Damo Mitchell has studied the martial arts since the age of four. Initially training with his family (also long term martial artists), he then branched out to study with masters of the Eastern arts across the world. Dedicating his life to his studies, Damo has traveled to China, Taiwan, South East Asia (Thailand was his home-base for a number of years) and various parts of Europe to meet and learn from the most accomplished of internal arts adepts.
Damo’s training has expanded over the years from pure martial arts practice into deep immersion in various systems of meditation, Nei Gong practice and Chinese medical studies. In this way, Damo has approached the path of inner development according to the classical concept of following the ‘threefold path’ of combative arts, medical practice and spiritual development.
Below is a brief biography of Damo including his main teachers and biggest influences upon the system taught within his own school of practice – Lotus Nei Gong International. Since Damo has studied for so many years, there are far too many teachers that Damo has worked with to mention them all. What follows are simply highlights of a lifetime of dedicated study.
The Japanese Arts
In 1984, Damo began his studies in Shotokan Karate with his parents. The practice of Karate was Damo’s focus for many years with training that included empty handed work, weapons training and the associated aspects of Zen Buddhism. As well as his parents, Damo studied with Sensei’s such as Yoshinobu Ohta and Kenosuke Enoeda as a part of their organisation. Further Japanese studies included Aikido, Kendo and Iaido under Sensei Yamada and through the arts of Japan, Damo developed a training ethos and level of self-discipline that would prove useful in his future exploration of the arts of Asia.
Damo practicing Xingyiquan Dragon Posture in the hills of the Algarve, Portugal
Alongside the Japanese arts, Damo also began to explore the Chinese arts and in particular Taijiquan of the Yang family and its derivatives. It was the lineage of Zhen Manqing (Chen Man Ching) that initiated Damo’s practice of Taiji and once agin these studies were initially under his father, Paul Mitchell, and uncle, Phil James, who was a long time student within the Zhen Manqing system as well as being a close student of the Taiji and internal force master – Shen Hongxun. Taijiquan immediately captivated Damo and so he began to focus his efforts into the internal arts. After a number of years with his family, Shen Hongxun and his daughter Shen Jin, Damo decided to explore further. At this stage, he realised that he needed to head into Asia to seek the root of these arts. What was supposed to be a simple six month trip to China turned into over a decade of travel through China, South East Asia and other parts of the Far East in search of authentic masters who could help him unlock the mysteries of these practices. The Zhen Manqing system of Taiji was further enriched by study of Huang Xingxian’s method with various teachers in South East Asia and the Yang family systems in China with master Hao. Some of the final influences upon Damo’s Yang Taiji came from western internal arts adept Mark Rasmus and his good friend, Adam Mizner, who had encapsulated many of the internal arts principles to a very high level.
To further understand the enigmatic art of Taijiquan, Damo also travelled to Chenjiagou in Henan province. After a short stay here, it was decided that Chen family Taijiquan was not really what Damo was after but fortunately he had made contact with master Ni Yuanhai and this led him into the Hunyuan Taiji system of Feng Zhiqiang. For a number of years Damo learn the Hunyuan system from master Ni, Feng himself (though to a far lesser degree) and other teachers of the style such as Qi Zhaoling and Chen Xiu. Possibly one of the greatest boons of this particular system was the Hunyuan Qi Gong that is taught as a part of the tradition; this effective Qi Gong set became a mainstay of Damo’s practice for a long time.
The final aspects of Taiji that Damo then explored were to be found high in the mountains of China. Initially these studies were in the Wudang mountain ranges where Damo learnt Taijiquan and other internal arts from within the San Feng and Xuan Wu lines of practice. Though interesting, and the mountain setting ideal, Damo moved away from these methods when he encountered the Taiji of the Long Men Pai and instead learnt this system from master Guan who was an accomplished Chinese medical practitioner and calligrapher as well as a master of Taiji.
Within his school of Lotus Nei Gong, Damo now teaches primarily the Yang system of Taijiquan from within the Huang Xingxian method to new students. More advanced practitioners progress into the Zhaolin methods whilst only close students have the option of learning the Hunyuan system due to the painstaking amount of time it can take to teach the style. The other systems of Taijiquan that Damo studied in China have since faded from his practice and only serve to have influenced the internal mechanics present within his own body. Damo now focuses on the Yang systems with an emphasis upon health preservation and self-cultivation.
