Interview by Joshua Cheung
Wudang Warrior – Jakob Isaksson
"I remember looking over after an interview at Long Wu Kung Fu center to see a man lying on the floor with needles in his legs. Kneeling besides him was Jakob Isaksson, an expat from Sweden. “This part of the leg is associated with releasing energy and if you get acupuncture here, you’ll feel a burst of energy,” said Jakob as he was explaining what the various needles were doing. Turns out he studied at Wudang Mountain but came to Shanghai to practice his Chinese. Like many others, movies of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee spurred his desire to pursue martial arts.
Starting at the tender age of 8 years old, he began his journey into the world of martial arts. As he got older he became more interested in how the body works, how it stays attune with nature along with Chinese culture and history. He first came to China in 2008 to stay at Wudang Mountain in the Hubei region with the Taoist monks. Training under one of the 5 Dragons of Wudang, Sifu Tang Li Long, he learnt about the different aspects of Wudang. Jakob explained to me that Wudang teachings are split into four categories: Martial Arts, Arts, Medicine and Daoism.
Wudang Mountain is the famed originator of internal styles of traditional Chinese Kung Fu. During his stay at Wudang, Jakob has started learning “Wu” (武) or martial arts like Taichi, Bagua along with Wudang Qigong not just for health but also for self defense. Interestingly enough, I met this traditional Kung Fu practioner at a Modern Wushu class. He stated that Wushu is a good way to train the body in terms of strength and flexibility. Comparing the modern and traditional, he said that Wushu creates more unity between the various Chinese martial arts which does result in less fighting between masters about which style is superior but it lacks tradition and history found in Traditional Kung Fu.
The arts or “Wen” (文) at Wudang focus on teaching the tradition and history of Wudang Mountain. Sifu Tang’s skill in art lies in calligraphy but this skill presents difficulties for Jakob to learn due to requiring a strong understanding of the Chinese language. Drawing from his university experience, Jakob also expands his painting skills at Wudang. Besides skills with a brush, Jakob studies the Gu Qin, a seven stringed Chinese instrument.
Wudang teachings also cover “Yao”(药) or medicine. “Traditionally, kung fu students are taught how to heal themselves as well as others in case of injury,” says Jakob. Part of this includes acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. Acupuncture involves sticking needles into special points of the body to improve the flow of Qi or energy throughout the body. Chinese medicine however uses herbs to balance different parts of the body to make sure it is in equilibrium. Jakob had studied Chinese medicine in Sweden with a major in acupuncture before coming to Wudang. With this background, he teaches medicine classes eventually hoping to go over all 600 herbs found on Wudang Mountain.
Last but definitely not least is the Daoist (道)aspect of Wudang. Daoism is a philosophy based on the “Dao De Jing” (道德经) about the happenings of nature and explains how the world remains in balanced like the concept of Yin and Yang. Daoist monasteries opened on Wudang Mountain as early as during the Han dynasty during 25-200 AD. Despite all the history, there is no strict agenda to follow when learning Daoism. Basic understanding of oneself along with the balance in nature is the only mandated teaching. Where the student decides to venture forward from there depends on the student. However, Daoism isn’t just a philosophy. According to Jakob, “Daoism is found in martial arts, the art and the medicine and is what makes the Wudang tradition unique. The forms and martial arts might be similar on other places but it is the approach through Daoism that makes it different.” Daoism flows within daily life at Wudang as the idea of Dao is interconnected with everything.
A normal day at Wudang starts at 5:30 at the morning with a stretch and a run. Afterwards, they assume Zhan Zhuang or stand in a stance to improve Qi flow throughout their body. Breakfast then morning practice until lunch. After a short break, theory classes in art and Daoism take session. Another afternoon practice occurs until dinner. After comes fighting and conditioning until sleep at 10:30. Despite the packed schedule, Jakob says that he gets use to it.
Jakob will be in Shanghai for another 2 months when he will return to Wudang. “My Sifu expects me to have perfect Chinese by then,” laments Jakob but his hard work ethic can be seen. If Jakob inspires you like he does for me, Wudang is a 23 hour train ride from Shanghai but the experience there will be one of a kind. It may seem a bit far but definitely worth the trip."
/Joshua Cheung 2011