Kung Fu beyond combat-the series: Spiritual Warriors Pt 1

15 02 2011

This is the first interview in the series with three Zen Priest/Martial artist. I will be getting their view on Martial Art and Zen. How they relate to each other for them and their practice. As well as what advice they have for students and other seekers. This is the first attempt at this so the recording and final is a bit rough, the next one should be better 🙂

Anyway the message is there, I hope you enjoy. _/|\_

My first Interview is with Rev. Sifu G. LaBlanc. He runs the Turning Point Healing Center in Oakland where he does Traditional Chinese Medicine. He also runs the LaBlanc Wing Chun school and is a Priest with the Mountain Gate Zen Center.

I first met the Rev Sifu LaBlanc when he was 13, when he joined my then Shifu’s school in Torrance, CA. at the Tai Mantis Kung Fu Assoc., under Dr Kam Yuen, who was the Kung Fu director of the late Kung Fu show with David Carridine.

Sifu LaBanc started his study of Martial Art at the age of 6 with Shotokan Karate, then studied Northern Shaolin Tai Chi Praying Mantis. From there he studied, Wudang Kung Fu and later Aikido with Steven Seagal and Arnis/Kali, Jujitsu, and finally Wing Chun under the Linage of Yip Man.

His Zen practice started in the LA Zen center as a live-in student, until his school load of Traditional Chinese Medicine limited that practice full time. He later returned to his Zen studies under a Korean linage of which he is now ordained.

The interview was held in Oakland, CA during his lunch break. We went to a local shop and had a short talk. There was a lunch crowd there so there is quite a bit of background chatter, but the answers to my questions can be heard, not me so much 🙂

My questions were:

What is your Martial Art background?

What is Your Zen Background?

Why did you choose Wing Chun as your main Art?

On a personal level how does your Zen practice relate your Kung Fu ?

What advice would you give to others seeking Martial Art and/or Zen training?

My next interview will be in March with Rev. Sifu S. Baugh of the Lohan school of Shaolin in Las Vegas.

He is another classmate from the former Torrance Tai Mantis Kung Fu school. He is a Chan Buddhist Priest.

Kung Fu beyond Combat – The Series: intro

15 01 2011

Let me begin this by saying KUNG FU does not only mean a style(s) of fighting or a hard, external style of fighting. Tai Chi Chuan is Kung Fu as well. A good carpenter, potter, dancer, healer has good Kung Fu. A good Archer has good Kung Fu, a good sailor has good sailing Kung Fu. Kung Fu in the true sense means a skill attained through work, time and patience. Limiting Kung Fu to just fighting is like limiting Zen to just a religion, God to only Christians, Jews, or Muslims, Catholics, Healing to just medical pills and surgery. They are all bigger than that!

I have a conference in Las Vegas, it is by the American Sailing Association. I am an instructor via this group. I really do not care for LV and really the only reason I am going is to listen to a Zen Master discuss Zen and teaching sailing. This is close to home and he is a friend. I can learn something not only from the perspective of teaching sailing but teaching my Shaolin Kung Fu. In the world of Zen “everything is connected”.

While in LV I decided I would pay a visit to a Kung Fu classmate who runs a school there in Sin City. The Lohan School of Shaolin and teaches Northern Shaolin, Tai Chi , Praying Mantis, and southern Five Animals Kung Fu. My classmate is also a Chan Buddhist Priest. This got me to thinking about his tie-in to teaching Chan and Kung Fu, we have not spoke of this before. With him being in Las Vegas I have only seen him twice in the years we left the school, which was back in the early eighties. On his website spiritual Kung Fu is listed as part of the training. I thought it would be interesting to speak with him on this.

As my own interest in Zen came about in order to be a better Kung Fu teacher and being in Vegas due to teaching and Zen, even in another format I saw a tie in. As I said in Zen we say all things are connected. This was very much so.

From that the idea grew. I have another Kung Fu classmate who is also a Zen priest from the Korean lineage, which I found out just recently. He teaches Wing Chun Kung Fu. He is also an acupuncturist and has studied Aikido, besides Shaolin Tai Chi Mantis.

