Below you will find an attempt at an artist statement, describing my martial arts background.
My first introduction to martial arts was Shukokai Karate, a hard form of Shito-ryu karatedo. From 1989 to 2005, while living in New York City, I practiced a mixture of Karate, Shorinji Kempo, Kodokan Judo, and hard Aikido, with added waza adapted from a variety of jujutsu styles. I remember fondly attending several seminars in classical and traditional martial arts, including the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu and Daito-ryu Takumakai, while living in New York. This sparked an interest in learning more classical and traditional arts when the opportunity presented itself. During this time, a good friend of mine from school was a practitioner of Chinese martial arts, and was impressed by his dedication and practice. I told myself if I ever got good enough in jujutsu, I would learn a form of Bagua Zhang or Bajiquan.
Gao Lineage Bagua
In 2004, after I received my final teaching license in modern jujutsu, I visited a demonstration of classical Japanese martial arts at the St. Louis Botanical Garden. Tenshinsho-den Katori Shinto-ryu, Shindo Muso-ryu, Araki-ryu, Toda-ha Buko-ryu, and Yagyu Shinkage-ryu were represented. There, while talking with Ellis Amdur, he asked me what was next for me. I told him about my desire to learn Bagua Zhang. He had practiced Xingyi Quan while in Japan under Su Dongchen, and was interested in its sister art of Gao Lineage Bagua Zhang. Ellis introduced me to Bob Galeone, a Karate and Aikido teacher who had learned Gao Bagua from Allen Pittman and Paul Cote in the lineage of Hung Yimien, a student of Zhang Junfeng. I began training in Gao Bagua with Bob Galeone in late 2004. I subsequently received feedback on my training from Paul Cote and also Su Dongchen during his Essence of Evolution seminars in Minneapolis, and Bob's permission to teach my long-time jujutsu student Ben Lawner the art.
In 2005, while visiting the Gassan Dai Jinja ( 月山大神社 ) shrine on Mt. Haguro in the Dewa Sanzan ( 出羽三山 ) area of Yamagata Prefecture, and the Hagurosan Kōtakuji Shōzenin ( 羽黒山荒沢寺正善院 ) in Haguro-machi, I decided to commit my full efforts towards learning Chinese Internal martial arts, even if it meant giving up teaching modern jujutsu regularly. I decided also to explore classical Japanese swordsmanship. These decisions required resigning from the jujutsu organization I was a member of and starting over as a beginner. I can say without reservation, ten years later, that doing so was well worth the effort.
Over the next ten years, Ben Lawner and I re-examined the values we once held dear, viewing our modern jujutsu practice through the lens of Gao Lineage Bagua. Ben Lawner now maintains a practice of what we call Gassankan Jujutsu ( 月山館 柔術 ), a condensed curriculum of locking and grappling, analogous to qinna and shuai jiao in Chinese martial arts. Gassankan Jujutsu is designed to be a beginning practice that is compatible with a subsequent study of internal martial arts. It has a focus on grappling and self-defense and is very fluid and spontaneous, with a wide variety of combative applications and can serve as a basic curriculum for locking and throwing compatible with internal martial arts principles.
Yin Cheng Gong Fa
Meanwhile, I continued to explore traditional internal martial arts.
In 2006, Bob Galeone introduced me to Paul Cote and his teacher Zhang Yun, initially in the context of Wu Style Taiji Quan. It is quite interesting to me that my initial high school friend who introduced me to the idea of Bagua was the college roomate of one of Zhang Yun's senior students, Clayton Shiu. Small world. I began training in the North American Yin Cheng Gong Fa (YCGF) organization in earnest, receiving instruction in the traditional Chinese Internal Martial Arts of Bagua Zhang, Xingyi Quan, and Taiji Quan. I first studied Wu Style Taiji Quan with Paul Cote, and when my jobs changed and work schedule increased, shifted to visiting Shifu Zhang Yun in Pittsburgh, PA, periodically for training. Initially I focused on learning Hebei Xingyi Quan from Zhang, but over time received instruction and corrections on my Bagua and Taiji as well. I am making sure to put in a strong effort into learning classical Chinese weapons preserved in YCGF.
In September 2015, I was very honored and fortunate to be accepted as the 40th chair lineal disciple and indoor student of Zhang Yun, himself a student of the late Grandmaster Wang Peisheng.
Formal Indoor Student (baishr) Ceremony
I was very grateful that Paul Cote and Clayton Shiu served as my sponsors into the group. I continue my current practice in Seattle, Washington, and return to Pittsburgh periodically for further training.
In 2006 I was introduced by Bob Galeone to teachers of Katori Shinto-ryu at Capital Aikikai. I trained actively in Sugawara Budo from 2006 to 2014, receiving the rank of mokuroku. Around the same thime, I was also introduced to David Hall by Michael Heiler. In 2008 I began learning Kashima-shinden Jiki Shinkage-ryu at the Hobyokan. I was interested in what the differences were between classical Japanese martial arts influenced by Kashima shrine as compared to the arts preserved from Katori. I practiced both arts concurrently for a time, and my experience in Shinto-ryu I felt at times benefited my understanding of Jiki, which over time has been condensed and purified to the point where some of its teachings are well hidden.
It was, however, very difficult to maintain a practice two separate, overlapping koryu, and do both justice. Ellis Amdur writes extensively about this in his essays. If I was to attain the level of teacher (kiyoshi), I would need to rededicate and refocus my efforts. At the same time, I realized that over time I was viewing kenjutsu more and more through the lens of Jiki Shinkage-ryu. Learning it changed my perspective on Japanese martial arts. In late 2014, I decided to focus my efforts in Japanese swordsmanship on the Jiki Shinkage-ryu curriculum taught at the Hobyokan, as I felt it was more compatible with my training in internal martial arts.
In the Fall of 2006 I received my 200-hour certification as a Hatha Yoga instructor from Kim Manfriedi at Midtown Yoga, with a focus on Vinyasa Yoga. In 2012, I attended the Kalachakra Empowerment for World Peace officiated by His Holiness The Fourteenth Dalai Lama in Washington, DC. My practice of Vajrayana Buddhism and Yoga have positively influenced my life in countless ways.