At the end of this month, my time as a consulting engineer working in the building industry is coming to a close.
Nearly nine years ago now, I came out of a lengthy hiatus from my work as an engineer and project manager and joined the team at a local Engineering Consultancy firm here in Toowoomba, QLD. At the time, I did it specifically because we needed more income in order to invest in our martial arts school. Local council, in their infinite wisdom, had imposed a number of developmental conditions on us before we could officially open the centre on our property. These were all extremely costly requirements which we only fully met and completed a couple of years ago now.

At that time, rejoining the ranks of white-collared workers, I was terrified. I had been out of the industry for a few years and the last time I had actively worked as an engineer in the building services industry, it was in a completely different country: South Africa. I did not know what to expect, and believe me, that was a good thing. There are few jobs outside of engineering consultancy where the level of accountability and responsibility is so high relative to the industry standard remuneration packages. The Dilbert cartoons are often scarily accurate. Stress levels are generally very high and your work is scrutinized on all fronts by unfriendly eyes. The goal of many unprincipled elements in the industry is to make use of mistakes or loopholes in your documentation for their own financial gain. Don’t get me wrong, there are principled contractors out there and I had the pleasure of working alongside some of them, but there appear to be more unprincipled snakes in the grass than not. However, I was very lucky to be working alongside such skilled, intelligent and professional people as my colleagues. At least in the office, I was always supported by friends who had my back. Well, I’m getting side-tracked and it’s not my intention to preach. Ultimately, the industry is what it is. It works after a fashion. 

Back to my story: I was terrified. For the first year of my work, I lived in constant fear of making mistakes. But the long and the short of it was that I still got up every morning and went to work after my training was over. It was hard, but I did it. That’s how I try to deal with fear. I face it. Always have, always will. No point in running away from your fears. They’ll follow you and eventually get the better of you if you let them. My training became one of the supports that kept me somewhat sane and optimistic during the tough patches. It also helped me to feel as though I was moving forward in some way, even when everything else seemed stagnant. One of the other main support structures for me during this time was my wife and training partner, Sherrilyn. Shield-maiden. Only God and Sherrilyn know the full extent of the burden that I carried.

So here I am. Turning a corner. The same terror grips me now as before. I have no way of knowing whether things are going to work out. Of course, I have a plan. But a plan is just a plan. I have no guarantees. My regular salary is coming to an end. I am going to be focusing my full attention on my martial arts school, my training and on the strange inventions and experiments that I have planned for the future. Some could argue that the things that I want to pursue have no meaning or value for anyone else. “No one cares, mate.” That is probably true. I’m sure that there are very few people who want to scientifically measure the physiological impact of certain vocalizations on an opponent during combat. Or to accurately time gross body movement and compare it to fine motor movement (such as a trigger-pull) under stress. Or to measure and define a physiological basis for the concept of Chi. But these are investigations that I am compelled to pursue. 

I am as terrified as I was 9 years ago when I went back into engineering again. But I am bloody well going to do it anyway. 

There are many people who will look down on me. They will question my decision either actively to my face, or behind my back: “How are you going to support your family, Lester?”. Perhaps it is an irresponsible decision after all. I have a family and a young son. I have others who depend on me. But consider this: 

The act of dying is the most irresponsible act that one can perform. And yet, we will all die. We will all eventually drop our responsibilities and exit stage left. 

I have put off what some might term my “pointless” interests and investigations, and compromised my involvement in my school for long enough now in the name of responsibility. It’s time for me to jump off the cliff into the unknown again. Maybe I’ll fall. Maybe I’ll rise like Icarus on waxen wings to touch the sun before the ground rises up to meet me. Who knows?

“Life is like a shooting star. It don’t matter who you are… if you only run for cover, it’s just a waste of time.”

​Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia
Over the years that we have run our martial arts centre here in Australia, we’ve had inquiries from various people who have expressed concern about whether they were actually too old to do Kung Fu.

