KungFu Podcasts: Becoming a Better Man & Fighter Through Kung Fu Training [Interview]
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Earlier this month, BookMartialArts.com had a great conversation with the man behind KungFu Podcasts, Tim Smith. KungFu Podcasts has primarily served as an inspiration for continuation of his own personal studies and development, and a branch of his initial goal when he started Kung Fu training - to become a better man.
We talked about Tim's first attachment to Kung Fu to what he believes to be the most important advice every new martial arts practitioner should be aware of. During our conversation, Tim shared an inspiring story about his experience and KungFu Podcasts' long-term goals. Here’s the rundown of our inspiring interview:
When did you start practicing Kung Fu? Could you tell us as to what first drew you into this ancient Chinese martial arts?
Growing up in North Carolina, I spent much of my time reading and I have always had this fascination towards Chinese history and culture, including its martial arts. I have always felt as if I’m a Chinese spirit in a Caucasian body so to speak.
As I grew older, I found myself carrying a lot of baggage. My dad had left when I was about 16 and died when I was 21. I ended up having to be responsible for the well-being of my younger brother and two sisters which I felt I wasn’t very good at.
I honestly didn’t know what a man was supposed to be. I was drawn to Kung Fu mostly because of the spirit of the activity, it gave me comfort during that particular time of my life. I had already enough trouble and self-stimulated problems that I didn’t care about learning more about fighting and weapons so I felt Tai Chi and Kung Fu was a great fit.
In 1998, I began practicing the two Chinese martial arts. It wasn’t formal, a friend who I looked up to was practicing he was practicing Qi Gong, Tai Chi, prayer, and meditation. I asked him if I could “follow” him and he agreed.
How would you describe your experience when you started Kung Fu?
My friend was moving away and told me that I should seek out a formal teacher. He thought that I would really benefit from proper training. It took me about a year to finally find viable options. This was a time before the internet, so it was me with a pen and paper, the yellow pages, and driving around. My first experiences were disappointing.
The Kung Fu schools I went into felt like either a military zone or a health club which I was already working at - in a hospital. A couple of people then told me that there was a Chinese man who owned the Golden Dragon restaurant on Raeford Road who could teach me and that he was the best around.
I decided to call the restaurant and the hostess, Kim, answered. When Sifu David Chin got on the phone, he asked: “Why do you want to learn Kung Fu?”. I answered “To be honest, I want to get to know myself, and believe Kung Fu is the path. I have tried preachers, teachers, churches, and counsel, none have made a difference. Towards the end of the call, he asked me to come over to his restaurant to have coffee.
My first cup of coffee with Sifu Chin, between him, asking questions, having to stop to cook a meal, and greeting his customers, was a 2-hour, slow interview process. It was crazy how challenging I found that experience. It was difficult to force myself to slow down, be patient, and to let the conversation unravel naturally. After a while, he took me back to the banquet area and said: “Come back on Thursday and you can begin.”
What challenges did you encounter when you first started Kung Fu? How did you overcome those particular challenges?
At that point, I was in excellent physical condition, had been to graduate school and got certified by the American College of Sports Medicine. I had a good job and was a studious young man, been through numerous martial arts training camps and never quit so I felt I was ready to start. I didn’t realize then that I was full of myself.
My first real Kung Fu lesson was the longest hour of my life. I nearly passed out and my clothes were soaked. I had to practice meditation, move softly and gently for an hour which I found really challenging. The challenges never seem to stop starting from physically dedicating over 6 hours a week just to travel to classes to humbling myself to learn how to learn.
I realized that this wasn’t about intellectual knowledge, this was a slap in the face with an awareness of self. The last challenge, slowing down was definitely something I found to be the opposite of everything I had practiced before. Though my friend who had taught me Tai Chi, had helped me with slower movements, it was nothing compared to the new expectations that were put on me during training.
How would you describe your daily Kung Fu routine?
My routine for years follows a rhythm that we were taught. I practice every morning for 15 minutes to an hour. I have 3 routines of body invigoration exercises which consist of meditation/posting - the first priority every day; Yang activities - martial arts training and conditioning; and Yin activities - more posting, Shi Li, and Bagua or Tai Chi and Qi Gong.
What are your personal goals in life?
