AN INTERVIEW WITH
Shīfu Glenn Hairston
SEPT / 2012
Truth Seeker and Realist
Interview by William Rivera Kyoshi
Edited by Lydia Alicea
It was early afternoon as I had completed Kata, when I received a call from Eddie Morales. Well aware of my interest in Tai Chi, he informed me that Glenn Hairston was scheduled to be the featured guest on his show “Kickin It Old School with Dan and Ed” on KCAA 1050 AM NBC news Radio in San Bernardino California.
“Kickin It Old School” is a call in-talk show that I follow here on the East Coast. It presents an opportunity to call in questions to recognized martial artists. Here was a chance for me to call in and speak with one of the most recognized names in the world of Tai Chi. I will tell you that this call certainly opened up a floodgate for me! It was the prelude to a great conversation, and the interview, which follows.
When we hear, “Tai Chi”, immediately we think of it as an art for health benefits, which indeed, it is; yet, it is much more; it is one of the most powerful martial arts in the world today. Dedicating his life to studying and practicing the art, Shifu Hairston has successfully accomplished what few have been able to do until date: honing in on the intricacies of the art, and integrating its applications in servicing a diversity of needs.
A long and illustrious career in law enforcement, as well as in the martial arts, has made Shīfu Glenn Hairston a much sought after commodity. Through his company, “Specialist Defensive Training LLC”, Glenn Hairston conducts lectures and training seminars throughout the world and the United States. He is in constant demand by law enforcement personnel, corporations, government, as well as the motion picture industry; also, by both seasoned martial artists from different styles, and non-practicing martial artists.
Please visit his website listed at the end of the article, it is superb!
Martialforce.com: Where were you born and raised?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”
Martialforce.com: When did you initially get involved with the martial arts?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “I was about four years old when I was introduced to the martial arts by a family member, my uncle Henry.”
Martialforce.com: Tell us how you were introduced to the martial arts. What made you stay with it?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “I was introduced to the martial arts by a family member (an uncle) whom I was very close to. At the time, I was a very young child and practice was only a game for me.
My favorite uncle was someone whom I looked up to, admired, and looked forward to our time together. There was no strong structure to the training just basic karate type movements and playful fighting. He was never tough in his training and always made sure I was having fun. He would take me almost everywhere with him but we would always practice throughout the day. Of course, I did not realize then but he was actually instilling in me many good qualities. Even now, no matter how challenging, I see training as having fun.
Martialforce.com: Who or what were some of the influences that sparked your interest early on.
GLENN HAIRSTON: “Like the many who watched television and movies during the 1960’s, I too was wowed by the fighting scenes from, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’, ‘Secret Agent Man’, ‘A Man Called Flint’, Sonny Chiba, Charles Bronson and others. Then later on in the early 1970’s I was influenced by the flood of Kung Fu style movies, referred to as “Chop Socky” movies.”
Martialforce.com: Prior to your study of Tai Chi, what martial arts did you train in?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “I studied Shorin-Ryu, Washin-Ryu, Tae Kwon Do, Tang Soo Do, Vovinam, Aikido, Judo and Ju-jitsu.”
Martialforce.com: Please discuss your early instructors.
GLENN HAIRSTON: “Without exaggeration I can say that I learn something from everyone I meet. I think it is important to acknowledge that because; it is so easy to overlook small gems while in search of large diamonds.
I have had several traditional teachers over the years and they each had their own distinctive methods of imparting their teachings. Some were excellent at choosing the perfect words, effective in opening your mind, and helping you to look and see beyond the obvious. Yet, there were others that did not communicate verbally (sometimes due to a language barrier) as well, but, could demonstrate with such precision and spirit where words were unnecessary.
One of my earliest teachers Dan Knesner (hope I spelled his name correctly, been a long time) taught me Shorin-ryu. He was a strict teacher who was very combat oriented. In his class we sparred regularly always full contact and always with gloves and with our tennis shoes on. Everyone, at least once a week had to spar him as well, and he did not take it easy on any of us. Sensei Knesner was a traditionalist when it came to forms and weapons training making us endure lengthy stance training and repeating forms over, and over, leaving us exhausted.
