10 Questions with Huang Chun-Yi

Posted in 10 Questions, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2018 by Combative Corner

How did you come across fencing and in particular, fall in love with historical weapons?

I liked to read literature and watch movies since I was in my childhood. After I came across a YouTube video on longsword fencing, I started to search for historical manuals and checked if what I found really existed. I found that sabre also interests me a lot. Around 2014-2015, I found my teacher through my friend in Czech Republic. Then my teacher come to Taiwan to teach.


What do people of Taiwan think about European swordsmanship and has it caught on in popularity? Why or why not?

European swordsmanship is very new in Taiwan, and is developing quite slowly. The main reasons are the native culture and the culture distance. The society in Taiwan is dominated by Japanese  and Chinese martial arts because of the history background. The image on European swordsmanship largely comes from movie or fantasy. It is difficult to change in a short time.


What’s one thing that you feel all beginners should know?

Friendship. Sharing the knowledge and interests in a friendly way can shorten the road of learning. Making friends can help the growth of the community and broaden your thoughts. Test and work on the needs not only in fencing but also life together. Maybe you can find your lifetime partner or even mentor.


Is there anything else that you do in your life that helps you to be a better fencer, teacher, or both?

Both.  I was working as a teacher, which helps me understand more on the method of education, and psychology of learning. I am also a medical laboratory technologist; I know body mechanisms and some sport science through my university education. The most important thing is gaining lots of info and experience from other fencers and teachers.


What do your parents think of what you do and have you gotten any of them to fence?

They understand what fencing is and can differentiate the difference between modern fencing and historical fencing. They are supportive, and my father is the first one to show me fencing, but they don’t have time to fence themselves.


Your descriptions says you teach from the teachings of Luigi Barbasetti. Is there a big difference between this or other styles of fencing? What would that be in your words?

If you compare the Barbasetti style with other sabre style, the biggest difference is the moulinet which is from the elbow. And the style also emphasizes on a more direct cut.


Do you compete? Or is sparring enough? Why or why not?

No, I don’t compete for now, but I do teach how to deal with competition. I also do sparring with friends inside and outside of the club. The reason why I don’t compete and prefer sparring is that the mindset is different. Of course it depends on the rules of the competition. From my experience, the competitor’s main goal is to win the medal, so they will go whatever way is the best and easier to get the most points. You can learn how to fence in high pressure and face different opponents, and it is a way to test yourself. But for sparring, we can set the goal and work on what we need. Both are good to progress yourself, just a different way to train.


It is really hard (in the U.SA.) to make a living as a teacher, especially to teach the martial arts as a main source of income. Do you teach professionally only, or do you have other jobs?

I have another job as a teacher, and doing some business. In Taiwan, it is hard to teach martial art as a job. The society generally aims at the competition over the “real life” fencing.  It is seen as  entrainment, or a sport, not a serious thing.

The market is very small and we can’t ignore the people who do the sport fencing and other martial arts. People don’t tend to change when they get used to one thing.

 

Besides your love for swordsmanship, what else does Huang Chun-Yi like to do in her spare time?

I like music, culture and historical study. I also like to travel and visit historical sites with my partner. Hiking is also one of my favorite things – especially with my family, and friends.


Where does Huang Chun-Yi think she’ll be in 10 years? Are there any big goals in mind? If so, what might that be?

That is a good question, but it is hard to say what and where I will be after 10 years. Maybe I won’t be doing fencing and get married – Or even move to another country! I am sure that I will travel to more countries and keep learning things though.

Bonus Question:

If you could learn from any martial art teacher of the past or present (NOT Barbasetti), who would it be and why?

Giuseppe Radaelli. He is the one who largely introduced the elbow moulinet, the use of the thumb grip on the sabre, and using of light sabre (compared to other sabres in the same period). He taught in the military and cavalry and was a good teacher. I would like to discuss his book, the differences from mounted sabre to his light sabre with him.

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10 Questions with Nasser Butt

Posted in 10 Questions, Internal Arts, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2018 by Combative Corner

What got you interested in the martial arts?

This is going to sound like a cliché but I got involved in Martial Arts after getting a good beating from a group of kids in my neighborhood!

The 70’s had ended and we were at the beginning of the 80’s. – racial incidents were very high. We were the only ‘mix’ family (Asian/Irish) of any colour living in my street at the time and I remember going to the park which was at the bottom of our road. As I entered the park to go play, I was attacked by a mob of white kids. I would’ve been around 12 or 13 years old at the time. Most of the kids were older teens and they made a mess of me and told me that the park wasn’t for my kind! I literally crawled back home as I couldn’t walk.

An Irish musician friend of my father’s took me under his wing after the incident and started to teach me Wing Chun above his music shop. That was my first foray into the martial arts world, until then I had no compulsion to have wanted to study them!

A few months later I returned to the park and took out one of the biggest kids who had attacked me, as per my instructions – no one ever chased me out of the park again!

What is the most important thing (you can think of) that you’ve learned from the study of martial arts?

Martial arts for myself, at least, have always been a study of the self – all the components lead inwards and are eventually expressed outwards! The real foe to conquer is the self – this requires a lifetime’s study and hard work, it’s not easy but then it was never meant to be!

However, I will point out one other thing – all martial arts are only as good as the practitioner!

There is no ‘super’ martial art which makes you invincible – no magical technique! When I see people comparing martial arts I often smile at the folly of such folk. All martial arts kick, punch, strike, throw etc., and are therefore made up of essentially the same components. Equally, all martial artists have two arms, two legs, a torso and head etc., so again, we have the same tools with which to work with (of course strength, size and speed etc. will vary, but I am speaking in general terms).

So, when I see a MMA practitioner take on a Taiji practitioner and win – I don’t see that as MMA being better then Taiji as most people will state. YouTube is full of such tripe as are the various martial arts forums!

No, that simply means that in that specific instant – the MMA practitioner understands and knows his art better then the Taiji practitioner, or any other arts you wish to ‘compare’!

So, any martial art is only as good as the understanding of the practitioner and his time and effort of study – period!

How did you come to teach martial arts and what made you drift towards your particular discipline?

I had stuck with Wing Chun since my childhood. It had worked for me and got me out of many scrapes. I stopped formally training with a school when I left for university. Although I continued to train alone, I couldn’t find a school that I wished to join. They were all commercial and I was used to training with only 3 other guys in the room!

I eventually found another Wing Chun instructor a few years after leaving university, he introduced me to Erle’s work whilst I was training Wing Chun with him… it began with the small San-sau. It made sense and the more I began reading and looking into Erle’s work and the internal arts, the more sense they made. It was an act, ultimately, by Erle, himself, as a person and teacher which made me finally switch towards the internal arts! (See Question 6).

I never had any plans of teaching martial arts full-time!

My background is in the sciences… it is what I had studied at college and university, and went onto work as a research scientist in Israel. However, I first started teaching one night a week after I began training with Erle Montaigue – whom I regard as my main teacher, though I have had others!

Erle always told us that if you teach, then teach for selfish reasons! At first when I heard this, I found it shocking and asked Erle to elaborate. He did.

He simply stated that the only real reason to teach is because you wish to learn and reinforce your learning, and teaching is the best way to do that. Students will ask you questions that you, yourself, may not even have thought about yet and teaching others will make you creative and think outside the box. It will make you innovate because no two persons understand and learn in the same way!

So, I began teaching for purely ‘selfish’ reasons. It was never about earning a living for me – I had other means for that!

