Glenn Wilson’s Magic Kingdom
Guaranteeing the peace of some of the world's most important people is easy now that Glenn Wilson has found serenity in his own life.
by Roy W. Reid, Jr.
"Seek peace always, but if the soul is threatened, let the soul become warrior." This is the creed of gong yuen chuan fa, the kung-fu of Glenn Wilson, sixth-level master. Wilson has been a student and teacher of martial arts for nearly 30 years and applies this creed in every aspect of life, including his full-time profession as a personal protection specialist and safety service manager for a major resort in Orlando, Fla.
Wilson owns an operates Glenn Wilson's Kung Fu Academy where students of all ages study to be warriors. The warrior spirit is what drives each of his students to achieve excellence in their art. His sifu are driven to help each student find a special part of kung-fu to make them a better person, a complete master of life.
His life spans three generations of students and his accomplishments are renowned from Taiwan to Florida. He has taken the message of kung-fu to people around the world and uses his talent to protect lives and keep his clients safe.
His life and accomplishments are a lesson for any student of the martial arts, regardless of their style, to study and learn in their pursuit of mastering their art.
Birth of a dragon
At some point in his life, everyone realizes a passion. For Glenn Wilson, that moment came when he was nine years old. The day seemed like just another day, but on that day, his father took him to a demonstration of kodo jan judo.Young Wilson watched in amazement as an old, quiet and seemingly small Oriental man effortlessly tossed and threw an endless line of burley Air Force cadets.
"I knew at this point, I wanted to be able to have such control and focus over my body," Wilson explains. "The way he handled each assailant so calmly and beautifully was inspiring for me to watch. So the next year, I begged my father to take me with him to learn judo."
Wilson grew up in Homestead, Fla., where it was necessary to know how to take care of yourself. Wilson studied judo for three years and then continued to study in some of the traditional kwon styles (the predecessors to today's tae kwon do) such as mu duk kwon and jito kwon and tang soo do, but was displeased with the stiff and rigid styles.
At 15, Wilson moved toward his eventual shaolin roots when he began to study kenpo. He enjoyed the beautiful, yet effective fighting styles, which were indeed handy in the rough neighborhoods where he lived. This would be the first of many systems where Wilson would reach the level of black belt. Wilson said kenpo was his first true love as a martial art. Kenpo and kung-fu are a perfect blend to give the practitioner an effective and diversified art in which to train.
At 18, Glenn Wilson would meet a man who would completely change his life. Master Jim McIntosh came to Homestead to do a workshop on the comparisons and theories between kung-fu and kenpo (both of which he had attained a masters' certification). McIntosh was the man who brought the gong yuen chuan fa system to the United States from China and was making his home in Albuquerque, N.M. After seeing his demonstration, Wilson began to study under McIntosh.
A dragon grows
Master Jim McIntosh was a merchant marine who traveled throughout China studying and mastering the martial arts. He returned to the United States a master of gong yuen chuan fa, "the way of the hard and soft fist." This system is unique, in that it was developed in central China and incorporates both the southern and northern Shaolin styles, providing practitioners a diverse and well-rounded foundation.
"What I loved about the system was its versatility," says Wilson. "Gong yuen chuan fa incorporates low powerful stances, yet a lot of movement and high kicks. However, the most important attribute of this system is that it wastes no moves. It is powerful and very effective in combat. There is a reason for every movement you do."
Wilson further explains the enticement of this unique system: "The other attribute for this system was the way we incorporated the internal studies of chi kung and meditation. At the time, there were very few practitioners in the United States that utilized or even understood the concept of the internal aspects of training.
"As you watch a master of gong yuen chuan fa, you see a beautiful, fluid creature, but to execute the moves, the warrior must be powerful." he adds. "One of our central symbols is the lotus flower, a beautiful plant, yet strong enough to bloom in the dead of winter."
In fact, few people endure the very intense training associated with gong yuen chuan fa to achieve the level of sifu. To date, only 13 people who studied under Wilson have reached that status. The latest addition to this prestigious list is Wilson's son, sifu Richie Wilson, who also graduated from Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando this year.
"It's a demanding art. The old Chinese proverb states that the road of the Chinese boxer is the most difficult to take, that is to become a sifu or teacher is the most difficult task," Wilson explains. "I do not demand perfection, however, I do expect the desire of perfection. In our country, people are often satisfied with being undisciplined and mediocre. Because our art demands and requires true discipline, people that have only a passing or short interest in the martial arts will avoid or quickly leave this system. However, the rewards of this system will improve many elements of the student's life."