On the other hand he was quite a realist when it came to fighting, always stressing the importance of thinking, and training for outside the dojo. One of the many things I gained from being in his class was a strong survival mind set. Li-Eng Lee was a Tae Kwon Do teacher who made everything look easy. He had a flamboyant way of moving as if he did not have a concern in the world. He was very flexible and could generate a lot of power. He later told me that remaining relaxed is the secret to speed and power. As far as what is referred to as the harder styles, I learned much from him.
Leonard Marsh, my Moo Duk Kwon instructor, had an extreme training ethic, as if 90 percent of his day was spent training. After studying with Leonard Marsh, I knew I would be involved with the martial arts forever. From Leonard Marsh, more than the importance of techniques, I learned the importance of self-motivation. I owe so much to all of my teachers including Master George Ling Hu, Master Joseph Odom, Master Alfred Huang and many others.”
Martialforce.com: Did you participate in sports in school?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “Yes I played basket ball and ran track, my favorite sport.”
Martialforce.com: Before Tai Chi, did you spar and compete in tournaments?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “Yes, from the beginning in Shorin-Ryu, we were expected to spar. As mentioned earlier, we used gloves and had to fight with our tennis shoes on for realism. The students not only had to fight each other, but we would also have to spar with the instructor who was hard on us. Classes were six days a week and we would spar on most days along with forms, weapons and other training regimens. I also sparred in Tae Kwon Do and I competed in tournaments as well.”
Martialforce.com: I read that you began your study of Tai Chi due to an injury. What were some of the exercises you learned? What aspects of Tai Chi convinced you this was the art for you?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “My early instructor in Tai Chi was Master Yung-Ko Chou. The first thing I learned was a set of exercises call “The Eight Treasures.” These are a set of eight “Qi Gong” style exercises, which are reputed to have therapeutic, healing and strengthening effect on the human organism. The eight treasures are as is implied in the name (treasures) because they keep giving. As the years go by, natural adjustments occur in these exercises, which allow you to perform them in more challenging variations. This in turn will supply a greater level of benefits. The first time I preformed the Eight Treasures I noticed a reduction in the pain. Convinced that these exercise were invaluable, I later decided to make a video which focused on this aspect of Tai Chi so that others could benefit as well.”
Martialforce.com: Why is Tai Chi considered by some as a soft style, versus say an art like Karate?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “Tai Chi is basically considered a soft style because it does not rely on the standard use of muscular power to execute its principles. Tai Chi’s movements are actually relaxed not soft in the conventional use of the term. Tai Chi practitioners are relaxed much like a sprinter is right before he explodes off a starting block, or the way a cat relaxes just before it pounces on a mouse. I like to call this state “relaxed attentiveness”. This state has the appearance of softness to an on-looker, but the Tai Chi Classics state that a Tai Chi Master feels like steel wrapped in cotton. This is because outwardly, the muscles are not tensed but inwardly, one’s condition is that of being ready to pounce.”
Martialforce.com: As one of Master Yung-Ko Chou students, were you required to learn The Eight Treasures before beginning your Tai Chi training. Is there a martial art application to The Eight Treasures?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “The Eight Treasures was a prelude to doing the form. Master Chou provided us with printed material as well as explaining the health benefits of the Eight Treasures and the importance of daily application. The Eight Treasures are reputed to provide benefits in three ways: Preventative, Therapeutic and Curative.
To answer the second part of your question, to my knowledge there is no actual self-defense instruction associated with the Eight Treasures. However, from training over the years, I have come to recognize certain commonalities in principle between the Eight Treasures, and Tai Chi application.”
Master Yung-Ko Chou
Martialforce.com: Discuss your instruction with Master Yung-Ko Chou.
GLENN HAIRSTON: “Master Chou was a quiet, humble, and giving person. I have never seen him angry or upset. His English was broken and he sometimes had difficulty finding the correct words to express his thoughts, yet he always managed to get his point across. His Tai Chi was not flashy but it was correct, and effective. I gained much from his instruction.
