Every Tuesday night for last two years, Matthew Mix has spent two hours in Marty Davis’ basement learning a rare form of Chinese martial arts called Wing Chun.
Davis, a local Kung Fu instructor, has taught martial arts since 1994.
Mix, 15, from Carbondale, said he enjoys taking lessons from Davis and that his favorite part about martial arts is the practicality of it.
“It helps me think things in a different way,” he said. “Plus it gives me reassurance that I can defend myself if I need to.”
Mix said he has learned a lot under Davis and considers him a good teacher.
He said the instructor teaches practical things he can use in day-to-day life, such as improving his memorization skills, which helps him at school.
Davis plans to teach Wing Chun lessons at the Recreation Center beginning in February. He said he will incorporate elements of Tai Chi, and he said he hopes this Kung Fu hybrid will interest students.
“Wing Chun is like chess at a hundred miles per hour,” he said with a smile. “It’s more difficult to learn than your average Taekwondo because it’s more in-depth. But anyone can learn it.”
Davis said his interest in martial arts started when he watched Kung Fu shows as a child. He said he was drawn to the spiritual side of martial arts, such as Buddhism, as well as the fighting aspect.
Davis said he enrolled in Taekwondo when he was about 10 years old, because the Korean style was more commonly offered than the Chinese styles he was interested in.
As his love for the subject increased, Davis said he picked up a book on Wing Chun, a quicker, more aggressive style of Kung Fu. Since Wing Chun is less common than other styles of martial arts, Davis said he did not find an instructor to teach him the style until he was 35 years old.
“I would have started then if I could,” he said. “I knew I was on to something.”
Davis said Wing Chun appealed to him because he thinks it’s the most effective style for street defense. He said it simultaneously incorporates offense and defense through moves such as blocking while attacking, which makes it faster than other styles.
“Wing Chun stands out as being a little more aggressive and violent when you look at it,” he said. “I’m not necessarily an aggressive person … but when it comes to defending your life, are you going to fight or are you going to dance?”
Wing Chun has recently been in the public eye due to the success of the Ip Man movies. The Hong Kong martial arts biopics tell the story of Yip Man, a grandmaster of Wing Chun who popularized the art and instructed Bruce Lee.
The Ip Man movies grossed more than $21 million worldwide.
Davis said he is connected to Yip Man himself through a lineage of five Wing Chun instructors. He said although the moves in Kung Fu films typically feature dramatic embellishments, he likes the Ip Man movies.
“The movies have done a good job of portraying the Wing Chun technique,” he said. “It’s pretty much stayed true to the style.”
Davis’ family is from southern Illinois, so he said it made sense for him to attend SIUC. He said he studied Spanish with the intention of one day teaching the language, but left school to teach martial arts.
Now, he said he sometimes teaches Tai Chi and guitar classes at John A. Logan College.
Davis said martial arts is an important skill for children for a variety of reasons.
“Any martial art instills that sense of discipline, respect, self-respect and self-loving,” he said.
Apart from teaching, Davis said playing music is what gives him the most joy.
Davis sings and plays guitar under the name Misdemeanor Marty, and he said he thinks music lends itself to martial arts.
“Martial arts relates to jazz music and blues because you make it up as you go,” he said. “The two things I do are kind of related.”
Devin Miller, a blues musician from Carterville, met Davis in 1997 after becoming involved in the local music scene. He said Davis is one of the most well-known blues guitarists in the region.
“Marty is a very trustworthy guy,” Miller said. “He has a reputation of being very reliable. Unlike a lot of other musicians, he shows up sober to gigs and leaves sober.”
Although Davis takes martial arts and music very seriously, there is a place for comedy in his life. Davis said he unwinds by watching “American Dad” and listening to George Carlin’s comedy.
He said however serious-minded a person is, he or she has to leave room for humor.
Davis said he is excited to start his class at the Recreation Center. He said he thinks the best part about teaching is the idea of using his knowledge of Kung Fu to help people.
“If one kid grows up and it saves his life, or keeps a young woman from being raped or assaulted, that’s good,” he said. “Teaching makes you feel good.”