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Our History

The history of PATHS Atlanta Kung Fu is undoubtedly engaging. The PATHS of today and the PATHS of its founding in 2007 are two very different animals.

Sifu Kiessling‘s Northern Shaolin Kung Fu classes have undergone a good deal of change as well.

And the journey from there to here was long. But at least it’s interesting. Not as interesting as Chinese History Podcasts or the Lineage & History of our Northern Shaolin Kung Fu, but you know.

History of PATHS Atlanta Kung Fu:
The Prequel

Old Historical Book

Way back before Sifu Kiessling began teaching Northern Shaolin Kung Fu, he was a student.

He learned, studied, and trained Northern Shaolin Kung Fu, with his brothers & sisters, under the guidance of their teacher.

From Florida to California to North Carolina, the teacher taught. And then he came to Georgia, being the first to bring our style of Northern Shaolin to Atlanta. First in the southern tip of Sandy Springs and then later much farther north in Alpharetta.

Before moving back down to Florida and before Closing his Hands in retirement, Sifu Kiessling’s teacher taught him some refined (and quite interesting) methods of just how to pass on the knowledge, of how to teach.

Dekalb Community College -
Georgia Perimeter College

During the teacher-training phase of Sifu Kiessling’s Northern Shaolin Kung Fu career, in the early 1990s, he created the MAU(c) or Martial Arts United (club) at the what-was-then Dekalb Community College, now known as Georgia Perimeter College, in Dekalb County’s Dunwoody, Georgia.

The idea was to test the ropes with teaching alone (the previous teaching experience in a Kung Fu Senior Student capacity). Studying at the community college, he thought this would be the perfect place to give it a go. After creating a very amateurish cut-and-paste (old-school cutting with scissors and pasting) flier, he posted it everywhere possible on campus.

He hoped higher-level martial arts practitioners would want to join up and exchange – methods and tactics of martial arts conditioning, drills, applications, forms, physical exercise regimen, philosophy, and of course, the exchange of hands (light, friendly sparring).

This situation would increase his knowledge and experience as a martial artist in general, and when it came time for him to give back in the exchange, he could practice his teaching techniques.

Consequently, this led to making many new friends, learning new styles, progressing as a martial artist, and refining the craft of teaching Kung Fu. 

UGA - The Move to Athens, Georgia

After receiving permission to teach Northern Shaolin Kung Fu, Sifu Kiessling moved up to Athens, Georgia, around 1993 to continue his studies at UGA (the University of Georgia).

Sifu Kiessling first began to offer Northern Shaolin Kung Fu classes in the study lounges of his dormitory. From there, they often moved around, trying to find the best location. Locations were varied: University Gardens, City parks, rooms in the Student Center, on the lawn in front of the Main University Library, a room above the University Radio Station, and more.

There were brief interludes of breaks from studies and drives back and forth between Atlanta and Athens. And then Sifu Kiessling decided to live in Athens for a while, regardless of attending school. Working and living there, he moved into a Duplex and began teaching many mornings and nights per week, offering morning Kung Fu at his home and evening classes on campus. 

The Gate of Life... Or Not

During this time, he created what was called The Gate of Life, a branding rich in metaphor, such as the concept of training in the Traditional Chinese Martial Arts is like a gate to life, with more depth, but also the concept of the 命門 Mìng Mén. “Ming Men” is an acupuncture point used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) (TCM) and a focal point in other practices. (As an aside, we have a selection of Traditional Chinese Medicine Podcasts, if you’re interested.)

The problem came right after the marketing materials were done up and put out with this new branding. There was the Heavens Gate mass suicide (can you believe they still exist?!?)! So we had to scrap that name fast, as we didn’t want any association with that (now that’s history).

After becoming the Athens Bei Shaolin Wu Guan (Athens Northern Shaolin Martial Training Hall), we continued our Kung Fu. 

Northern Shaolin Returns to Atlanta

Years later, Sifu Kiessling moved back to Atlanta, conducting classes in the Roswell (where he grew up!) and Dunwoody (whoops! it looks like it’s now part of Sandy Springs!) areas of Atlanta. Specifically, he taught at two main parks, both on the shores of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Azalea Park (dubbed “Duck-Poop park”) in Roswell and the Island Ford park in Sandy Springs became our next home for practicing Kung fu.

Classes in these lovely outdoor locations went on for several years. And then Sifu Kiessling took a break for a bit and moved to Downtown Atlanta. Yes, this was during the time of the Olympics. And the bombing.

Both his mother and father were sick and moved into retirement homes, so he moved again to be closer to them. He unknowingly moved onto the property of one of his ancestors, right in the heart of Buckhead. Soon after, he created the Buckhead Kung Fu Center.

For years he taught in the heart of Buckhead, Atlanta. Traditionally, classes were free, plus blood, sweat, and tears. But this changed, as some did not have the effort, energy, or time. His teaching style and methods evolved as he learned. He also began to offer “value exchange.” Those who couldn’t afford the classes could still train, so long as there was an Exchange of Value. (See our Pricing page for more on this concept.)

