Impressions of the Kung-Fu Club
& the guidance of Sifu Arthur
of the Chinese Kung Fu Club of DeKalb by Andy Holtz
I sat there as the sun set, on a pleasant spring evening, wondering
what to expect out of this Kung Fu class I was about to observe.
The workout area for the evening was outside a building in a
spacious, yet well-secluded area, and the weather was just perfect,
after the harsh winter we'd had. Already I was observing that
everyone seemed to be like old friends, shaking hands, talking,
laughing. Most everyone was stretching out, but a few had gotten
there early and were working on forms by this point. About 10
minutes after class was scheduled to start, the Sifu showed
up. He made it a point to shake everybody's hand, including
mine. His handshake was one that would probably leave no impression;
neither strong nor weak, but it left an impression on me. I
really believe you can tell a lot about a person from their
handshake. Too hard or too weak probably both come from some
sort of insecurity. Hard handshakes are very common amongst
martial arts instructors, so I was surprised. I was also surprised
to see that the students talked to him like they talked to each
other - like old friends, only with a sort of fatherly respect.
This was a far cry from other classes I had observed in the
past, where students stood at attention and said "Yes Sir!
Thank you for disciplining me, Sir!"
The teacher bowed the class in, asked if there were any questions
or announcements (several students had events or ideas to share),
and then the class pretty much took over from there. Being a
class of around twenty students, each one came out and ran a
stretch of their choice. When everyone had gone, the teacher
stepped out and ran a series of energy drills. I watched everybody
extremely carefully. What I was craving at this point in my
life, was a means to put everything I had in me, into making
something worthwhile the best I could possibly make it. My experiences
in my major, much to my disappointment, led me to believe that
this type of craving was rare. What I saw in this class made
me tingle with excitement. I saw that nearly everyone (all at
different levels, yet working together on the same techniques)
was paying extremely close attention to detail, making their
moves efficient and powerful, as well as relaxed and graceful.
The difference in the more experienced students was simply more
power and refinement built on repeating these good habits they
had developed from the beginning. This is the only way I could
tell who the upper ranked students were, because people just
wore comfortable clothes. This is another aspect of the class
that really spiked my interest; nobody wore uniforms or belts.
Likewise, there were no attitudes or egos. Years later, I walked
into a martial arts center out of curiosity. When I asked the
instructor what his art was all about, his answer was that I
would start with a white belt, and within two weeks I'd have
yellow stripes. I told him I didn't care about belts, and that
I just wanted to know what his style was about. He gave me a
puzzled look. This strikes me as sad. There is so much to gain
from martial arts, and it has nothing to do with the color of
a belt. There's only one way to display what level you're at,
and that's through actions.
Without saying a word, the instructor would occasionally make
physical adjustments to how a student was executing a technique.
The others would take notice, and make adjustments if they were
making the same mistake. When the Sifu did talk, it was always
simple and to the point: "Relax your shoulders," or
As the class went on, they worked their way through Qui exercises,
mantis training (holding out various kicks, which I found out
later to be a true test of willpower due to it's strength demands),
walk drills (effective fighting combinations in motion), two-man
techniques (guided, no-contact sparing), followed by forms.
I had already seen enough to know this class was a find, when
they switched gears and started on two-man techniques. The students
paired up, shook hands, and watched as the Sifu demonstrated
what he wanted them to do. The class picked it right up. I couldn't
begin to replicate what I saw. The movements were logical; they
kept the body protected at all times. There was this synchronization
of relaxation and energy that I recognized as something I saw
in professional musicians. In that field, a professional is
often seen as such through his aura of sheer confidence and
peace, and I saw this in every one of these students - these
students who looked like everyday people, not fighters. I wanted
to be a part of this, there was no doubt about that. Never in
my life had I seen such a concentrated group of genuine people.
There were no egos, nothing to prove, no purpose in going to
class other than to improve their art.
I was further stunned at the uncanny control these students
had over their techniques. With full speed and power, the punches
and kicks would fall no more than a half an inch short of landing
its mark. Furthermore, it was common to add to or modify the
attacks at random, and the person blocking could react without
missing a beat, coming back with a modification of their own.
