RDH Interview 001, by Tyler Rea — A Southern Mantis Retrospective – July 28, 2018
On behalf of Myself and our readers, I’d like to thank you, Sifu Roger D. Hagood, for taking the time to have this interview and Martial Dialogue, with me.
On a personal note, I’d like to thank you, not only for your tireless efforts to promote and teach the martial arts, but also for help laying the infrastructure, for acquiring martial knowledge, in the USA.
Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s, your various Martial Art Publications and Video Productions – (PDF Download), were a much appreciated resource, for Martial Arts enthusiasts, all over the United States and abroad.
1 — Interview Question:
Your 52 years of research and training, in various Martial systems, is well known, but what specifically drew you to Hakka Praying Mantis Kung fu?
After returning to the USA, from Korea, circa mid 1970s, I was living in Kentucky. There were Chinese restaurants, but no Chinese Kungfu. There was lots of TKD and some Karate. So every weekend I would drive and expand my perimeter, until one day 180 miles away, I found Louie Jack Man Sifu working, as a Chef, at the House of Wan restaurant, in Bowlingreen. It took me three three months to persuade him to teach me. His style was Southern Mantis. I had trained Northern Shandong Mantis, but had never heard of Southern Mantis. (Even the Wushu Authorities, in Shandong, had not heard of Hakka Southern Mantis, in the late 1980s – I traveled to Jinan to inspect…)
I didn’t like Louie Sifu’s style, at first. I was used to long stances and wide arcing strikes. Louie Sifu’s Southern Mantis was upright, a high horse mostly, with direct straight to the target strikes. I remember telling some friends that Southern Mantis seemed odd. But, I persisted over the next few years every weekend, with Louie Sifu, and after some 18 months – Southern Mantis began to make sense to me. It was rooted, yet agile, intent on the targets, soft and hard. I was Louie Sifu’s first student, in the USA.
Circa 1979, Louie Sifu suggested I move to Minnesota and train with Mark Foon Sifu. Louie, Mark and I spoke on the phone that year. And so, I did move to MN and made Ceremony to Gin Foon Mark, in 1980.
Initially I trained with Louie Sifu, because it was the only Kungfu around. But later, I trained because the Style suited me – it was functional, combat ready, not a “flower hand”. It was “nothing for show, everything for use”.
2 — Interview Question:
Please take us on a virtual tour, of your initial travels, in China, for a moment, with this next question. When you arrived, in China, and began interacting with regional Mantis teachers, what were some of the most immediate differences you encountered, between the Hakka Mantis taught, in the USA, and that of China Mantis?
In the mid 1970s, I lived in Korea and studied North Mantis, with Teacher, Pak Chi Mun. I spoke with him this week – he is a lot of fun, at 87 now, in Korea. And also I was in, Japan, in the 70s. 1983-1985, I took my Southern Mantis and moved to Taiwan, China, and dabbled in many Arts, including Bak Mei, Fukien Crane, Wing Chun. I had many “red” challenge matches during those years. Southern Mantis served me well, and it was during that time period that I discarded all other styles to specialize, in Hakka Southern Mantis.
In the late 1980s, sometimes for months at a time, I traveled back many times to all compass points, of Mainland China. It was during this period that I published the MARTIAL ARTS OF CHINA magazines, with the Beijing Sports Commission. Again, I had many exchanges with some very famous Teachers, of many different styles, as well as village teachers. People such as Cai Longyun, who represented China’s Martial Arts, in the 1936 Olympics, hosted by Adolph Hitler, in Berlin Germany. And Wu Bin, the teacher of Jet Li. I was fortunate to cooperate, on a Ministry level, and gain access to the China Martial Art Archives and the Teachers who created today’s Wushu, in China.
Circa 1988, I visited some times with Yip Sui and his “Chow Gar” in Hong Kong. We were friendly some years. But, there is no Chow Gar, nor has there ever been any “Chow Gar”, in China. Chow Gar is only Yip Sui’s version, of his teacher, Lao Sui’s, Chu Gar.
