Steve Rowe interviews Sifu Jim Uglow (1999)

Shikon head Sifu Steve Rowe interviews Tai Chi veteran Sifu Jim Uglow in 1999. This article reproduced with kind permission of Steve Rowe.

Jim Uglow is one of a rare breed.  I have often likened finding a “real” Martial Artist to that of finding a diamond on a beach of pebbles.  Jim is a diamond, coming from the East End of London he could be accurately described as a “diamond geezer”……

In his twenty odd years in the Martial Arts he has never stopped learning, never stopped getting closer and closer to the “source”, both in Hung Gar Kung Fu and Yang style Taiji.  He travels to Hong Kong a minimum of three times a year to train with the Hung family for one part of the day and the Yang family for the second part.  He has extensive “blood line” training in both arts, you can’t get any better than that!

Although my main art had been Karate, I had trained in Taiji since the ’70′s and thought that I had seen it all until the day I walked into Jim’s Kwoon in Woodford Green.  It is like walking into China, with the official notifications from both Hung and Yang Families on the wall, the extensive official shrine consecrated by Kung Fu/Feng Shui masters Yap Chen Hoi and Yap Leong and with the Lion Dance costumes and the array of weapons, you know you are in a serious Kung Fu Kwoon.

Jim took my pathetically inadequate Taiji to pieces and restructured it into a powerful Kung Fu art, seriously improving my health, vitality, application and enjoyment of what was to give me a new lease of life in the Martial Arts.

As I know many readers will be training in Taiji, especially the most popular Yang style, I just knew you would be fascinated by Jim’s quest to be uniquely trained by Ma Lee (Mary) Yang, daughter of the famous Yang Sau Chung…….

Yang style masters Steve Rowe and Jim Uglow

Yang style masters Steve Rowe and Jim Uglow

SR            Jim, can you give the readers a bit of your background in Taiji?

JU            Yang Sau Chung had three daughters and “adopted” three sons to carry his Taiji lineage forward.  The three “sons” were Ip Tai Tak who still lives in Hong Kong, Chu Gin Soon who lives and teaches in Boston USA and Chu King Hung who moved to the UK.  I originally trained with Chu King Hung from 1978 for ten years and he subsequently shut his school down in England.

SR            So where did you go after Chu King Hung?

JU            I did some training with Earle Montaigue and learned the  two man form in the UK from Chu Gin Soon in ’94 and subsequently went to Boston USA to have it corrected by him.

SR            How did you get from there to train with Mary Yang directly?

JU            I was lucky really, because Chu King Hung had closed his school down and Chu Gin Soon had not accepted me directly as his student, I was able to access Mary directly without having to go through anybody else.  One of my students had a lesson from her whilst he was in Hong Kong and gave me her telephone number, and I was able to call her and arrange a lesson directly.

SR            What happened from there?

JU            Mary gave me a free lesson and then told me that she would accept me as a student, I don’t think that I fully realised the importance of this at the time……..  Anyway, I phoned her back and have been following her programme ever since.

SR            Tell the readers about the first visit….

JU            Chinese games……  It’s like everything is a test, you have to appreciate that because she is bloodline and the holder of an immense amount of knowledge it is important that she gives it to the right people.  You have to be able to demonstrate that you don’t panic in her powerful presence, and are able to speak properly from the heart.  Yang Taiji is not for weak or arrogant people….

SR            What was the first training like?

JU            We talked for about an hour first, and she struck me as an open and honest person who has a genuine desire to teach what Yang Taiji is all about.  I get the impression that she is a little frustrated at what passes as “Yang Family” Taiji these days and wants to correct that impression without offending anybody.

SR            What happened then?

JU            She asked me to demonstrate my form, (Yang Chen Fu 108) which I did and then she asked me if I taught, I replied yes, and she said “what with that?”  I told her that I did and that I had learned it from Chu King Hung who had learned from her father….  I later learned that this was also a test to see what my reactions would be put under stress….  She likes strong students, because it gives her the raw material necessary to work with.

