I was a Sho Dan in Isshinryu. Without an instructor near me. I began visiting dojo of those I competed with in Black Belt divisions at local tournaments, to have black belts to train with in anything.
Back when I attended Temple University one of my interests was Chinese Taoism, and I read numerous books about that. Gradually I became aware of the practice of Tai Chi Chaun, But never had the chance to see or experience it.
One day I saw an article in the paper that Ernest Rothrock was opening a school in downtown Scranton where I lived and that among the demonstrations would be Tai Chi. That got my interest and I went to the opening demonstration. I did know who he was as he then was Cindy Rothrock’s husband, and I knew he from those tournaments.
I knew literally nothing about the Chinese Arts, and even less about the main study of his school, Pai Lum. Just watched seeing how different it was from my Isshinryu.
Then he performed some of his Yang Tai Chi, and I was hooked, It looked so much as what I had imagined tai chi would be.
So after the demonstration I approached Ernie and asked him if I could study Tai Chi with him. He agreed and that began a lesson a week for the next two years. But that is not this story.
I had much free time, my wife worked evenings at the YMCA as an instructor. That and Saturdays. I was not from the area we lived, So I kept busy.
I was practicing my Isshinryu. I had begun a youth program at the Boys Club.I had that one class (1/2 hour) on tai chi with Ernie.
trained at several other dojo on a rotating basis, I was also competing frequently at local tournaments in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, New Yore state, New Jersey and Maryland. More and more frequently I was judging and had on occasion to have to judge kung fu stylists. And I understood I knew very little about what I was judging then when I did so.
So I came up with a plan, and approached Ernie and asked it if it would be good for me to study some of the Chinese Arts so I could be a fairer judge.
I was aware I was probably an experiment for him, considering the impossibility he was already doing teaching tai chi to a karate guy who had nothing of the basic movement to work with, But I was sticking at it, then this request. I remembering him sitting back in his chair, considering what I had asked. Then he responded, “Sure, what do you want to study?”
So Ernie turned to a chart on the wall behind his desk and asked which form did I want to learn.
The chart was a list of over 200 forms he had studied, In addition to teaching Pai Lum, for years Ernie studied with a group of instructors from a variety of systems sharing each other’s forms.
Of course I knew nothing of Chinese systems or their forms, and could not pick anything. He just replied” just pick one”, I replied I had no idea what to pick. So he regarded the list and pointed to a name, “Ok, then I will start you with the Northern Shaolin form, “Dune De Kuen” (my phonetic spelling – it was not a spelling lesson. And he agreed to start another ½ lesson after my tai chi class the next week.
No kidding, Ernie knew a humongous amount of forms. As he was a professorial instructor, and most of his classes were late afternoon or evenings, he spent hours a day practicing what he knew, He had developed a program where different form studies were taking place each day of the week.
This was in addition to his then current studies in Eagle Claw.
I didn’t know it, but the forms I studied with him were mostly not forms his own students studied. Mostly they were focused in Pai Lum. The rest were his personal studies.
And I started without extensive study of the basics of Northern Shaolin. I was not trying to be a Chinese stylist, just more knowledgeable about the Chinese systems.
Just like my tai chi study. Step by step, week by week, Over a month later I finished the form, It was quite a large study.
Then I continued to other forms, Northern Mantis, Northern Shaolin, Northern Eagle Claw and even some Pai Lum. I did gain some idea about what some of the Chinese arts were about.
About a year later, after a lot of practice, I decided to enter a soft style division at a large tournament in Baltimore, Ernie used to go there, because he was only interested in tournaments were there were Chinese style only divisions. I just wanted to say I did it, and see if I could actually do it.
When I told Ernie of my intentions, then he began an intensive series of sessions on the finer points of the form, More what to look for when I performed.
The day came, we drove down, I asked the tournament director if I could enter the Chinese style division, telling him what I would be competing with. He replied, “You paid, you compete”
Then I was standing there in my karate uniform amidst the others with their style uniforms, sticking out like a sore thumg.
Eventually my name was called, and I went forth and did my form. I finished it without mistake. When the scores were announced I was not the winner, but I was not either at the bottom. I was in the middle of the division scores. More victory that I thought possible.
So I talked the talk, walked the walk, and done it.
I went on with many other form studies with Ernie, Eventually he had to move to Pittsburh, starting a new school there. I still trained with him, on those times he came back there, and at times I traveled to Pittsburgh.
More time and I had to move for work to New Hampshire. Different time requirements, different available space, I had to make choices, slowly setting forms aside, At times Ernie would visit and give clinics to my students on various aspects of the Chinese Arts, They got to see what he could do.
I was no longer focused on tournaments as when I had lived in Scranton. Nor interested in judging anyone, much less Chinese styles.
The day came when I traveled to Pittsburgh, Ernie specifically had me do the form to video me. He had no copy of the form (this was before YouTube) and wanted a copy of it for his records.
Years later I had set much of those form I studied aside. I remember telling Ernie how remorseful I was having to do so.
He replied, “Victor that is not the point, you did learn them, You may not remember the entire form, but you can never forget you did it, of the lessons you gained from that study.”
And of course he was right.
Since YouTube I have found Chinese versions of all those forms I studied. Different of course, but keeping the same essence all the same.
I did learn.
In December of 1984, 5 years after I began this study, the guy’s at the WilkesBarre school filmed some of my studies so I could retain them better.
This was my performance of Dune De Kuen that day. Not polished for competition, just what I did at that time.
Exactly where I began my studies in the Chinese Arts.