I started martial arts when I was six years old and my passion gave me the opportunity to travel extensively at a young age in order to learn and compete around the world. Little do I know though that at a later stage, I would fully dedicate 4 years of my life to travel around the world without going “home”, meeting amazing people along my journey to gain a deeper understanding of cultures, martial arts and traditional healing.
A Life Of Martial Arts
At age seventeen, I was in China, training in Kung Fu, Tai Chi and meditation, and was initiated into Chan Buddhism. In 1991, I won the Kung Fu World Cup championship in Spain. At twenty-one, I went to college in the United States at FIU (Florida International University), then back to France for my military service. In 1998, following my service in the French Army (Paratroopers Unit), I decided to leave Europe and move to the tropical island of Tahiti. With a one-way plane ticket and 150 euros in my pocket, my sword on my shoulder, I arrived at the international airport of Faa’a in Tahiti. Long story short, after two weeks in Tahiti, I ended up on the little island of Moorea. Timing was in my favor, and within a day I secured a simple hut in the jungle to live in, a space to give classes, and a handful of students to teach. The very first Kali Majapahit school was born.
The beginnings were not easy (loneliness, financial challenges…), but it only contributed to my character as well as my determination and passion for martial arts. Time was passing very slowly then. After a few months, life got easier. Most of my students became friends, and my treasured book collection had arrived from France. I also got to meet two “masters in disguise”: my immediate neighbors, a retired French couple. He is a sparkly-eyed seventy-five-year-old Buddhist sage, previously in the military; she is a retired history and philosophy teacher, in love with Antique Greece. They had the most amazing library I had ever seen (and used). Hundreds of books on Buddhism, spirituality, Greek and Roman philosophies, psychology, Egypt, Asia, Freemasonry, etc.… I lost count of the number of hours I spent in conversation with them, listening to their wise teachings, experiences, sharing about their amazing life, their trips and of course, their endless generosity and trust in lending me some of their most precious books.
The number of students was increasing with the amount of hours I was teaching and I was meeting more and more exceptional people. By then, I was opening the second Kali Majapahit school on the main island of Tahiti. It was during one of my classes that I met Lila, who was to become one of my students, and later my wife with whom I would travel around the world for four years. Around the same time, I met Doctor Charles Gilbert, acupuncturist, psychotherapist and homeopath, who was to become a friend, a guide, a Master. Charles truly is an exceptional man, a healer of the soul for his patients as much as for his friends. Outstanding doctor and talented writer, he is one of those men you simply listen to. Apparently, he had been advised to learn martial arts from me, and I had been advised to visit him for an acupuncture session. Having the benefit of a schedule far more flexible than a doctor’s in French Polynesia, I went ahead and paid him a visit first. We clicked well from the first time we met. As time went on and with many more amazing conversations about Chinese medicine, philosophy, martial arts, and the human soul, Lila, Charles and I became friends and accomplices to a point that we were almost family. Later, we even had a chance to give seminars about “Energy and Health” together, in Lebanon, and later in Singapore and Indonesia. We are of course still very much in touch with him, and we try to meet up someplace in the world once a year. Many more healers crossed my path during my stay in Tahiti: massage therapists, physiotherapists, and artist painters (yes!). Each had this little something extra, this wider and deeper vision of the human being.
“Let’s do it!”
Six amazing years passed by, with ups and downs, but all full of enriching teachings. In 2003, I suggested to Lila the craziest of adventures, a leap of faith, an initiatic journey: a trip around the world to explore martial arts and traditional medicines… Without any other form of logic than this inner voice coming from the heart, screaming, “Go, jump, life is waiting!” A few days later, Lila came back from her work at the court and announced that she had put a full stop to her promising career as a lawyer: “I handed in my resignation letter. Let’s do it!” It is 2003, and we are leaving Tahiti. Destination: Unknown.
If it would be complex and irrelevant to relate each country visited and all the stories and adventures that happened along the way, I will still try to give an overview of the countries, Masters and stories that had the biggest impact on our journey. Please, follow me for a few minutes in Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Tibet, Vietnam, Thailand, France, Germany, USA, Lebanon, Canada, the Philippines, Singapore and India. For the most part, we went to the above-mentioned countries multiple times during our trip. For the sake of storytelling, I will regroup some of these encounters and adventures within a single story. So, here is the sum up of the most amazing people and places we encountered during our trip.
