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March 10, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Columbia is kung fu fighting at Bu Ting Xi Kung Fu Academy with the help of owner and kung fu master Greg Butler. One of the first Americans to teach the Praying Mantis-Long Fist method, Butler serves up self-defense with style.
NAME: Greg Butler
AT JOB SINCE: 1992
COMO RESIDENT SINCE: 2003
Why did you start kung fu?
I started when I was 5, so this will be my 36th year doing it. I always wanted to do kung fu, and my dad got me into it. Back then, I got to see some Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies, which always kept me going.
Your official title is Sigung. What does that mean?
Depending on what family you learned from, Sigung means you have spent 25 or more years in the art. My teacher gave me that title back when I was 34, I believe, and it literally means grandfather teacher. Technically, I could have all my students call me Sigung now, but I am kind of humble about it. I want to wait until I am a bit older because I’m only 41. I don’t want to be called that until I’m probably in my 50s. It would make me feel better.
What’s one of your favorite kung fu memories?
I did a competition back in ’86 during a Chinese New Year celebration. I was in the zone until I got to the grand champion match. I was a bit cocky going up against my opponent at first because I thought I was going to take him pretty easily. But within those first 10 seconds, he smacked me and threw me down. I got back up, and he didn’t touch me from there.
What separates your style of kung fu from other styles?
There are hundreds of different styles of kung fu; it’s crazy. Geography plays a huge role in the differences. Then you’ve got different types of animal styles such as tiger, crane, dragon, praying mantis, snake, eagle and leopard. Bu Ting Xi uses a praying mantis system, but our foundation is in the long fist style, which kind of comes from a blend of Northern and Southern China.
How are the animals named in the different styles represented in each one?
You definitely emulate the animals of the style you’re doing. Each animal has a specific movement — the tiger has a lot of low crouching with medium- to long-range jumps and strong, short hand strikes. The praying mantis has a lot of trapping movements and fanned fingers. The crane has elegant movements with medium- to long-range kicks and open hands with sweeping arm movements to imitate their wings.
What are some of the benefits of knowing kung fu?
It will always benefit you on the physical side. It’s a great cardio workout, it gives you good balance and coordination, and it’s also good for your memory because there are a lot of things you have to remember. On the mental side, you’ve got the philosophy that goes behind it as far as learning self-discipline, perseverance and self-confidence.
What do you love most about kung fu?
I have had many passions about it since I was a little boy. I love the philosophy of it, which I could spend hours going into, but it’s the diligent mentality of it as well. I named my school Bu Ting Xi because it means always work hard and never give up.