The student of gong yuen chuan fa is required to be a student of life - committed to becoming a better person with each day. Instructors are dedicated to guiding these students and their commitment is apparent with each black belt test. Every time a student does test for their black sash, sifu from around the world travel to the testing place for the three-day ordeal. The student is tested by each instructor throughout the three days in every element of system.
"Our black sash testing begins with the concept that the practitioner has attained a level of control of the mind and body. Each black sash candidate must be able to hold a square horse stance for 15 minutes before starting the test. If the stance is not held, the test is over at that point. Each of these tests is a private affair between the student and instructors and a private victory for those who pass."
Like the lotus, master McIntosh trained Wilson and other students to overcome the elements and gain strength to be more with each day of their training. In 1974, master McIntosh retired from teaching and passed on the responsibilities of instilling the concepts of his system to Glenn Wilson and Mike Perez.
Together, they opened their first school in Homestead. Prior to leaving the United States, McIntosh recommended, then third-level sifu, Glenn Wilson to his next teacher, the legendary Daniel K. Pai. Wilson was then introduced to grandmaster Pai by Fred Schmitz, the senior-level master of the Pai Lum Fire Dragon Family. Master Wilson saw master McIntosh only one more time, in 1977, when he visited the United States.
Spreading his wings
After opening the Homestead school, Glenn Wilson began to study under Pai, grandmaster of the Pai Lum system. One unique element of Wilson's move to Pai Lum was the way in which he was accepted into the system.
"I went with master Fred Schmitz to begin studying as a member of the Pai Lum Fire Dragons," Wilson explains. "In fact, I was accepted at my current rank at that time of third-level sifu into Pai Lum. No one that I know of who had previously transferred into Pai Lum had ever been accepted into the system at their current outside rank.
"Pai Lum is such a rigorous and intricate system so it is difficult for someone to just join the system with their current rank," Wilson continues. "This is similar to gong yuen chuan fa. Upon my acceptance into Pai Lum, gong yuen chuan fa became one of the few systems outside of those passed down through grandmaster Pai's family that was added to the World White Dragon Kung Fu Society."
During these formidable years for master Wilson, he would travel the length of Florida each month to study with grandmaster Pai. One weekend a month he would leave from his home in Homestead, pick up sifu Jim Wilson in Stuart, Jim's younger brother Don "The Dragon" Wilson in Cocoa and master Fred Schmitz in Titusville, and head for the Pai Lum school in Daytona.
"We would study each weekend with grandmaster Pai, spending many hours working our forms, fighting and other requirements on the beach. Grandmaster always liked the environment close to the beach and worked us hard," notes Wilson.
For nearly ten years, Wilson made his journey and attended the level of master. Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Glenn Wilson made his mark on the martial arts, traveling around the United States and the world competing and demonstrating the virtues of kung-fu. During this period, he won hundreds of titles in fighting, forms and weapons. These titles consisted of local, national and international competitions.
Many of these demonstrations and competitions provided exposure for kung-fu and other Chinese martial arts. Much of the kung-fu history was shrouded in tradition and secrecy and the art had intricacies that seemed mystic or complex to people.
"When we took our show on the road, people were a little put back. They had not seen many of the Chinese weapons, forms or internal exercises. You see, kung-fu especially these particular styles, deal with a comprehensive array of the whole person. The study is as much about health and healing as it is fighting," Wilson points out. "We helped desegregate much of the kung-fu society during these early years of my training and fought hard to give people a chance to study."
In the early 1980s, grandmaster Pai returned to his home in Hawaii and Wilson became involved with the World Kou Shu organization and moved out west to continue his growth.
Recently, Grandmaster Pai began the long journey to reorganize the World White Dragon Kung-Fu Society. In May of this year, Daniel Kane Pai died, leaving his legacy to the dragons of each of the family styles of the World White Dragon Kung-Fu Society.
"Grandmaster brought together many different people to make up this family of martial arts. Near his final days, he said that his work was near an end and he was hopeful that his leaders would make each family system stronger which would make the system grow. Our goal is to keep this system strong and introduce it to people around the world."