From Tahiti, we first headed to Hawaii where we met two very unique Masters: – Bob Montgomery Sensei, 6th Dan in Iaijutsu from the Muso Jikiden Eishin School (Japanese Swordsmanship); – And Sifu Amon, a loving Yogi fighter, who lives as a hermit (even though he does have material possessions he no longer uses) and teaches Hakka Kung Fu styles as well as many other things as you will soon discover. Let me begin with the latter. Sifu Amon is a sixty-eight-year-old man (in 2010), in impressive physical condition, with a very unique diet and this since 1972 (coconut water, spirulina, a little fish and flaxseed oil is basically all he eats). Initiated in several spiritual schools, as well as many styles of martial arts from the Hakka clans, such as Long Ying (Dragon boxing), Nam Tong Long (Southern Praying Mantis boxing), Wing Chun, etc., he synthesized his knowledge and named his style “Feng Quan” (Phoenix boxing), in reference to the main weapon used in Hakka martial arts: Feng Yan Quan (the Phoenix-Eye fist). One day, as Lila and I were training in Kali on a Hawaiian beach, this man came forward and told us that we were ready to receive his teachings. At first, considering his appearance (long white beard, messy hair…), I have to admit I didn’t pay him much attention, politely keeping a distance. But a short, very short, technical exchange was enough to convince us that we had just met not only a Master in martial arts, but also a man whose wisdom was nothing short of amazing. His “Phoenix-Eye Fist” has amazing power and I saw him punch a coconut tree and have the coconuts fall down. We’ve been following his teachings ever since. He carries with him all the love and compassion of the world. He smiles all the time; I have NEVER seen him either annoyed or moody. One of the funny parts of this story is that we never really know how to find him. When we arrive on the island of Maui, we have to look for him. He always says that if we cannot find him, it means that we are not supposed to train. The island being the size of a city like Paris, it’s not that easy… One time, we were on Maui for more than a week and our training hadn’t started yet. But most of the time, we find him training on a beach within one to two days. Trainings with Sifu Amon consist first of full body detox using massages, nutrition and fasting, Qi Gong, tendons reinforcements, etc. Before starting any physical exercise of any sort, Sifu Amon demands those purification exercises of his students for a week. He also guides us toward a very simple, frugal, all-natural and alkaline diet. Practice would really only start after that “conditioning” week. Then came the “sticky hands” (Chi Sao) exercises, aquatic drills to develop striking power in the “Phoenix-Eye fist” style, free flow movements, and free sparring. There are no forms in his system of teaching. Now, here is the story of how we met Bob Sensei. My katana was starting to suffer from the tropical climate of the Pacific islands and I was looking for someone skilled enough to polish and sharpen my sword, without paying $60 per inch of blade as would be the case in Japan. One thing led to another and I was introduced to this instructor of Japanese swordsmanship (Iaijutsu). We fell in love with him at first sight. Peaceful, compassionate, sage, passionate, this antique katana swords collector, who lived in Japan for ten years, is an incredibly skilled swordsman and a gifted teacher. After a few stays with him, one of them for three months as Uchi Deshi (disciples living with their Master), he sent us to his own Master in Tokyo, Sekiguchi Sensei, 21st Soke of Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaijutsu. And with that, against all odds, we were on our way to Japan.
