AOTM October 2023 – The Amazing Taijiquan Odyssey of Australia’s Sherman Mak

Sherman Mak has had a truly remarkable and transformative wushu journey. Discovering taiji at the age of 42, he has found immense purpose and meaning in its pursuit, and with intense focus and dedication, he has become a sixth-generation inheritor of Yang-style Taijiquan. In only a decade he has won many national gold medals in his native Australia, and top championship titles in continental Oceana events. Sherman has competed in the past three World Kungfu Championships held in Emei, China, winning two first category prizes in Traditional Bagua Dao and Taiji Jian group routine, four second category prizes  in men’s weapons and Chen- style Taijiquan, and two third category prizes in Baguazhang and other group routine. But despite his impressive awards, Sherman’s biggest rewards come from representing Australia on the world stage, sharing the beauty of martial art with a world audience, inspiring his children with the power of perseverance, and finding the motivation, through taijiquan, to lead a more purposeful life.

Wushu Beginnings

Sherman Mak, 54, lives in Sydney, New South Wales, and has had a strong interest in martial arts since he was a boy. His first experience learning wushu was short-lived, but memorable. “At the age of ten,” he says, “my mother took me to a local park where I had the opportunity to learn kungfu and broadsword. Although it started as a fun and physical activity, each practice session left me feeling fulfilled and excited. Unfortunately, I had to give up my martial arts practice after just six months due to academic commitments. However, the seed of martial arts had been firmly planted in my heart.”

Fast-forward some three decades, when he would pick up his love for wushu again. “When I first began to learn taiji in 2012,” he says, “I approached it as a recreational activity, purely for fun. During this period, I noticed numerous groups of senior individuals practicing taiji at various local parks. These gatherings underscored the significant popularity and accessibility of the practice within the community. As my involvement deepened and I began participating in performances and competitions from 2014 on, I observed a remarkable surge in global interest and participation in the realm of wushu. This trend hinted at the expanding reach and impact of traditional Chinese martial arts, fostering a greater sense of cultural appreciation and cross-cultural engagement.”

In January 2012, Sherman’s wife discovered Master Alice Bei Dong’s Taijiquan class in the Eastwood neighborhood of Sydney, and suggested that they should both participate. “Initially,” recalls Sherman, “I resisted, assuming that taijiquan was solely for older individuals. However, my wife was adamant, expressing her deep interest in learning it. Given the opportunity to study under such a renowned master, I decided to give it a try, marking the beginning of my taijiquan journey.”

For the first two years, Sherman approached taijiquan as a pleasurable pastime, viewing it as an excellent way to maintain fitness and forge new friendships. “The evident health benefits, such as improved body balance and stronger leg muscles, motivated me to continue.,” he says. “Additionally, the social aspect was enjoyable as we often went out for lunch with our newfound friends after class. I eagerly anticipated each weekly session. Despite this enthusiasm, I merely saw taijiquan as a form of physical exercise and simply memorized the movements without delving into the internal practice. At that time, I lacked a true purpose, and although I enjoyed the activity, I rarely dedicated significant time and effort to it.”

“In 2014,” says Sherman, “Shifu Alice suggested that I intensify my training by taking additional classes and pursuing performance and competition opportunities. Initially I was hesitant — I realized that dedicating more time to my practice would diminish the class’s recreational nature. However, bolstered by my shifu’s unwavering encouragement, I resolved to give it a chance.”

At first, performing with the group proved manageable for Sherman since he found he could easily follow the other senior participants and blend in. However, he recalls, “When shifu asked me to perform solo in front of the class, I experienced intense nerves and subsequent relief once it was over. Recognizing my shortcomings, I began to practice more diligently in my spare time, driven by shifu’s patient and detailed instruction. Gradually, I gained an increased appreciation for taijiquan and its profound benefits. It taught me to think calmly, maintain a balance between body and mind, and cultivate inner chi, while also fostering perseverance and strength, all of which greatly benefitted my personal life.”

