Getting a Kick Out of Martial Arts

 Rene J. Navarro (Source: yang-sheng.com)

Rene J. Navarro (Source: yang-sheng.com)

We were just beginning to see martial arts classes in the Manila of the early 1960s. First it was Japanese Karate under different guises and styles. Then it was Chinese Kung-Fu (that was what it was called at the time). We were impressed and awed by the movements – the punches and the kicks and the kiai (the scream that became associated with the practice) – and the mythology of this ancient art.

For me, the exposure to martial arts began in 1962 with my brother Florante, who studied Japanese Wado Karate with a Filipino teacher from Angeles, Pampanga. I picked up a couple of katas (set exercises) and a few combat techniques from him. Then in a strange serendipity, I had a difficult initiation into Shaolin Kung-Fu with Johnny Chiuten, the famous fighter, who was, like me, a student at the University of the Philippines. He taught me ancient forms based on the five animals. He took me to Manila’s Chinatown to see lion dances and martial demos and introduced me to his old Chinese teacher, Lao Kim, a legendary master and patriarch of the Kung-Fu underground.

That was the beginning of my serious training in Shaolin Kung-Fu, the Buddhist art of combat. It was called an external art because of its emphasis on physical development although its internal exercises covered mystical and energetic aspects as well. At the same time, through a Chinese godfather, I made a connection with his cousin, Chan Bun Te, an influential presence in the Chinese community at the time. Chan it turned out was also a Tai chi chuan master; he taught me the refinement of this Taoist style in 1968.

 Grandmaster/Shigong Lao Kim (seated). Standing (L-R) Ching See San, Master Johnny Chiuten and Rene J. Navarro (Photo courtesy of Rene J. Navarro)

Grandmaster/Shigong Lao Kim (seated). Standing (L-R) Ching See San, Master Johnny Chiuten and Rene J. Navarro (Photo courtesy of Rene J. Navarro)

 Grandmaster Johnny Chiuten (center), Dr. Jopet Laraya (left) and Rene J. Navarro (right) (Photo courtesy of Rene J. Navarro)

Grandmaster Johnny Chiuten (center), Dr. Jopet Laraya (left) and Rene J. Navarro (right) (Photo courtesy of Rene J. Navarro)

I discovered later in the ‘70s that the opening of Chinese martial arts culture also presaged the opening of other Chinese arts – acupuncture, herbology, qigong, tuina, feng-shui, internal alchemy, sexology, astrology – to the general public or at least those serious enough to commit themselves to Chinese studies. I became a part of that wave. Students were making a pilgrimage to China to study contemporary

Wu-Shu, the name for the forms that were choreographed during the ‘50s and ‘60s under the auspices of the government. When President Nixon returned from China, acupuncture schools started to be established in the US. The New England School of Acupuncture, where I graduated, was probably the first to be recognized by a state.

Today, almost four decades after Nixon’s China visit and “ping-pong diplomacy,” there are at least 50 acupuncture schools in mainland United States. In the greater New York area alone, there are six acupuncture schools. In California and other western states, including New Mexico and Oregon, there are more. You’ll also see a proliferation of other Chinese-oriented schools offering courses in massage, qigong, nutrition/dietetics, feng-shui, martial arts (Tai chi chuan, Hsing-I, Pa-Kua Chuan, Shaolin), astrology, sexology, internal alchemy, meditation, the I Ching. There are centers dedicated to the propagation of Taoism and Buddhism and Chinese culture. In other parts of the world, like Europe, a similar phenomenon is happening before our eyes.


The Chinese cultural “invasion” is ultimately going to permeate different aspects of life in the West, from the kitchen to the gym to the hospitals and the parks. Perhaps even the bedroom.

In the Philippines, there are organizations that offer courses in Chinese healing.

INAM Philippines (www. integratibmedisin.org) has classes in acupuncture and Tai chi chuan, qigong and massage. It is going to celebrate its 30th anniversary. There are Tai chi chuan practitioners in the parks in Cebu, Davao, Manila and Quezon City. There is now a law regulating acupuncture and alternative healing practice under the umbrella of the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care.

