SMA – Baji Zhandao UK training camp visit to Tianjin to train with Master Zhou.
Master Zhou Jingxuan teaches in Xi Gu park in Hong Qiao District. Historically this park continues to attract many of Tianjin’s famous martial arts masters and students. The park is a hive of activity throughout the day.
Master Zhou teaches the rare inner courtyard Shaolin martial art of Jin Gang Ba Shi. In addition to that he also teaches Piguazhang, Xingyi quan, Baji quan, Li style Taichi and Chou Jiao. As our trip to visit with Master Zhou was relatively short we focused our learning on the basics of two specific styles Piguazhang and Bajiquan.
After a warm welcome in Tainjin and some photos we enjoyed two hours of great training in Xi Gu park with Master Zhou. After the training we were invited for dinner with Master Zhou his senior students and a number of representatives from the Tianjin Martial Arts Association.
The following is an assortment of clips from the two day seminar as well as a short clip from a discussion on the evolvement of Bajiquan in Tainjin.
All the training you see in the video took place in Xigu Park where Master Zhou regularly teaches.
For further information on studying with Master Zhou, the Shang Wu Zhai Academy as well as a host of other masters in China and Thailand check out the http://www.StudyMartialArts.Org website.
Earlier this week we announced the addition of a new full-time martial arts school to the StudyMartialArts.Org site.
The Bajiquan International Training Center is one of the best places in China to learn the martial art of Bajiquan. All the masters at this school are dedicated and trainined primarily in this art. The Masters skills, the Wu family lineage and knowledge plus the teaching focus on the practical use of the art, the standardized comprehensive curriculum and the Mengcun facility itself are all huge draws.
The Bajiquan International Training Center simply put is one of the biggest and most famous Bajiquan schools in the world. How students will learn Bajiquan at this school as opposed to some other Shaolin or Wudang based schools which teach to a smorgasboard of styles is very different.
The location of the school in Mengcun on the outskirts of Cangzhou City firmly puts the focus on training. Site seeing opportunities in Mengcun and Cangzhou City are limited. With so few distractions for students it makes the 6 day training regime easy to stick to. This is one reason why the facilities at the school are so good.
Additionally, another benefit of the school is that it can easily cater to both western and muslim cultures, this makes the Bajiquan International Training Center an attractive multicultural choice.
798 Art District in the north-east of the city is Beijing’s “SoHo” and is home to a large arts community. Paintings, ceramics, and street art are scattered throughout the area and it’s ex-industrial factories provide artists with flexible open space for arts installations both big and small. The most important of these art galleries include the expansive 798 Space Gallery, Long March Space and UCCA (China’s largest privately funded art museum).
The charm of the area is preserved in its post-industrial feel and the Maoist inspired art slogans and original features scattered throughout the converted factories and shop floors.
As an arts community 798 has both endured and suffered because of its success. Initially development pressures almost saw the district completely redeveloped however, successful campaigning and the growth in tourism resulted in the reclassification of the area as a legitimate art district supported by the government.Nevertheless rising land prices and development pressures remain. As a result many of the original artists of the neighbourhood who set up studios in these former military factories, including Factory 798 which originally produced electronics have been priced out due to increasing rents. Only a handful of the most successful of these artists continue to live and work in the district.
“Creating a unique backdrop to display the art”
“Galleries both big and small sell and display art works”
798 continues to thrive despite the rising prices. Today the district is filled with not only art galleries but also gift shops, book shops, restaurants, cafés, artsy clothing stores and of course street vendors. 798 Art District is one of Beijing’s most popular tourist destinations and certainly China’s largest and most famous arts district.
One of the highlights of the district is its change ability. The installations move, change and evolve. The details, textures and colours of the works of art, the setting and the people offer the viewer new interesting sensory stimuli around every corner.
Taking photos is a must. The street art unique, weird and unusual is accessible and allows you to participate and interact with this very Chinese art experience.
“Reform and Opening Up” (改革开放 – gǎi gé kāi fàng)
798 Art District can be found at Jiuxianquao Road and Jiuxianqiao North Road, Beijing. Entrance is free and it is open each day from 10:00am-6:00pm.
An opportunity for those that are daring enough to make the leap and change there lives!
I’m flying to Beijing on Jan the 15th for intensive martial arts studies.
I’m looking for 2 people to join me on this journey, if your interested read on…
I will be training with Master Lu Sheng li who is the author of quite a few martial arts books in Chinese, English and Spanish. He is one of Wang Pei Shengs (WPS) top students and was selected by WPS to travel around America to help him conduct seminars while he was alive.
Grand master WPS was considered one of the greatest Taichi masters of his time and was the last master of the last martial arts golden age. He was a master in many Chinese internal and external systems such as Bagua, Xingyi, Tongbei, Tantui and Baji. WPS comes from very impressive lineages of great masters, who passed on their skills to WPS intensely over many years from a young age.
Master WPS also wrote what is said to be one of the best books on Taichi out there. You can read about who WPS was, his life and his achievements here in this Article Titled Remembering WPS. It’s a great read for any one who loves martial arts, culture or just the back ground story of a highly accomplished individual…
The training we will under go will be under the Yin Chen Gong Fa association training methods, styles and principles. The best information available I can find in English about this group and what they train can be found on this site (ycgf.org) read the opening page, click English and scroll down, the information is quite informative and vast and will give you an idea of what you could expect if you join us and train.
The base of the training will be in Taichi but the training will be customized to each individual’s personal level to insure a proper foundation is built and a higher potential or mastery is reached in your time.
The training period is 100 days and is “everyday” for a minimum of 6 hours a day. (Ill be training a minimum 10 hours a day including Chinese language learning and theory) Master Lu’s students are movie stars, CEO’s of large companies, like the CEO of Intel and Lenova. He charges in some cases $450 an hour. Master Lu has earned a great reputation among masters with in the Beijing martial arts community and worldwide.
The 100 days of training for those who qualify to join me will be at a location Master Lu has rented in Beijing.
This is not an opportunity I would normally make public but the chosen 2 people who were aiming to come with me, now can’t make it, due to changing circumstances in there life. Everything happens for a reason, so now there is a chance for 2 lucky individuals to join us.
