CHIEF INSTRUCTOR SIJO ROBERT Z
Shaolin Kung Fu Australia and Liang-I Lifestyle Kung Fu
The Path to Sijo
Master Robert Z was first introduced to martial arts, in 1961 when he was 'dragged along' by his older brother to his Judo training. It was a chaotic time in Roberts life when the parents moved around a lot and, although he continued to train Judo, where and when he could, it was at best more of a pass time than dedication.
Late 1969 Robert's parents migrated to Europe, Germany where he was introduced to Karate. That same year, needing to learn to speak German (join a club to have people to talk to), he joined 'The Way of the Open Hand Karate School' under Sensei Arno. The school was close to his workplace which allowed Robert to train Mondays through Wednesdays & Fridays, most weeks. In 1971 he was conscripted into the German Army and after Basic training was assigned to a Tank Division. As his German was still not very good he was given the job of being the Captains Driver rather than being a Tank Driver. This gave him plenty of spare time and allowed regular visits to Karate Training.
About 4 months into his service, whilst doing his usual evening workout in the company's recreation & gym hall (there was not much else to do on the base), there was another person training on the bags and mats. It was Lt Hans Herman assigned to the Company for one year. Lt Hans was also training martial arts but his way of moving was different. After a few sessions training next to each other, a conversation here and there, they started training together.
It was soon evident that there was a difference between the two styles and ways. Lt. Hans had received single combat training as a member of a special Army unit (which was not general knowledge at the base) and was 'doing his time with a normal army division'. They soon started sparring together, seriously (there was real pain involved). Robert, who was fairly good in sparring and fighting found himself at the short end of the stick sparring against the Lt. Even though the Karate was hard and varied, Lt Herman, slightly smaller but very quick and agile initially dominated every bout.
It was an interesting match the formal traditional hard karate against an army trained specialist. Lt Hans could not and did not apply all the techniques that he had been taught, but what he did use was very frustratingly effective. There were also quite a few injuries during these sessions and the Base Medical Unit got to know them both well. For 9 months it was fun & pain, but then in those days "No Pain, No Gain"! Lt. Hans was reassigned overseas in early 1972, about 2 months before Robert's commission was over and he was discharged as a Lieutenant.
As good as his sparring and fighting came to be, this informal training caused a few problems with Robert's training back at the Karate school. As hard and as 'practical' as the karate was, Sensei considered some of the techniques unacceptable in the Traditional Okinawa Karate style. It took about 18 months before Sensei Arno invited Robert to train with his International Sparring Team. He was the first and only green belt in this 20 person squad consisting exclusively of Brown two's and Black and over.
His first chance at international competitions, in a pan European Titles held in Amsterdam in 1974, did not go well. In the 4th eliminations round, he KO'ed his opponent with a technique he learned from Lt Hans and was disqualified. Still in those days that was an 'honorable' result and for a first timer. (One of the schools 2nd Degrees came first and another came third.)
He continued to train with the full contact squad and in 1975 was promoted to Brown 2 and competed in the European Championships in Italy. This time he came second in the full contact open Black Belt division without disqualification or incident. Some 6 to 7 of the Black belt full contact competitors were sent to hospital on the day with injuries ranging from broken ribs, concussion to bent/broken fingers, dislocated arms and sever bleeding. It was a hard competition.
1976 was a very special year in three ways:
It was also a sad year as Sense's Arno died in a car accident in France later that year.
- Robert Z successfully graded as Black Belt in late May
- He won the European Championships; it was one of the toughest competitions ever as he had to spar against two of his (senior) team mates and fight a 6 foot 4 inch (tall and wide) Greek Black belt. He TKO'ed the big Greek with a roundhouse to the floating ribs to be the winner of the 1976 European Championships .
- He started Electronics Engineering as an adult student
After the death of Sensei Arno the club dissolved. Robert wanted to continue training, especially as the next Karate Championships were to be held in his home town of Hamburg; but at that time, another karate club was not an option . Although he did not know it at the time, at age of 24 he was getting a bit adverse to all the black eyes, broken/bloodied noses, pain, etc. He was looking for something gentler and was considering going back to Judo and finishing his Black Belt. It was a good friend of his that asked him to come along to train the new and very little know art of Aikido.
It was to be another auspicious time for Robert. He meet Sensei 2nd Dan, Christine of "The Way of the Wind" Aikido and started training his third style. He met his wife Dagmar celebrating his 23 birthday (married 89 months later on 25/2/1976) and quick his Trucking job and started his Electronic Engineering Degree.
