A good friend of mine, Thomas Holtmann is one of the main guys “keeping it real” in the Praying Mantis world. Besides being a formal disciple of Seven Star Master Zhong Lian Bao, he is also a full member of the Dog Brothers, a hardcore group which practice full contact weapons fighting. He is also a black belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu, the German Chapter Head of Libre Fighting (learn more about that here: Finding Libre – My Life in the Martial Arts) and a guardian of the Piper Knife System. He teaches these arts in Hagen, Germany, you can visit his webiste here http://www.qixingtanglang.de. Stay tuned for part 2, in the meantime, you may also like my interview with Brendan Tunks.
How did you get into martial arts?
As a kid I was always attracted to the martial arts. I can’t even explain why. But I was absorbing anything martial arts related like a sponge. There was a TV series “The Water Margin”, which was a Japanese series based on the 水浒传 and I loved every minute of it! So when my mom asked me if I would like to enroll in Judo I was more than happy to finally start to train. That was the starting point and I never looked back. I was seven at that time and I am now training 39 years martial arts.
What attracted you to Praying Mantis?
To be honest, it was not that I had so much choices back than. Nowadays people got the opportunity to choose between different striking and grappling arts. Back than we didn’t had that luxury. I was a brown belt in Judo when a friend from school told me that he started to train “Kung Fu”. At that point I had seen all HK Kung Fu movies which I could get my fingers on at least three times. So I was pretty excited when he told me that. After he showed me some moves it was pretty clear that he was training in the Mantis style which I always loved to see in the movies. So Mantis style was taught in my hometown? I had to go there and check it out. I will never forget what I saw: Punches, kicks, locks, weapons and they were fighting. The training was hard-I loved every minute of what I was seeing. The week after I started my training in the Seven Star Praying Mantis system. That was in 1989.
Can you tell us a bit about your experiences coming to China and trained under Master Zhong Lian Bao?
Like you maybe know I got a MA in Chinese literature, Chinese history and Chinese language. I have lived and studied in Shanghai where I trained Ba Gua Zhang and Xing Yi Quan and before that I was a couple of times in Beijing where I also had the chance to train a bit Ba Gua Zhang. So being in China was not something new for me. But training under Zhong Shifu and being accepted as a Baishi Tudi, well, that’s another story. I met Zhong Shifu for the first time in Germany back in the year 2000. At that time I was training in the HK lineage from the Seven Star Mantis system for over 10 years, I was international German Sanda champion and I thought I would knew some things about the Mantis system…Man, I was so wrong. After my first training with Zhong Shifu I knew two things: The last ten years were just good to build some kind of base. I HAVE to learn the system Zhong Shifu teaches. So I stopped to train the HK system and started as a beginner again.
In February 2011 I was invited by my Shifu to come to Yantai to become his Baishi Tudi. Since than I travel regularly to Yantai to continue my training under the watchful eyes of my Shifu. Training under Zhong Shifu is hard and we train at least four hours a day. Zhong Shifu got a very specific style of teaching. It is always very well balanced between explaining the theories and training the applications and the variations of those. His Qin Na is amazing and a light slap feels like you get hit by a sledge hammer. At the same time he is soft like silk. He tosses me around like a little kid and I am always happy if he uses another guy to show the techniques hahahahaha. I got no words to describe how grateful I am to be his student.
How did you come to join the Dog Brothers?
Let me ask you a question: Did you never wonder how your weapon techniques would work in a real fight? I mean we see all those beautiful Taolu, performed in flashy silk uniforms, with weapons which don’t even weigh half as much as the original ones…. That’s beautiful and I am happy for those people that they love what they are doing. BUT, can they fight with it? And I am not talking about being padded up and using some kind of soft plastic weapons. TCMA are about fighting, they were used on battlefields. So what happened?! That was my motivation to fight at my first Dog Brothers Gathering, to see how my weapon techniques work under pressure and to kind of “defend” the honor of the TCMA. People were thinking that our weapon techniques are weak, that i.e. the three sectional staff ist just a show weapon… Well, I think I proved them wrong. So back then I contacted Lonely Dog who is the European leader of the Dog Brothers and one of the best stickfighters out there and asked if I could fight at the Gathering. He was happy that a guy with TCMA background wanted to fight since most of the guys, like 95%, have a strong FMA background.
At that time my son was just one month old and it felt kind of weird to leave my family to go to Switzerland with the idea to face people with minimum protection (we just have thin gloves and a fencing mask) who wants to literally beat the living crap out of me. After the Gathering I was invited by one of the founders of the Dog Brothers and their guiding force Marc “Crafty Dog” Denny to come to LA and fight at the so called Tribal Gathering. We Dog Brothers see us as a tribe and we have three ranks: Dog, Candidate Dog Brother, Full Dog Brother. Once you become a Dog you are a member of the tribe and can fight at every Gathering. There is an open Gathering which anybody can attend and a tribal gathering which is just for members of the tribe. So I felt pretty honored to get invited since I was just a “TCMA guy” and no member of the tribe. Becoming a Full Dog Brother is not an easy task. If you think about how long the Dog Brothers exist the list of Full Dogs is quite small. It can take years and numerous Gatherings till you ascend to Full Dog status. After four Gatherings in two years, altogether six days of fighting, I had the great honor to become a Full Dog Brother. Every Dog Brother got a Dog name, since I am a TCMA practitioner I chose the name “Gong Fu Dog”.
ow what you think, as a fighter, CMA’s biggest value is? What makes it different to other fighting styles?