Extra Baggage

by Phillip Starr

When I ran my full-time martial arts school many years ago, I debated about hanging a sign outside the entrance to the training hall; “Leave Excess Baggage Here.” I frequently had prospective students come in to inquire about classes and I was surprised that they were even able to walk under the weight of the extra baggage they carried…

The nature of the baggage varied but I think I can safely place them into two broad categories; physical and mental/emotional. Under the category of physical limitations you’ll find an enormous number of alleged ailments, from trick knees to bad backs. I often found it surprising that these people knew their ailment(s) and the various techniques of my art so well; they’d tell me what they could and couldn’t do. For them, enrolling in the school was akin to ordering a hamburger. Some professed to having physical limitations that were so severe that I told them that they really couldn’t practice a martial art or that their limitation would prevent them from participating in group classes; I’d have to teach them privately and that would be very expensive. Surprisingly, some of them apparently recovered enough from their ailment on the spot that they suddenly COULD participate in class!

Some had what seemed to be very severe limitations. I recall one young lady who had lost an arm and a young man who has lost a leg (below the knee) in Vietnam. Their spirits were strong and they regularly trained in group classes! They refused to limit themselves. They weren’t really handicapped at all! I am still very proud of them…

Many of the physical limitations that they carried were the result of the applicant’s imagination, desire for attention, or disinclination to participate in some training activities (usually those that worked up a good sweat).

Mental baggage varied quite a bit. There were those who considered themselves to be knowledgeable enough to know what kinds of techniques wouldn’t work for them (“I’m too short”, “I’m a woman, so that won’t work for me”, and so on). For some, it was a question of their particular religious faith…“I can’t bow to a shrine or a person…”. I suggested that they seek instruction elsewhere. I explained that the bowing and so forth has nothing to do with religion, but many would not be dissuaded. I hope they found whatever it was that they thought they were looking for.

Then of course, there were those who would tell me, “I don’t want to learn those fancy dances (forms) and junk like that. I just want to learn what really works on the street” or “I just can’t do anything violent like sparring.” I told then that they weren’t allowed to pick and choose what they would or wouldn’t learn. Most of them decided to move on to the next school. Wise choice.

Those who asked how long it would take to get a black belt. I’d tell them that it takes about a week and $6.95. However, to acquire the skill takes a bit longer…


One stroke of the brush — The Tai Chi Notebook

It says in the Tai Chi classics that the movements of Tai Chi should be continuous, like a rolling river: “Chang Ch’uan [Long Boxing] is like a great river rolling on unceasingly.” There are a few interesting things to unpack about this quote, taken from the Tai Chi Classic attributed to Chang San Feng. Firstly, it doesn’t […]

via One stroke of the brush — The Tai Chi Notebook

One stroke of the brush

The Tai Chi Notebook

niketh-vellanki-202943-unsplash.jpg Photo by Niketh Vellanki on Unsplash

It says in the Tai Chi classics that the movements of Tai Chi should be continuous, like a rolling river:

Chang Ch’uan [Long Boxing] is like a great river rolling on unceasingly.”

There are a few interesting things to unpack about this quote, taken from the Tai Chi Classic attributed to Chang San Feng. Firstly, it doesn’t call the martial art “Tai Chi Chuan”, instead it calls it “Long Boxing”, which is yet another indicator that what is known as the “Tai Chi Classics” are in fact, just a collection of common sayings about martial arts of the time that have been bundled together.¹ I tend to regard what we know as “Tai Chi Chuan” today, in all its various forms, as the modern expression and amalgamation of older Chinese martial arts; it is an evolution of ideas and techniques, rather than a…

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THE INSIGHTS OF WU GONGZAO — Brennan Translation

– 太極拳講義 TAIJI BOXING EXPLAINED 著作者 吳公藻 by Wu Gongzao 校正者 吳公儀 text proofread by Wu Gongyi [published by the 湖南國術訓練所 Hunan Martial Arts Training Institute, June, 1935] [translation by Paul Brennan, Dec, 2018] – 吳公藻編 by Wu Gongzao: 太極拳講義 Taiji Boxing Explained 何鍵題 – calligraphy by He Jian – 向愷然序 PREFACE BY XIANG KAIRAN [a dialogue] […]

via THE INSIGHTS OF WU GONGZAO — Brennan Translation

Happy New Year! Here are my most popular Tai Chi Notebook posts from 2018 — The Tai Chi Notebook

As we enter 2019, the year of the earth pig, let’s look back on the last year with the most popular posts on this blog each month. Note: These are based purely on the audience figures, not on being the ‘best’ stories of the year. As such it gives you an interesting picture of what […]

via Happy New Year! Here are my most popular Tai Chi Notebook posts from 2018 — The Tai Chi Notebook

UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo – Karate

by Irina

On a small subtropical island such as Okinawa, it is usually physically impossible to take a road less travelled. However, if you are up to the challenge, you may find a certain small karate dojo in Yomitan to be just that rarely available detour.

