Damo Mitchell was born with two very conflicting feelings – firstly, he was struck by the wonder and fun of the world and secondly, he felt a deep discomfort at its nature. This seemingly contradictory take on existence made for periods of difficulty in his youth and teenage years which led to emotional highs and lows. Periods of deep love and kindness contrasted with lows of hatred and anger at the larger world.
Born with a constant feeling of curiosity, Damo found the structure of a school education inadequate for his needs. Too much a system of control and too little a vehicle for personal growth, he abandoned conventional education and instead threw himself into a study of the classical Martial arts of Asia. Early experiences of ‘accidentally’ entering into meditative states as a child had given him a glimpse of what was possible and this is what first drew his mind onto the path. Unfortunately, those early chances at ‘glimpsing behind the curtain’ were lost to him as his mind played out an internal battle between what he intuitively knew he should do and the conflicting states his heart gravitated towards.
Damo had been born into a family of martial artists; both of his parents were seekers themselves and the Japanese fighting styles, as well as Zen philosophy, has helped them in their own lives of personal difficulty. From age four, Damo had been thrown into the martial arts, a scary place of sweaty, shouting men and stamping feet. Throughout his childhood, the discipline of the training had helped to a certain degree but the deep feelings of fear and inadequacy he had felt were fuelled by the difficulty of combative training.
“People keep looking to higher places for divinity. They don’t realise that spirituality involves clearing out that which is below.”
It was only in his teens that something switched around within him and the arts began to work on a deeper level. Self-discipline started to arise, fears started to fade and the path began to open up as it was designed to. Though there was still a feeling of deep-seated rage at the state of the world, things were starting to change for the better.
Martial arts training continued in this fashion with Damo’s developmental years spent in Karate, Kendo, Iaido, Aikido, Northern shaolin systems, Wing Chun and others. The martial arts became an obsession and this obsession took him to many of the greatest masters in Europe, South East Asia and China. Damo’s travels took him across the planet for many years; sacrificing a normal lifepath, his friends, a marriage and more, Damo continued to travel extensively and study with both well-known and more ‘underground’ masters of various styles.
Alongside the more obviously combative arts, Damo was drawn towards the internal arts of China; a fascinating merger of Gong Fu, spirituality and medicine, arts like Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan perfectly suited his nature. The external systems started to fall away with regards to their importance and the internal arts came to the fore. A number of chance encounters with great masters helped to dissolve that last part of his nature that liked destruction and conflict and, for the first time, Damo experienced the fully transformative potential of classical training. All of the things he had read about for so many years finally became a reality and the door of internal training was finally unlocked. Damo recalls falling to his knees and weeping in gratitude back in his small hotel room after one particularly transformative session of Taijiquan where the final tethers of his rage dropped away. The weight of personal entrapment had been lifted and there was no going back on this path now.
With the biggest emotional hurdle gone, Damo could finally access the deeper parts of meditative training. What had, for years, been only awareness of breath and basic-level absorption started to transform and the Jhana states of Buddhist teachings were made available to him. More time was spent in China, South East Asia and various parts of India, exploring the Buddhist, alchemical and Yogic teachings of the meditation masters. The alchemy of the Northern Daoist traditions most suited Damo’s temperament and logical mind and so, for many years, this was the mainstay of his practice although the Buddhist and Hindu teachings always sat there at the peripheries of his mind, feeding his awareness with their wisdom.
“Never underestimate just how much an aligned purpose directs and takes care of many other things in your life.”
By now, it had been a couple of decades studying within these arts. These twenty years of almost full-time study were only a foundation though; further meetings with accomplished masters then fed into more years of inner exploration and, as Damo calls it, ‘self-deconstructing’ through a combination of meditative training, alchemical practice through both seated and internal Nei Gong training and martial arts practice in the form of Taijiquan and Baguazhang. Various forms of Chinese medicine supported Damo’s self-development and helped to provide a form of service for others as well as a way to effectively help others on the internal path who had limitations because of their internal health.
Turned off by the modern, new-age methods of the West and always having a discomfort with the secular teachings of organised religion, Damo has spent almost all of his life involved in the traditional teachings of the far-East. What began as a way to both vent and deal with inner feelings of anger had evolved into a search for personal truth and liberation from the limitations of acquired mind. A large proportion of his life has been spent sat in temples, caves and inner wisdom schools across the planet and his mind has been consumed with mastering these arts for the whole of this time. Classical texts were absorbed, masters were sought out and countless hours were spent in personal solitude, ‘grinding away at the needle’* of self-development.
Alongside these studies, Damo began to teach classes. Originally in martial arts and Qi Gong (the art Damo is arguably most known for), Damo originally taught in order to earn money to support his travels. Classes would run between further trips abroad to continue his own development and in this way, he supported his life for quite some time. What began as small classes in a local community centre quickly grew as more heard about Damo and his teachings. Beginners and experienced practitioners alike came for help with internal martial arts training, energetic teachings and assistance with moving passed clear blockages they had hit in their own meditation practice.
“Complete, mental and emotional comfort, and thus freedom, can be dropped into within the time it takes to click ones fingers; but only if we can truly let go”
For a long time, Damo kept his teachings to a very basic level. Clearly teaching the foundation principles of Gong Fu and Qi Gong were the basis of what he did. He stayed away from teaching deeper spiritual work and meditation for, although he had been involved in these fields for many years, he felt the gravity of responsibility for teaching at this level. Inner work of this type was approached with great respect and only after many years of teaching more foundational work did Damo feel that he had enough of a grasp of the inner workings of spirit that it was appropriate for him to go down this route. Despite the consistent encouragement of his own masters, Damo held off on moving deeper in his teachings until the time felt right for him. By this stage he was initiated into several traditions, though now he focuses primarily on representing teachings from within the Northern Daoists sects and an esoteric line of Chinese Buddhism. Whereas these are the main threads that contain the methodology of his teachings, Damo is comfortable utilising analogies and stories from within spiritual traditions such as Hinduism and Christianity to help clarify his instructions. With a combination of insight into ancient teachings and an irreverent sense of humour, Damo will use whatever tools are most appropriate to help guide those he teaches towards their own inner mastery.
Damo approaches the blessing and responsibility of teaching with a sense of great gratitude for those who entrust even a small sliver of their personal path to him and this underpins the way he approaches giving guidance to fellow travellers along the way. Through a combination of practical methods, theoretical guidance and direct transmission, Damo wishes to share openly to those who are sincere of Heart.
Though the ‘tool’ used within the school are arts such as Qi Gong, Nei Gong and Taijiquan, Damo’s ultimate aim is personal liberation from inner conflict and freedom to experience the true sense-of-self that sits at the heart of each of us. Neither competition nor combat are important to him in his teachings, everything is simply a vehicle for awakening. To those who have walked the path to a certain point, is there really anything else they should concern themselves with in their practice?
* ’Grinding away at the needle’ is an analogy from within the Daoist tradition. The concept is that it would take a person many hours of dedicated repetition to grind away a large metal bar down to the size of a single needle.