Q&A WITH DR. MARK CHENG – MARTIAL ARTS
How have you applied martial arts principles to help yourself or others in everyday life?
There hasn’t been a single day of my life where my martial arts training hasn’t benefited me or the people I interact with as students, patients, friends, or family. Whether instilling self-confidence to walk down the shadiest streets, whether having the courage to face the ugliest facets of others or in myself, whether having a lens through which to see the beauty of different cultures, histories, and ethnicities, whether studying different movement patterns derived from combat to both master an external foe or rehabilitate oneself from a challenging injury, martial arts training has been the single richest influence on my life.
Even on a clinical level, where I work as a pain, rehabilitation, and human performance specialist, from my main Tui-Na teacher, Dr. Jae-man Kim, to my strength & conditioning mentor and the founder of StrongFirst, Pavel Tsatsouline, to my Functional Movement Systems human performance mentor, Gray Cook, were it not for my involvement in martial arts, I’d have none of that. In fact, at a time when I’d pretty much walked away from the martial arts to focus on pursuing clinical medicine professionally, it was world-renowned physical therapist and movement expert Gray Cook who turned me around 180 degrees and made me look back at many of the traditional martial arts training methods that I couldn’t wait to “get past” or blew off when I was younger to realize how profoundly valuable they were for tapping into true high-performance for my patients & clients.
What’s your most significant martial arts experience?
There are so many of them that it’s hard to choose just one. I’ve been really blessed to learn from and spend time with so many different masters from so many different styles that every day, every class, every phone call, and every interaction is something that opens new doors, broadens my horizons, and lifts my heart.
Perhaps my most memorable martial arts experience is from my father. When I was a child learning from him, and him being my first Tai Chi teacher, he told me “Tai Chi is the hardest & easiest martial art you will ever study. To truly be as soft as Tai Chi demands, you have to let go of your ego without sacrificing your integrity. That is the greatest battle.”
Who do you look to for wisdom and growth?
As far as martial arts masters with whom I have personal student, disciple, or family relationships with, that would be primarily Master David C.K. Lin & Sifu James Lin in Combat Shuai-Chiao, the late Grandmaster Arthur Y.S. Lee & his son Grandmaster Harlan Lee in Sil Lum Fut Ga, Magulang na Guro Dan Inosanto in Jeet Kune Do & Filipino Kali, Shihan Tsutomu Ohshima & Sensei Tom Muzila in Shotokan Karate, Prof. Roy Harris in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & Kalis Ilustrisimo, Prof. Thomas J. Desch-Obi in Capoeira Angola, and Col. Nattapong Buayam in Thai martial arts.
As far as martial arts masters whom I’ve been honored to interact with on a somewhat more limited basis who’ve inspired me greatly, taught me some great insight, or poured some meaningful level of time and effort into my development, that list is obscenely long. Almost every instructor that I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with & spend time with has given me some great insight or perspective. If you really are devoted to growth, to improvement, and to life, there’s almost nobody who isn’t capable of either imparting wisdom to you or testing it.
What’s your biggest challenge as a martial artist?
Right now, my biggest challenge is time management. I spent so much of my time in my 20s working to share what I learned with others while I was in college. Looking back now, I wish I’d spent that time training more while I was younger. On the other hand, those same hours that I spent training others helped me not only gain greater insight into my own martial and medical pursuits, but also helped change the lives of others. Even now, my biggest blessing is my biggest curse. I’ve been blessed by having so many doors open for me, especially thanks to my work with Black Belt Magazine as a contributing editor. Even if I trained every waking hour, I’d still feel dissatisfied with my inability to learn as much as I could from all the greats I’ve been so blessed to meet and be accepted by.
Is there a martial arts quote that has a special meaning for you?
The Chinese have a quote “yi wu hui you” – Make friends through the practice of martial arts. This is the soul of what I think continually motivates me. No matter how foul my day is, no matter what went wrong, no matter who said or did what to me, knowing that my dear friends from so many different styles, different races, and different backgrounds will rally to lift me up in the times when I need it most. That says a lot about the kind of relationships that can be forged through martial arts.