Added to this thought another Zen Priest came to mind. He does not teach Kung Fu but he studies Tai Chi Chuan from the same Shaolin lineage as myself and the others. Though he does not teach Kung Fu he does teach Kyudo and is one of my favorite coaches. He is from the Japanese lineage of Soto Zen.

The four of share a commonality not only with our martial training but also our Chan philosophy even though from different branches of the same tree. I thought it would be interesting to see how each relates Zen to their teaching/training in “Kung Fu”.

Over the months of Feb, March and April I will be connecting with these men for a short interview and post the thoughts and opinions on this blog under this topic of Kung Fu beyond Combat.


What is your martial background?

How do you see the future path of Kung Fu, as far as direction and quality having been taught by old school instructors? Less or more quality?

What is your Zen/Chan background?

What lead you to Chan?

How do you relate your Zen/Chan practice to your Study of Kung Fu?

Do you bring Chan to your students in a formal form?

In what way?

Do you feel your Chan study has helped you be a better instructor?

In what way?

Are there any Chan practices, drills that you do with your Martial Students?

Do you consider Kung Fu Zen?

Any advise you would give to people seeking a martial arts and or a spiritual path?

Stay tuned coming in Feb part I

* If there is a question you would like presented to these Sifu’s please leave it in the comment section.


Kyudo afternoon, Kung Fu nite

30 01 2010

It was a long day, it did not start off raining there was some sun, for a bit.

I was up later than my regular time. For some reason I was pooped and did not want to get up before the sun. I had Chan practice on Thursday night. It was a quiet practice just me and my two Chan sisters. We got a little caught up on our current life, and what Shifu was doing. It was kind of nice just the three of us. We had a 35 min. sitting then a chat. Anyway I digress.

On Friday I did some organizing of some of my brothers stuff to get ready for our trip to Sacramento on Sunday for the Memorial Service. Afterwards I headed out to V-town for some Kyudo practice. I was doing a solo practice today as my Sempai was there on Weds and Thurs. He needed so  solo time so I changed my plans fro today which gave me some. It worked out. Sat we will have group practice at the 60 meter Dojo.

Today I was at RSD, I did not have to clean up the great lakes that were there last time. There was only a little creek this time, which I made short work of making disappear. Then I had at it. I practiced my Tai Hai 5 times. I had 5 arrow per shooting set, and was going for a 25 arrow day. So at the start of each set I did Tai Hai, then just did regular shooting. It worked out well. I did some taping so I could check myself later and also have a couple of teachers check me as well. Overall I think i did pretty well only a few small mistakes, forgetting to left the knee at first, and not keeping the Yumi tip at eye level when turning at couple of time. Other wise it went pretty well. Even when I smacked myself with the string when shooting I did not lose form. Kung Fu training helps, because it really hurt. But i did not show it, from the tape play back. Not only that I still made the shot. That was only two time I made the shots back to back and one of those was when I got hit. That was my best series in fact. I made three out of five shots that set. I know for sure two of them where back to back, it could have however been more. Now I just need to keep that up.

If I can do three out of five all the time I’d be pleased. Even two out of two consistently.  I think my Hikiwaki looks better, it feels better, larger and I can hold Kai much better now. It was a 25 arrow day. If I can maintain that once a week plus a regular class with Sensei, I think I’ll be ok for testing. More time would be better, but the there is the travel cost to deal with on a shrinking budget. Anyway it was a good day at the Dojo, at least the ending shots were even after I got tired. So that is really an improvement.  My Tenuchi was better through out.

Friday Fu

After heading home for a little break. I watched the tape of my Tai Hai , not too bad I had a bowl of cereal and heading out to Kung Fu. It was raining now, and the traffic was bad. It in fact sucked. So I did not get to Shifu’s until much later than I planned. As it turned out, Shifu was not there. My classmates and Art Sihing were there along with Fong Sisuk, but Shifu was not.

When I arrived they we deep into a discussion of Knife defense application. Fong Sisuk was explaining the difference between doing some beginners drills and advantage real life usage. As usual stressing that it is one strong foundation is training that makes the difference in usage. Also stressing the Principals. The technique changes from situation to situation but the principals are the same.

