Doug @Enso Martial Arts Shop: Hi Sarah, Thanks for meeting us today for the March Newsletter so we can have a chat about what you do. I get lots of people in the shop saying “ I want to do Kung Fu” and my first question is always, what sort of Kung Fu. China is pretty big, so I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about your style of Kung fu and what it is.
Sarah @ Bristol Wutan: Okay, for beginners we teach Wing Chun and we move onto Five Animals. For people who haven’t done martial arts before it quite good as it’s not too complicated. When people get to Brown Sash, they start with Praying Mantis and BajiQuan, which is what Wutan is really famous for. So that’s how we do it, so we do Stretching , Sparring, padwork and weapons in the class. We also teach light to semi contact sparring, I don’t like to teach full contact. I like my students to be fit and healthy and not with broken ribs, etc. In Wutan as a whole there is full contact sparring and occasionally I have students that go and train in that, but my preference in the club in light to semi.
Doug @Enso Martial Arts Shop: Okay, so you start with Wing Chun and Five Animlas, which is more of a Southern Style?
Sarah @ Bristol Wutan: I think it’s more in the middle. We also teaching Chang Chuan, which is low stances and builds up the leg muscles., waist turning, basic punching. It fits together like a really well crafted jigsaw puzzle, it sounds a bit confusing from the outside but it’s put together very well. When the student is ready for the next challenge there it is. We introduce them to weapons on the second level.
Doug @Enso Martial Arts Shop: How does it work in terms of learning different systems? Do you teach them completely or do you use elements from each of the styles, like leg stretching from one and hand speed from another?
Sarah @ Bristol Wutan: Well I’ve pretty much done all of the Wing Chun system. I haven’t done all the weapons, but I have done the Butterfly knives and Pole. I haven’t done any wooden dummy, but people in our system have. So I’ve done most of the system. Enough to teach it to quite a good level. We pretty much teach them individually, so we have complete systems within the school. We can then choose to specialise on different styles. I am concentrating on my BajiQuan, but have done a lot of Praying Mantis and Five Animals. There is some Five animal forms that I am less familiar with, but we have different specialists within the school, so some people pick what to specialise in and go to them for that style.
Doug @Enso Martial Arts Shop: Do you have seminars where you can learn those specialisms? Do you do privates?
Sarah @ Bristol Wutan: We don’t usually do privates but we have teachers coming over from China. Mainly the modern Wushu. We are more traditional but the modern Wushu forms are really fun. So you do get to see lots of different styles of martial arts. You get to train with different masters within the same school.
Doug @Enso Martial Arts Shop: So for people who don’t know you, can you give us a bit of background on yourself and how you started in martial arts and how you’ve ended up where you are now.
Sarah @ Bristol Wutan: I was in my early twenties and my friends we going out. I didn’t want to be on my own so I went along with them. I immediately loved it. We teach the martial side of Tai Chi as well as the healing. My teacher was an outstanding Tai Chi teacher. He had some of his top students there too so I got to train with them as well. I was really lucky to train with them, simply by stumbling into the class. I did a year of Tai Chi and got my health up together. I then trained all the time, did Kung Fu, worked in my teachers Kung Fu shop, it was about 13 – 20 hours training a week., from 20 to 25 years old. That was really good for me.
After I turned 25 I retook my A-levels and then went to Nottingham to University, but there was no one there teaching. My teacher said “ you’re okay but you are no good. If you want to try a little club then see how you go” I only wanted a group to practice with. I quickly got 20 people and they pushed for more nights so it quickly built to 4 nights a week. The Nottingham branch is still running up there. Then in 2000 I had a year off and travelled round the world, then moved to Bristol and set up the school here.
Doug @Enso Martial Arts Shop: So you’re Nottingham Club, did you train people up to teach or did they ship people in to replace you?
Sarah @ Bristol Wutan: No, I trained them all up. I found I was quite good at teaching. You know when you’re young and you play games, I was really bossy. I assume it came from that. I taught quite a few outstanding teachers.
Doug @Enso Martial Arts Shop: We were chatting in the shop a few weeks back and you said you’d just got back from China, training. You’re head guy is from Malaysia, so did you go there with him?
Sarah @ Bristol Wutan: So I’d just got back from holiday and I got a call from my teacher saying “do you want to go to China?” I hate flying so I said I wasn’t going but I slept on it and then really wanted to go. So six of us went to China. We had a week in Beijing, just training in the parks and milling about. Then Master Wu flew in from Malaysia with his students. We haven’t all met up before so it was really exciting. We went to the Beijing Sports University and met Jet Li’s first teacher, a little tiny women. It was great seeing the Sports university.
Then Wutan Japan and Wutan Taiwan arrived as well, we all piled onto a bus and drove to Taizhou and there was a big Baji event there. It was surprising to see some of the Chinese Masters drinking their little shots, looking pretty robust. There was all kid of people there and there was Baji schools from all over China. Wutan opened the event, it was really scary but lots of fun. I really think martial arts is about participating. Maybe there is someone better than you but you training hard and do you best, that is the spirit of martial arts. It was quite an overpowering experience. I think I did okay, but I’m not used to training with people on that level. If I trained in that environment all the time I think it would have been different. You just don’t see 49 year old women at those events.
Doug @Enso Martial Arts Shop: Training in front of a knowledgeable crowd is always the hardest. It isn’t a crowd just appreciating it for what it is. They’ll be critiquing it.
Sarah @ Bristol Wutan: Yeah definitely. My martial arts big sister was there too, she’s been training for years and is 70 years old now. I keep telling to keep going. She said she has a really strong heart, so genetically she’ll just keep going. Lucky old her, I don’t know if my heart is as good. It was just amazing watching some of the other Baji people. Just awesome to see the display. It was really good for me to understand what level everyone is at in different parts of the world.
Doug @Enso Martial Arts Shop: So we’ll come back to England now, so you have quite a few school sin Bristol now. You teach some and your instructor teach some. What’s the plans for Wutan Bristol? What are the goals?
Sarah @ Bristol Wutan: In 2015, a lot of my brown sashes seemed to either get promoted or move away and they just stopped training. We also moved our advanced night, so we just had to train the next generation coming up. They are really good, some have black belts from other systems. It’s so nice to teach. Last year I was thinking whether anyone would want to train with a 49 year old, but apparently they do. Thank you Star Wars, Thank you the Olympics. I think it does inspire people a bit to come out and train. So there’s lots of new people to train up. I don’t know what you think, but what people want changes a lot. The system stays the same but what people think it is changes all the time, so you have to modernise. You have to engage with people.
I remember reading a book by Gandhi and he talked about organisation, and how it will only stay alive if it is useful to people. You have to adapt all the time to keep people interested and I think the martial arts is the same.
Doug @Enso Martial Arts Shop: So just to finish off, can you give me the details on your club.