I began teaching full-time in 2006 upon Erle’s request. At the end of 2005 Erle was in Leicestershire giving a workshop and we sat talking during the lunch break, as most of the folk had wandered off to eat. At the time I was working for one of the major international banks in Leicester. Erle simply turned around and said to me, “It’s time!”

I looked at him quizzically and he said, “I think you should teach full-time.”

I was in a state of shock!

I won’t go into too much of the detail here as much of the conversation we had that day is private but, Erle asked this of me on the Saturday and that night I went home and spoke to my wife. We had just had our third child and I was the only one working. My wife asked me if I thought I could do it? I replied that Erle believes I can! My wife simply said, if you believe that then you have my support. On the Sunday, when I returned to train with Erle, I simply looked at him and smiled and he gave me a big hug. I have a photograph which was taken a few seconds after that moment – Erle leaning over my shoulder and both of us grinning like the Cheshire cat!

I quit work at the start of 2006 and later received my Third Degree from Erle. I had also, already, been given the right to grade by Erle himself and he started referring some of his oversees students to me!

As a teacher, what is one piece of advice that you hope really sinks in with your students?

Do not be afraid of making mistakes! If you fear making mistakes then you’ll never be free to explore and if you do not explore then how will you ever discover, and if you do not discover then how will you ever learn and advance, and grow?

Mistakes are also tools of learning and can often teach us far greater lessons then those we get right! Once we stop being afraid of making mistakes and looking foolish, we are ready to learn freely. However, this is far easier said then done. The most difficult component is recognizing mistakes in one’s own practice and having the honesty and integrity to deal with them!

What advice do you have for teachers?

Like the student, do not be afraid to admit that you do not have all the answers! Do not BS your student if you don’t know – that is the sign of a bad teacher and practitioner and you will eventually be found out!

No one has all the answers and if you are asked a question that you do not know the answer too, then tell your student that you do not have the answer BUT you will go and find out! Then go and search for the answer – that way you will both learn and your student shall respect you even more!

You’ve been a long-time student and friend of the late Erle Montaigue. How did you first meet him?

I first met Erle in 1999, in Folkestone, England! I had already been studying his system for around a couple of years earlier with a local instructor.

I had emailed the WTBA sometime in 1997, enquiring about Erle’s videos which he had made for Paladin in the USA. Financially, times were difficult and I had figured that Sterling was far stronger against the US dollar and would therefore make my money go further. As much as I wanted to take more weekly lessons, it just wasn’t financially viable, so I had decided to buy some videos, which I hoped would help with my training.

I wasn’t really expecting much of a reply, at best I thought that some secretary would contact me and was therefore, surprised when Erle contacted me himself!

He asked about my training and who I was training with and why I wanted information on his US videos?

I explained my reasons and he simply replied, “Send me your address.”

I did as I was asked. A few days later, I had a knock on my apartment door. It was the postman with a package in his hand for me from Australia. When he told me that it was from Australia, I immediately replied that a mistake had been made since I didn’t know anyone in Australia and nor had I ordered anything from there!

The postie simply said, it’s your name and address on the package and handed it over. I took the package and it had a stamp from a place I couldn’t even pronounce! Anyhow, I opened it up and inside were a bunch of Erle’s videos with a small note:

“I hope these help. Kind regards E”

I panicked thinking that Erle had misunderstood, thinking I wanted to buy these videos (which I could not afford. I immediately emailed him saying he had misunderstood and that I could not pay him for the videos! The reply that came back floored me – in a good way!

I apologize here for the language… but this was Erle – he had simply replied:

“Who the f*ck has asked you for money? I am rich enough and if these videos help you grow then I’ll be richer still!”

I sat staring at my screen, for several minutes, dumbfounded! What kind of Master was this? Not only did he reply to his correspondence in person but carried no airs about him and wanted to help me learn at his own expense! What kind of man would do such a thing for a complete stranger thousands of miles away on another continent?

That was my first encounter with Erle Montaigue. An encounter that would change my life forever. I decided there and then that I would, one day, meet this man – if only just to say thank you in person. Whilst waiting for that time, I consumed every article he had written on his website!

In 1999, after several years absence, Erle finally decided to tour the UK again. I saved up my pennies and registered for the workshop.
I remember the day… the hall was full of people. Erle was surrounded by his instructors and students from around Europe and elsewhere. I waited and when the crowd thinned out a bit, I went up and tapped him on his shoulder as he was standing with his back to me. He turned around, looked at me and cocked his head slightly, smiled and said:

“You must be Nasser! Good to meet you mate…”

I stood there, mouth agape – How did he know?

“I was thinking about you on the flight across, wondering if you would make it?” He continued as if in response to the surprised look on my face.
This was one of Erle’s magic moments. Don’t ask me how he did it but I’d see him do it to others in the years to come!

I thanked him for the kindness he had shown me and he just gave me a big hug and an even bigger smile. The rest is history, as they say – maybe for another time. Suffice to say, I never looked back… Erle was the teacher and guide I had been looking for!

Are there any good stories you’d like to tell of you and Erle?

Oh, there are many stories I could tell but question 6 is my favourite… it’s the one that brought us together. The other time is far too emotional to go into detail – it was the time when I told him that I saw him as a ‘father’ – it ended with both of us in tears!

Erle was a practical joker. One summer camp as we all met up on the field, early in the morning, he began teaching a qigong and as he started he looked at me and winked. I immediately stopped… he had folk doing crazy things and stood back with a smirk on his face! There was no such qigong – he was just in one of his playful moods! However, it turned into an important lesson – far too often folk believe something just because a ‘master’ had said so. This was one of Erle’s ways of telling folk not to believe everything and to always question!

On another occasion, Erle demonstrated a kick to the groin on myself in Germany one year. Of course for those who do not know it – it is a trick! I pretended to do some Iron shirt qigong and then Erle kicked me several times in the ‘groin’. I stood there smiling – not even a flinch! A couple of years later we were in America and one of the local instructors gave me the wide berth. I couldn’t understand his behaviour. I asked my host if I had offended him in some manner and he simply replied: “He’s in awe of you – he’s seen you take kicks from Erle in the groin online!” I burst out laughing and explained it was a trick but we never told the person concerned – I was a ‘man of steel’!!!

What are your favorite things to train (ie. barehand forms, tui shou, applications, weapons, etc) and why?

I no longer make distinction between the various training methods!

For myself, the most important components of Taijiquan are ‘The Thirteen Dynamics’ commonly referred to as The Thirteen Postures. This, however, is a misnomer and I no longer use the term ‘posture’ as this, I believe, leads many people down the wrong path in their training!

The Thirteen Dynamics are the foundations of Taijiquan. The Masters of old have continually warned us to pay attention to them in songs and other texts:

“A mere thirteen dynamics is not a lot.
But however many there might be, if their standard is not maintained
and if the position of your waist and head top is misplaced, you will end up sighing with woe.”

Taiji is an art based upon movement. However, it is not simply moving for the sake of moving but, rather, ‘Moving With Awareness’ according to no less an authority than Yang Ban-hou – the only other Yang to inherit the title ‘Invincible’ after Yang Lu-ch’an himself!

These Dynamics are innate within us but difficult to recognize and achieve. Collectively, they teach us how to ‘move with awareness’ based upon the four terms: Perception, Realization, Activation and Action. Where moving = the activation of movement plus the act of moving, and awareness = the perception that something is plus the realization of what it is – moving with awareness.

