Wednesday, 10 August 2011

New Beginnings

I’ve now trained with my master for two years. Recently, with me living far away from him and him being busier and busier, I’ve become a little frustrated. I’ve been spending long hours climbing the hill behind Ludong University to train alone; it’s been hard to keep my motivation up when I’m not learning anything new and unable to find a training partner.

Right around this time fate kicked in and Kevin Brazier, a mantis teacher and historian/researcher from America, told me he was visiting Yantai to do some training and research for a book he’s writing. I jumped at the opportunity to meet with him and discuss mantis. He began to show me a lot of two person drills and principles of mantis, which I’d never been exposed to before. He also agreed to take me to meet the master he was visiting, Zhou Zhen Dong.

I’d been feeling frustrated with my training, and my lack of progression, feeling that as I’m in China I should be making the most of my time here and getting as much knowledge as I can. The mantis I had been learning was very good, but I wanted to learn more about these principles and two person drills Kevin showed me. The way I had been learning before was more focussed on forms and sanda (kickboxing), and was modified from the traditional mantis. My lineage was from Master Zhang Bing Dou, who had made a lot of changes to mantis, adding a lot of Chang Quan, Xingyi and other stuff into it. It was complex and deep, but I felt it was just too eclectic and seemed to lack a core.

So I met with Master Zhou, and noticed his mantis is definitely the more traditional. It seems to be more built upon a set of principles with core building blocks to help the student progress. After talking to a few of his students, including a mantis instructor from Austria called Nikki, I decided this is more for me and Master Zhou accepted me as a student, provided I start again from scratch. I then spent the next two weeks waking up at 5am to go to the park, training for 2-3 hours, then going to a field with no lighting to train from 7 to about 9 at night. During this time I would just repeat, over and over again, the basic movements. I had learnt most of these, but this time the body mechanics were different, and I was determined to make a good impression. So I would just go up and down, doing the same move over and over until I was ready to drop. It was a tough 2 weeks, and I lost some weight, but I persevered and Master Zhou was impressed.

Master Cui Shou Shan
Master Zhou studied from Zhang Kai Tang, who learnt two systems, Hao family meihua mantis from Hao Heng Lu and Taiji mantis from Cui Shou Shan, one of the 3 mountains of Laiyang, who were three blood brothers famous throughout China for their kung fu skills. Master Zhou had studied in secret from his master during the Cultural Revolution, facing persecution as traditional culture was banned and anyone practicing it was “part of the old” and had to be punished.

Now I have returned home for the summer and I have three months to master these basic moves before I return to China ready to learn more. I’ve explained to Master Zhou that I don’t just want to learn forms (I already know sooo many), I want to get more confident in my fighting ability. I want a strong foundation of kung fu I can really use.

Sifu Kevin Brazier runs the Penglai Kung Fu School based in Florida. His website, contains huge amounts of research and writings on the history of praying mantis kung fu.  

Monday, 8 August 2011

Interview with Kunyu Shan's Master Guo Xin Min

Master Guo Xin Min is a master at Kunyu Shan Kung Fu Academy, he is the successor of Grandmaster Yu Xian Hua for Jin Gang Li(金刚力), a system of Qigong specialising in developing incredible power. He is the only person in the world to successfully break a slab of marble resting on tofu, and has managed many other feats of power, such as breaking marble with 2 fingers. He is also a master of Ba Ji Quan, Wing Chun and Chen Style Tai Chi. He has studied martial arts for over 30 years, and has much experience, both in performance and combat. He is currently ranked at level 8 in Chinese martial arts, and has created his own qigong techniques, which have been listed by the Chinese Martial Arts Committee. He is also vice-secretary general of the Kunyu Mountain Cultural Research Association.

He teaches Baji Quan and Wing Chun together, and has a friendly, easy going teaching style. He believes it is up to the student to get what he wants from training, and will give students back as much as they put it. His training regime includes a balance of all aspects, mainly concentrating on both forms and applications, with supplementary qigong, power training and sanda/wrestling.

W (Will, me): Master Guo, please could you tell us about your experiences in learning kung fu:

MG: My grandfather’s master was a monk from the Shaolin temple. He taught him several styles including monkey and Da Hong Quan. Then, during the Japanese invasion of China, my father learnt a rare style called Guan Xi Xiao Jia. My family at that time were farmers, during spring and autumn they were working on the farm, winter and summer there was no work, so they had a lot of free time and would hire travelling kung fu masters to teach them for a period of time. You see, there was a very big family in our village, which would bully the other smaller families and were like a mafia, so we learnt kung fu to protect ourselves. My father was very strong from farm work, he used to carry very heavy bags around and operate heavy machinery. He was very skilled at wrestling and locking skills. When I was very young, I saw him fight with someone, and he knocked the man flying several metres! This left a deep impression on me and I knew I wanted to learn that.