I use to arrive early to every class and would sometimes bring a book and read. On one occasion, I was reading a book entitled, “Chinese Boxing, Masters and Methods,” by Robert W. Smith. I was reading so intently that I did not hear Master Chou walk up behind me. He was looking over my shoulder as I read. I then heard him say in a somewhat exited voice, ‘that is my teacher!’ He then pointed to a picture on the page and there was Master Chang Shih-Jung of Tainan.
The information stated that he was a Master of the three nei-chia (internal systems) Bagua, Hsing-I, and Tai Chi. The book went on to state that he also did Snake Style, Dragon Style, Chicken style, Camel style, Hawk, Horse, Tiger and Bear Styles as well. This book also mentioned Master Chang Shih-Jung’s Master who was Master Cheng Huai-hsien of Hopei.
This was the only time I had ever seen Master Chou show any sense of excitement. This moment is affectionately embedded in my mind forever. I also remember that whenever I would miss a class he would call my house later that evening, and in a very soft but firm voice, say, ‘You will be in class next time!’ Master Chou also introduced me to Bagua but in the long run, I dedicated myself more to the practice of Tai Chi Chuan.”
Martialforce.com: When you moved from studying hard styles to Tai Chi, was there a difference in the structure of the class? (Such as in a typical dojo or dojang, where there are warm ups, calisthenics, then basics or kihons.)
GLENN HAIRSTON: “Yes and no. The only warm up done in Tai Chi classes were the Eight Treasures. However, I did various warm up exercises before arriving to class. This is not to say that other Tai Chi classes do not spend more time on pre-class exercises. I have had other Tai Chi instructors who did. For example, Master George Ling Hu would take us through a rigorous warm up process before Tai Chi or Hsing-I training.”
Martialforce.com: Please explain the big/long form you learned. Was it developed by Yang Cheng-Fu?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “To be honest, many people state that the form they practice was developed by this Master or that one. In my opinion, no one really knows how authentic his or her form is, nor does it matter. This is evident by the number of variations of forms that exist. Who knows what has changed over the years.
What matters most are the principles of the art, not the poses. I first learned what is known as the Yang Style Long form, what is 108 movements. Other long forms are 88 movements and various numbers of movements. Tai Chi is Tai Chi. I think what you are doing is far more important than how many postures are in your practice. History states that originally Tai Chi had 13 postures.”
Martialforce.com: Are there other forms in the Yang system? Please explain the Sacred Yang Form.
GLENN HAIRSTON: “Yes, there are many forms in the Yang system, more that I am aware of. Master George Ling Hu taught the Sacred Yang form to me. It is difficult to explain its aspects unless one has a Tai Chi background. It was designed to develop both sides of the body and incorporates pulling more energy.”
Martialforce.com: Tell us about the “Movement Extravaganza” in 1979. How did you become involved, and have you done anything like that since?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “”Movement Extravaganza,” was a performing troupe comprised of many different martial artists, each displaying their various systems and talents. My specialty was performing “Dynamic Tension Breathing” while being punched, kicked, and having various objects broken over my body. I would then fight multiple attackers, finished by taking down the last attacker, and then immediately broke boards, bricks, or concrete. The promoter, and friend, approached me and asked if I was interested in participating. We continued with more shows during the 1980’s. Later on, I became involved in other Martial endeavors.”
Martialforce.com: I read where you stated that every Tai Chi posture has a purpose. What does this mean?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “Since Tai Chi is a martial art, every posture is based on various fighting applications. Tai Chi Chuan was primarily recognized as a martial art that possesses various health promoting properties up until the 1930 when Master Yang Chen Fu of the Yang Family made changes to the form.
These changes to the form created the long and slow style movements that people regardless of age or health condition can play Tai Chi, primarily for health purposes. Before that, Ta Chi had many leaping, stamping, striking, fast, slow, strenuous, and explosive movements, many that are still present in modern day Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan. Over time, understanding of the purpose in Tai Chi postures have become less known, and practiced as the years have gone by.