Without understanding these terms we cannot move with awareness. In other words, we must be able to recognize the ‘source of movement’ and the ‘basis of awareness’ within ourselves before we can identify energies in others.

According to Yang Ban-hou:

“If there is activation and perception, there will be action and realization. If there is no activation or perception, there will be no action or realization. When activation is at its height, action is initiated. When perception is fully lucid, there is realization. Action and realization are the easy part. Activation and perception are tricky.

First, strive to move with awareness for yourself, grasping it within your own body, then naturally you will be able to spot it in the opponent. If on the other hand you try to find it in opponents first, you will probably never find it in yourself. You have to be able to understand this concept in order to be able to identify energies.”

Most people who do not train or study the Thirteen Dynamics with diligence will ultimately fail or have a poor understanding of their Taiji! It is usually these practitioners who will try to change the Taiji Form due to their own lack of ability and understanding! To put it simply – they are the ‘alphabet’ of Taijiquan, without which we cannot produce words, sentences or develop the skills with which to ‘read’ the art!

The concept of ‘No Mind’ boxing arises from a thorough understanding of these principles. For example, if we do not understand why P’eng is considered a Yin defence and Lu is considered a Yin attack, then we have no way of understanding how to connect to our opponent’s energy, on a subconscious level, thereby producing a ‘No Mind’ response.

So, regardless of what I’m training – Form, Empty Hands, Weapons, Tui Shou or any other martial drill – I’m always looking to identify the Dynamics, for that is all what these various methods are, a variation or combination of The Thirteen Dynamics.

In this way all training methods simply become one!

What’s one of the biggest martial arts myth(s) that you wish more people knew the truth of?

Whilst there are many obvious ones that will come to most peoples mind like, for example, no touch knockouts, I’m going to be a little controversial here and say the myth of lineages!

Whenever, I come across a discussion I see folk instantly bring lineage into the conversation and the authenticity of their line and as if this somehow places their knowledge and skill above others. Authenticity of the skill and knowledge of the master does not necessarily translate to knowledge skill, full-transmission and understanding to their students or off-spring!

A teacher should be looked upon with merit according to their own skill and understanding of the subject matter – Yes, of course their pedigree will and should matter – but one should not take their pedigree/lineage alone as a confirmation of their knowledge and skill or that they have received full-transmissions. The Yangs of old taught tens of thousands in their lifetimes, yet we only have a handful of their students who rose to the challenge to continue their art and in most cases these students were not necessarily their natural off-spring! Majority of their students fell by the wayside, or trained slackly, or left too soon to set themselves up as ‘masters’ – this is something which is confirmed in the historical documents which have survived.

Sadly, we also have ample examples in history where lineages have been bought or sold and do not necessarily represent skill or knowledge. Equally, after the cultural revolution, once the ‘bamboo curtain’ went up, many martial artists set themselves up in Taiwan, Hong Kong and in the West claiming ‘masterships’ or lineages of renowned families in China, when this simply wasn’t true. Some had only trained with them for a few months or even weeks and later claimed they had been disciples for a number of years!

Self-appointed masterships continue to this day and lineages can be bought with martial arts having become a multi-billion pound industry and business.

So, beware the myth of a lineage!

Besides teaching and practicing the martial arts, what does Nasser like to do in his spare time?

I love reading and watching movies, as well as writing! I love music and am a huge Pink Floyd fan!

I’m a comic book geek and have been since I was a kid. I’ve been editing my own martial arts magazine for almost two years now and it has been highly successful, picking up several awards to date. I’m a history geek too, and love to travel when I can, and the research scientist has never left me… I use the skills I learned and developed in that field to further my own training and understanding in other subject matters as well as life itself.

Bonus Question:
If you were a superhero and had one ability, what would it be and why?

Like the Batman – Deductive Reasoning!

I have always believed in logical reasoning and this has served me well throughout my life in solving problems, including Taiji. As the great Sherlock Holmes once stated: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth!”

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10 Questions with Walter Triplette

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2018 by Combative Corner

What initially got you into fencing?

Recently I found old black and white pictures of me in a zero outfit – pics taken when I was 8 years old. Likely that was the start, but in high school the dean of the school had fenced at the University of Virginia, and I was good friends with him, so we did some fencing. The hardcore stuff followed at UNC-Chapel Hill when I was on the freshman soccer team with Anson Dorrance, and messed up ligaments in my ankle, and couldn’t play soccer for at least a year. I decided to go out for the fencing team, and that began the hard training necessary to fence on a Divison 1 college team.

What is the SCA and how were you involved in it?

The Society for Creative Anachronisms is a 501-c group dedicated to historic research, done mainly by having encampments and demos while, living as one would, roughly between the years of 1000 to 1600. This, as you might imagine, involves sword fighting. I fought rapier duels and heavy armored sword and shield competitions, involving combat in a one vs. one situation, or a 800 vs. 800 situation. Both are fun and present challenges.

When did you start TCA and how did that come about?

I worked my way through college as a bicycle mechanic, and by the time I was a senior at Carolina, I owned two bike stores in two cities. After a number of years, I realized that having a national and international customer base was preferable to a local base, so I put my college education to work and opened an online mail order business in fencing equipment. At first we bought equipment from Europe and imported and distributed it, but soon we began to manufacture it ourselves in the states.

I’ve heard stories of some of your “battles”. When you suited up in armor, how tough did you go and what type of injuries did you sustain?

SCA heavy fighting is a vigorous form of combat. We use inch-and-a-quarter thick rattan swords, which approximate the weight and speed of a steel sword, but don’t cut.  We also have fiberglass spears, wooden and aluminum shields, and various other weapons that pack a punch but theoretically won’t do serious damage. I have never been really hurt, but I have broken a meniscus in my knee, broken at least one rib, broken my hand, had a few bloody nose episodes, sprained a few things, and maybe have been concussed a few times. Likely I gave as good as I got, so altogether it made for some very pleasant afternoons for those of us that enjoy friendly violence.

How did you get into teaching and what compelled you into that arena?

I became a coach because of a deal I made when I was 19. After my first year of fencing at Carolina, I was only a 58% winner, so I was pretty disappointed. A coach named Mario Deleon (assistant coach at UNC, later head coach at Duke) said he would teach me to win, and teach me for free, but I had to agree to certain things. I had to do exactly what he said, immediately, and do it as long as he said to. I couldn’t ask questions during the lesson, only afterward. Also, since he was teaching me for free, I had to agree to pass on the knowledge he gave me, and do it for free. To the brain of a 19 year old, that sounded great. He died about 10 years later, but a promise is a promise, so I taught pupils for free unless I was being paid by a school. I got my first coaching job a Duke University, and never looked back. With the help of Mario and Ron Miller (head coach at UNC-CH), who provided me with many hours of instruction on how to coach, I have had the privilege of coaching many students for many years.

What do you love most about the sport and why?

There are a lot of things to like about fencing: the intellectual challenge, the physical challenge, the understanding of history by using weapons from an ancient form of combat, and the life lessons that are unavoidable in any quest to be really good at anything. The lessons of fencing apply to several aspects of life and business, but maybe the best part is to learn that logic is the supreme weapon in combat.

Out of all that you teach, what do you hope your students absorb most?