In 1992, I traveled to Pingshan, where I am today, with Henry Poo Yee and Chan Tung, a disciple of Gin Foon Mark. We visited the Hometown and Wong Yuk Kong family, of China’s Kwongsai Mantis. We also visited with some China Kwongsai Sifu, in Hong Kong. It was during this trip that I disassociated Henry Poo Yee. Yee was not truthful.
Then in 2002, I moved back to this area, the Hometowns of Hakka Mantis, Kwongsai, Chu Gar, and Iron Ox. I have been here 16 years now and haven’t left China. And I have shared, exchanged, and taught, with all the Clans here, Kwongsai, Chu Gar, and Iron Ox. In 2013, in conjunction with Lao Sui’s descendants, Chen Jianming and I opened the first public Chu Gar School, in Lao Sui’s Hometown. We were featured on local television. I plan to post upcoming several videos, about this.
There are differences, in the China / Hong Kong Hakka Mantis, as compared to Lam Sang’s USA Kwongsai Mantis. Gene Chen’s Chu Gar, in 1980s San Francisco, was nearly the same as old style Chu Gar today. This is a big question that needs further addressing, without my virtual China tour here!
One primary difference is that foreigners, Occidentals, seem more interested and some times more dedicated, than their China counterparts. I sometimes think that local people, here in China, simply take Martial Arts for granted, whereas, we “round-eyes” must exert special effort to acquire it.
Martial Arts clubs, in China today, are sometimes more of a social club, than a traditional Wuguan. That being said, there is a strong martial tradition that remains, in most Hakka villages. I am only speaking from my personal experience. And this is only a broad outline. There are many more small details, of interest, regarding exchanges with other styles, “challenge matches”, training methods, spiritualism, and much more, in Hakka Mantis that still exists, in China. It is impossible to speak of 50+ years experience, in a short time! Ha ha!
3 — Interview Question:
What Martial and Structural details differentiate Hakka Martial arts from other National & Southern Chinese systems of martial arts?
There are many local Hakka Martial Arts here, such as, Li Gar, Li Jia, Bak Mei, Dragon, etc. They all share some similarity, but I can only speak for Hakka Mantis. As a general rule, we can say that Hakka Mantis uses a ‘high horse’, rib cage power, and ‘ging’ coiled explosive force. The correct horse is heel to toe. The back is slightly raised, like a hunch back, while the chest is concave and sunk inward. The force comes from the ground, up the legs, through the back, and out to the fingertips.
This is expressed in the principles of ‘swallow and spit’ (defense and offense) and ‘float and sink’ (whole body power).
4 — Interview Question:
What do you feel are the greatest strengths, of the Hakka Martial arts?
Rooting, Feeling Hand, and Target Practice: These three are the essence, of Hakka Mantis.
Rooting is the power of a thousand pounds, in the feet – standing as strong as Mt. Tai. This is accomplished by relaxation and deep breathing. You cannot root, while being stiff, with hard power.
Feeling Hand is borrowing, cheating, eating the opponent’s strength, in short angles and deflections. You cannot borrow the opponents force, while being stiff, with hard power.
Target practice is ‘intuiting’ the opponents vital points and striking with spring power – explosive force. Borrow the opponent’s incoming force, redirect his power back to him, and add your Mantis explosive force direct to the targets.
5 — Interview Question:
What were some of the most surprising details your research uncovered, about the History and transmission of Hakka Boxing?
First comes to mind how confused the West is about the origins, history, and transmissions of Hakka Mantis. In the West, people are simply repeating hearsay over and over. It becomes more convoluted each time it is retold, until 99% of what you hear today, about Hakka Mantis, is pure fantasy.
Secondly, the Art is barely 150 years old. It is verifiable. See my chronology under the Site Menu – HOME – HISTORY.
6 — Interview Question:
In Times past were there Hakka training methods that would be considered too extreme, by today’s standards?
Yes, the saying was, ‘to achieve extraordinary Mantis, you need extraordinary efforts’. One of the oldest methods, was called, “busting a rock and kicking oneself, in the arse”. You lay a large rock, on a waist high table and pulverize it with the Hammer Fist – followed by double circle hands sweeping it off the table and then you raise the knee and kick yourself in the buttocks! Ha! Sounds odd but it really was a thing.