This will be a very transformational journey for who ever is up for the challenge.
This could also be an amazing start for a martial artist or a great way for a former martial artist to deepen their skills in real internal training and practices.
It’s short notice but I feel it’s important to put this opportunity out there. Maybe it’s a possibility for one of my friends here to join us. When I started my martial arts journey a chance like this would have been something I would have only dreamed of finding!
Master Lu has set aside this time to be committed purely to transmitting his kungfu skills and knowledge by setting up the ideal environment for us to grow and train. He has cancelled all of his commitments in this period to train other students and will be focusing purely on my self and the other students who join the group. He has rented a house that we will all live in, including master Lu for the 100-day period.
This really is a lucky opportunity and is not something you would find advertised publicly. The reason I am looking for other students to join is as follows.
1. Two spots are now available and since master Lu has put on hold all his training and teaching commitments to his other students over the 100 day period, I want to insure master Lu regains his cost for the commitment he is making, renting a house, providing food and training etc. Since the other 2 guys can’t make it there is an opportunity for 2 other students to join.
2. Although one on one is great with a master, for long term training it’s better to have others students to train with on the journey, so we can push each other, practice techniques 1000 of times to refine our skill level and discus the principles and ideas to gain a more broader perspective.
That’s my main two reasons. The last one is simply having another person in the world who gets affected by the attributes of internal martial arts training I believe sincerely and firmly, is a huge benefit to his/her family and friends and the world in general.
To qualify for this opportunity will come down to work ethic, and good character/personality. If you’re interested, send me a PM or comment below and Ill get in contact with you to arrange a call. You may also add me on Skype just msg me for my details.
I will be helping those who come advance out side in personal training time to insure we all grow together. Master Lu will be with us 6 hours a day daily and is Renowned for his attention to detail and his focus on transmitting skills to his students.
Since the date of commencement is literally right around the corner, those who can make it for a minimum of 1 week and up to 3 months may apply. Although preference will be given to those who wish to train more long term, as well as those who express a keen interest in training hard and pushing them selves to create a positive training environment. So from Jan the 15th through to April the 25th there is a chance to live and train with a world class Kungfu master.
Included in the cost is nourishing food, which is designed for the hard training and long days, accommodation and personal instruction from a world-class internal martial artist.
Below is photo of master Lu and some of my students and friends that joined me in Beijing late last year on a StudyMartialArt.Org tour.
I’m holding his recently publicised book on Wu style Taichi. (Currently in Chinese Only)
Over the 100 days there will be a focus on Wu style Taichi but also students may start to practice, Xing Yi, Bagua, Tong Bei, Baji, Qigong or Tantui depending on master Lu’s development plan. What ever the path is we will be heavily involved in the principles and philosophy, which lead to high-level practice.
This opportunity is not for the light hearted but beginners are welcome to apply. Personally I would rather people more experienced to push my self but that’s just my personal preference, Ill be pushing my self on my own to new heights with who ever joins me and I expect the same of them.
Other then the benefits of self defense, confidence, knowing one self and the spiritual attributes that arise from this style of training, that make you relaxed and cheerful. The health and longevity benefits are of the hook and have been well proven by the masters before us and explored and backed by scientific research.
Master Lu is 62 or 63 in this photo his movements are graceful, powerful and very precise in there attention to detail!
If any one would like me to elaborate in more detail about the lineage, the training, Wu style Taichi, WPS or master Lu please feel free to ask. I certainly don’t have all the answers, many I will discover on the path for my self but I have been studying all the above a couple of hours a day, most days over the past 3 months and have lived in China for many years, training martial arts full time. Since I’m investing allot of time and money I wanted to insure everything was what I truly wanted. I looked at it objectivity and tried to find faults to make sure I made the right decision. It passed my test and I’m sincerely looking forward to 100 days of intensive training with Master Lu Sheng li and training in the Yin Chen Gong Fa family!
The food, training, accommodation and the personal instruction 6 hours a day from master Lu will cost 100 USD per day which when you look at the time you get with a great master alone, it’s a pretty small asking price since we will be living with him also. This is something I did well to negotiate.
Master Lu is sincere in seeing that the Internal arts of China get passed on to dedicated practitioners, in the Yin Cheng Gong Fa association founded by WPS. They hold nothing back, there interested in the true and proper passing on of the skills and training methods as the generations have before them so the arts stay alive in full expression.
Other systems and masters do hold things back unfortunately this is why Chinese kungfu is dying or in some aspects have been lost and only held by a few, its different with the YCGF family.
Thank you for your time and tuning in!
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.
I will have my personal Site/Blog up very soon which Ill be writing in and giving updates to my progress over the 100 days training and living in Beijing.
When I return I will teach a one-week intensive seminar and open my first official martial arts school in Australia!
Best wishes for the New Year everyone and if your interested in this opportunity dive in, make it happen for your self and don’t waste time, it may never happen again!
You can check out Grand Master WPS book here which is considered one of the best books on Taichihttp://www.plumpub.com/sales/taichi/collbk_wuTC1.htm
You can read about Wu style taichi in this book also,
note that master WPS was the successor of the Northen Wu style Taichi group passed down from the founder Quan you. This book was written by WPS younger Kungfu brothers female disciple, who is a champion in her field. It gives a great introduction to the lineage, the style, the founder etc as well as other famous masters. This will give some idea on what Wu Style Taichi is about and an idea of some of the training.
Please feel free to share this if you think there is someone in your network that would be interested in joining me for this amazing training experience. Maybe you yourself are interested? if so email me at Rhynsma@gmail.com to find out more.
If you’ve ever wanted to Study Martial Arts in China, an awesome way to do that would be with one of these combined Martial Arts and University Language Courses.
The benefit of one of these programs will be the practical skills you can learn throughout the experience that can actually legitimately add value to your CV and future employability. These programs allow participants to develop their martial arts and also their understanding of Chinese culture and also importantly the language. It’s a unique way to study with a high level master outside the normal international kung fu school route as that all important Chinese visa will be got through the University.
