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George Curnoles, 63, teacher of meditation, karate expert


George L. Curnoles, a meditation teacher and karate expert, died Oct. 18 of cancer at Stella Maris Hospice. The Northwest Baltimore resident was 63.

Mr. Curnoles, who never considered himself a guru and modestly described himself as just a "guy," nevertheless introduced several generations of Baltimoreans to the meditative exercises and spiritual benefits of tai chi and hatha yoga.

Once described in a newspaper article as being "broad-shouldered and balding -- and looking vaguely like Mr. Clean in his fighting robes," Mr. Curnoles conducted classes in the area for nearly 40 years.

He taught at Maryland Institute, College of Art, Goucher College, Peabody Institute, Wally Saunders Dance Studio, College of Notre Dame, Heritage United Church of Christ and at the time of his death was teaching at Kenpo Karate Studio in Pikesville.

"He was a mixture of many things and his pursuit of the spiritual was incredible," said Robin Kissinger, a friend and student who teaches chamber music and piano at Goucher College. "He was a person on a path who was able to inspire many people.

"He was able to help people effect change in their own lives."

Harriet Lynn, a Baltimore actress, director and dancer, began studying with Mr. Curnoles 38 years ago.

"He was also a bodybuilder who looked like Yul Brynner and was everyone's heartthrob," said Ms. Lynn, a Roland Park resident.

"However, he was the kind of man who lived by his own rules

and code and was obstinate to the conventional rules of society and insisted on taking life on his own terms, and believe me, he did.

"He was a Pied Piper and so irresistible that everyone who knew him couldn't help but love him."

Despite being ill with cancer for several years, he still managed to teach and inspire, said Dr. Peter Hinderberger of Baltimore, his friend and physician.

"He was clear about his destiny," Dr. Hinderberger said. "He was one of the very few who knew how he wanted to create the last years of his life. He had a strong core of convictions, and he didn't want to have anything interfere with his body, mind and spirit. He was a great teacher to the end."

An only child born and raised in East Baltimore, Mr. Curnoles was a graduate of city schools and began studying judo while serving in the Air Force military police during the late 1940s.

His exposure to judo later led to his study of Eastern philosophies.

After returning to Baltimore, he worked at the Bethlehem Steel plant at Sparrows Point, taught ballroom dancing (and is still known for his seductive interpretation of the tango, according to acquaintances) and was a drummer and pit musician.

A self-taught percussionist, Mr. Curnoles played during the late 1950s and early 1960s in several New York jazz clubs and in a trio at Baltimore's Hotel Roosevelt, formerly the Hotel Joyce opposite Camden Station.

He was described by Claudie Hubbard, a former member of the trio and since 1983 the pianist at the Prime Rib, as "a beautiful person who was kind, warm and a good-natured guy."

"Boy, did he draw in the crowds," Mr. Hubbard said. "He held people spellbound with his drum solos that went on for 15 minutes or more, and they'd sit there with their mouths open."

Friends knew of another dimension, as well -- oil paintings, watercolors and photography he did for his own satisfaction.

Blaine Gilbert, an attorney who knew him for more than 30 years, said, "He was really a Renaissance man who surrounded himself with his photographs, paintings, music, books and his friends. He was a good person to learn about life from."

A memorial service is set for 3 p.m. Nov. 19 at Kenpo Karate Studio in Pikesville Shopping Center, 1400 Reisterstown Road.

He is survived by many friends.

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