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10 Questions with John Painter (Part 2)

Posted in 10 Questions, Baquazhang, Internal Arts, Internal Development, Martial Arts with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2017 by Combative Corner

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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10 Questions with Dr. John Painter [Part 1]

Posted in 10 Questions, Baquazhang, Internal Arts, Martial Arts with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2017 by Combative Corner

If you were anything like me, you were a big-time reader of Inside Kung fu Magazine.  That is where I was first introduced to the likes of many martial artists whose passion and dedication was to bring the arts of the Far East (particularly) to North America.  People like B.K. Francis, Erle Montaigue, Paulie Zink, and Dr. John Painter (just to name a few).  These Hall of Famers helped to pave the way for many of the instructors teaching today and it is truly an honor to receive Dr. Painter’s 10 Questions.  So detailed and generous his response – I decided to break the interview up into a part one and part two. Enjoy!

When did you get started in the martial arts?

I knew nothing about any martial arts when I began training in post standing (Zhan Zhuang 站 樁) and Breathing Skill (Qigong 氣功) with Shifu Li, Long-dao in East Texas about 1957. The Li family claimed to be from Sichuan province China having lived there for many generations. For reasons unknown to me Li, Long-dao and his father Li, Zhang-Lai moved to Beijing. During the final days of the war according to stories they worked as combat trainers for soldiers fighting for Chiang, Kai-shek 蔣中正 in the Second Sino-Japanese War (July 7, 1937 – September 9, 1945).

The war was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan. The Li family seeing that there was little hope of being victorious left the area and within a few years immigrated to the United States first to New York City and then to a small Texas town where they opened a restaurant and found me and two other young boys whom they chose to learn their art. They found their way to Texas after not finding a happy reception in New York’s Chinese community. Li, Long-dao took his family by train headed for San Francisco California.

On the train from New York a strange set of circumstances caused The Li’s to end up in Longview Texas instead of San Francisco quite by accident, providence or fate. When the conductor called out “coming to Looongview” (the name of the town) Shifu Li thought the man was saying dragons view town as the word for dragon (loong 龍) in Chinese is pronounced long.

Thinking this an auspicious sign he ushered his family off the train and set out to make a home in “dragon view village” Texas. He persisted during our association to insist the town of Longview was a place with great wind water energy (Feng Shui 風水) even though it was explained to him that the town was named because of a very high hill near the center of town where the founder in the 1800’s had say, “there is a very long view from here.” One should be wary of trying to change or correct a high level Gong Fu masters opinion!

My studies began around 1957. Shifu Li thinking his family system would become extinct made the decision to teach me and two other neighborhood boys his traditional arts after his son rejected the “old school” teaching in favor of playing Texas football. So you might say this was Shifu’s way of being passive aggressive towards his sons abandonment of their traditions. We trained every day after school and on weekends for at least two hours per session. This lasted through my first years of college. Then in 1969 Li, Long-dao wrote two letters one in Chinese and the other in English naming me his adopted son and the heir to their family system.

In truth I had no thoughts of teaching martial arts in 1969, as I was busy studying psychology and theater at Texas Tech University with plans to be an actor in film and on stage. My boyhood hobby of stage magic and escapes like Houdini became my profession after college. During the early 1970’s I went to work performing in the Dallas night club scene and also at Six Flags Over Texas as a magician and western stunt show gunfighter.

After an episode in a night club where I was able to stop a shooting incident, the intended victim a very wealthy Dallas socialite hired me as her bodyguard and this began another twist in the long and winding road of my career. It seemed as if my martial arts training kept surfacing as part of my life that I could not ignore. Word got around at Six Flags about the occurrence in Dallas and from time to time I was asked by the security department to guard celebrity guests. These included Jerry Lewis, Bill Cosby, Kenny Rogers and Helen Reddy.

In 1972 things had become difficult at Six Flags. I formed a partnership with a stunt man from Six Flags who was into Japanese Jujitsu but also learning the Li family methods from me and we opened the Kung Fu Tao Training Center in Arlington Texas, the first Chinese martial arts studio in Texas. Within the first year my partner and I had a falling out over moral issues and I bought him out taking the school over as head instructor.

Working as a bodyguard continued for a couple of years. I worked for many Dallas elite and two prominent night club owners, both Italian and well connected if you get my inference here! There were many adventures in the USA, Caribbean and Mexico that allowed me to hone my martial skills with hand, knives and guns plus developing a high level of threat awareness.

But finally after being hit in the neck with a pool cue in a waterfront bar in Pensacola, shot in the left hand in Texas, stabbed in the side in Mexico (you should see the other guys) and after the birth of my daughter my wife convinced me that while I was very good at my job protecting some rather dubious characters, taking a bullet for someone else might not be the best choice for a new father. She kept quoting the line from a Dustin Hoffman film “Little Big Man” “You better watch out Mr. Merryweather they are whittling you down, quit before you loose all of your parts.” After some consideration on losing body parts or leaving a fatherless child behind I chose to begin concentrating on teaching the Li, family system full time giving up the life of a bodyguard.

The protective work did help me come to understand the reality of street combat survival which is quite different from what goes on in the sports world or martial sparring ring, and for that knowledge I will be forever grateful. Later this same skill set stood me in good stead when in 2002 some law enforcement friends and I formed the American Rangers Martial Law Enforcement Training Institute (ARMLETI) to train the trainers for law enforcement, corrections officers and private bodyguards in combat shooting and defensive tactics.

Over my years my Gong Fu school has undergone three changes. First it was called the Kung Fu Tao Training Center where we taught traditional Chinese martial arts, Daoist yoga and Qigong along with weapons training, massage and herbal classes. This stayed open from 1972 to 1983 when we needed to move to a better location. We opened the Wholistic Fitness Center in 83 to take advantage of the new age movement which pretty much fizzled out in the South. The 1,400 foot center was state of the art with meditation rooms, library, training hall, student lounge, offices and a photographic development studio (pre-digital).

The center ran from 1983 to 1995 when we moved to our current location The Gompa Center which is the ideal setup. We have a secluded area not in a commercial building with an indoor training hall outdoor Baguazhang training garden, light body training area, Baguazhang nine post and Yin Yang Bapanzhang ten post areas plus a large Taiji deck and a bunk house for our out of town guests. We named it The Gompa, as Gompa is a Tibetan word that loosely means place of quiet study and that is exactly what it is a place for serious internal art students to learn and grow in the Li family arts. www.thegompa.com

What particularly drew you to the art of Baguazhang?