Well… You got me started. I’m 44 years old this year. Am I also too old to do Kung Fu? I suppose that you might think that I’ve been doing Kung Fu since my pre-conception years? Maybe you think that I popped out and karate-chopped my own umbilical in half just before fly-kicking my doctor in the face for slapping my bottom?
There seems to be a common and erroneous public perception which is specific to Australia. I have not seen it as prevalent elsewhere in the world in the places that I have trained in such as South Africa and Taiwan. The perception in Australia is that martial arts is an all-encompassing lifestyle that one is essentially born into. Unless you’ve been doing it from the time that you were knee-high to a grass-hopper, you’ve missed the boat. Too bad, so sad… This is possibly why martial arts schools in Australia seem to target other martial artists with their promotions and advertising. Other martial artists are more likely to join a martial arts school than someone who has never practice martial arts before. It’s a bit weird, if you ask me as someone who comes from a different culture. It’s a bit like a chicken-and-the-egg scenario. “I can’t do martial arts now because I never did it before.” Sound ridiculous? And yet the perception continues to crop up in interviews, inquiries and questionnaires.

Well, I’m living proof that this perception is just pure nonsense. Sure, I’ve been practising my chosen system of Kung Fu (Chang Hong) for a long time, just over 20 years, but if you do the maths, you will see easily that I started training Chang Hong ‘late’ too. Sure, I’ve been in physical training since about the age of 13, but my training was more in Western strength training and conditioning with some forays into martial arts along the way. I’ve been interested in martial arts since I was just a young boy, reading about it and practising various techniques since I was about ten, but who didn’t do that back in the 80s? I mean, for crying out loud, this was still the era of Bruce Lee even though he had passed away the previous decade. The Karate Kid. Need I say more? Every single one of us tried to make and throw shuriken (ninja stars) back in the 80s. There was not too much different about me really. And yet, here I am. The SiFu of a school. The head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia.

As the head of the CMAHC Australia, I have taught and watched many kids classes over the years. I’ve seen enough to make a broad, generalised observation. Kids are generally too young to understand the subtleties of our system of martial arts. This is of course a generalisation. There are exceptions, but they are very few and far between. It’s really only around the time that kids reach adolescence and early adulthood that their minds develop to the point where they can start to appreciate the true subtleties of a very subtle art. Note that this does not mean that practising martial arts is not beneficial to children. I’m not saying that the training is useless. By no means am I saying this. What I am saying is that they will really only grasp the deeper principles when they are more mature.

True traditional Kung Fu is a mature and challenging system of thought. Not just a physical fighting system. If you practice it, it becomes an all-pervasive influence that challenges you to excel in every single avenue of your life. It seeks to establish awareness, balance, unification, power, honesty and resilience in the practitioner. It is truly a path to expansion of consciousness.

Most of our current students are mature people who come from all walks of life. We do have some children who train with us, but they are in the vast minority. Most of our students are in the 20 to 50 year old age group.

We are all under a lot of pressure in our modern world. I work part-time as an engineering consultant (if the word ‘part-time’ can ever really be applied to building services engineering where you’re only ever one heartbeat away from a new deadline). When my part-time engineering work is combined with my personal training time, preparation to teach martial arts classes and actual time spent teaching martial arts, it adds up to quite a bit. Between 14 and 17 hours a day spent working. I spend most of my day struggling to get from one place of work to the next. Perpetually slightly late until I collapse into bed to sleep and repeat the following day. I find that I don’t have much time or energy for anything, but I will always apply my special rule. My special rule is that if I want to do something, I will do it now. Regardless of the difficulty. Time has a way of slipping away from us. Do any of you remember the beginning of the Pixar film “Up”? It’s brutal. If you don’t pursue your dreams, if you carry on hoping for a time when everything is going to fall into place for you and you’ll finally have the energy to pursue your dreams in a convenient fashion, you’re fooling yourself. It’s just not going to happen. The stars will never align. You’re going to get to the end of your life and regret is going to slap you through the face like a questionable wet fish wielded by an angry fisherman. If you want something, you have to make it happen right now or you will lose the opportunity to do so.

