Archive for 10 Questions

10 Questions with Nick Evangelista

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Martial Arts, Swordsmanship, Training, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 23, 2017 by Combative Corner

Everyone in the fencing world should know who this guy is.  I came across him when I first took up fencing and although I’ve never had the opportunity to be taught by him, his teachings, description of fencing history and theory, and vision of what fencing is and should be have stayed with me through his books; The Art and Science of Fencing, The Inner Game of FencingThe Encyclopedia of the Sword and others.  For his more recent writings and for more information on the man and his thoughts, visit his fencing school’s blog; EvangelistaFencing.com.  Now, without further ado…

How did you initially get drawn into fencing?

When I was growing up in the 1950s, fencing always seemed to be in front of me. In movies and on TV, and in books. When I was around 14 years old, The Three Musketeers was my favorite story. Any and everything with swords got my attention. Fencing seemed so exotic and otherworldly. I thought it was the most amazing thing in the world, and I wanted to learn how to do it. I didn’t have any idea how this would come about—I didn’t know any fencers, or where there were any fencing schools–but somewhere in the back of my brain, I had a feeling I would one day fence. In the end, many things conspired to lead me to fencing. Actually, I sometimes think fencing chose me rather than the other way around. I should add, though, that it was not an easy union. I had to work hard for everything I’ve accomplished.

People don’t often talk about injuries in fencing, but have you sustained many injuries and if so, how have you dealt with them? 

I’ve been fencing for 47 years, and I have never had a serious injury. Nothing beyond the normal bruises, welts and scrapes. When I was learning to fence, I was taught balance, timing, and distance. Basically, I was taught to control my actions. My background is a traditional fencing game. Falcon Studios was peppered with former champions. No one gave an inch. Everyone fenced hard. It was very competitive. But it was fencing, not the running, poking school of bipedal joisting. The fencing I learned is the same fencing I teach my students, and in 43 years of transforming everyday people into fencers, I have never had a student injured beyond the aforementioned bruises, welts, and scrapes.

I have been injured by everyday life, though. Broken body parts, and the like. And I have most certainly had to adapt my fencing to these hurdles. One of my most challenging injuries was having my right hand—my fencing hand—crushed in a car door ten or so years ago. I remember the sound of crunching celery as my metacarpals were being reduced to puzzle pieces. How did I deal with this intrusion to my fencing? Actually, I just kept teaching, because my fingers weren’t broken, and that’s all I needed to maneuver my foil. With every personal injury I’ve had, I just keep teaching, adapting to the situation, until I heal up. Fencing is what I do. Of course, I do not recommend this regimen to anyone else. Today, for me, old injuries regularly suggest impending bad weather.

     Side-question: what are the most common injuries that you’ve seen fencers come across?

Outside my own fencing sphere of influence, the injuries I see most in modern fencing are to the knees and ankles. To me, whatever the level of the fencer injured, these problems imply poor training, a fencer lacking proper balance. For all outcries to the contrary, there is something to be said for good, old-fashioned fencing form: an attack with a straight arm, measured foot work, timing flowing from the fingers, the free arm being employed for balance. No silly leaping, no over-extended lunges, no toe-to-toe jabbing, no feet going in ten directions at once. It doesn’t surprise me that so many fencers are being injured in the modern fencing world. The only place where chaos turns into order is on page one of the Bible. Everywhere else, it leads to serious problems.

Your books are a staple to any fencing library… however, it has been a while since you’ve published.  Will we see you authoring more?  Or are you switching to articles and blogs?

I published my last book in 2001. At the same time, I was the Fencing History editor for Encyclopedia Britannica. I also published Fencers Quarterly Magazine. Since that time, I have gone to college, earned a BA in History, and am now in the process of finishing my Master’s in History. Lots of writing there, but on topics dictated by educational requirements. More fencing books? I have at least five in my head. Plus, I have my website, where I can pursue short term fencing ideas that interest me. I have a number of options, but I need to get my Master’s Degree out of the way first.

I’ve read that you’ve always been against the pistol grip, however, in looking at pictures of your personal foils, I’ve noticed that your grip is heavily taped. What is the purpose behind it?

Since you mentioned pistol grips, no, I don’t like them, and I don’t let my students use them. They are incompatible with the requirements of the traditional French School of Fencing. Also, I should mention, for those who are too young to remember the 1980s, that the FIE medical board recommended in 1982 that pistol grips be banned from fencing as dangerous. But that is neither here nor there, so I will now jump off my soap box, and return to the subject of binding French grips.

When I was l learning to fence, French grips were wider than most of the French grips I see today. Hence, they were easier to hold onto. So, I build mine out with three or four winds of sports tape. I would not call this “heavily taped.” It does not change the shape of the French grip in any way, nor does it change its intended usage. It merely makes the grip wider and, hence, as I said, easier to grasp. This, in turn, substantially improves the fingering potential (doighte), which has always been the hallmark of French weapons. The sports tape also provides a superior gripping surface than plastic, rubber, or even leather. Some fencers do not like having their leather-bound grips covered with cloth tape, but I believe that function always, always, always takes precedence over esthetics on the fencing strip. Just the same, I do not force this onto my students.

Do you still compete?  If not, do you still fence “hard?”

No, I have not competed since the 70s. My business is teaching. My fencing master once said to me, “You can be a great teacher or a great fencer, but you can’t do both at the same time. I teach because that is what I enjoy the most. But I do fence with all my students who have graduated to bouting. I fence with students who come to me from other salles, as well. I do not hold myself aloof from the world. And, yes, I fence hard. You never let anyone win. Acting as a brick wall is the only way to pull the best out of a student. Anything less than that is a lie, and gives the student a false sense of confidence. They have to earn their touches. Mastery is forged in opposition. Skill is earned under fire. I learned this at Falcon Studios more years ago than I care to think about.

What training aides and/or specific exercises have helped you or your students best?

I think what helps my students the most is continual one-on-one lessons with me, which includes mechanical lesson and regular bouting. There is always a continual dialogue that runs through these sessions, which allows the student to apply critical thinking to their situation. My ultimate goal is to produce creative, independent fencers, who can easily function in any fencing situation without my assistance.

I also employ aspects of Behavioral Psychology in my teaching. Let’s face it, when you teach someone to fence, you are obviously attempting to modify their behavior. If you know specific techniques, this can make the procedure much easier. When I was an undergrad in college, and minoring in Psych, I wrote a 56 page study on the use of behavioral techniques in training fencing students. By the way, they work well.

When picking a weapon… how do you know which weapon is for you?

My recipe for knowing which weapon is for you: Start with foil, and fence it for a year. Foil will teach you the fundamentals of fencing thought and behavior, which are embedded in its conventions. Year two: add epee, which will hone your timing, point control, and judgement. During this time, shift between epee and foil. Year three: Add sabre. Sabre always comes last. It is the most divergent from the other two weapons. But, here, you can easily integrate the point control of foil and epee into sabre. In this third year, fence all three weapons. At the end of the third year, you will not only have a solid grounding in each discipline, but you will also know which weapon speaks the loudest to you. Unfortunately, many students coming to fencing want instant gratification, and immediately pick the weapon that seems the coolest to them, and many coaches will let them do this. I say, “Oh, well…!”

There has been a lot of talk between French vs. Italian methods.  What (in your opinion) are they talking about and is there any advantages or disadvantages choosing one over the other?

The two traditional schools of fencing are the Italian and French. The Italians began developing systematic fencing systems first during the early 16th century. This, to take the place of armor that was being abandoned in the wake of firearms. The French became serious about establishing their own approach to fencing during the 17th century, chiefly because they liked neither Italian fencing masters, nor their theories of swordplay.

Although there are today structural similarities between the two fighting systems–the Italians having borrowed from the French at the end of the 19th century to establish a more cohesive method of operation–the philosophies of the two remain widely separated by temperament. The Italian system primarily stresses the dynamics of strength, speed, and aggressive manipulation. To physically dominate opposition is its goal. The French approach, on the other hand, is built on finesse, economy of motion, and strategy. The well-versed French fencer looks for ways around his opponent’s strengths, rather than meeting them head-on. To my way of thinking, this makes the French school more flexible and creative than the Italian, which tends to be more dogmatic. I might also add that the French school, with its non-confrontational approach, easily fits a wider range of physical types and demeanors. This means, you do not have to be the strongest, or the fastest, or the most aggressive fencer in town to win.

In order to bring hits back to a more realistic place, some classical schools have used point d’arrets.  What are the pros and cons of using these? And are these something you’d ever recommend for your students?