Practicing Taijiquan Pushing Hands in the old Lotus Nei Gong training hall several years back
Wushu, Wrestling and Gong Fu
Between Damo’s stays with internal masters, he also explored various external methods as well in order gain a rounder understanding of martial arts training in general. He spent periods of time in Wushu schools in Shandong province, Chengdu and Yangshuo. He studied Wing Chun in the West, qualifying to teacher status in the Yip Man lineage and also spending time training in Hong Kong. In Beijing, Damo learnt Chinese wrestling or Shuai Jiao as well as San Da fighting, these studies were furthered in Shandong province with coach Peng and a few other teachers. These practices, along with a solid grounding in Chang Quan, are no longer a major aspect of Damo’s training but he has taken their influence and combined them with the western boxing, wrestling and ground fighting he has studied to understand Gong Fu as a whole. These days, Damo does not focus on fighting methods in his teachings though many of his students use his methods and expertise to help develop their own fighting skill.
Baguazhang & Xingyiquan
The Northern internal system of Baguazhang had always captured Damo’s imagination with its close connection to Daoism and the somewhat flamboyant form it takes in comparison to the generally more subtle movements of Taijiquan. By the time Damo headed into China, he had already studied the Liang system to a fairly proficient level and a little of the Sun and Gao methods. Though the mechanics he had learnt were of an okay standard, it was still very much in the realms of being an ‘external’ martial art with regards to the way he had been taught. For this reason, Damo sought out further Baguazhang instruction in China and South East Asia.
After exploring Beijing’s parks and training for periods of a few weeks at a time with various Bagua masters, Damo decided to study solely with master Wang Haitao and from this teacher he learnt the Cheng system as well as Hebei Xingyiquan which was used as a ‘support system’ for the study of Baguazhang. There was a lot of study of the Wu Xing methods of Xingyi as well as the circle walking and single play change mechanics of Bagua in order to help Damo understand the internal side of the system; the outer frame was already fairly efficient but master Wang helped to put the ‘engine’ into what he was doing. Further studies of these two styles were undertaken with Hao Nanren and several masters in Taiwan where the ‘cousin’ to Cheng, Gao, is a widely taught method.
Damo had also studied the Xian Tian Bagua circle walking methods of the Daoist alchemists and these were implemented into Damo’s practice as well to bridge the gap between Nei Gong training and martial arts. Since these practices were said to be the root of the martial system of Baguazhang, it seemed only natural for these to become a part of Damo’s Baguazhang training. For this reason, students within Lotus Nei Gong study the circle walking methods of Bagua prior to forms and other drills.
Cheng Baguazhang practice on the East Coast of America
Damo’s initial encounters with Chinese medicine were with his uncle who taught the fundamentals of Tui Na massage, cupping and Chinese medical theory to him on an informal basis. These studies were often undertaken alongside Taiji training at his uncles house in the UK. From here, Damo then went on to study several different classical methods of Chinese medicine with his Buddhist and Daoist teachers including acupuncture, blood-letting, emission of Qi, Wa Fu and Qi Gong-based medicinal methods. These methods were practiced by Damo when he returned to the UK between Asian trips where he primarily focused upon treating those with spinal issues as this was a strong point with regards to his skillset.
Within the UK, Damo also undertook a degree in Chinese medicine according to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system focusing on acupuncture primarily. The two methods of classical practice, taught to Damo by his teachers in China, and the TCM he studied at University are both used within Damo’s personal clinical practice and are taught by him within the Xian Tian College of Chinese Medicine where he is joint head with his teaching partner, Rob Aspell.
Damo’s earliest explorations of meditation were within the Buddhist tradition. He first encountered the teachings of Zen within his Japanese martial arts classes and so studied Zazen practice for a number of years. Though initially not so interested in meditation, it seemed to Damo that every martial arts master he went to seemed to place great importance upon meditation! Thinking there may be something in this, Damo moved into Chan (the Chinese equivalent of Zen) and began to enter into week long retreats with teachers in Europe. These retreats then expanded to include Tibetan Buddhism and gradually Damo began to incorporate meditation into his life. Entering into it with the same dedication that he did martial arts, meditation has now been an important of Damo’s daily practice for over two decades.
When Damo headed into Asia he located the school of Daoist master Hu Xuezhi and undertook two prolonged retreats with him in the mountains of China. This was an introduction to the methods of Nei Dan, or ‘internal alchemy’; an introduction that caused Damo to seek out further instruction in these rare meditation methods. Master Wang Haitao and master Guan took Damo further into these practices along with various Daoist Qi Gong and Nei Gong methods which finally helped him to begin understanding the classical teachings of Qi Gong and energetic work. Though Damo had already developed a strong background in standing and moving Qi Gong practices, it was his encounter with alchemy and the processes of Nei Gong that really brought home the possibilities of this kind of training. During this period of his life, Damo was transitioning between Taijiquan and Daoist practice in China and Theravadan Buddhist study within the temples of Thailand. For those not familiar with life in China, it can be a fun but tiring place to be! Thailand became something of a ‘resting place’ between intensive training trips to China and it was for this reason that Thailand was the closest thing Damo had to a home for a long time.