I hope my students learn to think clearly while under stress. It is easy to think logically and concisely when in one’s study, smoking a pipe and taking notes from a book, lounging in a nice comfy chair. It is not so easy when tired, out of breath, sweaty, thirsty, fighting someone with a steel sword while people around you are shouting and stomping. The ability to focus in a situation full of distractions is a useful skill, and one that must be developed. It rarely occurs naturally.

What do you love least about fencing and why?

I have found that individual sports such as fencing and bicycle racing tend to attract a higher percentage of selfish, abrasive people than team sports such as soccer or rugby. I have no scientific data to back that up, I am just giving my ignorant anecdotal observation. The other thing I really don’t like about fencing is having a hair inside my mask, and having it tickle my nose, even after I take the mask off and try to clean the thing out, and the hair is right back at it, and I can’t see it, so I wipe the mask again, but the hair is like taxes and just won’t go away.

What other hobbies does Walter enjoy?

I used to race formula cars on road racing tracks like Road Atlanta, Sebring, Daytona, etc. and found that it was very similar to fencing. It is all about technique and keeping focus while wild things are going on. I also play World of Warships online, because it is free and requires constant planning and readjustment of the plans.

What does the next few years hold for Walter Triplette?

I was going to retire, but it was boring and then I figured out a new process for making fencing blades so I have started a forge instead. As for long term plans – after consideration of several alternatives, I decided that eventually it would be appropriate to die, as getting very very old and still living doesn’t seem appealing, although I do hate to be a conformist.

Bonus Question:

What is your favorite on-screen sword fight and why?

The original black and white (1950) version of Cyrano de Bergerac starring Jose Ferrer. It has fine technique, as well as magnificent acting by Ferrer.

We at the CombativeCorner thank Walter Triplette for granting us this interview. If you have any additional questions for him, you can comment below and we will see that he gets it, or we will squirrel it away for another interview. If you are in need of great fencing equipment, you’ll find the links below. His long-time seamstress, Starla, is now running the shop. 

www.triplette.com

www.zenwarriorarmory.com 

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10 Questions with Yaron Seidman DAOM

Posted in 10 Questions, Internal Arts, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2018 by Combative Corner

What brought you into the study of Taijiquan?

I first started with Chinese medicine and other healing arts in 1989, and when I moved to New Zealand in 1991-1992 I met my first Taiji teacher, Han Xianji. He was a Peking Opera actor who defected to China when his troupe was on a world tour. He taught me the standard government forms 24,48 and weapons that became very popular in China. I can’t really evaluate the gongfu level except that the forms were practiced beautifully, with much grace. Han helped me arrange my first China study trip in 1992, which included a further learning of the government forms with Rong Suxian, another very graceful practitioner. This is how I started learning Taijiquan.


How did you get to study with GM Feng?

I started taking frequent trips to China, more or less twice each year, to learn Chinese medicine and Taiji. I was on a mission to find great teachers wherever I could. In 1993 or 94 I met in Yang Shuo a Chen stylist, Deng Yihong, who studied with Wang Xi’an in Chen village in the 1970s. According to his story, at a time when learning in the Chen village was cheap or almost free, gathering around a fire pit in winter with the teacher (since no one had heating or hot water). When I met Deng he said learning in the Chen village was way to expensive, especially with the more famous teacher [i.e. The Four Tigers]. Deng told me that there is one good teacher left, and maybe if we both tried as a team we could get to him in Beijing, that teacher was Feng Zhiqiang. Deng told me that he went to Beijing several times to look for Feng and only met him once in the park, but Feng was too busy to talk to him. Me and Deng sent several letter to Feng in Beijing, but they remained unanswered. (Later I learned that the address was outdated). Meanwhile I was learning the Chen style Taiji from Chen village and six syllables Qigong with Deng.

In 1998 I was going to a Taiji competition in Dallas, Texas (Taiji Legacy as it was called) and I saw online, in the primitive internet of that time, that Feng had a disciple in Canada named Chen Zhonghua. I contacted Chen and as it happened, he planned to go to Taiji Legacy as well. We then planned to meet. Chen told me that in few months Feng was going to give a 2-week workshop in Holland and so I set sail to Holland. However, in those years I was on an extremly low budget, so when I contacted the organizer, Chen Liansheng, and explained the money issue, he agreed to give me half price tuition if I would only learn the Hunyuan Taiji 24 form and not the 48 that was also taught. Turned out at that event that it took me only few days to memorize the 24 and now I was squinting across the hall to Wang Fengming who was helping Feng teach the 48 form. Chen Liansheng noticed it, got really mad and wanted to return my money and expel me from that event. Lucky for me, when I landed in Holland I brought a recommendation letter from Chen Zhonghua, I was able to speak Chinese and kinda struck a chord with Feng. Feng then took me under his wing, told Chen Liansheng to keep me at that event, and from that day on I spent lunches with Feng in his room. Feng would give me some Chinese food and I would try to convince him to eat my cheese sandwich, which he thought was gross. Starting from that time every trip to China would be to Beijing to study with Feng (until 2006), as well as other places he travelled to teach like; Finland, San Francisco and Seattle.


Thinking about your time with Feng, what about him was the most surprising and/or what excited you the most about what he had to teach?

I think that there were many excellent things, not just one. First, the level of teaching was very high, the kind that gives you butterflies in the stomach. But more than that his demeanor was very special, charming, graceful, always made everybody happy around him. When I learned with him (he was in his late 70s) I heard many stories about being hot-headed and very combative when he was young, but like many other masters as they reach old age they become very health conscious.  I was exposed to Feng when this “older” aspect was very dominant, we often practiced Neigong and Qigong in addition to the Taiji forms and weapons. He often would say “people who practice Taiji today often fight with themselves and hurt themselves” referring to all the fajin and explosive movements that young practitioners love to do, feeling themselves very strong by shaking the body and making big noises. When Feng would do fajin it would be very crisp, to the point, without superfluous noises or wiggling. For myself, coming from the medicine side, these things made perfect sense. I wanted to practice the martial art, but not necessarily did I want to get sick or die young, which for anyone learning history of the martial art, is very apparent. Many famous masters died quite young despite being fierce fighters. If you would ask me of one thing that inspired me more than others, this would be a workshop in Finland. I was translating for Feng in that 2-week event, his daughter Xiuqian had to leave and go back to China suddenly and I was entrusted with taking care of Feng, so-to-speak. One time when we took a break for lunch, Feng was a bit tired and we left the teaching hall to go back to the room, but then he realized that one of the disciples was still back in the teaching hall, so he wanted to wait for him. Feng’s wife told him “forget about it. You are tired. Go and rest” and Feng replied “no, he is my student I will wait her for him”. This was kind of surprising from such a famous teacher, to have a heart dedicated to his students and not a selfish one. I think that his kind heart made him really special.


People often talk/squabble about the effectiveness, usefulness and/or purpose of taijiquan. What is it all about to you?

For me, the meaning and purpose of Taijiquan changed with the years (or decades). At first, I was very excited just to be able to practice graceful movements and forms that are like a slow dance. Then it was about practicing a part of Chinese culture. After that, it became a martial art and fighting technique: grappling, catching, push hands, etc. Later, it became about health and inner cultivation. Nowadays, Taiji is about inner cultivation because people naturally want to fight, argue and disagree and we don’t need even more of this in the world. My life is now dedicated to creating harmony and helping people and in Taijiquan there are many good things that can help harmony and people. Taiji for health has been propagated by the Communist government in China for the past 4-5 decades, but I think that Taijiquan has much more to offer than the current propaganda.