This video clip above was taken in Yantai, Shandong province. Yantai is a small second tier Chinese City on the northeast coast of China. It has cheap housing and has a good environment. Yantai is famous for a number of kung fu styles including Taichi Mantis, Tongbei quan, Baguazhang and more.
The city itself is a little hot bed of kung fu schools and masters and is well worth a look.
For details of our Traditional Martial Arts and Language Learning programs contact us now! Study Mandarin and Traditional Chinese Martial Arts in China – http://www.StudyMartialArts.Org
Do you have friends or classmates that have taught English in China, Japan, or Thailand and wondered to yourself, “How can I get paid to live in China, Japan or Thailand and follow my passion for Studying Martial Arts?” With millions and millions of people learning English in Asia, the demand for native English-speaking teachers is insatiable and virtually any native or fluent English speaker can gain employment teaching English abroad. But like any great endeavor in life, moving to a foreign country to teach English and follow your martial arts path requires research, planning, initiative – plus a few tips from teaching abroad experts like those at StudyMartialArts.Org who have experience of combining English teaching with Martial Arts studies. Take a peak at these 12 crucial tips and pointers for teaching English abroad to help you get started.
1. Know that virtually anybody can teach English abroad
With approximately 1 billion people learning English worldwide, the demand for native English-speaking teachers is insatiable and virtually any native or fluent English speaker can gain employment teaching English abroad. Remember this:
A background in education or professional teaching experience is not required to teach English abroad.
You do not need to speak a foreign language to teach English abroad.
Prior international travel experience is not a prerequisite to teach English abroad.
A college degree is not required to teach English abroad. But it certainly will help. As more and more people take the English teaching route to discover Asia the market is becoming increasingly flooded with job seekers. With this increase tighter controls are being applied. Visas require more often now those with experience and so a TEFL certificate is becoming more handy. Ultimately, the more qualified and well connected you are the better employment opportunities you will get. Because after all you are here for the most part to study kung fu so the last thing you need is to be stuck in a job that requires too much travel, too little work to make ends meet or too many hours.
Remember that hiring standards will certainly vary from country to country, so remember to consider what countries you are qualified to teach in.
2. Research your tail off
If you plan to move halfway around the world to teach English and Study Martial Arts, you owe it to yourself to research all aspects of your great international adventure to make it as rewarding and successful as possible. To start, focus on the martial aspect. Where is that Shifu you have dreamed of learning from?What styles are you interested in? Also check out this country chart which compares salaries, hiring requirements, interview procedures and visa information for teaching English abroad in more than 50 countries around the world. Also, check out our other articles for more information about teaching English abroad. When you’re ready to start diving into program options, be sure to read reviews and weigh all of the possibilities. Salary, livability, conditions, benefits, time commitments, and the potential for an incredible and positive experience will all play major factors in your decision.
3. Make sure to earn your TEFL certification
Even though you don’t need a degree or professional teaching experience, if you want to teach English abroad professionally, you need to take an accredited TEFL certification course, especially if you have no background in teaching English as a foreign language (our guide to TEFL helps lay this all out for you). An accredited TEFL certification course will provide you with the skills you need to competently run 4-6 classes a day, and will outline the best ESL teaching tools. TEFL certification will also provide you with a recognized qualification that most schools and language schools around the world seek when hiring new teachers. Remember, most schools around the world will not hire you off the street to teach English professionally simply because you are a native or fluent English speaker! One of the biggest difficulties that new teachers face is the challenge of creating fun, engaging, and plenty of activities for the ESL classroom. TEFL courses will give you insight on the types of games and lessons that are successful with different age groups. Get a head start by reading our tips for lesson planning or take notes of the 10 best games for ESL teachers.
4. Consider whether to go with an organized program or independently
Many TEFL training schools do provide job placement assistance and it’s definitely something to check for when researching your options, because quality assistance should insure that you don’t have to pay for a job placement. Many top programs provide it for free with the course tuition. Others may charge additional fees for placement or assistance. Teaching abroad through an organized program is a great option for first-time travelers to a new region, especially if the local language is one you’re less-than-absolutely-fluent-in. For most people looking to go abroad, there are enough jobs and plenty of resources in the way of free job boards, recruiters, and other resources, that there really should not be a need to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a placement. Also, programs that guarantee or receive payment for placements will limit you to job options offered by the program, which are a drop in the ocean of the thousands of job opportunities worldwide that you may be qualified for. If you are looking to teach English in Asia, Russia or the Middle East, you may consider working with recruiters that interview and hire English teachers from the U.S., Canada and elsewhere on behalf of schools in these countries. Typically you should not pay such recruiters for placement. Working with recruiters can make the process of interviewing and lining up a position abroad easier though as they can provide assistance and guidance with matters like setting up interviews and arranging documents for your visa. The key, as always, is to research and work with reputable, well-established recruiters. But be aware, most recruiters who do this will then get paid by the school you work for so their payment could be coming out from your potential monthly wage.
5. Remember: hiring and interview procedures vary from country to country
Be flexible and open to new experiences
Remember demand is high in Asia so schools hire all year-around, nevertheless elementary and high schools recruit primarily during the spring, summer and winter for positions beginning in Jan/Feb and September. Many Asian schools will hire new teachers directly from their home country, this is good for a number of reasons one being securing that all important visa and having the right papers from day one. This means that if you want the security of having a job waiting for you when you hop on a plane to your teaching destination, you should concentrate your efforts here.
6. Plan to break even
This means that even as a first-time English teacher teaching you can expect to earn enough to pay your bills – rent, food, daily transportation, etc. – and live comfortably, though modestly. This means that you’ll be able to travel and go out on the weekends and engage in other personal pursuits like taking language lessons and martial arts. However, this will often be very dependent on luck, your color and whether you are a native speaker. You shouldn’t expect, at least at first, to be making enough salary to put money in the bank at the end of every month. This can take time and it is often 6-12 months before you start earning back on your initial investment, the money you spent on settling in job, hunting and securing accommodation and finding with the right kung fu master.
