I am going to welcome Chris Friendman to my Blog he has written a one book for Shadow Warrior Press and revised and improved it before self-publishing it in China and offering it directly on Amazon, trained in Shaolin Kung-fu in China, as well as, other Chinese martial arts. He also writes for JetLi.com and a kung-fu magazine. You also offer a travel service to train in Kung-fu in China as well. Not to mention other styles of martial arts here in the states... Thats certainly a list of accomplishments, is there anything I left out?
Hi Ron well I am now embarking on the role of a novelist writing my first novel in the true crime genre.
Now I was thinking of not putting you on the spot but, no... The hell with it, I am gonna put you on the spot. You used to train in the Bujiinkan, as well, didn't you?
Yes, I trained in Bujinkan for about seven years. During that time I also crossed trained in several style. I have always used free sparring as part of my training and as most know traditionally in the Bujinkan they don’t spar, as part of their training. So I would train in systems like Sambo and Judo during that time. I reached the rank of Shodan then, transferred over to the Chinese arts. I was always slightly more interested in the Chinese culture and, liked the idea of having many solo drills and routines to do as part of my training.
Now you've seen the bad with it and I am not ask you about it. Its been discussed publicly on Facebook and privately. I am not going to beat a dead horse. Your instructor was a pretty amazing guy and you talked about him in your book, would you share that story?
Several of the Bujinkan instructors I trained under worked in security and law enforcement. One worked as a guard in Rykers Island and told many stories of using the stuff in real life. There were a couple of other instructors they had brief brushes with adversaries on the streets also with interesting stories to tell.
Now to be honest, I wanted to get that story out there because regardless of the art, he seemed like a very good guy and a highly skilled martial artist. I want to use him as an example of what the good Bujinkan Instructors look like...
So can we agree to leave all that under the bridge and talk about you and China?
Well, that particular instructor was very humble and friendly. He obviously had a lot of real life experience and, was not puffed up with false prestige. Sure I love to share my adventures here with anyone who is willing to listen.
Now, lets start with why you went to China? And how long you been there?
I always wanted to train in Asia. I grew up watching kung fu movies on channel five. I would put on a karate gi after and, go into my backyard in Long Island, New York do kata and imagine I was one of those guys in the movies. I got my first chance to take a two week trip there to train. Loved it, met a friend while there and, made the plan. I have been living here about eleven years already.
What is it like coming back to the US when, you have been living in China so long?
I feel really nervous. The people their behavior everything. The thing that makes me most nervous is how easy it is to get into a conflict with people in the states. Very different from China.
Have you met Jet Li yet? What's he like?
I never met Jet Li. I did do some extra work on films in the past but, never got to meet any of these big wigs.
What are your instructors like in China?
They have all been really nice and open with me. I will only train with teachers whose personality suits mine. That goes for in the states as well. I don’t need a Master to tell me how to live sleep and eat. Just someone who is friendly easy going and willing to teach me what I’m looking to learn.
Now you wrote an article for this blog, detailing the differences in how the training in China is so different from the US would explain that here?
In the states there is more real life violence. Here they fight as in Sanda but it is mostly for a living like a job. Very few people get into fights on the streets here. The motivation is different. The basics are very solid in China, they have more patience and discipline you can say. Also usually there is less cross training. The country isn’t as open as in the US. Both are good and have their benefits.
So the Chinese arts you have studied do stress Sparring Correct?
Since I have been in China I have studied three system each has its own story. Baguazhang in Beijing. I took private lessons and every once in a while I would have a partner and do some application. As far as I know his group classes didn’t spar. Back in the state where I did Bagua Zhang they spared every week, and did special drills as well. Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling) which is like a very aggressive version of Judo, where you wear short sleeve jackets and, very aggressively grab yank pull and throw each other. I trained with professional fighters the majority of the time and, the wrestling sparring was very rough. I got my ass handed to me weekly.
Within Songshan Shaolin all the school do Sanda as part of their curriculum. School levels in Sanada vary. I train once a week with full time Sanda fighters and, also spar with my traditional Shi fu students. Sanda is like most other forms of kickboxing but, also has throws. I also had a couple of real incidents but, we can save those stories for another time.
And how do they feel about Grappling? They are not all limited to just striking as seen in many forms of competition like Sport Karate?
