For years I taught class of gongfu in a private and public capacity. The ‘private’ aspect involved my family’s Ch’an Dao School which involved a rented hall and two-hours of gongfu training on a Sunday morning. Initially, this only involved members of the British Born Chinese community in Sutton who were related to us (the Sai Kung Chan Clan), or who were associated through business, warfare or any other historical means. Just being ethnically ‘Chinese’ was not enough to train in our gongfu hall as we are of ‘Hakka’ Chinese ethnicity. This is the old way and very different to how many Westerners mistakenly view traditional Chinese culture. In this context, Chinese people of clans considered ‘enemies’ were termed ‘foreigners’ and excluded from consideration. However, although this was the reality, Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) was of the opinion that we had to find a way of ‘evolving’ beyond this feudalistic attitude.
As more and more Westerners started enquiring about training, when I was promoted to the Head of the Ch’an Dao School, I decided to open our doors to a class of people we did not know and were not related to. This also included other Chinese people we did not know regardless of their surnames. Around this time (the late 1990s), I also started being approached by Mainland Chinese people living in the UK, who explained to me about how ‘New’ China was thoroughly ‘modern’ and how this attitude of openness and inclusiveness was being used in China to teach all foreign visitors about the beauty of Chinese culture and what it has to offer to the contemporary world! As this change in attitude dove-tailed with what Master Chan Tin Sang had in mind, I decided to transform our family style of Hakka gongfu and ‘revolutionise’ the way in which we managed our martial arts lineage!
Although I was brought-up in the old way, I never felt comfortable with its exclusiveness and ethnic clannishness. Although I was accepted as someone of mixed ethnicity – this acceptance only extended to my immediate Hakka clan and Chinese people who knew me. When outside of this group, I was subject to this ‘exclusive’ attitude and marked as a ‘foreigner’ who was not welcome within the inner workings of the Chinese community. When this happened – I would scurry back into my cultural safety zone knowing I had just experienced something very unsavoury! After 1949, Mainland China thoroughly rejected this feudal attitude and embraced ‘Internationalism’ which is designed to open-up the beauty of Chinese culture for anyone who would like to benefit from it! Since the early 2000s, I have defriended many Mainland Chinese people (living and working in the UK and in China via the internet), and have even started various academic projects and translation initiatives. Indeed, our family gongfu has evolved because of these experiences from an insular, feudal entity to a local practice premised upon universal principles!
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.
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!
The ‘external’ component represented by the numerous ‘gongfu’ styles extant in China – perfects the ‘leverage’ of the joints on the horizontal plane. As this is generated by contracting muscles (which operate through the ‘awareness’ of the positioning of the bones and joints in relation to one another), very high levels of physical fitness and psychological conditioning must be pursued and mastered. This also involves the understanding of ‘torque’ or ‘deliberately’ employed muscular tensions to generate and increase impact. Bodyweight is also used across the horizontal plane – joint, bone, muscle bodyweight and psychological focus build ‘external’ power and erupt this force into a relatively small area of contact through the contacting limb and/or body-part. This type of power is quite often ‘shocking’ to encounter and difficult to recover from once a clean blow has been landed to a vulnerable part of the body. This skill can take five, ten or more years to perfect through traditional Chinese martial arts training (which builds a practitioner’s mind and body from the ground upwards – like the construction of a Book of Change hexagram). The most efficient martial arts style that I have seen that can convey this ability to a new student (with little prior experience) in the modern world – is that of the Shukokai Karate-Do style as formulated by O-Sensei Shigeru Kimura (1941-1995).
Integrated or ‘mixed’ power is a rarefied and highly refined skill of the highest martial order! A Master of ‘integrated’ power possesses the ability to continuously switch between power-generating systems (as in ‘external’ or ‘internal’), or apply only an ‘integrated’ approach. Furthermore, within the few seconds of a complicated fight – a fighter might have to switch rapidly from one power-expression to another because this is exactly what the situation calls for. The opponent could be highly skilled and a diverse approach necessary to ‘unlock’ their defensive patterns. Being ‘trapped’ in a restricted space might prevent certain techniques (and types of power generation) from being deployed – so the most appropriate mode should be selected. Where horizontal space is missing in the environment – then ‘vertical’ power can and should be used (with the orientation of power-generation adjusted to meet circumstances). Of course, the ‘iron vest’ ability to use the ‘aligned’ bones to absorb, reject or deflect any incoming attack is always in operation with the intention of ‘damaging’ the opponent’s attacking limb through using its own power and ‘deflecting’ it back into the structures of the attacking limb. This coincides with the maintaining of the perfect ‘rooted’ footwork.
External Power = 外功 (Wai Gong)
Internal Power = 內功 (Nei Gong)
Integrated Power = 雜功 (Za Gong)
The ‘neigong’ (or ‘neidan’) component is a vast subject that is very complex and directly linked to Daoist practice. This requires a qualified Master to lead the way. However, I have relayed above the basic requirements for ‘power production’ in our Hakka Family Style of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts.
