My first introduction to Asian martial arts came when I was fifteen and took Judo at the YMCA. My teacher was a short thickset Cuban who was a terror on the mat. My friend and I took Judo because his mom wouldn't let him take Karate, which she thought was too violent. If she had only known what our Cuban teacher could do on that mat! During that time I pored over Black Belt magazine, absorbed the folklore and myth of the martial arts, and avidly read about Asian philosophy.

In all that reading, the image of the martial artist as the calm competent master of every situation was burned into my consciousness. In the intervening years this image persisted and I've found it to be at some level still the motivating force beneath my practice. In the seventies, Kwai Chang Caine became the embodiment of that image. Even though my practice of martial arts had ended long before the advent of "Kung Fu", the image of the calm martial arts master stayed with me and was exemplified in that wandering Shaolin Monk.

My life took me many places and I've often puzzled why I didn't return to the martial arts. However, when my son, enamored with the Teenage Ninja Turtles, wanted to take Karate, I found the Vermont Kung Academy. I wanted him to be introduced to a traditional martial art, one with a depth of practice both physically and mentally, so, remembering a poster I had seen two years before, we sought out the Academy and started taking classes.

At first I saw it primarily as something we could do together as an activity, a father son bonding experience. It has been that, but I soon found there was something profound there for me. I soon realized this practice was what I had been looking for. It has helped me begin to cultivate the internal peace I had sought and the physical integration of mind and body that I had envisioned was at the core of that calm image I had so admired.

In my time at the Academy I've learned Northern Shaolin Praying Mantis in the form of the Cheng Shan Gong Fu taught by Sifu Makaris and have been introduced to the practice of Baguazhang, an internal Chinese martial art. The Academy has provided a practice both broad and deep encompassing the physical, mental and philosophical aspects of Gong Fu.

Although I still enjoy watching "Kung Fu" and thrive on the movies of Jet Li, I've come to realize Gong Fu is more than an image; it is "hard work", but hard work with a lasting and profound reward. It is indeed the practice of a lifetime but also a practice that may hold incredible revelations in a single movement or breath.

Dennis Smith
Vermont Kung Fu Academy
May 17, 2004