10 Questions with Blue Siytangco
Blue Siytangco is a 20th generation Chen Style Successor and the founder of the American Chen Style Tai Chi Association. For more information on Master Siytangco, please visit his website by clicking the image above or by visiting him on Facebook.
How did you become interested in Taijiquan?
I was introduced to Taijiquan back in middle school when a friend invited me to an outdoor class with this older Asian instructor. He was short, very slim, and was missing an index finger on one of his hands. The only thing I remember about that class was how my thighs were sore for a week! Unfortunately due to my lack of insight I didn’t continue training Taijiquan until much later.
Fast forward to 1997. I trained in Taekwondo and Aikido previously, and for the last three years had been exploring Wing Chun Kuen with Kenneth Chung’s satellite group in Houston. Ken’s Wing Chun was phenomenal but he said that Feng Zhiqiang was a major influence in his development. He said that if I was ever interested that I should look into Chen Style Taijiquan. Needless to say I eventually found myself in a Chen school here in Houston.
Name 3 people who have truly inspired you (and why)
Even though he’s not necessarily a Chen Taijiquan practitioner, Ken’s honest and humble dedication to his own art (Wing Chun Kuen) is an example for all of us. His skill is a testament to a deep understanding of the principles, a tremendous amount of hard work and insane talent. His understanding of energy and structure has ONLY made my Taijiquan that much better. He was also my first introduction to what Chen Style Taijiquan had to offer.
I met Daniel in my Wing Chun classes and found out that he also practiced Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, Shuai Jiao, and Liu He Bafa among other things. He was my senior and eventually became a great mentor and teacher. Daniel helped mold my understanding that multiple arts could share the same principles even though on the outside they might seem quite different. I had trained for almost 10 years under one Taijiquan instructor here in Houston, but all that essential knowledge (aside from straight choreography and basic techniques) was eclipsed by one weekend seminar with Daniel.
The Chen Family
I cannot pick just one person from the Chen family. My gratitude for this art spans a few individuals that I have met and trained with and many more whom I have yet to meet. My thankfulness spans generations of the living and the dead. The art that this family has created throughout the decades has such an incalculable value that I am overwhelmed with its holistic richness. However those whom I have had the honor to train with are: Chen Zhenglei, Chen Bin, Chen Bing, and Chen Huixian. Not only are they skilled martial artists and teachers, they’re just awesome people.
What do you think is the most important aspect in teaching?
Patience. It is important to keep reminding myself that everyone learns at different rates and different students will have different motivations and drives for learning the arts. I love to teach the art as completely as possible, but not everyone wants to learn it all. Learning to balance the plethora of information and the categories of training among all the students is important, and requires a tremendous amount of patience.
Teaching is a two way street. I may be doling out lessons, but each individual student is also teaching me how to become a better teacher. And the only way to improve is through patience.
Name an important teaching that you feel should be taught to every student
At the very least students should learn proper body structure. This is to help minimize any injury that they may incur during training and to help insure that their training proceeds properly and within principle. For this, the practices of Zhan Zhuang and Chansigong are essential to beginners and advanced practitioners.
Now of course this has a practical value, but at the same time in practicing awareness of body structure, students are already starting to practice mindfulness, a much deeper and more important lesson that will eventually permeate all other aspects of their lives.
I always like to remind my students that it’s not about moving slowly, it’s about moving mindfully. Whether it’s fast or slow, barehanded or with weapons, in training or in combat, in the martial arts or in life (is there even a difference, LOL?) move mindfully.
We’ve seen that you’ve given the gift of Taijiquan to your family. Did that come easily?
Let’s hear a resounding “No!” Heheh, that could easily be considered the most difficult aspect of my training. I had the most demanding time trying to teach my kids an art that I was completely passionate about. I had to understand that even though I wanted to give them a family legacy, that they would not necessarily value it as much as I did. I am lucky that they value it now. I have Chen Huixian to thank for that.
I have two girls (14 and 17) and a young boy (3). The boy is still too young to learn, but the girls really needed a female role model in Taijiquan, as for the most part they are surrounded by male figures. Chen Huixian showed them (and my other students) that a woman can be a powerful force in Chen Style Taijiquan.
Is there a myth in Tai Chi that you’d like to see de-mystified?
Yeah, that Taijiquan is easy. A lot of people come to my classes expecting new age fluffiness and this is so far from the truth.
Taijiquan is a lot of hard work. Now it’s important to enjoy the training even though it can be very challenging. And in order to do so the new student has to have some idea as to what to expect (to a certain degree). For example, if you’re expecting a Yoga class, but instead you get Krav Maga, you’re not going to appreciate what you’re taught. There are way too many charlatans out there spreading wrong notions of Taijiquan.
What Taijiquan teacher out there really impresses you and why?
There are many instructors who impress me. What I worry about is if I can impress them, LOL!
There are many powerful practitioners out there like Chen Yu, Chen Ziqiang and Chen Bing, but I am definitely impressed with Chen Huixian. Her teaching is clear and precise. And her manner is very down to earth and grounded.
She was approached at one point to take sides on a political issue and speak ill of someone else (and we all know that the martial arts world is filled with this) but she refused to be coerced. She brushed the other guy off (even though he was her senior) and said that she would decide for herself.
This strength of character and high level of integrity impresses me. I count her and her husband, Michael Chritton, as close friends.
What does your own personal training consist of?
Really, all aspects of the Chen curriculum are important, but Lao Jia Yi Lu and Er Lu are the core of my own training. These forms are my bible. I also like conditioning the body with the Kwan Dao and the Long Pole. I like to practice them on the left and right sides, you know, mirror images. So that the body develops evenly.
Do you stress the importance of martial application in your personal teaching?
Martial applications rock! This is our art after all. If someone doesn’t like the applications then they should be doing Yoga. Well, let me take that back a little. You can train the forms for exercise, but without understanding the applications you will never really understand the forms.
I like to emphasize the combat elements of Ti (kicking), Da (striking), Shuai (grappling, wrestling, and throwing), and Na (controlling), and how they relate to different ranges (kicking, striking, trapping, grappling, and ground work). All the while I like to show how ALL techniques can be found within Chen Style Taijiquan. I like to take different techniques and drills from different styles like Wing Chun Kuen, Silat, Kali, etc., and express the Taiji principles within them. You know how physicists are looking for a unifying theory? I believe I have found that within Chen Style Taijiquan. It has given me a foundation to appreciate all other styles.
What is just one of your personal goals within the next 5 years (this can be anything!)
To ride the Camino de Santiago by bicycle and perform Lao Jia Yi Lu 10X at each rest stop, video it, and post it on YouTube…
But that’s just fun, lol! Overall I’d like to teach more, learn more, and and love more. Basically, just become a better version of myself.