How was created Empty Minds Films?
I formed Empty Mind Films in 2002 and released the first film, The Empty Mind in 2004. I did so to correct the misleading way martial arts was being shown by broadcasters who sought to sensationalize martial arts for the sake of attracting a larger audience. Such programs never featured the top masters or real teachers because the masters rarely give interviews and have no cause for self-promotion. My aim was to present martial arts with honesty and authenticity. In this way I hoped for Empty Mind Films to become the most accurate source for martial arts, which I think we achieved. Since then we expanded to many other interests, such as Zen and Buddhism and Yoga and healing and medicine, all with the aim to present them with honesty and integrity.
Where comes from this passion for Asian culture?
My own passion for going to Asia began with the martial arts. It was the early seventies and Bruce Lee was in the movie theaters and David Carradine played a Shaolin monk in a Television show called Kungfu. So at this time there was enormous interest in all things Asia. I joined a Karate school in my hometown, Sheffield (United Kingdom) and started training at the age of 16 and my interest in Japan and other Asian cultures developed from there. At the first opportunity I went to Japan, which was around 1975. A large influence was the philosopher and author Allan Watts and I began reading his books at an early age. These were mainly on Taoism, Buddhism and Zen. Many years later in 2004, I met his son, Mark Watts who kindly gave me the entire sound library of his fathers lectures.
When you discovered you wanted to be a film director? How old were you?
I actually began with photography. I took photography classes at Art College and had some success as a photography even though I eventually became an architect in England. I returned to photography in the nineties when I moved to America. Then in 1997 I was approached to make a documentary film and I switched to making movies. I would add that in the last three years I have gone back to photography and I shoot for magazines when I have time.
What role do you think art plays in these times of the awakening of a new change of consciousness?
The internet has had a great effect on our way of looking and appreciating art, both good and bad. While almost everyone on our planet is now familiar with Van Gogh or Michelangelo, there is nothing as thrilling as standing in a museum in front of a great work of art. Of course not everyone has this chance but I do feel just seeing art on a mobile phone diminishes it. I remember visiting Buddhist monks working on a Mandala in a monastery in Dharamsala for the first time and it really took my breath away. It was mesmerizing to see this Mandala being created. So I think the role of art is to encourage us to stop staring into our mobile phones but to travel and see with world so you can experience art with all your senses.
The traditional practice of Martial Arts is a way of healing physically and spiritually?
We need to go back many centuries to understand how martial arts fits into our lives today. The fighting methods of the Shaolin monk in China or the Samurai in ancient Japan were born out of necessity. Wars and strife were everyday problems and men trained in various schools with weapons and unarmed or empty-hand combat. In modern times (from the 19th century), this state of affairs no longer existed (In 1876 Samurai were forbidden to carry swords) and a new way of training developed with the focus on both body and mind. A way to develop ourselves as human beings. Martial arts teaches us discipline, to focus and concentrate, to meditate and to search for truth. The truth being humankind are all equal, made of the same stuff and the difference which separates us depends on the path you take in life. Martial Arts is a “Way”, in Japan we say ‘Budo” (The way of martial arts). It is a spiritual way to guide us, like a lighthouse guides the ships on a safe path. When a martial arts master faces an opponent victory is achieved by avoiding the conflict. The great Karate master Funakoshi (who brought Karate to Japan) said “The ultimate aim of Karate is not in victory but in seeking perfection of character.”
In your film “The Immortal Path: The Tao of Tai Chi Chuan” you worked with Zhong Yun Long. What did you learnt from him?
Master Zhong Yun Long is a fascinating person. He is a Taoist priest, a politician, a martial arts master and mentor to many thousands of disciples. I first met him in 2003 at Wudang Mountain. He was running the Taoist Tai Chi school at Purple Cloud Temple (among many other duties) and was about to resign all his obligations and retreat to an isolated cave on the mountain peak to focus on his own development. I waited until 2013 to make another movie with him and this was The Immortal Path. He taught me to appreciate the value of a simple life. He would say “stop what you are doing and go for a walk in the wild.” Of course this is easy when you live in a cave for eight years. However, he does understand the complexity of our lives. He told me “In the city follow a natural life. Follow the sun and moon. Sleep when it is dark and wake as the sun comes up. Discover nature through emptiness. Tai Chi gives us the ability to tap our potential. This means “Doing nothing.” (Meaning doing nothing while we go about our daily life and work).
What main elements do you think should be given in our society to resurface the true human being and its potentials?
Education. Lack of good education is our single biggest problem across the world and breeds ignorance. I came from a very poor family in Yorkshire, England. My father died when I was a child and my mother raised five sons by cleaning factory floors and offices. I was able to get to university and become an architect. It took a great deal of effort but the values I learned doing this have stayed with me today. Parents must raise children to be curious and feed this. It should not cost exorbitant amounts of money. Everyone should have the right to a good education. However, children should not squander this if they are lucky enough to be in a good school and likewise, parents should not see school as a way of having a break from their child for eight hours every day.
Is technology pushing society to a point of no return where the only way out will be the true return to the origin, living in harmony with animals and nature?
I am not sure if technology is doing this or at least it would be unfair to lay all the blame on technology. I believe we, that is, humankind are pushing ourselves toward the cliff edge. I saw a clear example when I made the movie A Natural Way on eastern medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. I interviewed a number of people in America who had a history of serious illness for most of their life and had turned to natural medicine as an alternative to taking powerful drugs. The results were very impressive and many of them now lead a normal pain free life. But they were the lucky few. Recently in America we have being going through the Opoid crises, where large pharmaceutical companies purposely pushed strong prescription drugs to a largely ignorant public, who in turn became addicted. Many deaths followed. The companies were under pressure to deliver large profits to shareholders, its that simple. So really its the oldest story on our planet – greed. I think we need to find a way to close the gap between the one percent who have wealth and the ninety nine percent who do not. Our planet and our society is being governed not by democratic leaders voted into office to help us, but by the one percent who own all the wealth. They require no vote for them to do what they want. This is our biggest threat.
Next year Empty Minds Films will reach a new streaming service, what can people discover in your works?
We have two websites, emptymindfilms.com where you can purchase all our films to own (DVD and digital download) or at emptymindtv.com, where you subscribe for a low monthly fee and watch our movies streamed to your TV or computer. Many customers choose to own and build up a library as we now have twenty eight full length films covering all aspects of the spiritual, mind and body and martial arts.
What are your short and long term projects?
We have just taken a year away from filming on location and production so that we can focus on marketing our current films. Our last release was in 2017. There are still many countries where we do not have a presence and always new customers to discover. We are a small team and can only make one movie each year. Right now we are planning for a new film in Japan and Okinawa on ancient Samurai weapons. We also wish to complete a movie we started two years ago in Beijing on the Chinese art of BaguaZhang and Hsing-i (Bagua and Xing-yi).