Living in a second floor flat in London – and given that we are a family that collectively practices a style of (traditional) Chinese Martial Arts – much of daily training has to take place within our living-room! Obviously, with over a year of Covid19 Lockdowns – training in the ‘safety’ of our own home has been an important part of our collective psychological well-being and physical health! As part of our Longfist family style of gongfu requires the procuring and maintenance of the ‘heavy-hitting’ related with this ancient martial art – striking a suitable object on a regular basis is an important and integral part of our training regime!
We had to ensure that the free-standing punch-kick bag we chose could a) with stand the power of our kicks, punches, knees and elbows, etc, and b) not ‘fall-over’ as a consequence of being repeatedly and intensely hit. Having now used this product for over a month – subjecting its structure to every kind of martial arts strike imaginable – we are very happy with its performance, design and durability, particularly as we filled it with ‘water’ rather than sand (as we couldn’t go shopping due to Lockdown). The water has worked perfectly satisfactorily and it must be assumed that if sand is used – the already present stability will be even more enhanced!
The striking surface of the bag is tough and ‘non-leather’ - as we are vegetarians – this was an important factor in us making our choice. The bag sits atop four coach-type suspension springs that allow the bag to suddenly move off the centre-line – and re-establish itself just as quickly in the neutral, upright position! When this bag is affixed to the moulded (heavy-duty) plastic base – the structure stands around 6 foot 4 inches tall. As we have trained in the past on the ‘Muk Yen’ (Wooden Dummy) and hit the Makiwawa (of Okinawan Gojo Ryu Karate) - the quality of impact of this device lies somewhere between the two. It has a ‘whiplash’ within its deep structure which ensures it certainly is NOT too soft – with its robust response ensuring the bones, ligaments, joints and muscles of the striking limbs are kept in optimum health. This is one of the aspects that surprised us most – as we are used to striking a hard-wood surface with bare hands and feet. I suspect this bag has been devised in Japan for the practice of hard-hitting traditional Karate styles and is impressive.
This is a very well designed, constructed and presented piece of essential (traditional) martial arts equipment. Like any ‘professional’ grade striking device – expert instruction is required to avoid any type of impact-injury. After training this device can be pushed into a convenient corner for storage. As we have young children (and pets) wandering around our flat – ‘safety’ has been a priority – and this bag will not fall over when ALL the safety instructions are followed correctly. Even our young children enjoy punching and kicking this bag – and as we guide them properly – they do not experience any superficial damage to their hands or feet. However, a big and strong man or woman experienced in ‘striking’ - they soon learn that you ‘get back’ all the effort you put out! An all-round excellent product!
Author’s Note: I have had the honour to train and spar with a number of very tough and yet very relaxed Muay Thai fighters over the years! All have been hardened fighters with a gentle spirit and respectful spirit. Muay Thai fighters (along with Goju Ryu Karate men) are amongst the few opponents in the world that I can trust with me hitting them ‘full-power’ with ungloved-hands during free-fighting. In return, their blows are sharp, powerful, decisive and repetitive! I have the utmost respect for this Thai Buddhist martial art! ACW (5.5.2021)
The deep-rooted foundation of Muay Thai – or ‘Thai Boxing’ - do not lie in the brightly and well-funded gymnasia of the modern Thai city, but exist in the poorest areas of the jungles and the remotest of Thai villages. Depending on where the art is still practiced, Muay Thai is often linked to an ancient local Buddhist Temple – with esteemed Buddhist bhikkhus (monks) acting as the instructors and preservers of the tradition. The cultural basis of Muay Thai represents the psychological and physical reality of what it historically means to be born ‘Thai’. Thai Boxing is form of ritual veneration for the Buddha, the Dhamma and Sangha – as well as the King of Thailand, the government and the Thai people. As a consequence, Muay Thai has no other purpose in its most traditional form.
Muay Thai is much more than preparing a fighter to compete in the modern ring. Muay Thai is a fully-fledged medieval military art designed to train Asian infantrymen as they advance into battle escorting battle-elephants (the infantry ‘protects’ the vulnerable underbellies of the elephant from enemy attack, etc). The male and female warriors are psychologically and physically ‘toughened’ so to produce effective and hardened soldiers fit to fight in prolonged hand-to-hand engagements on the battlefield. Through harsh and brutal training all day long – the mind is ‘calmed’ and ‘purified’ so that all greed, hatred and delusion are uprooted and eradicated in accordance with the Buddhist Vinaya Discipline. This is why a Muay Thai warrior is a ‘Buddhist’ warrior to venerates and applied the Buddha’s Teachings (‘Dhamma’) in every facet of his or her life. This activity is regulated by the educated eyes of the Sangha (or the ‘community of ordained Buddhist monks’).
We Take Refuge in the Buddha!
We Take Refuge in the Dhamma!
