10 Questions with Eli Montaigue

What was it like as a youngster growing up with a father so well-versed in martial arts?

Well when I was younger, it was always cool knowing my Dad could kicks anyone’s ass kind of thin.  It was great also because I was home-schooled, and Dad did a lot of his classes from home, so he was always around.  There was of course a lot of play fighting etc, though from as far back as I remember whenever we’d be wrestling, he’d be getting me to strike in ST9 etc, so of course I was to small to hurt him, so I got a lot of Dim-Mak practice.  It was when I was 14 I started taking the training seriously, 7am every morning for 2 hours, a class with Dad.  Girls were the only thing that ever made me late!  Like father like son!
As I started getting better at the fighting arts, I became his main training partner, he called me Kato (Pink Panther), as I would always attack him in the house, either with a punch or a heap of questions.
I started at 14 with him having to push me to train, then by 16 he was having to hide!  I was so into it, and wanted to be as good as him.

When and how did the drive to become a martial art teacher start and/or evolve?

I guess ever since I started enjoying the training I figured I’d start teaching one day.
When I was 16 I started attending all of Dad’s workshops and classes, and helped out teaching the beginners.  Then when we moved to Wales, when I was 18, I got a job offer through one of Dad’s other students  to teach Tai Chi form and self-defence to children at the public schools in Swansea.
It was a great place to start teaching on my own, as they were aged from 5 to 15 years old.  So didn’t matter if I made mistakes.  That built up my confidence as a teacher.  Then after a year of doing that, I opened my first self-run classes.  At 19 years old I was very skilled in the arts, and a good teacher, though looking like a kid I wasn’t able to get many people to stay with the class.  (As so many people think Tai Chi teaches have to be old!)
So most of my students were of people who knew who I was.
I opened up more classes in the week, knowing I wouldn’t get many people to the Bagua one, but just did it because I liked this girl that was attending, so meant I could see her more.
She became my first love, and we were together for nearly 4 years.
So yeah I loved the arts, loved teaching them, and found that I could make money doing it!  So it’s not really something you’d say no to.  And when I started traveling all over the world with it, I got hooked, and has grown bigger and bigger.  Then Dad died, and I suddenly had a lot more work to do!
What is your daily training routine like?

I get most of my training though all the teaching I do.  That’s been one of things that has taught me most in my training.
So at the moment, I just do a little on my own.  Wake up, do a little stretching on my legs, Qigong, Tai Chi form etc, then I get all my partner training in classes.
When I was younger – 14 till 20 or so, I did a lot of learning new stuff through the day, class with Dad in the morning, and then watching DVD’s.  Then I would get Dad to look at what I learned to show me where I was going wrong.  And I would do my Standing Qigong for 20 to 30 minutes morning and night, in Australia in the summer I’d get up at 5am just as the sun was coming up, as even then it was 30 degrees, so was to hot in the day for Qigong.
As someone from the fast-food generation and someone who constantly travels, how does your diet fare?

And I’m a Vegetarian! No. I really don’t have much of a problem finding food.  France is the hardest.  They don’t seem to understand the concept of not eating meat.  But I always manage to find good healthy food.  The only time I would not eat well would be on a long driving trip, as the food in the Motorway services is not great.
You have to look a bit harder, but there’s good food in most places.

What are some of your favorite forms or exercises to practice and why?

My favorite form would be the Yang Lu Chan Tai Chi form – For it’s “stoner qualities!” It gives the best feeling of building power in my body, and switching off the mind – getting high off the Qi.  It to me is the most complete form, I could do just that form everyday and get what I need out of it.  I’ve felt the most interesting things happen to me in that form, and seen great things in other as well.
Push Hands also.  I feel push hands has taught me more than anything else about the fighting side of things, and it’s s a great full body work-out as well.

How does your method of teaching push hands differ from most traditional styles?

Our push hands is to train you how to kill.  And there are no rules, just like there are no rules in the street.  All other styles that I’ve seen, seem to do push hands to beat other people at push hands!  I don’t know why you’d want to do that.
They push you and if you move your foot they think they’ve won! – whilst being completely oblivious to the strike I have just put in (while moving my foot).  We don’t stand still when we fight, so we don’t in push hands.
Other styles seem to put a great emphasis on up-rooting.  They try to get you off balance, then push you back.  This is what we teach to beginners only, for a bit of grounding and balance training.  If I try to up-root one of my advanced students, I’ll get a punch in the face for it! You can not up-root someone that wants to smash your face in… just like if I try to put on an arm lock, or throw a fancy high kick.  These things do not work in real fights, and push hands is about real fighting.  So once we learn the basics of push hands, if you were to watch me and another instructor doing it, we just look like we’re trying to kick the shit out of each other.  We try to pull any deadly shots, but there are still a lot of bruises and bloody lips etc.  After one of my last sessions I was limping home, and my partner was throwing up in the street!
Internal arts have been called the “soft styles” – This is because we are soft on the inside, in that we use the least amount of muscular force to get the job done.  So we look softer than someone using more muscle etc.  But in these modern times this has led everyone to believe that we fight softly!  You can’t fight softly, anyone who tells you this has had a very sheltered life!

Your father imparted many things to you over the years, what sticks out most in your mind?

To not take things so seriously.  Make fun of yourself.  Never think yourself better than anyone else.  How to love, how to hug, even to those you don’t even know.  To show love to them and care.

What would you have been doing if it wasn’t for the martial arts and why?

Music –  I do it now anyway.  I’m a drummer in a rock band, and also play for the Swansea Belly Dancing girls.  When Dad died someone had to fill his spot in the band as lead male vocals.  At that time we found out I actually had his voice.  So I’m now lead singer for our band.  So I guess if I didn’t have the Tai Chi I would put more time into singing and try to do something there.

When someone is starting out in Taijiquan, what is most important for them to concentrate on?

Depends on the person.  Young, fit guys usually have to work on softness, whereas girls tend to have to work on power.
I guess the main thing I work on with beginners would be strength and structure, while at the some time staying soft.  And just do it!
So many people worry so much about if they’re doing it right, that they never do it!  You’re not going to get it right at the start, so just do it as best you can.  We all suck at the start, I have video footage to prove it!

What does Eli like to do when he is not training, teaching or traveling the country doing workshops?

Mountain hiking/camping. Skiing, Motorbikes, spending chilling out time with family and friends, hugging, swimming, ping pong, roller-blading, Kayaking, Cycling, playing drums, singing,…or when I’ve just been doing to much, my friends will make me have an evening of doing nothing!  Just sit around watching movies, chatting, and just wasting time.  That’s always nice too, just not all the time!

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STANDING THREE CIRCLE QIGONG   |   ELI MONTAIGUE

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