Chinese Martial Arts School in Victoria Carrying On Traditions | Multimedia

Weihan Thomas, 15, balances his body on his arms during an exercise September 16 at the Zhonghua Chinese martial arts school.

Tucked away from North Navarro Street is a modestly sized white warehouse. It does not store farm supplies or personal property. But it is a building that is alive with the living, breathing history of future kung fu masters in Victoria.

Adorning the wall inside are golden Chinese letters reading “Zhong Hua Wushu Xuexiaom”, which translates to “Chinese martial arts school”.

The Zhongua Chinese Martial Arts School, 104 Circle St., has been owned by Michael Thomas since 1990. The school serves students of ages ranging from toddlers to adults.

Standing in front of his students, who range from children to adults, Michael Thomas begins his evening class with a full body stretch to warm up the body. Despite his expertise, he does not consider himself a “Sifu”, a Cantonese term that translates to “master”.

“People will translate it as ‘master,’ but that’s not a very good translation,” Thomas said. “In the past, people spent more time taking care of school. There have been many times when the teacher has taken the place of the father in some way.

And so, Thomas has chosen a title that he deems appropriate for himself – instructor.

Your Life: Zhonghua Chinese Martial Arts School

A collection of ancient Chinese weapons.

Your Life: Zhonghua Chinese Martial Arts School

Gunner McDaniel, 12, battles an opponent Sept. 27 at Zhonghua Chinese Martial Arts School.

The school generally doesn’t advertise, but instead is content to be known as a local secret, Thomas said.

“We’re not trying to get a lot of students, and the reason for that is a lot of schools are just trying to get students,” Thomas said. “The purpose of kung fu school is to train future teachers, not to have as many students as possible.”

Thomas watches from a safe distance as he leads the students through the duel with a broadsword and spear. The 54-year-old reflected on how it all started when he brought the martial arts school to Victoria, with a vision to spread Chinese martial arts and teach them in the traditional way.

Born in Dallas and raised in Houston before moving to Victoria as a teenager, Thomas’ interest in martial arts took off when he was 9 years old watching his older brother practice tae kwon do. Due to his parents’ job, Thomas said he moved frequently as a child, but still practiced various forms of martial arts wherever he went. Growing up, Thomas said he spent hours at different martial arts schools, made close friends and learned to speak fluent Chinese from his friends.

Your Life: Zhonghua Chinese Martial Arts School

Students lean on a pole to stretch September 21 at the Chinese martial arts school in Zhonghua.

Your Life: Zhonghua Chinese Martial Arts School

Michael Thomas warms up his students September 21 at the Zhonghua Chinese Martial Arts School.

Finally, Thomas made his first trip to China in 2004 when he was in his thirties.

“So I go to Hong Kong and I go everywhere looking for a kung fu school and there’s nothing in the phone book,” Thomas said. “You can’t find a kung fu school in a Hong Kong phone book because it’s all word of mouth.”

And so Thomas began digging and exploring the streets of Hong Kong, eventually coming across a kung fu school inside a shopping mall specializing in Hung Ga, a southern style of martial arts. from China.

Thomas began to establish his roots in China.

Taking some of what he learned, some of the martial arts styles the school teaches are Choy Li Fut, Wing Chun, and Southern White Crane style.

Wing Chu is a concept-based Chinese art form that focuses on close defense and uses the opponent’s strength to turn it against them. The fighting style was popularized by grandmaster Ip Man, who was Bruce Lee’s teacher.

The Southern White Crane style is associated with long range attacks and also close melee combat, the actions resemble the fighter pecking a bird.

Your Life: Zhonghua Chinese Martial Arts School

Classmates stretch Robert Harvey’s leg.

Your Life: Zhonghua Chinese Martial Arts School

Weihan Thomas, 15, holds 13-year-old Abdul Majid Nusayr from a safe distance as the class watches a duel between a broadsword and a spear.

Choy Li Fut is a fighting style that has characteristics of southern styles intertwined with northern styles, Thomas said. In Nordic styles, people weren’t as muscular but had better kicks. In the south, there was more rice cultivation due to the way the rivers descended, lending themselves to more farmers, Thomas said.

“Agricultural work makes people strong, not raising sheep. So the southern people had more strength doing the farm work, so you see a stronger upper body type,” Thomas said. “In the south, they relied more on kicking techniques.”

Choy Li Fut’s developer Chan Heung had three teachers: two from the south and one from the north, so the style intertwined two styles, Thomas said.

Your Life: Zhonghua Chinese Martial Arts School

Abdul Majid Nusayr, 13, warms up with leg kicks.

Your Life: Zhonghua Chinese Martial Arts School

Abdul Majid Nusayr, 13, armed with a spear, fights a duel with Weihan Thomas, 15, at the Chinese martial arts school in Zhonghua.

But undoubtedly, for the students, the weapons training turned out to be the most exhilarating, with an array of traditional Chinese martial arts weapons that look like they’re straight out of a movie scene. Broadswords, spears, halberds, spiked maces, and others that don’t even look like traditional weapons at all. The collection consists of old military weapons and, more surprisingly, simple agricultural tools.

“Government people were allowed, of course, to have military weapons, but average people couldn’t,” Thomas said. “So if you had an uprising, you don’t want the public to be able to have the same guns in the army, so they used their farm implements.”

Your Life: Zhonghua Chinese Martial Arts School

Jonathan Williams ends his duel.

Nonetheless, through all the fun drills and weapons training, Thomas’ philosophy for his school remains the same since it opened – upholding traditions and sharing his love with the curious.

“What we’re doing is trying to keep that part of Chinese culture alive and nowadays people aren’t interested in old-fashioned training anymore,” Thomas said. “Everyone wants something fast. Everyone wants the buffet. Everybody wants overnight deliveries and stuff, so it’s really trying to keep the old thing alive.

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