He did a few demo’s on disarms and for some reason I ended up being the attacker…pain pain pain, my hands are cut up from his fingernails digging into my pressure points. He would say, oh sorry I do not mean to hurt you. You ok? I say yeah, but I have to play guitar on Sunday. From then on I tried to stay away from being the demo guy and keep someone else next to him (^_^).

We spoke on many subjects that night. How it is more important to KNOW a form, the in’s and out’s than to know a lot of forms (sets/Kata). Sets are important, but they can only take one to a certain level you need to have a training partner to feel how things are going to really work. We also spoke about styles history, Shaolin, northern vs Southern styles.  Training methods, training that one get out of a technique beside the application. About the form/ set from our system that is from a famous bandit. Which Mantis system is more closely related to Tai Chi Mantis, in theory and application. Which is more closer in linage. How the use of the wooden dummy training in Wing Chun is different from Dummy training in Tai Chi Mantis. What is the difference between Seven Star and Tai Chi Mantis in appilcation. Which of the two is closer to Shaolin. Also how the 9th generation (mine) is not making any advancements in the art. With us it like a change of guard or going from a war vet serving President to a peace time President. The mind set, the culture the times are different. My generation is the last to learn from the old school masters.

It was an interesting late night session. They were still at it when I had to leave. They were moving over to the Wooden dummy as I was getting ready to head home. It was 11:30pm and I had a early morning Kung Fu class to teach.

Friday Fu with Shifu…April 09

25 04 2009

It was a cold windy day. I had spent part of it working on the Chuk Kai Tai Chi Praying Mantis Federation website, adding last years tounry pix, part of it napping trying to get my bio rhythm back to normal after working the all nighter on Tues. I was not really into making the trip to Campbell,  but with a lot of will power I did. I did not want to miss training on Hsing Yi with Art Sihing.  However as thing go, that did not happen.

Friday Kung Fu is a gathering of Eng Shifu’s advance students and other seniors from the Tai Chi Praying Mantis System for training and sharing at Eng Shifu’s school. Afterward we have a meal and talk of misc topics.


There was the pleasant surprise this Friday of Art Sihing’s Sifu visiting. William Fong Sisuk does not come out much and it is always good to see him. He was visiting Eng Shifu tonight having came down with Art Sihing ( Sihing and Shixong are terms for elder brother in Cantonese and Mandarin, sometimes I switch and mix, my bad).  Shifu is an older student of the late Grand Master, but he has a lot of respect for William Fong, who is considered the youngest of the 8th generation Masters from Sigung’s school. I first heard of him from a write up in an old Inside Kung Fu magazine edition. There was an article on him and Tai Chi Praying Mantis. Later when I moved to the northern Ca I tried to locate him to do an interview, but could not find him teaching anywhere. Later as I became more involved with the Federation I was able to meet him via Eng Shifu and Art Shixong. Since then I have had several meetings and talks with him.

When I arrived at Sifu’s I ended up sitting next to Fong Sisuk and we got to chat for a while. He asked what I was up to these days. I told him about visiting Aikido, and Wing Chun classes as well as teaching soon at the Jujitsu school. We spoke about Wing Chun, Jujitsu and Aikido the similar aspects of them and our Mantis. He had some back ground in Wing Chun so was very familiar with it. It said Jujitsu was very similar to our mantis because we have so many locks and controls with in the style as does Jujitsu. He felt Wing Chun is a good art but not one for people just beginning Kung Fu. He felt it was a specialty art of higher level than most beginners could understand. Like our Mantis, we have new comers start in the basics of Shaolin and Jing Mo training before doing Praying Mantis.

It was not a long talk but interesting. He also spoke about the history of Wing Chun and why there are no high kicks. Not because it is a southern art with a history of not using kicks but, because it was developed by a woman and it was not “col” for them to open their legs wide like that for high kicks. We also spoke on the tradition of Northern Legs and Southern Fists and the famous fighter who was taller than many southern Chinese and use hidden kicks. Which to the southern Chinese were not common, also he dressed in traditional long robes which also hid his leg movements. You did not know about the kick until after you had been hit.

After short while we and several of the others, my seniors went out the the training hall to work on the Wooden Dummy.


