A life for martial arts, interview with Dietmar Stubenbaum   (part 1)


Dietmar Stubenbaum (born 1962) is one of the pioneers of Chinese martial arts in Germany. Back in the early 1980s, he traveled to Japan, Okinawa and Taiwan, among other places, to study the martial arts at their source. Even after his return to Germany in 1995, he regularly traveled to China, Taiwan and Japan to continue his studies. In addition to Chen Clan Taijiquan and the small-frame Taijiquan styles from the Chenjiaguo area, Wenxian County and Bo'ai, which are hardly known in this country, he has long been particularly interested in the development and differentiation of Xingyiquan (Xinyiliuhequan, Dai Clan Xinyiquan, Che-style Xingyiquan, Song-style Xingyiquan and others).

This goes hand in hand with the study and research of traditional Chinese weapons methods (especially spear, sword and sabre) as well as an interest in the history, theory and practice of European edged weapons and Western fencing that has existed since his youth. In Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance, he teaches the rare Chen Clan Taijiquan of the Small Frame (Xiaojia) in the direct transmission by the two lineage holders Chen Peishan and Chen Peiju (both 20th generation Chen Clan), as well as Che-style Xingyiquan and other Xingyi methods and Wangbao-Qiang.

The interview presented here was conducted by Annemarie Leippert and Julian Braun. Dietmar Stubenbaum is a teacher and expert who is remarkable not least for his modest demeanor. He has always been far removed from any kind of "masterly demeanor". For us, his grateful students, he is "(our teacher) Dietmar", which is why the interview is published as it was conducted in the confidential "Du".

Your interest in martial arts began at a very early age. What did you train in your youth?

Back then, there wasn't a huge range of Asian martial arts or combat sports on offer. I can't remember exactly when I started. It was as a child, in a local judo club. If I remember correctly, I was the youngest and smallest there. During my childhood, I also trained at a fencing club and learned foil fencing there. As a teenager, I then took up karate, which I practiced for many years.

And before that, how did you fence in the club back then?

It was sport fencing as it was practiced in the late sixties and early seventies. Fencing was in a state of flux and was changing from the classic fencing of the turn of the century to a modern sport. Of course, this happened in different stages. Of course, I knew nothing about this development at the time. Looking back, however, I can say today that the lessons were still very much along the classical lines.

What kind of karate did you practise? And who were your teachers?

At first it was mainly Shotokan karate. This method was and still is the most widespread. I had a few teachers, but mainly Günter Mohr, the former national karate coach and vice world champion. Then Norio Kawasoe, a graduate of the legendary Takushoku University and Austrian national coach of the Shotokan Karatedo International Federation. I also learned Shorinryu and Kobudo from Okinawa from Kenyu Chinen.

I also studied with the extraordinary karate legend Hirokazu Kanazwa, who as a young man learned not only karate but also Yang Taijiquan from Yang Mingshi (1924-2006), a Chinese immigrant to Japan. Kanazwa also gave me the opportunity to see and try out Taijiquan for the first time. He also demonstrated various applications. I was very impressed and it left a lasting impression on me.

Then there was Kazunari Hiura, who taught an exotic style called Inyo Ryu Kenpo Karate Jutsu Do, Goju Ryu Karate and Okinawa Kobudo. I also traveled to Japan with Hiura.

Did you learn any other fighting styles?

As a young adult, I also learned Aikido, Kendo and Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido from Franz Gaschler, a pioneer of these disciplines in Germany. Franz, a close combat instructor in the military, had himself studied in Japan.

So what was the decisive motivation to set off for the Far East?

Above all, it was the urge to study Asian martial arts in the countries of origin and the desire to get to know other cultures. Of course, as a young person, I also had a great thirst for adventure. I was also encouraged in my decision by the many stories told by Franz Gaschler, who had lived in Japan for a long time.

So where did I go first?

I went to Japan for the first time in the early 1980s with the aforementioned Kazunari Hiura. Hiura wanted to visit his family, his teachers and old training buddies there. I took the opportunity to travel with him and establish the necessary local contacts through him. We visited Kyoto, Seki and the city of Naha on Okinawa.

Where and what did you train in Japan?

In Kyoto was the Inyo Ryu headquarters, which was run by Hirayama Seiji and his son. In Seki there was a branch of the style run by two senior students of Hirayama. When I arrived for my first visit, three foreigners from New Zealand were also training there, learning Inyo Ryu Kenpo at a branch in Auckland. I then visited Okinawa for a while, but then decided to study Inyo Ryu intensively in Seki. I also lived in Kyoto, Tokyo and Okinawa.

