Reminiscing

I was thinking back to the time Chu Sifu was teaching me Chu Gar Kuen and specifically the Phoenix eye fist. He was explaining how it can be used at extremely close range, and showed me the technique to use and how to practice it. He wasn’t satisfied however as he felt he needed to show me in more detail.

He had been to the market and bought some fruit for the altar he took an apple randomly from the bag of fruit, he rolled the apple with his index finger from throat height to chest height using the wooden dummy, once it was at chest height he formed the phoenix eye fist with the finger that had rolled it and then using inch force demolished the apple into pulp, this was done in one smooth motion no stopping or jerking. I had been conditioning my Phoenix eye fist for about 6 months and he asked me to reproduce what he had done and I did it no problems, but his advice was to try this only once as a test of your progression as the acid that is in the apple can get into your joints and make them bad if done continually.

As always Chu Sifu had shown me something and had me test it and so giving me the enthusiasm to continue. As the training was very hard and laborious, a labour of love no doubt, but still we all need encouragement and he always knew the correct time to give it.

Unfinished Business

I am 52 years old and been doing Martial Arts, most of that time but I still feel like I have unfinished business another thing to learn a style to try, I watch boxing and think yeah I should go back to it get myself back into boxing shape, just to show that I can? My training with Chu Sifu was about getting rid of ego training in an art to keep that art alive and to be part of a culture and to learn skills that are no longer taught. When I went to Krishna it was like an epiphany in a lot of ways what he was doing and showing sort of made the jigsaw whole for me, it made my Kung Fu better by opening my mind to different concepts and ideas. After illness I started Taiji but not just a mainstream style I wanted to train in a little known and rarer style, so went to Sun Style Taiji and in Dave Martin found a great guy with no ego who just wanted to do the best he could in promoting his chosen style. I am not sure where this blog is going as I write it I just need to get some thoughts down as to why after all this years I still feel I have something to prove to myself? Is it ego? is it vanity to be known as one of the best? or is it just the way I am made? I lost my dad when I was 12 years old and maybe not being able to prove to anyone that I was good at anything, academic has driven me on as I really feel within Martial Arts I have found what I was born to do, I have trained with some of the best guys in the world within their chosen arts and continue to do so when opportunity arises, as I sit here typing I think well I could train the old stuff pick up the sticks again, push myself to new heights physically and mentally, but I don’t want my mind writing cheques my body cant cash, to me that would be detrimental to my development, I think where I am I am meant to be, training in what I should be for my health and well being, I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone who cares to read this but would appreciate any thoughts you have, I have stopped at many crossroads along my Martial path, stumbled and fell many times, been kicked and punched without a blow being thrown, I suppose I have answered my own question, do I have unfinished business?yes, with myself

Shaolin Temple

This blog relates to a conversation I had with Sifu Chu regarding the Shaolin temple in Southern China. His teacher Go Lo Tin was a lay priest from this temple and so it is a direct oral transmission.

Within the temple there were various chambers where a student would study with a teacher. Unlike the movies, progress was not through the chambers, but to stay within the one and learn everything the teacher had to offer. The student would be allocated to a teacher depending on body type, attitude and also to the needs of the temple and the people it served. The various teachings would be in weapons and empty hand, with the pole being the main weapon taught and the various animal styles would be studied.

After graduating the student could stay or leave. If he chose to leave it would be through a red door and the student would return to the world to help others, as they would also have studied healing as well as martial arts.

The significance of the red door is why the style is called Chu Gar Hung Kuen, Chu Family Red Boxing. It honours the Emperor Chu Hung Mo and the Shaolin temple.

Interview with Bob by Peter Farrell

This interview was written by my good friend Peter Farrell, it was written for a magazine originally but was never printed.

PF: You have studied Chu Gar Hung Kuen for many years with Grandmaster Chu Siu Woon and became one of his senior students, why did you become interested in Sun Style Taiji?
BM: During the 90s, I was diagnosed as being diabetic and was prescribed insulin quite quickly, my health deteriorated and I looked around for an art that was different but would enable me to get back to full health gently. Fortunately, I found Dave Martin in Leicester and as Dave was a disciple of Madame Sun Jian Yun I could not have wished for a better introduction to Sun Style. The training consisted of elements of Taiji, Xing Yi and Bagua which I found beneficial and fascinating on many levels.

