PM360 recently spoke to Ian M. Marks, VP R&D Innovation at GSK Consumer Healthcare, on how the practice of martial arts has impacted his life, health, and wellness.
PM360: How did you get started with martial arts?
Ian Marks: I was always amazed by the way that martial artists could move. There’s something about their focus, concentration, fluidity, and the way their movements mimic animals and nature that intrigues me. One day when I was 17 years old, I walked past a martial arts school in Pittsburgh. The rest is history—I went in and have been hooked ever since. The discipline, the way you meditate while moving—all of it fired my imagination. Though learning self-defense was one of the reasons I started actually practicing martial arts, the many benefits I’ve received from it remain the reasons I continue to practice today.
You have taken up a few different styles of martial arts over the years. How did you get into each one?
At 17, I started with Chung Moo Doe—a Korean martial arts school that taught eight different martial arts as one, which gave me a good sense of different styles and benefits of each. When I reached third-degree black belt, I started a martial arts school with three other instructors in Pittsburgh. My career took me away from there, and since then, I’ve focused on three martial arts that originated in China: Xing Yi, Ba Gua, and most recently, Shanxi Seven Star Praying Mantis Boxing.
Xing Yi is about generating power and strength. It’s very direct and linear and uses the body’s instinctive reactions as the basis of simultaneous blocking and attacking. It also has a deep, meditative breathing technique that supports movements. Ba Gua, on the other hand, is circular, combining sweeping footwork with spiraling body motions—striking, kicking, locking, and throwing—in continuous motion. Xing Yi and Ba Gua are often taught together in a yin/yang of styles; there are times you want to go straight at an opponent, and times when you want to go around them.
The Shanxi Seven Star Praying Mantis Boxing was named after the praying mantis, an aggressive insect. The style is especially known for its speed and continuous attacks. Wrist/arm techniques in particular are emphasized, as well as knee and elbow strikes. However, one of the most distinctive features of the style is the “praying mantis hook.” The hook may be used to divert force (blocking), adhere to an opponent’s limb, or attack critical spots (eyes or acupuncture points).
What are your current goals with martial arts?
Self-defense was the reason I got involved, but I’ve gotten so much more from practicing martial arts. Martial arts touch on every aspect of my life including work and family and help me to achieve greater patience, leadership, balance, and peace. There is no doubt that martial arts and its meditative principles has enabled me to achieve a positive outlook, better health, and improved stress relief. For me, my long-term goal is to continue the practice as it helps me in everything that I do.