Student Impressions of the Kung-Fu Club
& the guidance of Sifu Arthur Berry

First Impressions 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 "Breathe."

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.

The Mechanics 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 lie.

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

His 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

Both 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

So 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

A 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

That 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

So 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

Thank you for everything you've done for me and for the invaluable teachings you've blessed me with.
Love, Meeghan Dooley 5/2006



Sifu's Method 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 the years

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 home.

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"



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