10 Questions with Philip Sahagun
7-Time National Champion of the Open Martial Arts Circuit
3-Time International Level Weapons Champion (2003-2005)
Member US Traditional Wushu Team (USAKWF) 2006 & 2008
1) How did you know that you wanted to become a professional martial artist?
When I was young I didn’t know what I would do as a profession. My father and mother were both in the martial arts and I began training in Kenpo Karate and kickboxing from an early age. However despite the fact I was born into it, I didn’t seem to have any physical talent. If I fought I lost, if I jumped I wasn’t the highest, and if I ran I certainly wasn’t the fastest. Basically I had no prospects for the martial arts until my latter teens. During that time something clicked. It was like I discovered how to use a key that I had carried all along. I started to excel in physical training and eventually my personal life. Twelve years of training had passed and I began to consider martial arts a possible career.
(2) What are some top martial artists/athletes/coaches that made an impression on you?
My family played the largest role in my development, they opened the school South Coast Martial Arts when I was 5 and introduced me to training. Also my current Wushu Coach Wei Jin Lin or (Wei Wei) has helped me greatly with body mechanics and performance, while my martial arts mentor Shi Yan Xu (former teacher to Shaolin Temple’s Warrior Monks) has greatly improved my understanding of traditional arts and the martial mindset. Other than that, various Kick boxers, Wushu players, Monks, Lawyers, and even singers have all helped me in my practice.
(3) Wushu seems to be your “big passion.” Is it, and what set Wushu apart?
Wushu is a big passion of mine, and although I was brought up in other art forms I always found myself fascinated by the world of Chinese Martial Arts and weaponry. For me Wushu is unique in many ways. I feel it places a higher emphasis on physical conditioning and mind body unity. Ankles, Hips Knees, Arms, Back, Quads etc it seems like there’s not one thing Wushu isn’t concerned about stretching, strengthening or making faster and I enjoy that challenge. Another thing that attracts me is the culture aspect of it. I feel the methods of performance art, self cultivation and spirit found within Wushu allows it to transcend a one level practice; and in the words of Jet Li allows it to be “an intricate, purposeful skill.”
(4) How does (Spirituality/Meditation) play a role in what you do? (Or does it)
I love discussing philosophy, religious beliefs and meditation within the martial arts, but unfortunately I feel that topic lacks interest amongst today’s practitioners. I feel that in our youth one can always be faster, stronger, and more flexible, but as time passes and we begin to turn old, how much of these physical skills can stay with us? I am a strong believer that scholarly practices and physical practices are complimentary; you should pursue both with equal respect if you want to be considered a true martial artist and have qualities that are everlasting. A quote often shared by Teijun-Soku Uekata and Gichen Funakoshi; “No matter how high your skills become in art or scholastics, nothing is more important than your behavior and humanity as observed in daily life.” I strongly agree with this.
(5) What are the biggest problems that you confront when you are preparing to compete/demo/fight/or spar?
When I was younger I would be worried about how tough my opponent was or what would happen if I made a mistake in executing certain movements. However right now I really don’t have any problems when sparring or performing. I’ve faced numerous challenges and made numerous mistakes throughout my practice. I am certainly not without loss, yet I still don’t doubt myself or my ability. In practice and competition, we should not detain ourselves with thoughts of wins or loses, nor in advancement or setback. Failure in the past can be redeemed by the present, and successes of the future will be determined by our awareness. In this sense when practicing martial arts we have to maintain a “No Mind” mentality and I follow that pretty seriously.
(6) What goes through your mind before you compete or prepare to demonstrate in front of an audience? (and is it the same routine/thought independent of the audience size?)
For me it doesn’t matter how large the audience, but it is nice to know what the audience is interested in. For instance I’ve performed at Anime Conventions, Basketball Shows, Buddhist Monasteries, Karate Tournaments etc. but despite my experience, I never really have a set idea of what to perform unless I know where I’m going or who I’m going to perform in front of. For instance, I love traditional Martial Arts. But If I were to walk into a basketball stadium and do a performance of Traditional MA I can guarantee that over 90% of people would not find interesting. So generally I think about what would interest my audience and then I plan accordingly.
(7) As a Traditional Martial Artist, what is your opinion of people entering the sport of “Mixed Martial Arts” (or do you even bother watching?)
I watch MMA from time to time and there are a handful of fighters who have good skill and maintain a set of values. Unfortunately I feel the current marketing behind MMA promotes a lot of negative imagery that doesn’t accurately represent its athletes nor the “martial arts” side of MMA, but such is the effects of media and promotion. I understand that most MMA athletes fight to make a living and I can’t criticize them for doing so.
(8) Out of all that you do, what are you most passionate about or what would you most like to accomplish with your skill?
I currently teach about five days a week and I am very passionate about it. It’s rewarding to see children and adults make progress in training and I sincerely hope to have greater opportunities to teach more in the future.
(9) Thinking back on your life, what are a couple of major, martial art highlights?
In 2006 I took part of a Chinese TV show co-sponsored by Shenzhen TV and the Shaolin Temple called Kungfu Star. For its time K-Star was China’s largest scale reality television program and reached an audience of around 300 Million. I am very proud to have participated in that event and I still have many friends and found memories associated with it. Also in 2008 I took a group of students to compete in China’s Third Traditional Wushu Festival near Wudang Mountain. Although I personally didn’t do very well, it was a thrill to see my students compete and earn such high marks. We had four competitors and everyone took home a first, second, or third in their respective events.
(10) Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
In five to ten years I hope to have travelled more of the world studying different traditions and cultures. I also wish to make more friends through the martial arts and create events to promote the benefits of its study to the public. Hmm, what else? Basically I want to continue what I’m doing on a larger scale and regardless of where this life takes me, I know the only way for me to find happiness is to keep moving forward. I’m on a quest for self betterment and I don’t plan on giving that up anytime soon.
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