You will find all the various aspects of Sijo's life that bought him to the level and quality of his current skill, ability and knowledge. On the bottom of the page are some of Sijo's ramblings in Word and Video.
Since the age of 9 in 1962, Robert Z has been training martial arts regularly, with very few interruptions aside for moving around a lot in the 60's! No matter where he went, he found a martial art class and trained. here is Sijo's story more or less in full!
Robert Z was introduced to martial arts in 1961/62 when he was 'dragged along' by his older brother who was training Judo. But it was a chaotic time in Roberts family. Since leaving the 'old county' in 59, his parents had nowhere to settle down and moved about a 50 times.
In 1970, family Z moved to Germany. This started a new era where there was some settling down and two key evens. Robert Z started a job as a sales person 5 doors down from a Karate School. As he was new to the country, had no friends and did not speak the language, this was as good a place as any to spend the after work hours. Initially three times a week, Robert then started 'getting-into-it' with up to 8 or 9 classes a week; before all this was interrupted again!
Roberts Fathers Mother had been German. This allowed the family to acquire the German Citizenship; which promptly saw Robert conscripted into the Bundeswehr (Army).
After the usual tests, fitness, sanity and IQ, Robert was stationed with a Tank Division not too far from home. Although Karate training continued, it was only every second weekend 2 or three classes. Because of Language difficulties (this was the first time that the German Army was confronted with a non-German speaking person) Robert received special one-on-one training. As this was a Tank Division, his first 'Specialist' training was acquiring a Drivers License for everything with wheels and chains (Cars, Trucks, Semi's, Tanks, Half tracks, etc.). The 2nd training was in 4 basic German Army Weapons, Walter P3, Uzi, G7 and a Machine Gun (high caliber). This lead to Roberts duties as the Company's Captains driver and . . guard with associated training.
As the Captains Driver, there was a bit of spare time. Robert started training his Karate in the company hall. About 4 months into his service, whilst doing an evening workout, a combination of Judo & Karate he met Lt Hans Herman.
The Lt was also training martial arts but his way of moving was different, shorter, rounder, more economic. After a few sessions training next to each other, a conversation here and there, they started training together. And it was a real bashing with bruises, cuts and sprains and various other injuries. But it was the 70's and this was the way of the time.
It was soon evident that there was a difference between the two ways of fighting methods. The Lt was very efficient in charging, managing and disposing but was not very good if the initial attack failed. Robert was often bowled over by the initial charge but if he managed to evade and was not tackled, he was usually able to win the upper hand.
Although Robert was a big fellow, the Lt was 5kg more at 110kg. The Lt had received combat training as a member of a specialized Army unit, possibly GSG9 but he was very 'closed' about it and in the 9 months of training together never said anything specific. Robert did not press the issue. It was an interesting match up between the formal traditional hard karate against an army trained hand to hand specialist. The style of grappling and throwing that the Lt used was quite foreign to Robert but very interesting (A few year later Robert came across the art of Aikido and recognized much of what the Lt used).
Evidently the Lt did not use the full range of his training and neither did Robert do the join breaking techniques he learned. But still, the bouts were hard, very hard. The Base Medical Unit got to know them both well but as Robert was the 'Captains' Driver and in the Officers Training Group, this was not a problem. This training continued for 9 months, possibly the hardest 9 months of Roberts life. There were quite a few incidents but never anything that they both were not able to walk away from. It was good. And it was bad.
As good as his sparring and fighting came to be, this informal training caused a few problems with Robert's training back at the Karate school. In the 70's Karate was much more limited in it's techniques and very aggressive in it's attacks. The training with the Lt vastly improved Roberts Fighting skills but it also added some non-Karate 'bad habits'. Sensei Arno was not pleased. It was not the done thing to train in another style once you committed to a Master. Yet, Robert now was in the top 5 fighters in the club, all except him were Black Belts. With the Army Interruption, Robert was only a Green, not even a brown. This caused some internal 'friction'.
This was a big year in Karate. The first European Karate Championships were being held in Berlin, only 400 km from Hamburg. The whole club went and 11 fighters were entered. A Black Sash by the name of Franz won, Robert was disqualified in his 3rd bout for 'grappling'. This was still an honorable result. Either way, Robert was now officially in the 32 person 'fighting squad!'