It was quite a challenging time with a lot of changes. From being a truck driver to being a student; from bachelor to married from hard Karate to the soft Aikido. It wasn't easy and for a period of 4 years, studying, getting used to married life, on a very tight budget and Aikido.
He successfully completed his Engineering training and two year later also his Aikido Black after 6 years of training. In 1982 Sensei Christine was ready for her 3rd degree Dan and this coincided with the touring plans of the Japanese head of the style. Robert was fortunate, that 6 weeks before departing for Australia, he was able to grade for 1st Dan with Sensei Christine for her third Dan. Both were successful and there was a big celebration that was also a going away party!
It took 6 months before Robert & Dagmar were settled in Australia and Robert needed to get back into some type of physical training or martial arts. Going back to karate was not an option and being a big person over 30, the falling and rolling of Aikido had taken it's toll on Robert's back! Something different was needed!
He visited many different schools and styles over a very short period of time and meet many excellent instructors and masters. It was though the Golden Lion Kung Fu, Tai Chi & Wu Shu Academy under Senior Master Dai Sifu Pi-er, Master Sifu Charles and Master Sifu Richard Tsui-Po that really was inspirational. For the next 9 years Robert trained up to 7 days a week, up to 3 times a day. He was so rare at home that his wife Dagmar also joined in 1984. She trained up to 5 times a week (some to say she did this just to see her husband more often)! They were both inspired with the art and the three Master brothers!
In 1987 and 1988 saw the National Martial Art League (NMAL) competition in Victoria. They organized sparring teams of 5 persons each, and gave them their own colours and names. It was a full contact competition but nowhere as brutal and ruthless as the European Championships. This was good that way as Robert was the oldest competitor by almost 10 years. For two years he participated, initially with the Golden Lion Team (The Lions) later together with a rag-tag group made up of people who's teams broke up. He had 20 bouts in all, 19 won.
1989 was also the year of Roberts Black Sash grading. Even though it was to be his 3rd Black Sash it seemed as if it were to be his first. Now aged 36 he was a bit aware of his age compared to most others. His partner Craig with whom Robert trained often in weaponry and demonstration events was also to be graded. Fortunately Craig was also a 'Kung Fu Nut' who trained almost every day and then some. They often went to Murrumbeena Park after Saturday and Sunday Training to work on their routines and in 89 in preparation for their Black Sash's.
There was a good interaction in Murrumbeena Park. Many people came to the park to walking and running the round, there was enough room for Cricket, Football and other sports. There were always many people around and some people would stop and watch us training. Some of these were martial artists and we asked them to joined in and train with us. Some did but many didn't and there was a sharing of training information. Some just sat on the bench and watched.
In 1989, whilst training by himself in the Park, a small oriental gentleman stopped and watched (he may have been there before at previous training Saturdays or Sundays but unnoticed). This in itself was not unusual; what was unusual about this person was that he stayed the full 2 hours and watched. The next Sunday (which now were usually without Craig who had a new girl friend and could not train as often) the oriental gentleman was back, sitting on the same spot. Whilst Robert was practicing the Iron Wire form (a hard isometric form), the gentleman started to chuckle. Robert felt a bit annoyed at this but what to do. The quiet chuckling continued until the man shook his head, walked over and adjusted my Robert's leg and foot positioning. This was very unusual!
He introduced himself as Hushiu (phonetic spelling) who unfortunately spoke very, very little English. He was quite an animated, interesting gentleman of some 160cm, 60+ years and enormous strength. Robert himself was around 135kg and this gentleman, half his size, seemed of equal strength. Over the coming few months Master Hushiu was a regular participant and teacher at these Sunday 'arvo' sessions. The communication was mainly Master Hushiu laughing and then adjusting some aspect of Robert's techniques; at times very frustrating but there was a difference. It is in these sessions that Robert Z learned to appreciate the detail that he did not learn to appreciate before.
This informal training continued for a period of 6 months with some exceptions until one Sunday. Master Hushiu came with a small boy who introduced himself as 'the nephew'. Steven was his English name. He explained that Master Hushiu was 87 years old, was Chinese and now lived in Taiwan where he was the founder and head of over a dozen different schools although he was no longer active. The schools were run by his sons and nephews. I was not able to find out what the style was that Master Hushiu taught except that it was a combination of "Shaolin Long Fist, Chi Kung and Tai Chi/Baqua". That day, Master Hushiu came to say goodbye as he was leaving to go back home the following Monday. They would not see each other again.