This is not good because doing the forms, for forms sake will yield some benefits, but not the outstanding skills, and benefits that such Masters as Yang Lu Chan, and others possessed. To gain those benefits one must not just practice Tai Chi forms, but practice it correctly, and this means having a working knowledge of Tai Chi postures.
For example, let us say five people are performing the same Tai Chi postures and each of them is doing it differently. However, each person claims that his or her posture is being performed correctly, then how can we prove who is right? Again, knowledge of posture application is the measure for correct practice. Since Tai Chi’s forms are based in physics (this is why Tai Chi does not rely on the use of muscular strength to accomplish its applications), Tai Chi’s correctness is measured in terms of function not form.
When studying Tai Chi, the question in your mind should always be how does this work? Not how does this look? When your postures follow the rules of physics, which is the basis of Tai Chi principles, they work when put to the test. If not, they may look pleasing but they do not work. Many people have beautiful poses, but they are not functional. It is the struggle to find the function in our movements that strengthens our bodies, raises our spirits, sharpens our minds, and grows the Chi, which brings us good health and inner peace.
It should also be understood that there are several different styles of Tai Chi Chuan and although they have the same moves, they may perform them somewhat differently. It does not mean that any one style is more correct than another is. What is important to understand is that Tai Chi is its principles, and not its movements. As long as one adheres to Tai Chi’s principles, they are on the right track. The next stage is to consistently examine your application. Functionality is proof of correctness.”
Martialforce.com: Taking a different direction, do you teach or train law enforcement officers differently than to civilians?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “Yes my training of Police Officers is quite different than the training I provide to the average person. One major reason is that Police Officers are held to a different standard legally than the standard civilians are held to. Police Officers have many concerns that the public are not legally bound to. Those laws, rules, and policies are far too many, and too intricate to discuss here but I will say that civilians are mostly concerned with survival while Police Officers have greater use of force concerns, and must consider the safety of all including the safety, and rights of the so-called bad person. Another difference is that most criminals are not looking for a police officer to victimize, however the average person is probable being sized up as a possible victim more times than they are aware of. So in my training of civilians I point this out, as well as other things that will keep them alert, and also how to respond to a situation once it is in motion.”
Martialforce.com: How to circulate the internal chi for health. What does this mean and how is it accomplished through the practice of Tai Chi?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “Chi is generally referred to as vital energy or life force. In other words, without Chi, there can be no life. Tai Chi is reputed to be an effective method of promoting health by cultivating, and circulating the internal Chi. This practice is not only said to promote health, but also increase ones’ longevity.
There are many theories on how this is accomplished but for the sake of the layperson, lets explain it in tangible terms. Our blood is the vehicle by which vital nutrients, including oxygen and lymph fluids, are transported throughout our bodies. The practice of Tai Chi is reputed to exponentially increase the flow of blood, oxygen, and all that is carried with it, throughout our bodies, particularly to our vital organs and glands such as the heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, pancreas, brain, thyroid etc., which not only maintains our lives but determine the quality of our lives. In non-technical language, circulating the Chi is like supercharging the very system that determines our level of health. One must also be careful not to confuse health for fitness for they are not the same. Fitness is the amount of work your body can do in a measured period of time. While health is the condition of your body as it pertains to sickness and survival. A professional athlete can be fit but not healthy which is why we have heard of young strong athletes suddenly falling dead because of some underlining (health) problem which was previously undiagnosed.”
Martialforce.com: How did you get into consulting, and acting?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “Actually, by accident (LOL). It began assisting a good friend, and now very successful, director/screen writer, Ben Ramsey with some of his fledgling films years ago.
DIRECTOR BEN RAMSEY AND HAIRSTON
I would help Ben by choreographing Executive Protection Scenes, action scenes, and advise with respect to scenes involving guns and other weapons. The first large scale film I worked on was, “Silence of the Lambs” where I was asked to advise on Police/SWAT aspects, plus a bit of acting. Before you ask, I was the SWAT gentleman that went up the ladder in the elevator scene.”