Although in later years it became my favorite internal martial art and health exercise I was not particularly drawn to Baguazhang in the beginning. As a part of my earlier health training I was given the assignment of walking in circles around a big pine tree in the back yard while practicing breathing exercises (Qigong氣 功) to help what Shifu Li called my dark mood (Qingxu情緒) a Chinese word for depression. At 13 I had been diagnosed by western doctors with what for want of a better term they called bio-chemical depression which was contributing to my immune system problems.

So after hearing this and examining my meridian pulses I was given a special diet by Shifu Li and the edict to walk around the big pine tree in a circle every day for one hour. As mentioned in a previous answer this was the dancing dragon breath energy skills (Long Wudao Qigong 龍 舞蹈 氣功). That was the beginning of my introduction to the Li family style of Baguazhang called nine dragon eight diagram palm (Jiulong Baguazhang九龍八卦 ). It was not long after starting Li family Bagua Qigong and then the martial training that I began to see a vast improvement in my health and energy levels from which I attributed to this strange practice of walking in circles.

I believe I began studying Li family combat methods of Jiulong Baguazhang in 1959. The system is unique in that there are no formalized forms to memorize. It is based on practical proven combat principles executed while walking in straight lines and then around a circle. Later the student learns to maneuver around nine circular patterns based on the Yijing magic square design. At the time we were learning these methods I am pretty sure there was nothing written in English on any Chinese martial arts and absolutely nothing on Baguazhang especially not in a small East Texas town.

Unlike some other Bagua styles in Jiulong Baguazhang each of the eight “palms” is not just a hand position but incorporates whole body attitudes of mental energy and movement related to the book of changes (Yijing易經). Palms are studied individually for their ability to express neutralization force and defensive actions including locking, throwing and striking. When each palm is understood then the eight are combined and used interchangeably. This allows them to produce hundreds of defensive and offensive combinations for every type of conceivable attack.

The reader should note that this was and is a method used by protective agents and as such is a truly martial system never meant for aesthetic or tournament display. Although there is a method of what one might call Qigong within the system it is for health and longevity not martial prowess. Within the combat methods (zhandouli Bagua) anything esoteric or mystical was discarded as being too impractical for combat applications. In later years when I became a bodyguard these methods saved my life in more than one altercation dealing with multiple opponents both unarmed and armed.

 

I’d like to know more about the Li family, where they came from and how Taiji came into their family.

I make no claim as to the authenticity or historical accuracy of the stories told to me as a boy by my Shifu. So if there are mistakes it is entirely due to my faulty note keeping. According to the information I was given by my Shifu Li, Long-dao the family lived in Sichuan province for many years. Mr. Li his father Li, Zhang-Lai and grandfather Li, Ren-ma had been highly respected bodyguards / wagon masters (Baobiao 保鏢) in Sichuan Province.

Here is what I was told as to the background of the family and their arts. As to Taijiquan the first incarnation created by Master Li, Ren-ma was based on the founding principles of the Taijiquan Classics as written by the creators of the art. After studying Chen and Yang styles master Li distilled their essence into a single form blending them with concepts already practiced in their family arts into a method containing nine moves. Li, Ren-ma used the following nine moves from classical Taijiquan in his form: Ward Off, Roll Back, Push, Press, Shoulder Stroke, Elbow Stroke, Slant Flying posture, Punch Below Elbow and Dragon Stamping Kick. His form was called Willow Taijiquan (Liushu Taijiquan柳樹太 ).

Master Li, Zhang-Lai introduced a different idea and became famous for his ability to use only the four pearls (Ward-off, Rollback, Press and Push) AKA grasp the birds tail, as his combat methods. These were what he called the four treasures with void standing (Wuji Zhan Zhuang無極站 樁) being the fifth treasure. He called this Five Treasures Grand Ultimate Boxing (Wu-Bao Taijiquan五寶太 極 拳). In this form there are five separate pre-form opening movements to awaken the relaxation energy (song) and prepare for whole body power movements (Zhengti-jin整體) and five core movements repeated on both left and right sides. They are Ward Off, Roll Back, Press and Push.

I learned both the willow and five treasures methods, as a boy but it was the Wu-bao Taijiquan that became my primary focus. As a judge for international Chinese martial arts competitions during the 1980’s I have been obliged to make some study of every know system of Taijiquan although I cannot say I have any deep level expertise. I also briefly studied Chen style from Chen Xiao Wang to examine the Chen method of generating pulsing force (Fa-jin發勁) and Yang style from Yang Zhenduo to understand the pushing force (An-jin按 勁) from that system. These were explorations so as to help me better understand the roots of the Li family concepts derived from both styles. For myself I have come to the conclusion that the Wu-bao Li style is all I need for health and self-defense applications.

As a student, was there anything within the internal martial arts system that posed problems for you or that you had to adapt to?

I suppose it would be the rigors of learning under the tutelage of a stern task master who brooked no back chat. With Shifu Li failure was never an option, in any form. He was a strict disciplinarian. You received few compliments for things done correctly. You heard quite a bit when things were done wrong. Ask a question once, it was answered politely, ask it again a short answer with perhaps a demonstration was given, ask a third time and you possibly would be picking yourself out of the dirt. He seemed to believe that he was preparing us for life or death survival and took the training very seriously. If you look in a Western dictionary under “Tough Love” there would or should be a photo of Li, Long-dao. Although at times he had what Tibetans call a streak of “Crazy Wisdom” in that if things got too intense he could break the tension by doing some pretty strange antics. So I would say that in dealing with him there was a bit of culture shock.

It was all new to us and very foreign even perhaps a bit exotic, but we did not question what we were learning and not so much from fear of the third question rule, but more from awe and respect for our teacher. I feel the reader should also realize that during the 1950’s there was a different mind set than what we see in young people today.

Children were taught to be seen and not heard, there were no computers, video games, cell phones or other distractions. We had books and television for entertainment in those days and these along with our parents, teachers and church instilled in us a sense of etiquette and good manners. Television shows modeled polite children, violence was not graphic.

