MY TRAINING CV
“Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.”
Lao Tze, Dao de Jing
10th Mon (green belt) British Judo
1st Kyu (Brown and white belt) World Karate Federation under Sensei Jim Lewis (8th Dan)
Trained in Jodo (stick fighting) and Iado (sword drawing) under Sensei Jim Lewis (8th Dan)
Club president Imperial College Karate 2006/7
WING CHUN KUNG FU
5th Rank under Master Andrew Sofos (SAS Martial Arts)
Instructor Under Master Andrew Sofos teaching at Imperial College, UCL and SAS HQ
Club president Imperial College Kung Fu 2007/8
Founder and lead instructor of Queen Mary Kung Fu Society
YANG STYLE TAI CHI
17 years training experience under Master Dr Mark Green
Founder and lead instructor of Silwood Park Tai Chi Club
Awarded the title of Sifu by Master Dr Mark Green
OTHER CHINESE ARTS
8 years experience with Xing Yi Chuan (under Master Paul Whitrod and Li Quan)
Red sash in Fujian White Crane under Master Dennis Ngo
Training in Guo Style Bagua, Chow Gar and Baji Chuan.
15 years of Qi Gong and meditation practice (standing, walking and lying)
STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING COACH
6 years experience training under the barbell
Advanced lifter by strength standards with current 2020 lifts: squat 160kg, Deadlift 230kg, bench 120kg and 90kg press
Certified strength and conditiong coach with St Mary's Univeristy
Competitive strongman in the 105kg and 95kg weight classes.
Well educated with PhD in biology and Bayesian statistics at Queen Mary University
Qualified Geographic Profiling Anlayst with the Manchester Metropolitan Police.
Moderately succesful (but unfufilling) career in tech as a data scientist (reaching the level of principle data scientist)
Karate training at Imperial College Karate Club circa 2006
Karate training at the Imperial College Club circa 2006
Karate training at Imperial College Karate Club circa 2006
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
― Lao Tzu, Dao De Jing
Starting with Judo
I have been involved with and fascinated by martial arts since I was a child. My very first experiences were with the more readily available and widely practised Japanese martial arts. The first style I learned was Judo and I credit it with teaching me the lifelong skill of learning to roll and fall with confidence. I trained hard and earned a junior green belt before I had an early traumatic experience when I injured a training partner during a supervised practice session. While I left Judo behind and briefly considered giving up the martial arts, the interest it awakened within me meant that I was soon to return to training.
Training really begins: The Karate Years
I took up Shotokan Karate as I was older first in Guildford before continuing my training at Imperial College London under the supervision of Sensei Jim Lewis (8th Dan). I consider Sensei Lewis to be my first and formative instructor. He was a man of few words but led by example, focussing on relentless training of the basic movements, seeking perfection in kata and prioritising complete commitment in fighting applications. Sensei Lewis embodied the spirit of the samurai and was completely honest about the purpose of his art.
I trained relentlessly under Sensei Lewis, practising every day, attending World Karate Federation (WKF) retreats and seminars and I also took up the supplementary arts of Jodo (stick fighting) and Iado (sword drawing and cutting). My hard work and commitment paid off and I was elected president of the Imperial college Karate club in the 2006/7 academic year. I reached 1st Kyu (the grade before black belt) in my time at Imperial before, in my final year, I began to suffer from a debilitating overuse injury in my shoulder (which we shall return to later).
Eyes opened to the art: Wing Chun Kung Fu
At the same time as training diligently in the Japanese arts, I was still curious about what other martial arts styles had to offer. At the freshers fair at Imperial College I watched a demonstration of Wing Chun Kung Fu by Master Andrew Sofos. I had never seen anything like it, the speed of the hands and the agility of the footwork where nothing like the large powerful movements I was practising in Karate. I was enthralled and had to know more. I joined the Wing Chun club and started training diligently with the senior instructors Vicky Bloodsworth and John Kinley. I still learning Kung Fu and I was amazed that when we practised drills like sticking hands, and in free applications, the instructors were able to move quickly, and easily defeat me. This came to a head later when, as my confidence grew from my karate sparring and I started free fighting in Wing Chun, I found I was easily swatted aside by Wing Chun practitioners that had trained for less years than I had. My ego was definitely bruised as I was a proud karate practitioner but I committed to training both arts to improve my skills.
Over training and Injury
All of the hard training in both Karate and Wing Chun (10 sessions a week at the peak of my university practice) and a no pain no gain push on mindset, had turned a small muscle imbalance into a serious overuse injury. The imbalance in my shoulder musculature was so severe that the shoulder joint was grinding the muscles, tendons and soft tissue inside my shoulder, resulting in internal bruising. I had huge bruises all over my shoulder after training, as if I had been pummelled in hard sparring but the damage was coming from within my own body! My neck and shoulders all locked up, I couldn't sleep and the pain got so bad I could not even sit through a one hour lecture without leaving to move and stretch my shoulders. I looked for medical help but was unwilling to go under the knife to remove all the scar tissue around the joint with what, I was told, was likely to have little chance of offering significant improvement. The experience of speaking with the surgeon left me feeling dejected. They made it clear to me that I had no future in any athletic activity, suggesting stopping all martial arts, seeing a physio and doing yoga. I was devastated and fell into the first bout of depression in my life. Going from being incredibly active to inactive and having to give up on my black belt grading and Wing Chun training, was crushing to my 21 year old self.