7. If you want to make more money, this is possible but very dependent on your qualifications and experience
Most people don’t go into teaching for the money, but if you’re looking to make enough to save for extra travel it is possible with the right qualifications and connections. English teachers can typically make enough to save 30%-50% of their income after expenses, and often receive benefits like free airfare and housing. Monthly savings typically range from about $400 a month in a nation like Thailand up to $1000 or more in South Korea. However, be realistic. More and more these opportunities are limited to those with experience, the right papers and longer term commitment.
8. Consider using a Martial Arts School as a springboard
The growing number of martial arts schools in both China and Thailand offer a great opportunity for the savvy martial arts adventurer to use the schools as a base from which to explore teaching opportunities and of course training with other masters outside the international kung fu school system. To make the most out of these opportunities your current school location or planned schools location will be the key.
Rural schools in the depths of the Chinese, or Thai countryside will not be the most suitable if you’re limited to weekend for finding a school or another master. The good news is that StudyMartialArts.Org offers a great Free consultation service. They can easily help advise you both on potential schools, masters near by and that all important teaching job or employment contact.
9. Set a realistic timeline and plan ahead
Getting a job and moving half-way around the world to teach English or Study is not like choosing which parties you’re going to hit this weekend or selecting what you’re going to wear to the gym – it’s not a spur of the moment sort of deal. While hiring cycles and procedures vary worldwide, you should usually plan on taking 3-6 months from the point when you begin your TEFL certification and job search to actually getting on a plane and taking off to go abroad and begin your teaching job. In some cases, as when applying for government public school programs like JET in Japan. Remember the process of applying, interviewing and making travel arrangements may take 6-9 months or even longer.
10. Be prepared for start-up costs
Teaching English abroad may be the most cost-effective way to live and travel overseas for an extended period, but like most major undertakings in life, it requires a degree of financial planning. Major start-up costs typically include:
TEFL Certification: $1,000 – $2,500 for a fully accredited online or in-person class – trust me, it’s worth it.
Transportation to your destination country: typically $300-$1000 for North Americans traveling to other continents.
Support in your new country until you start getting paid: even if you have a job waiting for you when you arrive, you won’t typically get paid on your first day of work. These expenses can range from $500, if your housing is provided and your job is pre-arranged, to even higher while you interview for a position, wait for the right job, rent an apartment or find a conveniently placed master that you want to study with.
Although start-up costs for teaching English abroad in Asia are typically lower because in many cases you can line up your job in advance, and many schools, particularly in South Korea and China, cover airfare and housing costs. But more than often these are not paid until a trial period has been complete or certain part of your contract. In addition to this as your purpose is not just to teach but also to study kung fu extra complications and few choices may be available to you. This is why some managed programs with initial costs are worth considering.
11. Engage your friends and family
You will need their love and support, and in some cases, their advice and financial assistance. At the same time, don’t let their fear of losing you stop you from going abroad – Mom will just have to understand that you’re going to miss a Thanksgiving or two. The good news is that thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch from all corners of the globe. Email, Facebook and other social media make conversing and sharing photos a cinch, and with Skype, you can enjoy video calls with friends and family as often as you like, for free.
12. Be open-minded and flexible
If you won’t even consider teaching anywhere but places that are just like the home, you’re only cheating yourself. The fact is that you are unlikely to get a job just like at home. This should not stop you from experiencing the adventure of living and traveling abroad, whether it be in China, Thailand, Japan or anywhere else. Also, bear in mind that you are not limited to one destination – you can always teach in one country or region and then move on to another and as in any field, the more experience you gain, the more opportunities will come your way.
Essentially the only way that you can’t teach English abroad is if you don’t have the initiative to make it happen – so let’s go! That means researching your options, getting a TEFL certification and putting together a timeline. Be realistic and organized, but don’t hesitate to broaden your horizons and take chances either. Moving abroad is meant to be adventure, so embrace it! Inspired by – Go overseas.
Keep your eye out for this documentary charting the lives of three young girls at Tagou.
DRAGON GIRLS is the story of three girls and their life at the martial arts school Shaolin Tagou, China’s biggest Kung Fu School housing 26.000 students. Far from their families, Xin Chenxi (age 9) and Chen Xi (age 15) are fighting an every day battle of discipline, rules and hard physical training. However, despite this Kung Fu is their chance. The girls do everything they can to become the country’s best fighters, to be able to provide for their parents in future and lead a better life than them. Huang Luolan (age 17) couldn’t cope with the training regime of the school. She fled for Shanghai. The girls lead an extremely hard life concentrating on their achievements. But deep inside they have the same dreams as children all over the world have. And no one can take that from them.
Over the last few years, master Zhou Jingxuan has become a known figure among some online martial arts communities, due to the many videos of his published on youtube, featuring action from a wide variety of traditional Chinese martial arts. Relatively few people, though, are really familiar with the man behind the videos – the unique personality that he is in the real world. In this article, I wish to therefore allow a glimpse into the life and times of this fascinating individual.
It is a peculiar and somewhat surreal thing that, a Westerner belonging to a nation of people who are less than 15 million in number worldwide, who dwells in the Middle-East, would come to be a student of another man, half a world away – one of nation counting over 1.5 billion people. Some would call it Karma, Fate, or Divine Intervention. I, for one, attribute this to the power of Human Wills. For where two people search the same thing, its shape, nature or distance matter less than its essence. What one looks for, with unquestionable desire and an utmost thirst, will bring one to find the answers, in the existence of other human beings. So it came to be, that I have become a student of master Zhou Jingxuan; a man quite unlike myself, who nonetheless shares with me something transcendental and special. A connection to an ancient mindset, now long gone from the soul of the majority of humanity. This keen interest in the Martial Arts – a glue that brings persons together and bridges across cultures like no other; a gift that Zhou is handing over to those eager to accept, passing it on as it had been passed to him.
Seeking truthful and serious traditional instruction, I came to study, many years ago, under master Zhou’s student, Nitzan Oren – a fellow Israeli, and nowadays also a dear friend. Later, on two occasions, I have had the chance to study directly under Zhou shifu. With both teachers I have studied Xing Yi Quan and Pigua Zhang. My latest training period with Zhou had been for 40 days of daily training, during summer 2012. Prior to that, I have also trained daily with Zhou shifu for a month in summer 2010, when he had come to Israel to instruct his Israeli students and their students.