I want to live long enough to see my son get his start as a man, hopefully further. I had a scare in my mid 30’s with a diagnosis and surgical intervention that reminded me of my dad’s a few years before he died of cancer. When my son was born, I decided that I simply can not die. My first goal is to be a good dad. I do all I can to provide my son with the opportunities and make the necessary preparation just in case I am not able to be with him as he grows up.
How has Kung Fu training change your life and how you live your life?
Kung Fu gave me some personal development priorities. Slowing down, focusing on life’s resolution so everything doesn’t just seem like a blur. I strive to enjoy the natural unveiling of life and be prepared to create and to seize opportunities. It gave me a physical path to express my spirit and my thoughts. Sifu would often tell us that there are many people who can talk about theories, but very few can do it.
Kung Fu continues to act as a lake that I walk to each day. The water is familiar but fresh. It offers an unprejudiced reflection of myself, sometimes I smile, sometimes I am embarrassed and make adjustments. Kung Fu also helped me realize not to be afraid or to beat myself up because I made a mistake. If your attitude is right, the only mistake you will make is not to learn.
Why did you decide to start the KungFu Podcasts?
By 2003, I was back in Raleigh, I had taken in 2 Tai Chi students, Sifu Chin had told a White Crane practitioner named Palmer to learn from me. The first winter, we need a place to practice so I found a 20 x 20 room and rented it. I started KungFu Podcasts as a continuation of my personal studies and development. I got to know a very smart guy and historian named Ben Judkins through his blog called “KungFu Tea”. The concept is to turn an educational material into an audio format and to provide it in a way that is educational, sometime self-revealing, and maybe even entertaining.
In your opinion, what do you think is the most important thing that one needs to have to practice Kung Fu?
Wow, what a great question! Attitude is the first ingredient in the recipe of practicing Kung Fu, without a doubt, because at some point you will be challenged, maybe in developing patience, self- awareness, facing fears, work ethic, effort, etc. It requires an attitude that you know that you will be challenged and will not quit - I would suggest two scoops of that.
What are the objectives of KungFu Podcasts?
To continue to provide educational material on the culture, adventures, and impact of martial arts, first and foremost. To support the good folks like you all at BookMartialArts.com, Ben Judkins, and Iain Abernethy, who bring an authentic part of themselves to the table and encourage folks to practice martial arts for health, spirit, combat reasons and/or as a way of life.
Now that KungFu Podcasts is well established, what aspect of it do you find most rewarding and why?
The new relationships. I have already met some really good folks. Meeting people from different systems, but similar perspectives like the one Iain has brought to the light has been very rewarding. New relationships with teachers, such as Andrea Harkins and Cameron Conoway, have helped me see that there are many folks out there being sincere in their pursuits.
How do KungFu Podcasts aim to enrich its audiences' lives?
I am not sure if KungFu Podcasts aims to enrich lives. I sure hope it does, but the aim is to provide a sincere reflection of what Kung Fu has meant throughout history, some good, some bad, and some ugly. We all experience the same things in life, loss, disappointment, happiness, anger, and fears. It is the circumstances that we experience them in and how we respond to them that is different. So I hope that KungFu Podcasts aims to bring history and experiences to life and demonstrate the circumstances and responses to them, both on a micro-level, like one person, or a macro-level, like a whole dynasty of people.
What is the single most important advice you can give to those who are interested in taking up Kung Fu?
I just shared the advice in the Tibetan Kungfu #46 Podcast with a young man, who is a listener who had written in with a question about finding a style to fit him. I told him, "In closing Patrick, I wish you were near so that I could bring you into the Kung Fu fold. I won't lie, however, if you feel the emphasizes of Aikido speaks to you, then trust it and keep researching. It took me over a year to find a teacher that was a 2-hour round trip away. I would also suggest getting off the beaten path. My Sifu didn't have a school for many years. He had a restaurant that I and about 7 guys trained at for years. There was no yellow pages ad that said 'old timey Kung Fu here".
I continue to run my school in that old-fashioned familial type system because it worked for me and my military classmates. It invokes the spirit of being excellent in combat but emphasizes being a better person first. If you don’t find a training hall, find a friend, research, and download materials, but look beyond the techniques. Make sure that what they teach to match what they say. If you see they practice for sport, but market combat, then don't get too attached. Avoid comparing styles but do compare what style or teacher is emphasizing, and most importantly, know what you want can change, mine did, several times, now it rotates.
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