Probably from around 35-years onward, a serious practitioner of traditional Chinese martial arts should be beginning the slow transition from purely ‘external’ to predominately ‘internal’ training methods, exercises and understandings. The point of this is purely age-related – as we get older, we see more in different ways to a younger person – who naturally possesses a different type strength (which changes as age progresses). If a practitioner does not possess access to correct instruction, then he or she will not ‘understand’ how to accommodate these age-related changes, and almost always will ‘give-up’ their practice. Another factor that needs to be considered is the age that training start for an individual, as this will affect what objectives should realistically be sought-after. However, prior to 35-years old, a practitioner of gongfu should have experienced much of the ‘hard’, ‘external’ training, understand psychological and physical suffering (through direct experience), and ‘know’ how to defend themselves during a violent encounter. External ‘sensitivity’ training is very different from ‘internal’ sensitivity training. The latter example involves the turning of the mind’s awareness ‘inward’ so that a) the blood flow can be sensed, and b) after a deep-breath, the oxygen can be felt as it distributes throughout and around the entirety of the body! The point of ‘external’ and ‘internal’ training is a perfect ‘integration’ (zagong) of the two aspects so that qi-power can be manifested at anywhere on a scale from imperceptible to ‘massive’ and ‘highly destructive’. If none of this makes any sense, then train harder!
It is best (or most advantageous) to perfect martial movement during the first half of your life – say aged 0-50 years – and then use that experience to integrate with the changes that happen to the mind and body from 50-100 years, etc. This is the ideal model. However, many people are not in a position to achieve this for various reason, and so a more serious attitude of self-organisation is required. The distractions of youth are interesting and enjoyable, but even when young there should be an inner core of training-attitude that is isolated from the worldly life. This oasis of peace, quiet, tranquillity and harmony will allow for the development of a deep and profound state of mind, the awareness of which will thoroughly ‘penetrate’ all aspects of bodily movement within the martial context. This is the traditional way which becomes ever more important the older a practitioner becomes. Do not become distracted by the ego-accomplishments of worldly-markers as these things, although interesting within their own context, do not give you any understanding or ability to cope with the ageing process. Those who become enmeshed in worldly concern may win this medal, that belt or this competition, etc, and although there is nothing inherently wrong with this, many people involved in such a superficial path simply ‘stop’ training at around 30 years of age because no one ever taught them about ‘what happens next’. If a practitioner must become involved in combat-derived competition, participate quickly, prevail swiftly and leave, as there are much more important martial elements to master.
Form movement is the key to mind, body and environmental mastery. A Form passes on the physical and psychological aspects of the martial lineage concerned. Intense practice when young allows for the dialectical elements of training to continue to permeate (and penetrate) the body and mind long after physical practice has ceased. The physical movements coupled with their reflection in the mind generate spiralling cycles of growth throughout the body-cells that eventually continues even outside of times of formal training. Ageing happens for a reason, and has many positive elements to it, as even young people age. With age comes maturity, experience, understanding, mastery, appreciation, wisdom, compassion, loving-kindness and selflessness. There is a certain ‘joy’ to giving-up the tyranny associated with youth! The other side is that physical abilities change. Within youth orientated societies it is said that abilities are ‘lost’, but this is not entirely true. It is better to say that physical abilities ‘change’, ‘evolve’ and ‘mature’, and manifest in a manner that is ‘different’ from that of the mindless years of youth.
Chinese martial arts are an interesting subject that has historically emerged from within Chinese historical experience. If a barracks, community, homestead or temple, etc, is attacked by a ruthless enemy, then everyone (men, women and children) are expected to ‘resist’ in one way or another, irrespective of ‘age’ (at least within Hakka Chinese family tradition). Between times of communal self-defence, people practiced the movements of martial forms to a) keep-fit and healthy (through preventative exercise), b) to perfect martial technique (i.e. retain ‘grace under pressure’ during intense combat experience), and c) deepen psychological and emotional maturity (or what might be more broadly referred to as developing a more profound sense of ‘spirituality’). Although there are numerous stages that an individual must traverse throughout their life, a paradox occurs whereby an elderly master moves with both ‘lightness’ and ‘speed’, whilst retaining massive striking-power with any part of the body that happens to make contact with the opponent. A mature practitioner knows how to correctly and appropriately ‘give things up’ without losing strength of mind or suffering any kind of detrimental reaction. Certainly, as the ageing process unfolds, the ‘physicality’ of youth is slowly replaced with the ‘psychological’ awareness of maturity.
