Born and raised near mystical Stonehenge, Master Dougal is a charming man with a strong sense of humor. You literally can’t be in his presence for more than two minutes without laughing. That “joie de vivre” is contraposed by a certain cynicism towards the world and its people, which ends up originating some of his best jokes. I had the pleasure of spending a day in Singapore with Master Dougal: we talked, we trained, he taught me how to do the Shuang Yang in small places, he showed me that it is possible to do the Sum Chien – literally – anywhere, he took me to meet Grand Master Tan and – of course – I interviewed him to share his vision, to meet the man behind the title. I am grateful for the time Master Dougal spent with me and the things I’ve experienced and learned during that day.
1 – What has drawn you into Kung Fu?
The first thing that drawn me into Kung Fu probably was when I was 5 years old watching David Carradine in the Kung Fu series called Kung Fu where he plays a Shaolin Monk in America. Whatever he was doing the movements seemed useless because he was a dancer, not a Kung Fu person. And they are pretty useless, but I do like the philosophy and I think it was the philosophy that drew me in! And also the physical manifestation of that philosophy through Kung Fu movements, action, energy. All of these things drew me in. And then meeting very inspirational people such as Master Tan and Master Iain also helped ciment that.
2 – What is your favourite free hands routine? And weapons?
Free hands it’s the Sum Chien! Sum Chien is the beginning and end! I have been doing it continuously for around 30 years and still I’m learning things when I do it. The rest are just variations of that!
My favourite weapons would be my hands and the fact that after a while doing all the weapons, all of them become roughly the same. So by training long and short weapons, we are surrounded by weapons: this bottle, this tray, the chair I’m seating on. After manipulating many different types of objects and using them as weapons, really most objects become weapons as well. It basically comes all the way down to one’s hands.
3 – What’s the role of breathing and meditation in Kung Fu and in a person’s life?
There’s a famous quote “At the end of the day you can’t have good Kung Fu without Qigong and you can’t have good Qigong without breathing. Controlling the breath, especially in Sum Chien and Shuang Yang – which are 2 completely different styles of breathing – thy’re the ultimate goals to master. Especially in the Shuang Yang where the idea would be if someone would have their hands near your nose throughout the routine, they would feel nothing. Sadly I smoke 20 a day so that’s not going to happen. But just focusing on that goal will help you progress. All of our style in Kung Fu is Qigong.
As for the breathing what I would say would be “don’t give up”. Just try to breath as long as possible! (laughs)
4 – Can you tell us a little bit about the philosophy behind Sum Chien?
Sum Chien is a mountain that you can gain so many things from just by scaling or attempting to scale and that really has no peak. And it’s really hard Qigong. Breathing! Awareness at all levels. Visual awareness, sound awareness, sensual awareness. It’s the Qigong element in the Sum Chien. All of this has been put in a routine that takes 1 minute to do. And the idea is to just practice it as much as you can, just like a pianist, it will get better and easier with time. The more you practice it, the more you will feel it and the less you’ll need to do it.
5 – Can you tell us a little bit about the relationship between Qi and Consciousness?
If you can control your mind more while you do Qigong, your Qigong works better. If you set an intention, your Qigong is much more effective and much more productive.
6 – How does Chinese Medicine and the practice of Kung Fu come together?
Herbs and teas are very supportive of the practitioner and the practitioner’s health. So traditionally if you practice in Singapore in a hot weather then you take a tea that cools your organism and it’s supportive for the practice in this weather. We also have a basic recipe with herbs that help the body heal and that’s just one of the main things where herbs can support the Kung Fu practice. There’s always a tea or an herb that can re-establish balance in the body again.
7 – Are there any differences in the practice of Kung Fu for men and women? If so what are the main differences? How does sexuality affect the practice of Kung Fu?
If you kick a woman in the groin, it doesn’t hurt her so much. (laughs)
Well, it depends on the woman.To tell you the truth: we don’t really teach men or women, we teach people. It depends on the person’s body and shape so it is very dependent upon the individual. A lot of the times women can bring out springy power much quicker than the male students, but – once again – it depends on the body size and type. So in the whole there isn’t really much difference on the approach to Kung Fu at all. But back to the quick in the balls, men have a lot of more weaker points than women, particularly this sensitive area. So the difference would perhaps be in terms of combat and not in terms of training.
8 – What are the main Kung Fu values that can improve anyone’s life?
Well, the Kung Fu values… Kung Fu is just hard work, it’s skilled achieved through hard work. You have to do it again, do it again, do it again! That’s pretty much it! It’s very much in the line: “I am not going to teach you, but I’m going to show you how you can teach yourself.” It’s just pointing, but then the person needs to look and do it. It’s skilled acquired through hard work.
9 – With this accelerated fast pace life we live, people seek for learning Kung Fu or at least the basics of Kung Fu in a fast concentrated way. How can people benefit from a short experience with Kung Fu and incorporate it in their everyday lives?
It depends on the person. It’s very useful to go to a Kung Fu Retreat and practice there for a while because it gets people quickly familiar with what it is they are practicing so that when they leave they can keep on practicing it.
I’ve been doing Sum Chien in toilettes around the world, in between work breaks, anywhere I have a chance, when I need it; because that’s what you have to do. You have to practice wherever you can, whenever you can and in that way you incorporate it in your everyday life.
10 – What would you say to the young man you were?
Let’s go for a drink!
11 – What life advice would you like to pass over to future generations?
I don’t think I’m adequately qualified for that…. But in terms of future generations: don’t listen to anything I say! (laughs)