Many people who have only witnessed the speed, mobility, power, and overt ferocity of “Uncle Bill” de Thouars’ martial actions fail to realize how large a component the Internal arts (nei jia in Chinese) play in his background, his development of fighting ability, and his continuing practice. As a forty-year practitioner of martial arts, and thirty in the internal and mixed (internal-external) arts, I have recognized in Willem de Thouars an internal artist of the highest caliber. I would like to present him in this light in this brief illumination.
To begin with, Willem has studied from numerous Chinese masters of the internal arts: Pa Kua from Buk Chin in Indonesia; Hsing Ie from William Chen, also in Java; Tai Chi from Tun Fu-Ling in the United States; among many others. While not a “classical” exponent of these arts, Uncle can effortlessly demonstrate the sharp turns and spiraling palm strokes of Pa Kua, the linear explosive whole-body punches of Hsing Ie, the powerful rooting and feather-soft neutralizations of Tai Chi. I have been practicing Tai Chi since 1970, and can say without reservation that I have learned more about Tai Chi martial applications from Willem than from any other teacher I have met.
In fact, if we examine almost any “typical” Kun Tao Silat de Thouars fighting response from the point of view of Tai Chi principles (or those of the three Internal schools of Kung Fu), we find that Willem in action is a perfect exemplar of these principles;
1. Rooting: A key principle in Tai Chi (and the nei jia in general) is the use of the physical / energetic connection to the ground, to generate power, stability, and natural energy. Many of the seemingly “magical” projections in which Willem de Thouars flicks a wrist or slightly twists a forearm and the opponent or partner goes flying, cannot be duplicated merely by copying Uncle’s body mechanics. It is the unseen use of the ground relationship, the root, which gives these maneuvers their power. The “magic” is the result of years of training in the internal arts and continued practice of the nei kung (internal development) aspect of these arts.
2. Relaxation: A key element in Tai Chi is the relaxation of all unneeded muscles (such as, the biceps while punching out), the release of tension from the body, and the emptying of the mind into a relaxed yet super-aware state. Willem de Thouars utterly exemplifies these processes: his arms dangle loosely until they are employed, his actions have a “throwing-off” of tension quality, rather than a “holding-on” often seen in external arts; and his mental state (or states) for combat are empty of thought but filled with awareness.
3. Use of Dan Tien and Ming Men: The Dan Tien (in lower abdomen) and Ming Men (in lumbar region of back) are two energy-centers used extensively in Tai Chi and the other internal arts for power cultivation and release. Rather than emphasizing the action of the limbs, the internal arts focus on energy condensing to and exploding from these two center-points, producing whole-body power and integration impossible to attain by uncentered physical action. Spend a few hours under Uncle Bill’s tutelage, and you will hear him refer to these two points (with a variety of terminologies!) repeatedly. He will frequently demonstrate the radical increase in power and penetration of, say, a palm push or body-punch when one switches from an external-styles large, waist turning movement to a more condensed torque emanating from the lower back. This is internal kung fu in action!
4. Energy and Intention: Chinese Internal Arts devote a vast amount of effort and practice to the development of internal energy (chi), and focused, willful awareness, or intention (, and focused, willful awareness, or intention (ie). The bodily actions used in combat arise as a result of these two forces (the ie directs the chi, which moves the body), rather than the “ordinary” use of muscular force, or li. Anyone who has seen, or more tellingly, felt Willem de Thouars in action can attest that the energy generated by this relatively small man is unbelievably huge and overwhelming, as is the intensity of his intention to prevail. One day, after working with Uncle Bill seriously for three or four years, I suddenly realized that, though I had taken hundreds of falls from his techniques, and been hit or near-hit (always with perfect control) by thousands of blows, I had never felt his body; only the energy which he threw off. and one final story of Willem’s energy-mastery: in 1994, at the first seminar he gave on the island of Martha’s Vineyard (off the coast of Massachusetts), Uncle took Matt Cohen and I into a back room while the rest of the group was practicing, and said, “Feel this.” He slowly passed his hand in a spear-hand formation through the air, about 4 or 5 inches in front of my chest. I felt something like a warm breeze, or the air rushing out of an overhead air-blower on an airplane, making a line across my body while his fingertips where pointing (but not touching). Amazed, I gestured to Matt, and Uncle repeated the same movement. Matt also felt the energy as clearly as if it were being blown from a hose. At that moment I realized, if this man doesn’t have internal power, nobody does!
5. Chi Kung: Chi Kung is a broad term covering many hundreds of disparate systems of energy-cultivation. Each of the internal styles of Kung Fu has its own methods of chi kung, which are central to the art’s power development, health-enhancement, and spiritual aspects. Shaolin and other “external” arts also have chi kung practices, and it is because of these elements that the “external” arts become “internal” at their higher levels. Every Kun Tao, Kung Fu, and Karate practitioner is familiar at least with the horse-stance training, which is not merely done to develop strong legs and hips, but is a simple chi kung practice that develops internal strength, especially when done with correct breathing and mind-intent (and persistence). Willem de Thouars has been practicing chi kung of many types since his earliest childhood lessons. He gets up most mornings between three and four a.m. to practice his own brand of chi kung, while the rest of us are lolling in dreamland. I have had the great fortune to share some of Uncle’s private chi kung sessions, in snowy Vermont woods and cheap motel rooms, in deserted parking lots and majestic redwood forests, and these have been some of the most enlightening practices sessions imaginable. I do not think it an exaggeration to say that the internal chi kung practice Uncle does is the “secret” of his continuing vitality, power, and abundant energy, for martial arts and life.
There is much more, but there is really not need to “prove” Willem de Thouars’ stature as an internal artist. He exemplifies the Taoist ideals of simplicity, naturalness, and spontaneity. He can manifest a multitude of different energies (jings), and change easily among them. He frequently attains the Taoist/Tai Chi state of wu wei, or “not-doing”, in which accomplishment is effortless, and without thought or ego. And he maintains the playfulness, humility, curiosity, and unselfconsciousness of a child. He asks little for himself, yet gives abundantly to all. I only share these thoughts with others, so that you will not miss or misunderstand this treasure who walks among us. Both external and internal players frequently fail to see the internal basis of Willem’s external abilities. Look a little deeper.
Wishing you strength and peace,