How did you meet up with Chen Zhonghua and what made you decide to become his disciple?

As mentioned before, we met in Taiji Legacy in 1998. I was looking for Feng and Chen Zhonghua was willing to help. In that event I had my first experience with Chen Zhonghua and I would say with real Taijiquan. Chen Zhonghua was invited to the event as a teacher and judge, but had no students at the event. I was the only person he knew and we had just met. In the evening there was a demonstration where the invited teachers were asked to demonstrate their craft. Chen asked me if I would demonstrate with him and I agreed. On stage, behind the scenes, there were a few teachers with their students – each were instructing their students how to “play attack” the teacher, which hand to use, and how to roll off. They all were synchronizing a “show”. When I asked Chen Zhonghua, he said “do whatever”, which in years to come I heard many times. Chen didn’t want to put on an act, he just wanted to do it. When I went with him on stage and punched and attacked him I was flying in a very abnormal way. When we came off stage and I mixed with the crowd I heard many people say “how fake Chen Zhonghua was” – where actually he was the only one not faking it. I then realized that most people who practice Taiji, actually have never seen what real Taiji gongfu looks like. When I came back from Holland, Feng sent a letter to Chen Zhonghua and asked him to take me under his wing in the Hunyuan family. At first, the idea was that when I get to a minimum level I will be recommended to become a disciple of Feng, and for the first couple of years this was the intention. But then things changed for me, my shifu had a very special skill in his own right coming from Hong Junsheng (i.e. Practical Method) and we became close, plus in the Hunyuan school there were all kinds of politics and since I was a grandson disciple I was not competing with the other disciples.  So every time I went to study with Feng I would constantly be by his side, disciples will remain in the park and I was the only one going home with Feng. Partly by design, partly by destiny, this was best for me.


You really impressed me early on, when I saw a video of you speaking Mandarin on (Beijing) television (via Youtube).  When did you begin studying the language and how crucial was learning it in order to come to your understanding of taijiquan?

The first time I went to China I stayed with the family of Han Xianji, my first Taiji teacher. I could not speak Chinese and they, not a word English. These three months were a nightmare. They would try to feed me snails, send me to sleep at their friend’s house who I couldn’t speak to, and so on. When I moved from China to Germany in 1993 I started to learn Chinese at Freiburg University, but the pace was too slow, so I kept on learning the language myself until I became proficient. Speaking and reading Chinese is much more important if you learn Chinese medicine because there are many texts to explore. Taijiquan has its classics but these are very few and the ones that exist are mostly secretive. It really comes down to the teacher teaching you the art. In that respect, finding a good teacher is more important than knowing Chinese. However, in my case, speaking Chinese was very fortunate because it made my relationship with Feng close. Without speaking Chinese there would be no relationship and I would have probably gotten dispelled from the Holland seminar and never have seen Feng again – nor become a disciple of Chen Zhonghua. So even though speaking Chinese in general is not important for learning Taiji, in my case it was.

 

Do you feel that your taijiquan and qigong enhances your TCM practice? Why or why not?

Actually, my Taijiquan and Qigong practice created and transformed my medicine practice. The traditional Chinese medicine that I learned in the early years transformed today what I call Hunyuan Medicine. The inspiration, some of the content and the name come from Hunyuan Taijiquan and Qigong and Master Feng. Hunyuan medicine also had other influences coming from the fire spirit and Huai Xuan schools of Sichuan, but Hunyuan Taiji and Qigong is a big part. It is hard to describe every single thing that has changed in my medicine practice because almost everything changed, but I would sum up that at least 45% of everything I think and know is from Hunyuan Taiji and Qigong, 45% from Huai Xuan and fire spirit, and only 10% is the remaining TCM I learned in TCM school. Today I run a Hunyuan Academy that has three tracks: body, heart and medicine. The body track is all Hunyuan Taiji and Qigong related, the heart track is all Huai Xuan related and the medicine track is a combination of Fire Spirit, Huai Xuan and Hunyuan Gong.


If you had to pick one piece of advice that you’ve learned from any of your taijiquan teachers, brothers and sisters, or other mentors, what would it be? and why did you choice that one?

Don’t be selfish, because selfishness hinders progress. In the early years I remember everyone talking about discipleships, ceremonies, Taiji clothes and all sorts of superficial realities, all directed at one’s self. I think that a great way to succeed is to have a sincere intention. All kinds of Taiji clothes and ceremonies don’t move you closer to the target. There is no better prize than for one to succeed themselves in what they set out to do. This means that a person should practice diligently, follow the teacher’s instruction and become the best that they can.


What form, what weapon, and what posture are your favorite? What is your reason for picking those?

This question is problematic for the following reason –

Every posture and every form aims at practicing Gong. So when I practice a Taiji posture, let’s say Buddha Warrior Pounds the Mortar, the Qigong skill, the Taiji Ruler skill, the Neighing skill, the silk reeling skill, the Zhan Zhuang skill – all must be practiced in this one movement. It is like one big frame to practice all the many different skills in. But this is the same for White Crane Spreads Wings and all the other movements and weapons. So if you like one movement and not the other it means you don’t practice Gong. If you practice correctly it is impossible to like one posture over the other, at least for me.


If you were to give advice to any beginning taijiquan practitioner, what advice would you give?

Never get involved with all kinds of politics and agendas. Stay the course and practice to improve yourself. Know that there is not this thing called ‘authentic’ and ‘fake’. The diligent student reaches far.

Bonus:
If you could go back in time and study (for a month) with any Master of the past (living or dead and of any discipline) who would it be and why?

Also, hard to answer, because stories always tend to inflate reality. Truly great masters might be unknown and famous masters maybe are not that great. If I had to choose I would say Sun Lutang. I heard a story that when he was about to die, he got undressed, sat on a stool and waited to the end. Not sure if it is just a fake story, but if there was that gongfu I would liked to have seen that.

 

Clinic http://hunyuancenter.com
Education http://hunyuanAcademy.com
Ebooks http://gumroad.com/yaronseidman

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We at the CombativeCorner would like to thank Yaron Seidman DAOM, for his time and consideration and welcome him to the CombativeCorner family – as well as a member of our admirable list of 10-Question Interviews. For more information on Yaron, please click the links provided above. To stay current with the CombativeCorner, please like our Facebook Group page, or follow us on Twitter and/or Instagram @CombativeCorner

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Another Amazing Year for Interviews

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2018 by Combative Corner

This year has gotten off to a great start.  Due to our previous success, the ease of social media, and a little bit of luck… we’ve been granted several great interviews for 2018.  One might think by looking at our long list of interviewees, who else could we possibly add?  Try this on for size – former Olympic fencing champion Andrea Baldini!  We’ll also have Polish Saber extraordinaire, Krzysztof Sieniawski and Kung fu expert Nasser Butt.  We also have a couple more that will spring up… but we’ll just leave those a surprise for now!

If you haven’t already, make sure to follow us on Instagram.