Sigong has a wooden dummy set in our system. Fong Sisuk say it was developed with Sigong and Sigung’s brother who was a Wing Chun player. Neither style use the wooden dummy to develop power , it is not used to hit hard as in to train the forearms, but to learn how to flow from one technique to another. Our uses more locks, traps and controls, with a lot of footwork, hops and jumps. Our power comes from spiraling action not from body pushing direct line punches. Fong Sisuk said that our style like the insect is not about power overcoming might it is about skill. It is skill that enables the Mantis to kill larger prey.


Wing Chun is similar from being developed by a female with less muscle mass than a man, it is about skill and technique not size and power. It was amazing to watching Fong Sisuk demo the form, he was all over the Dummy locks traps, hooks, kicks, hopping , angles, elbow and shoulder strikes. He said it had been 30 years since he worked on the Dummy but watching him one would never guess. He said it was all body memory.


One of the cool techniques he demo’d from the Wooden Dummy practice , beside the seizing which he demo’d on me, ouch!! were the hidden punches. Which were delivered under a blocking or trapped arm, where one could not see the punch to defend. Not only was it a surprise, it was fast. I felt two fast punches  on my ribs when only expecting my arm to be locked… sugoi!

When Shifu said it was time to eat, we adjourned to his office (usually we eat in the training hall) as there were only a few of us tonight. Fong Sisuk told us stories of Sigung’s past and training methods in such things as iron body and how he ( Sigong ) came to study Mantis. Which was because a Bandit who was a Mantis Player almost killed him, such was his skill, even though Sigong had spent his youth as a Shaolin monk.  He as said there are many things of Sigung’s that are lost now because he did not get to teach them, such as horse back archery and his medicine skills. Sigung worked as a security guard on horseback after he left Shaolin. He did not do Kung Fu for fun and to have a lot of trophies to get students. His art was refined in real life and death encounters. His trophy was to come home alive.

I did not get the review lesson in Hsing Yi I planned on for the evening, but I did get more than I planned on. As usual it was a worth while trip to Shifu’s for Friday Fu

Friday Fu…Jan 09

1 02 2009

I never know what to expect when I go to class on our monthly advance student gathering with Shifu. Well other than there will be some food and social interaction with my peers.

When I arrived on this past Friday, the place looked dead. I was surprised. The roll down door was closed, which I have only seen when there is a party inside and it is cold. It was not that cold, tonight, cold yes, but i was also layered. I did not  see from driving past if anyone was inside practicing. I made a second pass in front of hte door and thought I made out someone and Shifu in his high back chair. I parked and went in.
Ah yes there was Shifu and a couple of others, including Art Shixiong. Ok, I figured it was going to be a slow night.

I started warming up and started after a while practicing my Taiji ( Tai Chi). Slowly slowly a few others came in. still a small group for the night. Another Shixiong tuned up. He is the one that had the major life saving operation. He interestingly started talking about Wing Chun and White Eyebrow. He is taken more interest in those since he can not move and jump as before. We three discussed the merits of them and I went through a small bit of Chi Sao with Brian Shixiong. He then crossed referenced something we had spoke of earlier on one of the Advance Mantis sets. During our brief Chi Sao encounter I found myself fighting the instinct the do Mantis and a couple of time tied up his arms. Shifu joined in the discussion and told of how Northern Shaolin Player neutralized some of the WIng Chun attacks. Also about how in the old days the way one tested they style was to challenge others. That was common. It was agreed by all of us all style are good, and the old saying of Southern Hands , northern Legs,  it is however the man that makes the style.


Another topic was when I was practicing Lan Jie , it came up that. There are three ways of writing Lan Jie in Chinese and three translation. Shifu explained how they came about and what the writing meant, with why one one more appropriate than another. He went through this and some other things on the white board so we could see. Part of the misunderstanding came from, some of the old masters spoke only Mandarin and did not write. So when speaking to someone who only spoke Cantonese there was a problem in understanding. One of his examples was when he studied with Master Chu Kai he said he would teach him something call Ba Jao. Shifu thought he was saying Eight Claws, however later Sigung who could write showed him it was Eight Elbows.

