Master Lu’s Health Center: Northern-style Kung Fu and Old Yang-style Tai Chi

Story and multimedia by LAUREN CARTER

Take a brief tour of Master Lu’s Health Center in Salt Lake City

Master Lu’s Health Center teaches Northern-style Kung Fu and Old Yang-style Tai Chi to students of all ages in Salt Lake City.

“Every student is taught the same way,” said Matthew Stratton, who teaches Northern-style Kung Fu at the center at 3220 S. State St. “There is no belt system so the school has sustained over time by having a type of little brother-big brother and little sister-big sister environment.”

Kung Fu is the practice of external martial arts that involves free hand movements and movements with different types of weapons. Kung Fu is made up of sequences of fast movements called forms. It can take up to two minutes to complete one form. This is because one form can have around 16 movements within it, said Tyehao Lu, who teaches Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Bagua, and Xingyi. He also practices traditional Chinese medicine involving acupuncture and Chinese herbs at Master Lu’s Health Center.

Master Lu’s curriculum involves learning 30 forms before being able to test to become a master. This curriculum takes about seven years to complete. After achieving master status, students learn a new set of forms.

“I don’t believe in teaching fast,” Stratton said. “If I teach them slowly they will learn correctly.”

Some of Master Lu’s curriculum involves learning choreographed two-man fights. These fights take several nights to learn and are checked stance by stance to make sure the students are doing the moves correctly before being taught the next move, Stratton said. These forms are important because they use both offensive and defensive stances, involving a mix of blocks, ducks, kicks, punches and more. The lessons taught in these forms are used as building blocks for more advanced forms. This pace allows students to “throw a little bit of art and style into it but you have to develop it yourself,” Stratton said.

Tai Chi also uses the term form, but it has 108 movements that take about a half hour to complete because they are done more slowly, Lu said. Tai Chi is considered an internal practice of martial arts.

“Kung Fu helps develop muscles first and the outside body, whereas the internal martial arts builds up the spirit first,” Lu said. “Children and adults do more of the Kung Fu because it’s faster and more martial, while more seniors do Tai Chi because it’s low impact and more meditation.”

Bagua and Xingyi are two other forms of internal martial arts. Bagua involves circular movements and is based on the feng shui mirror that has eight trigrams. According to one source, the trigrams are “an ancient Chinese arrangement of eight binary symbols comprised of solid or straight (yang) lines and broken (yin) lines that represents the unity of Heaven and Earth and the blessings that acrue from allignment with natural virtue.”

Traditional Bagua involves walking around the mirror for eight full circles and then doing one hand movement. Practitioners then walk in the other direction eight times and do the hand movement. In all, the routine is repeated eight times.

“That’s some serious walking,” Stratton said. “Here we do eight steps then one hand movement and then go the other way around for eight steps and do the hand movement on the other side.”

Stratton continued, “Xingyi revolves around the elements fire, wood, earth, metal and water.” Xingyi involves straight-line movements and is a very aggressive yet powerful form of martial arts.

While Bagua and Xingyi have only specific directions of movements, Tai Chi does not. Tai Chi has movements that go in every direction, Lu said. The practices of Bagua, Xingyi and Tai Chi are unique because they can all unlock each other’s secrets so students should really study all three, Stratton said.

“For students that are really dedicated you should probably learn Tai Chi first, then Bagua and Xingyi last,” Stratton said. “It’s more than just doing the different forms, it’s studying the movements involved in each form.”

Master Lu’s Health Center encourages students to practice Kung Fu and Tai Chi together to keep balance of their internal and external energies, which is represented by the yin and yang symbol. “The balance has to be there to keep the mind and body sound, they complement each other,” Lu said.

The practice of martial arts has been shown to improve strength, flexibility, general health and memory skills, Lu said. It also works to reduce stress and can calm the mind while improving a person’s sense of discipline.

“If you practice for a while and then stop practicing, those things you learned are still within you so you can take the morals and principles and use them for your whole life,” Lu said.

Stratton believes people who try to learn martial arts with the intention of hurting other people with it will not last very long. He admits people can achieve a certain level but does not believe they can reach the maximum level. But if students just practice for themselves or for self-defense, Stratton believes they can make it to a higher level with the use of patience.

Master Lu teaches several principles to his students that they use in everyday life. Some of these principles are generosity, diligence, righteousness, kindness and loyalty. Instructors also strive to teach students that patience is very important to achieving internal happiness, which is the ultimate goal.

“Martial arts is a way of living,” Stratton said. “If you give back and live right you will get back and be happy.”

The majority of lessons taught are positive, but Stratton is also realistic when it comes to the real world and self defense. “I have to teach that society is not nice anymore,” Stratton said. “When I was a kid I could go play outside all day and my parents wouldn’t have to check on me. Now you can’t leave your kids playing outside without checking on them constantly.”

A key point Stratton stresses in self-defense is situational awareness. Students are taught to be aware of people and places around them and follow the movements of an attacker. So, if an attacker starts to move in a circle, then the student would move in a circle as well, Stratton said.

He also suggests that people don’t scream the word “help” because it won’t attract attention. Instead, they should scream “fire,” because everyone will stop to look for the fire. His advice to his students is to stay calm and be patient in any situation and the things they have learned will come to mind and help them out of the predicament.

Stratton has never had to use his martial arts against anyone. “I don’t look forward to the day I have to use it,” he said. “It would be a very bad day.”

Stratton said Master Lu has inspired him to remain a practitioner of Kung Fu and Tai Chi. However, Stratton dreams about opening his own martial arts center one day. “My goal is to teach teenagers how to communicate with adults and provide leadership for a community,” Stratton said.

Master Lu’s Health Center does more than offer Kung Fu and Tai Chi classes. It also treats patients using Chinese medicine. This medicine includes the use of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicines and Chinese medical massages, known as Tui Na.

In addition, instructors at the center teach and perform the lion dance, which is a more traditional dance for Chinese New Year. In the lion dance performers do jumps, stacks, double stacks and rolls.