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The Tai Chi Debate : MMA vs. Tai Chi

Posted in Discussion Question, Mixed Martial Arts, MMA, Self-Defense, Taijiquan, Training with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2017 by Combative Corner

Lately Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) has come under fire and is now (as if it hasn’t always been) labelled as “The Flowery Art” – one without much practicality or effectiveness in the ring or the streets.  As an avid listener to Joe Rogan’s Podcast, The JRE, I am often in agreement to many of the discussions.  In this recent episode (#962) with retired Navy Seal officer Jocko Willink, there was much that I was in disagreement with (see video clip below). There are several factors Joe (and many others) must understand…

First… the video that everyone is talking about! [warning: violent content]

The 3 Tenets

  • Any “fight” does not a “street fight” make
  • Whether a fighter wins or loses has more to do with his/her training over any “style” or “discipline”
  • The training of any effective fighter must be directed towards common street attacks and (hard-to-predict) changes in such things as: social and environmental cues, level of aggressiveness/intensity, and opportunities of “unfair play” (i.e. eye gouging, groin strikes, etc).

It should be obvious that martial arts (including Taijiquan) came from a more violent time and its movements were designed to protect, subdue or kill.  Over the years (some may argue) as we evolved into a more civilized society, we (in the Taijiquan world) re-directed our focus to health and wellness.

Who is going to argue, especially if you live in a non-violent area, that martial arts training is best (or more beneficial) if you train it for health? Therefore it comes down to the need (for survival) and/or personal preference.  Can you do both?  Absolutely.

We’ve all seen Tai Chi for health.

But what is Tai Chi for “the streets?”

Does it exist? And if so, what does it look like?

First off, while some people DO “Choose to believe that there are secrets/magic” (as Joe Rogan mentions), there are many experienced Tai Chi practitioners that understand that fighting works on the same plane of existence as everything else.  “Rooting” is not magic, nor is “directing ones Chi”…but I digress.

I don’t want to fall into the trap of saying “It all can be boiled down to 5 simple steps”… however, for the benefit of time simplicity and brevity, I want to make these points known – especially to those that don’t understand the (internal) martial arts.

Intent

  • You must have intent.  You must have intent to do damage.  This is the main thing that the traditional martial artists of Taijiquan will likely object to, because the singular practice of a combative form may (depending on the person) develop a propensity towards violence.  This quickly brings to mind a not-so-old saying that is grounded in truth- “What we think about, we bring about.”  The often peaceful intent of a Taijiquan brings a sense of inner calm, a harmonizing of mind and body and enhances the likelihood to resist the urge to make altercations physical.  This important point of “intention” training, and devising a “go or no-go” plan to initiate leaves a lot to think about on a personal level.

Hitting (Explosively)

  • You must have the ability to hit explosively…what we in the internal arts call “Fajin.” In order to do this, internal arts excel, because it is rooted in “sung,” the ability of the body to release energy from a soft, relaxed state.  This was what I believe Bruce Lee was talking about when he described the “Gongfu punch.” It’s less mechanical, like many strikes you see in Karate and Tae kwon do… it’s more elastic – applying a snapping, yet penetrating power.  Anyone with a high skill in fajin (and obviously finding an open line of attack) will easily dominate in a one-on-one encounter.  One key note on training is that structure is essential and one shouldn’t practice moving explosively without understanding and finding the proper structure from which to release the strike.  This is one of the main reasons that Taijiquan is performed and often seen as a “slow, ineffectual, flowery” art form.  Remember, learn structure and technique before you concentrate on “fighting.”

Multiple Attackers

  • Today’s street fight is seldom mano-a-mano.  If you are not sucker-punched or thrown off balance suddenly without you first knowing, I’d be surprised.  Going back to intent…part of our trying should be directed in fighting and maneuvering tactically in a multiple attacker situation.  Forms or katas should include practical movements and practitioners need to practice individual drills that replicate this type of environment and chaos.

Calm through Chaos

  • It’s a great label, but most of us will never “calm” in a street fight.  However, all arts (if we are to call them “martial” arts) should be pressure tested.  These pressure tests can and should be done quite safely at first with a steadily growing intensity.  If one only does forms and katas, there will never exist a true understanding of fight dynamics and your level of skill in dealing with them.  As our experience, confidence and skill level grows…the more likely we will be able to deal with adversity.  As in the “controversial” video (posted above), China should not be upset with the conclusion.  Clearly the taijiquan “master” was unfamiliar with dealing with chaos.  Personally, I’d choose Ren Guang Yi to represent the combatively-capable taijiquan fighter.

True Grit

  • Lastly, if one intends to survive a street fight (all luck aside), one needs grit.  “Grit” is the emotional and physical fortitude that presses on when confronted by an obstacle.  Grit is courage and resolve and without it.. you are frail and destined to lose.  Can some train grit?  In my opinion, yes.  I believe grit can be built with a combination of training using: violence-prevention drills, gradual pressure-testing of these drills, physical techniques, and sparring.  The experience that we accumulate will produce confidence (not blind faith), and confidence in ourselves will be transferable to ourselves on and off the streets.

Joe Rogan talking about MMA vs. Tai Chi

Ultimately, in regard to the martial arts we choose to study, we have to make up our own mind.  I’m more apt to say “Train wisely” over “Choose wisely.”  After this article, I hope you are.

LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

COMMENT BELOW

 

10 Questions with John Painter (Part 2)

Posted in 10 Questions, Baquazhang, Internal Arts, Internal Development, Martial Arts with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2017 by Combative Corner

starting with Question #6…..

If you had the opportunity to train with 3 masters (living or dead) who would they have been and why?

As far as “no longer living” teachers I suppose that I would have been interested in studying with Sun Tzu the author of The Art of War, with Lao Tzu author of the Daodejing and with Wei, Boyang author of the Can Dong Qi. As far as living contemporary teachers not to insult anyone, but I have no interest in studying with any martial artist alive today. The reason is simple. My teacher gave me a lifetimes worth of material in which to try and attain skills.

The Li family arts are so rich, deep, unique and profound that it is far and away more than I can comprehend let alone master in one lifetime. Their methods are complete arts for mind body and spirit. They have been tested in the fire of reality, and they work in everyday life and in real world combat. There is no reason to clutter it up with other concepts and ideas as Shifu Li used to say, “No put legs on snake, he just fine way he is!”

Today I see so many martial artists studying a laundry list of arts and methods from different teachers, magazines, YouTube, books and videos and few if any of them seem to be as proficient as those individuals that began studying before this onslaught of information was available. Most of the truly knowledgeable and highly skilled in the Chinese martial arts that I have know have been those who focus on just one method from one teacher or at least they gain a high level of proficiency in one system before trying to learn another. I suppose flitting from one art to another provides some feelings of accomplishment for others but it is not for me.

My personal view is that to strive for perfection one needs to devote a majority of time to that one method. For me as I am a loyal student and also a slow study. So it is important to train in ones chosen method 24/7 that is, in the traditional school setting (Wuguan武館) for formal training at least two hours or more six days a week.

Next it is important to take the art out in the real world to practice the philosophy and the physical movements so they become your way (Dao) in this way ones art will never become stale or boring. The art becomes who you are not something you do when you dress up in your uniform to play Gong Fu Wushu in the Wuguan or on the tournament floor. Training in this way the arts will not desert you in even the most stressful battle situations and yes, as a former bodyguard and law enforcement tactical instructor there has been more than ample opportunities to “test” the Li family methods in the real world.

My old Gong Fu friend and Baguazhang cousin Johnny, Kwong Ming-Lee used to call the art developed by people who flit from one teacher to another platypus Gong Fu. When I asked him why he called such training by that name he replied, “Has beaver tail, fur, pouch like kangaroo, web feet, duck bill no one knows what the hell it is!” For me his platypus Gong Fu line about sums up my attitude on training with too many teachers or in too many arts.