In 1975 Robert was promoted to Brown 2 and competed in the European Championships in Rome. This time he came second in the full contact open Black Belt division without disqualification or incident. Some 6 to 7 of the Black belt full contact competitors were sent to hospital on the day with injuries ranging from broken ribs, concussion to bent/broken fingers, dislocated arms and sever bleeding. It was a hard competition; almost as tough as England. His final competition with the club was in 1976, an exceeding tough competition with many injuries. After 6 successful elimination rounds Robert became the European full contact Champion 1976!
1976 was the first time in Roberts life where a year took on a meaning more than every other year. There would be another 4 such years for him by the end of the 20th century,
After the death of Sensei Arno the club dissolved. Robert wanted to continue training, especially as the next Karate Championships were to be held in his home town of Hamburg; but at that time, another karate club was not an option. Although he did not know it at the time, at age of 23 he was getting a bit adverse to all the black eyes, broken/bloodied noses, pain, etc. He was looking for something gentler and was considering going back to Judo and finishing his Black Belt. It was a good friend of his that asked him to come along to train the new and very little know art of Aikido. Twenty Kilometers out of town, in a local school basket ball hall, he was introduced to Sensei 2nd Dan, Christine of "The Way of the Wind" Aikido. It was a wired and frustrating style. Robert was used to using his weight, strength and attitude; Aikido did not allow any of this!
It was a challenging time with a lot of changes. From being a truck driver to being a student; from bachelor to being engaged; from hard Karate to the soft Aikido; from being a professional Semi-Truck Driver to being a full time student; from living alone to living with a partner. Quite a stressfully time which almost resulted in death.
Twice before in his life Robert had been close to dying. Once as a 7 year old crossing a street and being mown down and driven over by a Volkswagen and once in a snow drift being covered by snow for a night. This time, waking up in the middle of the night, in his smoked filled bedroom, with severe breathing difficulties. Having banked the fire for the night, Robert had not noticed a piece of red hot coal falling to the side of the stove and started slowly burning through the the wooden floor and beam. By about 4am the room was totally filled with dense smoke. Robert was sleeping by the slightly opened window and this possibly saved him.
The next 4 years were 60% study, 30% work, 9% Aikido & 1% wife. It was a mentally tough period. Robert & Dagmar Married on the 25 Feb 1977, he successfully completed his Engineering training in Dec 1979 and Graded to Aikido Black in 1982. That year, Sensei Christine was ready for her 3rd degree Dan and this coincided with the traveling plans of the Japanese head of the style who was coming to Germany. At this time aside from Christine, Robert was the only other to be ready for a Dan Assessment! In July 1982 Robert successfully graded his Black in Aikido and was granted a migrant visa to Australia. 6 Weeks later Robert & Dagmar landed in Melbourne Australia!
It took 6 months before Robert & Dagmar were settled in. Robert always being on the heavy side (now 125kg) needed to get back into some type of physical training or martial arts. Going back to karate was not an option. and the falling and rolling of Aikido and Judo (not to mention the Army 'fun') had taken it's toll on Robert's back! Something different was needed! He visited many different schools and styles over a very short period of time and meet many excellent instructors and masters. It was the Golden Lion Kung Fu, Tai Chi & Wu Shu Academy under Senior Master Dai Sifu Pi-er, Master Sifu Charles and Master Sifu Richard Tsui-Po that really was inspirational. For the next 9 years Robert trained up to 7 days a week, up to 3 times a day.
It was a tough time coming to a new country. Although Roberts brother lived here, Robert & Dagmar were on their own. As money was tight they both were occupied in the art of survival. Dagmar studied English and worked, Robert found a Job with Telstra, they both trained as often as they could (all else cost money); their only social life was their friends at the Lion.