Being in the heart of Buckhead at its finest hour and on the border of Decatur, Georgia, Sifu Kiessling’s student base began to pick up steam of an earlier pattern from Athens. Most of the martial art students were musicians, singers, and artists. One student traded Guitar lessons for Kung Fu lessons. Our social hours were undeniably music-filled! 

History: The Singapore Days

Shortly after his father passed away, Sifu Craig Kiessling ended up in Singapore.

The short version is that it began as a much-needed vacation. Soon, Sifu Craig fell in love with the country and decided to try living there for a while. Sifu lived there for about five and a half years. He called Toa Payoh home for most of his stay, but he also lived in Bishan for a time.

Working at Hewlett-Packard, Sifu was able to travel locally and internationally. During these travels, he met many different Kung Fu teachers. Each one added more depth to his martial arts career and wisdom in teaching Kung Fu.

Northern Shaolin, Hung Gar, Jow Gar, Southern Preying Mantis, Baguazhang, Chin Woo, Taijiquan, Xingyiquan, Xin Yi, Da Bei Quan (a style influenced by 大悲咒 the Great Compassion Mantra), and many other arts were experienced, along with a variety of Qigong styles as well.

Of course, living in a Chinese-dominated country, Sifu also became more familiar with the various Chinese Languages and Dialects, like Cantonese, Hokkien (speaking of Hokkien, check out this Wikipedia article I found on the “Hokkien influence on Singaporean Mandarin!”), Hakka and Teochew.

He might have picked up Majiang and other things while living in Asia. 😉

Northern Shaolin Kung Fu Returns to Atlanta

Sifu Kiessling eventually came back home, after a brief stop in Exton, Pennsylvania.

After a bit of couch-surfing, Sifu fell into his own and met up with some old students, friends, and fellow students.

He found, that while he was away, the senior students of Allen Pittman (whom we’ve covered earlier in the history), had graduated and were now licensed to teach. Interestingly enough, one of these students was also Sifu’s students, whom Sifu had directed to Mr. Pittman during an off time of teaching. And Sifu Craig might have been fellow-students of them both, as a student under Allen Pittman, for both Baguazhang and Xingyiquan for a time. 😉

PATHS Atlanta Kung Fu: The Origin Story

By this time, the new Xingyiquan and Baguazhang teachers had already been pondering over and came up with some ideas for how they’d wanted to run their martial arts classes, the costs, the locations, the class schedules, the name.

And that name was PATHS Atlanta. “PATHS” stood for Physical Arts and Traditional Health Systems.

We had some BIG Ideas.

PATHS Atlanta:
The BIG Idea

Yes, our history includes the famed non-profit plan. We planned to build a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (thus the dot org at the end of our website address) to help not only ourselves to spread our respective styles/arts, but also for others to do the same.

One that might help fellow teachers in the area, who, like us, didn’t have the financial means to establish a physical school or practice or whatever you’d like to call it. We wanted to help the little guy, for pennies on the dollar, in all of their marketing and more. We’d give them space on the website, flyers, etc., and then teach them how to break off – build their own website, SEO, online marketing, etc. so they could thrive and make the Atlanta Kung Fu community that much stronger.

It went well. We joined various Small Business and Non-Profit groups, went to seminars, took notes, and made plans.

At one point, PATHS could be said to offer the styles of Northern Shaolin, Gao Baguazhang, Chen Pan-ling’s Baguazhang, Xingyiquan, Chen Taijiquan, Hunyuan Taijiquan, and Choy Li Fut!

history of PATHS Atlanta:
Progress Interrupted

But Life happened. Some of us had kids. Others got sick. And some just lost the faith.

At a certain point we were down to three teachers and just focused on that: teaching our martial arts. And then there were two.

We ran it that way for several years – two teachers – two styles – two locations, etc. In the beginning, we’d created interesting set-ups, so that students could cross-train with the various teachers and receive discounts. As time went on, though, and the number of options dwindled, we began to do our own things.

And now, here we are! 🙂

The New
PATHS Atlanta Kung Fu

As you can see, PATHS Atlanta Kung Fu has been through some changes and we’ve been around. But Atlanta, GA has always been our home of homes.

And now we are in the Decatur area, convenient to MARTA, close to major highways, a couple of miles away from historic downtown Decatur Square and more.

As a matter of fact, we use to hold classes in Glenlake Park as well as on the Square in downtown Decatur!

We’ve been all over the map, but Atlanta has always been home and in the past ten years or so, Decatur is the specific spot of our Kung Fu-lerey :P. Good ole Allen Carroll is still teaching Xingyiquan (or curmudgeonly Hsing-I Ch’uan), so if you’re interested in that let us know and we can hook you up. David Jones privately teaches select students in Gao Baguazhang, but most of his time is dedicated to his career and family.

And Craig Kiessling? He teaches Northern Shaolin Kung Fu right here in Decatur.

Check out what some of our Students Say and learn more About Us

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