Master Zhou, now about 48 years old, was born and had lived all of his life in Tianjin city, China. Today, Tianjin is a booming metropolis of 13 million people, with infrastructure and facilities no less impressive that those of famous European cities (albeit its pollution being quite terrible). But at its core, Tianjin is an ancient city, and up until 30 years ago, it was still quite primitive in its construction and accommodations, not to mention the living standards, which were quite fitting to a third-world country. And, while culture in some respects has always flourished, either above or below the surface, the mentality and mindset of most of this city’s inhabitants was always that of the poor and struggling. Even today, it can be said that large portions of the city are one big ‘rough neighborhood’. This is the environment Zhou had grown up and still lives in – a place which builds character, psychological endurance, and sharp survivalist instincts.
In 1931, the Empire of Japan had invaded Manchuria, with the goal of conquering all of China, marking the (true) beginning of World War II. The China that had been invaded had been at its weakest point in many centuries, following 200~ years of economic conquest by Western powers, and a succession of terrible civil wars. The Chinese barely survived the war, in which the Japanese Imperial Army was not only close to occupying all of China, but performed some of the worst atrocities and war crimes in modern times, including mass murders and rapes of thousands and tens of thousands of people at a time. Tianjin suffered greatly from this occupation, and so had Zhou’s family. His grandfather in turn, set out to fight the Japanese. The Chinese army was so scarce in resources, that it was frequent that the soldiers would run out of ammunition, or lack firearms altogether.
The 29th army, which Zhou’s grandfather joined, had therefore experimentally equipped their soldiers with additional weapons – Dao and Da Dao swords, to fight the Japanese at close quarters, or when the ammunition would run out. It is almost unthought of that in the age of automatic and semi-automatic guns, that people would be fighting against such weapons with swords, but the 29th army did so quite successfully. Zhou’s grandfather survived the war, at the cost of seeing all his friends being killed by the Japanese. It seems to me that this traumatic experience of the most brutal kid of fighting had undoubtedly affected young Zhou shifu, who took to heart the lessons of war and violence.
For Zhou, it was obvious from a young age that he was going to practice martial arts. The district he was lives in, Hong Qiao, is one of two districts in the city of Tiajin famous for their martial artists (the other being Nankai). He lived (and still lives) near Xigupark – an impressive island of greenery in the middle of gray Tianjin, which had over the years become an attraction point for many martial artists. The teaching atmosphere was very different from other places, especially compared to schools in modern times. People simply came to the park and practiced. You could have a choice from many teachers, and if you had the right connections, also be recommended by your own teachers to become a student of others. Because of these unique circumstances, Zhou had the opportunity to get to know hundreds of highly-skilled martial arts teachers in his lifetime, and study under quite a few of them.
Beginning at age 9, Zhou started his studies with the arts of Chuo Jiao, Fanzi Quan and Tan Tui. Later, he also learned Pigua Zhang (under two teachers), Xing Yi Quan (under four teachers), and Baji Quan and Jingang Bashi (under two teachers who are gongfu brothers) and Li style Taiji Quan. Additionally, all of Zhou’s teachers taught him several weapon forms, each. Some of these weapons are related to the arts he had studied, while others (such as the Six Harmonies Spear form) are interdependent from style. Overall, Zhou shifu ended up having 11 long-term teachers, out of which he became an official disciple (indoor student) of 7 of them.
Zhou also had encounters and knowledge exchanges with several other martial arts teachers. Since he had over the years become such an enormous fountain of martial knowledge, there were always people who were interested in learning his skills – especially material from his rare art of Shaolin Jingang Bashi. It is not the custom in Chinese society, however, that two people of the same class (say two veteran teachers) would become each-others student. Because of this, Zhou exchanged knowledge with these teachers on a friendly basis, and gained insight into the use and theory of many other martial arts and weapons in that manner.
As a child, Zhou was mischievous and adventurous. This had probably been his way of coping with the harsh living conditions in Tianjin, past the Cultural Revolution (a time of great poverty and death throughout China). The country was difficult to survive in, and life was chaotic at times. People had to learn how to endure and manage, and teach these skills to their families as well. Thus, beginning when Zhou began his martial arts learning at the age of 9, and through his teenage years and early 20s, he was involved in a lot of fights that were forced upon him by others. Times have since changed, China and Tianjin have become relatively safer places, and Zhou have since turned more peaceful in nature. Also in accordance with the times, Zhou has since been accepting students with all types of goals in training – not just martial; enjoying teaching people who may seek learning the arts for self-preservation and development as well. He himself has too begun to practice more health-oriented methods over the years, to balance his previous martial experience. Zhou’s previous martial experiences are still evident though, when demonstrating the proper execution of movements and martial techniques – with a fierceness of a true fighting scenario.
When Zhou was a young teenager, he recalls, there was a certain Taiji Quan teacher in the park. To Zhou and his friends, he was a target for ridicule, as he looked funny, and they did not think much of the slow movements he had been practicing. The old man, on his part, did not mind at all the children’s behaviour, and completely ignored them. They used to come at him in the park when he was not training, and try to push him over. Zhou vividly remembers how, despite their best attempts, they could not do anything to him. Whenever they pushed on him, his body would collapse and absorb their energy with no apparent effort. Those who used too much force on him would be bounced back on into the ground by their own strength and momentum. Today, Zhou is stricken by this silliness and his disrespect towards the old man, when he was younger. He says: “I wish I was wiser, and would have gone to study under this man, as he had obviously possessed a great skill in the martial arts”.
Such experiences, as well as Zhou’s tutelage by many teachers over the yearshave made him garner much respect towards other arts and martial artists. It is difficult, and often impossible, to make Zhou shifu speak badly of other people and their arts. He could go in-length for many minutes on end, on the wonderful skills of practitioners which he thinks highly of. But ask him of someone who is not skilled or is not a good person, and Zhou would rather say he does not know enough about this person or his martial art, than speak badly of them. He also regrets not having the chance or the time to practice under or with martial artists of styles he has not learned. While Zhou is very satisfied and enthusiastic about the styles he practices and teaches, this yearning for more knowledge is derived from his great appreciation of other practitioners and their arts.