As Sherman continued to train harder, his shifu encouraged him to participate in various competitions and performances, exposing him to different styles and athletes. In 2016, he participated in the Oceania KFWS Championships in Sydney and won two gold medals in Traditional Taiji Sword and the Taijiquan Group Routine. “This success confirmed that my hard work was paying off,” recalls Sherman, “and instilled a newfound enjoyment in the competition process. In 2018, I competed again and achieved two gold medals in Traditional Chen-style Taijiquan and Yang-style Broadsword, as well as a silver medal in the Taiji Sword Group Routine.”

In 2017 and 2019, Sherman attended the Australian KFWS Championships where he won four gold medals in Traditional Baguazhang, Taiji Dao, Taiji Sword and the Group Routine, plus three silver medals in Traditional Weapon-sword, Chen-style Taijiquan and other Group Routine. He recalls, “This immersion in the world of taijiquan opened my eyes to the rich history and diverse approaches within the art. It fueled my passion and commitment to continuously push myself further.”

Now, Sherman became eager to compete more. He says, “I participated in the TCAA Open Tai Chi Competition in 2019, proudly achieving the title of Grand Championship Men’s Award along with three gold medals in Traditional Yang-style Sword, Broadsword, and team Taiji Routine. These experiences have not only broadened my horizons but further reinforced my commitment to honing my martial arts skills and achieving excellence in the field.”

Wushu Tour Favorites: Yang-Style Taijiquan and Baguazhang

Sherman was now focused on a path. “Under the guidance of my shifu,” he remembers, “I absorbed as much martial arts knowledge and skill as possible, acting as a sponge. I made a concerted effort to remember every detail, practicing and memorizing thoroughly. I eagerly watched videos of renowned masters online, meticulously comparing their movements, skills, and techniques. By closely studying them, I would learn small techniques and incorporate them into my own practice. My passion for martial arts grew to the point where I even dreamed of practicing kungfu. Over the years, I have dedicated practicing various martial arts skills, including Yang-style and Chen-style Taijiquan, different sword and broadsword forms, stick and spear, internal boxing, fan techniques, Baguazhang, Bagua Jian, Bagua Dao, and Xing Yi.”

Sherman’s mastery of many styles is far-reaching and impressive. He says, “I have found great joy in practicing various forms of wushu over the years, but two styles have truly captured my heart: Traditional Yang-style Taijiquan and Bagua Zhang. At first glance, Taijiquan seemed simple, with its slow and flowing movements appearing easy to grasp. However, as I delved deeper into the practice, I discovered the importance of internal cultivation and the intricate details that give the form its beauty and power. With each session, I work on enhancing my fluidity, strength, and aesthetics in Taijiquan. On the other hand, Bagua Zhang requires a different set of skills. Its rapid footwork and circular movements demand constant agility and coordination. Through consistent practice, I have developed not only my physical strength and flexibility but also my sensitivity to the energy and movement patterns in Bagua Zhang. It has been a challenging yet rewarding journey to master the intricacies of this art form.”

Sherman adds, “Both Taijiquan and Bagua Zhang have provided me with a solid foundation for my martial arts practice. The cultivation of internal chi and the mastery of techniques have given me a deeper understanding of martial arts as a whole. I believe that I can continue to refine my skills in these styles well into old age, as there is always more to learn and discover. The timeless nature of Taijiquan and Bagua Zhang ensures that my journey in wushu will continue to be fulfilling and enriching.”

Shining on the International Scene: Honor, Friendship and Growth

In addition to competing in national tournaments, Sherman is proud to have represented Australia in many international competitions. “Specifically,” he notes, “I have had the privilege of participating in the 7th, 8th, and 9th World Kungfu Championships held in Emei, China in the years 2017, 2019, and 2023 respectively. These prestigious events have allowed me to showcase my skills on a global stage and bring home various medals.” At these Emeishan events Sherman won two first category prizes in Traditional Bagua Dao and Taiji Jian Group Routine, and four second category prizess in Men’s Weapons and Chen- style Taijiquan, demonstrating his versatility in different forms. He also won two thrid category prizes in Baguazhang and other Group Routine.

Sherman will confess that even with quite a few seasoned performances on the world stage of taiji, he still gets nervous. “Despite my participation in numerous international competitions,” he says, “the anticipatory nerves persist every time I prepare for the highly esteemed WKFC competition held in Emei, which recently drew an impressive crowd of 7000 participants. Witnessing the other athletes engrossed in their dedicated practice upon arrival at the competition venue underscored the formidable skills and unwavering commitment that each person brought to the event.”