In the 1980, Glenn Wilson left Florida to take on new challenges in Houston, Texas. "It was during this time that I became involved in security, or personal protection business."
Wilson became director of martial arts for the University of Houston at Clear Lake which complemented the schools he ran in Seabrook, a small town near Galvaston Bay, and at the Pasadena Fine Arts Academy. The schools began to grow and Wilson was working part time as a security/persons protection coordinator.
"We would coordinate security for executives, celebrities, and special events. In fact, it was during one of these special events that I met and fell in love with my wife, Hilda. She was a model doing runway work at a fashion show in which I was directing security.
"After getting married, I was offered a job as coordinator of security and personal protection of a company that develops vacation resorts here in Orlando. My job was to oversee the onsite security as well as all the personal protection duties for dignitaries and our corporate executives."
After a couple of years, Wilson left this company and how works at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort as a safety service supervisor and coordinator of personal protection for celebrities and dignitaries visiting the hotel. As one of the world's largest and most spectacular resorts, the Dolphin is frequently visited by big-name stars from around the world.
The world of personal protection is much like the world of kung-fu. An individual will train to be prepared in the hopes that a confrontation or dangerous situation can be avoided.
Wilson explains how he has applied kung-fu in training to be one of the most sought-after bodyguards in central Florida.
"When you are assigned to coordinate the safety services for an event or the personal protection for a dignitary, you mush have the foresight to plan for any situation," Wilson notes. "Just as we train and desire to seek peace in gong yuen chuan fa, the safety services professional looks for ways to avoid the conflict. You really have to develop an extra sense to be aware of everything n your surroundings. Not everyone in the business has developed this, but I would attribute my extra sense to the training and disciplines found in kung-fu.
"For the most part, proper planning will prevent a situation from occurring. We have to coordinate different zones and routes where we can move a celebrity or perhaps section off a room where each member of our team can adequately control the actions in a specific area. In addition, we must develop our staff to handle every type of situation from a confrontation to emergency rescue responses.
"Here at the Dolphin, things are generally calm and the major objective is to be sure that the client is not disturbed or ever made uncomfortable. A good bodyguard's presence can be felt but not seen," Wilson says.
"Many of our VIP guests will meet with our public relations director Bob Mervine or safety services director Ed Alexander to outline their specific needs. Then these gentlemen will introduce me to the clients and they may never see me again... unless I see something. The personal protection specialist should never make the client feel awkward or uncomfortable," Wilson adds. "Many times they even bring their own staff so we develop our game plan as a team and offer any additional support."
Wilson has many stories about his experiences and many celebrities that can credit his work to their safe stay in central Florida. Some of the clients at the Dolphin include Michael Jackson, Macaulay Culkin, Larry Bird, Dolly Parton, members of the 1992 NBA All-Star team, Don "The Dragon" Wilson, The Righteous Brothers, Liza Minelli, The Beach Boys, and Barbara Mandrell.
"I find that most of these celebrities are very nice people and appreciate what we do. In fact, a good bodyguard is one that is less seen and makes these people feel secure. Many times they often confide and joke around with me when we are working which tells me they are indeed comfortable with my presence."
Wilson points out that it is in particularly difficult to coordinate a stay for a megastar like Michael Jackson.
"Michael is so recognizable that whenever he leaves his room, we must plan every step of his route. Once we did an appearance in the lobby of the Dolphin, which was an enormous room that holds hundreds of people. When we came off the elevator we could hardly move through the sea of people that had heard he was there. There was no trouble since we had his whole route configured. We had to all cover our corners, much like a good martial artist knows his zones during his form or kata. The nucleus of our zone is the person we are protecting."
I do work with Michael quite extensively because he does visit Disney three or four times a year, for an average of five days at a time. He is extremely shy and very considerate when people are trying to get close enough for a touch or an autograph, especially children," Wilson says.
"I remember one time when Michael was down, I found he and Macaulay Culkin (of Home Alone fame) in the midst of a major squirt-gun battle at 4a.m. We had closed off the entire floor for their week-long stay.
"I would have to say, however, that the stars themselves can be our biggest trouble spot when they move around without calling us or spring something on us at the last minute. In fact, the last time Michael Jackson was here, he and his nephew sneaked out of their hotel without calling in. I told him he was going to give me a heart attack. He got a kick out of that - he is such a pleasant person."