From this time onwards though, Robert made it a habit to train, at least once a week, with a different style. With some he stayed only for a few months with some he stayed for a while. The most memorable of these were;
The time from 1987 to 1991 was also a time of many Demos and Shows. The Golden Lion Academy participated and a number of Moomba parades, in between play events at the MCG, Street and Council Festivals, Chinese New Year Lion Dancing and Shopping Center promotional's. 1991 was also the year Robert was awarded the Student of the Year and the year of his second 'encounter'.
The Golden Lion Demo and Show team with which Robert and Craig were members, were performing at a street demo at the Glenhuntly Road festival. It was really a street demo by Glenhuntly RS, dodging trams whilst demonstrating in the middle of the street. At the end of the day, when all was packed up and everyone was ready to go he was approached by an oriental gentleman. Robert referred the gentleman to Master Richard, but the gentleman declined and wanted to speak to him. He identified himself in excellent English as Master Kin-nu the third son of Grand Master . . . . . of the Wind Element Tornado or Whirlwind Kung Fu style.
He said that he had observed Robert carefully, when he performed a form of Robert's own design (for the purpose of demos and competitions) based on the Northern Long Fist. Master Kin-nu observed that some of the form bore a striking resemblance to his family style. Robert mentioned that he did not know of the style. Master Kin-nu suggested that he and Robert might meet in a nearby park for a tea some time.
Two meetings and 3 pots of green tea later Master Kin-nu suggested to show Robert Z some aspects of his style including whirling fists, the windmill, and a few other techniques, moves and stepping. Much of what Robert saw he knew and h ad learned at the Golden Lion but what Master Kin-nu showed and explained was slightly different. Master Kin-nu explained some essentials of his family style that Robert h ad not ever seen or even considered before. This started a process that was to be the end of Robert time with the Golden Lion.
It seems that Master Kun-nu's family left China around the 1920's taking their style, Whirling Fists of . . . ., Thunder Stepping and Undulating Palm with them. This style of Kung Fu h ad been in their family exclusively for many generations. Master Kin-nu taught his style now only to two of his family members; which was his way of continuing his training of the family style. As he was visiting Australia he basically needed a victim; and this was a good thing. We continued to meet in various parks for a further 3 months, once a week on Sunday mornings. They were tough session in which Robert was also introduced to the principles of Undulating Palms, Thunder Stepping and of course Whirlwind Style/Fist Kung Fu, Heavy Foot, Water Palm, Tornado Kick, Whipping Branch hands, the Lightning Front Kick, Ape Hand & Feet Techniques and many others (Master Kun-nu enjoyed 'descriptive names' for techniques); although nothing was allowed to be noted down or recorded (Robert was into Video'ing). The requirement was honored by Robert and to this day none of these items have been recorded only passed along in training verbally
It was one Sunday after training Master Kin-nu invited Robert to Yum-Cha at the Gold Leaf restaurant in Glenhuntly Road. There he told him that that was their last session session. He was returning home. The announcement coming out of the blue, Robert sought to thank Master Kin-nu for the training but Master Kin-nu replied that it was his honor and pleasure to do so; (which Robert had not quite understood at the time). Then slightly grinning, suggested that otherwise he would have been very bored, when the rest of his family went to Sunday worship!
Golden Lion Kung Fu was extremely interesting but the encounter with the two masters and other aspects in his life (professional & personal including the death of his father) made him a difficult person at that time. Robert's father died in May 1990, Robert changed jobs and around this time, he was finishing his 3rd Engineering Degree and there were other professional and personal issues. He was getting restless and unruly. Robert's restlessness was causing some problems at the Lion and neither Robert nor the masters at the Golden Lion new how to deal with this problem.
In November 1991 he was asked to come in and see Dai Sifu Pi-er. After a short talk that was a bit frustrating, Dai Sifu, suggested that Robert take a 3 month break from training. He was devastated and felt very rejected; which is to say he did not take this well. His fathers death, the first in the family and now this rejection was a bit too much to bear. Where he expected a bit of help and understanding came 'fix it yourself'. This was not quite what he expected from his 'master'. He never returned to train with the Golden Lion.
Around that time too, Robert qualified his third Associate Diploma and moved from Engineering to become an Executive.