“As a representative of Australia,” he continues, “I felt a great responsibility to perform at my best and showcase the skills and commitment of our nation. However, once I stepped onto the competition floor, a sense of calm washed over me. Years of hard work and practice had instilled a deep confidence that allowed me to focus solely on executing each form with precision and fluidity. Each fleeting minute on the grand stage represents the culmination of years of dedication and preparation, infusing every movement with purpose and determination.”

Sherman adds, “The indescribable joy and honour that accompanies my victories at these grand events serve as an international recognition of my skills and adherence to the rigorous standards of wushu excellence. Attending international wushu competitions is always a thrilling experience filled with excitement, nerves, and anticipation. I am constantly amazed by the skill and dedication of fellow athletes from all over the world. Their abilities transcend geographical boundaries and cultural differences, showcasing the true universal nature of wushu. Each encounter at these events offers a valuable learning opportunity, allowing for the exchange of techniques, routines, and a deeper understanding of the beauty and complexity of wushu.”

Which does Sherman like better, the private moments of individual competition, or the harmony of group routines? “While team routines demand impeccable synchronization,” he muses, “I find solace in the individual competition, as it allows for a more personalized exploration of technique and form, emphasizing the solitary dedication and artistry inherent in the practice of wushu.”

Apart from participating in the World Kungfu Championships, Sherman has also actively engaged in other international competitions, recently winning several more gold medals in 2023. But beyond medals, Sherman notes the rewards of wushu go far deeper. “By consistently pushing myself outside of my comfort zone,” he says, “I improved not only in taijiquan and other martial arts skills but also in my mindset and overall personal development. I became more disciplined, confident, and resilient.”

“My involvement in wushu competitions,” Sherman adds, “has not only sharpened my skills but also forged lasting friendships with fellow enthusiasts hailing from around the globe. Whether it is the spirited competitors from China, the passionate practitioners from the USA, the dedicated athletes from Germany, or the enthusiastic advocates from Africa, the bond we shared transcended geographical barriers. Sustaining our connections through social platforms such as Facebook, WeChat, and WhatsApp, we rejoiced in our shared passion for wushu, celebrating each other’s milestones and progress across continents. The joy of reuniting at subsequent competitions, after a year or two, evoked a sense of closeness despite the physical distance, as we bore witness to each other’s growth and evolution within the world of wushu.”

The thrill of international competition was given an extra edge by the opportunity to also win laurels for his country, Australia. “Representing Australia on the global stage,” says Sherman, “in the company of athletes from various states within the country, rendered the experience even more exciting. Our shared experiences extended beyond the competition floor, as we embarked on joint tours before or after the events, fostering a sense of camaraderie that transcended the competitive spirit.”

As Sherman’s experience grows, so do his top honors. “In 2019,” he says, “my participation in the TCAA Tai Chi Competition culminated in a proud achievement as the recipient of the Grand Championship Men’s Award, accompanied by the acquisition of three gold medals. Building upon this success, my recent participation in the 15th Hong Kong International Wushu Competition led to another momentous triumph, as I secured the title of the Grand Championship Men’s Award, marking yet another milestone in my wushu journey. Additionally, the gold medal earned for Bagua Dao in the 2023 9th WKFC in Emei stands as enduring testament to my dedication and proficiency in this ancient art form, evoking a profound sense of pride and accomplishment.”

Sherman continues to be a seeker. “I am,“ he says, “deeply dedicated to nurturing my passion for wushu, constantly seeking opportunities for learning and improvement. I understand that true progress can only be achieved through unwavering commitment and hard work, without any shortcuts or limitations. I am aware that honing my skills requires relentless practice, continuous refinement of techniques, and a deep understanding of the intricate nuances of wushu. With this mindset, I am committed to pursuing excellence and dedicating myself to continuous growth. I firmly believe that enduring dedication and perseverance are essential in reaching the highest level of proficiency in the art of wushu.”

