school, The "Coiling Dragon Chinese Kung-fu School," also performs traditional lion dance and kung-fu demos' during Chinese New Year at area restaurants, including Girard Wok.