If you’ve always wanted to practice martial arts but have been turned away because of your age or because you haven’t done it before or because you think you’re uncoordinated or unfit, don’t allow these silly perceptions to hold you back. Answer the call of Wushu and start training. Whether you’re 20 or 120, the system is broad enough to adapt to your particular physical situation and constraints. You will absolutely benefit from regular Kung Fu training regardless of your age. Don’t wait for the suspicious wet fish of regret to slap you through the face. Learn Kung Fu and skill yourself in blocking regret and punching life in the face.

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia

The hero of the story suddenly stops in his tracks. He lowers his fully-automatic rifle, his usually stoic emotionless face creases with momentary concern. “Hang on… I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”

This is usually the point in the movie when the big badass boss monster makes its appearance for the epic final battle just before end credits role and we start to pick our way through popcorn-strewn aisles on our way to our cars, wondering whether we’ve been ripped off.

Is this a Hollywood trope or is this a real human phenomenon? Is there such a thing as a sense of impending danger? A sense that ‘Something is not quite right…’. A gut feeling? Bush-Sense?

​As it turns out, our brains are a lot more complex than some of us give them credit for. There is a lot of information that is constantly being processed upstairs which we are not always directly, consciously aware of.

When we think about our senses, we generally think about vision, hearing, touch and taste but there are a lot more senses that operate within our bodies. These subtle senses are not often given the limelight. Proprioception (the sensation of the relative position of our limbs and the level of force being produced by our musculature) and equilibrioception (our sense of balance) are a couple of examples. There are others. Equilibrioception is an interesting sense because it is an aggregate sense. A sense of senses. Something that I like to call a Meta-Sense. Equilibrioception is actually built out of the senses of sight, the vestibular inner-ear system and proprioception. These three senses working together give us our sense of balance. Are there other Meta-Senses? I believe that there are.

Synaesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sense leads to involuntary stimulation of another. Such as ‘seeing’ tastes or ‘hearing’ colours. This suggests the close operation of our existing senses. This close operational proximity and the phenomenon of synaesthesia would suggest that the senses can be trained to work together closely along with our conscious and subconscious processing to create new aggregate senses that I call Meta Senses. These Meta Senses could provide us with access to information which each sense working alone without the enhanced processing would never be able to give us access to.

I believe that all of these primary senses working together with our Meta Senses and our conscious and subconscious processing yields the information that leads to our ‘gut feelings’. Sometimes our gut feelings alert us to dangers that we should have never been aware of. If we understand our senses in the classical and conventional way, it doesn’t seem possible. But if we see our senses as sources of information which can operate in unison and can be analysed and aggregated in new ways with our powerful subconscious and conscious processing, we can see how this may be possible.

Tiny pieces of information from various senses that would normally be discarded or ignored on their own can be pieced together to yield a big picture. Perhaps the sense of infrasonic vibrations, tiny changes in air pressure sensed in our abdominal cavity or on our skin alert us to the heart-beat of another living thing in a completely darkened room. We may not see, hear, smell or touch anything, but we know that something is there. A Meta Sense has alerted us.

The German philosopher, mathematician, diplomat, historian and political advisor, Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz (One of the most important philosophers of the late 17th and early 18th century) identified ‘Petites perceptions’ as small, imperceptible perceptions. He indicates that they do not impinge consciously but their overall effect is consciously sensible. I believe that a Meta Sense is made up of Gottfried’s ‘Petites perceptions’.

Within the context of self-defence, being fore-warned of impending danger is a very desirable characteristic. As such, martial art systems like our own system of Chang Hong include extensive training in order to increase sensitivity. This heightened sensitivity makes more of the Meta Senses available to us. In fact, there are even clear examples of the actual construction of Meta Senses through advanced training methods within our system to support our martial responses.