Martial Life: Teaching, Transformation and Gratitude

Since 2018, Sherman’s shifu, Alice Bei Dong, has suggested that he pass on his knowledge and teach various martial art forms to new students. “This responsibility,” notes Sherman, “has not only helped me consolidate my own understanding but has also fostered personal growth and boosted my self-esteem. Additionally, I have volunteered as an instructor at the NSW Chin Woo, allowing me to contribute to the martial arts community and inspire others.”

Sherman says that the combination of focused training, competition experiences, teaching and exposure to different masters and styles transformed his approach to taijiquan. “I am forever grateful,” he says, “for the guidance and unwavering belief in my potential from my shifu Alice, as without her invaluable teachings and support, I would not have been able to achieve the level of skills I have reached so far. Her encouragement pushed me to surpass my own limits and strive for excellence.”

In June 2023, a significant milestone in Sherman’s martial arts journey occurred. He tells us, “I was honored to become the disciple of shifu Alice Bei Dong and be recognized as the sixth-generation inheritor of Yang-style Taijiquan. This momentous occasion filled me with excitement, but it also instilled a profound sense of responsibility and a deep appreciation for the importance of preserving and passing on these ancient traditions. It has transformed me into a more responsible individual, motivated to lead a purposeful life.”

“At the beginning,” Sherman continues, “my purpose of learning taiji was to stay fit and indulge in a personal interest. I never aspired to becoming a professional or competing for awards. I am forever grateful for the guidance and unwavering belief in my potential from my shifu Alice Dong, as without her invaluable teachings and support, I would not have been able to achieve the level of skills I have reached so far. Her encouragement pushed me to surpass my own limits and strive for excellence. I am deeply appreciative of her contributions to my wushu journey.”

At a young 54, Sherman says he remains deeply committed to continuing his diligent practice and relentless pursuit of excellence in the field of taijiquan and other martial arts. “I understand,” he explains, “that mastery in these disciplines is a lifelong endeavor, and I am willing to invest the necessary effort to continually improve my skills and knowledge. Age will not limit my journey, as I recognize that the practice of martial arts transcends time and offers boundless opportunities for personal growth. One of my ultimate goals is to share the beauty and essence of taijiquan and other martial arts with a wider audience, enabling more people to experience their profound benefits and develop an appreciation for their profound depth. I aspire to inspire others to love these disciplines as much as I do and make a positive impact on their lives through the practice of martial arts.”

Sherman says, “Commencing my wushu journey at the age of 42 was no small feat, demanding relentless hours of hard work, consistent practice, and an unwavering determination to surpass my own limitations. Thankfully, my wife Angela shared my passion for wushu right from the beginning. We have been learning, practicing, and competing together, supporting each other every step of the way. My commitment to wushu has not only been a personal achievement, but it has also been an inspiration for my three children. It has taught them the valuable lesson that it is never too late to embark on a journey of learning and pursuit of one’s passions in life. I have imparted to them the fundamental belief that with unwavering determination and a clear vision, success is an attainable goal.”

Sherman says that setting meaningful goals has always been important. “At the age of 18,” he explains, “I set a significant objective to achieve by the time I turned 38. This ambitious goal drove me to work tirelessly, and I am grateful to have accomplished what I set out to do. Currently, I am an investor and run my own investment company, which grants me the freedom to work on my own terms. My typical day involves dedicating 2-3 hours to staying updated on global news and financial information, which enables me to make informed decisions regarding our investments. Alongside my professional commitments, I cherish the freedom to practice wushu and pursue other activities that bring me joy and fulfilment.”

Sherman continues, “Efficiency and effective time management have become integral aspects of my life. I firmly believe in having a clear vision of what I aim to achieve within the next decade and strategically planning my actions to reach those goals. This approach ensures that I maximize my time and stay focused on what truly matters to me. Planning ahead and working diligently towards my long-term aspirations have proven to be crucial elements of my personal and professional success.”

“Initially,” Sherman concludes, “my children saw my practice of wushu as a way to stay fit and indulge in a personal interest. However, as they witnessed my collection of medals grow, and saw me represent Australia on the international stage, they came to understand the profound meaning and fulfilment that can come from embracing a challenging pursuit in life. My journey in wushu has truly exemplified the transformative power of dedication and perseverance.”

IWUF Global Partner

IWUF Global Sponsor

IWUF Global Supplier

Recognized by / in Partnership with