His new office was in a brand new city building, one with great Gym and Aerobic Facilities. Here Robert started a few private students. Sourced mainly through his work at Telstra, a few 'high flyers' were training with him regularly at lunchtime. After leaving the GL, Robert started taking regular private classes and groups also in the evening. At this time he h ad a wide cross section of persons training with him, many of which were also Black Belts in other styles. Most notable were two Tae Kwan Do'ists. There footwork was fantastic but Kung Fu h ad a greater variety of kicks that they were interested in. It was a good experience to teach a Kicking Style kicks. It was at one of these sessions, that the idea for Roberts club came up.
Dagmar, Roberts wife and partner was also a member of the Golden Lion. After years of Kung Fu training she transferred to Master Charles's Tai Chi classed and was graded an instructor a year after Robert Grading. If a club was to be started, it could only be in cooperation with both.
Whilst reading a Chinese book of poem's, Robert came across the term Liang-i. It was explained as the proper name for what we now term Yin & Yang; "The two ancient, ever opposing, ever complimenting forces". Robert and Dagmar were not ancient but definitely ever opposing and ever complimenting; what a fitting name for their first . . . venture together. Officially, Shaolin Kung Fu Australia and Liang-I Lifestyle Kung Fu were founded and registered on 24 June 1992. And thus also the Logo of the Dragon & Phoenix as the symbol for the Club!
Since this time, Shaolin Kung Fu Australia has had many success including over 20 Australian Championships, over 50 State Titles, and many other awards and recognitions. Yet one of the greatest experiences came about when touring China!
The Beijing Kung Fu and Wushu school, a full time Secondary and Martial Art school put on a full show just for us. We were greatly honored by the Head Master, who organized his National Demonstration Team show; quite impressive; 30 kids in unison and then seniors demonstration and Weaponry. Then we were invited to demonstrate. We only wanted to train with them and did not expect this. It was nerve racking.
We had students from beginner level to Black Sash and included our 3 senior Blacks and one exceptional 'almost' black. There was quite a ripple through the crowd as we demonstrated. There was a great deal of applause and even exclamations. Especially when our 4 seniors demonstrated. It was atypical for the Chinese to show so much enthusiasm; we didn't know it at the time but this would have consequences for us.
It seems that a lot of these schools in China are connected. When we reached Henan-Shaolin Temple Training School, We were greatly honored. The Chief Shaolin Temple School Trainer Sher Se Gung himself trained the team exclusively. He even took time out to show Robert some interesting Chin Na techniques, privately and just the two of them. It seems that the impression our demo had made with the Beijing school had somehow been conveyed to the Shaolin Temple Training School (and later even to Australia).
When the team arrived in Xi'an, we were invited to the Xi'an Kung Fu and Wushu school. Much like the first school, this was a full time school with students at primary & secondary school levels that schooled 6 days a week in the morning in (for us) normal school and spend 2pm to 5pm in Wushu Training to achieve their High School Diploma. Here we were greeted by the Head of the school personally. He showed us around, introduced us to various seniors and teachers. There was also a demonstration organized, but this time a bit more ad hoc. It seems that they were more interested in our demonstration. So on we went.
There were a number of 'special guests' in attendance during our demo and a lot of the students gathered around. Again they started with polite applause when our beginner students demonstrated but became fairly excited when our 4 seniors demonstrated. After the demo there was a bit of interaction between the instructors and senior students after which we were invited for a tea.
There were now 14 person at the table; 8 Shaolin Academy members including Sijo, 2 interpreters, School Principle, Deputy, Secretary and an older gentleman. We were introduced, for the first time, to China's National Deputy for Wushu. It seems that he was originally one of the key person in the organization of Wushu in China, but now being in his high 70's has passed the day-to-day management to a 'younger lot'. The schools interpreter explained that he came by Aeroplane from Beijing just to see us after the Beijing School head had informed him about us. They were in awe and humbled.
There were also many other success along the way for Master Z's. The Shaolin Kung Fu WEB page receives between 1000 and 5000 visitors a week. The most popular pages are the Shaolin History and Weapons History pages with the former being referenced by the Encyclopedia Britannica for additional reading on Shaolin.
Sijo's students regularly win in tournaments and competitions although they are not specifically trained for it (a student should be able to adapt to any situation and make the best of it rather than focusing on beating others). There are well over 1500 Shaolin Kung Fu students in 63 different countries around the world including China & Japan. He is planning to open a full time center in 08 or 09 and continue to teach until he is well into his 80's. Currently his home of over 20 years is being renovated to raise the funds to do this.
Master Robert Z is in no rush though. Anything worth doing is worth doing well and taking time. Often the journey is more enjoyable and satisfying than the final end product.
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