Lam Sang has many ‘myths’ such as being made to practice stepping on green moss mid-stream, to steady his footwork. Another is he was made to sleep in a tree six years. And that his teacher, Lee Siem, inserted iron nails under and into his toenails and fingernails. This is myth, but it illustrates that great lengths were expected to achieve extraordinary skills.
Lao Sui, Chu Gar, was said to work on the shipyard docks, in Hong Kong, and could use double bridge ‘ging’ spring power and flip up to the ship 100 pound bags of rice, all day long.
Iron Uncle Chung, who passed some years ago at 96, stated that he and Lam Sang (USA Kwongsai) and their teacher, Chung Yel Chung, in the 1930s smoked opium, in China and Hong Kong. I imagine to enhance their training. Withhold your judgement, and keep in mind the 1st and 2nd China opium wars when imagining such.
In truth, there is only one real secret to extraordinary skill. That is constant and regular training. Daily training. Many claimed to have trained several hours, twice daily, for years. Is that necessary now? No, not for most people today. It depends on your goal. 20 minutes training a day will be sufficient for anyone wanting to learn Mantis boxing today. Regular training and repetition is the key.
7 — Interview Question:
Among the many Mantis teachers, uncles, elders and brothers you have known, who among them had cultivated the most surprising or advanced levels, of Martial skills?
See my Special Thanks here: https://hakka-mantis.com/special-thanks-acknowledgements/
There are no supermen. Hakka Mantis men are family men, business men, and citizens – everyday people. They were born into Hakka Mantis or they choose it, for a reason. For as many Hakka Mantis Men exists, there are as many reasons they choose to train – every one is different. Each person’s advancement and skill depends on his own effort. Some people have natural talent and skill comes easy. Some people must work harder to attain their goal.
Generally advancement, in skill level, is simply a matter of regular training, over a protracted time. Each person can attain their best with each skill, by their own effort. No two people will reach the same ability.
This saying applies: “If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be lesser and greater persons than yourself.”
He who is best, is he who works best for the betterment of all. There is no head of Hakka Mantis, only heirs.
8 — Interview Question:
What types of Specialized skills have they (Mantis teachers, uncles, elders and brothers) developed through Mantis Kung fu?
The important skills in Hakka Mantis are three: Rooting in the feet, Feeling Hand (borrowing the other’s force), and Target Practice.
Other ‘feats of strength’ are simply parlor tricks. Things such as raising the testicles falsely, faith healing, chi projection, coconut breaking, phone book tearing, bottle breaking, iron body, and the likes of such, are not part of Hakka Mantis tradition.
However, by-products of Hakka Mantis training may physically result in testicle retraction or a stronger ability to withstand blows.
A particular skill, is the Mantis Claw – fingertip power. In the 1960s, there is a story that Gin Foon Mark Sifu was arrested in Central Park for killing a tree. Everyday, he went to the same tree and trained Mantis claw. When the authorities saw the tree was dying they setup a sting operation to see who or what was the culprit. It turned out to be Mark Sifu training his Mantis claw! From such are myths and legends born.
In a natural way, the Claw is trained, in the Som Bo Gin, by closing each finger individually, joint by joint, from the little finger to the thumb and also from the thumb to the little finger. Close each finger joint by joint while keep all other fingers fully extended.
9 — Interview Question:
Please tell us if your are able, about the initiation ceremonies you have been apart of, and the inherent responsibility to preserve Martial traditions there in, for better or worse?
Initiation Ceremonies today run the gamut. From complex ancient Shaolin (today’s Chinese Freemasons) rituals, to simply presenting a cup of tea to your teacher, to receiving a membership certificate while raising your right hand and pledging oath and allegiance to the Pai (Clan).