The journey to recovery: Tai Chi Chuan
I followed medical advice and tried physiotherapy, first to little success. The pain was so bad and the movement patterns so ruined that I could not correctly apply or feel the exercises I was given. Massage only provided a temporary relief. Yoga was more promising. I took up Satyananda Yoga and found out just how locked up, rigid and inflexible I had become. The gentle practice of Satyananda Yoga with its heavy focus on relaxation in Savasana (corpse pose) after every posture and its slow and restrained approach was prefect for helping my initial recovery and giving me some relief from the pain but I yearned to return to martial arts.
This was when I tried Tai Chi for the first time. I was unable to take part in Wing Chun practice with Sifu Andrew Sofos and in particular Look Sau (double sticky hands practice) was incredibly damaging to my injured shoulder. He suggested I try tai chi with Sifu Dr Mark Green who taught classes at his academy. I remember how incredibly difficult and strange I found tai chi at first. The slow graceful movements looked nice, but they did not seem like a martial art to me, being used to the large and forceful movements of karate. Yet when Mark demonstrated fa jing (explosive power) he moved with lighting speed and again I was completely defenceless in pushing hands practice. It slowly began to dawn on me that the external approach to martial arts had damaged my body and in addition the level of fighting and physical skill of Chinese internal martial arts practitioners was superior. I resolved to practice tai chi diligently, to improve my movement quality, heal my shoulder and continue to improve my martial skills.
Healing: Learning to stand
I took up Yang style Tai Chi with enthusiasm and trained privately with Mark in his Highgate Studio as well as in classes. At first, it was incredibly difficult to move slowly and I felt like even after all this time training, I was still like a small child, uncoordinated and stiff in my movements. Over time my body began to loosen up. Mark placed a heavy emphasis on standing meditation practice. I was at first unable to understand its importance. How does just standing with your arms up help your fighting practice? It is just painful and uncomfortable, so I did not practice regularly at first.
During this time my parents had moved to Hong Kong and I spent holidays out there with them and my brother. It was during this time that I trained in both Hong Kong Wing Chun (although this was difficult and painful for my shoulder) with the Leung Ting lineage and Yang style tai chi in Victoria park.
My tai chi training in Victoria Park was a learning experience for me. Classes began at 5am in the park sharp, my teacher and most of the trainees were older yet they were more flexible than me, able to stand in static poses on one leg for longer and move better than me. My mind rebelled against the idea, I was a 23 year old man and experienced martial artist yet these older folks seemed healthier than me. Further humiliation was piled on, when my teacher insisted that I couldn't even learn the form yet, just to practice standing and qi gong exercises. As I stood there, hands up, trying to power through the pain in my shoulder, body shaking, mind full of anger and frustration, something finally clicked. My shoulder suddenly just relaxed and I felt it drop down inside the joint. The shaking stopped for a moment and my chest relaxed and I breathed deeply for the first time in years. It suddenly dawned on me that Mark had been right, if you couldn't even stand upright with your hands up without pain, without tension how could you move? How could you fight? I bought every book on Qi Gong and standing practice I could get my hands on and began to stand daily in earnest.
Giving up the Japanese arts: Teaching Wing Chun
During this period I had been half-heartedly trying to prepare for my black belt grading but was unable to endure the rigorous training in karate without my shoulder injury flaring up again. I saw that Chinese arts contained not only effective fighting techniques but also deep knowledge of human anatomy and health, that was absent in the Japanese arts I had practised before. I stepped away from Karate and never looked back. I trained in tai chi diligently and stood daily. I learned double pushing hands; I found that it worked like a form of deep tissue massage and mobility training for my shoulder blades; gradually freeing up movement and breaking down the scar tissue around the joint bit by bit. My strength and mobility returned and the pain was gone. Whilst to this day, my left shoulder is slightly weaker than the right, I have a been able to achieve a 90kg overhead press as of early 2020. Standing meditation and tai chi practice had done what western medicine had suggested was not possible, I was able to take up martial arts again in earnest!
I returned to Wing Chun practice with a new appreciation and progressed rapidly, becoming an assistant instructor with Sifu Andrew Sofos and teaching the beginners classes at Imperial College London, UCL, as well as kids classes at Sifu Andrews Kentish Town headquarters. In the summer I was employed by Sifu Andrew and Connexions to teach Kung Fu to disadvantaged kids, as well as young offenders, even teaching martial arts inside a youth detention centre. I studied the art deeply, attending every seminar and class with Sifu Andrew, all the while continuing my tai chi practice with Mark Green. I also started teaching my own tai chi class out in the Silwood Park campus, where I studied for my Masters degree. As Masters in the UK only last a year, I had little time to build up something of substance but it was a valuable experience of setting up and running my own classes.