PF: How does Sun style training compare to your training in Hung Kuen?
BM: The training is very similar as they are both traditional arts. A lot of time is spent working on the basics especially in Xing Yi, but in Sun style the body should be used more naturally, not holding or forcing the breath but allowing the body to find its way naturally. The aim is on self development through using the mind to move the body, while keeping alignments correct and natural so that less stress is  put on joints.

PF: You mentioned that training incorporates Taiji, Xing Yi and Bagua. Do people need to learn all these systems to gain health benefits or is it sufficient just to do the Taiji?
BM: I believe that to progress to the highest level in Sun style then all three arts need to be studied, as this will give martial as well as health benefits, but as there are elements of Xing Yi and Bagua in the Taiji form it can be used to train effectively for health. My teacher says that we learn Xing Yi for root and power, Taiji for concentration and relaxation and Bagua for speed and agility. Coupled with the push hands training it gives us an understanding of how to use Sun style.

PF: Is it important to learn the martial side of Taiji in order to gain health benefits?
BM: I think if you learn and practise the form in the appropriate manner then both the martial skill and health benefits will develop because they both rely on the same principles, for example, alignments and power development. So to answer the question, no, it is not necessary to learn the martial arts to gain health benefits as they are available in the form for all to develop. However, just as the concept of health is relative, the extent to which individuals wish to practice Sun style Taiji for health is also relative and I would encourage its practice at any level.

PF: Do people need to train in all 3 systems for martial purposes or is it acceptable to concentrate on one style, for example, Bagua?
BM: No, I think to understand Sun style completely, all three arts need to be studied. Many people like to learn a specific martial art and as Sun style is quite rare then obviously with the reputation of Sun Lu Tang  people think that they can just study the Bagua or Xing Yi but the three arts are linked and are meant to compliment each other. Clearly, some practitioners do train in an individual art for a variety of reasons and find it suitable as a martial system in its own right; I am specifically talking about Sun style in a holistic sense. However, commonly, the three “internal” arts are taught in progression, so just as my teacher does I would tend to teach all three arts as “Sun style martial arts” but it is important to remember that although we teach them separately they each give a specific attribute and come together in the Taiji form.

PF: Could you explain the importance of the three systems from a martial view point?
BM: As explained by my teacher, we practise Xing Yi for root and power development (Fa Jin), the Bagua is for speed, agility and nimbleness and lastly the Taiji gives us relaxed concentration. Together with Tui Shou (push hands) they give us attributes to use the art.

PF: We often refer to Hung kuen as an external or hard system of Gung Fu and Taiji as an internal or soft system. Apart from the obvious physical and stylistic differences are there any differences in the effectiveness of the two systems from a martial viewpoint?
BM: I think a lot of things come down to the individual not the system, as a system is only as effective as the person using it. If the basics are learned and practised, then skills built on a solid foundation can be effective. From a internal point of view, using the body more naturally over a long period of time the body suffers less damage to the joints and ligaments and so can function for longer in good health. I think an ideal balance would be to study an external art first then to move onto an internal art when in your 30s or 40s. This is only my personal opinion and of course there are many examples of hard external martial artists living a long and healthy life.

PF: Pushing hands is considered to be an essential aspect of Taiji. I understand that it might be difficult to elucidate in a couple of sentences but could you say something about how this training relates to martial technique?
BM: When I first went to my teacher master Lei Shi Tai he said he could teach me how to use Sun Style through push hands, and over the past 3 years we have practiced many hours of push hands and he has shown me how to use the techniques including Fa Jin. These techniques have also included Xing Yi and Bagua. We first learn Da Lun to train the four corners and get used to ward off, rollback, press and push. We then progress to stepping and lastly to freestyle push hands where the techniques can be trained effectively and safely.