When I got to Okinawa, I didn’t know a lot about martial arts, though I knew that Okinawa was considered the birthplace of karate in Japan. And, after having watched the Karate Kid movies, I thought it would be great to learn the way of karate at its source. The only problem was that I wanted to study it for my own personal satisfaction and self-improvement, not to fight in the ring or perform for others to see and judge on the tatami.

There are many places on Okinawa that will teach you the basic moves of karate, on and off the military bases. Luckily, I did not know about them when I saw the UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo in Nagahama Yomitan for the first time. The location, environment, students and, of course, the sensei all made a positive impression on me. My intuition did not let me down since the philosophy, principles, and rules of the Uechi Ryu style have also appealed to my senses.

Surprisingly, the teacher (Seizan Sensei) is an American – trained almost wholly here on Okinawa, licensed and certified a true “Hanshi Kyudan” – a 9th degree black belt holder – and the only foreigner residing in Japan holding that rank level in the UechiRyu system. He began training in UechiRyu in 1974 in the States, but has been training on Okinawa since 1979. He teaches classes 50/50 in Japanese and English, so there was no barrier to learning the finer points and more subtle philosophies of the art.

His Okinawan wife (Sumako) teaches Yoga on Saturday mornings, too, and is a licensed Thai Masseuse. That’s right – all this under one roof!

Most importantly, this dojo offered me an opportunity to train and practice alongside my husband and daughter as opposed to just sitting outside and waiting for the session to be over. An ability to study the principles of karate as a family has been paramount in our quest to embrace this particular way of life. We don’t compete at tournaments in this dojo, so there is no pressure to beat total strangers senseless in front of family members!  The dojo is a place where one can do physically challenging exercise, relax with a green tea and a snack during the break period, or it can be a healthy psychological outlet after a long day when you leave all your problems outside the screen door and just practice karate for a few hours.

UechiRyu Zankyokai Dojo l Okinawa Hai!

As time passed, the learning process allowed me to understand that true karate is not simply a martial art, but a life art – a true lifestyle. Personally, I can apply the knowledge gained long after I leave Okinawa.

Events and Trends that Shaped the Chinese Martial Arts in 2018 — Kung Fu Tea

This is the time of year when it is only natural to pause and reflect on where we have been and what may be coming next. 2018 has been a busy year in the Chinese martial arts. Progress has been in made in certain areas, while suggestions of trouble have arisen in others. Lets […]

via Events and Trends that Shaped the Chinese Martial Arts in 2018 — Kung Fu Tea

Year In Review – December 20, 2018 — Kyokushin International Martial Arts Australia

For Kyokushin International Martial Arts Australia, 2018 was a year of consolidating knowledge, pursuing higher technical ability and pushing new goals in tournaments. Three major seminars were held. The first took place in Sydney, at Shihan Rick Cunningham’s Annangrove Dojo. The seminar focused on all things Kyokushin – kihon (basics), kata (forms), kumite (sparring) and […]

via Year In Review – December 20, 2018 — Kyokushin International Martial Arts Australia


By Phillip Starr

Currently, there are a number of kung-fu teachers from the People’s Republic of China (or who allege that they trained there) providing interesting and rather expensive seminars throughout the West. In fact, some of them will actually certify Westerners as instructors if they attend enough seminars over a period of time. In my view, this is something akin to becoming a neurosurgeon by attending several seminars. It simply can’t be done. I believe that a martial arts system can be learned only through regular, hands-on training and by “regular”, I mean attending a class at least two or three times weekly. Yes, you can learn some valuable material at seminars and I’m very much in favor of them but I don’t believe that it is possible to learn an entire system that way.

Some time ago, one of my students told me that he’d met an older Chinese gentleman who had moved to the West from mainland China. He was highly skilled in a particular martial art and allegedly possessed a very high level of fighting skill. Really? I told my student to look at China’s recent history and then do the math… Let’s have a look.

During the last dynasty of China, the Qing Dynasty, there were numerous martial arts groups throughout China. However, at the beginning of the 20th century the government collapsed and the country was in turmoil. Warlords vied for power with one of them finally becoming the leader; his name was Jiang Jieshi (we know him as Chiang Kai-shek). But he was at odds with a youngster named Mao Zedong and they locked horns.

It was during this time of political upheaval that Japan attacked China. This occurred in 1937. The Japanese poured into China, ravaging the country and bombing the larger cities. Not much of a time for managing a martial arts school… At the end of the war, Mao and Jiang went back to butting heads and Mao’s forces eventually drove Jiang and his followers off the mainland and onto the island of Formosa (now known as Taiwan). The communists established the People’s Republic of China in October of 1949.

One of the first things the new government did was to forbid the practice of any and all martial arts. After all, kung-fu practitioners had been at the head of the anti-Qing forces and the new government didn’t want a replay; they didn’t want anti-government underground groups to come together as they had during the last dynasty. All martial arts schools shut down and teachers were forbidden to teach the martial ways.