But what are the appropriate responses to Meta Senses? After all, it would not be good to run away from or openly attack everyone or everything you get a bad feeling about. You would soon be charged with assault or disorderly behaviour and rightfully so.

As it turns out, the answer is very simple. Meta Senses are indirect senses as opposed to direct senses such as sight and hearing. If I see someone advancing towards me with a knife, this is direct sense. I can therefore act directly, either running away or fighting to defend myself. If I get a bad feeling about someone, this is a Meta Sense operating. An indirect sense. As such, I should act indirectly. Perhaps I would discretely ensure that I have a clear path of egress, that I have an item in my hand with which I may be able to fend them off with or that other trusted people are with me.

The key is that this indirect action should be subtle enough not to initiate an event. For example, if I get a bad feeling about someone and I pick up a half-brick menacingly, this person may be able to claim later that any ensuing violent event was precipitated by my clearly aggressive actions. Subtlety is the order of the day when it comes to reacting to Meta Senses.

Let’s examine an example outside of the self-defence context for a change. Let’s look at an example within a business context. You’re the general manager of a small business and you have a code of conduct that prohibits inappropriate sexual relationships between staff members and clients. We’ll examine two scenarios within this context.

Scenario 1: You happen to walk in to the back store-room of your office and catch one of your staff members in flagrante delicto with a valued client. You have seen the event first hand. You have direct sensory evidence of an event. Because of this, your action must also be direct. You may decide to fire the employee as a result of this misconduct and you would be justified in this direct action because you have direct sensory evidence. If you were to act indirectly or with subtlety in this case, it would be ineffective because the subtlety would be lost within the context of the event and your leadership would be seen as weak and ineffective. This could encourage other staff members to ignore the code of conduct too. In this case, firm and decisive direct action is required.

Scenario 2: You have an uneasy feeling that one of your staff members is having an affair with a valued client. You have no direct, incontrovertible sensory evidence of an actual event but you do have indirect sensory suspicions based on your own ‘gut feelings’. Your Meta Senses. Because of the fact that you do not have any direct sensory evidence of a breach of your code of conduct, you would not be able to act directly in this case. If, for instance, you were to lay an accusation, you could in turn be accused of defamation of character.

The only course of action that is available to you is an indirect one in this case. Of course, indiscretions of this nature almost always inevitably become public knowledge at some point and at the point where you acquire direct sensory evidence of a misdemeanour, you may then act directly accordingly. In the mean-time indirect action is appropriate. Perhaps you may decide to organise a training day for all staff members focusing on staff-client relations in order to reinforce the fact that each staff member has a responsibility to uphold your code of conduct as agreed upon. You may also decide to observe the staff member more closely. In subtle ways you might ensure that the staff member in question is fully aware that you are aware of their inappropriate behaviour but you will stop short of directly accusing them. This will give them the opportunity to reconsider their inappropriate behaviour and either discontinue it before it becomes a ruinous public scandal or hand in their notice of resignation.

There is a lot more that I can write about the concept of Meta Senses and training these potentially life-saving phenomena. Let me know in the comments section below if you would like to know more.

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia

There were two news stories which caught my attention this morning. I thought I’d share them with you.

The first story was regarding a pair of hikers in Cape Town, South Africa. A middle-aged married couple, who were walking in the Table Mountain National Park a few days ago. They were approached by a man dressed in the uniform of a Table Mountain Ranger. The man attacked the couple, fatally stabbing the 56-year-old man but his wife managed to escape.
The second story was regarding Chris Parker, the hero of the Manchester Bombing. A homeless man who apparently grew a halo and came to the rescue of victims of the bombing. He was just recently found guilty of the theft of personal valuables from some of the victims of the very same bombing.

So what do these two stories have in common? Nothing obvious, but I feel that both are somehow connected with our current disassociation with the reality of human nature.