Having trained in Xigu park since childhood (and later started teaching there), Zhou is a very familiar figure in the park. It seems that most people who gothereknow him somehow – if not by name, at least by recognizing his face and composure. Since his youth, he has also been famous around his neighborhood for his excellent skills in Pigua Zhang.
In Chinese society, where one’s name, Ego and ‘Face’ often play a huge role, it is rare that people publicly ask others, who are not their own teachers, to instruct them. Such an act would, in this traditional society, indicate that the person asking instruction is ‘lesser’ or even ‘inferior’ to the other. Nonetheless, I have myself seen many people in the park approach Zhou shifu, asking him to teach them little something here and there, or to correct their practice. I have also been witness to several parents who came to Zhou, and asked him to formally accept their children as his students. These parents were interested in the physical well-being of their children – their health and ability to protect themselves, and also in exposing their children to traditional Chinese culture, in an age in which most Chinese children are more interested in imitating American culture.
China at large has suffered from two centuries of Economic and Military occupation by Western powers. The very center of this ugly takeover was the city of Tianjin, which still features several neighbourhoods with lots of Western-style architecture, reminiscent of 19th century Europe. These times were then followed by several decades of strict Communist rule, which was also anti-Western in ideology, and actively fought the West in the Korean War and during the Cold War. That said, it was to be expected that the older Chinese generations would not think highly of Westerns. Neither did Zhou think too positively of Westerners, when he was younger. Having never learned a foreign language or known a Westerner as a friend, like most of the Chinese of his generation, his opinion of Westerners was shaped by the bloody, turbulent history of China over her last few centuries. While one could hardly suggest that this social mindset was stained by harsh things like Racism, one could say that suspicion, prejudice and bias are definitely common in this society towards foreigners.Which is perfectly understandable, by the way, considering their historical circumstances, and China’s isolation from the Western world throughout most of the last 100 years.
I believe that Zhou’s ideas about foreigners must have taken their first shift once he began to teach Westerners in the 1990s. Slowly but surely, he came to understand that they were not at all as bad as they were always portrayed to be when he was younger. A major change of heart was in the years following Zhou’s acquaintance with my teacher, Nitzan Oren. At the time, and also nowadays, Zhou have had trouble with students leaving his side before they could learn a reasonable amount of martial material and skills.Most of the young Chinese tend to neglect serious martial arts practice, possibly because Zhou is more readily available to them (don’t appreciate him enough because of that), and also because the pursuit of careers and finance is of a greater interest to them than training. Few of Zhou’s Chinese students have stuck around for over 2-3 years, and those who did, usually never trained as hard as Zhou had probably hoped for. One Chinese female student of Zhou had stayed with him for 11 years, and had reached a very good level. Unfortunately, she quit training altogether once she got married (as commonly happens in Chinese society, which is still very chauvinistic compared to the West).
Nitzan was the exception, remaining by Zhou’s side for 7 years straight, and studying with him daily. It was the first time that Zhou had had such a serious-minded student. In the beginning, Zhou still carried some cultural biases and prejudices towards Westerners. Over time though, Nitzan’s persistence and perseverance have made him change his mind about Westerners. Following Nitzan, more and more Westerners came to study with Zhou. He then noticed that, not only were these people willing to come all the way from another continent to train with him, some of them also invested more effort in their training than many of his Chinese students. He also figured that these Westerners were genuinely interested in traditional Chinese culture, which ironically, many of the younger Chinese were now throwing away, in favour of chasing fantasies related to the Consumerism and Hedonism of the globalized “American” culture. In an age in which the Chinese are quickly losing their own cultural roots, Zhou has found comfort in knowing that there are foreigners willing to put in the time and effort, to preserve what is dear to him, besides his few dedicated Chinese students. That is why, as a mature adult, he had a drastic change in some of the ideologies he had been indoctrinated into since early childhood, and have come to accept Westerners as equals, and decent people. To the extent that at such an age (when he was over 35), a person is willing to consciously have this big a change of heart, is in my opinion a wonderful testimony to Zhou’s pragmatic, humble and down-to-earth character. In our time, many Chinese (in mainland China) treat foreigners nicely, but think and speak badly of them behind their backs, as a result of the education they had been receiving from youth (though the situation is improving, and there are also many Chinese who are most welcoming and kind towards foreigners). Zhou has transcended that nationalistic mentality, and have come to accept Westerners without prejudice or bias. That sort of attitude may ‘go without saying’ for a person educated in the safe confines of a Liberal Democracy, but for a person who has been brainwashed all his life as a citizen of a Totalitarian state, this is not at all obvious. Today, Zhou has many foreign students worldwide, and takes great pride in all of them.
In general, it can be said that Zhou is very dedicated to his students. He treats everyone with equal care and attention, whether Indoor or Outdoor students, young or old, Chinese or Western, long-term or short-term. He garners respect for any student with sincere interest in martial arts, and would out of his way to teach more if the student works hard. Sometimes, one even has to ask Zhou to slow down, as he is so eager to teach more as soon as he thinks the student is capable.
As mentioned earlier, in China, many still have mixed or negative feelings towards non-Chinese. Therefore, in the park, rude people would sometimes pass by and mock or laugh at foreign practitioners. These acts are disgracing, since usually a Chinese would not dare to behave in that manner towards another Chinese in public (that said, we should consider that sadly, this phenomenon also exists in the West). Zhou can become very upset with such people, and would immediately shout at them and scold them for talking of or behaving badly towards his students; making sure they would leave the place at once. It is important that I stress in any case, that such people are an exception to the rule, and that most Chinese think positively of people who are sincere in their efforts to learn aspect of their culture. More commonly, I would encounter Chinese people who were very happy to see a Westerner practicing Chinese martial arts.