Japan, China, Hong Kong, Thailand…
In Tokyo, Sekiguchi Sensei welcomed us as family members and immediately adopted us. He was very tough on us during trainings, but gave us much affection the rest of the time. Trainings would begin around 9:00a.m. and end around 11:00p.m., with a thirty-minute lunch break. Sensei and his students would invite us out for meals and we wouldn’t be in bed before 1:00a.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays: Iaijutsu, Sundays rest and on Mondays: Kendo… After many months of hard-core training in Japan, we were now headed to Hong Kong, followed by Mainland China. Our first trip to China was very rich in terms of traditional medicines and Hakka culture, focusing less on the martial arts aspects. In the Yunnan province, we came across Doctor He Shixiu, a highly regarded master in Chinese herbal medicine. We followed his teachings with much interest and came back the following year to visit him again. The key of his teaching resides in this sentence, which he repeats throughout the day in broken English: “Don’t worry, be happy!” Beyond our own training in Kali and Tai Chi amongst beautiful scenery, there was not much of interest in martial arts. The “competitive martial sports” seemed to have taken over most of China (or so we thought). Thankfully, our following trips to China proved us wrong and showed that, among others, the Hakka community still had many more secrets to offer. Thanks to a friend of ours, we were to meet legends of the Chinese martial arts world, among them Kenneth Chung (Wing Chun) in Hong Kong and Feng Zhijiang (Tai Chi Chuan) in Beijing. Our first meeting with Master Kenneth Chung in Hong Kong was unique. It was a revolution in our understanding of Wing Chun. We have trained with him several times since, and invited him to our school in Singapore to give a seminar on Leung Sheung lineage of Wing Chun. A few months later, we had an amazing encounter with Grand Master Feng Zhijian, Master of the Chen Shi Xinyi Hunyuan school of Ta Chi in Beijing. The 80-year-old gentleman is of an impressive, peaceful inner strength and power, with a stupefying efficiency. His level of spiritual understanding was also beyond a doubt. From the Sichuan province, going through the Jiu Zhaigou valley, we reached the low lands of Tibet (we couldn’t reach the highlands without the appropriate visa). No outstanding martial arts encounter, no hidden Sengei Ngaro Master, but a spiritual presence so strong and overwhelming made our trainings and meditations there highly magical. Amazing backgrounds of crystal clear lakes, breathtaking valleys, and Buddhist monasteries. In Vietnam, we met a very skilled group of practitioners specializing in “Iron Palm” and Tai Chi, with whom we trained for a week. Great experience and great people. We carried on with our journey and arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at the Lanna Muay Thai training camp. Several months of intensive Thai boxing training followed: Up at 6:30 a.m., a one-hour run in the mountains, and boxing until 11:00 a.m. Then came the first meal of the day and rest until 3:00 p.m., boxing again until 6:30 p.m. followed by the last meal for the day. Five days a week… We also started training in traditional Thai massage, at the Loi Krok Center, where every weekend for several hours we were initiated into the subtle art of Thai massage, reflexology and traditional herbal medicine.
US, Middle East, Europe…
After a few months spent in Asia, we left to teach “martial arts and health” seminars in Hawaii, the United States, Tahiti, Lebanon, Europe, etc., to get our finances up to healthier levels, and at the same time to meet up with our Masters and friends around the world. These were always opportunities for amazing trainings and encounters. One such encounter was in Europe, where we met a Kung Fu Master who completely blew my mind. He (I respect his wish to remain anonymous) is the direct representative of secret lineages of Hakka martial arts. What an opportunity to have met this man, to have followed his teachings and his advice as well as privileged moments such as sitting at the table of a Chinese restaurant where he unveiled a little bit about himself and a lot about his art. These moments, as other practitioners out there will probably relate, are worth all the trainings in the world. It was in Paris that we had the privilege of meeting a prominent Budoka, a legend in the martial arts world, a renown esoterist and famous author, whose work I had admired for years: Michel Coquet. I was then in the midst of studying his latest book, “La vie démystifiée de Jésus” (The life of Jesus demystified). Growing more and more interested in the man’s thinking and knowledge, it felt crucial to find a way to meet him. Destiny turned in our favor again, and a Ninjutsu class led to an Ashtanga Yoga class, leading us to a Japanese swordsmanship class, and to… Mr. Coquet himself. How can I describe this encounter? It simply changed my life.Our trips to Europe would always lead us to my Kali Master in Germany, Dakilang Guro Jeff Espinous. Following Germany, we were now heading to the U.S., and then Lebanon, giving Kali seminars as well as internal energy and traditional Chinese medicine conferences, but also to meet up with our very good friend Joe and his formidable Kali Sikaran group/family. Our many trips to the USA always brought us to Master Scott Krenz’s place in Wisconsin, where we learned most of what we know about opening and running a professional martial arts school. He became a mentor, but also a dear friend. In 2005 came an even more special occasion for us to go to Lebanon, as Dr. Charles, an acupuncturist in Tahiti whom I briefly introduced earlier, joined Lila, Joe and myself in teaching in a conference in Beirut. Our first duo seminar, “Energy and Health” was an incredible experience for Charles and me (replicated a few years later in Singapore and Bali, and now, all over the world). Fruitful trainings helping, Lila successfully passed her 1st degree Black Belt in Kali (Kadua Guro), under the testing of Guro Joe Habis. Parachuting, horse riding, and amazing hikes in the land of cedar trees rounded out this unforgettable visit to our dear friends in the Middle East. During this conference in Beirut, we were fortunate enough to meet with a highly initiated member of the Druze community. How the Sher, from the top of his mountain, got to hear about our conference remains a mystery. But he indeed took the journey to meet us. A few volunteers among the group translated the classes into Arabic for him and we were lucky enough to spend private time with him talking about the similarities of Druzism and several other traditions. Between discussions about Buddhism, reincarnation, the secret life of Jesus, and the Druze philosophy in general, we learned about the benefits of the fig fruit and other tips from the Druze science.
