Teaching ‘at a distance’ is different to teaching ‘face-to-face'. For over thirty years of ‘face-to-face' teaching I have conveyed the physical forms, body-conditioning and body-building techniques to hundreds of different students. The ‘face-to-face' aspect is primary as we directly communicate through verbal instruction and physical demonstration. The emphasis is on generating a useful level of physical and psychological fitness that will be useful for any theoretical self-defence situation. This is the foundational first three-months of training – which once consolidated – leads into ‘specialisations’ of various kinds – depending upon the natural ability of the student and what motivates them as a person to train, etc. Every person who has walked into our Training Hall possesses some type of ‘above average’ technique – be it a side-kick, right-jab, groin-kick or under-cut, so on and so forth. Occasionally, the lead-attribute might a natural level of fitness, strength, endurance, or the maintaining of a happy disposition when training is severe!
Regardless of gender, age or ability, everyone who enters our Training Hall is given an ‘equal’ chance to prove themselves in the tough atmosphere of a military-style discipline which is common within proper Training Halls in China today. This is the traditional approach of ‘testing’ a student’s resolves to ascertain whether it is worth the bother of the instructor to invest time in a student’s psychological and physical development. The onus is to allow the student ‘quit’ in the quickest and easiest manner possible and go elsewhere for training. This removes them as a problem from our Training Hall – and confirms that they are noy suitable. This is the process of what I call ‘self-selection’. A student can continue to stay and train or remove themselves in defeat – the choice is only ever theirs. If a student survives the furnace of the initial ‘firing’ process, then they fall into line (literally) and become part of the school. This is where the training of the ‘mind’ begins – a process which continues as an under-current of continuous influences even outside of the Training Hall – and when the teacher and the student are no longer physically in close proximity.
This means that a ‘Disciple’ within the Ch’an Dao School is someone who has trained for years and passed many and varied tests – some obvious – others not so obvious. Yes – this approach does stem from a Confucian attitude of ‘respect’ and ‘social order’ premised upon the use of ‘wisdom’ and ‘compassion’ - and that is exactly the ideology within which ALL Chinese martial arts styles have developed. As a consequence, as we spar with no padding, and given that under the Law of China – if someone ‘dies’ in a sparring match they have consented to – then it is their own fault and no crime has been committed. When we are visiting China – this is the type of fighting we always participate in – and prevail through. We have never lost a bout yet. In the West, we make our sparring and training as authentic as possible whilst keeping within the boundaries of UK. The Law exists to protect us all and the Law must be respected for it to be effective. As a consequence, we do not participate in ‘sport’ or ‘pretend’ fighting of any kind. Neither do we participate in the boosting of the ego through pointless verbal abuse and physical violence. We remain quiet, peaceful and disciplined until it is time to move – then we move with the speed of lightning and the weight of a mountain!
Teaching at a distance, for me at least, evolves from teaching ‘face-to-face'. One facet of interaction supports the other facet and all is well. I have never participated in teaching only ‘at a distance’ (through video-link) as it seems to me to be a product egoism and superficiality. Of course, I might be wrong, but I think that I am correct within the context of our Hakka Chinese martial arts style. How are we to assess the quality of the character of each student? How do we know if the student in question possesses the integrity to benefit from the teaching and to benefit the style? As I do not teach for monetary profit, ‘gain’ is no motivator for me. A student can say anything ‘at a distance’ just to access the style whilst making no effort or sacrifice on their part. For this type of student – this entire process is an out-dated game which they play to pass the time. And yet this type of ‘untested’ person does not even know what a ‘squat-kick’ is, and probably could not do ‘ten’ let alone the ‘fifty’ required by every beginner! If you want to learn superficial movement without making any sacrifices – then pick-up a book and copy the pictures. This is all that is happening with martial arts conveyed via the internet as a means to generate an income – if there is no meaningful face-to-face' contact.
The point is to bring an end to all greed, hatred and delusion in the mind, body and environment. Although this a distinctly ‘Buddhist’ solution to the ills of life – generally speaking, it is also the solution of most ‘secular’ models of reality! An individual can choose their path and express their development in any way they wish or see fit – but in the end a definite ‘purification’ process is experienced which changes the inner and outer being forever! Inner peace is expressed through a deadly martial technique that is NEVER personal but always ‘indifferent’ and in a state of continuous ‘healing’ of humanity, the world and everything in it! Although wild animals can be extremely dangerous in their natural habitats – nevertheless it is important not to produce thoughts of ‘anger’ or ‘violence’ when taking suitable action to ‘avoid’ the danger.
This is using wisdom. Sometimes, even wild animals can be seen responding to ‘kindness’ in a manner that is considered very unusual! Even domestic pets can be difficult – but this is all the more reason to maintain a sense of inner and outer peace. Human-beings, by way of contrast, are often far more dangerous with their habitual anger and potential violent outbursts! Traditional gongfu training prepares human-beings for the maelstrom of combat in the outer world – whilst maintaining a calm inner terrain that remains ‘unruffled’ regardless of circumstance. Life can be hard, but it can also be beautiful, truthful and full of justice! The point is to always be ready to build upon the foundation of ‘peace’ and make the world a better place for everyone to live!
The physical techniques of the martial arts exist to empower an individual to protect their bodies, their community and their nation. The inner path is universal and transcends these narrow categories of potential violence! If combat happens, then the qualified Shifu must fight to prevail and never lose any encounters! However, this ‘victory’ should never be allowed to happen through ‘anger’ as this is ‘low’, ‘corrupt’ and ‘despicable’! As a situation can change in an instant, a martial artist must always be prepared to ‘adjust themselves to circumstance’ and never let a prejudiced view of reality take over the ‘flow’ of combat and conflict resolution. On the other hand, when combat must be successfully engaged within, then the sheer ‘weight’ of the cultivated ‘inner peace’ must quite literally ‘crush’ the violence that exists in the mind and body of the opponent! Peace must prevail over all.
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...
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.