The following article appeared in the "New Zealand Martial Arts Magazine" November 1997.
The Erle Montaigue Story:
By Tank Todd, (Editor, New Zealand Martial Arts Magazine)
Part One of the article will deal with Erle’s background and training.
Erle, like many Australian boys began his training at a Police Boys Club. He began with amateur wrestling, weight lifting and bodybuilding plus some boxing.
In those days there were not a lot of Martial Arts on offer so this is how many a latter day Martial Artist got started.
Erle from his starting at the Police Boys Club at the age of thirteen until age eighteen, which was the age in those days that meant you could no longer be a member of the Police Boys Club had become a very successful amateur wrestler winning many tournaments.
Erle began his interest in Martial Arts as did many enthusiasts of those times with the magazine mail order home lessons booklets.
He even entered the professional wrestling arena. With his amateur background and body builder's physique he was ideal for the part and he had three matches on the television series ‘Wrestling Down Under’ before he gave it away.
Erle ’s introduction to the Martial Arts was in the form of lessons from a large Chinese man he worked with in the late 1960’s known as TJ, short for Tokyo Joe and the Martial Art was in fact Tai Chi.
In Erle's early days he was, as with many Martial Arts beginners looking for the hidden secrets of the deadly Martial Arts and like wise with his bodybuilding was striving for Mr. Universe status. After training from Mr TJ, Erle ventured to London to train under Master Chu King Hung. He looked at a lot of Tai Chi schools that were far from what he was looking for before he met Chu King Hung. Erle was also a keen entertainer and a notable rock star back home and his main reason to travel to London was to study the performing arts.
In London by the mid 70’s Erle was training twelve lessons a week, mainly Tai Chi and some Pa-Kua and this went on for four years. He learned from Chu all the tricks that were supposed to be a result of some mystical or magical hidden force but in reality were nothing more than deceptive tricks or entertainment.
It was not until he had actually tried his skills out against other Martial Arts that he realised all the training he had done to develop the Chi power was not an instant success in a fight and after being knocked down by a huge Swedish Kempo practitioner with a full power kick to the mid section and in other encounters having far from text book or easy victories he had to reassess his future training.
He had to ask himself why the modern day master he had met did not possess the power and ability of the original master. He decided that rather look for a more realistic quick answer system, to research the history and the methods of the original master.
Erle from this point on began a self teaching phase where he spent much training time on developing his own style and looking deeply into the past masters. It was at this time after learning all the skills, Erle had to practice with others of similar expertise and put his skills to the test, as well as this he had to train up assistants to practice with so as to earn by teaching them and from this, while teaching, it was all about gaining through practice.
Erle's search for knowledge has taken him to China where he achieved a master degree and was tutored by some of the living legends and descendants of the original Tai Chi masters.
Erle has made some interesting discoveries on his search for knowledge and the truth of his arts.
Some of his findings others may not agree with but then they are not Erle and have not taken the same path of discovery or first hand faced the experiences he has. The following are some of Erle's findings, ideas and words of wisdom.
Erle on learning the demonstration tricks designed to overwhelm the spectator discovered they had nothing to do with any magical internal power but were all phoney tricks. He had to be honest with himself and realise that the claims of being able to render people helpless from a distance without physically contacting with them were all staged performances, a deception and he did not want to continue with the lies.
Erle believes the body is truly a source of internal power but this amazing power is not for physical Martial Arts applications but is more for the bodies healing and the performing of its living functions.
Erle describes the skills of the Tai Chi masters such as Chu as physical skills that are a result of an individual whom has trained his body to such a high degree that he is in total control of all his muscles, bones, joints, tendons and ligaments and can execute extremely fast powerful and co-ordinated actions.
It is pure physical skills brought about by many years of dedication and hard training, nothing more.
