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As soon as I walked in the door and met Zeek for the first time, I felt I had come home. It was about 1976, I was about 27 and wanted to learn self defence, but I ended up learning a lot more than that.
I had grown up in a boxing family and loved the science and movement that boxing gave. I was lucky to learn from my father and a Mr. Gallagher from the famous Crichton Cobbers club in Christchurch, New Zealand. My Uncle Joe, a NZ champion, who personally took on the role of training me when I was a lost teenager, was the greatest, small and moved like a dancer. But, through my twenties, I rebelled against it all, I was repulsed by anything to do with fighting until this time, working in the brick works with the meanest toughest men that seems hell-bent on making life very difficult for me. Being a pacifist, was just not going to cut it, no matter how hard I tried, so, here I was about to learn Kung Fu.
Zeek was small like my Uncle, agile, relaxed and fast. He moved like a monkey, he said we don’t want to build muscle, we want flexibility instead. The first things I learnt was the correct Horse stance, low, the bow and cat stances. How to make a fist and striking a basic fighting stance instinctively. The body side-on, one hand up, one hand down, The front leg turned in a little to protect the groin. It was difficult for me after boxing to consider the upper and lower body together.
Zeek would say again and again, ''Its the law of nature, of survival. It's the quick or the dead! All the techniques in the world are no good, if you are not fast enough''. We drilled techniques until they were second nature. The classes were about three times a week and I never missed a class. We were encouraged to come early, to warm-up by ourselves. To move up and down the floor, trying out old and new techniques, putting them together in our own way, seeking spontaneity and naturalness.
Then, the class would begin, stretches, two-man stretches, kicks, sit-ups, push-ups, balancing, strengthening, all the basic stuff. Then, we did what I would say, was the core of his training, ''Sticky-hands''. We did this in every class. Both wrists touching very softly the wrists of a partner, eyes closed, listening, feeling, the slight movement from your partner. It was straight line stuff. ''The shortest route between two points was a straight line''. The punch becoming a block. I think this was straight Wing Chung drilling. It was always one two three movements with alternating, up and down. He would also say you must always be ready. Keep your mind clear, keep your body healthy, strong and relaxed. Danger always comes, when you least expect it. Learn to move instinctively, like an animal. You should always be aware of your surroundings.
''Kung Fu is about heightening our 6 senses. The five senses of, looking, listening, feeling, smelling, tasting, we can pretty well trust. As they get stronger so will the sixth sense of intuition, this we can't always trust, but we shouldn’t ignore it either''.
The class would continue with the fighting technique of the night. We would stand in lines, arms distance between us, Zeek at the front facing us. He would demonstrate with an advanced student. He would do this about 4 times then we worked with a partner, as Zeek moved around correcting us. This is very much like the method in Aikido, as I learnt much later. Again, we would drill this technique until it was ingrained into your body and mind. After each of these practising sessions, we would stand with our eyes closed and visualize what we had just learnt for about three minutes, sometimes Zeek would quietly sneak up and gently push us, and we would fall into the appropriate stance of one hand up, one hand down, ready.
Zeek had learnt from many sources. He talked about as a child, living in a temple in Burma, learning Kung Fu, how his teacher was always testing them when they least expected it, like sitting at the table having dinner and the teacher would throw something at them and of course they would catch it. I believe Zeek had black belts in Goju Ru Karate and Japanese Kenpo. One time a Chinese guy came in from an Eagle claw school and taught us some useful stuff.
The only weapon I remember was Nan Chucks and we did a lot. I loved the Nan Chucks for it coordination and skill building, which gave an interesting way to get warmed up and into training. I made a neat pair out of Western Australia, Jarrah, a hard, heavy, red wood.
Often we would do exercises to train the senses, in particular, we would all walk around with our eyes closed, when we came very close to someone, sensing them, we would again strike a fighting pose. Another exercise, I found very interesting because I had a chance to do this with Zeek, was we would stand on a narrow blank of wood, raised on two chairs, face off and try to knock the other person off with one push. Zeek focused intently on me for a minute, then I found myself on the floor, very surprised, totally knocked over, as they say, I never saw him move. He said he waited for me to blink, then moved fast at that moment. Zeek never talked about his personal life, but the word from the students was that Zeek had used all this stuff we learnt in real life, back in Burma fighting in the mountains against the other guys. That, these things we were learning, were tried and true.
Zeek would say again and again, ''If we make ourselves strong and able to fight, it will show and we will never have to use it. The bad guys are generally weak people and will seek out weak victims. If we do have to fight, there is no half-measures, it's all or nothing. So, we seek a way by any means for peace''. He also said that we are training the mind and things like, teeth-ache, pain and the hardships of life, we can learn to control.
He also said that as we get deeper into Kung Fu, we may start to identify with an animal and work with its characteristics. I reckon he was a monkey. He always wore a long sash around his waist and when he moved fast, it looked to me like a monkey tail.
He would say falling on the floor was to be avoided at all cost, but if we did end up down there, we practised all this wonderful monkey stuff with leg sweeps and the like, just in case. These were hard and definitely required one to be agile and flexible.
Even though the kicks were mainly low, I remember doing some spinning high kick stuff which really instilled confidence and again fun.
Another very helpful thing from Zeek was right at the beginning he encouraged us to train every day on our own. '' When you go home after the class and any chance you get, just think, 3 minutes, I'll just do 3 minutes and before you know it, 30 minutes has been taken up with training. This helped me and still does. I am always sneaking off from the party, the group, the meeting, the movie, or whatever, for 3 minutes of training.
In the 70's China was behind a Bamboo curtain and nothing much came in or out, but while I was with Zeek, a Chinese WuShu performance group visited Perth, we all went along to see them. I had never seen anything like it. They were amazing. I think I got a bit depressed like, ''What the hell am I doing? But, Zeek reminded me that these people trained all day, every day and I would be that good too, if I trained like them. I eventually accepted my humble place. I have never forgotten training with Zeek. He really showed me a spirit of Kung Fu which has never left me.
As for Zeek now, I’ve tried to find him, just to thank him, but to no avail. He seems to have vanished, I'll keep trying though and keep training.
©My First Kong-Fu Teacher, Ezekiel Daniels ( Zeek) by Gregory Winder, Tokyo, Japan. 2015
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