Study the internal arts of
Damo began his studies in traditional Karate with his parents in 1984. Karate was Damo’s focus for many years with training that included empty handed work, weapons training and the associated aspects of Zen Buddhism. As well as his parents, Damo studied with Sensei’s such as Yoshinobu Ohta and Kenosuke Enoeda as a part of their organisation. Further Japanese studies included Aikido, Kendo and Iaido under Sensei Yamada and through the arts of Japan.
Damo has also spent time learning the Gong Fu methods that have their roots at the Shaolin temple of China. He has spent periods of time in Wushu schools in Shandong province, Chengdu and Yangshuo. He has studied Wing Chun in the West, qualifying to teacher status in the Yip Man lineage and also spending time training in Hong Kong. In Beijing, Damo learnt Chinese wrestling or Shuai Jiao as well as San Da fighting, these studies were furthered in Shandong province with coach Peng and a few other teachers.
One of Damo’s greatest loves has been the art of Taijiquan (Tai Chi). It was the lineage of Zheng Manqing (Chen Man Ching) that initiated Damo’s practice of Taiji and once again these studies were initially under his father, Paul Mitchell, and uncle, Phil James, who was a long time student within the Zheng Manqing system as well as being a close student of the Taiji and internal force master – Shen Hongxun. Taijiquan immediately captivated Damo and so he began to focus his efforts onto the internal arts.
After a number of years with his family, Shen Hongxun and his daughter Shen Jin, Damo decided to explore further. At this stage, he realised that he needed to head into Asia to seek the root of these arts. What was supposed to be a simple six month trip to China turned into over a decade of travel through China, South East Asia and other parts of the Far East in search of authentic masters who could help him unlock the mysteries of these practices. The Zheng Manqing system of Taiji was further enriched by study of Huang Xingxian’s method with various teachers in South East Asia and the Yang family systems in China with master Hao.
Damo also travelled to Chenjiagou in Henan province, where he made contact with master Ni Yuanhai and this led him into the Hunyuan Taiji system of Feng Zhiqiang. For a number of years Damo learn the Hunyuan system from master Ni, Feng himself (though to a far lesser degree) and other teachers of the style such as Qi Zhaoling and Chen Xiu. One of the bonuses of this system was the Hunyuan Qi Gong that is taught as a part of the tradition; this effective Qi Gong set became a mainstay of Damo’s practice for a long time.
The final aspects of Taiji that Damo then explored were to be found high in the mountains of China. Initially these studies were in the Wudang mountain ranges where Damo learnt Taijiquan and other internal arts from within the San Feng and Xuan Wu lines of practice. Though interesting, and the mountain setting ideal, Damo moved away from these methods when he encountered the Taiji of the Long Men Pai and instead learnt this system from master Guan who was an accomplished Chinese medical practitioner and calligrapher as well as a master of Taiji.
Baguazhang had always captured Damo’s imagination and by the time Damo headed into China, he had already studied the Liang system to a fairly proficient level and a little of the Sun and Gao methods. Though the mechanics he had learnt were of an okay standard, it was still very much in the realms of being an ‘external’ martial art with regards to the way he had been taught. For this reason, Damo sought out further Baguazhang instruction in China and South East Asia.
After exploring Beijing’s parks and training for periods of a few weeks at a time with various Bagua masters, Damo decided to study solely with master Wang Haitao and from this teacher he learnt the Cheng system as well as Hebei Xingyiquan which was used as a ‘support system’ for the study of Baguazhang. There was a lot of study of the Wu Xing methods of Xingyi as well as the circle walking and single palm change mechanics of Bagua in order to help Damo understand the internal side of the system; the outer frame was already fairly efficient but master Wang helped to put the ‘engine’ into what he was doing. Further studies of these two styles were undertaken with Hao Nanren and several masters in Taiwan where the ‘cousin’ to Cheng, Gao, is a widely taught method.
Damo had also studied the Xian Tian Bagua circle walking methods of the Daoist alchemists and these were implemented into Damo’s practice as well to bridge the gap between Nei Gong training and martial arts. Since these practices were said to be the root of the martial system of Baguazhang, it seemed only natural for these to become a part of Damo’s Baguazhang training. For this reason, students within Lotus Nei Gong study the circle walking methods of Bagua prior to forms and other drills.