The adventures of Superman (one of Mr. Li’s favorite shows) with George Reeves taught us about, “Truth justice and the American way!” We had heroes who righted wrongs, protected the weak and innocent, they took care those who could not help themselves. There were no anti-heroes. There was a clear sense of good and bad like Yin and Yang. That was the American or at least Texas way in those days and it fit right into the concepts of the Li family bodyguards’ adherence to martial conduct or martial virtue (Wude武德).

What do you say about Bagua (or any of the “internal styles”) in regards to it’s effectiveness in combat?

This is a difficult if not tricky question to answer. As far as Baguazhang goes in modern times in my view it has become a splintered art divided up into many incarnations. Some versions of the art have become so watered down by modern sport Wushu interpretations designed for tournament form demonstration that they are practically useless for true self defense. This is also true of Taijiquan and Xingyiquan where the demonstration versions and compulsory routines often contain wide stances and movements that biomechanically cannot generate much in the way of true whole body power or kinetic force.

Some of my friends in China tell me that when martial arts was for a short time outlawed during the reign of Chairman Mao there was such a hue and cry a sports ministry was formed to allow a watered down state approved version of martial arts to be used as artistic expressions but not true martial arts. Stances were deepened and changes were made by the then governing body to insure that these arts were aesthetically pleasing but of little real combative use. Over time it proved that many of these alterations were particularly damaging to the knees and especially to Western players as the Caucasian bone structure in the knee is a bit different from that of our Asian brothers and sisters.

Over time much of the original prowess of these arts diminished, traditional masters took to the hills to hide out others fled the country to South America, Canada, Europe and some to the USA others threw in the towel and joined up with the governing body. Over dinner one night I asked my good friend Madam Wong, Ju-rong daughter of the famous Wang, Zi-ping one of the most skilled fighters in all of China, why she was teaching the watered down Wushu methods to Americans, surely she was free to teach what she liked now that she was in the land of the free.

She looked at me for a long time, leaned across the table and whispered, “Because I still have family living in China!” So today the major players in the West of Chinese martial arts are from the contemporary Wushu group and another group only plays for health concerns while the smallest number of Chinese Gong Fu mavens concentrates on the old school methods for health and realistic fighting skills. We are few in number but I think those numbers are growing.

As to Baguazhang, Dong, Hai-Chuan the alleged originator of the art Rotating Palm (Zhuan zhang ) later to be named Eight Diagram Palm (Baguazhang八 卦 掌) was purely interested in combative methods especially during his tenure with the Emperors palace guards and later when he taught outside the walls of the palace. Although some sources say he did not teach the palace guards his Baguazhang reserving that for inner door students on this the historical jury is still out.

As far as fighting efficiency it is said that Dong would only take students who were proficient in other martial disciplines and had experience with combat methods. Each of his students would then be taught to use the palm as a main weapon along with circle walking and rapid turning methods called single and double palm changes. As his students came from different disciplines each was taught to adapt his previous fighting skills to three main concepts. The first was using palms as a main weapon instead of the fist. The second was in applying these methods while circling and turning to make the practitioner a hard target.

This was introduced in the methods called single and double palm changes and the third was in walking around facing inward on a large circle to create very adroit footwork. Even with these similarities the art took on different characteristics as some specialized in throwing (Shuaijiao摔跤) tactics while others focused on locking and holding skills (Qinna擒拿) and still others on specialized striking skill (Da-gong打功) and so on.

For this reason there are many variations or interpretations of Dong’s methods. However originally all interpretations were about realistic combat methods and they involved many levels of training that one might call cross-training today. Early Dong Baguazhang students learned the circle walking and palm changes but there were no long memorized forms. The forms were based on principles and were often a series of martial tactics linked in a certain order then re-linked in another order over and over again until the student could move freely and spontaneously. There was no such thing as a compulsory routine which is not conducive to learning free flowing self defense tactics.

There was also some light body training (Qing-gong輕功), Stone Sphere training (Da shi qiu 大石球) a type of progressive resistance exercise using stone spheres of varying weights and sizes for developing what we call core power today. More advanced level students graduated to the Nine Palace training (Jiu Gongdian九宮殿) where one walked or ran around nine posts set in the earth representing multiple opponents. There were also forms of combat drills with Baguazhang push hands exercises, application drills and eventually some sparring methods were also employed.

Although there are exceptions to everything in my view a majority of today’s modern so called internal martial arts seldom contain much more than some elaborate dance like forms to be memorized, push-hand games, mysterious often unintelligible instructions about the invisible Qi energy and through all this the students are given the erroneous impression that this is enough to defend oneself against a serious physical assault.

The old school training was far more than a long set of dance routines and some push-hands and Qi magic. These old masters were rough and tumble men who used such methods to survive life and death altercations. Today in my opinion there are less than a handful of people who have had these old school methods passed down to them from teachers who were real fighters not tournament jocks, but men who paid their dues on the streets of Beijing, Hong Kong, Canton and other cities in the golden age of Gong Fu in China.

I would like to point out also that these modern day keepers of the “old school” flame are working to preserve the spirit of these arts for future generations. It is from them that anyone who really wants to understand how to use Taijiquan, Baguazhang or Xingyiquan should study. This is because you cannot learn to swim from someone who has never been in the water! Many attempt to teach what they call self-defense with these arts with no more practical experience of real combat than push-hands games or some tournament sparring.

The gap between a controlled environment and a deadly attack on the street is a huge yawning chasm. To try and teach such methods without practical experience is teaching theory based on belief not reality. This is my view is a reckless and dangerous attitude that could possibly cost a student dearly in a real attack.

PART TWO COMING SOON!

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10 Questions with Ismet Himmet [video]

Posted in 10 Questions, Internal Arts, Kungfu, Martial Arts with tags , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2017 by Combative Corner

Ismet Himmel is a masterful teacher of Wudang Principles and teaches from Hainan, China.  He has many wonderful training and workshop clips, forms and other videos available on his youtube channel.  Typically, we send our questions and the interviewee returns the answered questions in writing.  This time we were very fortunate and happy to see that Ismet, took the time and effort to put his answers to video.  Enjoy.

For more information on Ismet and WDP-China.

Visit there YouTube, Facebook, or website.

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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 Samantha Swords

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2017 by Combative Corner

samanthaswords

What got you into swords and sword fighting in the first place? And how did you become “Samantha Swords?”

I’ve always loved European swords, from a really young age. I wasn’t interested in other culture’s weapons, or satisfied with what I saw in movies or the reenactment world. When I discovered in 2006 that there was a rich martial tradition around medieval swordsmanship, I felt it was confirmation of something I had always known deep down, and I could focus my passion into research and training.

In 2012, I had a big break after we wrapped on ‘The Hobbit’ and I decided to prioritise my work as an artist. I started new social media accounts for sharing my illustration and my activities, and used the nickname I’d sometimes been called when people were saving my number in their phones- it was how some of my friends thought of me. So when I started to get noticed the next year, everyone used the name I had on my accounts. It stuck! I’ve always been clear that it’s a nom-de-plume, but it’s easy to remember, and a great description of what I do.

What was it like and what was your role in the famous Weta Workshop?

It was wonderful working with the team at Weta. The workshop gathers such amazing, world-class artisans, and the level of skill and creative potential under one roof is phenomenal. It’s full of contrasts though, because you have the boundless creativity of the people and resources, but it’s all constrained by the limitations of a practical film production. No project is ever the same, and the team have to adapt constantly to new challenges. It’s not exactly restful! I think that’s what makes it so truly great, though, is being able to thrive under that constant pressure.

My role was ever-changing. Weta have dozens of fabrication departments and when I first got started, I didn’t have a particular specialised background. So I went wherever there was need for a technician. Over the years I got to work with props, costumes, armour, prosthetics, metal, wood-work, the leather room, sculpting and 3D modelling, the miniatures department, painting, molding… I can’t quickly name all the jobs I did, but I had exposure to most of the areas of Weta. Learning under all those top artists in their fields was an extraordinary experience.

Also, being in an environment of shared excellence teaches you that once you hand over what you make to someone else, it’s no longer yours. That’s a really important lesson to learn as an artist, to value the skill over the object, and to not take what happens to your work personally.

From the looks of your social media, you engage yourself in many different martial art experiences. Some people fear “jack of all trades, master of none.” What’s your opinion?

Well, I’m definitely a Jack! I think there’s no problem with increasing your knowledge and skills in all areas as long as you know what is most important and can commit to doing it professionally when that skill is needed. As a freelancer working in a competitive, highly-creative and also punishing industry, being able to adapt and upskill fast is vital in order to thrive. That behaviour might be damaging in a more stable career, and I can see how the idea of being a Jack could be threatening to many people. It’s uncertain and risky, and requires a lot of energy to be able to constantly adjust to new challenges. Ultimately, if you are a Jack, I think it’s important to be able to know yourself and to be aware of whether the kind of growth you’re doing is about avoidance of a difficult challenge, or exploration of an exciting new area that could bring knowledge and perspective to what you do.

In 2013, you entered and won the Longsword division in the Harcourt Park Jousting Tournament. What was that tournament like? And was that different from any of the other events you’ve done in the past?

The tournament was part of a much larger, established sports event which centred around jousting, and brought competitors from maybe ten different countries. In previous years the longsword and other ground martial arts had drawn a large pool of fighters, but for several different reasons it was much smaller in 2013. I wasn’t thinking about winning at all, just wanted an opportunity to test my training and so I was very relaxed about the whole thing. It was very different from my other competitions, which had felt much more stressful, and each time I’d really cared about the results. My tension always worked against me, of course, so not fretting about the event was the best thing I could do.

The judges running the 2013 event were testing a new rule set as well. It favoured defensive fighting to avoid the constant mutual strikes that plague many weapons-based tournaments. In my year, we all started with hit points and had to defend them, rather than the usual method of claiming points from an uncooperative opponant. It emphasised caution, self-defense and was completely suited to how I had been training.

The story of me winning that event has really got a life of its own. Even though I’m proud of how I fought that day, it’s been extremely odd to have so many people focus on only that, especially when there is so much more going on in my life and in the HEMA community.

Since that winning the longsword tournament, have you ever considered continuing and competing in HEMA competitions? If not, how come?

I’m not huge into competition at the moment. When I was actively competing, I was much younger as a martial artist and all I wanted to do was fight! That was fun for a few years, but once I understood how hard it is to actually judge competitions, my interest shifted into learning good self-defense rather than being good in the ring. They’re quite different ways of fighting and training. Much of the dominant HEMA scene is centred around large, impressive competitions, which is terrific for expanding the community! It’s so exciting to see how large we have grown in such a short time. I feel bad that I’m not interested in going to them right now, but even before I’d gotten well-known, I’d decided to take a break and focus on other areas of improvement. Currently I really enjoy smaller events where people can share their training and spar informally, and test things out. There’s so much I want to learn.

What style/method of longsword do you study (or have you studied)? What made you gravitate to this style and/or stick with this style?

I love Fiore Dei Liberi’s tradition, and the Getty Manuscript. The wealth of anatomical information that ‘The Flower of Battle’s artist included is extraordinary, and I feel it’s still largely untapped. Also, it shows an efficient and practical system that’s more about the fighter than the weapon they’re using. That approach really appeals to me now. That’s such a turnaround from when I was young, where all I wanted was to learn about the sword. Now, I want to understand everything around the sword as well.

Being in the film industry as well, what parts have you played and what part was your favorite so far?

In the film industry, for every movie that gets made, there are at least five that don’t. Most of my favourite acting parts have been for productions that have fallen over. And, because of the high level of confidentiality, you can never talk about them or take photos or anything. Not including theatre, all my favourite roles have been for films that were put on the shelf. Sorry! All I can say is that they have been action-adventure characters who have a bit of depth to them, and I loved that.

How do you juggle your life – with acting, sword-making, writing, traveling and instructing?

Juggle is a good description! Some times of my year are busier than others, and I have to work very hard to stay on top of different commitments. I put a lot of hours into everything, and cut out the things I think are a waste of my time so I can focus more on what’s important. Sometimes I don’t mean to cut things out, but they just drop off the side anyway. For the most part, my work is project-based so I have a clear start and end, and can fit my different activities around that in block periods. Having seasonal interruptions does get frustrating when I want to build on something over a long period, though. And it makes it really hard to train. I have to be flexible about how and where I practice, and be disciplined enough to keep it up when I’m away from traditional training places. It’s not easy, but I love that I get to do so many things.