As we get older, our perception of our training changes. This is not only crucial, but also essential. Getting old is important for Chinese martial arts mastery. Getting old is not an error or a failure. We must give-up all of our younger perceptions as they are now out of date. Younger perceptions are for younger people as that is where they belong. Ego ad its ‘giving-up’ is the key. Young people are taught that ‘winning’ is everything in this (Western) culture, but in China the prevailing attitude is that ‘cooperation’ and ‘assisting’ one another are the glue that holds a civilised society together. Even ‘sparring’ in the Chinese cultural sense is very different to its ‘hate filled’ Western counter-part. An opponent exists, within the training context, to assist you to develop, they do not exist as cannon-fodder for the ego! Training to boost the ego means that when the body ages and changes, the practitioner quite naturally ‘gives-up’ as he or she can no longer muster the required aggression to train or fight! What a pointless waste of time all this is! Grace under pressure is what Westerners should be aspiring to achieve. Psychological and physical relaxation in the face of potential violence and danger is the standard once the physical techniques of combat have been mastered! Getting older is important to deepen understanding and develop a more profound perception of reality. Fighting is awareness and understanding which manifests evenly through both ‘stillness’ and ‘movement’ performed at the right moment! Most people find it very difficult to be ‘still’, although generally people think they can ‘move’ around quite well. Both assumptions are false. Clearing and deepening perception will lead to correct ‘stillness 'of body and mind. Again, age leads to an enhanced awareness through which the body moves with an almost divine capability regardless of circumstance! This is why getting older is important and to be welcomed!
Despite my best efforts, and after hours of research on the Japanese-language internet, I have not been able to locate a single article about Sensei Kimura – although I have managed to reconstruct his name using the Chinese ideograms still used in Japan – placing his family name ‘Kimura’ (denoting a ‘tree village’) first, and his first name (‘Shigera’ meaning ‘talented’) second. This is the normal traditional placing in China, Japan and Korea, which is the exact opposite of the convention that has developed in the West. When coming to the West, for instance, many Asians rearrange the placement of their names in accordance with the Western custom. The lack of any written evidence for Kimura Shigera in Japanese language sources probably reflects the fact that he became famous outside of Japan. He is mentioned a number of times within Western (English) sources, and was considered an expert in ‘power hitting’. Not only this, but his understanding of body-mechanics was so profound and exact that his teaching of Shukokai technique eventually became considered a separate and unique branch of the style. Once, when attending a seminar in Poole, Dorset in the mid-1980s – I witnessed Sensei Kimura execute a perfectly timed mid-level front kick into a foot-thick striking pad held by a large Western man. The recipient flew upwards a couple of feet and then fell backward about 6 feet and came crashing to the ground. The next day, this large and stout practitioner of Shukokai (from Hereford) had a large ‘blackened’ bruise across the entirety of his abdomen area – despite 12 inches of foam rubber having absorbed the shock of the power! I find it interesting that Sensei Kimura managed to separate the ‘power’ producing aspect of karate from the religious and/or spiritual elements of traditional karate, and express that process in sound scientific concepts. For a standard biography of Sensei Kimura Shigeru – please reference the link below:
As I cannot access any reliable Japanese language texts regarding Sensei Kimura’s biography at this time, I cannot confirm any of these facts that appear in English. Certainly, when I trained with him in the 1980s, I had no idea of his past and assumed he had travelled to the UK from Japan. He appears to have left Japan for the White Minority ruled Southern African countries of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa in the early 1960s, although he eventually left and migrated further to the US. I have written elsewhere (although not on this blog) how US Cold War policy called for the spread of the same Japanese martial culture used in WWII (against the West) throughout the West to negate what was viewed as a possible diasporic Chinese culture sympathetic to ‘New China’ established in 1949. This false economy, if you like (which saw Western governments use domestic taxpayer's money to employ supposed ‘Karate Ambassadors’ from Japan), came crashing down when the US established full diplomatic links with Mainland China in 1979. By 1989 the traditional karate scene in the UK had completely disintegrated. Before 1979, karate classes in the UK would be held using Japanese terms and instructions, but by say 1989, this was already becoming a thing of the past which is non-existent today. One thing I can say is that as far as my experience of Shukokai was concerned, the classes in the UK were always multicultural.
