In April of 1975 my mother was looking for a way to stay in shape. Mom picked Chinese Kung Fu at the Raytown, Missouri YWCA as her final choice. Lao Tsu Dale A. Shigenaga was the instructor for this class. While Mom was working out, her sons, Cecil, Scott, and I, would take advantage of the indoor swimming pool of the “Y”. Within a few months Cecil joined her in the study of kung fu along with a few of our uncles (Elliot and Larry). For my fifteenth birthday present I joined the class in August of 1975. It was this beginning date in August that started my many years of study in Xing Yi Quan.
By the time I joined the class there were already a few intermediate students. Two of them were Tony Franklin and Steve Hibden who were already green belts. These two started their training at Richard-Gebaur AFB in 1974 and would assist at the Y. These older class brothers set the example of quality and hard work for the rest of us. If we needed help and Tony and Steve were busy, there was also (Shifu) Richard Iser or (Shifu) Ron Torrez to help us. As my family continued to study (brother Scott joined at age 9) at the “Y”, we would invite friends to class. Cecil and I would often bring our high school wrestling buddies with us. One of these friends was Gene Hartley. As Gene and I grew in our art, we wanted more class time, so Lao Tsu Shigenaga invited us to come out to the Richard-Gebaur Air Force Base to help with the beginners. So each week Gene and I rode our motorcycles out to the base. After class Lao Tsu Shigenaga would invite us to his house for a snack. He would cook stir-fry veggies with long Chinese noodles, put them in a bowl and hand us chopsticks with which to eat. If you did not use chopsticks, you did not eat. So it did not take long to get good at chopsticks.
BEGINNING TO TEACH
With the fast pace of the KC kwoon in the late 70’s and my going to class three or four times a week, it did not take long to achieve brown sash. While I was a brown sash my high school started a “martial arts club”. It did not take long before I was asked to teach kung fu, making it a class instead of a club. This was my first big etiquette mistake. I did not know I was supposed to ask permission to teach or to wait for Lao Tsu to recommend that I start teaching. So I started teaching at the high school. It was not until a little later that I brought up the subject to Lao Tsu Shigenaga. Of course he gave me permission to teach, but many years later he told me that he did not think I was ready at the time and that he only gave me permission because I was already doing it. The high school kwoon moved a few times through churches and community centers until it ended up on Topping Street at my home in 1979. It was at the Topping Kwoon that Shifu Shigenaga’s students Becky Segovia (Kimzey), Dan Albritton, and Fred Pustejovsky tested for black sash under the eyes of Lao Tsu Tony Franklin and I.
MASTER XU HONG JI’S VISIT
In the winter of 1977 the Raytown (KC) Missouri kwoon was honored with a visit from Lao Tsu’s teacher Master Xu Hong Ji from Taiwan. It was around this time that Lao Tsu Shigenaga became Shifu (Sifu) Shigenaga and earned his Third Degree Black Sash. Master Xu came out to the “Y” and graciously corrected those of us who had not listened to Shifu and were doing things wrong. It was the first of many lessons of “the Shifu gets punished for the mistake of his students”. While Master Xu was in town we had a dinner for him, and later, we were invited to Shifu Shigenaga’s home to “sit at the feet of the master”. Master Xu performed a lot of Chinese medicine that night and taught us many things while he was there. Times like this are priceless.
BLACK SASH AND LAO TSU
I was awarded my black sash in June of 1978 and Lao Tsu title in June of 1979. I continued to study with Shifu Shigenaga and to teach at my home kwoon. After Shifu Shigenaga was transferred to Charleston, SC., Lao Tsu Tony Franklin took over the teaching of the KC kwoon and moved the kwoon to his home. Tony Shifu and I shared many hours tempering each other’s skills and bodies practicing, sweating and sparring in this third story oven he called home.