Interestingly, it was here, at this time that Damo returned to Wudang mountain and other mountains such as Hua Shan and Qingchen Shan. Though not studying with any teachers from these mountains (at that time) Damo would visit them with his teachers so that they may train in the temples. A love of mountains was fostered in Damo and so he entered into several self-directed retreats within the mountains of China, Vietnam and the forests of Northern Thailand and it was here, during these lone retreats, that Damo began to make the biggest leaps in his understanding of Eastern meditation methods. The time with teachers provided instruction and correction, the self-directed retreats were where these teachings were extrapolated and unfolded within Damo.
Teaching Qi Gong in London as a part of a structured training course
Qi Gong and Nei Gong practice has been a mainstay of Damo’s practice since the very beginnings of his journey onto the internal path. Every authentic teacher of the internal arts that he encountered practiced some form of Qi Gong or Nei Gong and all agreed that it was here, in these practices, that the root to real internal development lie.
Initially beginning with medical Qi Gong in the West, Damo moved into more transformative forms of energy work with Shen Hongxun and his organisation before discovering alchemical-type Nei Gong with masters Wang and Hao in China. The Hunyuan Qi Gong work of master Ni assisted in the internal process and further unfolding took place due to integration of qualities developed through prolonged meditation practice. The development he made during this time was helped greatly by the fact that he could focus solely on his training whilst spending great deals of time away from ‘everyday life’ in China and Thailand.
At the current time, Damo continues his practice of Nei Gong within three distinct lines of training. For the time-being Damo wishes to keep these lines and the teachers involved to himself. One teacher wishes to remain anonymous, this is quite normal for Daoist teachers, especially those who do not wish to teach publicly any more! The other lines are relatively new (a few years) to Damo and he is still in the early stages of getting to grips with how the tradition works. For this reason it would be disingenuous for Damo to present himself as a representative of this particular School of internal practice. If, in the future, Damo develops enough competence at this particular method that it becomes a part of what he teaches, then the line will be included in this bio as with the other masters who have influenced what Damo teaches.
The teachers listed above the key people involved in the development of the system taught within the Lotus Nei Gong International School. As well as this, there are also many other masters, teachers and martial arts peers who have contributed greatly to Damo’s understanding and practice of the arts. It has been over three decades of study, travel and exploration for Damo and as such, he has met hundreds of highly skilled practitioners globally. Though they have been a great influence, Damo has not trained extensively enough with any of these other people to be considered one of their students and so they are not included in this brief biography. Despite their omission, Damo would like to express his unlimited gratitude for the important role they have played in his personal development.
Numerous teachers and guides have been influential in his studies. He has been in and out of various lineages, spent time in temples and on mountains, lived with hermits and monks and now believes that the way exists somewhere between being a part of society and living slightly apart from it. This is the philosophy of ‘one foot in and one foot out’ which he tries to apply to his own way of life.
Damo’s studies have been through various phases. At one stage he identified with the martial community but now sees that the martial arts world is in such a state of disarray and infighting that progress within this world has become stagnant. In a similar manner the Qi Gong world is stuck in a rut of trying to ‘take the short route’ towards real skill as well as the accruing of more and more movements. Many shallow wells are being dug and few are finding water. The Chinese medical world is caught up in the mire of trying to make itself credible by turning itself into poor-quality western medicine and so he has stepped away from such communities here as well. Instead his studies involve searching for those authentic masters that still remain as well as teaching within his own school that is part of no larger governing bodies. This independent group is focused upon the exploration of classical principles and teachings with an emphasis upon personal liberation and the development of virtuous expression of inner nature.
For three decades Damo studied the traditional arts and stayed true to the classical way of learning. Now he expresses these teachings in the classical manner and yet has no fear of passing these teachings through the lens of his own personal understanding. In this way his main wish is to try and uphold the original methods of the Eastern wisdom traditions whilst making it accessible and relevant to the modern world. This must happen without watering anything down or losing the essence of the arts. This means that his teachings are clear, accessible and yet still hard work with the classical requirement of consistent diligent study. He believes that all people are born equal, all should have the right to access means to elevate the spirit and no amount of skill can ever be seen as being as important as the expression of kindness and ‘giving service’ to all living beings.