Erle believes many of the Tai Chi practitioners looking for internal power just simply give up when they realise its not happening for them and will never happen. Some persevere for a long time, some keep training and hoping but they never achieve the super human internal powers they so desperately are looking for, as they simply do not exist. Erle reveals that the original katas are practically useless for fighting and much of their content is based on internal healing. If you employed most of these moves in a real fight, you have lost before you have even started in most cases. Erle describes Lung Har Ch'uan of T’ai Chi Ch’uan as the key when it comes to the fighting art or self defence art of T’ai Chi. He has been for many years explaining that the traditional Martial Arts are not fighting arts, the aesthetic movements both slow and fast may well be good for health and fitness and be lovely movements, like so many Tai Chi forms are more dance movements than fighting movements and any individual of reasonable intelligence can see this and would realise if you used them in a real fight the chances are you would get wiped out. The Martial Arts are only a means of developing a fighting art not the key to fighting. In the real fighting or self defence art the methods are not often those practised in the katas, there have to be special methods to deal with such real fight situations, certainly not kata or sparring techniques that is practised. Martial Arts against Martial Arts is hardly realistic when you consider your vicious street fighter is hardly going to act the same or similar to your traditional Martial Arts sparring partner. In Erle’s words for his style, sparring can develop bad unpractical habits when it comes to real lighting training. Erle believes Tai Chi as practised by all the old masters offer the true lighting skills followed by the healing skills as the ultimate options of learning far beyond the practice of kata. At this level the fighting skills were extremely aggressive actions that were designed to attack your aggressor defeating them in seconds, not with katas but with fighting techniques. Erle states that only two or three per cent of those who practice Tai Chi ever get to the stage of where they learn the real fighting skills or can use them.
The main reason Erle explains, for the good fighter's success in self defence in comparison to the Martial Arts is their natural ability, it conies down to individuals not styles, he says.
Erle does not favour grabbing or holding techniques as lie promotes the principles of the old masters, that being, if he is going to attack you, attack him first when he invades your space, you need to attack him. Erle points out that Pa Kua provides many ways to break free of holds often using attacking skills to break the hold. Many a Martial artists forgets to use his free arm or legs to counter a hold and tends to try and wrestle his way out using brute force.
Erle tells his people that if they can be put into a hold they need to train and train a lot more or go see a different teacher!
Erle does not believe the historical myths of masters touching farm animals and them dying or being able to selectively break predetermined bricks in a stack Another myth Erle has put to rest was the claims of Qigong being dangerous to the point of making some of its practitioners go mad.
Erle who has been practising Qigong for many years finds it hard to believe. After all, how could spending time in a posture that is beneficial to our body's alignment, breathing correctly, and remaining silent do to harm.
When you consider that fifteen minutes is the time frame we are talking here and physically the exercise is good for you, the only strange happenings one could consider, would be happening to already strange individuals and not as a result of qigong.
Erle's expertise in the Martial Arts is truly extensive and has taken him in many directions. One such direction was to study Aikido in London under an 8th Dan who was Europe’s best in those days. Erle considered Aikido as a great Martial Art and a wonderful adjunct to any martial system. It is aesthetically pleasing to perform.
These have been the experiences and thoughts of Erle Montaigue, a humble and honest Martial Artist who continues to strive for the truth and what is fact. A man who has respect for the Martial Arts but is not afraid to point out what is fantasy or grossly untrue or incorrect.
Erle is World-renowned. He has schools world-wide; he is an author of several texts and has produced a series of videotapes. Erle is riot one to boast of his achievements or to attempt to impress anyone with fancy uniforms or belts. He is just himself, no false pretences, just plain Erle, a Martial Artist of distinction, who can be soft and flowing or fast and hard with a crazy look in his eyes and flailing hair, hardly your mainstream Tai Chi practitioner, but that’s because Erle has gone that much further with his research and search for what works and thus has developed his own unique system.
On Erle's next New Zealand visit, if you want to know more on Tai Chi and what really works you should attend Erle’s seminars or contact his New Zealand representative, Annie Blackman.
Part Two will be an interview with Erle Montaigue’s on his Martial Arts in the present and future and with his New Zealand representative, Annie Blackman.