When you have the proper spirit and training, fencing is fencing. The best fencing is an internal expression. As far as I’m concerned, the point d’arret is a “classical” affectation. Period.

If you had a moment to recollect your favorite on-screen sword fight (of all-time!) what would it be and why?

This is an easy question to answer. My favorite movie duel of all time is from the 1940 Mark of Zorro, between Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone. To me, it is the most balanced and cleanly executed sword fight ever produced. Also, it is carried out without any background music, something of a rarity in filmed action. But you don’t really notice this lack, because the sharp ring and changing tempo of the clashing blades more than fills the gap. It is a wonderful sword fight.

Runner up: The final duel between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). If the Zorro duel didn’t exist, I would pick this one. In all other aspects, I think Robin Hood is the superior film.

One more plug: I also recommend the fencing in the French movie, On Guard. It is one of the best modern swashbuckler films I know of. All the sword fights are superior, the story, based on an 1858 French novel, is interesting, and it even has a wonderful, though anatomically flawed, secret thrust. A good movie to own a copy of.

Bonus question

If you had the chance to train with one Maestro, living or deceased (besides ones you’ve previously trained with), whom would you choose and is there any particular reason why you’d choose him/her?

Maybe Madonna as the fencing master in the James Bond movie Die Another Day? Why? She dressed well.

Actually, I’d choose Domenico Angelo. I would just love to pick his brain, and find out what made him tick.

Harry Angelo, Domenico’s son, would be my second choice. Same reason.

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10 Questions with Daria Sergeeva

Posted in 10 Questions, I-Liq Chuan, Internal Arts, Martial Arts with tags , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2017 by Combative Corner

daria-sergeeva-pic

How did you come to find I-Liq Chuan and why did you choose ILC over other martial arts?

It was in the beginning of 2004 when I met my teacher Alex Skalozub. I believe I am a lucky person because of the opportunities I have had in my life. I visited the KANON gym in Moscow with my friend and Sifu Alex was there training some students. The process caught my eye. So I started to come very often, talked with Sifu Alex, watching his way of teaching, his approach to students, his point of view of daily life. I felt that this interesting person can improve me, and bring me to a very high level in martial art and esoteric philosophy.  After few months I decided to become his disciple and I was accepted as his student. He is a very intelligent teacher and always gives new students the chance to start properly. I was very happy with being accepted as a disciple of Iliqchuan style.

In the martial world, master Alexander Skalozub is my Sifu. His teacher, grandmaster Sam Chin (Chin Fan Siong) – is my Sigong. I met my Sigong after my first week of Iliqchuan training. He comes to Russia twice a year. I met him at the May workshop that he led. I was a pretty new student with only one week experience, so I asked if I could help out during the workshop. I recorded everything he showed, 8-10 hours each day. So I saw all the information and demonstrations through the small “eye” of the videocamera. I remember my feeling very clearly:  I could not understand even one word of the grandmaster! But… after 5 months when he came back to Moscow in November I was already European Taichi Push Hands Champion. That was my first step on the way of competition life. And in November I could already asked questions about Iliqchuan and was able to listen and understand some things.

Iliqchuan has a very interesting approach to mind and body work. Everything is through recognizing and seeing the natural and looking deeply into the fundamentals of the processes. From the first lessons I learned how to direct my attention, how to unify myself, and to use myself, like a tool, for any task. My first wish was to be able to fight. But I “learned how to learn” first. Then I was able to fight. Then I was able to talk and listen to people and the environment. Then I was able to work better. When you can control your mind, you can control your body. When you practice martial arts as a way of investigation of your abilities and seeing Nature, then you can apply it to every moment of your life. Iliqchuan is called a Human art. This is way of life for me. No aggressive. Powerful. Soft. Relaxed. Very precise.

You have been in several competitive fights (against Sanda and Muay Thai fighters). Do you see a difference between a traditional MA training approach and training for competition? If so, how did you bridge the two training approaches?

In the olden days traditional martial artists very often tested their skills on the street but now, fortunately, the situation is different. You cannot just go to the street and fight with people – this is illegal in most countries. Instead you can go to competitions and meet strong opponents who want to kick your ass 🙂  So you can test your skills a little.

To be able to fight under different competitions you need to know yourself very well and have the right mental approach to  the training process. Also you need to choose the competition with rules that are compatible with your training process and allow you to manifest the skills of your style. It depends. If you have a choice, it is better to have experience fighting in competition. It doesn’t matter what kind of competition. Full contact fight or wrestling or doing the form of your style. For me (and for Iliqchuan students) going to compete is a part of the training of our mind. We go to see how our mind works in different stages of this process: when you make the decision to fight, then may be how your concentration changes during competition training, what kind of bull shit inside yourself will pop up before you go into the ring to fight, then during fighting, then what is in your mind if you won or what is in your mind if you lost – and what is in your mind during “post-fight party”. So for me, competitions create the conditions for me to see my own mind better.

For me, the approach of training will be the same as for traditional martial artist but with adjustments for different rules. More wrestling or more sparring under competition rules, increasing stamina a little because I may need to fight a few rounds. And more meditation…

After having studied ILC long enough to establish yourself as a respected instructor, what advice would she give to your younger self?

Thank you for this question. Thinking about this, I don’t have any advice for this girl. She has taken action in her life and I am just grateful to her for this.

What is it like training under her teachers Alex Skalozub and Sam F.S. Chin?

Any interesting/fun anecdotes that offer a glimpse into the training experience under these sifus?

Actually I wrote a lot of interesting short stories during my first few years of learning Iliqchuan under my Sifu Alex Skalozub. They are on our web-sites and had more than 1 million viewers 🙂 . May be I need to publish a small book of funny stories from this period of my life.

Ok…I call myself “Lucky Jar.” I eat from two plates. I drink from two sources. My jar has no bottom. When my Sigong or my Sifu teach or talk to me – my two eyes watch, my two ears listen. Becoming a reciever- that’s my job. To be “hungry-for-everything” – that’s my state of mind. To be “changeable-for-everything” – that’s the state of my body. To be “clear-of-no-doubts” – that’s the state of my heart. I try my best with these things. I am a stupid student mostly, but good enough for something :).

“First Zen” – story with my Sigong Sam Chin:

The first time I met grandmaster I asked him:

How many hours a day do you training?

I was very interested to hear his answer and concentrated hard.

I do not train. At all! – Grandmaster Sam Chin looked very serious. He make a long pause. My mind raced. I didn’t know how to respond to him so I just stayed still and silent like a stone.

Immediately grandmaster slapped me hard on the back and laughed loudly.

I train 25 hours a day. Every minute. – He says very quietly to my ear.

Later he taught me how to do it using my mind control with the breathing.

“Beyond The Words” – story with my Sifu Alex Skalozub:

Would you like a cup of tea, Sifu?

Yes, please. Use my small cup.

I walked to the kitchen and remembered that we had a coffee and milk too and decided to return and give my teacher the choice. I turned back to the room and before I open my mouth to say something:

Excuse me, we…

Yes, please, coffee with milk.

Later he taught me how to receive information through other forms of contact than verbal expression.


I-Liq Chuan is called the “Martial Art of Awareness.” How does one train awareness in the context of martial arts?

Awareness is the key to all doors. Seeing cleary. No reflexes or weakness which your opponent could use against you. No surprise from your opponent. All your movements will be born from direct knowing from the Present. In Iliqchuan we use 15 special basic exercises to recognize the 5 qualities of the Body Movement to Unify our Body and Mind. We use Iliqchuan Spinning and Sticky Hands to unify with our opponent and be able to apply Chinna and Sanda. All training should follow the right philosophy, concepts and principles. We have 6 physical points and 3 mental factors which we must maintain in all our practice, to achieve the “One Suchness Feel.”


Some people say that it looks like Tai Chi. What similarities do they share and what makes them different?

We should not confuse the art of Taijiquan with the principles of Taiji. Taijiquan and Iliqchuan are both based on the principles of Taiji. Both style use principles of “no-resisting and no backing off”, Yin and Yang. Both styles involve practicing relaxation, harmony and balance, using Chi energy flow and are very good for health.

I am not going to talk about other styles, I will just list a few examples from Iliqchuan then you can easily compare:

Absorb/Project, Condense/Expend, Concave/Convex, Open/Close, 3 Dimensions as a mechanism of body movement.

no reflex, no techniques

no “Push Hands” (but we can participate in “Taiji Push Hands” competition, in Sanda or Muay Thai rules, and so on)

Approach: Zhongxindao – the way of neutral.