PS: As far as I am aware, the ‘double hip twist’ which Shukokai is famous far was modified by Sensei Kimura. This technique (in its original form) used to involve one side of the hip being pulled back and then forcibly pushed forward to execute a technique (left-hip for left reverse punch for example) - but by the time I was training in Shukokai a basic time-saving guard position had been developed - whereby the hip was already held in the ‘pulled back’ position. Therefore, with the left leg forward, the right hip was already pulled back and ready to go.
I had trained in 'rice flails', 'spear', 'staff', 'stick' and 'long sword' etc, with Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) prior to my educational time in Hereford. He had told me that much of this knowledge had spread to Japan via Okinawa and was practiced within many styles of karate. Although I am wearing the Shukokai Karate Federation badge and 3rd Kyu Brown Belt in this photograph (performing right mid-level side-kick), I am carrying the Okinawan weapon known as the 'Sai' (釵 - Chai) - a non-bladed trident, usually made of steel. Although none of the karate styles I trained with in the UK openly practiced 'Okinawan Old Weaponry' (沖縄古武道 - Chong Sheng Gu Wu Dao) - or 'Okinawa Kobudo', I was taught for about a year in Hereford around 1985-1986 by a fellow student (I cannot recall his name) who had been taught the Sai and Nunchaku (rice-flails) by his martial arts teacher. We would meet-up at lunchtimes or in the evenings and swap martial techniques (with no money changing hands. This weapon is quite heavy and is also referred to as a truncheon (I perfected striking with the blunt handle-end as if performing a straight punch). Its weight helps to condition and strengthen the forearms, wrists and hands. I am told that the Sai is a farming implement orignally from Southern China, the handles of which are used to cut furrows in the ground, whilst the central section is used as a 'dibber' to make deep holes within which seeds are dropped.
My experience of Hakka villages in Southern China has not revealed 'Sai' type farming tools, despite the fact the Hakka Chinese people are very good farmers. This does not mean that 'Sai' tools have never existed in China, but rather that they are not evident today as an indigenous device. Of course, within modern China (which is economcally booming) some young people acquire Okinawan 'Sai' and seek authentic instruction - effectively re-importing what might be a lost art back into China from its safe-keeping in the hands of the Okinwans. It could also be the case that the 'Sai' developed only in Okinawa and has no roots in China - some Okinawans believe this. Within the Chinese language, '釵' (Chai) refers to an elaborate butterfly 'hairpin' such as worn above
- with variants comprising of one, two or three pins. When assessing the 'Sai' as a weapon, Chinese language sources talk of 'weaponised' hairpins expertly used by specially trained women. These hairpins were sharpened at the point and/or down the shaft, and were thrown into an opponent's body (like a knife) from a distance, or used to pierce pressure-points at close-range. If the Okinawan 'Sai' originated in China it could have evolved from the 'weaponised' hairpin rather than a farming implement.