During my career in Chinese martial arts I have met and become good friends with many high level practitioners and teachers some who really had or still have great skills. I have shared many happy hours with Master Jou, Tsung-Hwa, Master B.P. Chan, Master Henry Look, Master Liang, Shouyu, Dr. Yang, Jwing Ming, Dr. Daniel Lee, Shifu Johnny, Kwong Ming-Lee, Bruce (Kumar) Frantzis and many others.

Let me be clear not one of these people mentioned were my teachers they were friends and colleagues many of whom possessed or currently have great knowledge and skill. I have had only one teacher of Chinese martial arts, Daoism and Philosophy and that was Li, Long-dao and that is far and away enough for me. My other teacher or Asian descent was for a brief period with Lama Trangu Rinpoche of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He interested me in the deeply spiritual and crazy wisdom of Dzogchen practice which fits nicely with Li family philosophy called acceptance of the way (Xinfu Dao信服道) based on Daoism and Buddhist philosophy.

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How often do you personally train and what does it entail?

Today at age 72 I am still training six days a week. I believe in a combination of mind, body and spirit training to stay healthy and vital into my “middle” age. The martial routines listed below will be carried out for two months then the art will be changed to Taijiquan as the focus for two months and next Xingyiquan for two months then back to Baguazhang. Here is my basic routine.

Monday – Wed – Friday

6:00 am

Meditation from Tibetan Dzogchen tradition

Daoyin (Chinese Yoga) for flexibility and circulation of vital body fluids.

Yixingong Still Standing (Li family Yiquan)

Bag work striking heavy bag or speed bag with various palms or Xingyi fists

Nine Dragon Baguazhang Circle Walking (aerobic fast walking)

Select weapons training

2:00 pm

Progressive Resistance Exercise

I am aware of the ridiculous myth that some internal martial artists still cling to from the days of the Boxer rebellion that weight training (progressive resistance) will inhibit your Qi and is bad for internal power. This is a myth based on ignorance of correct exercise physiology. So Yes, I work out to gain good muscle tone, strength, speed and power. There is nothing wrong with being strong!

For this type of exercise I prefer using the Baguazhang stone spheres (Da shi qiu 大石球) along with resistance Rubber Cables. Mostly this consists of core exercises and then isolation exercises for problem areas.

Whole body core moves are first then isolations exercises for:

Back

Chest

Legs

Deltoids

Biceps

Triceps

Tues – Thurs

6:00 am

Meditation

Daoyin (Chinese Yoga)

Yixingong Slow moving to feel the connection from ground to palm (Li family Yiquan) Nine Dragon Baguazhang Circle Walking (attention on structure)

Light body training on balance beam and posts in our Bagua garden

Select weapons training

Saturday

7:00 am

Meditation – Daoyin – Yixingong

Teach instructors class which includes practical applications of each art often with full protective equipment. We train locks, throws, projections, strikes, kicks, and defensive tactics for each. We also work on weapons training and defensive tactics against weapons as well as spending some time at the police shooting range with our handguns. I often take along my antique Broom Handle Mauser guns commonly used by my teacher and his father in their work as Baobiao and trainers for Chiang, Kai-shek’s army during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Another practice we observe is inviting guest martial artist and fighters of other methods to share with us their concepts of attack. In this way we are able to study how our methods can function when confronted western boxers, grapplers Karateka, Jujitsu players and everyday street fighters.

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Most masters of the martial arts train not only bare hand but with weapons. What weapons do you train with and why should (or shouldn’t) weapons be included in ones training?

First off please do not call me master. William C.C. Chen once scolded me for calling him Master Chen at a demonstration at The Tai Chi Farm, he said the title was for someone who was dead and had nothing else to learn. Later I think his students insisted on using this title for him and he in his Daoist way just let it be. For me I am just a student who is always learning and evolving. Some call me teacher (Shifu) but in my heart I am just John Painter from East Texas.

For me combat weapons’ training is important. I believe it should not be taught to beginners until they have developed a solid structure and foundation. The Li family weapon training consists of classical and modern weapons including firearms. There are no contemporary forms routines within Li family training. It is all based on their free flow concept derived from an understanding of the Five Circles and Six Stances methods created by the founder of their family system.

So this is realistic weapons fighting with simple direct concepts for use of each weapon as a means of defense and offence. Mr. Li was fond of saying, “If you can move the hands and body you can understand the steel.” What he meant of course was that the fist and palm methods of the families Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan could be translated into weapons use. These are the weapons I was taught to fight with as a boy by Shifu Li.

Saber (Dao)

Double Sabers (Shuang Dao 雙刀)

Double Edge Sword used with sheath (Jian Yiji Jianqiao劍以及劍鞘)

Double or Twin Swords (Shuang-Jian 雙劍)

Bagua Big Saber or knife (Bagua Dai-Dao 卦大刀)

Eight Diagram Palm Twin Needles (Bagua Shuang Zhen 八 卦雙針)

Twin headed spear of Baguazhang (Shuangren Mao 雙刃矛)

Twin dragon (elbow) knives (Shuang Long-dao雙龍刀)

Long spear (Changmao 長矛)

Long pole saber of General Guan Yu (Guan-dao 關羽刀)

Cudgel or staff (Gunbang 棍棒)

Three section staff (San Jie Gun 三節棍)

Iron Folding fan (Tie-Zheshan 鐵 折扇)

Leather-thong whip (bull whip) (Pibianzi 皮鞭子)

Broom handle Mauser pistol (Zhouba Huoqi 帚把火器) yes they used guns!

Flying Dragon Fist (flexible rope weapon) (Feixing Long Quan 飛行龍拳)

Walking stick / Cane (Quaizhang 枴杖)

Chain Whip: three or nine section (Lianbian )

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What story most strongly comes to mind when you think your previous Master/Teacher?

There are three main stories. The first was when I was first introduced to him and he claimed he could make me healthier after reading my Qi pulses in my wrists. He told me to come next door to see the special exercise. When I showed up in his back yard he put me five feet from a huge lodge pole pine tree, adjusted my feet, legs and torso with my arms held out as if embracing the tree. Then he told me to just stand there which I did for about one minute until I noticed he had gone into his screened in porch and was drinking tea and reading the paper. I objected to this ridiculous assignment and he said, “Fine you not want to be better go home!” which I did.

The next day he comes over and invites me to his house saying he wanted to show me something special. Reluctantly I followed him to the steps on his back porch where he had stacked three solid red bricks one atop the other. He says to me, “You watch this please!” and he places his palm about six inches over the top brick. He gave me a big smile then, bam his palm slaps the top brick and the center one shattered as if someone had hit it with a sledge hammer. My jaw hit the floor, eyes big as saucers what I had just seen seemed impossible. The reader should remember this is in 1957 and there was almost nothing on television or in film about Asian martial arts especially in a small Texas town.

I said, “Mr. Li how did you do this. I want to do that too. Please show me how!” He says to me, “Ok very hard exercise takes much training for very long time you sure you want to work this hard?” “Yes I will do anything” I responded. “Fine you go over there look at that tree like I show you yesterday.” On reflection Tom Sawyer tricking his friends to white wash the fence comes to mind. I did become enthused to train in standing, Zhan Zhuang for a long time and by the time I realized the potential for my health problems I had forgotten or found the brick breaking of lesser import. Later he did teach us Iron Palm and we learned to break all sorts of things but that is another story.

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How important do you consider Qigong and should it (in your opinion) be included in all martial arts? Why or why not?

To circulate the breath is not the way!