What makes I Liq Chuan’s version of push hands different from Tai Chi’s version?

We do not have push hands in Iliqchuan. The Iliqchuan system consists of 3 parts. The first part is philosophy, principles and concepts with meditation of awareness. The second part is unifying mental and physical. That is the 15 basic exercises, the Iliqchuan 21 Form and the Iliqchuan Butterfly Form. The Third part is Unifying with the Opponent and Environment. That is Spinning hands, Sticky Hands, Chinna and Sanda.


Do you practice any weapons forms and if so, what’s your favorite and why?

I don’t do much with weapons forms. Instead, I prefer to take a stick or something and do some sparring exercises.


What do you enjoy doing outside of the martial arts?

There is no “inside” or “outside” of the martial arts – Iliqchuan Zhongxindao for me. Iliqchuan Zhongxindao is my way of life and shows me how to enjoy the life.


What is your future goals in martial arts? (for example: will you be building an Academy in Russia)

I am going to conquer the world!!!

My inner world of course. 🙂

We already did a lot to build the Iliqchuan school in Russia and Russian-speaking countries. Of course we will keep going and I will do my best as a disciple of my teachers to help to promote Iliqchuan all over the world.

Every year we do a lot of international events open to everybody, for example the International Iliqchuan Summer Camp in Russia. For 2 weeks, around 9 hours a day, anyone who wants to study martial arts in depth can come and train under master Alex Skalozub and me – together with iliqchuan students from around the world. And we run this every year.

I am very open to try new projects which will help us to share our skills with others, and show the beauty and uniqueness of Iliqchuan Zhongxindao. I have a lot of ideas in mind.

www.iliqchuan.com

Bonus Quesion: As a student that enjoys the art of combat, and who has personal experience in the ring and competition, who is your favorite fighter/athlete and why?

I like a fighters/athlete with both martial art skills and martial morality. For me this is important. If somebody has a skill but only behaves well “for show”, I don’t admire them. If somebody has a less skill but high level of martial morality, I will respect them much more. And I really love meeting people with a good balance of body and mind. And not necessarily in the martial world. The term “Kungfu Master” is applicable to any kind of skills. 🙂

But ok…when it comes to well-known sports fighters/athletes I like: Fedor Emelyanenko (spirit, calmness), Roy Jones (relaxation, free mind), Buakaw Por Pramuk (timing and spacing), Miesha Tate (persistance) and others.

Thank you for the questions, thank you for listening,and my best wishes to everyone!

Daria (Dasha) Sergeeva

Thanks for Eric Ling for editing

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Starting 2017 off with a Bang!

Posted in 10 Questions, News with tags , , on December 8, 2016 by Combative Corner

Just recently we’ve gotten in touch with a handful of martial artists willing to give to our popular “10 Questions with..” interviews.  The order in which these will come out is indefinite, but requires your speediness to give us questions first and foremost.  If you have any questions to pose to our upcoming interviewees please email us at CombativeCorner@gmail.com, comment or tweet them to us using the hashtag #combativecorner 

We’re honored to present to you:

  • John Painter :  Baguazhang
  • Hock Hochheim : Combatives
  • Keith Farrell : Historical Fencing
  • Daria Sergeeva : I Liq Chuan 
  • Tyson Gay : Redline JiuJitsu
  • Samantha Swords : Sword fighter

10 Questions with David Gaffney

Posted in 10 Questions, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , on May 27, 2016 by Combative Corner

David Gaffney 10 Questions

When did you start Taijiquan and what brought you to the art?

I was introduced to Taijiquan in the mid-nineties. At the time I was heavily involved in practising and competing in external martial arts and, in those early days, I saw Taijiquan as no more than an interesting supplementary activity. Some months afterwards the teacher I was training with organised a seminar in Manchester’s Chinatown with Chen Xiaowang. It was a very different scenario than the large scale seminars you see today. The group of fourteen or fifteen people were, for the most part, quite new to Taijiquan, but were serious martial artists from different disciplines including Hung Gar, Wing Chun and Karate etc.


At the time Chen Xiaowang was about fifty years old and it was obvious looking at him that he was a powerful and confident individual. After giving a short talk, with minimal fuss, he stood up, took off his jacket and tie, rolled up his shirt sleeves for an impromptu demonstration of Chen Taijiquan fajin. The following series of punches, kicks, elbow and shoulder strikes literally changed the course of my life. Up until that moment I’d been doing martial arts for about fifteen years, starting with Wado-Ryu Karate and later training Shaolin gongfu and kickboxing. I had trained with some very proficient teachers, both eastern and western, but this was just on a different level. From that moment I have trained only Chen Taijiquan. Within a few months I was in China for the first time training with Chen Zhenglei.

What is your favorite form to practice and why?

Overall I prefer to think in terms of training an integrated system rather than picking out one particular favourite aspect. Each part of the Taijiquan curriculum is inter-related and there for a reason. Basic exercises like standing pole and reeling silk exercises, hand and weapon forms, push hands, pole-shaking etc complement and support each other. All Chinese martial arts work towards developing a number of key areas such as: physical strength which is self explanatory; fitness and general constitution – that is, not just good aerobic capacity but also the need to develop physical resilience and robustness; as well as effective techniques – all supported by the Taijiquan requirements that have been passed down, eg. head suspended, shoulders relaxed, elbows lowered, chest relaxed etc.

That said, in Chenjiagou Taijiquan the Yilu (First Form) is generally accepted as the most essential core element of practice. The skills developed by training this form provide the fundamental basis for all the skills of Taijiquan and, for this reason, it is often referred to as the “gongfu form”. Rigorously training this form helps to develop correct body structure and movement patterns. By structure I mean both the correct positioning of all the body’s joints relative to each other and from this the emergence of awareness of the body’s core/centre. Modern sports training understands that the foundation of peak performance is the ability to move well, without limitations and with good balance. Correctly approached the Yilu routine refines habitual movement patterns so that they are co-ordinated, stable, allowing a full range of motion, good movement control and body awareness, and good posture.

What do you find most “lacking” in taijiquan training today?

One of the first things that came to mind is the general lack of confidence and clarity many people have in what it is that they are doing when they train Taijiquan. And why they are doing it. There seems to be a general erosion of the complexities of Taijiquan – with the recent trend towards simpler shortened forms, fast-track instructor’s courses and an expectation of mastery in a relatively short time. Perhaps it’s just a sign of the times. I recently read the biography of Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the most successful British football (soccer for US readers) managers. He spoke of the changes he’d seen over his forty odd year coaching career. An interesting phenomenon he observed was the inflation of the language used to describe players. Today, it seems, every half decent footballer is referred to as “world class”. In Taijiquan also. It seems that anyone who’s done some training is a master or sifu. The same is seen in China, where young practitioners in their thirties are often referred to as “dashi” or grandmaster.

If that’s what people want that’s what they want, but don’t anyone kid themselves that they will get the real skill of Taijiquan. The traditional art is a lifetime process of constant introspective refinement. An individual is said to have “good gongfu”, whether it be in Taijiquan or any other pursuit, when it is clear to a knowledgeable observer that they have put three elements into their discipline: The first is that they have studied for an extended period of time; the second is that they have worked very hard or “eaten bitter”; and the third is that they have yongxin – literally “use their heart” – more than just working hard, they have given it their full, deep and unwavering commitment. Traditional skills are hard earned. Taijiquan trained in the traditional way is an all-encompassing development of an individual’s body, character and spirit. It’s easy to recite the list of requirements but what is required is training these requirements until they become internalised and instinctive. This requires a high degree of mindfulness and awareness and focused training.

An outspoken Chinese friend of mine reacting to the never-ending keyboard battles on Wechat, China’s equivalent of Facebook, posted the comment: “If you say that you practice Taijiquan as a martial art, who can you fight? If you say you practice Taijiquan as a health system, how healthy are you?”

What does your personal training regimen look like?

To keep training relevant it’s important to be clear what you are training for and to be flexible and revise your regimen over time. The younger practitioners may be motivated by the most dynamic aspects and the combat side of Taijiquan; older practitioners are likely to be drawn to its health benefits. Chen Taijiquan has an unbroken transmission of close to 400 years with a deep repository of training knowledge to draw from.