While Shifu Shigenaga was in South Carolina (c.1978-1981), Shifu Tony and I would go out and visit Shifu Shigenaga each summer. It was great getting to know Shifu’s family better while we stayed in his home. When we were there we would also visit Shifu’s kwoons on and off the base. One of the students there, (Shifu) Tim Bonson would become an important part of the Xing Yi family and a friend of mine. It was a pleasure a few summers ago (2000) to stand in Charlie Shifu’s back yard till 3 AM (or later) watching a meteoroid shower, digging in the sand with my toes and talking about kung fu and life with Shifu Tim.
THE MOVE TO LAS VEGAS
Shifu Shigenaga would also come visit KC each summer to check our kwoons for quality and correct techniques. During his June 1980 trip, Shrfu awarded me my Xing Yi Quan Missouri teacher’s license. While Shifu was there he mentioned that he needed someone to move to Las Vegas with him to help run his kwoon while he was busy with military responsibilities. Tony Shifu was the logical choice but could not go. Therefore, I offered my assistance to Shifu Shigenaga and he accepted. I talked it over with my students and they gave their blessings. So I arrived in Las Vegas October 31, 1981. It was a very interesting first few hours. Shifu Shigenaga had tickets for the Chinese Opera, which was downtown on the Strip. On the way to the show, Las Vegas quickly proved its personality to us. As we were walking down the street toward the show, two very attractive young ladies walked up to us. My first impression was that they were lost and were going to ask for directions, but instead they asked, “Do you boys need a date?” This was my welcome to Las Vegas. For the record, “No” was the answer to the question from both of us.
During the first five or six months I lived with Shifu in his home while he waited to bring his family from South Carolina. Shifu’s home furnishings were very sparse as most everything was still in South Carolina. So for the first few months our beds were green, wool military blankets on the floor. Shifu opened his first Vegas kwoon in November of 1981 at the Nellis Air force base recreational center. Here I met (Shifu) Rick Diesler and his family. When I moved to Las Vegas I had left everything behind except two boxes and a suitcase. So I did not have winter clothes and only a wok, a kitchen knife and chopsticks for my utensils. I quickly learned the kindness and generosity of Rick Diesler which has proved itself over again through the next 20 plus years – he and his family gave me a field jacket, long underwear (I was working security on the night shift out side –what a blessing), dishes and etc. It was not long before we opened the Owens Street Kwoon in March of 1982. The Owens Kwoon was located in North Las Vegas close to a three way intersection. This made for much excitement, usually in the form of a car crash that would come close to hitting the front of the kwoon (which it did a time or two).
One night, while I was teaching class, some hot-rod biker dude decided to visit the kwoon and drove his motorcycle up on the sidewalk, parking it next to the front window. He strolled in to the kwoon with his light brown leather motorcycle jacket and his long black Italian hair. “Hey man, this is what I have been looking for all my life”, he said. What teacher has not heard that before? “I’ll be back”, he said as he left – yeah, right I thought. Charlie Benza came back and never left. We became good friends, roommates and “biker” buddies while I lived in Vegas (See Shifu Charlie for more stories). After 20 years Shifu Charlie is exactly the same as when I met him.
XU HONG JI’S SECOND VISIT
My second opportunity to meet Da Shiye Xu was at the Owens kwoon in July of 1982. Master Xu spent a few days with us and held a Saturday seminar. When it was time for Da Shiye Xu to leave Shiye, Jan ( ) Couker, Lonnie Robinson, Tony Shifu, and I drove him to Los Angeles. There we met Vince Black, James McNeil, Mike Patterson and their students in a large room. Master Xu, as was his custom wherever he went, preformed a lot of Chinese medicine on anyone who wanted it. One female student wanted Master Xu to work on her. He took her pulse the Chinese way and said he would not work on her because she was pregnant. She was surprised that he knew since she had not told anyone. This was only one of the many times Master Xu amazed us with his knowledge and skill of Chinese medicine.
After a while Shifu moved the kwoon from Owens Street to Charleston Blvd. where we received a whole new batch of students. (Shifu) Alex Dziemieszko was one of Shifu’s first students in this group. Shifu worked hard with Alex to fully utilize his abilities as a quadriplegic. Alex accomplished remarkable goals and skills while learning Xing Yi from Shifu. Shortly after Alex made white sash I got to know him and his family. Much like Charlie Shifu and Rick Shifu, Alex Shifu and his family became family to me. It was during these years with these friends that Shifu awarded me my Second Degree Black Sash and my Shifu title in June of 1984.
