A Brief Autobiography
By Master Nick Scrima
Many cultures believe that a man's course is set by destiny, and in my case, it seems that I was destined to pursue a life in martial arts. Even as a young boy, long before I had ever seen or heard of martial arts, I was fond of kicking and striking and playing with wooden swords and sticks. After watching a martial arts demonstration for the first time, I knew this was going to be my life's pursuit.
Throughout my teens I trained in various Japanese styles, since Chinese Martial Arts were still a novelty in the early 1970s. I witnessed a Kung Fu demonstration for the first time at a martial arts championship in Cleveland, Ohio. The performance was very different form the Japanese and Korean styles that, back then, made up the majority of martial arts competitions. The movements were very fluid and contained many unusual low stances and high leaps with constant changes of speed and direction. This performance left a deep impression on me and I began my search for a Kung Fu teacher.
While still in high school I had met and trained with several martial artists. During this time I was consumed by martial arts. If I was not practicing or taking lessons, I was reading books on the subject or making drawings of different techniques while continuing to learn from different teachers, the whole time hoping to find a real Kung Fu master. Most were people with little skill and dubious background.
In time I started teaching a few students on my own and slowly built up several classes. I was teaching mostly in my parents' basement, in nearby parks, and at the local YMCA. As the classes grew I began to think about fulfilling one of my dreams: having my own school. This dream became a reality when I opened my first school, located on Pleasant Valley Road in Parma, Ohio, in 1981.
The first two years the school continued to grow and we were quite successful at local tournaments. However, I was also questioning myself and felt there was a lot missing in my training. In the early 1970s I had been reading about different Kung Fu styles and masters, and since there was no one in my immediate area, I decided to contact teachers in other cities. I was able to bring some teachers to my school in Ohio and I also traveled to seek instruction, with mixed results. Through persistence and a lot of good luck I started to meet and learn from some outstanding masters, many of whom I am still following to this day.
I first heard of William C.C. Chen while reading Robert Smith's book Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods, and then again in several magazine articles. In early 1983 I sent a letter of introduction with one of my students who went to New York to learn from Grandmaster Chen and he replied by inviting me to attend a workshop he was conducting in Bloomington, Indiana. That was my first time meeting and training with Grandmaster Chen. I have continued to learn Yang style Taiji from him ever since.
Master Alex Kwok was a Kung Fu pioneer in the 1970s. He was definitely one of the first Kung Fu competitors and without a doubt one of the most successful. I had read about him and his Mizong Luohan style (My Jhong Law Horn in Cantonese) in several interviews and was fascinated by his skill and the characteristics of his style. In the early 1980s the Beijing Wushu Team was touring North America and while watching the performance in Akron, Ohio, I noticed in the program book that Alex Kwok was hosting the team in Canada. His contact information was listed in the program book and I immediately wrote to him, inviting him to come and teach at my school. Master Kwok accepted and I have been learning from him since then.
Around this time I contacted Grandmaster Leung Shum in New York City about learning Eagle Claw and after several correspondences an arrangement was reached for his senior student, Benson Lee, to come and teach at my school. Master Benson Lee made several visits each year. I continued to train with him even after he moved to California and then I brought him to Florida to teach when I moved here in late 1992.
After several visits, Benson Lee suggested that I travel to New York to meet and get corrections from Grandmaster Leung Shum. I did so at the first opportunity and received training from Grandmaster Shum for the first time in October of 1985. During the time when Benson Lee was busy with his work managing hotels, I started to train more consistently with Grandmaster Shum and I have brought him to Florida frequently for extended visits.
During one of Master Alex Kwok's visits he mentioned that a senior master of Mizong Luohan, Chi Hung Marr, had recently moved to Toronto, Canada. I thought this would be a great opportunity to further my training in the style and asked Master Kwok if it would be possible to invite Grandmaster Marr to come along on his next visit to Cleveland. He said that he would contact him to see if he was interested. Shortly afterward, Master Kwok let me know that Grandmaster Marr was indeed interested in coming with him on his next trip. I first met and received training from Grandmaster Marr in 1987 and continued to learn from him for several years. Since my wife had family in Toronto, I also made trips there from Cleveland to learn from him.
Grandmaster William C.C. Chen introduced me to B.P. Chan, who was teaching classes in Xing Yi, Bagua, and various Taiji styles at his school. I arranged to take private lessons in Xing Yi with B.P. Chan as I had developed a keen interest in the style. Later I was able to bring him to my school in Cleveland. He refused to have people call him "Master," but a master indeed he was. I am sad to say that he passed on March 17, 2002. Although my training with B.P. Chan was very brief, his reserved manner, extensive knowledge, and abundant skill nonetheless made a lasting impression on me. I learned Xing Yi fundamentals, Dong Taiji, Taiji two-man staff, Taiji ruler and Qi Gong methods from him.
Grandmaster William Chen also arranged for his classmate, Dr. Tao Ping-Shiang, to come and teach at my school in Cleveland. Dr. Tao had an extensive background in several Chinese Martial Arts styles, including Taiji, Xing Yi, Bagua, Liuhe Bafa and several external styles. I brought Dr. Tao to Cleveland on numerous occasions and later, after I moved to Florida, Dr. Tao stayed at my house for extended periods. Besides structured classes I received countless hours of private training with him. From Dr. Tao I learned Liuhe Bafa, which he referred to as Water Boxing and which he had learned directly from Wu Yi Hui. I also learned Xing Yi sword, push hands (which he referred to as sensing hands), Xing Yi two-man sword, and a Taiji partner form. Dr. Tao passed away in December of 2006.
I heard of Grandmaster Yang Shu-Ton (Tony Yang) just prior to moving to Florida. We met when he and his students attended the Great Lakes Kung Fu Championship in 1992, a tournament I had started and ran at the time. I was deeply impressed by his students' skill at the championship and was especially interested in Baji, which until then I had only read about but not seen performed. I have been learning Baji, Piqua and Yin Fu style Bagua from Grandmaster Yang for several years, at every opportunity, and hope to continue to do so for years to come.
In more recent times I have had the opportunity to train in various internal styles of the Chinese martial arts with Li Deyin of Beijing's Renmin University, Di Guoyong, former chairman of Beijing's Xingyi Quan Research Committee and commissar of the Beijing Wushu Association, and in the Cha Chuan style with Li Enjiu. I value my association with these outstanding teachers.
Also, during the course of my martial arts journey I have met countless people who have enriched my experience. Some of these encounters have been brief in time but have made lasting impressions.
Looking back through the years, I often think about my early beginnings and how I managed to survive and even thrive with so little experience. I feel fortunate to have had the foresight to recognize my shortcomings and to do something about them. I feel blessed to have found wonderful teachers who have willingly shared their knowledge with me and guided me through the richness of the Chinese Martial Arts. None of these teachers ever expressed any jealousy toward my other teachers, nor did they ever insist that I choose their style over any other. Quite the opposite; in many cases they introduced me to other teachers. In this I feel very fortunate and humbled by their demeanor.
I will never forget and will forever be grateful to them. Whatever headway I have made in martial arts, and whatever success I have achieved, I owe to them. Their teaching transcends mere martial skill and penetrates deeply into the fabric of human nature, virtue, and morality.
Always, with respect,
Awards & Achievements