In terms of my own training regimen, I believe that the best results are from consistency and a commitment to long-term daily practice. Anyone who’s been teaching martial arts for any length of time will be familiar with the students who appear, train with enthusiasm for a while and then leave to do something else. For the most part my training follows the methods taught to me over the years. I try to get in a few hours personal training each day on top of whatever classes I’m teaching. I like to train outdoors if the unpredictable British weather permits, where I train the traditional hand forms and weapons (with an emphasis upon Laojia Yilu). If I’m training indoors I tend to do more standing pole, reeling silk exercises or single-movement drills. I do other aspects such as push hands, when I have a training partner and equipment training like the long pole or Taiji bang when I feel like it.

When you’re in your twenties or thirties you can blast through training everyday and any injury seems to heal quickly. I’m in my fifties now and feel that it is important to train intelligently. Now I pay more attention to prehab or injury prevention work. Before breakfast most days I go through a routine of exercises and stretches I’ve picked up from several sports physiotherapists over the years. A couple of times a week I go to the gym and do some cardio on the cross trainer to prepare me for a more demanding stretching routine.

What advise do you give anyone starting taijiquan for the first time?

Today there seems to be a “Tai Chi” class on every corner and it is not easy for a newcomer to know if what they are signing up for is in any way authentic. It is difficult for beginners to assess the quality of a prospective teacher. Some slick marketing, a nice studio with incense burning in the corner and a room full of students is enough to convince many people. If the motivation for a new student is to get out and meet some people and play at Taijiquan this might be enough for them. With more and more fast-track instructors’ courses, simplified and shortened forms and people claiming lineage to Chinese masters (often after meeting them once or twice and taking a photo!). The first piece of advice I would give would be to hang on to your common sense.

If a new learner is serious about doing Taijiquan they should take care to research who they are going to learn from. Everyone has preferences, but It doesn’t really matter which style of Taijiquan they choose (Chen, Yang, Wu, Sun etc). What does matter is that they should be confident that the teacher knows the theory of Taijiquan and its progressive training method; that they have an understanding of the whole system and how it fits together and that they are able to teach this. This is really not an easy thing for a novice to assess! In reality, many “teachers” don’t really know very much beyond superficially copying a set of movements. Taijiquan is much more than just learning a few sets of movements or a few push hands tricks.

Some basic understanding of Chinese philosophy and Taijiquan theory would enable newcomers to Taijiquan to ask appropriate questions and get a sense if the class they are looking at is suitable. Having chosen a class, it is especially important for Western students to continue to read and research around the subject. Certain concepts may be instantly clear to a Chinese student who has the advantage of having clear cultural references. For example, the concept of qi may seem mysterious to Western learners, whereas it’s commonplace to a Chinese person. Misunderstanding these ideas is forgivable for newcomers, but lazy in experienced practitioners. I can give one example, recently I was asked by a publisher to write some supportive blurb for the cover of a new Taijiquan book. After a quick read through I came across a statement by the author, a thirty year plus ‘veteran’ of Taijiquan that reads: ‘of course ‘Chi’ was important in ‘Tai Chi’ otherwise it wouldn’t have been included in the name of the art’. A basic knowledge should tell even a newbie how ridiulous this statement is! I couldn’t endorse the book.

What concept, principle or exercise do you wish you had learned sooner and why?

All the lessons I learned and experience I gained from the fifteen or so years doing external martial arts were valuable. However, incorporating Taijiquan’s core training method added a deeper dimension to my practice. This methodology revolves around the three characters, song (loose), rou (pliant) and man (slow). That is training the body to be loose and pliant through the method of slowness. Slowness is required to pay attention to all aspects both physical and mental. Adding this method into my training greatly enhanced both my mental quietness and the ability to focus on the many small details that ultimately must come together. Taijiquan training is no different than any other martial art in that ultimately it is concerned with improving qualities such as strength, speed and coordination. But, it asks us to achieve them this unique way by focusing upon looseness, calmness and balance as the basis from which these more dynamic aspects can be brought out.

Building from this, Chen Taijiquan’s emphasis on the development of circularity and rootedness as the foundation of martial effectiveness and the importance of considering the body as a system rather than learning lots of pre-set attack and defence drills adds a level of reality. Pivotal to Chen Taijiquan’s attitude towards combat is the need to accept the idea of spontaneity and to train yourself to react in accordance to a situation.


What are your thoughts on teaching “explosive power” in taijiquan?

The development of explosive power, alongside other aspects like strength and conditioning, body structure, footwork and whole body coordination is essential to all martial arts. People who don’t have a clear understanding of Taijiquan’s step-by-step training method often try to make sense of its martial aspect by comparing it to other seemingly more obvious martial arts. Taijiquan has its own way of training martial skill. For example, an important concept lying at the heart of Chen Taijiquan’s effectiveness as a combat system is the use of softness to change and neutralise an attack, followed by hardness to emit power at the moment when an opponent’s position has been compromised. This requires training the whole body as a system.

Instead of trying to understand the underlying method, many practitioners become fixated on training set applications, or particular aspects that they are drawn to such as explosive power, low postures etc,. It is not enough to train hard but train in accordance with Taijiquan’s principles and philosophy.

To come back to the question of developing explosive power in Taijiquan – a number of different things need to be put in place first before even thinking about releasing power. First, learn to ”fang song” – loosen their body. Taijiquan’s unique brand of looseness allows us to use strength effectively. This is not a small undertaking!

As I mentioned earlier, the thing that sold me on Chen Taijiquan in the first place was its explosive power. During my first few years training the system I constantly asked about this aspect – how can I develop my fajin? The answer was always the same – “fang song”. Eventually an instructor in Chen Zhenglei’s school in China asked me if I really wanted to know how to improve my fajin? Finally, I thought, the secret! His advice was, “for the next year, train everyday and don’t do any fajin – just concentrate on being loose”.

And then there’s the spiral force, the requirements for each part of the body, how to coordinate the crotch and waist, how to use the floor to employ ”rebounding force”. Approached in this systematic way, in time Taijiquan’s method of using explosive force is realised.

Of all the people you’ve met, who first comes to mind when you think of “the successful martial artist”? And why?

For me, a successful martial artist needs to tick a few boxes. Obviously they must have a high level skill and practical ability in their chosen art. More than this, I would say that a successful martial artist is not just someone who can do it, but can develop and inspire others to reach their potential. A few years ago I was in Chenjiagou for the 60th birthday celebrations of Chen Xiaoxing. He has lived in the village his whole life. He knows everyone, and everyone knows him. Unlike the lavish, large-scale and well publicised events marking the birthdays of many other famous teachers, Chen Xiaoxing’s birthday dinner was held in the main training hall of his school. At the party there were no officials, no casual Taiji tourists, just a hall full of long time students. At the end of the evening Chen Xiaoxing took the microphone and gave the following simple words of advice to the students present: “Don’t criticise other people. Don’t boast about yourself. Just put your head down and train”. This sentence In a nutshell captures his simple approach to Taijiquan.

I first met Chen Xiaoxing in 1997 and have trained with him in his school in Chenjiagou almost every year since 2003. Over the years my partner and I organised his seminars in the UK and travelled with him on all of his European seminars. In that time I’ve got to know his character well. According to Chen Xiaoxing “words are cheap”. Anyone who has trained with him will be aware of his penchant for simple, repetitive and excruciating emphasis upon basic training, with no truck paid to entertaining students. He offers what works and then it is up to the individual to put in the effort. Don’t think about success. Just follow the rules and grind out the skill. I’ve seen students come to his seminars and struggle to cope with his approach. Chen Xiaoxing’s method is designed to produce disciplined practitioners capable of thinking and training without needing someone else to hold their hands. He often says, “It’s no use watching me! The only way to get it is to practice it yourself”. Then, in the old fashioned way he will sit and watch his students trying to replicate what he has shown. Students who like to be spoon-fed and entertained don’t last long, but his many successful students are his legacy.

Some of his favourite sayings: “Don’t be in a hurry”; “Commit yourself”; “Don’t talk about other people”; “Put your head down and train”; “Don’t think that you know more than you do”; “Have confidence in what you are doing”.

Of all the people you’ve met, who first comes to mind of a teacher or practitioner that amazes you? And why?

I’ve been inspired by many practitioners over the years and really couldn’t single out one individual, so I’d rather speak about a few people that have touched my own martial arts journey. First I’d like to mention John Bowen the teacher who first set me on the martial arts path back in 1980. His passion for the Oriental fighting arts saw him build his own dojo, the Red Dragon Karate Centre where he ignited an interest that has taken me to China and the Far East many times. I think sometimes of the atmosphere in those early classes when he would drive us to always be faster than the person next to you in the line. I still remember as a raw teenager sitting in the back of the school minibus on the way to my first open tournament as Sensei Bowen gave us his unique brand of pep talk: “My green belts beat other people’s brown belts. My brown belts beat other people’s black belts!” In those days anyone could be there, kung fu, karate, thai boxers, taekwondo –He sadly died at an early age, but I do wonder sometimes what he would make of my martial arts journey.