In 1983 I joined a group of 20 young North Americans (from the US and Canada) on a Wu-shu tour of China. The group was one of the few back then. Nowadays there are tours of China – visiting temples and studying with masters. There are novices joining temples as nuns or monks. There are acupuncturists and healers from different parts of the world, specializing in China’s healing traditions.

There are also many masters who have opened schools. Mantak Chia, a Chinese from Thailand, was one of the first to offer seminars in Taoist studies, which he called the Healing Tao. When I began studying with him in the early ‘80s, he had a few students in New York City’s Chinatown. We gathered at a third floor walk-up above a hairdresser’s shop, usually on weekends. In 1986, after an intensive training, I became a Healing Tao instructor. In the ‘90s, Mantak Chai established the Tao Garden in Chiangmai that sits on the foothills of northern Thailand. Today there are thousands of Healing Tao instructors around the world, teaching courses like Microcosmic Orbit, Iron Shirt qigong, internal alchemy, sexology, Chi Nei Tsang organ massage and Tai chi chuan. 

 Rene J. Navarro in Tai chi Snake Creeps Down (1969) (Photo courtesy of Rene J. Navarro)

Rene J. Navarro in Tai chi Snake Creeps Down (1969) (Photo courtesy of Rene J. Navarro)

When I started studying acupuncture and herbology in 1990, I also studied Traditional Yang Family Tai chi chuan with Grandmaster Gin Soon Chu, the Second disciple of Yang Sau-Chaung of Hongkong, in Boston’s Chinatown. The Tai chi chuan curriculum included the long 108 movement solo fist form, three sets of the Knife, two sets of the sword, a solo spear-staff set, Tai chi chuan Chang Chuan, Sansou (a two-person sparring form), and Push Hands. I studied acupuncture with Sensei Kiiko Matsumoto of Japan and several Chinese masters. Since then I have studied with Taoist priest Jeffrey Yuen, one of the Chinese and Japanese masters who have come out in the open to share their knowledge of the ancient traditions from the East.

We can imagine the impact this cultural explosion has had on the world stage. The different Yang-Sheng/Nourishing Life regimens from China are being practiced by more people than ever before and are becoming a part of their lives. Walk to a park in a big city on a weekend morning and you’ll find people doing Tai chi chuan or qigong. When I was in Rome to train in Lei Shan Dao/Thunder and Lightning Path with David Verdesi, an Italian teacher, I saw several groups doing Tai chi chuan. In New York City’s Chinatown on any Sunday, you’ll see several groups numbering more than a hundred practicing Tai chi chuan. 

Culture grows from the accretion of practices and beliefs. Alternative medicine is now becoming an integral part of hospitals in big cities like Boston and New York. There are festivals celebrating the birthdays of the Buddha and Zhang San-Feng, the legendary founder of Tai chi chuan. There’s a Qigong and Tai chi Day. There are weeklong observances of Chinese New Year and solstice and equinox celebrations. Chinese culture has already changed the face of the West.

The Chinese cultural “invasion” is ultimately going to permeate different aspects of life in the West, from the kitchen to the gym to the hospitals and the parks. Perhaps even the bedroom.

 Rene J. Navarro doing a Sword form of Yang Family Tai chi chuan, called "Shoot the Goose," (Source: yang-sheng.com)

Rene J. Navarro doing a Sword form of Yang Family Tai chi chuan, called "Shoot the Goose," (Source: yang-sheng.com)


 Rene J. Navarro

Rene J. Navarro

Rene J. Navarro is a licensed acupuncturist, teacher of Classical Yang Family Tai chi chuan fist and weapons forms, Chi Nei Tsang organ massage, neidan/internal alchemy, and Daoist Yang-Sheng (Nourishing Life) regimen. He is a published poet and essayist.


Also from Rene J. Navarro:

Haiyan Recovery Update: Healers On A Mission
March 4, 2014
A group of healers and therapists do their part in helping the people of Tacloban and Guiuan recover from the trauma of devastation.