I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and learning from Sifu John Callaghan since I joined my Kung Fu school. A martial artist of great taste and an excellent teacher, Sifu John is passing on the teachings of Sigung Randy Bennett at the Australian Jow Ga Kung Fu Academy in the heart of Sydney.
These ’10 Questions’ will be raised with masters of any and all styles I cross paths with, should the opportunity arise.
- What is your current style and how long have you been practicing?
My current style is Jow Ga Kung Fu. It is a traditional Southern Chinese shaolin style. At just over 100 years old, it is young for a Chinese martial art. It is not dissimilar to Hung Ga. I’ve been training in Jow Ga Kung Fu for over 19 years. I’ll hit 20 years in April 2016. Time flies!
- Throughout your time in martial arts, what has motivated you to keep going?
A good question! 19 years is a long time and what motivated me as a beginner is not what motivates now. If I look back I can see three distinct phases each with their own motivators. When you are a beginner, everything is so new and cool. Every class you learn something new. I was motivated to vacuum up everything: new kicks, new punches, new forms.
After maybe 3 or 4 years a kind of maturity sets in. You don’t expect to learn at the same rate but you start to focus on the quality of what you do. It’s no longer enough to do a roundhouse kick. You have to do the fastest and hardest round house kick! You’ve got your toolkit and it is time to start sharpening your tools. Apart from the physical work you start to look inwards and challenge what you believe you are capable of. It is a great time for personal development.
Now that I’ve hit my mid 40’s it is changing again. I have to take care of my body more. I’ve seen and done a lot, so a lot of the novelty is gone. What motivates me now is health and also the relationships that I’ve developed through the sport. Relationships with students, other Jow Ga schools and other martial artists. I feel part of a large family and it is a fun family to be a part of.
- During this time, how has martial arts influenced you?
Training in Martial Arts changes you. You have to do it to really understand. Obviously it improves health and fitness. It gives you extra confidence. But it goes deeper than that. It forces you to challenge your own beliefs about what you are capable of. We all put ourselves in boxes, but Martial Arts gives you an opportunity to open the box and step out to realize your potential. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has regretted training in Martial Arts.
- Care to share your favourite technique?
My favourite technique is anything where you generate energy in your waist and deliver it through your hands. It could be a punch, it could be a short weapon like a sword, it could be a long weapon like a spear or it could be a flexible weapon like 3 section staff. Once you learn how to “explode” from the waist and synchronise that energy into your shoulder and arm a whole new world opens up for your martial arts. It will amaze you how much power you can put into a pad on a good day. You see it and hear it and feel it.
- What is next on your journey in martial arts?
I’ve spent about 3 years intensively reviewing the curriculum for our school as part of my Sifu progression. I’m really looking forward to broadening out now. Tai Chi, ground fighting, obscure weapons. I’ll stick with Chinese arts because that is my thing, but within that wide umbrella it is all fair game. If only I had more time…
- What is your strongest memory during your time as a martial artist?
In 2009 we attended a gathering of Jow Ga family in Nanhai, Guangdong, China. It was just a magic night with so many people coming together to celebrate from Guangdong, Hong Kong, Singapore, USA and more. The setting was great, the weather was great, the food was great. It was one of those nights when everything just fell into place. It wasn’t fancy, but it was heartfelt and authentic. We had a crew of about 12 people attending and we stayed up all night. There was some serious bonding that night.
- How do you find that your style/school compares to other martial arts?
Our school is traditional but not too traditional. A good mix of hard and soft. Lots of weapons forms. There is something for everyone at our school. For me it has a great balance. I don’t want to break bricks, and I don’t want to meditate all day. I also don’t want to just learn how to deal out pain; there has to be more to it than that.
- What role would you say martial arts play in today’s society?
Depends on where you are coming from. If you are a bouncer of if you work security or law enforcement, then martial arts is your professional skill. For most of us though, Martial Arts is just a hobby and a sport; a way to keep fit and to connect with a culture and history. I never really expect to use my martial arts to defend my life. I live in a safe society and I work in an office. I certainly don’t think I’ll ever have a real sword fight. Still I spend a lot of time developing these skills because I think they make me a better person.
- What do you consider to be the most important qualities for a martial artist?
Persistence– you have to stick with it. Mental flexibility– always be open to new things. I’d put physical talent near the end of the list; being good at Martial Arts is more mental than physical.
- If you were to give three pieces of advice to martial arts students, what would it be?
Set small goals and achieve them. Then set more goals. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. We are all our own worst critics, but you will never improve if you don’t believe in yourself. Before you train, strip out all negative thoughts, be present in mind/body/spirit and work hard. The rest will follow automatically.
Listen to your body. If I’d listened to my body more when I was younger I could have avoided some injuries and would be a better martial artist today.
Many thanks to Sigung Randy Bennett, Sifu John Callaghan and the Australian Jow Ga Kung Fu Academy for this interview.