Taiji and Martial Arts in Italy
— An Interview with Walter Lorini by Lutongsan
On 12 November 2012, I had the good opportunity to meet and interview with Mr. Walter Lorini, the President of the Professional Wushu Kungfu Association of Italy (PWKA). He was on a trip to Hong Kong for training with Master Yang Yun-zhong. Mr. Lorini himself is a long-time practitioner and advocate of martial arts. He shared his valuable insights and gave us a glimpse of the past history of kungfu in Italy — from the Bruce Lee Era of the seventies, through the heyday of wushu tournaments in the eighties, to the globalized world of the naughties whereby the taiji tradition is blending into various cultures. Sounds interesting? Walter Lorini tells his story…
I began karate training as a teenager. It was the time when Bruce Lee’s kungfu movies took the world by storm. In Italy, there was no exception. But there was no Chinese kungfu school in the whole of Italy. I took up karate lessons with Master Hiroshi Shirai (白井 寬) instead. Before long, I was so good at it that I started to train other young people of my age at my own martial arts gym, usually after long hours of study at the University of Milan. There were 200 students working out in my gym on and off.
Contented as a karate coach I was, until I met Master Chang Dsu Yao (張祖堯) in Bologna. I immediately invited him to Milan to teach in my place. I gave up karate and devoted to Master Chang’s Shaolin Meihuaquan and Yang Style Taijiquan. My gym reached another peak to over 400 students.
Master Chang introduced me to the yin and yang sides of the picture. I began to practice kungfu in both yin and yang — with taiji as the soft way and Meihuaquan the hard way. It seemed as though I could never learn enough.
To further increase my level of understanding of Chinese martial arts and to learn more about the fighting techniques, I began to seek out masters in both Europe and China and seized every opportunity to train with expert fighters whenever possible. I frequented China for immersed trainings, wushu tournaments and later as a coach or leader of Italian teams. Hence, I came to see many expert fighters in many different places — Shanghai, Hangzhou, Beijing, Tianjin, as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan. Between 1989 and 1994, I also studied in Shaolin for 2 to 3 weeks every year. Not many people are aware that I am a 32nd generation disciple of Shaolin!
Over the time I have made some interesting observations of the ways people play taiji across the globe. To give you some examples, in the US, people treat taijiquan as show business, preferring to enjoy it like a game with surround sound music. In Italy and France, where fashion is big business, people will not begin a taiji session without dressing up like a kungfu master. Though I have to admit that the French seem to have a sharp eye on fine details, not just external form, but also internal qi. The Germans are less imaginative and seem to always focus on the application aspects of taiji, which reduces it to either a boxing technique or a form of healing qigong. The Japanese are great believers in precision, so they draw foot marks on the floor to avoid stepping on the wrong position.
Back to Hong Kong, the students and staff members I met at the Institue of Chinese Taiji-wisdom are very intellectual people. They are open and friendly. The way they learn about taiji and qigong is very inspiring. Not only are they enthusiastic about the art, they are also fond of sharing it with one another.
I’m indeed very grateful for what I have learned in the past few days. I have always wanted to learn Water Style Taijiquan since 1991 when I first met its founder, Master Wang Zhuang-hong, at a tournament in California. Unfortunately I did not have the good chance to meet him again. It is only twenty-one years later that I am able to pick up this art. I’m very much impressed by Master Yang’s grasp of Wang’s Water Style and its integration into Rushi Tajiquan. It truly delivers the essence of traditional taijiquan with a modern and open spirit. I have therefore invited Master Yang to come to Milan to introduce his art to my fellowmen. I sincerely hope that this will happen really very soon!