I’d also like to mention Wado Ryu Karate Sensei’s Kuniake Sakagami and Peter May. Training with them introduced me to a different kind of discipline. Sakagami would drive us really hard, and when he eventually shouted “stop”, expected us to maintain composure no matter how exhausted we felt. In later years I’ve come to appreciate this training more and more. The ability to remain calm and composed on the surface, when inside you feel like you’ve gone way past your limit is real martial arts training. Taijiquan training offers endless opportunities to temper oneself this way. The requirement to remain calm, centred and loose within the “bitterness” of holding postures or maintaining correct structure during movement slowly transforms a practitioner’s character to be more patient and enduring. Too often people want to show everyone how hard they are training, or want a pat on the back each time their legs tremble a little bit. Peter May was a great example of personal discipline and dedication. Up until today he has followed one method and one teacher for over forty years. In a world where people flit from one thing to another, this kind of focused polishing of an art is a rare thing. I’d also like to give a shout out to my Shaolin Gongfu teacher Shahrokh Nael with whom I began the transition from Japanese to Chinese martial arts.

Over the last two decades I have trained with some great Chen Taijiquan teachers – some many times, some just a few times – each have inspired me in different ways: The aforementioned Chen Xiaowang, Chen Xiaoxing, Chen Zhenglei, Zhu Tiancai, Wang Xian, Chen Yu, Feng Zhiqiang, Chen Ziqiang and Wang Haijun …

Outside the field of Asian martial arts, I love the attitude, confidence and exploits of US boxer Bernard Hopkins. His longevity, drive and fearlessness driven by an outlook that allows no BS, no smoke and mirrors, no short cuts or excuses. A lifetime of excellence built upon the simple mantra – “If you want to be great, do great things!”

What book (besides your own) have you most gifted or recommended to others and why?

Essence of TaijiquanI love the book Winning by former England rugby union coach Clive Woodward. In autobiographical style he explains how an ageing team of athletes most people assumed had seen their best days were transformed into the premier rugby team on the planet, culminating in their victory at the 2003 World Cup. Central to Woodward’s philosophy was the idea that by improving one hundred aspects of sporting performance by one percent, the overall ability of an individual would be unrecognisable. For a serious and experienced performer in any discipline it can seem impossible to make significant improvements in any single area be it strength, speed, nutrition, discipline, recovery, or any other measure. Woodward, however, believed that the accumulation of tiny positive improvements would ultimately lead to a radically improved performer. He was proven right. Anyone, whether they are an athlete, martial artist or regular person balancing work and family can believe that they can improve by one percent. Generations of Taijiquan practitioners have known this truth and have left a blueprint for developing every aspect of a person. The prerequisite for bringing this blueprint to life is accepting that the deepening of one’s knowledge and skill must occur naturally and gradually.

[to the left, The Essence of Taijiquan – a wonderfully book on the martial art]

Bonus Question:

If you were to die and come back as any martial artist, which one would you be and why?

This was actually a hard question to answer. Usually I’m quite happy just being myself. But if I had to pick I wouldn’t mind coming back as Li Mu Bai, the character Chow Yun Fat played brilliantly in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I’m not much into martial arts movies, but I love the scene when he trains alone in a moonlit courtyard with his “Green Destiny” sword!

David Gaffney

Chenjiagou Taijiquan GB

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10 Questions with Richard Marsden

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2016 by Combative Corner

Richard Marsden

Richard Marsden is a teacher, writer, and historical fencing instructor from Phoenix, Arizona.  I became familiar with his work early this year when I was searching for information on Polish military history.  His book, The Polish Saber caught my eye and was immediately dropped into my Amazon wish list.  So… dear loyal readers, due expect a review (which many Amazonian’s have listed as a 5-star book) by the end of the year.  As I got to know Richard from his Phoenix Society, Facebook page and website, I was certain that he belonged on our list of CombativeCorner interviewees.  Without further ado…. 10 Questions with swordsman-extraordinaire, Richard Marsden.

What brought you to the world of historical fencing?

At 15, in the 1990s I was dragged by a self-proclaimed Hawaiian Prince, Nick Kalanawani Makai Among to Central Phoenix where the SCA, Adria and other groups met. I was put in Adria and quickly latched onto Greg Hinchcliff who had zero interest in dress up and a huge interest in swordsmanship. We had no manuals, nor did we appreciate them, but we had sideswords and rapiers and learned through fighting. Greg created his own organization, the Loyal Order of the Sword and we fought among ourselves for around 15 years. The group did not die so much as age out, and some of them are in HEMAA today. I even have a tattoo on my right shoulder with the group’s symbol and a custom ring or two. Greg is alive and well and is still the best fighter I have ever known. After the group dispersed I started one at the High School I teach at, and decided to focus on manuals. This was in 2006 or so. As the years ticked by I discovered more and more historical treatises and came across Jim Barrows who taught Italian Longsword at his house. For two years I worked with Jim and around 2011 John Phoenix and I decided to create our own group, the Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship. Today, my group is the largest HEMA group in Arizona, and I have a host of students and instructors, including Jim Barrows, Kyle Cimerian, John Phoenix, Adam Simmons and up and coming Chris Phoenix. My students are many, but my longest is Randy Reyes, who I trust will be a HEMAA certified instructor in no time!

What is it about teaching swordsmanship that gives you the most joy?

I am a teacher by trade, so I must have a passion for it. My greatest joy is in seeing my students be successful, and better than that, my students’ students. This is now happening, and I feel I have done my job in passing on HEMA to others. Reviving a dead art means we need more people involved, more teachers, more students, and so forth. Small cults, led by a single irreplaceable sensei like figure, do not survive the sensei. I am hoping my cult lives beyond me. I am on a mission to spread HEMA, which is why I ran a High School club, run a large club, attend events, have served for years in the HEMA Alliance to expand services for HEMA, wrote a book, and plan to write more.

What principle/concept/exercise do you wish for your students to best understand/practice/embody?

All of them in the end. However to start with the simplest.

Hit and do not be hit.

Read treatises.

Make others better when you are better.

What is your favorite technique to use in sword fighting? Can you describe how it is executed?

There are no favorites, because every opponent is different and I have a host of techniques. However, for effective and or crowd-pleasing…

Inquartata. In rapier stand with your chest slightly presented as a target. When the opponent lunges, intercept in 4th, while your rear foot swings to the right and your hand flings back. You will then void, intercept and thrust your opponent in a showy display.

300px-Capo_Ferro_19

Agrippa, Capo Ferro, Giganti, Fabris all have variations of it.

When it comes to longsword I enjoy using Boar’s Tooth. Fiore spends a great deal of time explaining how to work from Boar’s Tooth and one I like is the deflection.

From Boar’s Tooth, have a wide stance, wait for the opponent to strike (make sure they are in measure). As the opponent strikes, the front foot moves a bit left and forward, but does not cross the rear. It’s like going from a wide stance to a narrow. Deflect with the false edge of the sword, batting the opponent’s sword to your right. Pass and cut them. I get fancy and do this from Boar’s Tooth but also Left Woman’s Guard and Left Window.

300px-MS_Ludwig_XV_13_31r-b

When it comes to Polish saber a cut to the opponent’s right with power, so they parry or get hit. If they parry, then pass while performing a reverse moulinet , where the blade spins backwards, and deliver the tip of the false edge into the opponent’s right wrist.

Invitations. Out of measure, or just barely in, strike any pose you want. The Lee Smith vs Richard Marsden saber fight on you-tube shows a couple of those.

Should all fencers with a love for historical fencing do HEMA? Why or why not?

That is for them to decide. I wave a flag and people come to me, I do not try to push people into HEMA.

How important or unimportant do you consider competition? Why or why not?

Sparring is important, which is a form of competition. Sparring strangers is important. One teaches application, the other teaches application against the truly unwilling. People who never spar are missing out on a valuable teaching tool. Sparring has its faults, but so do static drills.

Competition, such as tournaments are another matter. I have a host of medals, my club has buckets of them. We like tournaments, but we are well aware that they have faults. Tournaments are a good way to showcase one’s skill, meet new people, but also understand that there is a game element to it. There are rules, there are judges, there is a ring, and so forth. Again, like sparring, I think it is a good teaching tool.

