Although some begin practicing martial arts as a hobby or to learn to defend themselves, Alan Baxter says it extends much further.
“For some of us, it becomes a pursuit that just feeds itself into every part of our life,” he enthused.
“There’s a concept within Kung Fu called mo duk, which is martial virtue. It’s this idea that what you do in martial arts feeds through and informs everything else that you do.
“The way you do your job, the way you are with your family and at work are all informed by the same sorts of philosophy you take to your own personal training, discipline and everything that you do in martial arts.
“It becomes this much more holistic concept. Fighting is this kind of end point of everything else. It’s more about self-improvement and self-development.”
Baxter, 46, balances teaching martial arts with a burgeoning writing career.
A self-confessed voracious reader from an early age, as a teen Baxter was enamoured by “the big epic fantasies and the horror novels”.
Born in Sussex, England before settling in Australia in 1999, he has penned several novels and more than 70 short stories and novellas.
Baxter will release a new novella in April, The Book Club, “a horror/crime kind of mash-up”, via PS Publishing.
“I tend to say that I write supernatural thrillers, because the novels that I write are fast-paced thrillers, but there’s magic, monsters, demons and whatever else,” Baxter said.
“So I tend to usually say as far as the novels are concerned that I write supernatural thrillers. Otherwise I write dark fantasy and horror, but I do write some science-fiction.
“I can’t really say what draws me to it. I just think there’s a certain honesty to it, especially with dark fiction that you’re not restricted by the bounds of reality.
“So you can start telling any kind of a story, and then if you’re using supernatural or fantasy tropes you can just keep going with that story and you can reflect it back at humanity, but with ever-increasing stakes.”
Baxter recently won his third Shadows Award. These are run by the Australian Horror Writers Association, and touted as the country’s only annual awards dedicated solely to horror and dark fiction.
He’s also been nominated for the upcoming Aurealis Awards, which recognise the achievements of Australian science-fiction, fantasy and horror writers.
In 2014, Baxter landed a publishing deal with Harper Voyager, the science-fiction and fantasy imprint of HarperCollins.
They released the dark urban fantasy Alex Caine trilogy; Bound, Obsidian and Abduction.
Caine is a martial artist fighting in illegal cage matches. His powerful secret weapon
is an unnatural vision that allows him to see his opponents’ moves before they know their intentions themselves.
The Caine series is also being released internationally.
“Within publishing and writing there’s an awful lot of luck,” Baxter said.
“The harder you work the luckier you get, because you build a career and you build momentum and you get a little recognition.”
The written word aside, Baxter also teaches Kung Fu and Tai Chi at the Illawarra Kung Fu Academy in Kiama.
He recalls being regularly bullied at about ten years of age.
Therefore, his father, who had practiced judo, suggested his son try it.
“I did that for a couple of years and I was really into it,” Baxter said.
“Then the teacher said, ‘I’m moving, but if you keep coming, same time, same place, a new teacher’s going to start doing a new class here’.
“It turned out the new teacher was a karate teacher. I did karate there for about a year and I didn’t like it.
“But at the same time I was madly addicted to the Monkey TV show, and I just loved the Kung Fu and the pole fighting.
“So that’s when I went looking for what it is that I really wanted. Then I discovered Kung Fu and never looked back from there.”
Baxter holds the rank of International Master Disciple within Choy Lee Fut Kung Fu.
“Within traditional Kung Fu systems, once you’ve been around for a while your teacher can take you on as a disciple, which means you’re closest to the teacher, you get all the teachings and everything else like that.
“It’s kind of this special bond that you commit to, and part of it is an obligation to make sure you pass on your teacher’s teachings and things like that.”
The aforementioned Caine series isn’t the only instance of his writing and fighting worlds meshing.
He also runs workshops for other authors, teaching them how to write authentic, accurate fight scenes.
“When you write, you have to get it right and people do their research,” Baxter said.
“But of course, researching fighting, most people just end up watching fights on TV and movies and stuff, and it’s very unrealistic. Movie fights are exciting to watch, but they’re not very realistic.
“And (for those) people (who) don’t know fighting… short of going out and getting in fights, it’s hard for authors to do the research,” he laughed.
“I’ve kind of done that stuff, I’ve done the research and I share what I can with them.”
Baxter’s wife, artist Halinka Orszulok has been painting and exhibiting since graduating from university in 2002.
“It means we’re always going to be poor, but we do the things we love,” he said.
“She’s also sort of my second in command with the Kung Fu school as well. She’s a Master in her own right, so she teaches and trains with me. We run the school together, and then we look after our three-year-old son and we take turns basically.
“Today she’s taking care of him because it’s a writing day for me, and then Thursday and Friday I take care of him while she goes to the studio to work on paintings.
“We’re very lucky really, but we’ve also worked our arses off to try and create this situation that works for us.”
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