PF: You have trained to a high level in other systems such as Hung Kuen and Escrima. Does your knowledge of these systems enhance your Taiji and perhaps vice versa or are they completely different systems that have little bearing on each other?
BM:
I think I have been lucky in that all my teachers have been at the top of their art and as such have complimented me as a martial artist. Each one has contributed to my development and added to my skills, knowledge and experience. Whilst the art is important and will undoubtedly have particular relevance for particular individuals, I feel to use the art effectively is down to me as an individual, so everything I have learned becomes part of me and internalised. I teach Sun style martial arts in the way I am taught by my teacher but use them in a way that is best for me using the skills and knowledge he has imparted to me. I think that is something that comes from many years of training.

PF: Many systems have particular basic training methods to develop strength, root etc, for example Mabu in Hung Kuen, does the Sun style emphasise any particular basic training or are such things inherent in the forms?
BM: In Xing Yi it is San Ti and the five element fist; in Bagua it is single and double palm change; in Taiji it is open and close hands. These things are all in the Taiji form in various guises but are essential and, importantly, complimentary elements within all three.

Sil Lum Hung Kuen Jor Tow

This weapon will be familiar to anyone who does a bit of weeding in the garden as it is the Farmers Hoe.

This is a very flexible weapon in that it has a blade and a pole with which to block and attack. The shape of the head means it can also hook and strike and is quite a formidable weapon in the right hands for such an unassuming looking tool.

The form starts with the farmer with the hoe on his shoulder coming home from work in the fields he stops to wipe the sweat from his brow and looks up at the setting sun. Then he is attacked by bandits he quickly dispatches them and then carries on home, a simple farmer with his everyday tool.

Sil Lum Hung Kuen Cum Na Sao Training

This is very important in Sil Lum Hung Kuen and also Chu Gar Kuen though the training is a little different.

The first exercise was using a 25kg barbell plate and stepping into bow and arrow stance whilst pushing the hands forward holding the weight.

Next using the same weight and a partner, standing back to back pass the weight around to each other.

The third exercise was using a normal house brick, throw upwards and catch with alternate hands whilst sitting in horse stance.

Fourth exercise was again using the house brick, put the brick in front of left foot whilst in a bow and arrow stance pick up with right hand then place in front of right foot then repeat exercise with left hand continue till Sifu said stop.

Fifth exercise using 50 bamboo chopsticks or garden cane bound together, twist forwards and backwards.

Sixth exercise, use an 8 foot pole have the pole in front of you whilst in horse stance turn to bow and arrow stance performing an uppercut movement with the pole then straighten arm and lower slowly so tip touches first repeat then on opposite sides.

Seventh exercise using same pole sit in horse stance opposite your training partner, then you both turn in opposite directions into bow and arrow stance trying to keep your grip and trying to avoid the pole turning.

Cum Na Sao is a system in its own right and after these exercises there are techniques to be practiced in seizing and grabbing, then a form called 72 Cum Na Sao.

I have avoided giving the amount of repetitions, as Sifu just left you to it and you did whatever he gave you till he said stop! If you stopped or gave up he would not show you any more. So it is important to remember that when training that way, is not for everyone and it was under his supervision and control so he could stop you if you were in any difficulty. Also herbal liniment was applied after training and this might not be available, this training was very traditional and needed 100% commitment to complete.

Sil Lum Hung Kuen Sei Mun Gwan (4 Gate Pole)

It took me three months to just learn the beginning of this set, Chu Sifu needed it to be fast and precise and each day I saw the look of disappointment that I could not do it as fast or precise as he wanted.

Then one day it clicked and I learned the rest of the form in a day, I perfected it in a few weeks and this form became the basic pole set of the system.

After the opening which is a complicated block and counter, the form moves in four directions and attacks the four gates of the opponents body with thrusting and striking movements.

The basic training for this pole form.

Included bouncing the pole off the ground and retreating while it did a 180° flip re-catching the pole and sitting in cat stance. We also have strength exercises to help with finger and wrist strength and dynamic tension exercises against a wooden dummy.

An excellent form for any level to learn and get the benefits.