You wrote a book on the Polish Saber. What brought you to this weapon in particular?

The introduction to the book explains! Go buy it…

Ok, so I watched a dueling scene set in 17th century Poland and asked myself, “Wonder what the system is really like?”

No set system.

Spotty research.

Not much in English.

How can I fix that?

Two years later, with international help, the book was made on what we think the Polish saber system of the 17th century on foot looked like.

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Many instructors feel “A Jack of all trades, a master of none.” What do you feel about this as someone interested in many different weapons?

I have enough wins or placements in tournaments in different weapon systems to be a pretty good Jack of All trades, and some of the top performers today are the same. I find that you can’t focus on too much, so I have two or three I work on hard for a time, but I also find that by working with many different weapon systems, even if some for only a few weeks, gives me a greater understanding of HEMA as a whole.

Besides, Fiore for example was meant for wrestling, dagger, sword in one or two hands, spear, pole-axe, mounted and more!

Rapier treatises show single rapier, but also rapier and cloak, or dagger and so forth.

Even inside our systems there are nuances.

My suggestion for most is that they consider, longsword, rapier, single-stick/saber/ or sword and buckler at the same time. Each compliments the other, each teaches a specific set of skills. It’s ok to focus heavily on one, but delving into the others may be beneficial.

What goals do you have for the near future?

Ohhhh you know. Things. A podcast (history), HEMA-centric books, maybe put my Sci-fi novels up as a podcast, possibly another RPG with John Phoenix. More successful students and more HEMAA certifications within the Phoenix Society so one day they can go off and make their own clubs. I have spent a few years on working for others, so I may try to do some catch-up for myself. I need to up my stock portfolio so I can one day pull in a 1000 a month through dividends. I want to visit some places with my family. I’ll be at events for sure, and I’m in hot demand to teach abroad or give seminars, so I’ll work some of those in as well. I’d also like to see the HEMA Alliance continue to grow and support more members and affiliates and certify more people.

Maybe I will sit on the dunes of Arrakis and wonder when the sword-messiah will come from the outer worlds.

Spend time with the wife!

What does Richard like to do with his spare time outside of teaching and fencing?

I am a writer, and I do like video games, especially those with immersive stories like the Witcher 3 and GTA V. Here are my publications.

http://www.worksofrichardmarsden.com/publicationlist.htm

BONUS QUESTION

You die and come back to life as a fencer from the past (real or fictional)…who is it and why?

Interesting one. I am often asked, “What time period would you like to live in?” My answer is, “This one, or 50 years from now is probably pretty awesome. I love A/C, good food, drink and video games and housing….”

But your question says if I had to be a real or fictional fencing person who?

Stilgar of Dune has a fancy knife, rides worms and gets to be in a long, confusing film, but with great imagery.

Syrio Forel from Game of Thrones would be divine justice of a sorts. Teaching… again.

Drizzt do Urden has twin scimitars, but… how would I pick anything up, and all that family drama.

The Emperor does know how to fight, he is a Master, and I get to rule the galaxy for a bit but then get thrown down a shaft that does not have proper OSHA safety precautions.

Solomon Kane, sure I’m dour, but… fighting evil.

Fiore lives in a rather violent time and had to kill/wound five men because he wouldn’t share his secrets. I’m not much into really killing or hurting people.

George Silver seems bitter.

Rapier masters all come across as prima-donas and chasing work.

Jan Pasek, a cool 17th century Polish noble and swordsman, but a life too filled with drama.  So, not for me as much as I love the guy.

Alfred Hutton…hmmm, good lifestyle, modern era, interested in HEMA, and seemed happy enough. Maybe him.

Maybe a highwayman?
Maybe a drop of rain?

RICHARD MARSDEN

Phoenix Society of Historical Swordsmanship

HIS LINKS

WEBSITE

THE POLISH SABER (BOOK)

PHOENIX SOCIETY FB PAGE

THE WORKS OF RICHARD MARSDEN

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10 Questions with Richard Kruse

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Swordsmanship with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2016 by Combative Corner

Richard Kruse Interview CC

I was able to catch up with Richard this Dec/Jan throughout his hectic training, touting and traveling schedule.  As a fencer myself, and a great fan of sport fencing, I instantly gravitated and quickly grew to appreciate Kruse’s style and patience on the piste.  Looking over the internet, I saw that there wasn’t enough information on this guy and many of his previous interviews were short and out-dated.  Myself, and all of us at CombativeCorner.Com is glad to have had this chance to catch up with Richard and get a deeper look.  

(quick look)  Richard Kruse (32) is a British fencer specializing in the foil.  He has represented Great Britain at the Summer Olympics three times.  In 2015, he was part of the Great Britain team that shocked Olympic champions Italy to win the first European Games in team foil – the first British gold medal in a team fencing event at World or European level for fifty years. (wikipedia.org)

photo credits:   Marie-Lan Tay Pamart

photo credit (profile): wikimedia.org

How did you get into fencing?

I got into fencing through a local club in my neighbourhood in north London way back in 1994. I was trying a lot of sports at the time like karate, football, tennis etc. By sheer coincidence my local club was run by the national Olympic foil coach Ziemek Wojciechowski. As I result I was able to get world class coaching from the very beginning which I attribute a large amount of my success to. Twenty-two years on and my coach and I are still working together.

 

What has been your biggest challenge as a competitive fencer?

I can’t say what the biggest challenge of being a professional fencer has been to date. Throughout the years I have encountered many challenges, all of which were problematic in their own right ranging from chronic injuries, to funding, to finding motivation to continue after not qualifying for various championships. All of these issues were difficult in themselves but all managed to get resolved.

 

I’ve always admired your technical style. How have you been able to remain so methodical and “classical” in your approach without fully adopting a “sportive” style?

On the issue of my style, I did initially fence in a “sporty style”. Up until 2004 the game was very different due to the more lenient box timings that allowed all flick hits to register. I did actually enjoy that type of fencing a lot but it was fair to say that the game had lost its roots as a sword fighting art. For this reason the FIE made the decision to alter the box timings to allow less flicks and hence restore the character of the foil. This brought about the initial changes to my style. As I’ve got older I am not able to be as physical on the piste as when I was 21 and therefore have to focus more on the technical and tactical side of fencing rather than the athletic side.

It should be noted that there were some successful classical fencers back in the late 90s and early 00s at a period when the flick hits dominated the game. The most notable was Piotr Kielpikowski from Poland who retired at in 2002 at the age of 40 after winning a bronze medal at the world championships in Lisbon. In an era when fencers used to run down the piste in foil with their arms back it was refreshing to see someone using the point so neatly. Of course this style does require a lot of skill to function at the highest level so I can see why it’s overlooked by a lot of fencers.

 

As a tall (6’3), right-handed fencer; do you think that those qualities help or hamper you? Why or why not? (Seems like many other top level fencers are short, lefties. i.e. Joppich, Baldini)

Do I think being a tall right hander disadvantages me? Fencing is a bit of a Cinderella style because our competitions are not done in height or weight categories – unlike all other combat sports in the Olympics. This is because you are not actually hitting people with a part of your body and are never supposed to allow your body to come into contact with that of your opponents’. One year you would see an Olympic or World Champion like Lei or Chamley Watson at around 6’5’’ and then next you would get a champion such as Baldini or Joppich that are both well under 6’. Height is no excuse for losing you just have to fence at a distance that is suitable for your body type. The taller fencers will want to keep shorter ones at bay and the shorter fencers will want to fight at a closer range.

Being left or right handed is more of an interesting debate in fencing. Clearly there are far more left handed champions than are proportional for the amount of left handers in the population. I’ve heard many theories as to why this is the case, all of which are interesting but the mathematics of the situation is clear. When starting to fence it is likely that a left-hander will practise more against right-handers than vice versa. As a result left-handers will be more accustomed to fencing right-handers than the other way around and therefore they have an advantage. Left-handers at first won’t be so confident against other left-handers but that doesn’t matter because when they both fence you’ll inevitably have a left-handed winner and a left-handed loser. That applies for younger fencers, at the top level you can’t blame a defeat on the handedness of a fencer.

 

You have a tremendous coach in Ziemowit Wojciechowski. How has he helped your game improve?

My coach Ziemek Wojciechowski has been of tremendous influence. He has not only produced me but has worked with almost all of the top British Men’s Foilists of this generation. He has single handedly elevated Britain above a third world country in this sport and is a bit of a “John Connor” character of fencing in our country. His enthusiasm for the game is unparalleled and that certainly has rubbed off on me over the years.