Branching out on my own: QM Kung Fu
After another year of working (in conservation) and training (tai chi and wing chun) I applied and was accepted to a PhD in Queen Mary University in East London. I was interested to see if there were any Chinese martial arts clubs and to my surprise there was only one modern combined style club (Wu Shu Quan a modern external style) with nobody teaching traditional Chinese arts. I attended the first freshers faire at the last minute with no booking and stole a stand location from a no show club. By the end of the day I had three times the required number of names and QM Kung Fu club was born! During my PhD I took the fledgling club from the smallest with only a handful of trainees (the Monday lunchtime tai chi class was often just me and one other student Beren) to the second largest martial arts club at Queen Mary. In September 2015 I ran a successful training trip to Wales which was an absolute pleasure and a highlight of my martial arts teaching career.
Life moves on: Travel and work life balance
After I completed my PhD I went through a difficult transition. Unable to find a job in academia, I moved reluctantly into health technology. I got married and began to climb the career ladder. At this time I moved out of central London, first to Greenwich and then Sutton. It was difficult for me to balance a demanding job and personal life alongside travel to North London to train with my old teachers. I went through a period of transition where I tried several other styles of martial arts and exercise. I took up strength training in earnest as it could be done at home with just a barbell in the garage and learned how to squat, bench and deadlift. I found that even though I had been training for many years I was not that strong when it came to the absolute numbers, which was surprising. I have always maintained a strength base using the main barbell lifts as key parts of my training to supplement my martial arts practice. I trained in Southern Mantis (Chow Gar) and Xing Yi (5 elements boxing) with Master Paul Whitrod and White Crane Kung Fu with Nick Fielding & Master Dennis Ngo as well as other Wing Chun styles/lineages and tried Goa Style Bagua for a brief period. Mantis was very alien to me, as their chi sau’s were very solid and external and I did not pursue it. White Crane interested me as it was like a slightly more internally developed form of wing chun, with some interesting qi gong and forms. Only Xing Yi Chuan really resonated with me, here was a style that had all the internal depth of tai chi but was practised with the fighting mindset of the fiercest karate style. Even as I moved away from east London I continued to practice the san ti posture (Xing Yi’s standing method) and the 5 element fists daily.
I went through several jobs gradually getting promoted, moving into a senior government role and found the desk work eating up more and more of my time and energy. My wife was pregnant and I felt I was wasting my life in a job that I didn't care for. After my daughter was born, I had a period of deep depression and emotional crisis. I struggled to return to work and went through several roles but nothing seemed to fit. I blamed my inability to cope on my practice. I was supposed to be a tai chi teacher, how could this happen to me. I tried to struggle through replacing sleep with meditation which only worsened the situation. I grew resentful of my practice, isolated myself from my friends and withdrew from those that loved me. I felt so guilty that I stopped practising and gave up teaching passing on the Queen Mary Kung Fu club to my training partner Eric’s Sifu. It was in good hands.
Moving from Hero to Warrior: Learning to be vulnerable
With my marriage in jeopardy, my emotional and mental health getting worse, I was dragged kicking and screaming into the counsellors chair. This was the best decision made for me by those that cared about me. It took a lot of time, effort and pain but I finally learnt to open up about many things to those close to me; to be vulnerable and share my feelings rather than just push them down or mask them with my practice. In Jungian psychology the Hero is the immature masculine form of the Warrior, he seeks glory, power, accomplishment and fame for his own ends and he has no awareness of his vulnerabilities. Heros like Achilles always fall and break just as I had done. One path for a mature man to take is to move from Hero to Warrior; to dedicate their efforts to a goal outside of themselves and to learn to be vulnerable. I hope that I can continue to work on myself in this process; share the fact that I have been through this and maybe help guide a few young men on their own journeys too. I thank my wife Xuan for her love and support during this difficult time.
Recovery and return: The phoenix rises
Having taken some time out to refocus on what is important, I returned to my practice with new fire and intensity. I had gained a lot of weight and needed to recover my health and fitness. I resumed training with Sifu Dr Mark Green and reconnected with my Wing Chun teachers and training partners. In addition, during a trip to China to visit my wife's family, I met and trained under a Baji Master Li Quan. Master Li was an exceptional martial artist and previous San Da champion fighter at 78kg. I trained in Baji and Xing Yi with master Li at his school in Chengdu, China. In a trip with my wife afterwards we spent a day or two on the Tibetan plateau and I found the space to decide what was important in my life. I decided to commit full time to the martial arts and Rising Phoenix was born! I train and teach full time in Tai Chi, Wing Chun, Xing Yi and strength and conditioning. My own journey continues as I will return to train with Master Li again; have been awarded the title of Sifu by Dr Mark Green; I am actively competing in strength sports as well as preparing to box in the amateurs at light heavyweight. I hope to share my years of experience across the many arts I have trained in with my students and guide them on their own journeys.