The hikers were brutally attacked and it is clear from reading some of the descriptions of the event, that their attacker had always intended to kill them. He had blood on his mind. No doubt, he intended to rob them too, but only after he had killed them. It was only because of the selfless sacrifice made by the 56 year old victim that his wife could escape the scene alive. What do you do with criminals like this murderer? Can people like him be reformed? No doubt they can, but what are the odds of him being reformed? Statistics seem to indicate that the chances of his reformation are very tiny indeed. You might say that I am dehumanising him in making him a statistic. “Respect his humanity, Lester.”, you might say, “He has rights.”. You’re right, of course, but what about the rights of the victim? His rights were irreparably violated. This injustice can never be redressed for him.

Chris Parker. Here’s another gem of a story. When it was claimed that a homeless man had heroically come to the rescue of the victims of the Manchester Bombing, the media lapped it up like so much cream. It’s a story that the average Captain Gullible out there in society desperately wants to believe. Despite the fact that this man already had an extensive criminal record, including charges of theft and despite the fact that he was destitute, he was obviously just a diamond in the rough. Obviously. More than 50,000 pounds was raised on his behalf as part of a crowdfunding effort. It’s pure Hollywood. Almost a rags-to-riches story.

And this is the problem. It is Hollywood. Hollywood and its fantasy notions are what we are plugging into to build our social structure, to inform our opinions and to colour our perspectives. We are seeing the world, others and ourselves through rose-coloured glasses. Or should I say emerald glasses, because it reminds me of the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her friends are required to wear emerald glasses in order to view the Emerald City. Without donning the glasses, one would perhaps see the Emerald City for what it truly was. A city built out of shades of grey.

I have written other articles which poke a bit of fun at political correctness and its application to the reality of self-defence. I believe that political correctness is a modern attempt to codify and amplify the old concept of ‘being polite’. This is all very good, but what about the people who exist within our society who are not polite? Do we ignore them and hope that they go away?

Taken to the extreme, what about the people in our society who refuse to respect the laws that the rest of society lives by? What about the people who live in our society, enjoying the safe haven and opportunities it presents, but who have no respect for the life or well-being of others? Do we let them prowl like sharks in the shallows and shed a tear every time that they satisfy their thirst for blood? Do we lock them away in cages with others of their ilk to spend some time living at the expense of the tax-payer, popping pills and satisfying carnal urges under the watchful gaze of the criminal gang leaders who run the prisons? Do we pay for them to further their education in some of the best criminal education institutions for a time only to be released a few years later?

I’m just asking questions, I don’t have any answers. I would like to live in a world where people respected each other but I am first in line to acknowledge that this is not the world that we live in. We live in a dangerous world. Every now and then, dangerous people cross our paths like sharks swimming in the shallows. Don your emerald glasses, stick your fingers in your ears and sing “Lalalalalalalalaaaa!” at your own peril. It is something to consider on the many levels of self-defence application. Whether physical, mental or social. There is no referee who is going to ensure your victory if you are in the right. Might makes right, it seems. There are no rules out there in the real world. You either survive or you die.

In the movie “Cloud Atlas”, a phrase is used in a number of scenes:
“The weak are meat, and the strong do eat.”

As it turns out, this phrase is an ancient Chinese expression quoted from a work by Han Yu, a Tang Dynasty poet, essayist and precursor of Neo-Confucianism who was born in 768.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. It always has been, and probably always will be unless there is a significant change in the very nature of humanity. I’m not talking about a change in appearance or external behaviour. I’m not talking about rules and regulations to curb and control our baser instincts. All of these approaches are ultimately doomed to failure. You can shave the fur off a wolf and wrap it in sheep-skin but underneath the woolly exterior, it’s all howls, hunts and fresh kills. In the absence of this change in the very nature of humanity, what do we do? I recommend that we keep our minds sharp, our bodies strong and that we care for those who are too weak to care for themselves.

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia.