Learning traditional Chinese martial arts: Kung Fu, Tai Chi, and much more…
Since my early teens I have been practicing and learning various martial arts styles, including Shotokan Karate, Judo, Jujitsu and what back then passed for Kung Fu. In my late teens I decided to focus on the Chinese arts. At first, perhaps like many people in the early seventies, it was due to my fascination with the Bruce Lee movies and the TV series Kung Fu. Later I developed a real appreciation for the depth of theory and techniques as well as the plethora of styles that has made me a lifelong student of Chinese martial arts. Also, I have always had a deep interest in Eastern Philosophy, especially Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, and it was apparent, as my training deepened, that Chinese martial arts had been deeply influenced by these philosophies.
Since opening my first school in 1981 I have continuously sought to improve myself and have trained with many leading masters of Chinese martial arts in several different styles. Since my early teens to the present, my ardor and passion for learning and training has remained constant. To me, learning a new method with a different teacher is not about amassing more information but about refining what I have already learned and expanding my field of view and experience.
I have remained loyal to my teachers throughout, and in studying with a new teacher I have never lost sight of nor respect and gratitude for my other teachers.
As a visitor to this site you may be wondering why I include several different styles in my martial arts curriculum. This is certainly a valid question and one worth answering.
First, I want to consider the External Styles that I teach at my school. I begin by teaching my students Northern Shaolin Kung Fu as a means of developing a sound foundation. I believe that the Shaolin method is easier to beginners to grasp and thus more likely to keep them interested through the early stages of training, which often can be challenging for new trainees. The fundamentals that I teach at this level are common to many Northern styles. My focus is for students to develop the required physical attributes such as strength, flexibility and endurance while developing basic martial skills.
I feel strongly that the first six months of training are the most important and set the course for the training to come. The Chinese have a saying, “Without a proper beginning, there is no hope for a right ending.” I am convinced that this is true and I am thorough with my teaching and demanding in what I expect from a student. I am demanding not because I am harsh, but because I care about bringing out the best in every student.
If a student stays on and demonstrates sincerity, dedication and proper morality, he or she is introduced to the centerpieces of our External styles, which revolve around Mizong Luohan (Lost Track Arhat Kung Fu) and Ying Zhao Fan Zi (Eagle Claw Kung Fu).
Northern Long Fist styles in general have many similarities, although they may be based on varying strategies and emphasize different techniques. I feel that Mizong Luohan and Ying Zhao Fan Zi in particular complement each other quite well while offering certain elements, principles and techniques that are distinctive. (A detailed description of these two arts is provided in their respective Link.)
The forms, weapons, and fighting strategies from these two systems are highly evolved. Understanding the fighting concepts in particular requires more than just hard training. It demands careful study and research that must be coupled with partner practice in order to reach a superior level of skill.
I have been training in these styles for more than 20 years and I am still discovering subtleties that shed new light on certain concepts, theories and techniques. I find myself dwelling on the finer principles of the art with increasing enthusiasm. I am certain that even 50 more years will not be sufficient to quench this thirst for knowledge and answer all my questions.
Tai Chi was the first Internal Style that I learned and I must confess that at first I did not think much of it. I had read lots of stories about the mysterious power of Qi and the amazing skill of the great masters. Still, I was apprehensive but continued to teach Tai Chi, more because I thought that it was required than because I was convinced that it was worthwhile. It was not until I met Grand Master William C. C. Chen that my eyes opened and I begin to look at Tai Chi with a fresh perspective and newfound appreciation. I began to practice and research the art earnestly.
As with the Northern Kung Fu Systems, the Internal methods, although different in appearance, have many similar training methods, principles and concepts. (A description of each of these styles can be found at their respective Link.)
While there are many common and overlapping elements among Tai Chi, Xing Yi, Bagua, Liuhe Bafa and even Baji, each art is practiced differently and emphasizes different fighting principles and techniques. (Note: Many teachers classify Baji as External but I believe that its training methodology is more akin to the Internal school and therefore I choose to classify it as such.) And while it is true that one can devote a lifetime of practice to any of these arts, my personal viewpoint is that cross training in them provides a deeper understanding and appreciation for the others.
As a teacher I find that certain styles are better suited to different individuals and providing instruction in different styles is definitely advantageous. I have also found that students who have the possibility to cross train in different styles keep their interest longer, which increases the chance of making them students of the arts for life.
To me, real martial arts training transcends mere physical skill and the ability to defend oneself. It is an ongoing journey and not a destination. Each practice can yield new discoveries and provide a sense of self-fulfillment and accomplishment. It is a journey of a lifetime.