Recently, I was talking to good friend and owner of GOSU Institute of Chinese Marital Arts, Master Ching Yin Lee. To keep the format simple, we decided it would be fun to do a short interview with each other called “10 for 10”, where we each asked each other ten questions. Hope you enjoy!
1. What are your recommendations for new practitioners?
There is nothing really unique I can offer about this. There’s the basic advice: listen to your teacher, don’t switch teachers or styles too much (find one you like and do what they tell you), respect your teacher, seniors (I appreciated the time that my seniors Ted Fu and Justin Ma took to help me when I competed in Modern Wushu), and classmates with a sense of formality and sincerity, don’t forget where you came from, and lastly always keep a beginner’s mind. I am in my 24th year of training and I am still training every day – I recently met a Bagua and Xing Yi teacher (Master Luo De Xiu) and he was amazing. Hecan beat me in two moves when we sparred, which was so humbling and awesome. The same can be said if I am training next to a China Modern Wushu Champion. I know there is always another level to arrive at – this is a lifetime journey (not just something for medals and accolades).
2. Who is your favorite Wushu athlete?
I would have to say Chen Junjie is my favorite athlete. He is a nanquan athlete from Ningxia who competed around 2004. I think he has the perfect blend of basics, explosive power, flavor, and ferocity that’s required in the southern fist style. I would put him over some of the recent and past favorites: Huang Guangyuan, He Jingde, Chen Lun, or even Yang Shiwen.
3. Who are the top 3 martial artists who inspire you?
The top three marital artists that inspire me are: my teacher Dr. Lee. He was one of my first martial arts teachers when I trained Traditional Southern Shaolin Kung Fu (Hung Fut), and he also became my Tai Chi and Yiquan teacher when I was 14. He has such a strong will and is so disciplined: he wakes up at 5:30am and practices 1 hour of sitting meditation every morning without fail. He’s about 5’2” and 112lbs., but he can make a 200lb. person crumble. Yet as a devout Buddhist, he’s also very nice and deeply humble. Lastly, he leads by example – if he asks you to do an hour horse stance or to practice 12 Tai Chi forms, then he’ll do it alongside with you. The next person is Master Luo De Xiu – I just met him around Labor Day this year at a seminar. He has a high level of martial knowledge and “shen fa” (body methods) from his several decades worth of training – on one hand he can literally bounce me like a basketball or sweep me off my feet, he is also an honest and sincere person with a giving heart when it comes to teaching (he takes time to demystify Chinese Martial Arts and does not believe in “holding onto secrets” from his training). Finally, since it’s hard to think of a specific person for the third one, I’ll have to discuss one of Master Liu Xiao Ling’s teachers – Master Liu is an internal martial arts teacher from Shanghai, China who taught in Takoma Park, MD until he retired recently. One of his specialties is Xingyiquan, a straightforward and aggressive internal style that I happen to love right now, and he one said in one of his instructional videos that one of his teachers would hold the San Ti Shi (the trinity stance) for 45 minutes on each leg every day. This is a stance in which the body weight is shifted with 60% of the weight on the back foot and 40% on the front foot with the front arm extended almost straight out from the shoulder – it’s about three times more painful than holding a horse stance because of the weight distribution and your extended arm starts burning after 2 minutes from fatigue. That is inspiring to me and the level of mental clarity and relaxation I get from holding the stance for even for a quarter of that time is amazing – it’s never too soon to start internal martial arts, which is easier on the body and full of content!
4. Jack Ma: is he good or bad for Tai Chi?
I have honestly not seen more than the trailer of Jack Ma’s movie. My initial impression is that his martial arts appears better than I thought and that the fight scenes were decent, but I am not a big fan of the wide promotion of Taijiquan for competition or other public displays. Yes, it is a great art that is full of content and wisdom, but as a traditionalist, I am more of the mindset that internal martial arts and meditation are like religion: best to be practiced alone in sincerity rather than in a church or temple. I feel internal martial arts is a very private practice that allows for constant self-improvement and helps to enfold layers of the self that I had never known has existed. However, I am not openly rebelling against this either – I feel people should do what makes them happy and their practice meaningful.
5. What is your favorite post training snack or meal?
I have nothing special to note here. I have been a practicing vegetarian for 7 years, but before that and now, I’ve always eaten whatever I wanted after practices. I guess I have a fast metabolism and very low standards – my friends call me “fan teng” (rice bucket). The best meal can be a Taco Bell run with friends after practice (a favorite hangout spot with Lucas, Jason, and Mario back in the day), bubble tea when I was in the Terp Wushu Club, five hotdogs at 7-11, or a plate of rice and beans with salad currently. I like the saying: “Athletes don’t diet and exercise, they eat and train.”
6. What are your top 3 favorite Kung Fu movies?
My favorite moves are “The Tai Chi Master” with Jet Li, “Enter the Dragon” with Bruce Lee, and “New Shaolin Legend” with Jet LI. “The Tai Chi Master” inspired me to start Tai Chi when I was 14 because I thought: “Wow, cool! You can use Tai Chi for fighting!” I did not learn anything combat related initially, but I learned how to stand in a difficult posture for an hour! J I feel standing meditation helped make my adolescence bearable or even enjoyable. I first saw “Enter the Dragon” at a Errol’s video store (pre-Netflix kids!) around 1989 and thought that mirror scene was so cool – I had never seen Bruce Lee nor a Kung Fu movie before that. It’s the first martial arts movie that I rewatched over and over again. “New Shaolin Legend” was simply epic in its choreography (spear work, children’s fight scenes, etc.) and it had Jet Li in his prime. The story was basic, but it had all the virtues of righteousness in the martial arts world while having awesome action scenes (I do feel Jet Li helped to innovate or raise the bar for martial arts choreography – he looks so effortless and dynamic on screen). I do feel martial arts films also sort of deal with some ancient archetypes and motifs: good vs. evil, the quest for power vs. righteousness, and hard work can overcome huge difficulties.