Chinese language texts also talk of a blunt truncheon that was developed in Okinawa probably before the 16th century (prior to the Japanese annexation), as a self-defence weapon against bladed weapons (such as the sword). As the Ryu Kyu Islands were considered part of Southern China prior to this date, this seems to be where the idea comes from that the 'Sai' developed within South China (not to be confused with what might be better described as 'Mainland' South China today). These texts also record that two handles were added that were turned upward. I am told that sometimes a 'Sai' was fitted to the end of a six foot pole and used at a distance. Here are some examples of very early 'Sai' featured on the Chinese language internet:
Every genuine martial arts style or system contains a rich mosaic of principles and techniques that at the most brutal assist in the surviving of the combat experience, and at the most sublime provide a psychological and physical pathway of self-development and self-transcendence. The best styles of Okinawan and Japanese karate confirm to his blue-print, and I would say that Wado-Kai, Shukokai and Goju Ryu are prime examples of the best that this genre has to offer. All these styles (two Japanese; Wado-Kai and Shukokai – and one Okinawan; Goju Ryu) have their historical roots within Chinese martial arts which probably are linked to the Fujian province of Southern China. Indeed, Wado-Kai and Shukokai derive from the Okinawan karate of Master Gichin Funakoshi – the Okinawan martial artist accredited with transmitting his style of Chinese martial arts to Mainland Japan. I practiced these styles only as an accident of fate – they happened to be prevalent in the areas I lived in to pursue my education throughout the 1980s. No one at the time (not even my close friends) knew of my Hakka Chinese gongfu background. I saw no reason to explain this, an they saw my familiarity with certain techniques as me just being talented in these areas (I was viciously fast and very good with kicking and moving, as in the traditional Northern martial arts in China, a student perfects kicking first – whilst due to cultural differences in the West – it is punching that is perfected first with kicking usually appearing uncomfortable). On the other hand, as I entered my late teens, Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) directed me to develop my punching to a very high degree. This is where Wado-Kai (correct alignment) and Shukokai (correct hip and shoulder twist) assisted my development tremendously! Goju Ryu, on the other hand, has a special place in my heart. Its all-round body-conditioning reminded me of our own Hakka Chinese gongfu style which developed tremendous power, endurance and strength! The bones certainly hardened, whilst the mind became calm and broadly aware. Master Chan Tin Sang was an extraordinary teacher as he entrusted me to enter the training halls of other styles, dedicate myself to their ways, learn them fully and then integrate these lessons and skills into the Ch’an Dao System. This could happen as each karate style brought out a particular aspect of our own fighting system. I have the utmost respect for all legitimate styles of martial arts training and see no reason why there cannot be a positive cross-training that enhances rather than diminishes. As the US at the time was emphasising Japanese martial culture throughout the West as a means to side-line and obscure Chinese martial culture (due to the Cold War), European cuntries with no historical connection with Japan suddenly found themselves hosting (usually at their own expense) Japanese ‘ambassadors’ of various karate styles and associations. This arrangement all came crashing down when President Carter established full diplomatic relations with Mainland China in 1979, and Westerners started travelling en masse to China to train in gongfu – and Chinese teachers came to the West to teach – although the effects of this change would take around a decade to fully manifest itself. In the meantime, I trained in Japanese karate at the tail-end of this time period and consider it a very interesting and unique experience.
This is myself and Ch'an Dao student Liz Wan - my friend and one time landlady. I was told by the Editor of this edition of the magazine that Jet Li had read and liked my article.
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.
Whilst tidying my storage areas I came across an A4 envelop containing the 'Transmision Certificates' presented on this page (filed out of place and believed 'lost' for some years due to house-moving). Master Chan Tin Sang's dates are sometimes given as 1921-1993 - but my research suggests that 1924-1993 is correct (although some people hold to the earlier date). Mrs Chan is Madam Yat-Tai Cheung, or more properly 'Yuet-Tai Cheung' - but this is the transliteration into English of Chinese ideograms pronounced in the Cantonese (and Hakka) dialects, decided by British Immigration Officers with no training in modern pinyin (and with the surname put 'last' in the Western fashion, instead of 'first' as in the Chinese tradition). Master Chan Tin Sang died in 1993 but had passed-on his family style into my keeping in 1991. This full 'Transmission' was confirmed by 'Por Por' (Chinese Grandmother) Madam Cheung Yat-Tai ten years later at 'Yum Cha' or 'Chinese breakfast' in Purley Way (at the Tai-Tong Restuarant in the Wing Yip Shopping Centre). I include all the variants of these certificates and one that is older and from 1986.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.