Advanced martial arts practice is ethereal even though it involves the movement of the body. In fact, moving the body is basic gongfu training, a mastery of which should be gained in one’s youth if possible. When the body ‘ages’ - a practitioner does not want the problem of mastering martial technique whilst coming to terms with how ‘ageing’ changes the mind and body. Knowing how to stand, fall, get-up, moving, kick, punch, block and evade, etc, are foundational issues that must be thoroughly absorbed into the deepest levels of the mind and body well before middle-age is reached. Of course, this is not always the case, as some people take-up the practice of traditional Chinese martial arts late in life – but with regards the more robust and rugged ‘external’ techniques – youthful practice is preferred. This is why many older people (with no previous experience) start their martial arts training through one of the ‘internal’ arts – which are a product of an ‘advanced’ and ‘mature’ mind-set.
On the other hand, if an individual is able to build 20-30 years of training prior to hitting 40-50 years of age – then the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and inner organs have all had time to experience a ‘hardening’ process over-time - and are far more ‘robust’ whilst the individual traverses into older age. Probably the greater reason for early martial arts practice is that the ability to produce massive (internal and external) impact power (with minimum) effort must be mastered before the body transitions into older age. This observation does not mean that older people cannot achieve this ability later in their life – but to already possess this devastating power is one less burden – particularly as we may also have far more responsibilities as mature people than the average young person. However, with the right type of instruction from a genuine Master, anyone of any age can ‘master’ gongfu regardless of circumstances. Motivation is the key to it all.
The mind must be ‘still’ and ‘expansive’. Its psychic fabric must be simultaneously ‘empty’ and yet ‘envelop’ all things without exception! Although there is much experimentation in the West with the physical techniques of the many (and varied) gongfu styles – very few practitioners are interested in the spiritual or higher psychological aspects of traditional Chinese martial arts. This is because gongfu has been taught the wrong way around in the West to suit the cultural bias of the fee-paying audience. Whereas in China kicking is learned before punching – in the West punching is taught before kicking (because of the influence of Western Boxing). Whereas in China a gongfu practitioner learns to stand still and to stand ‘solid’ whilst defending the ten directions – in the West students are taught to move around before being taught how to ‘stand still’ (this is because Western students do not understand the important of achieving inner and outer ‘stillness’). Whereas in China gongfu student learn to ‘relax’ before assuming postures – in the West students are taught to ‘stretch’ using yoga-like techniques (mostly unknown in China). Whereas students in China learn to ‘strike’ various wooden objects to condition the bones of the hands and feet – in the West, students are encouraged to hit ‘soft’ pads that give a false impression of what it is like to hit a ‘real’ body! In the West, the mind is ‘entertained’ as a means to secure continued fee-paying through class attendance – whilst in China the Master continuously looks for new ways of ‘testing’ the virtue of the student and for any reason to ‘expel’ them from the training hall!
All this ‘inversion’ must be remedied if the highest levels of spiritual and physical mastery are to be achieved. This has nothing to do with rolling around on a padded floor wearing padded-gloves – and everything to do with ‘looking within’ to refine the flow of internal energy. The awareness of the mind must permeate every cell of the physical body whilst the practitioner sits correctly in the meditation posture. What else is there? When advanced practitioners ascend to a certain age of maturity, reality has nothing to do with the ego pursuit of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ in petty disputes that ultimately mean nothing. Most of the combat sports of the moment are fleeting and exist merely to make money – and they are ineffective on the modern battlefield and not practiced by the military! The final lesson is to ‘leave the body’ with the minimum of fuss when the time presents itself. In a very real sense, a genuine Master of martial arts has ‘already’ transcended the boundaries of material limitation whilst still living. This sense of ‘completion’ and ‘transcendence’ is what draws the already perceptive into his or her presence to receive instruction...
After spending a year in education in Reigate and Redhill – where I studied Wado-Kai – I then relocated to Hereford to continue my education. Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) - my Hakka Chinese gongfu master (and eventual relative through my marriage to a female relative) - had granted me permission to carefully select a local martial art (but only one at a time) and dedicate myself to its study. As Chinese gongfu was rare in the UK in those days – at least in public (although it had a vibrant presence behind closed doors and within family lineages) - it was generally thought that I would encounter mostly Japanese karate – but with each lineage having its origins within China at some point in its history. This turned-out to be a logical assumption. I had gained an ‘Orange Belt’ (7th Kyu) in Wado Kai. I first attended a Wado Ryu class in the centre of Hereford which had an instructor who wore a black gi top with white trousers whose attitude was superficial and intentions entirely mercenary. This style (and class) lacked the integrity of what I had experienced in Wado-Kai. He would not let me keep my grade and as I did not trust him, I declined his offer of starting again. I then discovered the Shukokai karate class held at Hinton Community Centre, in Ross Road, Hereford. As Sensei Tom Beardsley – the instructor – allowed me to keep my grade, this place would be my training home for the next two years or so. There was then one small (but warm hall) to the left of the main door, and a much bigger (but eternally cold) hall to the right. We trained mostly in the smaller hall, with special training days at weekends attracting far more people from all over the UK being held in the bigger hall (often with the highly ranked Eddie Daniels visiting, I think from Birmingham). In those days, this style was headed by O Sensei Kimura Shigeru (10th Dan) [1941-1995] originally from Japan – whom I trained-under in the late 1980s at a large training symposium held in Poole, Dorset. (If I remember correctly, the karate class travelled from Hereford to Poole on a specially hired coach). Like ‘Wado Ryu’, the Japanese term ‘Shukokai’ is written using the traditional Chinese characters of ‘修交会’. In the Chinese language this is pronounced ‘Xiu Jiao Hui’ and translates into the English language as ‘Cultivation - Gathering to Learn and Exchange – Association'. As Hereford, (at least in those days, was like a smaller version of London), is vibrant and cosmopolitan, the Shukokai classes attracted men and women, old and young and people from many different ethnic backgrounds. Some members were serving or former members of the British Army – including the Special Air Service (SAS). Some young men from Hereford were also members of ‘R’ Squadron (‘R’ standing for ‘Reserve’), of the local 22nd SAS Regiment. I trained alongside a man named ‘Robin’ who had been part of the SAS counter-terrorist raid at the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980, etc. The class was expertly guided by Sensei Tom Beardsley (then a 3rd Dan).
The Shukokai style (which has its roots in the Okinawan karate style of Shito Ryu), emphasised the generation of power through correct postural alignment and the robust use of the hip twist. This is not unique to this style, but in the 1980s, Sensei Kimura had developed this principle to a very fine art, whereby a student could be taught to harness their bodyweight and direct it through their hip twist into every conceivable karate technique, be it a punch, kick or a block, etc. Although the basis of many internal and external Chinese gongfu styles, O Sensei Kimura in many ways demystified this process and made it far more accessible to ordinary people. Westerners did not have to commit themselves to the spiritual aspects of the Asian arts, as O Sensei Kimura presented this teaching in a distinctly ‘modern’ and ‘secular’ manner. However, in the two years that I was present, I witnessed the style alter radically as its technique was continuously adjusted (week by week) to make the kata look more likely to ‘win’ competitions. As the style moved away from its traditional underpinnings, inevitably many of its students left. Not long after I left (with a group) in 1986, I was told that the style had left the Hinton Community Centre and had become a totally different entity. If I can locate my old Shukokai karate licence, I will photocopy this document and place it on this blog post. I learned a tremendous amount about ‘politics’ in the martial arts at this time in my life. As a traditional martial artist, I have no interest in grades, competitions or self-advancement. These things were incidental to my learning experience.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.