A Kick To Great Health
By Phenomgirl / March 6, 2018
Kung-Fu is the most ancient of all martial arts. It's roots can be traced back more than 4,000 years. The earliest form of Chinese martial arts were those practised by soldiers for direct use in battlefield combat. But Kung Fu is more than high kicks and "faster than the eye can see" hand movements. It's an art form that's used for discipline, to improve your health and much more.
Gary Mah, Kung Fu extraordinaire
will tell you how....
Grandmaster Wong Moon Toy
Grandmaster Wai Hong Ng
Sifu Tak Wah Eng
At what age did you start learning Kung Fu and why?
I began my Kung Fu training at the age of 11. My mom used to bring me to watch Jackie Chan movies at the old theater on Bowery Street in Chinatown, and after seeing all the stunts and fighting on screen, I wanted to be just like Jackie. Fortunate enough, my father had a relative who taught Kung Fu right around the corner from the theater. I began learning Fu Jow Pai under Sifu Tak Wah Eng. He is still my teacher today.
Can you describe what Kung Fu means?
Kung Fu is a skill attained through hard work. Most people will associate the term Kung Fu to martial arts, but it can also refer to other types of skills such as cooking, calligraphy, art, etc.
What's your background/education/training?
I hold a sixth degree black sash in Tak Wah Kung Fu. I have a Bachelors in Health and Nutrition Science. I am also a certified Exercise Physiologist by the American College of Sports Medicine.
What are the health benefits of martial arts?
Training in the martial arts will improve your cardiovascular system by executing forms, build muscle with body weight exercises, increase flexibility through stretching, decrease fat from repetitive striking, and enhance balance and coordination by mastering different stance positions.
How long have you been teaching martial arts?
I have been teaching martial arts for 20 years now.
Does one need to be in great shape to begin a class?
No. In fact, it's the reason why one would want to begin a class, so that they may eventually be in great shape.
Are there age limits for learning Kung Fu?
Just an age minimum. We welcome anyone from the ages 5 and up to begin their Kung Fu training.
How challenging are the classes you teach?
Our classes range from beginner, intermediate, to advanced, so everyone can begin at the appropriate level. We do want our students getting a challenge out of each class without making anyone feel intimidated.
When is the best time to stretch (before or after exercise)? How important is stretching?
Stretching is best done after a light warm up to get the blood flowing. Stretching is extremely important as it helps increase your range of motion and helps reduce the risk of injury. However, it's also important not to overstretch as it can weaken your muscles.
There are several stances/poses in Kung Fu. How do stances assist the body?
The stances in Kung Fu assists the body through movement. Some stances are designed for the body to retreat from an attack, while some stances are intended to stabilize the body in order to throw a punch.
Horse Stance with a straight punch
Left Cat Stance, with left claw out infront
What contributions does Kung Fu play in an individual's everyday life?
There are many ways learning martial arts can benefit a person in their everyday life. A person who practices Kung Fu will be in healthy shape, they will be mentally tough, and they will have more confidence. The challenges a martial artist overcomes in class will help them develop the skills needed for real life situations.
Does good nutrition and martial arts go hand in hand?
Yes. Martial arts is about self discipline and making your body better. If you consume unhealthy foods that do damage to the body, it will negate all the hard work that you put in during class.
Explain the morals and value taught through martial arts.
Most Kung Fu practitioners follow the code of "Mo Duk" (or Wu De in Mandarin). This term translates to martial arts morals or ethics. One must respect his/her teacher, classmates, students, friends, family, and community. Following Mo Duk means to contribute to the community, help others in need, and using martial arts skills for good purposes. Using Kung Fu to bully or intentionally harm someone is forbidden.
What are some of the reasons you've heard why individuals start taking martial art classes?
I've gotten many reasons why an individual wanted to begin martial arts. Most of the students we get just want to be in better physical shape. Some want to learn how to defend themselves. Parents will send their children to Kung Fu school because they fear of them being bullied at school. We also get actors and actresses wanting to learn stunts if their role requires it. People today are still inspired by Bruce Lee, so they want to find a place to start training to be like him.
Can anyone try a class before signing up?
We offer one week trial passes for anyone who is thinking about committing long term.
Are there misconceptions about martial arts?
Yes. Most people who are not familiar to martial arts believe it is about fighting or defeating your opponent. When you start learning martial arts only then will you realize the real battle is within yourself.
Martial arts is widely portrayed in mainstream media as an aggressive, physical, fighting style technique. How can we make this wonderful art form be viewed more for it's contribution toward great health?
This is one tough thing to do because the media knows what sells, and usually it's violence that people buy. Viewers will pay to watch a boxing match or a mixed martial arts fight. Even watching news people will prefer to watch the violence that is going on in a war torn country than watching a firefighter rescue a cat out of a tree. I think what we are doing here is a great start with our interview, by bringing to light the nurturing values of martial arts.
You wrote and published a book, Hark Fu Kune: Black Tiger Fist about Kung Fu. Why?
The best way to honor my teacher and his teacher before him is to pass down the knowledge they have given me. So I put all the essentials in a book. By having everything documented, it ensures this information can be passed down to the next generation and beyond.
The book is chunked-filled with beautiful pictures of you demonstrating stances, exercises and self defense techniques. Why was it important to present the book to readers this way?
They say you can never replace a real teacher with a book. While this is true, I wanted the book to come as close as possible to being able to guide an individual. In order for that to happen, I needed detailed visuals and written instructions to accomplish that feat. My goal is for someone halfway across the world to be able to learn the art.
How long did it take to complete such a detailed book?
It took me one year to complete the book.
Did you have help creating this book?
Yes. I owe a great thanks to my team who helped put it together. Allen Chan (photographer) and Celia Au (assistant photographer) captured all of the photos. Jason Ng is the book designer and editor. Sifu Tah Wah Eng served as the technical advisor. Paul Mah provided his exceptional skills as the calligraphy artist. They all spent countless hours with me on the project, and the book would not be possible without their help.
Where can we buy the book?
Hark Fu Kune can be found on Amazon and from a few sellers on Ebay. The only local store that carries my book is Bok Lei Po located on 63 Mott Street, New York, NY 10013. I also sell it directly. You can visit me at 121 Bowery Street also in New York for a copy.
I have to ask...Who Is your all time favorite martial arts movie star?
I know I mentioned I wanted to start martial arts because of being inspired by Jackie Chan, but my all time favorite male martial arts movie star is Jean Claude Van Damme. My friend from middle school recommended the movie Bloodsport one day and we were completely blown away with his martial art prowess. My favorite martial arts actress is Michelle Yeoh. There are very few that have that combination of beauty and skill. She's one of the rare ones. My favorite movie with her in it is Wing Chun.