Can you tell us more about Inyo Ryu Kenpo Karate Jutsu Do?

The style was officially founded in 1963 by Hirayama Seiji. Not much is known about its history. Hirayama learned the so-called Juji Kenpo from a Chinese man living in Japan. It was said that the training demanded the utmost from the Chinese teacher's students. Hirayama was probably the only person to keep up this training for over 10 years. In the end, Hirayama created his own style from various resources and, of course, his own experience.

Inyo means Yin-Yang in Chinese and Kenpo means Quanfa. It is therefore a style that has been strongly influenced by Chinese martial arts, but also incorporates karate and other influences.

What did the style look like and how was it taught and practiced at the school in Seki?

The typical karate techniques were practiced as a basis. Kata and above all a lot of combat training. There was quite a lot of fighting. Makiwara and sandbag training were also included. The Kenpo techniques and also some Taijiquan were passed on to the three New Zealanders and myself privately by the instructors.

What is a makiwara?

It is a spring-back wooden post (striking board) that was placed near the wall in the school in Seki. Traditionally, the top of the striking board was wrapped with rice straw. In Seki, it was covered with strong hemp ropes. By hitting it, the board was smashed against the wall. As the striking board was not particularly flexible, it required the appropriate technique and striking power. It was common to get swollen and often bloody knuckles.

An additional form of training that my New Zealand colleagues introduced to me was to tie a rough file around the makiwara, which you then worked on with your fists. One day I contracted severe blood poisoning from this special training, which had to be treated surgically. The next day, I continued training with one arm.

So the training was very physically demanding?

You could say that. Another highlight was the annual one-off winter training session, where we stood in the ice-cold river up to stomach level and practised basic techniques and partner fighting. Many a shivering classmate had problems with hypothermia afterwards, and it was almost impossible to bring a warm mug of tea to their mouth.

How did you cope with the culture in Japan?

I found my way around quite well, although this was certainly also due to the fact that I was living with my three New Zealand practice partners and new friends. The families of two of them were originally from Samoa, the third from Raratonga.

They were really tough guys. We were like brothers and shared everything. I also worked in Japan to earn a living. Among other things, I worked for a propane gas company where, together with a Japanese colleague, I supplied households in the surrounding area with gas cylinders.

But I also worked as a private language teacher, bartender and as a subway construction worker in Tokyo at night. I worked a lot with a hammer drill to repair the tiles in the subway station. Things got interesting during earthquakes. The work was at night and there was a lot of turnover in the workforce. Not many people wanted to do this job. I always had Japanese colleagues at work, and apart from my friends mentioned above, I didn't have much to do with foreigners in Japan. So I was integrated.

50 kg schwere Propangasflaschen
50 kg schwere Propangasflaschen

Can you tell us a bit more about life in Japan at that time? What impressed you? What problems did you encounter?

My time in Japan was instructive in many ways. For example, the passion and dedication with which the martial artists there often practise their art. However, discipline in Japan is not only found in martial arts, but is present everywhere. Especially in the workplace. But then there is also the total controversy in leisure time, often coupled with heavy alcohol consumption and the unrestrained indulgence that often results. Or simply to make a living. Japan is not a cheap country!

What else did you train in Japan apart from Inyo Ryu?

My main focus was kenpo, but I also learned karate and kobujutsu/kobudo. And I even practiced some Taijiquan in the dojo in Seki.

How did you end up in Taiwan and learning Chinese martial arts?

I had been interested in Chinese martial arts for a long time. I had already been exposed to it in Japan through my Kenpo training and my attempts at Taijiquan. On Okinawa, you could find many Chinese influences in the local systems. In the school of the Kobudo teacher Matayoshi Shinpo there was an arsenal of Chinese long weapons. Matayoshi's father had studied in China for a long time.

In the end, I accepted an invitation from a Taiwanese linguist whom I had met in Okinawa. He had repeatedly assured me that Taiwan was the right place to study Chinese martial arts in their original form. I finally accepted his invitation (that was in the mid-1980s).

Thank you for the interview and we look forward to finding out more about your first time in Taiwan in part 2.

Conducted and edited by Annemarie Leippert and Dr. Julian Braun.