In an effort to continue my promised series of interviews with some of the interesting people I have met through the martial arts, I present an interview with Sifu Frank Bolte. He is a down to earth person, with a humility rare in martial artists of his extensive experience and deep knowledge. Doing this interview changed me and some of my thinking as Frank presented some thoughts that I had not considered before, and I am thankful to have been able to do this.
Wallace: As we begin I want to thank you for your time in participating in this interview. I tend to start these out with the stuff that I feel best comes from the person first hand, so, let the readers know a little bit about your background and training as we start.
Frank: I gotta thank you for giving me this opportunity. I am Frank Bolte, 43 years of age and can look back on 35 years of martial arts. I started out with Judo and Karate and since 1984 I have been dedicated to the Chinese martial arts. Since 1990 Hung Kuen in particular although the first 10 years I actually only knew 2 sets. The Tiger Crane set and a double knife set.
The proper system and hung gar curriculum I have learned between 2003 and now…
Wallace: Awesome! My first contact with you was a number of years ago through a kung fu forum. I don’t remember which one because I frequented a lot of them back then…so it is hard telling which one. In the time that I have known you, you have done some pretty extensive traveling.
Could you share a little bit about the different places you have lived and taught?
Frank: Haha yes those forums…they used to be good and I actually made a couple of good friends through them! My traveling story is hard to tell in a few words but I’ll try. You can say I have spent 60% out of the last 10 years in Asia. I have lived in Manila, Philippines for 3 years and spent at least the same amount of time (off and on) in Hong Kong. I started teaching Hung Kuen in Manila’s Chinatown in 2006 following the invitation of Sifu Arnold Buenviaje. He taught and still teaches the Mantis style at the Chi Ching Wushu association. I did that for about 6 months before I opened my own small club where I could teach Chinese but also Filipinos. I also taught hung kuen and lion dance in the oldest martial arts club of Manila, the beng kiam school (ngo cho kun). All this teaching helped me a lot to improve myself and my kung fu. Of course a Caucasian teaching kung fu in Chinatown is a rare thing so I had some airtime on Local TV and a had an extended interview in the Philippine martial arts magazine “Rapid” and even made it on the front cover! Those 3 years in Manila were a blast! I have made many good friends over there. I’m still thinking to return to Manila one day.
Wallace: The reason I didn’t stay there is based on how poorly I handle that heat and humidity…other than that, I love the Philippines!
Most of the readers of this website are interested in practical martial arts or practical application of traditional martial arts, and so I want to move a little bit in that direction if you do not mind. What are your thoughts on the practical application of Hung Kuen to address the types of attacks common in our modern world?
Frank: It’s a good question and I think that every martial art teacher should question himself if he can offer his students some realistic self-defense and applications. Because in my opinion any martial art should be naturally practical. It is the teachers responsibility to cover this aspect in his teaching. Unfortunately many teachers still teach some ridiculous applications. Now a 100-year-old car wouldn’t be practical in modern societies because time goes on and things improve, same goes for martial arts. People are healthier, stronger, have better education etc. I believe that the old masters were better conditioned back in their time but then again the need was much bigger.
Wallace: Oh, absolutely!
Frank: So I believe that martial arts need to adjust , especially the traditional arts. If you want to fight MMA or any contact sport with a rule set you have to specifically train like that. That’s why you don’t see many traditional martial arts practitioner in MMA, and if there are any they certainly cross train.
Anyway, you can’t learn to fight without fighting. In my school the first 3 things my student will learn are a solid stance, well conditioned forearms and a punch that hurts. This and a big bottle of Dit da jow.
Wallace: Ha! That brings back memories of my early days of training.
Frank: As soon the student know how to punch correctly no more punching in the air. We will hit all kind of things.
I don’t believe as much in fancy application so I don’t have many step by step drills. We have drills working with jabs, crosses, uppercut, hooks etc. Also defending against grabs, holds and all kind of pushes. We spar hands only, wrestle, isolated drills and all out sparring…having worked as a doorman for several years I had chances enough to see what works for me . So that’s an important point in my adult classes but there’s more than the fighting aspect and I hope people understand that. Lam Jo didn’t become 102 years of age because he had many fights, he probably didn’t have a single fight in his last 40-50 years. But everybody knows how much power he had even in his late years.
Wallace: That is one of the things that always impressed me about Hung Gar; the longevity of the masters!
Frank: Yes, it shows when the hung gar style is properly trained we can gain a lot from it. I always tell my students there are 4 important things in life; to eat, to drink, to sleep and hung kuen haha…
Wallace: Ha! Love it! Let’s take a moment and turn our focus to weapons training. Which weapon do you teach first, and why?
Frank: There is a range of 3 weapons I teach at first. The long pole, the double end staff and the broadsword depending on the student. I decide this individually looking what would best suit and help the student . Sometimes I will ask a student what weapon he would like to learn first, that’s when the student shows a lot of talent and determination. Mostly it is the long pole though.
The long pole is good for the student to find his inner power (ging), it can help learning to release the power at the right time. Also strengthen the student and it gives good structure in the stances. The double end pole is very good for waist power.. some students have difficulties to use their waist properly so this set can help a lot. Weapons generally help to improve coordination in many aspects.
Wallace: Right! I remember trying to learn a Gwan Dao form. My Sifu had this monster Gwan Dao that had a steel pole instead of a wooden pole. Must have been between ten and twenty pounds. The first thing that happened when I swung it was I got pulled out of my stance. He told me this was the biggest reason to still train weapons in the age of the gun. It made our kung fu stronger through solidifying the basics, and showing us where we were weak.
Do students ask much about why they have to train weapons that they cannot carry?
