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Interview with Antonio Flores - one the first westerner to take the undergraduate Wushu degree


Antonio Flores

Mr. Antonio Flores is a man in his early 50's currently living in Beijing, China. He knows an impressive list of Wushu training systems as well as usage of traditional Wushu weapons. Mr. Flores graduated from the Beijing University of Physical Education with a major in Chinese Martial Art (1991) as well as a Master's Degree in Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University (2000). He also holds National Coach Degree in China and is an International judge.
After graduation, he continued a Master's Degree program in Michigan State University, which he recently finished, too. 

Hi Mr. Flores, can you list all of the Wushu style you know?
I have learned Changquan, Nanquan, Taijiquan (Simplified forms, Chen Style, and Taijijian), Chaquan, Dongbeiquan, Baguazhang, Xingyiquan, Broadsword, Straight Sword, Long staff, Spear, Double broadsword, Double Straight Sword, Double Hook Swords, Long Tassel Sword, Nine Section Whip, and Rope Dart.
Young lady demonstrating a Dao (Broadsword) form
photograph taken from MH / wikimedia commons

How long have you been training?
I have been training for more than 36 years

Did you master all the systems you have mentioned or do you just know them?
That is a very good question. I believe that mastership requires more than 36 years I have in the practice of the Martial Arts, but I definitely do more than just knowing the systems, and I am professionally trained to instruct people for national and international level competitions.

I do, however, use the Martial Art as a tool for the development of the person as a whole. I believe in the educational value of Martial Arts over the mere competitive sports approach.

Who was (were) your teacher(s):
In China: Prof. Kang Gewu (Mr), Prof. Liu Yu Ping (Mrs), Prof. Ling Boyuan (Mr), Prof. Men Huifeng (Mr), Prof. Chen Zhuanrui (Mr), Prof. Qi Hai (Mr), and Bagua Traditional Master, Liu Jingru (Mr).

Bryant Fong giving a class
Photograph taken from

In the USA: Coach Bryant Fong (Mr). I am also in debt with great professional Chinese athletes, most of them were my classmates in university in China, but their experience and teachings became a strong influence in my professional development, too. They are: Mrs. Li Xiaoping (Shanxi), Ms. Peng Ying (Sichuan), Mrs. Chen Peiju (Henan), Mr. Yu Yan (Heilongjiang), and my wife, Hui Xuna (Beijing).

It seems like all of your teachers were Chinese. Did you start your training in China.
No. I started in Mexico City in 1974. However, I reserve the right to call "my teachers" a very well-selected group of people. Most of my early teachers can't meet my concept of a martial artist or teacher, so I avoid mentioning their names. Hope you understand.

Was it hard, as a foreigner to gain the trust and knowledge from the Chinese masters?
As you can see on my list, my teachers are mostly university professors, people dedicated to the research of Wushu in the areas of training, theory, history, philosophy, etc. All of them are the most influential researchers in their field, like professor Men Huifen, who is co-author of the modern Taijiquan routines, and professor Chen Zhuanrui, who was the first all-round champion of Martial Arts of China (equivalent of Jet Li, but several decades ago).

Old master demonstrating his flexibility in public
Photograph taken from / wikimedia commons

This type of teachers do not stand on mysteries and secretism, because their knowledge is pretty wide, and because what they teach is for the development of the humankind. They do not teach just kicks and punches to show how barbaric one can be. They teach THE Martial Art.

Master Liu Jingru, the only traditional master on the list, is the exception to the rule of traditional masters. He was my wife's Bagua teacher early in the Beijing Wushu Team from the 80's. He did not teach any students for years, because of personal reasons. During Chinese New Year, my wife and I went to present our respects to his family. I was surprised that he invited me to "give a try to Bagua."

That "try" became one week, one month, a semester, and then a couple of years under his close instruction. He taught me the other side of the coin, what universities do not teach, what is beyond technique and theory. The unique experience of a total, well integrated, coherent system, where intangible elements can be perceived without much rational explanation. That is the traditional way. Nothing else.

Another "traditional" teacher I had, was my classmate Chen Peiju. She is from the Chen Family village and inherited the Chen Style Taijiquan from her family. She taught me while we were in university. But again, at that time we were being formally trained as professional Wushu instructors.

Chen Peiju demonstrating a movement of Small Frame of Chen style Taijiquan

I was the first foreigner graduated as a professional Wushu coach in China. I believe in the Educational value of Wushu which allows people to find harmony between body (what we do), mind (what we think) and spirit (what we feel).

To accomplish this, we practice focusing our mind-body-emotional energies to accomplish a refined performance of movements that simulate a combat. We call this practice method: Taolu.

What language did you use to communicate ?
Mandarin Chinese. All my studies in China since 1986 were developed in Chinese. I was accepted as the first foreigner to take the undergraduate program in Wushu, because of my technique, academic records, and Chinese proficiency. This is a well-defined criteria in the Beijing University of Physical Education and the Chinese educational system.

What exactcly is Wushu?
Wushu is the general name for all Chinese Martial Arts. There are more than 400 different styles defined with that name.

All styles in Wushu include hand, leg, throwing skills, and instruments. There is no single method to classify Wushu schools. There are free-hand styles and instruments. Instruments subdivide into long instruments, short instruments, double instruments, and flexible instruments.
Wushu master demonstrating Kung Fu fan form
Photograph taken from lzy9290 / wikimedia commons

Free-hand styles also classify into North and Southern styles, short and long range, imitation styles (Praying Mantis, Eagle, etc), and many more.

Can you tell me briefly the difference between North and Southern styles, short and long range, imitation styles and others?
There are not absolute ways to classify the systems. Northern styles usually stress on kicking techniques, while Southern styles usually stress on the hand techniques. However, the famous Northern style of Fanziquan only uses hand techniques.