For anyone wanting to get into historical fencing for the first time, what would be your advice?

Find someone or something to get you started, and make time in your week to practice. Having a clear inspiration is important, as well as a space you can go to learn. You don’t need a club, but it does help. Most swordsmanship clubs are warm and welcoming, but if you feel like it’s not a good fit it’s okay to look elsewhere. If you’re nowhere near a club, you’re in good HEMA company: so many groups begin really modestly, with a few people figuring out how to fence together in the middle of nowhere. As long as you have clear safety practices, there’s no reason you can’t set something up yourself. There is so much support online- the HEMA Alliance will guide you to good resources.

Get the best tools and equipment you can, within reason. You can always sell it if you find you don’t want to commit to swordsmanship long-term. Having good tools will help your education more than anything other than a good teacher. If it’s your first time using weapons, practice control and coordination before applying speed and power. Accuracy is much more subtle in sword arts, and an inch of contact with a sword is much more lethal than the same with a kick or a punch! As much as you can, always reevaluate and test what you’re learning. HEMA grows from individuals taking on research and challenging what they find. That’s part of the excitement, too- we all have a chance to contribute to genuine exploration of something nearly lost in the past.

Apart from your profession, what else does Samantha like to do in her free time?

Anyone following my Instagram knows that I have a great love of animals, as well as getting out and about. When I’m at home I’ll read or draw or play video games or watch Netflix, often covered with several of my rats. They’re really loving and intelligent and bring me a lot of joy. I like fixing things, or making new things from broken ones. I also adore going hiking or snowboarding, and when I can I go into the mountains for a week. My responsibilities make that hard at the moment, though.

 

What is your favorite fictional character and why?

My favourite character of literature is Lisbeth Salander, from the Millennium trilogy. She’s extremely strong, fierce, wildly intelligent, free of doing what people expect of her, and wants to be left alone. She’s an androgenous anti-hero and I never get tired of reading those books, even though they cover very difficult subject matter. I don’t feel as attached to the movies, although I like the casting choices in both the Swedish and American versions. My next favourite character is Hobbes, of Calvin and Hobbes. I feel I don’t need to explain him, though.

We’d like to thank Samantha for providing answers to these questions and if you have any additional questions, please comment below and perhaps we can have her answer them in the near future.  If you want to learn more about her, you can find her on Facebook and Tumbler. 

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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

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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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Radio Free Asia Interview with Master Kwok : Part 2

Posted in Kungfu, Martial Arts, Styles, Wing Chun with tags , , , , , on January 31, 2017 by wingchunamerica

CombativeCorner contributing author Master William Kwok was interviewed over the holidays (Dec.11th & 18th, of 2016) on Radio Free Asia (a sister radio station to Voice of America).  Since the interview was in Cantonese, Sifu Kwok enlisted the help of his student, Ji Chen so that we may benefit as well.  The topic of the interview is on martial virtue and  martial arts education.  

To return to Part One, click here!

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[Presenter] But your footwork differs from the kicks of kickboxing or Muay Thai, doesn’t it? It’s a different type of kicking techniques, isn’t it? I have never seen it, or perhaps I haven’t noticed it. Of course I don’t know the first thing about martial arts, especially Wing Chun, so I’m not in a position to pass any comment. Judging by what I have seen, I haven’t noticed Wing Chun’s kicking techniques, at least it’s not like how a boxer moves even if you do have kicks. Am I right?

[Master Kwok] Obviously our kicking techniques are different from that of boxing. If you have been following the movie franchise of Ip Man, you may have noticed a lot of Wing Chun kicking techniques in Ip Man 3.

[Presenter] You mean there’s authentic Wing Chun kicking techniques, the real stuff, in that movie?

[Master Kwok] Yes indeed. Both Donnie Yen and Zhang Jin are good with their legs. That’s why they were able to put on display some good footwork and kicks in the movie. The Wing Chun kicking techniques, unlike the aggressive, offensive type you see with the likes of Muay Thai, involves a lot of clever, even cunning moves.

[Presenter] You said there’s a fixed set of techniques, but the Wing Chun system… how shall I put it… you know I am an outsider when it comes to Wing Chun, so you have to excuse me if I use the wrong terminology. I want to know how things come together, how the whole system works. When the student progresses from one level to the next, does he learn a few more techniques? Is it like when you teach the multiplication table, you ask the students to learn more and practice more, going from three times three to nine times nine, for example?

[Master Kwok] Earlier I was talking about combinations, like combinations of letters in the alphabet. At the end of the first form, you may not have mastered, as it were, all the 26 letters in the alphabet. You’ve covered part of it. But by mastering a partial alphabet, you can spell some of the words in the English vocabulary, can’t you? You then move on to the second form, Chum Kiu. When you’ve done that, you have more letters in your bag, which you can mix and match into more interesting combinations. When you’ve completed the third form, Biu Tze, you can say you’ve learned all the 26 letters in the English alphabet. After you have mastered all three forms, you must go on to learn change, that is, combinations to form different words and phrases. That takes accumulation through repeated practice over time. Another analogy we can draw between Wing Chun practice and English learning is that you can’t complete the learning process in one giant leap. It’s an incremental process whereby you stay engaged in it every day, with dedicated time slots. That’s how you slowly build up your knowledge and skills.

[Presenter] Master Kwok, what are the milestones in Wing Chun practice? How do you assess the readiness of a student to progress to the next level after he’s completed a certain level? Are there examinations? You know Taekwondo has colored belts to rank different levels. Does Wing Chun have similar incentives?

[Master Kwok] My school does have a system of progression. Take Siu Lim Tao for example. The first part of this form has a clearly defined program. A student who has completed this part is eligible to progress to the second part of the same form, called Level 2, which has another clearly defined program. Westerners are used to stepped learning…

[Presenter] Step by step, that’s true.

[Master Kwok] Yes, progressing step by step, so they know exactly what they are doing and what to expect at the next level. Westerners are not used to an unstructured system. This is one of the first things I learned after I started teaching in America, namely, I must have a very clear, well crafted curriculum to offer them, so they know roughly how much time they need to invest before they can reach a certain level.

[Presenter] In the real world, one person against 10 people – is there such kung fu at all? It doesn’t exist, does it?

[Master Kwok] One against 10… It depends on who those 10 people are and who this one person is.

[Presenter] (Giggles) Okay, I see.

[Master Kwok] (Laughs) I think we can treat it as a fun topic to talk about and laugh off. What is truly important is that the Ip Man movies at least introduce people…

[Presenter] They offer a chance, yes.

[Master Kwok] Yes, a chance. Also they convey some traditional martial arts ideology. There’s a pedagogical element in them. When people see a movie, they tend to focus on the action. Some movies carry a message and try to communicate that message to the audience, a positive message about martial arts. You were asking earlier about the truthfulness of the story in this movie franchise. But these are movies designed to entertain, not documentaries.

[Presenter] Yes, true.

[Master Kwok] So you don’t go, ‘But that’s not true. Ip Man did not do this at this time. This does not stand up to the facts.’ But I don’t think it’s reasonable to criticize a movie like this. What matters is what you take home after you’ve watched the movie. Other than being entertained by its visual impact, has the audience taken onboard the messages about martial arts that the movie is trying to convey? This is quite crucial. There are movies which flaunt gratuitous violence, there are also ones that promote chivalrous righteousness, like the Once Upon a Time in China series and Jet Li’s 2006 Fearless. The latter category not only tells martial arts stories, but also communicates messages and philosophy about the essence of martial arts. These movies are more welcome and also perform better at the box office. I believe many people subscribe to such moral imperatives deep down in their hearts. They feel inspired by those who step forward in the name of justice or those who may have erred in the past, but decide to mend their ways after practicing martial arts and enhancing their physical integrity and moral character. To me, these movies are commendable exactly for this reason.

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[Presenter] You are saying that apart from the external stuff, the combat techniques, there is also a spiritual dimension that needs nurturing. Regarding the latter, in today’s society of fast food culture, fast-tracking and quick results, how should one go about it?

[Master Kwok] Each martial arts school has its own modus operandi. Mine is blessed with a group of great students. A pervasive atmosphere of traditional culture prevails in my school and sets boundaries with new students. For example, you may wonder why we greet each other with a hand salute? Why do my students address their teacher as sifu,sifu<’s wife as simo, their seniors as sihing or sije and their juniors as sidai or simui. There is a lot of respect for one another in my school. No one goes around and curtly picks a partner that they think is good to practice with. We are family and you don’t do that in a family. So this culture has this effect on them. Secondly, when I teach – nowadays, as you said, we are in an age of fast-food culture – I would explain why the punch is thrown this way and how a certain technique is executed, but I say to them, ‘You must practice.’ I ask them to practice. But coming from the culture that places a premium on quick results, students tend to assume that once they’ve learned something, they’ve mastered it, they’ve got it, just like that.

[Presenter] That’s true.

[Master Kwok] I ask them, ‘You got it?’ They say, ‘Yes, I got it.’ Then they move on to something new. ‘You want fast food? Here’s more. Tell me when you’ve had enough.’ Wing Chun does have a lot of different food to offer.

[Presenter] Master Kwok, if you keep feeding them new stuff, can they keep up? Do they ask you, ‘Why are you doing this? I’m full.’

[Master Kwok] That’s exactly my point. ‘Are you full up now? You wanted fast food, so I fed you till you had had enough.’ I let them experience it and realize that they have bitten off more than they can chew. They can’t keep up at all. Or they may come to see the light: ‘Oh my God, more is not necessarily better.’ My teacher has a mantra that he keeps repeating: ‘If your moves are good, you don’t need a large repertoire of them.’ You don’t need a glut of good stuff. A simple example is boxing. Once you’ve learned the footwork, you practice straights, hooks and uppercuts – three techniques. You practice the three techniques over and over again. Wing Chun gives you so many options. What do you do with them? If you have too much of it, if you can’t eat any more, you would stop and think, ‘Man, I do need to slow down, instead of asking for more and more.’

[Presenter] That’s why it’s called fast-food culture.

[Master Kwok] They want fast food, and fast food they will have. Having too much is as good as having nothing. If you want the essence, you don’t stuff yourself to the gills. If you only master one or two techniques, know how they work, and can apply them, you actually have a greater sense of achievement. This is an educational process. There’s a proverb in English: ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’ You don’t have to dabble in too many things all at once. Develop one or two techniques to the expert level first. Through these two techniques, you can have a thorough understanding of the principles underlying the broader system, which would make it easier for you to pick up other techniques, because you have an in-depth knowledge of the culture.

[Presenter] Have you had students who really can’t get it? Those who find Wing Chun elusive no matter how they try? If so, they are free to go, are they not?

[Master Kwok] To begin with, you may come up to check it out and have a trial session. The trial session gives us an opportunity to get to know each other. I don’t rush them to sign up with us. I invite them to check it out and try it out first. I explain to them that learning kung fu is comparable to making friends. To become friends, people have to gel with each other. You take up something only when you are convinced that it’s the right thing for you. Let’s leave aside other styles of kung fu for the time being and take Wing Chun for example: You check out a few Wing Chun schools and decide to come to ours only if you think it suits you the best. I prefer not to have a student for a month only and then lose him because he doesn’t think it’s the right thing for him, which would have wasted me a month’s time as his teacher. I’d much rather teach a student who wants to invest six months or a longer time here. That would be better than having a student who practices for a month, then loses interest and leaves. That’s why the trial session is a good opportunity for both me and the prospective student, because he can find out, through first-hand experience, what it’s like to learn Wing Chun at this school.

[Presenter] When I first contacted you, I did tell you that I was also interested in learning Wing Chun, but the very first question you threw at me was ‘Why do you want to learn Wing Chun?’ I was very honest with you. I said, ‘As a lady, I don’t have too much of an ambition. I certainly don’t aim to become a kung fu actress. Through this, I want to renew my connection with the Chinese cultural heritage, in addition to keeping myself fit. If I had told you that I wanted to become a kung fu actress, to kick ass or to show off how awesome I am, would you have said to me point-blank, ‘Forget Wing Chun, don’t even bother – Wing Chun is not for you’?