 

What specific fencing drills do you enjoy doing and are there ones that you dislike (but need to do)?

Specific fencing drills that you do that you like or don’t like. My training mainly consists of a warm up, a half hour lesson and then a few hours of sparring followed by a good stretch-off afterwards. I’m not really too big these days on all the footwork drills that I used to do as a younger fencer. I concentrate more on the technical and tactical game nowadays.

 

Could you explain the most thrilling moment/victory you’ve experienced?

My most thrilling victory had to be qualifying for the 2012 Olympics. For a long time it looked like I’d be able to qualify directly off of the world ranking but in the last world cup of the season I was leapfrogged by one world ranking point by Hertsyk from the Ukraine. I thought that was it but it turned out there was a satellite event in Copenhagen the following weekend which would count for Olympic selection.

It turned out that if I were to win this tournament then I’d finish just above Hertsyk in the world ranking and get an automatic place in the London Olympics. It was a hard task but I managed to scrape my way through six matches and win the competition. A lot of people asked me why I was so keen to qualify legitimately when Britain had eight “host nation” spots to use in 2012. The truth is that I was told that if I didn’t qualify properly then I wouldn’t be given a “host nation” place. As a result it was crucial to qualify legitimately.

 

What do you feel was your biggest loss, and what did you learn from it?

My biggest loss was finishing 4th in the European Zonal event before Beijing. The top three were to qualify for the Olympics and I missed out by the smallest of margins. It was very difficult to find any motivation to finish the season at that point but my coach Ziemek persuaded me to do so. In hindsight I’m pleased he did because about a month before the Beijing Games I was told I’d been given a wild card to compete. As a result of training through the darker times it was possible to go to Beijing and put in a respectable performance.

 

What do you think is important for young fencers to know when they first begin to fence?

It is important for young fencers to really enjoy the game. Train as hard as possible and have some achievable goals but at the same time keep other options open for the future. Of course, if you are one of the lucky ones that can be a professional fencer for a living then I’d advise you to take that opportunity! You’ll get to learn a lot about yourself, meet a lot of people and get to travel to all corners of the globe.

 

What does Richard Kruse like to do for fun (besides kicking arse on the piste)?

When I’m not fencing I still have a lot of things to keep me busy. I coach twice a week at a local fencing club. I enjoy learning foreign languages which also come in handy with all the travelling we do. Plus I teach the bagpipes once a week at the local scout group. I have a very privileged life as a professional fencer, it has certainly given me the time to explore many hobbies!

Interview by: Michael Joyce

RELATED LINKS

The Telegraph; London 2012 Olympics. by: Jessica Winch

BEAZLEY interview w/ Richard Kruse

10 Questions with Tim Morehouse – Olympic Saber Fencer

Fencing Language in The Princess Bride

Exceptionally Answered Questions : On Fencing

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10 Questions with Jennifer Gray

Posted in 10 Questions, Jiujitsu, Women's Self-Defense with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2015 by Combative Corner

Jennifer Gray 1

Jennifer Gray is a Gracie certified jiu-jitsu instructor, fiancé to Ty Gay (Redline Jiu-Jitsu) and the woman behind She-Jitsu and Life & Death Kimonos.  I came to know her through researching her empowering and catchy clothing-line slogan “Real Men Empower Women.”  After reading her blog, and talking with her several times over social media she quickly became one of my favorite people.  Here’s a 10-question interview not to miss!

How did you come to Jiu-Jitsu?