There is a saying, ‘martial relations often run deeper than blood’. This means the teacher-student bond may supersede family ties. It is part of ancient Chinese custom to revere the teacher. See my article about “Sitao – Sifu: The Teacher-Student Relationship”: https://hakka-mantis.com/question/sitao-sifu-the-teacher-student-relationship/
And there are some teacher-student relationships that come to fruition, without the need for external ceremony. There can exist a heartfelt common welfare, where initiation is in the heart. The performance of an external ceremony is only a symbolism, for the already inwardly felt relationship, between a teacher and pupil.
I have been asked to make three ceremonies, to Hakka Mantis. The first was Mark Gin Foon Sifu, USA Kwongsai Mantis, circa 1980. It involved sleeping in front of the Sun Toi (Ancestral Shrine), for 49 consecutive days and retelling the daily dreams to Sifu. This is a common Shamanic practice. 49 days represents the journey through the underworld and rebirth (into the new Clan). It was a private, but intricate ceremony which took several days of preparation. An abridged version of the Chinese Masons, involving fire and water, etc., and culminating in knocking the forehead three times on the floor, before offering a cup of tea. I forgot to kowtow thrice and only knocked my head once!
The second was to late Sifu Gene Chen, Chu Gar Mantis. Gene annually accepted a number of Tai Chi students by ceremony, although, he only ever had three Chu Gar disciples. I was his third Chu Gar disciple and his last, circa 1988. The ceremony was a simple exchange of gifts and an offering of tea. He wrote out his mandate to carry forward Mantis on a red paper and presented it to me. I have included this, in the Chu Gar Online Courses.
Late Cheng Wan Sifu, in Hong Kong, circa 2002, also asked me to make private ceremony to him. He knew he was passing soon and wished to charge others with the Transmission, of the Chu Gar Art. Later, before he passed I also asked several of my USA, Australian, China students, to make Ceremony to Cheng Sifu. Some were lucky, some not. It is the hope of a Sifu, that those who make ceremony will never forget to call his name and annually burn incense, hence, he is never forgotten and lives on.
However, it is common, in the Ancestral Shrines, that only Five Ancestor’s names (Spirit tablets) made of peach wood, are kept. As time passes, the oldest name is taken down, burnt in fire, and the smoke carries the Ancestor’s spirit back to Heaven. Whilst on earth, spirits are embodied by the peach wood spirit tablets.
Like the difference between USA and China Kwongsai Mantis, this is a complex question that requires a bigger answer. Let’s follow up on this. At 62, I don’t mind to open up.
10 — Interview Question:
How has your personal approach to and training, of Hakka Mantis, changed since moving to China?
Ha! Remember I moved to China, in ’83.
Since my 2002 return this time, well, obviously, I’ve concentrated, on the hometowns, of China Kwongsai Mantis and Chu Gar Gao. I’ve been here 16 years now, this time, without leaving. I love and appreciate all the Hakka Mantis brother-friends here.
It was my goal, upon returning this time, in 2002, to give back all the USA Kwongsai to them here. So far, I’ve been unsuccessful with passing all the USA Transmission hand to hand, to all. Although, I have passed on the Fundamentals and 108 Two Man, on DVDs to both Chu Gar and Kwongsai here.
I once tangled with an Iron Ox, in the China Kwongsai Home – he was strong as a bull! We became friendly, but of late he suffered some setbacks. Iron Ox is complex Hakka Mantis, with some skills that are not seen, in Kwongsai and Chu. It is more akin to Okinawan Karate.
We’ve had some good years, of exchanging Mantis and simple daily life, and brother-friendship. I lead a simple life – Mantis-centric. Ha! Some would argue that I am – Mantis-eccentric!
I have some plans, for those that are interested, to participate ONLINE, in such simple brother-friendship and ceremonies. But, they have to be ready, willing, and able, of their own accord. See page 84, of my book, PINGSHAN MANTIS CELEBRATION, for an example, of local brother-friendship here!
11 — Interview Question:
Did you ever reach an impasse, in your Martial training, and if so, how did you overcome it?
I once opened a Southern Mantis Club, at the University of Minnesota, circa 1980. I had some dedicated students, mostly Chinese and Korean, it seems now. There were others.