This was another of those intense years. Robert started teaching Kung Fu for the Lion at Monash University; Robert and Dagmar bought their 1st Home; Dagmar changed over to Tai Chi training, the Golden Lion Academy changed over to Wushu training and the NMAL (National Martial Art League) burst onto the Australian Martial Art scene. It was an Australia wide, all styles, full contact tournament. Martial Art schools of any type were asked to submit 5 person teams. These teams fought team against team every three weeks for 10 rounds, accumulating individual and team points. Robert was the oldest competitor by almost 10 years and this was a challenge in itself; yet for two years he participated regularly making the selections for the State Representation in both years. He had 20 bouts in all, 19 won, one loss on points (after the first hit he just kept on running away).
1989 was the year of Roberts Black Sash Assessment. Even though it was to be his 3rd Black Sash, it seemed as if it were to be his first. Now aged 36 he was a bit aware of his age compared to most others. His partner Craig with whom Robert trained often in Weaponry and demonstration events was also to be graded. Fortunately Craig was also a 'Kung Fu Nut' who trained almost every day and then some. They often went to Murrumbeena Park after Saturday and Sunday Training in preparation for their Black Sash's.
There was a good interaction in Murrumbeena Park. Many people came to the park to walking and running the round, there was enough room for Cricket, Football and other sports. There were always many people around and some people would stop and watch us training. Some of these were martial artists and we asked them to joined in and train with us. Some did but many didn't and there was a sharing of training information. Some just sat on the bench and watched.
It was in such a time, whilst Robert was training by himself in the Park, a small oriental gentleman stopped and watched (he may have been there before at previous training Saturdays or Sundays but unnoticed). This in itself was not unusual; what was unusual about this person was that he stayed the full 2 hours and watched. The next Sunday (which now were usually without Craig who had a new girl friend and could not train as often) the oriental gentleman was back, sitting on the same spot. Whilst Robert was practicing the Iron Wire form (a hard isometric form), the gentleman started to chuckle. Robert felt a bit annoyed at this but what to do. The quiet chuckling continued until the man shook his head, walked over and adjusted my Robert's leg and foot positioning. This was very unusual!
He introduced himself as Hushiu (phonetic spelling) who unfortunately spoke very, very little English. He was quite an animated, interesting gentleman of some 160cm, 60+ years and enormous strength. Robert himself was around 125kg at the time, and this gentleman, half his size, seemed of equal strength. Over the coming few months Master Hushiu was a regular participant and teacher at these Sunday 'arvo' sessions. The communication was mainly Master Hushiu laughing and then adjusting some aspect of Robert's techniques; at times very frustrating but there was a difference. It is in these sessions that Robert Z learned to appreciate the detail that he did not learn to appreciate before.
This informal training continued for a period of 6 months with some exceptions until one Sunday. Master Hushiu came with a small boy who introduced himself as 'the nephew'. Steven was his English name. He explained that Master Hushiu was 87 years old, was Chinese and now lived in Taiwan where he was the founder and head of over a dozen different schools although he was no longer active. The schools were run by his sons and nephews. I was not able to find out what the style was that Master Hushiu taught except that it was a combination of "Shaolin Long Fist, Chi Kung and Tai Chi/Baqua". That day, Master Hushiu came to say goodbye as he was leaving to go back home the following Monday. They would not see each other again. As a result of this encounter, Robert made it a habit to expand his knowledge and started training with other Kung Fu styles. With some he stayed only for a few months with others longer, with one for 4 years.
The time from 1987 to 1991 was also a time of many Demos and Shows. The Golden Lion Academy participated and a number of Moomba parades, in between play events at the MCG, Street and Council Festivals, Chinese New Year Lion Dancing and Shopping Center promotional's. 1991 was also the year Robert was awarded the Student of the Year and the year of his second 'encounter'.
The Golden Lion Demo and Show team with which Robert & Craig were members, were performing at a street demo at the Glenhuntly Road festival. It was really a street demo by Glenhuntly RS, dodging trams whilst demonstrating in the middle of the street. At the end of the day, when all was packed up and everyone was ready to go he was approached by an oriental gentleman. Robert referred the gentleman to Master Richard, but the gentleman declined and wanted to speak to him. He identified himself in excellent English as Master Kin-nu the third son of Grand Master . . . . . of the Wind Element Tornado or Whirlwind Kung Fu style.
