The Journey of Kung Fu – an interview with James Wu (吳長螢)

James Wu Taizu

When and where were you born?

I was born at Tainan,Taiwan in 1954.

Is your family Taiwanese, or did they come after the Communists took over in China?

My family is Taiwanese.

What language did you speak at home?

I mostly speak Taiwanese, but sometimes speak Mandarin.

What other languages do you speak?

I speak English.

How old were you when you first started learning martial arts? Where was this?

I first started learning martial arts at the age of six from my grandfather, but not seriously, though.

What was your grandfather’s name and what form of martial arts did he teach you?

My grandfather’s name was 黃錫 (Huáng Xī) and he taught me 太祖拳 (Tàizǔquán).

Why did you start learning traditional Chinese martial arts?

Many people practiced Chinese martial arts in the park (but not any more), and they attracted me to learn.

You teach Six Harmonies Fist and also Praying Mantis Fist. What was your first style and who was the teacher?

Actually my first style is Tai Chi and my teacher is 張海穎 (Zhāng Hǎiyǐng).

When did you start learning the other style and who was your teacher for that?

I started learning Six Harmonies from Master 陳卒 (Chén Zú) when I was in college.  Not long after, I started learning Praying Mantis from Master 施政忠 (Shī Zhèngzhōng), then studied both in the same period of time.

What is the difference between the Xiamen style of Six Harmonies and the Praying Mantis from Shandong?

The way of letting out strength is different.  Six Harmonies uses arms’ strength directly.  Mantis mostly twists waist to put out strength.  And also stances are different.

Do they work together or do you have to keep the Northern and the Southern separate?

They don’t work together.  But it’s easier to get strength from practicing Six Harmonies.  And from my experience that strength would benefit Mantis style.

Why did you end up learning these two styles?

I see the beauty of them and fall in love with them.  The beauty-grace, ancient flavor, technique, formula, body mechanics,—— and so on.

Have you learned any other styles? If so, which ones and do you teach them?

I’ll stick to these two styles and have no time for others.  Maybe I’ll practice Tai Chi when I am very old.

What is your motivation for continuing to practice the traditional Chinese martial arts?

Chinese martial arts have qualities both in martial and in arts.

How much time do you spend training in a week? How long every day?

I don’t count how much time I practice. But I try not to miss a day.

If a student wants to become strong through practicing Chinese martial arts, how much time does he need to train every day?

Don’t set a time frame.  Practice more when you are free, otherwise less.  The journey of Kung-Fu never ends.   Don’t rush to be strong.  Be patient.

Although different, Six Harmonies and Praying Mantis are both very physical styles – do they both have health benefits?

Yes, they both have health benefits.  But don’t over-practice them to hurt your body.

How effective are each of these two styles for self defense?

That depends on how good the practitioner is.

How much emphasis do you place on health versus self defense in martial arts practice?

Fifty-fifty.  Both of them are important to our life.

Are some practices just for health while others are for self defense?

All the moves in forms could be used for self defense.

What is the single most important characteristic of a student in the martial arts?

Respect.  Respect yourself, your teacher and all good people.

How important is a good teacher in the traditional Chinese martial arts?

Without a good teacher, you’ll never learn the real traditional Chinese martial arts.

Do you think that traditional Chinese martial arts will continue in the future? What are the obstacles?

I don’t know if traditional Chinese martial arts will continue in the future. I hope more people with right attitudes ( not looking for flashy movements), will come to learn.

How would you compare the martial arts found in Taiwan today with those from mainland China?

Actually most Kung-Fu were from Mainland China.  Some styles came to Taiwan long before the others.  But I’m not so sure.

How are Chinese martial arts students in America?

I had some good students when I was there.  Paul is my first student and also my nephew.  Both Carlos and Bret are good, too.

What is your philosophy of martial arts practice?

Competing with yourself.

If you were to tell the world just one thing about your martial arts, what would it be?

Welcome to the world of Kung-Fu.

Is there anything else you would like to share concerning traditional Chinese martial arts?

Traditional Kung-Fu will lead you to a healthy and interesting life. And it will keep you interested for your whole life.

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