Damo’s earliest explorations of meditation were within the Buddhist tradition. He first encountered the teachings of Zen within his Japanese martial arts classes and so studied Zazen practice for a number of years. Though initially not so interested in meditation, it seemed to Damo that every martial arts master he went to seemed to place great importance upon meditation! Thinking there may be something in this, Damo moved into Chan (the Chinese equivalent of Zen) and began to enter into week long retreats with teachers in Europe. These retreats then expanded to include Tibetan Buddhism and gradually Damo began to incorporate meditation into his life. Entering into it with the same dedication that he did martial arts, meditation has now been an important of Damo’s daily practice for over two decades.
When Damo headed into Asia he located the school of Daoist master Hu Xuezhi and undertook two prolonged retreats with him in the mountains of China. This was an introduction to the methods of Nei Dan, or ‘internal alchemy’; an introduction that caused Damo to seek out further instruction in these rare meditation methods. Master Wang Haitao and Master Guan took Damo further into these practices along with various Daoist Qi Gong and Nei Gong methods which finally helped him to begin understanding the classical teachings of Qi Gong and energetic work.
Though Damo had already developed a strong background in standing and moving Qi Gong practices, it was his encounter with alchemy and the processes of Nei Gong that really brought home the possibilities of this kind of training. During this period of his life, Damo was transitioning between Taijiquan and Daoist practice in China and Theravadan Buddhist study within the temples of Thailand. For those not familiar with life in China, it can be a fun but tiring place to be! Thailand became something of a ‘resting place’ between intensive training trips to China and it was for this reason that Thailand was the closest thing Damo had to a home for a long time.
Interestingly, it was here, at this time that Damo returned to Wudang mountain and other mountains such as Hua Shan and Qingchen Shan. Though not studying with any teachers from these mountains (at that time) Damo would visit them with his teachers so that they may train in the temples.
A love of mountains was fostered in Damo and so he entered into several self-directed retreats within the mountains of China, Vietnam and the forests of Northern Thailand and it was here, during these lone retreats, that Damo began to make the biggest leaps in his understanding of Eastern meditation methods. The time with teachers provided instruction and correction, the self-directed retreats were where these teachings were extrapolated and unfolded within Damo.
Qi Gong and Nei Gong practice has been a mainstay of Damo’s practice since the very beginnings of his journey onto the internal path. Every authentic teacher of the internal arts that he encountered practiced some form of Qi Gong or Nei Gong and all agreed that it was here, in these practices, that the root to real internal development lie.
Initially beginning with medical Qi Gong in the West, Damo moved into more transformative forms of energy work with Shen Hongxun and his organisation before discovering alchemical-type Nei Gong with masters Wang and Hao in China. The Hunyuan Qi Gong work of master Ni assisted in the internal process and further unfolding took place due to integration of qualities developed through prolonged meditation practice. The development he made during this time was helped greatly by the fact that he could focus solely on his training whilst spending a great deal of time away from ‘everyday life’ in China and Thailand.
At the current time, Damo continues his practice of Nei Gong within three distinct lines of training. For the time-being Damo wishes to keep these lines and the teachers involved to himself. One teacher wishes to remain anonymous – this is quite normal for Daoist teachers, especially those who do not wish to teach publicly any more! Newer students progress through the public system of Nei Gong based in the Quan Zhen traditions whilst seniors study from within deeper and more challenging lines of this internal process.
Damo is classically initiated into the Longmen (Dragon Gate) lineage of Daoism as well another Quanzhen branch of the tradition. He is also initiated into a line of esoteric Chan Buddhist practice and this line also influences his teachings.
Damo has written a number of books on various internal art practices, you can find them on the main Lotus Nei Gong site, the link is below.
The quotes I have used from the Dao De Jing are from Damo’s translation. There are many different translations of this classic text in the world, some beautifully poetic and others a guide to life. Damo has translated this classic from the view point of a cultivator of the practice of internal change, and most probably this was it's intended purpose.