Imitation styles include Eagle claw, Praying Mantis, Monkey Boxing, Drunken Boxing, etc. The performers imitate an animal or a character.

Because many Northern styles, including Chaquan, Huaquan, Paochui and some Shaolin styles characterize for long range movements, the have been integrated into one system called Changquan, Long Range Fist. Jet Li (Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo Must Die, etc.) has been one of the main exponents of this style both in China and abroad. All the acrobatic kicks that you see Darth Maul perform in Start Wars episode 1, all the spins in the air you see Mark Dacascos do, they come mainly from that system.

Darth Maul from Star wars 
Photograph taken from

Is there a difference between Kung Fu and Wushu?
WU= Martial and SHU = arts. This is the general name for all the Chinese Martial Arts.

The word Kung Fu can only be translated as achievement, effort, and merit. However, it can also be translated as VIRTUE, and in that sense, it could be considered to be related to the goal of the Martial Arts.

You spend time and effort, refining yourself, overcoming your weaknesses and developing your virtue through Martial Arts. Saying that you practice Kung Fu, or saying that you develop your virtue, could be similar. The International Wushu Federation (IWUF) accepts both names as valid for the Chinese Martial Arts.

However, Kung Fu is not so accurate because the Martial Art is not the only way to develop virtue. You may do so through music, arts, sports, and many other ways. Therefore, the name Wushu was created and it is literally translated as WU=Martial and SHU= art. Nothing more convenient.

Isn't the term "Wushu" is relatively recent.
Yes. The name Wushu was created in 1949 after the foundation of the People's Republic of China. Before that and from the ancient times, many names have been used for the Chinese Martial Arts, including Jiji, Wuyong, Wuyi, Shoupo, etc.

That would mean Wushu would be some kind of program of the People's Republic of China.
National programs of Martial Arts exist from the times of empress Wu Zetian in the Tang Dynasty. In the 20th century, the first systematic approach to Martial Arts and Physical Activity started in Nanjing's Central Academy of the National Art (Guoshu) in 1928. But as you can read, the "National Art" could be the Peking Opera, the Chinese Brush Painting, the Chinese Folk Dance or Music. Guoshu, therefore, was not a good descriptor for the Martial Arts.

Traditional Chinese folklore dancers
Photograph taken from Mohylek / wikimedia commons

The need to create a name like Wushu where WU=Martial and SHU=art was imperative.

Is there a difference in the way wushu is taught in China and the rest of the world?
Yes and no. The good things come from China and the bad things also come from China. People learn the bad things (mysticism, secretism, individualism, etc) faster and easier than the good things. The good things that China has offered to the Western world, like for example, the way of the Martial Arts as a way to develop virtue, as a way to discover the human potential through hard work and effort - that is more difficult to learn.

Most people in the West try to change things without having a good understanding of Martial Arts as systems. Try to take away the meat of a hamburger and still call it hamburger. People would say, "that is only bread." But if you had never seen a hamburger, you would believe that you are eating a real McDonalds's. The same thing happens with the Martial Arts taught in the West.

Real Kung Fu fast food chain can be found in China
Photograph taken from

People believe that learning the Martial Arts means that they can learn self-defense, or that they can achieve a color belt, or that they can be the inheritor of the traditional master... and all those stories. However, they miss the point. Many people just see kicks and punches and they just learn kicks and punches.

However, many of this misconceptions start in the East. I was reading a very interesting column in Combat magazine from the UK where somebody mentions that the background of Asian instructors is rarely if ever questioned and this allows many Japanese persons (and Chinese and Koreans) to build Martial Arts academies in the west as mere business.

Is it worth the trip to go to China in order to learn Wushu?
I believe that every student has the teacher that he/she deserves. If the student is looking for a good fighter and the student has the name card of a good fighter in China, just give him a call and go for it. If the student just needs a paper in Chinese to impress their clientele, the student can come to China, take a taxi, pay the bill and frame the receipt saying that it is the diploma.

Photograph of the Shaolin temple
Taken from wikimedia commons

People in the West believe in the picture of the master on the Great Wall, or standing by the gate of Shaolin Temple. Good trophies!

There are all type of teachers in China and the West. If the student is serious, he/she will know how to identify the type of teacher they need... in China or in any other country in the world.

I can mention to you that after I graduated from the university in 1991 in China, only other six or seven foreign persons have achieved a similar diploma. This is not an easy challenge.

What does martial art training bring you, why did you start training in the first place
I started in martial arts when I was 14 years old. The visual aspect of Chinese styles attracted my interest. I was a very weak and clumsy boy. Through practice, my life experienced such a positive change that I decided to research on the way to apply Wushu in the regular school environment. In 1985, I was promoted by the Mexican Secretary of Public Education to join the cultural exchange program between China and Mexico.

In sum, the study and practice of Martial Arts have brought me great satisfaction, great knowledge, lots of questions yet to be solved, the opportunity to become a role model for young people, the sincere admiration and respect of students and their parents, new challenges, the motive to strive towards new goals, and the inner strength to persevere into my quest.

What do you think martial art is. What does it represent to you?
Martial Arts is a lifestyle. As a teacher, Martial Arts is for me a tool to develop the potential of persons who decide to follow this path. The practice under the guidance of a good instructor can help you learning about yourself and about the continuous changes and processes you experience. This may increase your awareness and become one of the most fundamental and useful life skills you may ever learn.

Interview done by Hao Wong
Copyright ©2000 Martial Life. All rights reserved
Last Updated on Sunday, 14 November 2010 15:09  

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