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
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.
It was always explained to me that in Sun Style the mind is the most important thing, 75% is intent in doing the movements and 25% physically performing them, I think this is a very difficult concept to understand unless you break it down in other ways for example, doing the Taiji with 25% effort but 75% concentration.
The most important movement according to teacher Lei Shi Tai is Pi Quan and this should be done slowly and softly but with 100% concentration on every movement. If you feel something different in the movement you should examine it with your mind, adjust it to what it should be and continue. Some days I just did Pi Quan for an hour nothing else! I maintained this routine, just teaching the form and other Xing Yi and so practicing it. The benefits from just doing Pi Quan on the rest of the Sun Style was amazing it improved everything.
This is really cutting down to a base movement no other movements needed just one fist to make all others.
It was thought by many people that this was lost and no longer taught within Sun Style. But teacher Lei Shi Tai has knowledge of this form and though I never learned the form, I was shown the movements by him and they resembled the energy used in the 5 element fists, but developed it to a higher degree. As the idea is to put the energy into the spear and so project it out of the body. I have done a lot of spear training previously with Master Chu so this concept was not new to me, but in the Sun style it is projected in a natural way not forced. So this is a very high level of training, as you need to be at the ‘An Jing’ level to be able to put the energy into the spear without injuring yourself or forcing the energy and you must use the mind with intent to get the correct result.
She Xing (Snake) This is a difficult form, coiling and twisting as well as stepping in a low stance blocking and unbalancing the opponent in one move.
Xong / Ying (Bear and Eagle) This combination form is very powerful with steady stepping and grabbing and is number 8 and 9 in the forms list, the Qi Na movement can break an opponents arm if done correctly.
Yau Xing (Sparrow Hawk) A very simple form with an effective strike to finish the opponent.
Loong Xing (Dragon) Pi Quan is essential in performing this form and it is designed to be an evasion but also give a springy leg attribute.
Huo Xing (Monkey) This form has jumping and striking in 5 directions and is very difficult to perform correctly.
Teacher Lei Shi Tai explained that the 12 animals give different attributes like evasion and footwork they don’t train power as that is done with the 5 elements. So to make the them work you need to practice the basics of San Ti and the 5 elements then when you have time perform the 12 animals. His advice was to practice San Ti and Pi Quan and Taiji everyday and if you have time the 5 Elements and 12 Animals, if you did not have a lot of time just the San Ti and Taiji or even just Pi Quan as he taught everything comes from this and it is in everything within the Sun Style and is as Important as San Ti.
The following are how I learned them from Teacher Lei Shi Tai and he stressed that they could be practiced anyway you felt or in any order it was not important to do them strictly following a predetermined order.
I first learned Ma Xing (Horse) and there are two ways of doing this form a traditional straight line way and also a way using exchange step making it a practical method, it charges like a horse excluding the opponents guard or dragging the opponent towards you then hitting him with two fists.
Hu Xing (Tiger) was next and this involved a small step and jump to close the distance to the opponent and the footwork is at 45° as the opponent is pulled and pushed.
I then learned Tai Xing (Ostrich) again the start of the form involved a small step and a jump then stepping at 45° a double punch then a double block up is performed, the double block up is performed very fast before the next step is taken to perform the double punch.
Toh Xing (Llizard) this is done in a circular motion a bit like Yun Shou (Cloud Hands) using semi circular stepping this can also be done in circles forwards or backwards it is a very flexible form.
Yen Xing (Swallow) is a simple form with some devastating movement including jumping and a very powerful punch it swoops down to unbalance an opponent and also has some Qi Na.
Ji Xing (Chicken) this is a very powerful form and devastates an opponent rattling their teeth and shaking their bones.
This form is what it says, a link between the five elements and 12 animal styles, but first we should look at how this works.
It was explained to me by teacher Lei Shi Tai that the 5 elements are not linked to specific organs or designed to counter each other but just to build a specific power or energy, this energy should be heavy and rooted but not hard or forceful once you have this idea through practice of the 5 elements and San Ti then the linking form is learned.
The linking form is a fast relaxed set of movements incorporating all the 5 element fists and is designed to let you understand the usage of each fist in a practical way as you have already developed the power needed for each fist so the transition is a natural one.
After the linking fist the 12 Animal style can be learned and again each one is designed to give you a specific attribute.
In the Sun Style the linking form is very important but only if you have trained the 5 element fist correctly will you benefit from it.
If anybody is interested in more information or have questions then please get in touch.