How the students paired up had nothing to do with rank, so the
more experienced of the two would often make suggestions or
corrections. I heard quite a bit of talk about application,
what can happen in different situations, how to modify techniques,
and even how to get out of them.
Just when I thought I had seen all there was to see, it was
time to break into groups to do forms. This was a treat. My
instructor had learned directly from a Shaolin Monk, and it
was his prerogative to maintain that same level of quality;
even take it up a few notches. It's quite a responsibility to
carry on thousands of years of tradition! I was stunned. It
was like nothing I'd ever seen before. I went back to my apartment
and started practicing….
Six years have gone by since I joined the Chinese Kung Fu Club
of DeKalb, and I've still never found anything that comes close.
I've lived in various cities, states, even countries, and I
always hasten to return to DeKalb where this buried treasure
lies, and where my second family is. My Sifu respects us as
equals, and in turn gets more respect. He loves us like we were
his own kids, and we love him like a father. People work hard
in class and get together outside of class. The example and
the demand for quality that our Sifu displays attracts a very
specific group of people - a group that otherwise would probably
still be searching for something so worthwhile.
A side note. Martial arts is, for many people, a business first
and foremost. My instructor charges next to nothing, he doesn't
advertise, and there are usually only a handful of new students
taken on each year, if that. Lately it's been the case where
there are lots of people wanting to join the class, but very
limited space. Nobody's quitting, even when they move 60-90
minutes away. I commute 2 hours per day, three days per week.
Why? Because some things truly are priceless.
of Kung Fu by Andy Holtz
When first starting training in Kung Fu, it is common practice
to start simple and work slowly, over years and years, into
more complicated motions. The stance set and the training form,
Tan Tui, are specifically designed for two purposes: to build
muscle and awareness. It seems that awareness has a heightened
potential for fast success in Kung Fu due to the immense pain
of the muscles endure. In order to perform the basic functions
correctly, without the main required muscles being adequately
developed during the beginning stages of training, the mind
has the distinct option of turning its focus on the task at
hand, thus blocking out the desire to cheat and make it easier,
or give up and stop altogether. Any art is 99% mental and 1%
physical. Often, the inability to perform an action correctly,
and for an extended period of time, is nothing more than the
mind focused on the wrong thing; in this case, the pain, instead
of the mechanical functions of the body.
The stance set is ingenious for its combination of muscle building
and self-awareness. Five deep breaths per move not only gives
us the oxygen we need to build muscles, which requires the upper
body to be relaxed and maintain good posture, but it also gives
us time to think through every part of the body.
Since muscles all have a specific function, it's easy to check
and make sure the function is being performed correctly just
by being conscious of what the rest of your body is doing. For
instance, stances should have nothing to do with your upper
body. That's the beauty of stances. There's a solid, yet mobile
foundation that leaves the upper body free of tension, and free
to do its own thing. If you feel tension in your back while
doing a scissor stance, for instance, take measures to relieve
that tension. Chances are, it will be harder on your leg muscles,
but they will build and adapt, and your troubles will soon be
over. Shoulder tension, which is easy to spot and correct, is
another example of using an unrelated part of the body in an
attempt to make a function like punch easier to accomplish.
It might be successful, but only for a short time, and the end
result is a limit in speed, strength, accuracy, and efficiency.
Time passes, moves become more complicated, but the need for
the fundamentals stays the same. Without the fundamental strength
and awareness, it's easy to fall into using shortcuts. Before
you know it, things aren't as easy as they used to be, but there
are more short cuts to get around that. Suddenly, stances and
transitions are unstable, the power and accuracy you used to
have is gone, and it's not for a lack of class attendance or
work, it's simply the result of a loss of focus and awareness.
Funny enough, it's teaching Tai Chi on this ship that has brought
me back to these fundamental truths. Something as simple as
the front stance ends up being the source of major revelations
for beginners, and surprisingly, maybe even more so for me.
I find myself repeating the same things, like "Is your
weight evenly distributed on your feet? Are your hips straight?
