In the West, Asian martial arts have been thoroughly commercialised and converted from a battlefield spiritual art – into a vehicle for making money. The instructors ‘sell’ their knowledge to classes of students – with an emphasis upon a very narrow definition of ‘self-defence’ (in the UK, many such teachers attempt to relate to their students by assuming they are in a pub on a Saturday night – and another drinker ‘starts looking at your bird’ and such other laughable narratives! In other words, the ancient martial arts of the East are taught to students in the contemporary West as a method to ‘defend’ themselves from attacks from other Westerners in a social (leisure) setting! Teachers of this type tend to cultivate a ‘cult of personality’ mentality throughout their school, which suggests that their art contains some sought of ‘mystical’ core that grants invincibility to each practitioner, and certain defeat to all those who are unlucky to confront it!
Ironically, I have been shown evidence of so-called ‘contracts’ signed by students when setting-up their monthly bank payments to the instructor. In the small print a disclaimer reads ‘The ‘student’ acknowledges that the movements taught are for guidance only, a may not be effective in any position of ‘self-defence’ - and that the instructor has no liability whatsoever for the well-being of the student.’ A lawyer-friend of mine advises that such contracts and ‘clauses’ are common-place nowadays in the martial arts scene which tends to target large classes of young children – where the training is sold to parents as ‘play’! The teachers do not care about the psychological, physical or spiritual well-being of their students, as the individuals concerned exist only to generate income and pay the bills.
In the expensive leisure centres, for example, the martial arts are sold as ego-trips for well-off and very rich! These people like to pretend that for the duration of the lessons they are legitimate martial arts fighters, when in reality the classes are designed around retaining their comfort levels in an air-conditioned room, with movements that do not go beyond a light cardiovascular workout. Each lesson is a self-contained episode as there is no guarantee that the ‘clients’ will be back next week! There is no continuation, but only the repeating of the myth of a deficient self-empowerment that occurs within one of the safest and crime-free environments on earth! The teacher must alter everything and change whatever the clients want changed to keep their attention levels up and to keep them coming back for more (whilst paying the ridiculous membership fees)!
Should a student progress in their martial arts practice and attend long enough for the teacher to take their presence seriously, he or she may well be considered suitable for participating in martial sports. This is a safe type of combat within which neither of the participants actually hit one another – but purposely throw-out their arms and legs to empty air in the direction of the opponent! He who throws enough such techniques is declared the ‘winner’ and the instructor’s school receives all the kudos for this success (hence the interest shown in the student by the teacher). Then there are the mixed martial artists who roll around on the floor in one-on-one bouts – each trying to ‘submit’ the other. In some versions, kicking and punching is also allowed during ‘stand-up’ periods to excite the fee-paying crowd! Although presented as the ‘best’ type of martial arts, modern militaries do not use this type of fighting simply because it does not work in reality (on the battlefield).
Legitimate Asian martial arts do exist. They exist in Asia and they exist in the West but they are well-hidden behind the thick blanket of highly commercialised martial arts. If a sincere student genuinely seeks-out a proper martial arts teacher, it is highly likely that they will be drawn into something very similar to what is described above. In fact, given the current conditions, such a scenario is virtually inevitable. In such a situation it is better to make the best of what is on offer in the outside whilst retaining you own inner freedom. It is a matter of bidding your time until you encounter what you are really looking for. Until that time, adaptability is the key to ongoing development. Understanding a situation does not mean that you have to be in conflict with it. It is better to remain quiet and meaning onto a situation and breathe new life into it. Traditional Chinese martial arts do exist, but they are difficult to find and even more difficult to enter!
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.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.