Interview with Sigung Blum
The Mid-West of the U.S. has always been my home but it is not home to many Southern Praying Mantis teachers. In the mid-90’s I heard about an obscure group that trained at a Chinese restaurant on Thursday evenings after hours. The events that led up to me actually meeting and then studying under Sigung Tony Blum are too unbelievable to account for here but oddly enough, one evening I found myself drinking tea at that very same Chinese restaurant, waiting for the owner to close the doors. After the restaurant was closed, people began to trickle in through the backdoor. Si-Hing Eddie Chin, the owner of the restaurant and the one that introduced Sigung Blum to Si Tai Gung Wong’s Chuka Mantis Kung Fu, began to clear out some tables and chairs to make room for the late night training session. Sigung Blum greeted me and we spoke at length over tea. After the conversation he welcomed me to join in with the others who were practicing. Everyone I met that night was approachable and kind but when the doors were locked after the last patron left, the atmosphere in the room changed. The air was electrified as the Chi in the room began to pop and snap with each movement the practitioners made. I knew that I was in a Southern Mantis Den and that gave me a very excited yet sober feeling. My time training under Sigung Blum’s guidance has been invaluable and it is my pleasure to share my interview with him here.
The following is some background info provided to me by Sigung Blum as well as excerpts from an e-mail interview.
In the Chicago suburbs during the fall of 1984, Sigung Blum was first introduced to the Chuka Southern Praying Mantis system through Si-Hing Eddie Chin. Having previously trained in other martial arts Sigung Blum had a friendly sparring match with Si-Hing Eddie and was impressed with his abilities. He was even more impressed when he found out that Si-Hing Eddie had only been training for 8 months. Sigung Blum was hooked and Si-Hing Eddie said that he would introduce him to Si Tai Gung Wong.
As time went on Sigung Blum realized that in order to grow further and to truly appreciate the system he had to teach others what he learned. He says this is about the time when he approached Master Wong about teaching. “So, Later that evening I had asked Wong if I could teach the system. Not only did he agree to let me teach the system, but he had also told me that I would be the sole teacher of the system under him and that all future students would be directed to Eddie to get them in touch with me, or they would be directed to myself and that he was officially retiring from teaching.
Never did I expect him to of have done that. I only wanted to teach to continue to grow myself and give back to the public and the system for what the system and Si Tai Gung Wong had given me, and for him to of have put that much faith in me and my level of fighting and teaching was truly an honor and one that he felt I must of truly and finally earned as a student of the Chuka system. An honor that I will remember and continue to honor him for and his system until the day I die. And that was when I officially started teaching and opened our first school in the spring of '95.”
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
- What was it about SPM that drew you to the art?
SIGUNG BLUM - In the beginning, how well it worked. It was impressive how someone who had very little training in the system handled someone with greater training in other arts. Initially it was the training, then the philosophy behind it's core "Everything in your training has a purpose" was an even bigger draw.
- What, in your opinion, are the defining characteristics of Chuka Mantis in contrast to other martial arts?
SIGUNG BLUM - The philosophy behind its development really defines it as a unique art. The concept of “always being balanced” which allows you to block a punch before it is even thrown is definitely one. Additionally, the fact that it was developed from many systems to achieve a more balanced system is another. Also, the use of internal energies (Chi, Don Tien) which so many arts lack.
- Can you explain what you mean by "opening up to the system".
SIGUNG BLUM - To quote a few phrases first-"To know without knowing" "To become enlightened" aka "Opened Up" is a term we use when all aspects of your training (Don Tien, Ging, Li, Chi Sau, Lut Sau,Tong Long Applications.etc..) all work as one and work without having to think about these things to make them happen, they just do, and no matter what these movements or techniques are they have purpose and flow for an end result. It's like an innate intelligence. How do you eat everyday? You don't have to tell yourself how to eat the body naturally knows what it needs to do for this process. That is when your kung fu is great; it reacts immediately and precisely and worries about consequence after the fact, not the other way around.
- After decades of training and teaching what do you think are fundamental/essential to Chuka Mantis training?
SIGUNG BLUM - In my opinion the key factor is, training and using your Dan Tien, from this, everything can develop deeper, better, and permanent (naturally occurring). Balance is a very important aspect to our system as well for proper movement and timing of your skills. And finally, your ability to read pressures in your training, without a proper read of your opponent's intent you may make critical errors in your attacks or defense techniques. Techniques in my opinion are easy, work on them anytime, they will come. Yet what is funny, is everyone that I talk to about their training, or that becomes a student believe this to be backwards. Meaning, Technique, pressure, balance, Don Tien is how they feel they want to train. I believe this why so many students have a hard time advancing properly, much less able to "open up". It sometimes takes them awhile in their training to realize their thoughts to be misleading to their growth.
- What advice would you give to a new Chuka Mantis student?
SIGUNG BLUM - Always remember to continuously work on the Don Tien and the basics.(On–Ton-Chum-Biel, Si Liu Ma, Tong Long Ma, etc..) these techniques are the building blocks of the system and will continue to change and improve as your skill progresses. Also, Be careful with whom you train with, your skills along with your conditioning will make you more tolerant to pain and injury, unlike a training partner, unless they are from this type of system, may experience more pain and injury from training with you than you may realize you are inflicting. With that said, use your skill when you must, but do understand this is not a point fighting system, it is an end result system, which can be very devastating to an offender.
Strangely enough, Sigung Blum had been friends and fishing with Si Tai Gung Wong in the past and only knew him as “Sammy”. Si Tai Gung Wong agreed to take him on as a student. Si-Hing Eddie explained the respect and honor of the Chinese culture and community and how from now on that he should call Sammy “Wong”or “Sifu“ from then on. Shortly after his starting in the Chuka system they opened a Kung Fu School in Hanover Park Illinois. This is also when Sigung Blum was formally introduced to Sifu Uncle Jack Moi and began his weapons training under him.
Sigung Blum’s connection with his Sifu was direct. He had this to say about this time in his life: “I had alot of plus' in my training having been friends with Si-Hing Eddie, Steve, and of course Sifu Moi & Si Tai Gung Wong. I mention this because it led to my being involved in the "inner circle" conversations and talks on the system and it's philosophies which is one reason I believe after having put the time into my training, led to my excelling and “opening up” if you will within the Chuka system.”