Where are your feet pointed? Do you feel tension in your back
or stomach? Straighten the back leg. Relax your shoulders. Breathe
deeply." It eventually started getting through my thick
skull, hearing it come out of my mouth all the time. I started
rediscovering the stance set and Tan Tui. After a few weeks
I revisited several other forms, and it was obvious what I had
lost, but the awareness I had built from the basics brought
those forms back into perspective fairly quickly. When it comes
down to it, that which makes kung fu easier is counter productive.
Simple things like turning the foot you're standing on while
doing front toe kick mantis training. Simple things like leaning
on the ball of your foot while doing the cat stance. Simple
things like dipping your head during rocket kicks or raising
up to change stances. All these simple shortcuts are easy to
overlook after years of repetition, yet they undermine our success.
Kung Fu is more a mentality than anything else, so unless it
is applied to everyday activities as well, it's unlikely it
will take hold. Anything that takes a stretch of time in your
day can probably be improved, no matter how simple it is. The
easier the better. When standing for long periods of time, think
through your body. Are your knees bent slightly? Is there tension
in your back? Are your feet straight forward?
Are you breathing deep and full? Long walks are a good time
to think about walking technique. Take it slow until you are
fully aware of what you're doing. Just a friendly reminder,
in case you're in the same boat I am (I wish you were!). Remember,
it may be tough at first, but our bodies crave motion, and motion
done correctly. You know that I'm talking about, because you've
all felt absolutely great after a good workout. The body doesn't
I know a
great man named SiFu by Meeghan Dooley
I know a great man named SiFu
Who does Shaolin Mantis Kung-Fu
He can teach it so well
His students can tell
That there is not much he cannot do
care for his students is clear
Both for those who live far and near
His love he does show
Those who know him do know
That his students he holds very dear
a father and teacher he is
Teaching Fu not only his biz
But a way of life
Never used in strife
And dictates the way that he lives
to him I am in a debt
His teachings I'll never forget
For I am who I am
And for all that I can
I owe him much thanks and yet
greater person I am for he
Has showed me the way of the chi
And forever I'll try
Live on till I die
Make him proud so one day he'll see
his teachings have saved most that come
His work will never be done
As long as believers
Become Kung-Fu achievers
And the lives he's touched become one
for now the cycle is cast
As I try to carry on the past
To make him proud from within
And the masters before him
For a true student I feel at last
you for everything you've done for me and for the invaluable
teachings you've blessed me with.
Love, Meeghan Dooley 5/2006
by NP Dan
All masters/teachers have different methods of transmitting
their art to their students, but this method really resonates
with me. In my experience, it seems very much in line with Sifu's
teaching. I couldn't count how many times I've asked Sifu a
question and he answered with "you don't need to worry
about that right now". The more I practice, the more I
realize how right he is.
Xin Kuzi, NPDan, From an e-mail
ME AND SHI FU ARTHUR BERRY by Pete Pierrakos "Wu Hao Zhi"
This is the tale of my times with the DeKalb Club on Gung Fu
and the heritage Sifu Arthur Berry passed on to me. To better
understand this relationship I will include personal data, more
or less relevant to my martial arts training and practice throughout
In 1991 I started studying N. Shaolin in Greece with one of
the best teachers around who studied under 4 different Chinese
Masters. I have always being lucky in my life, for I have always
found correct teachers with solid background and proven worth.
Coming to the States in 1992, I lost some time looking for something
alike to what I knew. Unfortunately, the first semester passed
without any luck, but I couldn't stop that sickness I have,
the virus in me called "martial arts". So, I took
a semester of Shotokan Karate at NIU. But, you see, fate led
me to where I was supposed to go. One of the instructors there
knew a lady who was practicing Kung Fu. So, I found out about
ShiFu Berry and his school in an old church very near to my
I remember the first day I went to check them out, I saw Ed
and Pat doing some routines and I recognized all the elements
I was looking for: strength, speed, serious minded practitioners,
Chinese way of movement. So I signed up. It took me a while
to adjust. In previous ways of practicing, emphasis was given
to strengthening the body in various ways, including hitting
each other's arms and legs, staying in stances a long time,
etc. Unfortunately, many people who were practicing in DeKalb
Club had never experienced such training, and didn't want this
kind of contact (logical …. Who wants to go next day to
University lame and bruised ? ) This bad habit of mine resulted
in serious injury of brother Jim Tucker, which deeply affected
me for a long time.