I had no prior martial arts experience when I began my Jiu-Jitsu journey 7 years ago. It wasn’t until my now fiancé, Gracie Black Belt, Ty Gay invited me to take a class at his school where I experienced Jiu-Jitsu for the first time. I was immediately hooked.
You seem like such a young and enlightened person, how did you get this way?
Jennifer and Ty GayLot’s and lot’s of practice. I was not this enlighten jiu jitsu yogi you see on social media most of my life and I’m a little older than people usually think. I turned 32 this year, but I feel like my life is just beginning. I feel like I’m 22 all over again, but a lot stronger & wiser.
I thank jiu-jitsu for my second chance in life. It changed my environment, it gave me an amazing support group, and surrounded me with great people to look up to.
Since I began my journey in jiu-jitsu, I’ve also began my recovery of alcohol & drug addiction, mental illness, Agoraphobia, an eating disorder, & PTSD.
I didn’t have a quality of life until I started training jiu-jitsu. I was very alone in this world. I was on a fast track to jail or worse… 6 feet under. So, like most people that train jiu-jitsu, you could say… Jiu-jitsu saved my life.
Jiu-jitsu definitely plays a huge part in where I am today. Jiu-jitsu liberated me in a way I never thought possible, built my confidence, and helped me a lot mentally. It gave me a purpose. I didn’t go to college, I studied jiu-jitsu at The Gracie Academy from 2011-2015.
After I completed their Instructors Certification Program & became a Jiu-jitsu instructor I began mimicking those around me by applying the people skills & philosophies I was taught; not only on the mat, but off the mat. Eventually, I began to see results when jiu-jitsu started to bleed into my every day life.
Jiu-jitsu only took me so far, though. There came a time when my flash backs & panic attacks became to much. I had to step away from the mat for a while. I didn’t stop training completely, but I would come in sporadically to drill. Grappling during that time made me very uncomfortable and sadly was a trigger for my anxiety & flash backs.
I never stopped teaching my women’s class during this process though. At the time, I was teaching a free women’s empowerment class every Saturday. It was the only thing that kept me hanging on to jiu-jitsu at the time, I think.
When I reached my final breaking point, I was hospitalized. That’s when I was diagnosed with bipolar, agoraphobia, & PTSD. That was when I realized I needed serious help. I could no longer hide from the emotional pain. I could no longer cover it up.
After my hospitalization, I started to isolate myself & my training continued to slow down. Mostly, because going to therapy, teaching, and training did not mix well. It was very difficult going to group therapy and seeing women that had just got out of jail for substance abuse that are struggling to keep their kids, find a home with a felony record, & with no means of transportation besides relying on a bus; at the same time trying to heal myself, talk about my emotions, & keeping up with a jiu-jitsu training regimen wasn’t the best option for me at the time.
The first group therapy I attended & graduated from was a program called Seeking Safety. That’s where I learned how to cope with PTSD & substance abuse.
Seeking Safety is where I learned how to physically & mentally ground myself by using “grounding” as a distraction. Grounding is a set of simple strategies to detach from emotional pain (e.g. drug cravings, self-harm impulses, anger, sadness).
Grounding as a distraction works by focusing on the external world, rather than inward toward the self. You can also think of it as “centering,” “a safe place,” “looking outward,” or a “healthy detachment.”
When you are overwhelmed with emotional pain, you need a way to detach so that you can gain control over your feelings and stay safe. Grounding anchors you to the present and to reality.
Grounding techniques got me back into the world. Once I applied these techniques, I started coming back regularly to jiu-jitsu. I started grappling again.
After I graduated from Seeking Safety, I was put into another group therapy; Dialectical Behavior Therapy. This is where my life really started to change. This is where I was introduced to Mindfulness.
I was given core mindfulness skills, Distress Tolerance Skills, Middle Path Skills, & Emotion Regulation Skills where I learned a lot about the mind. I was given techniques on how not to judge myself & others, how to observe my emotions, and the greatest thing I learned was meditation.
Every class we began with a 5 to 10 minute guided meditation straight from YouTube. The instructor would have us rate ourselves before & after meditation. Of course before I was extremely anxious, panicked, and nervous because that is just how I felt going to therapy each time; after we meditated I felt fine. I was back in my body again.
I started meditating more and more. I started with 5 minutes a day, then 10, then 20, and I eventually reached 30 minutes. During this time, I also started pursuing my journey in yoga.
My doctors had me on 8 pills a day during this time. Antidepressants, mood stabilizers, & antipsychotics.
After being on my meds for a year, I had my worst episode of self-harm I’d ever had.
I’d been fantasizing about cutting my wrist every time I saw a sharp object & it wasn’t until this episode I started cutting my wrist. Thankfully, that was also the last.
As I sat across from my doctor with bumps, bruises, black eyes, and cuts on my wrist that I gave to myself, she said well we will just change your regimen. That was the day I refused to live like that. That was the day I refused to rely on medication for my sanity.
That was the day I took myself off medications & I buried myself into meditation, yoga, and mindfulness practice; for the most part I practice them every single day. Sometimes, several times a day and it’s given me a better quality of life than any of those pills ever did.
My bad days are getting shorter and my good days getting better. I still struggle, and I’m still looking into other treatments like EMDR therapy because I still have days that I struggle with triggers, mania, depression, severe panic attacks, nightmares & flash backs, high anxiety, & insomnia, but I’ve found things that work for me.
Through trial and error I will get there. I have to do the work myself and I’m still working on it. I may struggle, but one thing is for sure, I will never quit.
You’re a savvy business lady, with your hands in many pies – how do you divide your time?
So many pies! Have you heard the saying… entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week? That’s me.
I work pretty much constantly, but I’m VERY fortunate in this department. I’m my own boss, I work from home, so I manage my own hours.
I run 3 businesses: Redline Jiu-jitsu, She-Jitsu, and Life & Death Kimonos. I spend the majority of my time in marketing & advertising, shipping & receiving, managing our online shops, managing our websites, managing our social media, & managing our blogs for all 3 businesses.
I train jiu-jitsu 2-5 days a week depending on what I have going on. I practice yoga regularly every Sunday & Wednesday, but I also have my own private practice at home which I do mostly every single day. I’m an aspiring yoga teacher, so I just recently added that to the mix.
Every day I try to do something that gets me closer to these goals and take it one step at a time. Some days I don’t train jiu-jitsu or yoga. Some days I don’t work on my blogs or websites, or even check my emails, but I always come back to them.
If I’m not working, practicing yoga & training jiu-jitsu; I’m reading or listening to books on audio, listening to music, riding my bike, cooking delicious vegan food, having girl time with my favorite girlfriends, spending time with my family, learning how to play the djembe, spending time outside with my dog, or traveling around with my fiancé watching him live his dream as a musician.
As someone who has experienced some hardship, how do/did you rise above them?
By practicing grounding and mindfulness, and reminding myself that everything is temporary including my emotions. Key word: PRACTICE. PRACTICE. PRACTICE.
Many people with PTSD & substance abuse struggle with feeling either too much (overwhelming emotions and memories) or (numbing & dissociation). In grounding, you learn how to attain a balance between the two: conscious of reality and being able to tolerate it.
There are many different ways to ground. Jiu-jitsu & Yoga are great examples of physical grounding. It takes you out of the mental state you were in when you get on the mat bringing you to where you are: the present moment. It takes you to another state of mind. However, you must get to the mat. That’s the hard part. That’s what grounding help me do. It helped me get back on the mat.
Three major ways of grounding are mental, physical, and soothing. “Mental” means focusing your mind; “physical means focusing your senses (e.g. touch, hearing); and “soothing” means talking to yourself in a very kind way.
The one grounding technique that helps me the most that I still use a lot is looking at objects without judging. Basically, you look at things and name what you are looking at without judgment. Example: When I look around my living room, I see floor, couch, dog, table, chair, tv, fan. I don’t see a wood floor, a brown couch, a yorkie dog, a wooden table, a comfy chair, a big screen tv, and a small fan.
When I do that, I’m mentally grounded & able to focus on the present moment where the past & future do not exist.
So, then I can start to physically ground by scanning my body: Am I clenching my teeth? (relax jaw) Are my shoulders tense? (move shoulders away from my ears) Am I breathing? (Count to 4 on an inhale & exhale). Once I am better relaxed I can start to sooth myself by talking to myself in a kind way. (It’s ok. These things happen. You are not a bad person. You will get through this.)
Grounding is something you can do anywhere at anytime & it’s what helps me the most with my depression, anxiety, and panic attacks which are really the only thing that keep me from doing the things I love. Like getting to the mat…
The mat is my sanctuary, a place I practice mindfulness, and just like anything else; the more I practice, the better I get. Jiu-jitsu plus meditation, yoga, grounding, & being mindful are what led me to who I am today. What you call: enlightened.
Those mindfulness practices have done more for me than any medication, any therapist, & even talking about it. That’s what keeps me coming back to the mat because I know after each time I get to the mat I will be better than who I was when I got there.
Most people like me are in recovery their whole life and that’s something that is hard to accept, but I accept it. I have learned to accept my set backs, take lessons from my struggles, and take it day by day.
Also, turning to my favorite philosopher, Osho, as he always reminds me….
“Life can only be lived dangerously – there is no other way to live. It is only through danger that life attains to maturity, growth. One needs to be an adventurers, always ready to risk the known for the unknown. And once one has tasted the joys of freedom and fearlessness, one never repents because then one knows what it means to live at the optimum. Then one knows what it means to burn life’s torch from both ends together. And even a single moment of that intensity is more gratifying than the whole eternity of mediocre living.”
What role does yoga play in your life?
Jennifer Gray YogaI use yoga as a tool to change my state of mind. It helps me stay focused and brings me back to the present moment each and every time I practice. Yoga takes me to a place where I can find answers.
It’s more than exercise or a physical activity to me. It is my mindfulness practice & I believe mindfulness can change the world. That’s why I want to become a Yoga Instructor. Not only because it’s a lot of fun and helps me mentally, but because Yoga has taught me a lot about myself; How to open my heart; and how find connection to others.
If you have a motto that you live by, what is it?
Nothing in this life is permanent, not even our troubles.
As a jiu-jitsu student, what has been your biggest challenge? And what is the best reward?
She Jitsu Jennifer GrayMy biggest challenge is getting to the mat. Dealing with anxiety & agoraphobia makes it hard to leave the house sometimes. When my anxiety levels are so high it’s hard to walk out that door, get in a car, and drive. Once I’m there, though, everything is fine. That’s why I created the slogan “Get to the mat.”
My best reward is witnessing children & adults grow through their journey, showing them what jiu-jitsu can do for them, and helping them through the process.
It’s just a beautiful thing to be a part of.
If you could name only three people that have been inspirational in your life, who would they be and why?
  1. My mother. She is tough as nails, she sacrificed herself for me & my sister when we were kids & struggled to put a roof over our heads; at the same time keeping food on the table independently. To this day she is one of the hardest working women I know. 
  2. My fiancé, Ty. He’s been my rock, my everything through recovery. Without him by my side, his love, and never ending support I couldn’t have made it this far. He is one of the smartest people I have ever met, the reason I started jiu-jitsu, & he is the reason I’m still alive today. He inspires me with his courage, his passion, and his music. I have learned so much from him. More than he will ever know. 
  3. Ryron Gracie. I admire his mannerisms and sometimes try to be very Ryron-like because I admire the way he carries himself. He is the one that introduced me to the philosophy of being connected, but not attached, how to NOT take others personally, and he also introduced me to the philosopher Osho which helped change my life.
What inspired the message, “Real Men Empower Women” ? 
Misconceptions about all men were part of the force that drove me to my breaking point, and so it’s touching that men, my fiancé in particular, and a male dominated sport were part of the solution that would lead me here today.
That’s why I created the “Real Men Empower Women” t-shirt. As an encouragement to both genders – about how cooperation & not division is a key to empowerment and overcoming challenges. I think it’s important for women to see that there are men out there that support them and want to see them empowered.
Most men want to help, they just don’t know how. This is a way for them to do so, by saying it without saying it; by saying it to everyone they meet.
The same goes for women. It’s important that we empower the men in our life. So, this  message goes both ways. You gotta give support and encouragement if that’s what you want in return. “Real Women Empower Men,” too.
What is something about Jennifer Gray that many people don’t know?
Oh, man. I could right a book on this question!
Most people don’t know that know all the words to almost every 90s R&B, hip hop, & rap songs. I am a huge fan of 70s, 80s, & 90s Country music. During the 80s I was in LOVE with Michael Jackson & Sinead O’Conner. During the 90s I was in LOVE with Billy Ray Cyrus. I even had a night gown with his face on it.
When I was a kid my mom got this little cable box that had about 30 channels on it and the only 2 music channels were BET & CMT. I would wait till she went to bed at night, sneak in the living room & watch music videos all night long.
My first cassette tapes were Silk, Jay-Z, and Conway Twitty. When I got my first CD player, you had to be 17 or older to get explicit CDs, and somehow I talked my mother into buying me 2pac’s greatest hits. I’ll never forget when she asked for the “Shoe-pac” CD. Probably one of the greatest moments of my life.
Bonus Question
If you could have a private, one-on-one with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
Probably, Ronda Rousey. I think she is one of the coolest humans alive & I think we would get along really well. Plus, she would be so much fun to train with!
Much love!
Jennifer Gray

President, She-Jitsu L.L.C.

 

“The enemy is within. Let’s start a war.”
Twitter @shejitsu
Instagram @shejitsu
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