[Master Kwok] I would not have told you Wing Chun is not for you. I would have said you are not cut out for martial arts, period. Every style of kung fu has its strengths. As we see it, kung fu is the art of hurting people, pure and simple. It’s different from swimming or playing basketball. Those sports are not designed to hurt people. But by learning kung fu, you can protect yourself. There are many ways of protecting yourself. You don’t have to resort to punches and kicks. This is the first thing I tell my students in my teaching. When the need does arise for you to protect yourself with punches and kicks, you should apply moral principles and assess the situation accordingly. You ask yourself if fighting it out is the only solution to the imminent confrontation. Is there an alternative? These are the questions you should ask yourself. In the process of training, especially in the context of Wing Chun, there are plenty of opportunities for sparring or paired practice. If you don’t know how to control your moves during such training, it’s very easy for you to hurt your partners. I teach my students not to focus on their striking skills only. The first thing they learn is respect for others. Then and only then do they earn the licence to access and acquire the quintessential part of kung fu. Some students come to my school with the dream to become the next Ip Man, taking on 10 opponents all at the same time. It all comes down to attitude at the end of the day. Some people strike me as having a propensity for violence.

[Presenter] I want to take us back to the fast-food culture. 2016 seems to have been a year of violence and volatility. In the absence of self-control, self-restraint or spiritual awareness, kung fu, from the perspective of testosterone-surging youth, is just something they can use to kick ass, to overpower others, is it not? Working on their inner self, the spiritual discipline that comes with kung fu is relegated to the backburner as far as they are concerned. Is that not the case?

[Master Kwok] It’s the duty of a master to teach that to the students. You need to build something into your teaching process to influence your students. People need educating. They may want to learn to hit people, but it’s up to you to educate them. That’s why as I said just now, you should observe them and establish if they do have a violent streak in them or it’s just a case of hot-blooded young men…

[Presenter] Trying to show off…

[Master Kwok] Yes, showing off. Having these impulses is not the problem. The question is if you know how to control yourself. Do you go up to people and provoke a fight? These are two different things. Typically, those who are into kung fu are prone to fighting. You encourage them to consider the consequences. Through training, they will develop this awareness over time. In my school, I ask them to consider if fighting is the only way out, so they learn to stop and think first. Otherwise they just turn into mindless brutes for whom the only solution to problems is violence. But that’s not true. The challenge here is to impart this culture to different people using different approaches.

[Presenter] Does it mean it’s very important to restore the traditional Chinese way of martial arts training guided by ethical principles?

[Master Kwok] Yes, indeed. Education in martial ethics is very important. As I said earlier, it’s a very slippery road if you teach kung fu without teaching martial ethics. Kung fu is an art of hurting people, as I said. You need judgment and ethical awareness to balance it. In a fight, you either hurt or get hurt. You can’t call that a good thing, whichever way you look at it. Consider the world we live in today, there are large stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Let’s say you have them and you tell others: ‘I have more nukes than you. It only takes a push of a button to annihilate you.’ Only crazy people would do that. You arm yourself with a weapon, but do you have to use it? There are other ways to defuse the situation, like diplomatic means. People can talk. They can work together.

[Presenter] That’s right. You don’t get into a fight at the slightest provocation.

[Master Kwok] Correct. But does it mean it’s not necessary for countries to do R&D on armaments? No, the research can continue, but do you feel compelled to use these armaments just because you have them?

[Presenter] Is there a complete self-defense system for petite ladies? Is Wing Chun a good system for this purpose?

[Master Kwok] Yes it is. It is very suitable for people of small build, especially petite ladies. A lot of the training involves short-range drills, because Wing Chun is at its most effective in close combat. It at least trains you to react faster. Say you stand there and someone comes to attack you. If you react only when he’s already in the process of attacking you, it would be too late. Wing Chun is particularly suitable for petite ladies because you don’t just use your muscular power. Instead, you mobilise the power from your entire body structure. I have already said that structure matters the most.

[Presenter] Let’s picture this scenario: When I turn a corner, someone appears all of a sudden and grab me by the wrist. If I’ve learned Wing Chun, I wouldn’t try to wrest my hand from his hold clumsily with all my might. I would know a more clever way to free my hand, wouldn’t I?

[Master Kwok] Yes, that’s how it works.

[Presenter] No need to use brute force to free my hand and get away, I guess?

[Master Kwok] Yes, you may be able to get away before that person tightens his grip. When I teach my female disciples, I put a special emphasis on early reaction. You don’t wait for your attacker to get to you. I teach the ladies to become more vigilant. As you know, people tend to walk with a cellphone in hand…

[Presenter] And with their head down… yes.

[Master Kwok] Exactly, head down, punching away on their cellphone, oblivious to the goings-on around them. It is critical to be more vigilant. When you become aware that someone wants to mug you, assault you or otherwise take advantage of you, how do you deal with it? Do you go up to them and ask, ‘Why are you following me?’ There may be other ways, like walking into a crowd and shaking off whoever is on to you. This is the awareness that I ask my students to develop, so that they don’t go away and proclaim, ‘I am a Wing Chun master now. I can fight 10 people alone.’

[Presenter] Master Kwok, thank you for your time. It has been a great interview. My last question to you is: Having talked so much about the theory and how to apply it in real situation, what’s your take on the prospects of Chinese martial arts, Wing Chun in particular, and the practice and education of martial arts as a whole in North America?

[Master Kwok] My students liked my teaching methodology so much they encouraged me to create a non-profit association, Martial Arts Studies International. It was founded last year. It is through this vehicle that I introduce my educational approach to the public. Teaching kung fu and practicing or learning kung fu are two different skill sets. We need to find a good modernized approach to promote traditional Chinese culture using modern Western pedagogical models. This is where I am headed in the coming time.

[Presenter] Thank you, once again, Master Kwok.

[Master Kwok] You are welcome.

[Presenter] Goodbye.

[Music resumes]

[End of main interview]

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master-william-kwok-accepting-a-closed-door-disciple

[Follow-up]

[Presenter] Dear audience, thank you for tuning in to the Sunday program of RFA. As a follow-up to our exclusive interview, aired last Sunday, with New York-based martial arts expert, Master Kwok, you’ll be hearing the final part of the interview, in which Master Kwok talks about the benefits of martial arts in terms of self-improvement, health, and character building for children. Does Wing Chun bring about significant health benefits?