From there the topic went to something about Kaun Kung and his three brothers. I said oh, these guys in the picture? There are famous paintings of General Kuan Kung with his two brothers, sometimes sitting , sometimes standing.  Those who know of these painting often see them as the General with a red face and a paler color guy, but not white and a black or dark brown faced person. Anyway Shifu, said no, no, not this one. Then pointing to the painting he said, this guy on his left is his adopted son, the guy on his right is his servant. They all took his ( the generals) last name. The guy on the right is Black. He said imagine that , I’m not sure where is is from , most likely Africa., said Shifu. There were several Africans in Chinese history involved in old China. One was a famous Judge.  This got me to recall that it is said that Lao Tzu was of very dark completion, with woolly hair. It is thought by some he was a Blackman or perhaps mixed. There are ( is/were) ancient Chinese settlements in Africa.

The rest of the evening fro me was spent doing push hands with Art Shixong. at first it was just some practice for me, which involved into some instruction for me on application. very cool. Working applications is one of Shixong favorite things. He enjoys getting into some type of trap and working a way out. I also enjoy the two person drills and working the techniques. I was sore the next day.

Just before eating time a cop/sheriff shows up. He speaks with Shifu and a couple of the other studetns abotu soem things which I did not catch; Then he breaks out his camera and shows them some pictures from an earlier drunk driving accidents that happened earlier that night. The talk was very casual. He aske dwhat was going on, and it was expalined it was our advanced student monthly gathering. I gatehred after a while he was one of Shifu’s students. He hung out with us for a while while we ate and chatted, then went back to work, he was still on duty.

It was an interesting night.

Mantis under Wing Chun shadow

26 01 2009

I started out to visit an old school-mate’s school last week. That did not turnout as planned, then what does. The smoothness of life like sailing is dependent on one’s ability at adapting. This past Sat. it worked out. I was able to make it by the school/dojo/kwoon. (http://suigetsukan.org/) to view the Wing Chun class.


The class was small, but a good size. They were working on some drills when I arrived. My friend welcomed me as said. “please feel free to join us if you like” I laughed and said “ thanks, but I do not want you guys to hurt me”. He “G” said “nah it is all about Love”. I was impressed, this is the same thing my elder brother says, the one who just came back from Canada. I laughed again and told him that is the same thing that R says. As G is a Zen instructor as well, it should have not been surprising for him to have that mind set. Zen is about love. Many think it is all about enlightenment and ascension. It is really about love and compassion to all beings, all of the Universe’s/God/ the Great Spirit/Allah’s varied expressions.

We chatted for a while and he went back to teaching. I watched and listened. I had always had an interest in Wing Chun but was never able to take any serious instruction. I watched them go through various drills and compared it to Mantis and Tai Chi in my head. The angles, power development, feel, some of the footwork, because it does not have a lot since most of their work comes from center line work, compared to Mantis, where ours works from the angle. Their move-in/closing the gap step is the same. The wooden man drills, we also have in Tai Chi Mantis, which our grandmaster developed from Wing Chun, so it was especially interesting to watch and listen.


Watching the Chi Sao drill was also interesting, very similar to some drills Shifu has us do and also in a way push hands from Tai Chi. I was also surprise with hearing the Wing Chun fighting Philosophy of no blocks. Somewhat like ours Mantis but with some difference. We have also not real blocks, we have deflections and are also willing to take a hit in order to give a better hit(s) and stay in close to neutralize the opponents’ power and attacks. Both systems are two handed strikes. Meaning defense and offense are done at the same time.

After the class I got to speak with a couple of his students a bit, one of which also studied Escrima from the line of my Kali/Escrima teacher. Just when I was close to leaving G said he would check to see if our other classmate who was the Master of the dojo their was upstairs. This Dojo is also a live-in quarters for several the head instructor included. Just as he was about to check, our other classmate M comes down.

It was good to see him, we all sat and talked for a while about old classmates and life. It was a good mini reunion. My next visit there in a few weeks will be to watch M teach the Aikido class. Another art I had always had a strong interest in. G had studied with Steven Seagal, who G says is an intense person to training with.  Anyway M teaches and I will go back to watch his class. Who knows maybe once life settles down I will take a few basics from him. One can never have too much education.