The “internal” November!!
“Martial arts have no borders. I will welcome and teach whoever wants to learn. I do not hold secrets from my students – keeping secrets means teaching fake Kung Fu”
Interview of Grandmaster Niu Sheng Xian and indroduction by shifu Doukas Dimitris, in the magazine Epsilon of Sunday newspaper Eleftherotypia - 7.11.2010
Indeed, during his stay in Athens, from the 7th to the 29th of November, after an invitation by the A.S.K. trainer, Dimitris Doukas, Master Niu kept his word and generously shared with us his valuable knowledge of the “internal” Kung Fu styles. The students of A.S.K., as well as students of other schools, attained the seminar of Master Niu with enthusiasm and dedication and became acquainted – some of them for the first time – with the basic principles of Taiji and Xing Yi.
The seminar took place from the 12th to the 21st of November and was divided in three parts.
Our first contact with Master Niu was at the seminar of Pushing Hands, which is an integral part of the Taiji teaching (Taiji Tuishou).
Master Niu’s acquisition of the golden medal in Taiji Tuishou for the Beijing team, in 1983, speaks to his unique and valuable knowledge of Taiji. In addition, as a coach, between 1983 and 2004, he led his athletes to win 116 titles.
During the two Friday seminars, Master Niu taught Pushing Hands both to beginners and advanced students, trying to help them understand what it means to be in contact with the opponent, as well as showing to them how hard it is – being a beginner – to synchronize and to cooperate with somebody. Given that Pushing Hands may be the beginning of a battle where one of the two opponents can take advantage of the other’s power and exterminate him, it is hard to learn in just a couple of days. In any case, a first contact with the technique can make one understand how to place one’s body, how to use the waist, as well as how to “listen” to the opponent.
Master Niu started off the seminar with the basics, teaching the right exercises for warming up and preparing the body (slow and deep stances). Then he moved to the teaching of the right posture of the feet when we stand facing the opponent, so as to build a stable base, ready to support the upper part of the body. He showed us the “single pushing hands”, which is the first stage in order to learn how to listen to the opponent. Even at this early stage, Master Niu stressed out a basic Taiji principle: the need for a “different spine”, which is sought in Taiji by the constant withdrawn of the coccyx (pulling in the pelvis).
During the next course, we moved to the “double pushing hands”. Even though this technique is complicated for beginners, we were able to understand it, as Master Niu did not hesitate to practice with each one of the students. He was eager to explain any doubt and to help us understand the right way. During the breaks, Master Niu was recounting us his experiences from the learning of martial arts, so we got to know him better. The contribution of Liu Gai Fang, student and translator of the teacher, was very important, as Master Niu does not speak English.
During the first weekend (13th &14th of November) we were taught the Taiji form of 32 movements with sword. With his unparallel teaching skills, Master Niu managed to complete the teaching of the form, explaining it to us step by step. The trainer of A.S.K., Doukas Dimitris, and his assistant, Divanis Giorgos (students of Master Niu since 2006) were constantly there, to help all the participants. Through the continuous repetitions in small groups and with the corrections of the teacher, all the participants managed, by the end of the seminar, to get a satisfactory idea of the form.
During the next week, another lesson on the 32 movements form took place – in order to explain and correct some things – as well as a private lesson on the 24 movements form for the students of Taiji (free of charge). This was a unique chance for us to approach the Great Master and father of contemporary Taiji, Li Tian Ji, through the knowledge of Master Niu. Master Niu was his personal student and he has been respecting, safeguarding and transmitting his Kung Fu. Once more, Master Niu personally dealt with each student, in order to help all of them to improve.
The last weekend (20th and 21st of November) was dedicated to Xing Yi. We started off by practicing the basic stance of Xing Yi, San Ti Shi, which is essential for Master Niu’ s teaching. Then, we moved to the learning of the so called five elements: Pi Quan – Metal, Zuan Quan – Water, Beng Quan – Wood, Pao Quan – Fire, Heng Quan – Earth. Each one of them is a different technique, while all of them aim to guide the trainer to get power from all over the body and gain balance and stability, in order to concentrate one’s energy to the blow and to achieve explosion. Each element is a challenge for the memory and the endurance of the student. The way of Xing Yi is simple, but demanding and tiring at the same time. Still, the power that one can gain by following it, is distinct. Naturally, during all the three seminars, Master Niu did not stop repeating that in order to be good at Kung Fu, one must constantly train in all three styles, under the supervision of a good teacher.
On the 17th of November, the birthday of Master Niu, a surprise party was held in A.S.K., in order to honour him. After blowing out the candles and happily accepting his presents, the teacher talked to us about his route in the martial arts; from the 16 years of constant effort to be accepted as a personal student of Li Tian Ji, until today, that - at the age of 73 - he travels and spreads his knowledge, Master Niu has Kung Fu constantly in his mind and in his heart. The party went on with live Greek traditional music, by Nonis Alexis, musician and student of the school and his group. The night passed with music and dance bringing together two different cultures.
The autumn seminar was multidimensional, bringing us close to a great martial arts’ teacher, thanks to the initiative of Doukas Dimitris – his student for the past five years – who managed to convince him to come to Greece and teach the three seminars (one for each style). Master Niu is the holder of a great heritage of an indisputably Great Master. He has made humility a way of life, and he generously shares his knowledge with his “foreign” students. We promise not to forget him and all that he taught us, and we hope to meet him again next year.
Master Niu’s visit to Athens ended with an excursion at Kea island, where he taught in a weekly seminar the Wudang sword to instructor Dimitris Doukas and his assistant instructor, George Divanis.