Wedding in Hawaii
After this amazing adventure, we were on our way to Hawaii again. This trip to Maui was special. On top of the usual Feng Quan and Iaijustsu trainings, a wedding… Our wedding! What made this wedding even more special, thanks to much logistics by Lila, was that it quickly became an international seminar on martial arts and healing. It goes without saying that at least half our guests were martial arts practitioners or natural healing specialists. All flew to Maui: parents, family, friends, masters, and each day, a guest would teach his art to members of “Lila and Fred’s Wedding.” Kali, Tai Chi, Chi Gong, Kung Fu, meditation, traditional Chinese medicine, Iaijutsu, and personal development, taught by teachers from all walks of life, languages and cultures throughout the week preceding our wedding. A memorable experience. Tired of the tropical heat and humidity, we were soon heading to the great north, where we would get a taste of martial arts training in the great, cold outdoors of Canada. While in Canada, another two extraordinary places we visited were the Northern Karate School of Hanshi Cezar Borkowski in Toronto (an incredible man with incredible martial arts skills), and the Shaolin White Crane Academy in Montreal. The latter practices Fei He Quan, a rather rare style of the Hakka crane style from Fujian. The instructor there is very nice and a very good practitioner and teacher. He is also author of a great book on his school and his Masters in Malaysia. From Hanshi Cezar and his wife Kyoshi Marion, we learned so much that an entire book would be needed to describe the experience. Let’s just say for now that we owe them a lot and love them very much. A few trips to the Philippines gave me the opportunity to teach Kali to the Special Intervention Unit of Philippines Police as well as the Baguio and Manila Special Forces. Not much can be shared about these trainings other than that I felt honored to be chosen, as a foreigner, to be teaching Filipino martial arts to the Filipino Special Forces and SWAT!
That was a quick summary of our trip that ended in Singapore in August 2006 after four years of traveling around the world. We later had the opportunity to travel to India, which quickly became the highlight of our travels around the world. We went to Southern India, going around Ashrams and visiting Yogis and masters of wisdom. It was then that our lives were the most deeply and definitely changed. There is so much to say about that trip… It was THE life-changing experience for us, but this will be for another book. As a quick conclusion, I would say that it is our duty, each of us humans, to follow our dreams. The only message to seek in these few pages is that I strongly hope that all those who ever wished to travel the world will do it, taking that leap of faith. The hardest step isn’t necessarily leaving everything behind or financing the project, but the jump into the unknown. As for myself, I am grateful for the wonderful experiences that I was fortunate enough to live, the people I met, and the opportunities to change and grow. Where I stand today, I have a clear feeling of being on the right path, on MY right path. A path which, though different to each of us, brings us toward a common goal shared by all (consciously or not), of getting rid of the shadows of being egoistic, and of the transitional behaviors of our very existence. Only then will we be able to express the real Self, shining our own Light, which itself will blend into a greater Light: the Universe, God, the Tao, or Infinity, whatever term works for you…