7. What are your top 3 favorite martial arts books?
My top three books are “Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals” by Kennedy and Guo, “The Power of Internal Chinese Martial Arts” by B.K. Frantzis, and “There Are No Secrets” by Wolfe Lowenthal. “Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals” is a translation of various manuals published by various masters – it highlights training attitudes and approaches and some very historical and accurate information (e.g. – a lot of bodyguards in the early 20th century negotiated with bandits while carrying a colt 45 [gun] rather than battle them in an all out melee). “The Power of Internal Chinese Martial Arts” is a summary of Frantzis’ experience travelling in China and training with different teachers. It also helps to highlight theory, practice, and application of traditional internal martial arts. Lastly, “There Are No Secrets” is a memoir of Master Chen Man Ching’s (a famous Tai Chi master from Taiwan) time he spent teaching in New York City.
8. If you could train with any historical figure, who would it be?
I know I am here honking the horn of the internal martial arts train, but it’s the phase of my martial arts that I am most passionate about now. I have had various phases, such as Modern Wushu, boxing, kickboxing, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It seems a lot of Modern Wushu athletes spend only a handful of years on the art and competition and quit for good, and I think there are so many aspects and directions that you can continue to learn in even if you don’t compete, can no longer jump, or simply grew out of the sport. Okay, I will now get off my soapbox. No, one last thing: at one point I remember when I was 29 and I had tweaked my knee doing jump outside kicks on a tennis court (and from doing traditional Bagua incorrectly). Afterwards, I literally could not walk 2 blocks without my knee aching all the time. At that point, I decided not to compete in Modern Wushu any longer (no comeback for me :’( ), but when I practiced more Tai Chi then my knee slowly healed and became healthy (at 37 now, I can still hit a jump outside 540 if needed or demonstrate an aerial) and also ironically, training kickboxing for full contact competition was easier on the body. That was how I shifted my focus when my dream of being a top Modern Wushuathlete was deferred.
The two historical figures I’d like to train with are either Master Guo Yun Shen (a famous Xingyiquan master) or Master Wang Xiang Zhai (one of Guo’s last students and the founder of Yiquan – which focuses on holding static postures for long periods of time). Guo was famous performing his favorite punch (Beng Quan – which means crushing fist. It is a straight, advancing punch that was once called the strongest punch under heaven in China) to defeat most of his foes. He owed much of his skill to holding standing postures and practicing of the basics. Wang sounded like a real straight shooter: in the 1920s he said that most martial artists in China were only performers, he issued an open challenge in Beijing at one point (at the time it was a saturated martial scene) and met all comers, and he was the OG (original) Xu Xiaodong or Bruce Lee – he called Chinese Martial Artists out on “bs” before it became popular. Supposedly, many teachers at the time didn’t want to fight each other because they wanted to save face, fighting became less common, and practitioners were more focused on the outer form of a technique but not its purpose.
9. What is your ultimate goal in pursuing martial arts?
My ultimate goal in pursuing martial arts at this point threefold: mastery of martial arts and self-mastery (that was my original goal), to teach students with my heart, and to improve my spiritual development. I think it’s important to have the mentality of wanting to master or perfect an activity that you really – you learn a lot about yourself during the process and you learn to strive to be “your best version of yourself.” Next, I have discovered around my early 20s that the one thing I liked more than training martial arts is teaching martial arts. It brings so much joy to me when I teach others and I am always striving to improve the craft of teaching. Finally, spiritual development is important for me. I remember accidentally stumbling upon the book “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do” by Bruce Lee when I was 12 years old. I had no idea what the book was discussing: how to be a wooden doll (no thinking or emotions), to empty your mind, or to follow the Tao (the Way). Bruce Lee was a very philosophical guy, and I feel if we are not using martial arts to improve ourselves (rather than puffing up our egos or struggling with power) then we are wasting our time. It sounds strange, but one day I’d like to be one of those old gurus in a neighborhood where young people can go to get advice (and free tea or lemonade). I’d like to be a spiritual boss.
10. Who are your top 3 favorite fighters now?
This is hard to say as I haven’t been following fighting as much in the past few years, however, I would say this Japanese kickboxing prodigy that I saw online (TenshinNasukawa), Andre Ward (a former Olympian gold medalistin boxing), and I guess I don’t have a third favorite (though it should be reserved for a pro MMA or BJJ athlete as they can be so savvy and sharp – maybe George St. Pierre). When I saw Nasukawa, I was so amazed as I felt his technique and strategy far surpassed an 18-year-old fighter; he was doing things that a veteran fighter does in the ring after 50 fights. Next, Andre Ward was the last American boxer to earn a gold medal in the Olympics, and he’s been my favorite boxer for the past 13 years – he had just retired this year as the best pound for pound boxer in the world and was still undefeated. In general, I respect fighters in the game that have a high ring IQ, are innovative in their approach, and have a good work ethic.
Thanks Ching for the insight! Whenever we talk I learn more and am reminded of things I've forgotten. It's always great to hear your thoughts.