One of my goals with Qialance is to connect with other Taijiquan and Qi Gong enthusiasts around the world. And I like blogging. Obviously I had to create a list of the Top 15 Tai Chi Blogs!
But I want to go further and learn more about those bloggers. So I hope you are just as curious as I am because I interview them. And this is the talk with Rick Matz from Cook Ding’s Kitchen.
Could you please tell a bit more about yourself?
I’m something of a dilettante. The funny thing about martial arts training is that once it hooks you, it’s like gravity. You may think that you can get away from it, but after a while it always pulls you back. That’s my story.
I’ve been hooked on martial arts since the original Kung Fu series came out on TV in 1972. I immediately signed up for Tae Kwon Do under a high ranking Korean instructor, Won Chik Park. I had little talent for this and was soon distracted by my discovery of beer and girls, but the abiding interest, especially in the philosophy, remained.
In the late 70’s I trained very diligently in Yoshinkai Aikido under Takashi Kushida, one of the highest ranking teachers of that style. For Kushida Sensei, Aikido was really a study of Budo and I like to think that I learned something of it.
My Aikido training petered out as a girlfriend became a wife, a career needed building, kids came along and my parents aged.
About 1980, I learned the Cheng Man Ching style of Tai Chi Chuan from Carol Yamasaki, who was a direct student of CMC when he was in New York. All I can say is that I learned the choreography, the sequence, but didn’t go deeply which I regret.
I have continued to practice the CMC form on and off ever since and indeed this has been a focus for me recently.
Carol Yamasaki is actually one of the Cheng Man Ching students who is in the Cheng Man Ching documentary “The Professor”. I interviewed Barry Strugatz, the director!
Now, how did your marital arts journey continue?
In about 1999 I learned the standing practice, Zhan Zhuang from Victor Chao, a Gao style Ba Gua Zhang teacher. I’ve continued learning from Rick Taracks, who teaches a method called Wujifa ever since. I have continued this standing practice in one form or another to this very day.
I studied Wu family style tai chi chuan under Genie Parker for several years, until I was laid off of a job. I continued practicing and eventually practiced the square form in the small frame style taught by Stephen Hwa.
I also trained at a mixed martial arts gym for a couple of years, focusing on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Wrestling with 20 year old kids is quite a challenge!
Over a year ago, Mark Wiley of Tambuli Publications sent me a book to review, Wisdom of the Taiji Masters, which is about CMC’s students and legacy in SE Asia. After reading that book, I decided to really focus on the CMC form and my standing practice as they suit my stage of life and lifestyle the best.
In wanting to really polish my CMC form, I came across the books and videos of Scott Meredith, a senior student of Ben Lo, CMC’s first student in Taiwan and have been following his interpretation.
In addition to the CMC form and standing, I am also a distance runner. I have run in several half marathons and completed my first full marathon earlier this year.
Wow, congrats on the marathon. And I’d say you have a lot of martial arts experience! If you call yourself a dilettante since 1972, I am really a dilettante since 2004!
Which Tai Chi Chuan style are you into now and why?
I have been focused on the CMC form and Zhan Zhuang, the standing practice.
At my point in life and lifestyle, I am most interested in the most stripped down and essential practices to enhance my life. It doesn’t get much more bare boned than these.
What I’m after, what I train for, is to cultivate a calm mind and relaxed body. I see these as the foundation for continuing a healthy, happy and prosperous life into my old age.
What is the biggest benefit you get from your practice?
A calm mind.
I’m too old to get into fist fights, and live and work in what are considered safe areas. Life still happens though.
On the way back from visiting relatives in another state a few years ago, I was driving on the highway passing a car, when that driver suddenly decided to change lanes, but didn’t see me.
I had been keeping an eye on him and when he cut over, I managed to get my car over to the shoulder without going into the median. He saw me then, and returned to his own lane. Through my maneuvering, his car just touched mine.
The policeman who wrote up the incident said that if he had hit me a little harder, or a little further forward or backward, it would have been very bad.
As it was, I was the only one among us from the two cars who was in a frame of mind to speak coherently to the policeman.
It’s for that sort of situation that we cultivate a calm mind.
Oh, I am glad you got out of that situation safely! I think your example shows quite well that practicing Taijiquan is not only useful while practicing it or in a (hopefully never happening) fight. But it really impacts everyday life, too. Like being able to catch a glass before it touches the ground.
Which piece of advice would you give a beginner in Taijiquan?
Relax. Try to practice every day. Keep taking stock of what you are doing and try to improve. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll get better over time.
Who are or were your most important teachers?
Takashi Kushida from Aikido, Rick Taracks from Wujifa and Scott Meredith (at a distance) for my present practice of the CMC form.
Is there any teacher or master you would like to learn from in the near future?
Ben Lo and William CC Chen, the oldest of CMC’s direct students in the US. After their long decades of practice, I am sure each of them has a very good idea of “What really matters.”
Is there a book you recommend? One you often like to pick up and refer to?
My interest is a “practical Daoism.” To that end, a book that applies to many aspects of life, not just martial arts or philosophy is Antifragile by Nassim Taleb.
A blog that I like which provides me with many insights is written by an American who is studying Kyudo while he is in Japan teaching English. It is called Green Leaves Forest.
Thank you, Rick, for the interview and for sharing your martial arts story.
If you want to read more from Rick, visit his blog Cook Ding’s Kitchen here!