Yes, I see the guy in the back waving his hand. You say that martial arts teachers could have continued to teach inside their homes, away from the prying eyes of the government during this time? Not likely. You see, China had, and still has, the best internal intelligence systems in the world. For many years after the establishment of the new government, everyone was required to attend regularly scheduled classes and meetings in which the many benefits and superiority of communism were espoused. These meetings were broken down into small groups, which were divided into smaller groups, and those were further divided into even smaller groups… until there groups of only 3 people. Believe me, if you were doing something that was regarded as illegal, the authorities would find out about it post haste! So, no, teachers didn’t dare teach students behind closed doors. In China, every wall has many ears (this is still true today) and at that time, it simply wasn’t possible to keep an activity such as martial arts instruction hidden.

Then things got worse. The Cultural Revolution began in 1966 and lasted for ten years. During this time, all educational institutions were shut down and anyone who was representative of the “old China” – which, of course, included martial arts teachers – was severely punished. Many were “re-educated” (I’ll leave that to your imaginations). The bottom line is that martial arts practice was still strictly forbidden and anyone caught teaching or even practicing such things was putting his life on the line.

After the end of the Cultural Revolution, China’s leaders began to realize what treasures China really possessed; traditional Chinese medicine, martial arts, traditional dancing, and so on. The development of contemporary wushu (a combination of gymnastics, martial arts, and Chinese opera) went into high gear while various forms of taijiquan were modified so that older people could practice them without having to over-tax their bodies. However, to teach wushu, it was necessary to be a college graduate and the majority of traditional martial arts teachers didn’t meet that requirement. They were free to teach in the public parks just as they still do today.

However, they were restricted to teaching technique and forms only. Two-person routines or any form of sparring was not allowed. The authorities claimed that they were concerned about people being injured through such training but I suspect that they were also concerned about people learning how to apply traditional martial arts. So they permitted people to practice “sanda”, which is very similar to kickboxing with some grappling thrown in.

Regardless of what style you’d learned – praying mantis, xingyiquan, or anything else, your fighting practice was limited to sanda. Thus, everyone, regardless of style, fought in the same way… so “styles”, in so far as fighting was and is concerned, simply vanished. While it was possible to learn forms and exercise routines, one could not practice applications at anything close to full speed and sparring of any kind was out of the question.

As far as practical experience goes… well, that’s another can of worms. The Chinese law enforcement authorities take a very dim view of any kind of violence and what we’d call a simple street fight are extremely rare. Extremely. Rare.

Now, if someone says that his teacher from mainland China is, say, in his 50’s, well….I’ll let you do the math. What was happening in China when he was in his teens or a bit later and allegedly learning a traditional martial art? If he’s 50, he was born in 1964 (just prior to the Cultural Revolution) and by the time he was old enough to begin serious training, he’d be learning the “shells” of forms in a local park with no fighting experience whatsoever.

Let me take this opportunity to make a bunch of new friends by saying that I believe a good number of these teachers are simply exploiting their own ethnicity; they’re Chinese, so they HAVE to know what they’re doing, right? Yeah. I remember my high school years when we believed that any student who was even half-Japanese HAD to know judo and karate. I know of one Chinese school teacher in Iowa who claims to be a master of what he calls “Calligraphic Kung-Fu.” His students learn to draw Chinese characters in the air with their hands and he shows them how these movements can be turned into lethal blows. You. Betcha. BUT, he once had a very large following and last I knew, he was still at it!

Then there are those who claim to be Taoists who live in a monastery or some such abode in the cloudy mists atop some sacred mountain. Let me tell you, for all the cute photos they show everyone, there are no Taoist monasteries with adepts practicing exotic forms of qigong and martial arts all day. Not in modern China. The same is true for Buddhist temples. Yes, there are monks but the government determined that they needed to provide some sort of service to the state. They allow them to live in the temples (or nearby) and practice their faith BUT in return, they must help serve the tourists who visit the temples. Shao-lin Temple is a fine example. For all the bruhaha about it, what is being taught there is NOT a form of traditional shaolinquan; it is contemporary wushu. The “monks” aren’t really Buddhist monks at all. For that matter, most of them know little of Buddhism but they shave their heads, wear the saffron robes, and thrill visitors with their demonstrations. For those who wish to learn authentic shaolinquan, don’t go to China. It isn’t there anymore. It moved to the West.

So next time you hear of some famous kung-fu master teaching a seminar (especially if it’s at a high price), find out how old he is and do some simple math. You might surprise yourself.

FOUR-SECTION BOXING — Brennan Translation

– 四式拳圖解 FOUR-SECTION BOXING EXPLAINED 徐士金 by Xu Shijin [published by the 漢口市國術館 Hankou Martial Arts Institute, 1935] [translation by Paul Brennan, Dec, 2018] – 徐士金著 by Xu Shijin: 四式拳圖解 Four-Section Boxing Explained 張學良題 – calligraphy by Zhang Xueliang – 總理提倡國術之墨寶 Our president’s treasured calligraphy advocating martial arts: 強國強種 “Strengthen the nation by strengthening the […]

via FOUR-SECTION BOXING — Brennan Translation