Vol. 1 No. 6

Uncle Bill’s Fifth Annual Family Gathering

By Sam Edwards

UNCLE
BILL’S FIFTH ANNUAL FAMILY gathering held in Northglenn, Colo. was
truly a De Thouars family affair. It remains one of the premier martial
events in the world, bringing experienced teachers and ‘players’ from
throughout the world. This time, another of the De Thouars amazing
blood family, Victor, who is Willem’s younger brother, also taught.
Victor at 58 has the playfulness of a teenager, but one who can break
baseball bats on his shins.

There
was never a doubt this was a family affair with Joyce and Vicki de
Thouars taking care of the organization and all the necessary nitti
gritty to make this kind of event happen.

Joyce
had even made her basement into a bunkhouse. The backyard and dog run
from early in the week was the venue for early arrivals to check each
other out and exchange developments in training.

Perhaps
this event was held in suburban Denver, but it could just as well been
a training hall in an earlier century in China, Indonesia, or Japan.

By
Friday night of the first weekend in October the insanity at the de
Thouars house had reached the usual peak of frenzy. The common language
for ‘nieces’ and nephews from Europe, Scandanavia, South and Central
America, Mexico and Asia was martial good-fellowship. (Perhaps next
year Africa will be represented). As usual people drove and flew from
all over the lower 48 states.

The gathering
took over the Northglenn Rec Center. It’s one and one-half stories
being at this bit of suburbia’s epicenter as well as being the tallest
building in town.

(Actually the only risky
part of the gathering was when negotiating six-laned streets and one
freeway that were totally lacking in sidewalks but rendered navigatable
with six second pedestrian lights!).

There
were six ‘stations’ this year that we rotated through in groups. In
one, Victor deThouars (Maurice, another de Thouars brother, who teaches
in Holland, couldn’t at the last moment attend) aided by powerful and
energetic Joe Simonet, offered his personal take on the Indonesian arts
with his very direct and explosive Sirak.

It
seemed to me to have Hsing I’s energy and direct line. For the first
time I got a little understanding of Silat-related arts’ slight incline
of the body. Joe proved to all interested that this body structure with
entrances at a straight line, but inclined work every time.

I think the only question might be about the wear and tear through the years on the practioner.

The
next station, working clockwise, was of David Champ’s Tai Chi. (Isn’t
it amazing that this formidible family, famous for its combative arts,
included two Tai Chi stations and one of Pa Kua!)

In
fact that was one of the understandings I brought home, that at the
present stage of Willem’s cultivation of his ‘backyard’ he is
encouraging the cross pollination of the Chinese internal arts with his
Kun Tao Silat (not to mention his unique grasp of primordial energy and
primary movement).

David Champ’s Tai Chi, with
a bit of Phillipine sticks thrown in, reminded me of the beneficial
manipulation of the skeletal structure that cooperative ‘joint hands’
can accomplish. This practice also is conducive to the natural
evocation of ‘root’ and the ‘energy body.’ Root is best sought out when
competition is reduced to the bare minimum. (Our own Kurt Baker who
started Tai Chi at age l4 on the Mendocino coast with that group known
to some as ‘Uncle Bill’s Irregulars,’ and who travelled to Taiwan with
them in l996, now continues to improve under the tutelage of David in
Prescott, Arizona.)

Uncle Wayne Welsh provided the Pa Kua input, constantly reminding us of the similarities and derivations from Willem’s Kun Tao.

This
was most recognizable in his small circle Pa Kua, with it’s orbiting
almost in place (recognizable in Uncle’s entrances where he spirals
this way and then that way from the point of interception, torturing
all the way into the body.)

Don Miller’s Tai
Chi station was next and Don in every way has brought Tai Chi to show
its practical face in Willem’s energy expressions. His modification of
short Yang Tai Chi postures has monkey energy and Willem’s electrical
explosiveness. He also manifests ‘stick- ing’ energy with two person
knife work.

Don reminded us that Tai Chi is
an energy system (Chi Kung) that has withstood the test of time. He had
us repeat postures with the understanding that multiple, multiple
repetitions created energy and martial under- standing of that posture
and its historical variations.

Just like Tai
Chi sword play, Don’s ‘sticking ‘ drills taught the quick shuffle run
of lion pacing with it’s rooting qualities even at tempo (the weighted
foot being directly under the center line). This work is also aerobic
but most importantly it teaches soft, conscious stepping — like a cat.

After Don we were at Uncle’s station while
whatever he did varied from group to group. I came awy with the
overwhelming feeling of the reality of transimisson. He invites the
players he works with to make discoveries and innovations within the
parameters of their individual training and creativity. His
disinterested joy in each person finding his or her own way creates an
energy and gratitude that must be the feeling of that historically
ambiguous word: transmission.

It is amazing
the escalation of personal ability when working around Willem (rather
than self-consciousness). I even myself did, at his request, part of a
form with total absorption for the first time in my life. I think Bear
Roberts’ development proves the point. Because of Bear’s distance (on
the Calif. coast) he is unable to train regularly with Uncle.

Of
course Willem’s ‘bangers’ (Chuck, Keith, Steve, Philip, et. al.) tend
to hang out at his station so that ‘players’ can riff of the prescribed
moves.

The last station was that of Andre
Knustgraichen. I think the lasting memory of his teaching was that or
the effectiveness of passing the knife from hand-to-hand (taught in
rhythm aided by his senior Paul). When this has been drilled into the
subconscious, it works.

As always, much of
the meaning of Willem’s gatherings was in forming and renewing
friendships. And I think a lot of us felt that especially much this
year.

There was also the off-court study of
martial principle (and sometimes simply energy principles). I remember
particularly working late at night with Steven Tarrago and Frank
Broadhead exchanging insights on the principles of rooting and of
vibrating palm.

Steven uses Willem’s
vibrating palm for every single strike, even including it on oneself as
Chi Kung or preceeding an outward-bound strike for energy disturbance.

He
showed how important it was to hit like the hand was a wet towel — not
too much intention and not too hard. That is what makes the
neurological effect of this strike so surprising. Steve Buck says that
if you practice on your own thigh by just letting the forearm fall and
it produces a serious sting, "you’ve probably got it." Both Steve Buck
and "Steven Tarrago practice on trees or logs to learn the right
feeling.

THANKS UNCLE, FOR ALL THE GIFTS.