It is important to understand that martial arts are everything to Zhou – his hobby, his job, and his way of life. While educated to an extent in Calligraphy, Chinese literature and Classics and even in Traditional Chinese Medicine, martial arts were always his focal point. In his lifetime, he has had many jobs in commerce and trade, from book-salesmanship to gem-trade, but teaching martial arts have remained his only steady occupation. Like many other great teachers in the past, this kind of lifestyle is what had helped him reach a superb level of skill in his pursuit of choice.
There are some teachers who have had more influence over Zhou than others. One such teacher, which he holds in high esteem, is master Li Guoliang (of Tianjin; there is another known teacher by the same name from Taigu, whose name is written with different characters in Chinese). From master Li, Zhou had received much of his knowledge of Xing Yi Quan – a lot of which is rarely seen elsewhere nowadays, and have also gained the deep foundations in Zhan Zhuang (standing post) training. These teachings have deeply affected the way Zhou shifu practices and teaches martial arts. Zhan Zhuang, and other skills taught by master Li, are now ‘obligatory material’ for any student who comes to study under Zhou (with proper, specific adaptations being made for the particular martial art the student is practicing). Zhou considers the Zhan Zhuang training to be the most important, and have told his students that: “Even if one cannot practice at all on a certain day, it’s still vital that one would somehow make time for practicing Zhan Zhuang for at least 20 minutes”. Another skillset that Zhou would teach, to advanced students, are his Dan Tian development methods, which he had learned from several teachers, but in particular and most of all from Zhao Fujiang (one of his grand-teachers). To train these, one first needs a solid foundation in Zhan Zhuang, which requires prolonged daily practice. The Dan Tian methods can then be introduced, and later be implemented and embedded into any of the arts Zhou teaches, in most fighting movement.
Master Zhou is also a big exponent of the notion of Quality being more important than Quantity. Although he himself have studied many arts, he had dedicates several years, and many hours a day, for the practice of each of these arts. Therefore, it is important to him that student spend the time required to hone their ability with each method, drill or technique, before they move on to learn more material. That said, Zhou is pragmatic in his approach, and does not force the students to abide by his wishes. Nor does he even force anyone to study a particular art or skill, and the final choice is up to the student. His words are a hearty recommendation – one’s that’s often better adopted, but is not strictly dictated or enforced. A student’s free will and self-actualization is, eventually, what’s most important to Zhou when he teachers.
Because many of the higher-level skills Zhou has learned had originated from his Xing Yi Quan practice methods, and possibly because of his teacher’s requests, Zhou refrains from allowing video of his Xing Yi to be taken. It is a shame, as his Xing Yi truly exceptional. I remember vividly how I watched Zhou demonstrate things with his Xing Yi that others only speak of.
For example – many people have written of the difference between ‘Ming Jin’ (obvious power) and ‘An Jin’ (hidden power) in the art. Few teachers, though, can show the difference well. Zhou once demonstrated this difference to us students, using the same movement – Pi Quan – Xing Yi’s most basic movement. The first variation, of ‘obvious’ power, had cut through the air like a baseball bat making a home-run. It was blunt, solid, sharp and defined. Then he delivered the ‘hidden power’ variation, which is of the higher level. It shot away like lightning tearing a gap in the air, lashing out with a true killing intent, which was at once both subtle and frightening. Myself, I could demonstrate this too, but certainly not as brilliantly as master Zhou does. In his demonstration, even though he had not touched anyone, you could feel the differentiation of spirit and intent behind the movements in a very distinct fashion.
Another time, I’ve had the ‘privilege’ of Zhou asking me to try and use short-power striking (Cun Jin) on him. This meant I needed to shock him with a strike from zero distance – my hand already on his chest. I was not skilled enough at the time, and Zhou was not satisfied with my power. I could not at all affect him. He then asked me to be his dummy. I was to stand in a strong stance, and flex my chest muscles as he was about to release his force on the side of them. As he did, I felt nothing on the surface of my skin, and he barely seemed to move at all. It was as if he had touched me with cotton. From roughly the middle of his striking palm, it felt as if a very thin needle had dug deep into my chest, and within it had carried an explosive charge, which was then detonated as it had reached the middle of my torso through the route set by the ‘needle’. For a split of a second, I felt Death. Psychologically, the closest sensation I could think of is when one vomits badly when one is very ill, and momentarily feels like he is about to die. That is somewhat how I felt – for a moment, as if my game was over; there wasn’t even enough time to fear what was going on – it was only the knowledge of impending doom that was quick enough to enter my consciousness. Luckily, master Zhou knows what he’s doing, and did not shock me with his full capacity. Neither was there any damage or pain following the moment of the strike. Still, this was a humbling experience, which had made me realize some of the true potential of what Zhou is teaching.
This all reflect Zhou’s liking for the hands-on teaching approach. He rightfully believes that in order to truly understand martial arts, the student must feel them. This means, beyond the obvious, that the student should have free access to touching Zhou’s body when he performs movements, to get a sense of how the body is supposed to move; also, that the student be able to execute the techniques on Zhou himself. These things are absolutely essential for learning Zhou’s martial arts. They also expose the intimacy of the relationship between Zhou and his committed students – with both sides expected to openly ask any question, and not shy away from physical contact. This is the traditional manner in which many Chinese martial arts were taught, but this approach is becoming exceedingly rare in the teaching of traditional martial arts; especially in the West and in Japan, where because of cultural politeness and social norms, many prefer a more ‘sterile’ learning environment and a teacher that keeps his distance and plays the role of an ‘authority figure’. Zhou would have none of that, and would never claim to be an authority on anything, or expect a better treatment by anyone because he is a teacher.
Now closing in on his 50s, measuring by his skill and power, one could never guess. He would still casually perform splits, move faster than any of his students, exert a greater amount of force than them in his strikes, and easily toss people weighing twice his weight. Other things Zhou can do are, too, out of the ordinary. By the power of his mental intent alone, for example, he could make the hairs on his hand stand erect or fall (these are moved by tiny muscles under the skin, which in medical literature are said not be under one’s conscious control). I have also seen Zhou using mere one or two fingers to strike people in demonstrations, making them collapse sideways or to the ground at a great velocity because of the shock.