SR            It is said that the daughters of Yang Sau Chung didn’t learn the whole system and that Ip Tai Tak, Chu Gin Soon and Chu King Hung are the true holders of the lineage….

JU            You have to understand Chinese society, it is patriarchal, Yang Sau Chung had to “adopt” three male sons as such to pass on the official lineage and face up to the inevitable challenges that position incurs…..  He also had three daughters that he had to protect, he taught them the whole system, and bear in mind that they lived with him all of their life until his passing away, they are bloodline and also true holders of the system.

SR            Do the others daughters teach?

JU            I don’t know, I haven’t met them and don’t really know anything about them.

SR            Do you know anything about how they were taught by their father?

JU            Mary told me that they were taught “very strictly” on a daily basis and also “very deeply” , this is evident by her skills and knowledge.

SR            On our next interview, I would like to go into the training methods and theory quite deeply, but meanwhile, can you give me an overview of her skills?

JU            As you know, I have been in the Kung Fu world for a number of years and have met many powerful Masters, but I have never met anyone as powerful as her.  She can push me around with ease and throw me violently against the wall with what appears to be an insignificant movement.  I’ve never known anything like it.  She dramatically changed all my Taiji and made me feel a lot stronger and healthier.

(I can vouch for that, I’ve watched Jim change very dramatically over the past couple years and felt the changes both from him and in my own training – Steve)

SR            Tell the readers more about how it feels to be taught by her…..

JU            She is very particular, she intently watches and corrects every tiny part of each movement, it is like her eyes are “burning” into you for every centimetre of movement.  It is like being put under a microscope.  But the power is so immense…..

SR            What do you mean by power, how does it manifest itself?

JU            Whatever attack I try to make she just hurls me into the wall with the tiniest of movements, I’ve just never known anything like it……

SR            You’ve now been training with her for three years, what would a normal training session consist of?

JU            When you first go in she looks into your eyes to see how you are, your mental and physical health and she would talk to you for a brief while, then you would go and get changed.  She would start you off with the warm up that she calls “soft exercises” they are like Chi Kung with a lot of visualisation, they are corrected and taken to a new level on every visit.  Then you would have a short break, a walk around, before starting the form, every day there seems to be a different “theme” and she would correct according to that.  This is how her father taught and she is keeping that method alive…….

SR            What about application?

JU            She works extensively on application, some I knew, but many I had never seen or thought of before based on the family fighting principles making the mind and body “free”.

SR            Would you say that she has the “Kung Fu” application.

JU            Certainly, she corrects me in a way that makes the applications far more effective, you have to remember that she trained extensively with her father every day and the self defence was a living reality to them.  Her corrections can be by manipulation or just a word, but they are always very profound.

SR            Does she talk much about training with her father?

JU             The more I get to know her the more she tells me….  It seems that he was very hard and demanding, but also very open.  As she was his daughter, she couldn’t have what they call “the burden” of the traditional challenges, that is what the adopted sons were for.  She said that her father left her with “no burden” but still gave her the whole system.

SR            Does she just teach privately from home?

JU            Yes, although I believe she also teaches an “outdoor” session in one of the local parks each week.

SR            How many days private lessons do you have with her each time you go over?

JU            Six or seven, the training is so intense that after that I’m totally useless for a couple of days……..

SR            Thanks Jim, that’s excellent for an introduction, if we can then resume for the next issue with some of the underlying principles involved in the training it would be great!

JU            My pleasure.

Yang style family: Shikon head Steve Rowe, Metal Tiger headteacher David Keegan and Bushinkai chief instructor Simon Keegan

15 years after this interview was conducted: Shikon head Steve Rowe continues to pass on the knowledge with Bushinkai’s Metal Tiger headteacher David Keegan and Bushinkai chief instructor Simon Keegan


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