10 Questions with John Painter (Part 2)

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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4 Responses to “10 Questions with John Painter (Part 2)”

  1. I trained with Dr. Painter. He has a high hand and can teach you how to do what he can do. He taught me well, and I learned much from him and the other incredible teachers at the GOma.

  2. LJ Young Says:

    When I came across one of your study groups 9 years ago, I had been searching looking many other places that offer self-defense / martial arts and none of which made me feel comfortable and made sense. It wasn’t until I sat in on one class in Toronto that the TRUTH set in on reality.
    The Truth is that in a real fight it is never going to look like what you see in the movies and television. They are rehearsed and have a chance to look perfect and finally to be shown on screen.
    In real life, there are no re-takes. There were many other questions that I had which were answered and explained.

    The principles have also helped me in many other aspects of life such as cooking, doing laundry, washing dishes and even in an office environment. The ability to stay focus on one thing is so much better than to multi-task. I am not a very good multi-task person. In fact, I’m terrible at it.

    I signed up that day and never looked back.

  3. I enjoyed the article. Interesting cross training every two month idea.

  4. I really enjoy your posts John. Thank you for taking the time to share.

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