He said that he had observed Robert carefully, when he performed a form of Robert's own design (for the purpose of demos and competitions) based on the Northern Long Fist. Master Kin-nu observed that some of the form bore a striking resemblance to his family style. Robert mentioned that he did not know of the style but that is was based on some of the random training he was doing with various Kung Fu Masters. Master Kin-nu suggested that he and Robert might meet in a nearby park for a tea some time.
Two meetings and 3 pots of green tea later Master Kin-nu suggested to show Robert Z some aspects of his style including whirling fists, the windmill, and a few other techniques, moves and stepping. Much of what Robert saw he knew and had learned before but what Master Kin-nu showed and explained was slightly different in subtle ways. Master explained some essentials of his family style that Robert had not ever seen or even considered before. This started a process that was to be the end of Robert time with the Golden Lion.
It seems that Master Kun-nu's family left China around the 1920's taking their style, Whirling Fists of . . . ., Thunder Stepping and Undulating Palm with them. This style of Kung Fu had been in their family exclusively for many generations. Master taught his style now only to two of his family members; which was his way of continuing his training of the family style. As he was visiting Australia he basically needed a victim; and this was a good thing. We continued to meet in various parks for a further 3 months, once a week on Sunday mornings. They were tough session in which Robert was also introduced to the principles of Tornado Hands, Thunder Stepping and of course Whirlwind Style/Fist Kung Fu, Heavy Foot, Water Palm, Tornado Kick, Whipping Branch hands, the Lightning Front Kick, Ape Hand & Feet Techniques and some others (Master enjoyed 'descriptive names' for techniques); although nothing was allowed to be noted down or recorded (Robert was into Video'ing).
It was one Sunday after training Master Kin-nu invited Robert to Yum-Cha at the Gold Leaf restaurant in Glenhuntly Road. There he told him that that was their last session. He was returning home. The announcement coming out of the blue, Robert sought to thank Master Kin-nu for the training but Master Kin-nu replied that it was his honor and pleasure to do so; (which Robert had not quite understood at the time). Then slightly grinning, suggested that otherwise he would have been very bored, when the rest of his family went to Sunday worship!
The start of the nintees many things happened but first of all Roberts Father died; Robert graduated his 3rd Associate Diploma of Engineering; his wife Dagmar was changing from being a nurse to being a charge nurse and Robert moved from a field engineering position to an office management position. This all does not adequately explain this period of three year but it will have to do. His new office was in a brand new city building, one with great Gym and Aerobic Facilities. Here Robert started teaching a few private students as a way of having training himself. Late nights and a tough work schedule made regular training at the Lion difficult almsot impossible.
What started with a few people one-on-one in the park at lunchtime slowly grew to a class of 6 in the evening. Using the buildings facilities, a group of executives and engineers came together on Mondays and Thursdays after 7pm to train. This was quite gratifying and gave Robert the idea to formulize a club. He did not want to be another kick and punch, McDonald martial art club and sought a name that would send the right message to the people working in the city. It was whilst reading a Chinese book of poem's that Robert and Dagmar came across the term Liang-I (Yi). It was explained as the proper name for what we now term Yin & Yang. "The two ancient, ever opposing, ever complimenting forces". The symbolism for this was the Dragon & Phoenix (sometimes depicted as a fancy rooster). Robert & Dagmar were not yet quite ancient, but definitely ever opposing and ever complimenting; this was the inspiration for the founding of Liang-I Shaolin Kung Fu on 24 June 1992.
Both Dagmar & Robert changed jobs in/around 1992. Robert moved into an executive assistance role in the form of being a Training and Development manager in Telstra. This took him to all over Australia, managing his then over 100 staff in 37 Australian locations. Fortunately, more than half of his students from the time before the club stayed with him and he was able to find a replacement teacher for the times he was interstate. It is during this time though, in 1997 that Audrey K, who had been training with Robert for 4 years attempted and passed he Black Sash level requirements and thus became the Academy's 1st Qualified Instructor. It was also 1997, the the Academy's 5th birthday that two further landmarks were reached.
Robert used to say that any club under 100 students is a hobby. It was on the 5th Anniversary that the 100 student joined. Although it was short lived, for a period of 2 months there were 100 students at the Liang-I Shaolin 5 Animal Kung Fu Academy. This was though in part due to the fact that there were now 4 locations where Robert taught. Three times in the city (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), whereby the Monday class was taught by Audrey, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Highett, Saturdays in Frankston and Mondays in StKilda. This was a bit much and interfering with work.