Sanada has throws but, many schools these days seem to be neglecting them and, focusing on purely kickboxing aspect of it. Qin Na which has always been an integral part of Shaolin and, other styles of kung fu, has become very rare around here. Luckily I have found an old school teacher that knows the stuff well. Qin Na has all kinds of locks holds and escapes, even some ground fighting. The Baugua Zhang had lots of locks escapes and thows, but no ground fighting. Shuai Jiao was all throws. One of my Shuai Jiao coaches went on to become a MMA fighter. Because he came from a Shuai Jiao background when he began to cross train in BJJ, he picked it up real quick. He is a Beast on the ground weighs 125 pound and, can just destroy me on the ground and I’m 170 pounds and, was at one time a decent ground fighter.
So you've read the Shadow Warrior version of World's Deadliest Fighting Secrets, what are your thoughts on the Book in general?
Very interesting read. Count Dante was quite the character. I heard he was a very good fighter so there is no disputing the guy had skills and, was tough. I don’t agree with his philosophies. Firstly, in my opinion, martial arts are more than just fighting and, if you learn to control your mind and emotions you can not only avoid many fights but, improve health. I think if you had an option of using your martial arts to live a long healthy life or, a reckless dangerous one, the former is better. The fact that he died young and, even one of his students were killed says something about this point.
How about Count Dante and, his view of martial arts and racism in the martial arts?
I agree with him on that point. Prejudice suck and is evil in any shape or form. To fight against it is righteous and courageous.
Did you have any experiences with Racism in the Martial Arts, in China?
It is very subtle and sneaky form. They won’t come out and, say something but, they are very insecure around foreigners as they call us here. Especially, around their woman. As far as martial arts training no. On the contrary my teachers have been very happy to have such a dedicated and, sincere student.
I would say when have grown a lot more beyond that here in the US, wouldn't you?
Both have been important parts of my growth. I had a wild up bringing and, now to be in the strict environment of Chinese life style helps to balance things out. But, for people growing up in China it is like they are in a bubble. They are very limited to what they experience and, know about the rest of the world. I also am very grateful to have lived in another country, it teachings me a lot, to see things from other perspectives.
In fact, I think the world of martial arts has opened quite a bit in our life times. I mean we have experienced a flowering and, openness to be able to learn martial arts as we have in the years since Dante's time but, we have also seen a rise in frauds and invented lineages as well... But, have you seen the same patterns as well in China?
In China if someone creates a new branch of an existing style, for example my Bagua Zhang teacher did. It comes from the traditional stuff and, not some imaginary linage. But that is my only experience with that subject. There might be people in China making up lineages. I don’t even really think making up a style is so bad, if the artist is gifted, the problem is they often lie about the history to seem more legit.
Now these adventures, seems the only word which comes to mind, you sell. Allowing people to come to China and train there, is amazing. I mean its living the dream for many martial artists... Its not just site seeing, its hard style training. Very serious stuff right?
Yes, the training is hard but you can do as much as you feel comfortable with. Many student here are young and, train full time so if someone older and, don’t train for a living, they will understand the fitness level won’t be the same. So it will be up to the student to decide how hard they want to push their bodies. If someone comes to train with us, they can learn Shaolin Basics, forms, empty handed and weapons, sanda (kickboxing), two man conditioning drills, qin na self-defense, shi suo (a traditional tool similar to a kettle drum), meditation and qi gong (health qi work). Or they can choose to specialize in any of the mentioned skills.
In fact, the Chinese have a different view of rank don't they? How do the Chinese view rank in a martial art?
It varies and, if it is a government run organization, they have pretty formal ranks but, I never went that route so can speak much on it. With my teachers it is usually student and instructor. I have reached instructor level and, been certified by two of my Shaolin Shifus already. The term master is a tricky one, usually it is a term used by others who respect your level. Of course these days people call themselves "master" and, put it on their business cards even in Asia. I prefer the term Shifu which is just used for martial arts teachers. I have had a few foreign guests here call me Master, which is flattering but, I don’t take it too seriously. I never heard my teachers call themselves master either. I also don’t like calling anyone master because I practice Hinduism and, that is a term reserved for God.
In fact, I am very late in getting this interview up... So I have to cut it short, which is a bad thing... In any event, I would like to thank you for Interview and, want to ask if there is any links to your articles with Jetli.com, Shaolin Tai Chi Magazine and other sources so readers can follow you online?
Ah yes my YouTube channel and my latest article on JetLi.com, A Day in the Life of a Shaolin Foreign Disciple.