Spotlight: Santa Barbara Sentinel - Creative Characters
It is always awe-inspiring to watch someone who has mastered their craft. Whether it is a celebrated chef or an accomplished ballerina, there are many masters of their respective art forms. More often than no though, when someone is referred to as a “master”, one things of a wise martial arts teacher, inspiring images of a Mr. Miyagi-type telling students to sweep the floor. Funnily enough, this isn’t too far from the real-life example of a martial arts master. I recently got to meet with Master Yun Chao Zhang, who will be opening a new martial arts studio in town.
I met with Master Yun and two of his students, Daniel Nash and Ethan Turpin, at the bright, crisply lit studio tucked next to the Andree Clark Bird Refuge near the popular Stella Mare’s Restaurant. As we chatted throughout the morning, each student spoke of their own paths of studies. Both students have been studying martial arts for decades and have received black belts in their respective styles. Their group of martial arts friends would sometime meet in the park to play the game of push hands, a two-person training exercise that develops the internal communication channels between the mind and body. When Master Yun, who recently moved to Ventura, California, came to see a visiting teacher in the park, he began playing push hands with everyone. The group were in awe of his skill and soon Daniel, Ethan, and others began studying under him. Eventually, the desire to establish a studio for Master Yun began to take shape. Spearheaded by Daniel, the students wanted a place where they could practice with Master Yun, but also, to be able to offer the community the chance to practice with such a rare source of teachings and an accomplished master.
Master Yun has dedicated his whole life to the study of martial arts. He began his studies in 1973 at the age of 6. Coming from a family of modest means, he received the rare honor of being able to train under the famed Master Wang Qing Zhai, a distant relative. Master Wang had taken first place in the prized Northeast Martial Arts Championship in 1947. The Chinese Communist Revolution had begun the year before and this was the last time the competition was held. Over the following years, competitions and training of classic forms of martial arts were prohibited and many traditions were altered. Master Wang had kept his skills hidden during this time and became a celebrated teacher once he was allowed to openly practice again. The young Master Yun studied with him in a park, arriving at 4:30 am beforehand to pick up sticks while practicing his stances and footwork. This dedication paid off and as a teenager he began to tour tournaments around China solo with his master. Over the years Master Yun achieved international recognition at competitions. Chinese officials took note of his skill, offering the sponsor him for US citizenship, which he achieved in 2008, so that he could bring these classical teachings to the west.
Certain styles of traditional Chinese martial arts have had limited exposure to the west because of restrictions on their export and practice. Most of the styles we’ve seen in movies have come through the more independent Hong Kong, and southern China. Over his lifetime, Master Yun has championed styles that are rarely seen outside of China. Upon meeting him, Master Yun has an immediately bright, magnetic personality, with an undeniable enthusiasm for martial arts. As we chatted, he would break out into demonstrations. Grabbing swords and acting out the winning moves of his Master’s historic competition or breaking into drunken style kung fu when he heard I work with beer. The extensive knowledge of his skill is easy to notice and exhilarating to witness.
While Master Yun has studied with masters of a few styles, his training extends to may types of martial arts. As he exhibited different forms, he would point out the pitfalls of the more flamboyant styles that you see in kung fu movies. While fun to watch on a screen, these styles often don’t have real world applications. “You’re stuck.” Holding a form, Master Yun pointed to areas of his own body, showing how it was locked up. He and Daniel repeat the attack, this time blocking with the correct form. My eyes darted around, trying to keep up, as he snapped his elbow forward while whipping his foot out, showing the many ways he can attack while still blocking his opponent. Forming a new stance, he had Daniel lean on him with the entirety of his weight. “Full empty.” Pointing out the balance between his feet. All of the weight on one foot with the other delicately perched on the ground. Master Yun started walking gracefully in circles, his movements in perfect synchronicity as he carried the full weight of Daniel. This internal power is what Ethan and Daniel are so eager to learn from Master Yun.
Internal vs. External Forms
There are two main branches of martial arts. External forms focus on the movement of one’s body with an emphasis on the motion of the extremities. There are punches, kicks, and other movements that are typically seen in kung fu movies. Internal forms are subtler, generation power from the movement of breath and the core of the body. While not visually as stimulation as the external forms, internal styles are prized for their strategic use of one’s own body to redirect the momentum and power of an opponent’s body. Internal forms often take years to become an expert at and require a mastery of both body and mind to truly understand. The internal forms Master Yun specializes in is what Daniel and Ethan are so excited to study.After decades of practicing martial ares, both students have never witnessed such a master of internal power.
Master Yun’s teachings represent a direct lineage of internal and external sttyles that form the original source from which many other martial arts evolved. Although Master Yun is versed in a wide range of styles, the studio will begin with a focus on three main forms. Seven Star Praying Mantis Kung Fu, an external form, is composed of rapid, precise movements that are modeled after its namesake insect. This is one of the many styles that Master Yun studied from Master Wang as a child. Wu Style Tai Chi is an internal style that focuses more on slow, steady motions revolving around the core that allows the practitioner to develop communication within the whole body. Master Yun is the fifth generation master from the Wu Yu Xiang line of tai chi. Of the five major styles of tai chi, this is the rarest form. While more understated in its movements than the other tai chi styles, this style is celebrated for its ability to generate internal power. Another internal form, Xing Yi, will also be taught at the studio. This style is composed of abrupt, direct movements that represents the translation of its name, “Form-Intention Boxing.” Master Yun specializes in Shang Style Xing Yi, a unique branch that blends internal and external movements, referred to as the six harmonies, into potent combinations.
These internal and external focuses help build a healthy body and mind that Master Yun emphasizes is at the core of any practice and required if one is to truly understand these styles. These are the three forms that will initially be offered however as the studio grows there is flexibility for new styles to be taught if enough students express an interest in a particular form. The opening schedule consists of afternoon classes from Tuesday through Thursday with private teaching options available and an extended mult-class practice on Saturdays that will run from 10 am to 2 pm. The studio, 1807 East Cabrillo Blvd, Suite C, will have a Grand Opening Ceremony this upcoming Sunday, December 9th, from 2 to 5 pm. Come enjoy food and drinks alongside demonstrations by Master Yun and his students. Try your hands at some tai chi or just come and witness a true master at work.
Once again we want to thank Zachary Rosen for taking his time to meet with us and write this piece.
We also want to remind all of our readers that our studio is now open! We currently have classes and spots still available.
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