Since this time, Shaolin Kung Fu or now Shaolin Academy has had many success including over 20 Australian Championships, over 50 State Titles, and many other awards and recognitions. Yet one of the greatest experiences came about when touring China!
Beijing Shaolin Wushu School, a full time Secondary and Martial Art school put on a full show just for us. We were greatly honored by the Head Master, who organized his National Demonstration Team show; quite impressive; 30 kids in unison and then seniors demonstration and Weaponry. Then we were invited to demonstrate. We only wanted to train with them and did not expect this. It was nerve racking.
We had students from beginner level to Black Sash and included our 3 senior Blacks and one exceptional 'almost' black. There was quite a ripple through the crowd as we demonstrated. There was a great deal of applause and even exclamations. Especially when our 4 seniors demonstrated. It was atypical for the Chinese to show so much enthusiasm; we didn't know it at the time but this would have consequences for us.
It seems that a lot of these schools in China are connected. When we reached Henan-Shaolin Temple Training School, We were greatly honored. The Chief Shaolin Temple School Trainer Sher Se Gung himself trained the team exclusively. He even took time out to show Robert some interesting Chin Na techniques, privately and just the two of them. It seems that the impression our demo had made with the Beijing school had somehow been conveyed to the Shaolin Temple Training School (and later even to Australia).
When the team arrived in Xi'an, we were invited to the Xi'an Kung Fu and Wushu school. Much like the first school, this was a full time school with students at primary & secondary school levels that schooled 6 days a week in the morning in (for us) normal school and spend 2pm to 5pm in Wushu Training to achieve their High School Diploma. Here we were greeted by the Head of the school personally. He showed us around, introduced us to various seniors and teachers. There was also a demonstration organized, but this time a bit more ad hoc. It seems that they were more interested in our demonstration. So on we went.
There were a number of 'special guests' in attendance during our demo and a lot of the students gathered around. Again they started with polite applause when our beginner students demonstrated but became fairly excited when our 4 seniors demonstrated. After the demo there was a bit of interaction between the instructors and senior students after which we were invited for a tea.
There were now 14 person at the table; 8 SKA members including Sijo, 2 interpreters, School Principle, Deputy, Secretary and an older gentleman. We were introduced, for the first time, to China's National Deputy for Wushu. It seems that he was originally one of the key person in the organization of Wushu in China, but now being in his high 70's has passed the day-to-day management to a 'younger lot'. The schools interpreter explained that he came by Aeroplane from Beijing just to see us after the Beijing School head had informed him about us. They were in awe and humbled.
There were also many other success along the way for the Shaolin Academy including referenced by the Encyclopedia Britannica for additional reading on Shaolin (1999-2002), over 1500 International Cyber Kung Fu students in 63 Countries and many more.
Through the club and other activities, Sijo and students have been exposed to many interesting personalities including Jacky Chan, Samo Hung & Richard Norton in 1997 on the set of Mr Nice Guy. Stan the Man and Super-foot Wallace, and many other of Australia's top Martial Artists have enriched the experience and wisdom of Sijo and the academy; some have even consented to take over a class and be guest instructors thus sharing their experience and skills with club members.
That was the big celebration, 21 Years of the Shaolin Academy, 50+ years of Martial Arts training, Sijo 60th Birthday and celebrating 35 years of marriage. Many of the past Shaolin Academy seniors went out of their way to join us in this event and a special guest from Sydney, Kencho Peter Myloas from Kempo Ryu made it a very special celebration in deed.
Currently we have the best possible instructor team we have ever had. Life is good!
What next? More of the same! The greatest joy for Sijo and Dagmar have been their students, who often are also friends. For as long as possible, but at least until 2025 even 2030, they want to continue teaching and training; possibly even longer. Sijo has sustained some damage from parts of his life both Professional and Martial Arts and this may slow him down, but we hope that it does not stop him. But sooner or later he will pass on the Shaolin Academy to a worthy senior student; possible one of the Shaolin Academy Arhat's!