Martialforce.com: You are a consultant and have been called upon to present specialized training in the area of defensive/combative tactics. What is defensive/combative tactics?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “It is just fancy description for ‘fighting” (LOL). Actually, Defensive/Combative tactics are more than just the physical applications of fighting techniques. We go into the strategy and critical thinking processes. All combat, whether on a professional or civilian level, is dynamic and fluid. In other words, several things are occurring simultaneously, and many elements go into the ability to adapt, and respond efficiently, and effectively.
The consulting is tailored to the type and needs of the agency or person. For instance, law enforcement personnel would receive different training than hospital security, which in turn would get something different from an executive protection specialist. Everyone has different concerns. Many of their challenges are unique to their profession so my job is to evaluate and meet those needs.”
Martialforce.com: Tell us a little about specialized training as applied to the film industry.
GLENN HAIRSTON: “My role in a cinematic environment is to bring my experience from Law Enforcement, Executive Protection, Security Specialist, and Martial Arts backgrounds into the discussion. I am generally asked, ‘How would someone with training, and experience in these professions react given certain situations?’ I then provide them with information based on my life’s experiences.”
Martialforce.com: How would your seminars address complex issues such as bullying, and domestic abuse?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “These are very complex issues comprised of many levels. Of course, being able to defend one physically is part of the equation. However, there are psychological and legal issues, which must also be addressed. Unfortunately these are multifaceted issues to substantially discuss here.”
Martialforce.com: You have produced the following DVDs: “The Eight Treasures”,” Informal Tai Chi Series”, “And Internal Damage: Advanced Tai Chi Chuan for Combat”. What makes them different from others on the market?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “What I can tell you about my DVDs is that I made them out of a sincere desire to share my personal experiences about what works in Tai Chi and how it works. My other desire is to preserve the essence of Tai Chi as it was taught to me. Tai Chi practitioners regularly speak of Yin and Yang (the complementary opposites) when conversing about their art but it is usually in terms of weight distribution or degrees of relaxation, etc. Sure Yin and Yang refers to hard and soft, fast and slow, left and right, up and down. Yet, what is commonly over looked is that it also refers to form and function (application).
Today, a greater focus pertaining to Tai Chi is on form and very little if any on function. This is as much an imbalance as would be left without right, or up without down. How can we truly understand and fully benefit from our art if we indeed are only willing to study one-half of it?
I believe my current DVDs and others to follow differ from many currently on the market because of their willingness to initiate an honest dialogue concerning this topic of form, and function.”
HAIRSTON AND STUDENT DEVRON WONG SAM
Martialforce.com: How would attending a seminar on Tai Chi support other martial artists such as in Goju-Ryu, Shotokan, etc?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “A seminar on Tai Chi Chuan would give other stylists a different perspective on a variety concepts, principles, theories and applications which are not generally found in the “harder” systems of martial arts. The Idea is not to replace what they already know but how to put it on steroids in a manner of speaking.”
Martialforce.com: If there is a word or a phrase that would describe you in the world of Martial Arts, what would it be?
GLENN HAIRSTON: “Truth Seeker & Realist. I do not believe in magic or mystical explanations. As Albert Einstein said, ‘If you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.’ I have worked in law enforcement and related fields for many years. I have been in many fights some including weapons and or multiple opponents. I have been fortunate, and learned much from my mistakes.
Yet, I am overwhelmed by what I do not know. I am a believer in physical conditioning, a survival mind set and having a realistic understanding of your art. I do not delude myself into thinking that I am the toughest, smartest, or best. I am a truth seeker and always open to learn from anyone. Though keenly aware that the positions of teacher and student are not mutually exclusive, teaching helps you learn, and learning helps, you teach. My only regret is that there will not be enough time to learn it all (LOL).”
Martialforce.com would like to thank Shīfu Glenn Hairston for the opportunity to present this interview to our readers.
To learn more about Shīfu Glenn Hairston please visit his website: www.glennhairston.com
Photo credit: BEN RAMSEY