The only sad event that I can think of while in Las Vegas was October 9, 1984 when I entered the Charleston kwoon and saw Shifu Shigenaga sitting against the wall. I asked Shifu what was wrong. He informed me that Master Xu had passed away. I did not know what to do, so I did the only thing I could think of and that was sit with my teacher in his time of loss.
Shortly after that time in November 1985 Tony Shifu moved to Las Vegas. It was nice to have older brother Tony close by again.
THE CALL TO MINISTRY
I continued to help Shifu with the kwoon. When Shifu, who traveled out of town Monday thru Thursday every week due to Air Force commitments, was in town we would go out for breakfast after closing the kwoon around 10 p.m. It was during one of these times while having a bowl of hot sour soup, I asked Shifu a question, “Shifu, now that you have watched me these past eleven years, what do you think of my kung fu?” Shifu answered, “Your technique is good and your knowledge is good, but you lack one thing: the spiritual part.” He did not know at that time where that statement would take me. I am sure Shifu was talking about my qi development when he referenced the spiritual part. But since I had been in Las Vegas, I had been in a spiritual battle. There had been a spiritual tug-of-war inside that had been pulling me two directions. In January of 1986 the battle ended, I become a Christian and was called into Christian ministry. Within six weeks I was packed and moving from Las Vegas to Tigerville, South Carolina to start junior college preparing for ministry. I finished my Associates of Science degree in 1988 and was honored in “Who’s Who Among Junior Colleges”. I left Tigerville and moved just outside of St. Louis to work on my bachelor’s of Art at Missouri Baptist College. I graduated from MBC in 1990 with honors and then moved to Louisville, KY to work on my Master’s degree. I was there one year before I returned to Greater St. Louis to finish my Master’s degree at Covenant Seminary. I graduated with my Masters of Divinity degree in December of 1994. Eight and a half years of college and grad school. Who would have “thunk it”. Not I!
THE RETURN AND REUNIONS
While at Covenant I started working and living at Missouri Baptist College in June 1992. I was the director of public safety (cool story, ask me some time). From 1986 to 1992 I had lost contact with all my kung fu family. In 1992 I called Tony Shifu, Charlie and Alex and others and made contact with them. It brought tears to my eyes when I talked to all these macho guys and heard them tell me, “We missed you man; don’t leave us again, and we love you”. That is a picture of the Xing Yi family we have in the American Tang Shou Tao Association. Shifu was the father I did not have after my father passed away when I was 12 years old, and all these men were brothers to me.
In my absence of six years I had not taught kung fu. I had tried to teach two young men at MBC but schedules did not work out. In 1992 I received a phone call from Martinsville OH. It was (Shifu) Rick Deisler, the 10 year green sash. Rick had heard I was back and he was working for a company that would allow him to fly to St. Louis free, so he asked Shifu Shigenaga if we could study together. Shifu granted his blessings and Rick flew out once or twice a month. So I started teaching again. We would work out sometimes 24 hours a day. My security guards would walk into the gym at 2 or 3 a.m. and Rick and I would be sparring. They would shake their head and keep on walking. I had the honor of watching and videoing Rick’s black sash test to ship off to Vegas on November 12, 1994.
Shifu Rick was given special permission to open a kwoon in Martinsville OH as a Brown sash. I will let him tell all the stories from Ohio in his bio. But if you ever want to see the video where we schemed against his class by my coming and challenging him for his kwoon, let me know. In November of 1994 Shifu Rick wanted Shifu Shigenaga to come and visit Martinsville and Shifu accepted the offer. Shifu Rick then came up with the great idea to invite all the senior black sashes to Ohio at the same time that Shifu would be there. So being good students we did not tell Shifu we were coming. This was a very special time in Martinsville. For the first time in over 8 years Shifu Shigenaga, Rick Shifu, Dan Shifu, Tim Shifu and I were together. It was during this visit that Shifu Shigenaga presented the idea of the association and the dream he had for it. We all have Shifu Rick to thank for that special event we now call the first annual American Tang Shou Tao seminar.