[Master Kwok] Wing Chun’s health benefits are definitely there. When you are learning the first form, Siu Lim Tao, you start off by going into a horse stand. This position alone can strengthen your legs. Let’s leave kung fu aside for the time being and just look at something very basic – the ability to balance. This ability deteriorates when one gets older. Standing still in this sit-down position as part of your kung fu practice can improve that ability. Many of our drills, including San Sau – standalone techniques – and Chi Sau – sticky hands, force you to move about. You do that on a daily basis. Dancing is different, though. There’s a rhythmic pattern to any dance. But when you practice San Sau, Chi Sau or Gwo Sau with your partner, you are in constant motion, balancing and rebalancing yourself all the time. This improves your balance, very good for elderly people. In terms of health in a broader sense, again using Siu Lim Tao as an example, the form contains a lot of breathing exercises. I therefore think Wing Chun is suitable for all age groups. My eldest student is 80 years old.

[Presenter] Master Kwok, you said your eldest student is 80 years old, but how young is the youngest?

[Master Kwok] Recently, a six and a half year-old signed up. Normally, I prefer that my students are at least eight years old, when they are more receptive to discipline and knowledge, therefore easier to teach. The six and a half year-old is an exception, because he’s very smart, or so he thinks, and has a natural aptitude. He is likely to be a fast and more patient learner. There are no rigid rules regarding age. It’s up to the teacher to assess the student’s aptitude and knowledge to see if he’s ready.

[Presenter] If I look around today’s society, especially in Hong Kong, life is comfortable, people are affluent. Many children are used to being taken care of by their elder siblings and are not good at looking after themselves. Also, they are quite poor when it comes to emotional and behavioral management. Does learning kung fu help? Does it contribute to their self-improvement, at least in terms of discipline and self-restraint? I think it’s quite good for children, isn’t it?

[Master Kwok] There is no doubt about that. As I described earlier, within our school, there’s an atmosphere of mutual respect. There’s a saying in Chinese: When you enter someone’s house, you greet the host; when you enter a temple, you show your respect for the gods. When you come into our school, you should at least greet the teacher and the seniors. This is the most basic protocol for us. What you said is true. Some kids don’t greet people. They just sit down by themselves and play with their phones. In my school, I repeatedly remind my students that you lose nothing by greeting other people. You are showing them that you are a polite person. It’s no skin off my nose if you don’t greet me, but I would see you as a bit rude. I explain to them why they should greet each other in my school. It starts with self-respect. This is not the hardest part, though. The crux of the matter is parental support. If parents have not educated their children to behave with courtesy, their children are unlikely to show respect. They may do it only because I’ve told them to, but they remain unchanged deep down. I ask them if they would greet their friend’s parents when they visit their friend. They reply, ‘No, I don’t.’ I then ask them how they would feel on the receiving end. They say they would feel a lack of respect toward them. I say, ‘Exactly. Just think about it.’ I encourage them to put themselves in other people’s shoes. What really matter is parental support for our effort.

[Presenter] You do spend a lot of time giving your students individual attention, don’t you? You at least know their background, what motivates them to learn kung fu, and take it from there. You don’t teach hordes of students en masse and call it a day when they leave school. You really put your heart and soul into your teaching.

[Master Kwok] You do need to get to know them. Those who are genuinely interested would come to school as often as they can. I naturally have more communication with these students. With more communication…

[Presenter] It’s a two-way process, I see.

[Master Kwok] Yes, two-way. With more communication, I know more about them, about their personalities, which in turn allows me to fine-tune my teaching to cater to their character traits.

[Presenter] Master Kwok, when a student is accepted by a teacher as his closed-door disciple, the student calls the teacher sifu. But there’s another title, sifoo. What’s the difference?

[Master Kwok] The foo in Sifoo is a different character. Someone with that designation is someone who is highly skilled in a given craft. You call a good plumber sifoo, for example, or a chef who prepares food to a high standard. But sifu, with the second character meaning father, is different. When new student comes to the school, he calls the teacher sifoo, a kung fu expert. But the baisi (induction) ceremony, where the teacher formally takes him under his wings, changes the relationship. The teacher is now a father figure to the student, within the context of martial arts. But out there, these two terms are often mixed up.

[Presenter] Master Kwok, one last question: Do you teach your closed-door disciples certain special things that you don’t share with the rest of your following?

[Master Kwok] I can’t speak for other teachers. I only speak for myself. Why do people get the impression that closed-door disciples learn more stuff? When you take on closed-door disciples, they must have been with you for quite a long time, during which they have built up a foundation through their practice. That’s point one. Secondly, you only take someone under your wings as a closed-door disciple if you have a good relationship with that person. For example, you would have heart-to-heart chats when you see each other. Through such communication, verbal or otherwise, it’s only natural that they can find out more about Wing Chun. There are techniques that you get exposed to only after a long period of practice. Becoming a closed-door disciple is a commitment. They are with you for so long, they are in close contact with you so often, so it stands to reason that they will learn more. Or, shall I say, they have a better chance of learning more than other students. When my students asked me why I hadn’t taught them certain things, I would ask them how much time they had invested in it. It doesn’t mean I taught others, but not you. It’s because when I was teaching that, you were absent. But that’s a minority of students, who question why I am being selective. Why? Because you don’t come to school often enough!

[Presenter] Yup, as simple as that.

[Master Kwok] Exactly, can’t be simpler. Why do some students go through the levels so fast? Because they are committed! They come for training five times a week, but you only come once a week. And you want to compare? I encourage them not to benchmark against others, but to measure their own progress. Some students say to me, ‘I keep feeling that I’m not doing so well.’ I ask them, ‘Do you think you’ve progressed since six months ago?’ ‘Yes, I have.’ ‘Could you do this move six months ago?’ ‘No, I couldn’t.’ ‘There you have it: you have made progress.’ I tell them that every day is different for kung fu practitioners. Sometimes you feel you are having a good day. Come tomorrow and you are crestfallen, because you can’t pull off certain techniques. I explain to them, ‘As long as you stay with one style of kung fu and keep working at it with commitment, and provided that your teacher is willing to continue teaching you, you’ll definitely make progress in the long run. You may feel down now and again while you practice kung fu, because of certain unhappy eventualities, like being laid off or something, but don’t just give up. As long as you practice with focus and with great interest, progress is guaranteed.

[Presenter] Master Kwok, it’s been such a pleasure. Thank you for agreeing to this interview with RFA. Thank you very much.

[Master Kwok] Thank you.

[The end]

[RETURN TO PART ONE]

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