We Take Refuge in the Sangha!
We Take Refuge in the Triple Gem!
This is the ritualistic vow that every Muay Thai warrior repeats with a total and complete devotion early every morning as they rise from their simple straw mat which they use as a ‘bed’. After toileting and drinking a little water – the daily training begins by running two or three miles at a steady pace around the temple and local villages. The pace is slow but steady. Speed is not the purpose – but rather stamina, strength and endurance. Rubbing the shins and fore-arms with wooden rolling-pin type devices slowly develops into the anatomical weapons being sharply ‘struck’ by these heavy objects (at the advanced level – this includes striking different parts of the skull). This leads to rope-work (or ‘skipping) to work-up a sweat before body-conditioning begins.
After working on the strengthening of the bones it is time to strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Different Masters use different types of sit-ups, squat-kicks, back-raises, press-ups and loosening and stretching exercises. Relaxation coupled with strength and endurance is emphasised. All this voluntary suffering is designed to ‘burn-off’ the bad Kamma produced in the endless previous lives that have been lived by these Buddhist warriors. Next is the technique of striking, blocking, kicking, punching, head-butting and elbowing, etc. This includes groin-kicking and how to defend against groin-attacks. Devastating knee-attacks delivered at various (and unpredictable angles) are used to break ribs and paralyse the diaphragm of an opponent. This progresses to many different kinds of pad-work and bag-striking. Some bags are full of sand and others of small stones and the fighters must learn to punch and kick each with no injury or loss of stamina or will-power.
This leads to various forms of ‘sparring’ in the ring either with or without gloves. Nowadays, even the most traditional Muay Thai training temples usually ‘wrap’ the fighter’s hands early in the morning – although there are some traditional ‘hand-toughening’ exercises that involve punching trees, blocks of wood and various other objects. The hands are then treated with special (traditional) medicine. As violence is prohibited within Buddhism – greed. Hatred and delusion must be uprooted through long hours of seated mediation (usually in the evenings) and the reading of the Buddha’s Suttas. This distinctly ‘Buddhist’ training is the true foundation of Muay Thai and is the hidden conditioning ingredient to all the martial technique that this art involves.
Most people outside of Thailand only encounter the kick-boxing element of Muay Thai performed in a modern boxing ring. Traditional Muay Thai is fought on a raised stone disc or dais (after each performs a ritualised martial dance to the Hindu God Rama and the and the Buddha) Fighters have their hands wrapped by a thin and course rope (not Western bandage-wraps). Sometimes the hand-wraps are dip in a type of glue and then dipped into broken-glass – depending on the purpose of the fight. A rattan ring is worn around the top of the head as a form of skull-protection from the powerful round-kicks delivered with bare-feet, etc. For the King of Thailand, not only are his most trusted bodyguards all advanced Muay Thai warriors – but at least two specialise in the technique of double-swordsmanship incase a traditional ‘beheading’ is required of a convicted criminal.
As the Muay Thai warriors hold the status of ordained Buddhist monks – all are ‘celibate’ whilst they live and train in the Muay Thai Temple. There is no mixing with females allowed and certainly no girlfriends, or wives, etc. When not engaged in the actual physical training of Muay Thai – such a warrior-monk is expected to engage in studying the Buddhist Suttas, meditating, cleaning the temple and humbly serving the monks, etc. As they start training and fighting as young as 5 or 6-years old, a Muay Thai fighter could well in excess of two-hundred fights by the time he or she is 25-years old! Unless a Muay Thai fighter ‘retires’ and leaves his or her status as a Buddhist warrior monk – there can be no relationships with the opposite sex allowed.
Muay Thai is an ancient martial art that has been adapted to the modern, Western-boxing ring very well. I am of the opinion that it is one of the best all-round striking, grappling and throwing martial arts in the world today, that has retained its deep spiritual roots in modern times. Westerners, by comparison, possess a psychology and physicality that is all incorrect for Muay Thai. They do not possess the deep Thai cultural connection to the Buddha or to Buddhist culture. They have no understanding of Buddhism or any respect for the Dhamma, the Sangha or the Thai King. They know nothing about quietening the mind and uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. They think and move like a Western-boxer from a Judeo-Christian culture that has ‘secularised’.
This mentality is shot-through with the capitalist ideology and a one-sided effort defeats a multisided foundation. Westerners place all their and determination in the wrong place (as can be seen from the above video). When confronted with the best Muay Thai Masters – they incorrectly believe that if they just try harder – their inappropriate manifestation will somehow ‘work’ despite never working in the past during similar situations. They employ a lateral determination against the ‘deep’ and ‘profound’ training of a celibate Muay Thai warrior monk – as this is the case – why should they win? Why should this disrespectful and entirely incorrect interpretation of the Asian martial art of Muay Thai be allowed to succeed? This is where Western notions of ‘effort’ fall flat on their face – with no sympathy from me!
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.