When I was very young, I was often bullied, I was the youngest of several brothers and sisters, and my parents were very poor, so I didn’t get much milk as a baby. I was very weak and small, and the other children bullied me. I started kung fu at about 3 or 4 years old, but even at the age of 8, I still couldn’t fight. I spent too much time learning acrobatics and flexibility skills. When I was 8, I started to learn more practical kung fu, and when I was 10 I had my first fight. My sister was being picked on by some much older kids, so I went and beat them up. When I was a teenager I had a lot of fights with much bigger and older kids, and gained a reputation among kids in my village.

W: Can you tell me about your qigong training:

MG: My parents wanted me to have a good education, but I always wanted to do kung fu professionally. When I was 14, I became a student of a qigong master. He taught me Shaolin Nei Jia Yi Zhi Chan (少林内家一指禅shaolin 1 finger zen). I would stand in horse stance for at least an hour, with bricks on my arms. I sweated so much, there was a huge puddle underneath me, and in winter my whole body would steam. Sometimes I would even stand like this for up to 4 hours, and I could feel the Qi shooting out of my fingers.

Then, when I entered high school, I changed to learn Jin Gang Li, which included martial arts, as Yi Zhi Chan was just developing qi. In 1992 I lived with my master, first I would stay with him in the holidays, later I quit school to study full time. I would do qigong in the morning and free fighting in the afternoon. After 1 year, I began to help my master to teach. In 1999 I travelled overseas to teach and perform kung fu.

W: Your teaching focus is on Baji and Wing Chun, could you talk a bit about them:

MG: In 1995 I felt like I wanted to learn more kung fu, so I travelled around looking at different styles. At that time I started Wing Chun. Most northern Chinese would make fun of Wing Chun, saying it’s for women and it lacks strength, so I was already biased against it. It wasn’t until 2000, that I was invited to teach some bodyguards in Guangdong, that I really came to appreciate it. You see before I was young and liked beautiful forms.

My master often travelled to Hong Kong in secret during the revolution to exchange ideas on kung fu there. So the lineage I teach is a mixture of mainland and Hong Kong Wing Chun. The big difference people notice in my Wing Chun to what they learn in the west is there is an extra form, which comes before Siu Lim Tao. This form is called Shi Er San Shou (十二散手12 free hands), this form gives the student the fundamentals of wing chun, it is 12 principles for combat, which are practical and easy to learn. For most of my short term students, I will teach them this form. In Guangdong they say if you just want to learn self defence, this form is enough.

In the south of China, they use upper body techniques, but I am a northerner and my foundation is northern, so I like to use my legs a lot more. Traditional Wing Chun says kicks must be low, but I think that if you are good with your legs, high kicks are good too. In street fighting, low kicks are more effective, but in the ring, high kicks are better. Also, you can use a low kick, and then follow up with a high kick. They flow together. This is something I have added to the wing chun I teach.

Baji, however, I liked straight away. It’s strong, powerful and vicious. Wing Chun took me several years to appreciate. Wing Chun is like a gentleman’s art, it’s very reserved and humble. A Wing Chun fighter won’t move so much, and will act humbly. Baji is like a demon, it’s vicious, strong, and proud. So, it depends what mood I’m in as to what I practice, if I feel calm, I train my Wing Chun, if I’m excited, I train my Baji. Baji uses much more of the body than Wing Chun. In fact, Baji, Wing Chun and Taiji, in essence are very similar. Beginners can’t see that, but we all have the same body, there’s only so many ways of issuing power and moving it. In Wing Chun, we use the principle of leverage, in Taiji, it’s called Yin and Yang. They are both the same. In Baji, there are a lot of elbows and takedowns.

My Baji comes from Wu Lian Zhi, native of Meng County in Hebei. He is the oldest generation still alive. Our lineage is Wu Shi Kai Men (wu style “opening the door”) Baji. In fact, our basic zhan zhuang, or standing posture, is a horse stance, with the arms held one bent up, one bent down in the figure for the character (wu), the surname of my master.

W: Can you talk a little about the relationship between traditional forms and modern Sanda (散打kickboxing)

MG: Many young people in China really like Sanda now. But after they train for several years, they often feel they want to develop more. This is where traditional forms come in. Forms were created by old masters by taking their fighting experience and condensing into a form, like a catalogue of fighting techniques or strategies. So a fighter can research the forms to find fighting techniques suitable for them.

When you want to get a higher level, you can learn Qigong or Taiji. A lot of Sanda fighters get injuries; qigong training can help your body to heal faster, also to make it stronger and more resistant to injury. Many people who just practice hard kung fu get problems later in life, arthritis etc. I have a friend who was an iron head performer. He broke a concrete slab with his head one time and suffered a serious head injury. His face became partially paralysed and the doctors couldn’t do anything. I taught him qigong and he practiced for up to 8 hours a day! After breakfast, he would just do standing postures, and wouldn’t finish until dinner! After a period of time, his head had healed fairly well.

Thank you Master Guo for sharing your knowledge and experience with us!

For more interviews like this visit