I loved practice back then. Although I was in my first steps
(Tan Tui rules!!!) I had such a thirst for learning, I remember
me walking in the snow up to my knees for 20 min to get to class,
nothing would stop me to go and learn!
Then we moved to the basement of Steve's office. Although a
bit far for me, especially without a car, I was loving going
out there earlier than others in summer months and practice
outdoors. It was the greatest period of my training, made strong
friendships and build strong foundations to my art. I got very
close to brother James Cook, Jim Tucker, and always admiring
now days ShiFu Pat Spangler and Scott Loxley …. I think
I should stop mentioning names because I fear I might forget
someone after almost 10 years! But you see, they are all graven
into my mind, so dear to me all.
ShiFu was always smiling at me. All I would do is practice and
practice …. Then ask for more …. "not yet,
keep practicing this part" he would say. I always had this
feeling that I started learning late in my life what I love
(at the age of 19) so I had this saying in my mind "practice
extra to make up for the lost time". I arrived at the point
of doing a total of 7 hours a day work out, including weight
training, running, etc. This helped me a lot to develop as a
fighter as well in conjunction with the Kung fu training. ShiFu
was always close to us, we had many meetings, especially when
we moved to NIU towers, we were there demonstrating to everyone
how it is to do our job without bothering anybody. Never had
a complaint, we were always cool and hard working, this made
a good reputation for the club because many new people started
pouring into the class.
Another plus for new students to come was the personal attention
that ShiFu was giving to all students. Almost everyone was practicing
a different routine, yet, ShiFu didn't group us to save him
time or energy, each one was moving up according to his/her
effort and time put into the art.
In tournaments, ShiFu was great! Tuesday class, we had performance,
we had hard training, and what was killing me the most, the
"little" secrets of success, I assume he still gives
them to newcomers …...pretend the "lame" or
match up with opponents you choose … line up last minute
to perform last … etc, etc.
We never participated as a club and came back empty handed.
No matter what the competition was, we were in the first 3 places.
I have a quite large collection (as we all did I think) of trophies
to remind me of the good old days and a bunch of pictures from
tournaments down at Sugar Grove and elsewhere.
And of course, especially during fighting matches we were the
loudest and most annoying bunch of people cheering and shouting
…. Great memories!
What about me now? I went through many hardships in my personal
life, but continuing to study and practicing kung fu helped
me a lot. All the good stuff I learned in De Kalb I still remember
and practice and teach them so they don't get lost. I am concentrated
now on improving health and keeping fit, at the same time I
teach Yang Style Tai Ji Quan. I had the honor to study it with
Shao Lin Monk Zhang Jiseng, with Head Coach of Netherlands Loe
Hoyer and my Greek teacher.
One thing I will tell you though, spending time with the Shao
Lin was an incredible experience. So humble persons, genuine
and good hearted, strong and concentrated to what they do, I
think you would all love to be with those people who started
what we have learned. Then I understood better the admiration
and feeling of ShiFu Berry for the art and his dedication. It
is just awesome to be close to those people and receive the
knowledge from them.
What else can I say about ShiFu Berry …. So much, yet
nothing put into words can describe the feelings. He was strong
physically, man you could not escape his chin na techniques,
fast no matter the few extra pounds he had, patient with all
of us but above all, and for what I respected and loved him
the most, he knew, loved and respected his art. He remained
traditional in a world that was quickly changing towards merchandising
everything, including our art; he kept (on purpose) a small
group of brothers because as he was always saying, and that
I keep forever in my heart:
"For the serious minded ONLY" !!!
I think I will close with those words, and wish him the two
greatest things in life: health, for without it nothing matters
Love, from his pupil, family, and friends.
Sincerely, Pete Pierrakos "Wu Hao Zhi"