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!
The mastery of physical technique is an issue of training that should be achieved as soon as possible – even if the process takes a long amount of time in reality. This is irrelevant to the ongoing ‘inner process’ which continues continuously and without end regardless of physical circumstance, (i.e., standing, sitting, lying, walking or sleeping, etc). The mastery of physical fighting is the ‘external’ element of combat training – whilst the ‘inner’ processes far transcend the limitations of human conflict. Individuals can master ‘external’ combat without ever recognising the need or purpose of ‘inner’ training’.
Furthermore, it is also possible to participate within ‘inner’ training with no experience in ‘external’ combat. However, within genuine ‘spiritual’ Chinese martial arts – the student has to traverse the terrain of ‘external’ combat BEFORE being allowed access to the path of genuine ‘inner’ training. Many who develop a skill at ‘external’ fighting with no inner training, usually exhibit an increasing and strengthening of the egotistical mind-set and the tendencies to be one-dimensionally ‘selfish’, ‘aggressive’ and highly ‘ignorant’ in manifestation. As such a person becomes ‘older’ - their physical skills diminish and finally disappear – leaving them as a bitter person with no martial ability.
In fact, getting older is an important aspect of ‘inner’ training, as there are processes of internal mastery that are entirely reliant upon a profound transformation of the body chemistry and frequency of psychological patterning. Inner mastery can happen in a relatively younger person, but only within special circumstances, and only then if such a person retains a humble and accommodating attitude toward the further process of ‘maturing’ and ‘deepening’ of understanding as one’s age increases. Without this inner mastery – and older fighter will always be beaten by a younger fighter – but with inner mastery, the younger (less experienced) fighter will always be defeated.
Spiritual mastery defeats an opponent on the spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical level – and it does so BEFORE any movement is even made. Without spiritual mastery – two fighters physically ‘clash’ and entangle their arms and legs in a chaotic manner with the ‘winner’ being that who prevails through an arbitrary set of rules. Onces the movement of the arms and legs are mastered; the emphasis forever moves inward and away from the physical body. This is a preparation for the (natural) dying process experienced at the end of life. This is how the martial arts is a vehicle for ‘life’ and ‘death’ which has nothing to do with the rather banal activity of physical combat.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.