I first began, circa age 10, training Judo, after intervening, in a rape, by a 19 year man and 16 year old girl. She was in a large grassy field begging for help. There were 4 of us 10 years old boys and I was the only one who ran to help. I’m not sure why I did that. She escaped. The 19 year old beat me pulpy, but six months later committed suicide, by hanging. I went home that day 3B: black, blue, and bloody.
My dad said, son, you better start Chinese Kungfu immediately. But, there was only Judo. I trained Judo, age 10, for a year or two while training TDK simultaneously. At 11 or 12, I met my Hawaiian Kenpo teacher. And never looked back.
We all reach impasses. Life is yin and yang – circadian rhythms – up and down – lunar – solar – cycles upon cycles. The hardest part is resuming training after a lay away – so best is just use IRON WILL – WARRIOR INTENT – do only what is necessary. Avoid the excess. No excuses. The secret as said, is keep regular daily training and over time you will become expert, at the skills, not matter what is your natural talent.
When you lay off – just start again – when you stop, and reach the bottom, then it is time to return to training, go back to the start. What you will, is what you become. Pick a path early and follow it. Don’t be a ship without a rudder. Keep constant on the north star! If you like Hakka Mantis, then train it as regularly, as your time and body allows.
12 — Interview Question:
Of your many teachers, who was the most severe, in their teaching regimen or methods?
That would be late Harry Sun, Sibok, my senior Uncle. He lived in New Jersey, USA. Once, we were sitting at his kitchen table and Henry Poo Yee called him. It was pure happenstance. Yee asked Harry, “I’m coming to NYC and would like to treat you to lunch”? Harry scolded him and said I don’t know you, you were never one of us, don’t call me again.
Harry then asked, did you, RDH, give him my telephone number? I was guilty, admitted guilt, and apologized. Harry said don’t do that again please.
Harry once came down to my Alabama school. From the School, he called Mark Gin Foon and scolded him too. It was Mark Foon Sifu who carried Harry’s belongings when Harry separated from Lam Sang. Another long story.
Harry Sibok, once owned a late night noodle shop, in New Jersey. Around 2am, several inebriated patrons were looking for noodles and Harry barred the door, with his foot. He said sorry Boys, the shop is closed until morning.
They proceeded to push their way in, only to be thrown out by ‘little Harry’ (he was about the size of Lam Sang). Today, some of those guys have passed and some continue to contact me.
13 — Interview Question:
Of your many teachers, who do you remember with the greatest fondness and why?
Dear Tyler, I didn’t have any input, as to what you were going to ask me, in this interview. But, I’m glad you asked this question. I’ve spent some 52 martial art years, to date, with hundreds of teachers, as a publisher, author, student, teacher, in many countries.
Only those who are less than honest, or completely dishonest, have I dissassociated.
Worthy teachers, brother-friends, students, I welcome all. Hakka Mantis is a worthy Boxing Art – a Culture, a tradition. Let us all – like minded – carry it forward. Just today, I spoke on the phone, with Jesse Sibok, and received an email from Gin Foon Mark’s spouse.
14 — Interview Question:
Of all your many Martial arts teachers, who impressed you the most, in terms of knowledge and skill?
Well, as you said earlier, some are good teachers, some are good fighters, some are historians. It never mattered to me, too much, as I was always interested to hear what they all had to say, about Hakka Mantis. At 62, now, I have exhausted the fountain, of Mantis youth. I have painted a broad stroke, on the canvas, of Southern Praying Mantis Kungfu.
15 — Interview Question:
If through a twist of time-travel fate, you could go back and meet your 20 year old self, what Martial art advice would you give to yourself?
Ha! I have sometimes personally pondered this question! I’d give more thought to the future, when training daily!
Special Thanks to Sifu Roger D. Hagood, for this insightful and candid look back on a life time of Martial dedication, cultivation and Martial fellowship.
Until next time, train hard, train often & Join Hakka Mantis Boxing International. And do participate in this INTERVIEW, on the Forum Discussion. Ask, Answer, and comment, about this INTERVIEW and any other question, on the Forum. Learn to use this Site, to your Hakka Mantis advantage. Don’t be shy!