It is not that Zhou is a Superman of sorts. He is nothing but an ordinary person who has taken his skills to a very high level, in a process lasting several decades. He is the first to admit, for instance, that he is not a strong man, and cannot carry or lift exceedingly heavy weights. His skill with the martial arts, involving an attuned technical ability and a body built around this skillset, is what enables him to handle other human beings, in fighting, much better than people who are physically bigger and stronger than him. Some of the arts his teaches, such as Baji Quan, lend themselves well to people of a greater mass and height. Still, Zhou has proven that with dedication and perseverance, one can reach a level in which is the skill itself matters much more than other attributes.
To have had the opportunity to learn with Zhou and his student Nitzan is something I shall always cherish. I feel that such a privilege, of finding a true traditional teachers of the Chinese fighting arts, who is both capable and a good person, is rare, even in the age of globalization and access to Internet resources. One of the biggest regrets I have in life is, that my own personal circumstances have not allowed me to spend more time with Zhou shifu, and take from him what he so willingly aspires to give to those interested. It is my hope that, in the future, many others would have the opportunity to get to know Zhou, as a teacher and a human being. From the times I have spent with man, I have undoubtedly benefited more than I could have ever described in an article.
A Brief Introduction to Fujian White Crane Kung Fu
Fujian White Crane Kung Fu, once known as Tiger Crane Combination Kung Fu comes from Fujian Province in China. Fujian Province is famous throughout China for its flamboyant, fierce and efficient White Crane Kung Fu styles. For the sake of simplicity, it is known as Fujian White Crane Kung Fu in the West. It is the complete system of White Crane (the tiger stance providing a strong base for the more flamboyant hand techniques of the crane).
Created by a female martial artist called Fang Qi Niang it incorporates fighting principles to suit every body type and personality, and has a defense to counter various attacks. The characteristics of this style are deep rooted stances, intricate hand techniques and fighting mostly at close range.
Because of its complexity, the system is often known as a “scholar’s style”, suitable for students who wish to take their skill to the highest possible level. The efficiency and practicality of the Crane system is such that a number of other styles have borrowed elements of this style to make those styles more effective.
The Crane is a Chinese symbol of happiness and longevity and Crane style exercises are renowned in China for improving the general wellbeing of the practitioner. As well as the muscle groups, Fujian White Crane Kung Fu exercises increase flexibility, improve lung capacity, strengthen the joints and increase bone density.
If you’re interested in studying Fujian White Crane Kung Fu full-time in China visit the http://www.StudyMartialArts.Org website there you will find a host of masters and martial arts schools where you can learn traditional Chinese Martial Arts.
Phew – for some time there, it looked like my epic Kung Fu pilgrimage was looking like turning in to the most extravagant wild goose chase in human history. Ok, apart from the search for the Holy Grail. And Noah’s Ark. Oh, and there was the Ark of the Covenent for a while there, and something about a golden fleece for the Greeks? Oh no they got that in the end, didn’t they.
OK fine it’s not the most extravagant wild goose chase in history, but grant me a little dramatic invention with a splash of poetic license and things will go much easier for the both of us in the long run, I promise.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes. After a week of searching, I was beginning to worry having not seen an ounce of Kung Fu, anywhere – and this was only confirmed by a student in one of my first classes who took no small pleasure in telling me that the nearest place that specialised in Wing Chun was halfway across China, and nobody really did Kung Fu in Sichuan Province. Having travelled several thousand miles specifically for this sole purpose, this came as something of a disappointment. It turns out that I have managed to pick the only province in China where nobody really gives a monkeys’ about Kung Fu – not even Kung Fu with monkeys in it (yes, for those uninitiated in Kung Fu lore, there is such a thing) or Kung Fu done by magical ghost monkeys (I can back this one up too – put ‘Monkey King’ in to You Tube for the most random five minutes of your life). There is, in fact, a distinct lack of Kung Fu, or monkeys, or any combination thereof, in this province. I hope I am clear.
Indeed it was all beginning to look rather bleak, until the wife of a fellow English teacher at the university mentioned a group of older women that do Tai Chi every morning, right outside my flat. Now I have to admit that two weeks ago this news would not have filled me with joy, but by this stage I was beginning to panic that my best laid plans were rapidly laying to waste, so I decided to check it out.
Which is why, at 6:45am on a Sunday morning I was roaming the streets of the campus in a pair of tracksuit trousers and a t-shirt in rain that, were it any heavier, would have required a pair of armbands instead of an umbrella. After about twenty minutes of soggy wandering the nearby streets I began to wonder if they came out in the rain after all, and was set to turn home when I espied an open door to a hall, with music drifting out of it and in the gloom, an elderly gentleman inside, wearing duck-egg blue silks and moving slowly, ethereally, slipping through the air as if he were floating on top of it. I had found my Tai Chi.
Cautiously I sidled up to the door, lingering awkwardly in the foyer like only a Brit can. Taking pity on me, the old man smiled and motioned toward a chair, indicating it was OK to watch. I tried to explain that no, I wanted to learn, and we soon discovered common ground in that I spoke not a word of his language, and he not a word of mine. This led to an awkward five minutes of miming and pointing from me and much awkward, albeit patient, grinning from him until realisation dawned and my brand new Sifu invited me to follow him. Two things immediately sprang to mind. One, that in China Tai Chi is not so soft and slow as it is in the west (the martial form is punctuated with snaps of speed and power that I was not expecting) and two, that although it is slow (or because it is slow) Tai Chi is actually one heck of a workout. After the first hour I was sweating; movements that I would have used kinetic energy to achieve in the past (kicks, stretches etc) now had to be achieved through strength and suppleness alone.
I am put in mind of a swan floating on a lake; the beauty visible above the surface of the water belies the churning effort of the legs to create all that graceful floating. And disguises an incredible power – the swan also, as the saying goes, has the power to break a man’s arm. I ended my first two hour class exhausted and excited. Tai Chi Quan is not the Kung Fu I came here seeking, but it may well be what I find.