The body’s fluids are not a magical water.

To ‘Guard the thoughts’ is not the Way!

How can you eat a picture of a cake?

Sexual practices are not the Way!

When the seed is gone life passes.

The newly born spirit fetus is not the Way!

What is unclean has nothing to do with true Energy.

To stop eating salted foods is not the Way!

Your food then lacks stimulating flavors.

A vegetarian diet is not the Way!

Going hungry only injures the stomach and spleen.

Abstaining from sex is not the Way!

Yin and Yang then lose their honored positions.

Let the soul be at peace and the body will right itself..”

  • Zhuang Zi

First let me say that these are my own personal opinions derived from years of practice, using what some Asians call Qigong concepts to heal injuries and overcome illness. What I have come to understand is backed up by an enormous amount of research and study of traditional Chinese medicine from its earliest times to the modern era. My goal is not to insult or offend anyone, but you asked me this question so I feel I must be honest in my response.

If used as an exercise for learning how the mind influences the body, what you term Qigong training can be very important for the health and vitality of students in everyday life and martial arts. However, if viewed as some mystical power source for the development super-natural abilities that are not in line with scientific reality it can in my view be a detriment that slows down real martial attainment. It is all predicated upon the understanding of how and when to use such methods by the teacher for the benefit of his or her students and for what purpose it is employed.

My understanding of this word Qigong is perhaps quite different from the traditional concepts bandied about today especially in the martial arts world. In my view there is a great deal of misinformation and fantasy being proliferated in books and on line about Qi and Qigong. I do believe that teachers can only teach what they know or understand, but that does not make the teaching accurate or correct. Much of what is passed off as Qigong is derived from tradition, superstition and is not based on sound science.

The traditional Chinese character for Qi is really a symbol for vapor, air or steam (). The radicals or parts of the Chinese character form an illustration of rice cooking in a stove with the invisible steam raising the pot lid. Hence the concept of an unseen force animating a material objects. The term Gong is a character that means a skill (Gong). Combine the two terms and you have air skill, steam skill, vapor skill. In the earlier times this word was simply used to mean breathing exercises that developed health. Some were stationary accompanied by visualizations or recited mantras and others were combined with moving callisthenic exercises.

Most people are not aware that the term Qigong is a relatively modern one and was not used in ancient times to describe forms of exercise for longevity and health or martial art concepts unless they were specifically breath control methods. One of the earlier terms used was, to lead and guide (Dao-yin導引) a reference to controlling the body with the mind. Dao-yin has been described as a form of Chinese therapeutic yoga or movement exercise. Today most all of these forms of movement and breathing regimens have been lumped under one term and are classified as Qigong. Frankly I prefer to use the older term Dao-yin because it more closely fits what I was taught by my Shifu.

There is also another older term which refers to healing, removing stress and improving longevity that translates as, nothing too much on fire (Wuhuo無火) this was a method of learning to dissipate inner fire (anger, frustration) through meditation or calming movements which could also be a form of moving meditation. Because this also used breathing methods it could be classified as an early form of Qigong.

A most important point that is often missed by modern day students is how much these exercises depend on using intention (Yi ) and imagination to produce desired results. One of the earliest Dao-yin aphorisms was control body with mind (Kongzhi Shenti Yi Tounao 控制身體以頭腦). Ancient Daoist master Wei, Boyang author of the “Can Tong Qi” also known as Akinness of the Three. The title is often I believe erroneously translated as the “Secret of Everlasting Life”, It is a manual for developing longevity and internal power written around AD 142 and sums up the practice of what is today called Qigong in the first chapter with the following statement.

In the end whatever you call it; it is no more than the mind and heart (Yi & Xin) and the breath (Qi) becoming as one. It is simply the Yin and the Yang influenced internally with their spirit energy entwined.”

Although it is not found in the book and I first heard this from my own shifu, Wei, Boyang is also attributed with another popular Chinese Qi aphorism about mind, body and Qi, “The mind commands the body respond and the results (Qi) follow” (Shenti qi xianghu gensui 頭腦、身體、氣相互跟隨). The very clear implication here is that one does not need all sorts of fancy rituals, forms or actions other than sincere meditation used as a form of auto-suggestion practice.

Modern neuroscience is proving that when we calm outer distractions and begin to repeatedly feel and think deeply about a specific result our unconscious mind, the control center of all internal physiological processes attempt to manifest our desires. In truth when we distill most Qigong training methods we find they all depend on using our mind to direct this energy for our benefit.

In the Li family system there are two methods that incorporates this concept. The first is, Health of Fitness Air Skill (Jiankang-qigong健康 ) here one is using the mind and breath to influence the healing, strength building and longevity of ones body. This has some bearing on martial arts as if one is not healthy it is difficult to engage in combat.

The second is combat focused breath skills (Zhandouli Qigong戰鬥力 ). This category includes meditation, Zhan Zhuang and Yixingong training. There is no circulating illusory energy through invisible lines of energy reputed to exist in the body. In reality this is an ancient version of auto-suggestion for developing speed, strength and power. This subject is very deep and not easy to fully explain in this short answer. I hope the reader is able to derive some benefit from my explanation. And as we see from the poem by Zhuang-Zi (Chuang Tzu) at the beginning of this question the true way is to “sit and forget” meditation is the most powerful Qigong for all practices including martial arts in my considered opinion.

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Bonus Question

As a former bodyguard and combat specialist, what exercise drill, technique (from your studied systems) or human skill/quality do you consider to be the most important for self-protection and why?

Our company American Rangers Martial Law Enforcement Institute® (ARMLETI) has been instructing the instructors for corrections officers, law enforcement, military and private bodyguards for over 25 years. We specialize in tactics ranging from hand to hand, baton, Taser, Pepper Spray and knife as well as PKC Pistol craft, small arms and long arms. So we have some practical experience in realistic street survival. www.american-rangers.com

For self protection there is no question, the first thing one must develop is situational awareness. Next one has to understand the terrain that is, what are the advantages and disadvantages to the area where you are at the moment. How many escape routes are available, where is cover available, what things around you can be used as a weapon. These two concepts should be trained and drilled until they are second nature they should become your first line of defense. These things are right out of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. One should make a careful study of his methods and apply them to single and multiple combat not just large scale military maneuvers.

Next you must have the will to survive no matter what the cost in injury or pain to yourself. Not everyone has this ability. I have seen some tournament fighters in street fights fold to the ground after having a finger or arm broken as if waiting for the bell. There is no bell in the street or in an alley so you have to learn to keep going, you have to learn that it is all on you to survive. Without that mindset no methods, tricks or martial tactics will serve you when the enemy is bent upon your demise. So mental toughness must be the first thing one develops and then fighting technique in my estimation.

After this physical fitness in terms of stamina, reaction speed and the ability to generate explosive power are very important. Aerobic training, progressive resistance exercise should all be a part of the regimen for the professional bodyguard or LEO. All the techniques in the world will be of no avail if the body is not properly conditioned to move with speed and power. Qi will not save you from a good butt whipping in an alley full of skin heads. If you believe otherwise please be my guest, test it and then let me know how that works out for you!

In Closing

Let me say it has been a privilege to be asked to participate in the activities of The Combative Corner I hope my answers have been clear and instructive.

Thank You.

John P. Painter PhD. ND

Captain American Rangers Martial Law Enforcement Training Institute

Director of The Gompa center for internal art studies

For more information on John Painter, visit The Gompa.

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