RETURN TO TEACHING
During this time I also tried teaching a few young men at the college, but graduate school and 70 hours a week of work was too much. It was not until 1995 that I started teaching regularly again. A group of young people from my church begged me to start teaching -- so I did. Joshua and Megan Ragsdale and Joshua and Sharon Martin were my first real students in St. Louis and the beginning of the Xing Yi Quan Kwoon of St. Louis. The same year I traveled to Las Vegas for the second annual ATSTA seminar. There, I was honored to see Shifu Tony Franklin receive his Fourth Degree Black Sash – what an honor! I was also honored to receive my Third Degree Black Sash the same day. In the beginning I never thought I would make green sash, and now twenty years later I was a 3rd degree black sash. You never feel like you are good enough, but you have to trust your Shifu when he says you are ready.
Also in that year (1995) I was given permission by MBC to start offering self-defense for women and kung fu classes in the PE department. These courses were offered for college credit and have continued to be offered every semester since then. I also continued to grow the kwoon at my home.
Shifu Shigenaga planned an associational trip to Taiwan in August 1997 (two weeks after the birth of my son Seth). That trip was one of those “once in a lifetime trips”! We met Lee Laoshi (Black snake), Xu Akio (Suye Xu’s brother) and Master Xu’s son. We were honored to visit the gravesite of Master Xu, and to have Lee Laoshi teach us Ten Snake Fist Hsing. And who could forget “the fond memories of walking all over Taipei”. I honestly believe there will never be another trip to equal this one.
During the October 1999 mini-seminar in St. Louis, Shifu Shigenaga awarded me my Fourth Degree Black Sash. It took a year before I could wear my sash comfortably or see myself worthy of the rank, but again I trusted Shifu to know what was best.
Last year in 2002 I was honored with the award “Who’s Who among College Teachers In America”. A kung fu student from the college nominated me. He was to pick a teacher who made a difference in his life. I had no idea I made that difference in his life until I received this honor. All of you who have been named above and many of you who have not been named have made that same kind of difference in my life, and I would never have been able to do all the things I have done without your love and your friendship. May this biography be in honor of you all and my thanks to every one of you.
THE LAST FEW YEARS
The last few years have been very fun to experience. In 2005 I experience the celebration of 30 years of study and teaching of Xing Yi Quan. It was also the year we celebrated the 10th year anniversary of the official St. Louis kwoon. August 2006 I completed my second masters degree. It is a Master of Science in Education, Exercise Physiology with an emphasis in Adapted Physical Education. I am now teaching full-time at Missouri Baptist University in the Sports Medicine department. To top it all off, I was awarded my Fifth Degree Black Sash March 2007 and the title of Shiyé (Grand Master) May 2007. I can't wait to see what the future brings.
Thank You, Shifu Mark
Please let me also thank these people who have shared their arts with me: Shifu James McNeil for teaching Shifu and I butterfly sword and broadsword hsings; Mark Tosto and his sparring with me in Kenjitsu; Yu Qinrong for sharing his research in Chinese Qin na on me; Crystal Shi as she tried to teach me the long Yang Tai Chi form; Master Dave McNeill for his creation of the Goju Shorei Cane System and his personal touch and instruction, Skip Ewing for his personal instruction and insight of Goju Shorei Cane System Mark Shuey for sharing with us in the Cane masters seminar; Scott Olfe as we contrasted and compared Okinawa Karate and Aikido to Xing Yi.
 That was Shiye’s title at the time
 This was before we wear kung f u sashes, as opposed to Karate belts. c. 1977
 Shifu taught at a faster pace then is common now, because he did not know how long he would be in KC because of the USAF and needed to be sure we had all we need to continue with him in another state.
 Becky and Fred started in the high school class, which was considered Shiye’s school, and Dan started in Shiye’s class and continued with Tony after Shifu went to SC., so all three are considered Shiye’s students.