Frank: Actually they don’t really ask. Sometimes they ask after watching some videos why some others can play their sets so fast and then I tell them it is because they use light weapons. From beginning I give the students some exercises with the heavy long pole so they get used to this and body, structure and stance will get stronger. Talking about the kwan do; when I still lived in Manila I once came across a kwan do entirely made of steel. They had it in Chinatown in one of the souvenir shops for like 30 thousand peso.
Its weight must have been about 15 to 20 pounds too…would have loved to buy it.
The one I have now is like 12 pounds.
Wallace: Yeah…I always had an issue with the ultra lightweight weapons and the “oohs” and “ahhhs” to be had from a crowd that didn’t understand what they were looking at. I have often said when asked, “No, I cannot swing a twelve-foot waxwood staff as fast as he can a six-foot aluminum staff, but mine hits much harder.”
Let me ask you your take on one of the aspects of Hung Kyun that has fascinated me for much of my life – the twelve bridges. What is your take on this concept?
Frank: The 12 bridges…a very complex topic. And as you said - it is a concept instead of 12 fixed techniques. In my opinion all martial art styles have the 12 bridges they just don’t point it out but have their own way to explain their methods. We could take a look at a Choy Lay Fut form and find all the bridges, at the same time a Choy Lay Fut guy can probably find all the 10 seeds in our Sap Ying Kuen form. So the difference is that we fight with the knowledge of the 12 bridges, to be able using them you have to completely understand them so you can use them without thinking, if you can use them without thinking they are no longer important. They are there but in a fight you won’t (or shouldn’t) be like “hmm what I’m gonna use jik kiu or bik kiu ?” Bam! too late! haha… In my training I usually start with gong kiu and yau kiu and I also think that those are the most common bridges. Tiger is gong (hard) crane is yau (soft). Use soft against a physically strong/er technique/opponent and gong against a physically weak/er technique/opponent.
This is basic fighting and again probably most if not all martial art styles will use this method but just name it differently. The 12 bridges are a good tool helping a student to learn applying his techniques, reading a combat situation and to be able defending themselves accordingly.
Wallace: I agree 100%. In my interaction with people from various styles I see a lot of the same ideas, but to some it is spelled out more clearly, or understood differently, but we all have two arms and two legs right?
Frank: Exactly !
Wallace: From here I want to hop to the Five Elements. I marvel at the subtle complexity of the Five Elements as practiced in Hung Family. To me there is s obviously so much thought and experience put into this aspect of training in the style that sometimes it amazes me. I would like to hear your take on the Five elements, and for the sake of our readers who are not familiar with the Hung version of the Elements, could you take a moments and let everyone know what we are talking about.
Frank: The Five Elements are Wood 木, Fire 火, Earth 土, Metal 金, Water 水. Each of the elements presents a certain way of striking. Wood is simultaneous blocking and striking, fire are rapid, straight strikes,earth are externally strong strikes coming from the ground and a solid stance, metal/gold acquire well conditioned forearms and fists as you strike using the whole limb if necessary and water punches are the strikes that come in a swinging/wave form, often people think its long-range striking but it is not true they can be applied in close combat too but obviously will look different.
Wallace: I remember well the day that I reflexively use a wave punch in a way I never imagined – against a kick in a TKD sparring match, and dumped my opponent on his butt on the ground. It was almost definitely performed abnormally, but it worked!
Frank: Many Chinese Martial Arts styles use the 5 elements in a similar manner. The 5 elements are deeply rooted in chinese medicine, something I should spend much more time on to get a better understanding. For some reason I never made it past the combat and historical aspects of our hung gar style haha except learning how to make and apply dit da jow.
Wallace: Ahhh…dit da jow…I used to practically bathe in the stuff until I found out how it was intended to be used.Sometimes I wonder how bad people must have thought I smelled. My instructor told me of a friend of his who thought if he drank it he would be turned into a super Shaolin Warrior Monk, but instead it just turned him into a corpse.
Frank: I don’t know if I should laugh now? haha but seriously , sounds someone been watching too many Shaw Brothers movies..funny thing is at first most students don’t like the smell but after a while start to like it actually. But people who never heard about the “jow” wouldn’t know and therefore could not appreciate the smell..
Wallace: It is an acquired taste indeed.
Let’s take a little bit of a turn here, and let me ask; where do you want to take your training? What I mean by that is; is there a particular direction or goal you are currently pursuing?
Frank: The purpose of Chinese martial arts in the modern world has totally changed. Nobody has to protect his village anymore , restore the Ming Dynasty or fight off bandits with a stick. Wars being fought with guns. And guns will always beat fists. So the training goals go in a different direction. Nowadays if you have to fight it is at competitions or in a self-defense situation which is most likely not comparable to the old times. Still the first aim is to be able to defend oneself, to stay strong and healthy, learn some weapons and maybe lion dance. It is also to increase your self-discipline , we all know how hard it can be to keep practicing the same stuff over and over again. So maybe this kind of self-discipline can also be helpful in your daily life.
My main goal is to keep hung kuen alive by producing good students and hopefully a few of them will one day become teachers too, I’m not interested to build a chain of schools.
I always will have my one school but if my students open their own schools when they reached the skill they have my blessing and support. I hope we can make people understand that a style like hung kuen has a lot to offer and can become a part of ones life and improve it, if you just let it.
Wallace: This has been both enjoyable and enlightening. I stand in awe and respect of your knowledge and attitude. Before we close, if people want to train with you, you are in Hannover, Germany, correct? How can they reach you?
Frank: Yes,thats right. Best to reach me through my webpage www.hungboxen-hannover.de under contact.
Wallace: Thank you so much for your time in participating in this interview! I have enjoyed this and we need to stay in more frequent communication Frank!
Frank: Sure Wallace ! It has been a great honour and my pleasure doing this interview with you. I enjoy your online blog a lot and I’m glad to be on there now too .