Small Tiger Form (Step-by-Step)

20 03 2013

Performed by a student from the Wong Chinese Boxing Association. This is the first of three parts.


And as always, if you would like to learn more about the system, please contact a Jow Ga Sifu. Thanks for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.


Why Tae Kwon Do Has Such Good Kickers

14 03 2013

Hopefully this article does not offend or insult. Please hear me out.

What is Kung Fu people generally known to excel at? Take note that the key word here is “excel”–as in “few others do better”. Our hedgehog. It is the one thing that we do, that we are so good at, that anytime someone wants to learn this one thing (or short list of things), general consensus is that you need to go see a Kung Fu guy. You’re not going to like this…

With the exception of only a few within our arts–like Wing Chun or Shuai Chiao–the answer is “nothing”.

See, in Kung Fu, there exists a phenomena that we seem to embrace and it prevents us from being dominant in the world of martial arts. And that one thing is this:  We try to learn and do everything. Our systems often boast of teaching 10 weapons or more, but most of us only know one or two forms for each weapon, and we don’t really possess any fighting skill with those weapons. In fact, we probably have never fought with those weapons… ever. Our Sifus have never fought with those weapons. If asked to fight, say, a fencer or a Japanese Kendoka–we probably couldn’t do it. We don’t want to admit it, but a vast majority of the things we teach our students have almost no combat value to us. We will tell those who ask, “Later, later” until they stop asking. Instead, we distract them by telling them to focus on learning the form at hand, or promising some later period in their training when it will come. And one day, years from now–that student will be a Sifu himself, and offer the same, lame excuses for why the butterfly sword is no more effective against a broadsword than a pair of double daggers. Why? Because the truth is, we’ve never tried it ourselves.

So the Kung Fu man, if he is known for everything, is generally known for knowing a little of everything–but not knowing and being able to do anything well.

Hey, don’t kill me, I’m just the messenger.

There’s no reason for it to be this way. We are, after all, the forefathers of most Asian martial arts. The Chinese arts, if you dig deep, are highly advanced. Traditional Chinese arts are perhaps more advanced than most systems tenfold. But over the generations, we have weakened to the point that we must throw Chinese-style only tournaments and tout fighters (San Da/San Shou) whose fighting styles look nothing like what we do in our schools as proof that CMAs are just as effective as any styles. We have the disease called “Oh-we-have-that-too”, and then in our classes we fumble around with techniques that are very unfamiliar to us:

  • We have “hidden” grappling in our arts, but a wrestler would murder us on the ground
  • We have trapping, but a Wing Chun guy tells others that what we do “isn’t the same” (out of respect)
  • We teach the same punches that a boxer teaches, but please….
  • We have staff techniques, but we have to use waxwood so that our technique looks strong
  • We kick, but TKD green belters kick way better than our Sifus, unless that Sifu use to train in TKD too
  • We have “sword” techniques, just don’t try to hit anything with those swords (they’re too expensive to have to keep replacing broken spring steel pool noodles

I think you get it.

So what can we do? Easy. From this point forward, I want you to take one set of skills and one weapon. If you want it to be one form, or techniques from one group of forms, or one type of technique–whatever. For the next 6 months, aside from your classes, practice nothing else. Experiment. Spar. Test it with someone whose martial arts experience is very unlike your own. See what you can come up with. If you have a form that you want to use, start with a chart and doing that form 500 times from beginning to end. Then once you accomplish that, start breaking down that form, technique by technique. Find ways to work those techniques into your sparring. Replace the tiger claw with a punch, the chop with a back fist. You get it.

Because the reason why the Tae Kwon Do guy is known for his kicks is that he doesn’t do much else besides that. He can kick far better than you can–in fact, he can fight a whole match and use nothing else–and probably kick your behind. And you’ll be sitting there after a loss complaining that the rules prevented you from using “your” techniques, as if your system doesn’t have a Roundhouse, a front kick, a side kick… blah blah blah. He just does it better; it’s his hedgehog.

Here in the Chinese Martial Arts, we offer a little of everything and that isn’t good enough. We can offer a little of everything, but we need a lot–a WHOLE lot–of something. So perhaps your lineage has not come up with one–so you do it. You’ll be glad you did.

We welcome comments and dialogue either here or on our Facebook page.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Frivolity in Kung Fu

14 03 2013
I have always said that martial artists with good skill on the path to mastery have no time for silly things. Where you find a martial artist who is preoccupied with rank, politics, online battles, bragging rights, and money, you will often find the most poorly skilled among us. There is a saying that martial arts politics–be it money, rank or power–is for those who have little useful skill. That is a very true statement, because the skilled have little interest in those things. This is the reason that every school has a group of men who are low Black Belters or under belts, who are the best fighters in the school–yet they have yet to test for higher rank:  they have little use for anything that does not improve their skill.
Why don’t you chew on that one for a minute?
See, as martial artists we should have two things foremost in our minds:  the development and improvement of our personal skill, and the promotion of our reputations–our school’s reputation, and our teacher’s reputation. And that emphasis on reputation brings you back to your own personal fighting skill. Anything outside of those two things–who is recognized as “senior” in your system, who has the “real deal” version of your teacher’s teacher’s art, who was teacher’s favorite, which master can lay claim to the creator of a concept or style, I could go on–means nothing. Nothing, if the man in front of you has the superior fighting skill. Please don’t forget this.
But what of other martial arts skills? Like brick-breaking? Chi Sao skill? Form performance? The number of forms learned? The ability to hold a strong stance? Physical Strength? Speed? Flexibility?
Listen. If those things will make a difference in your ability to put a man on his behind after you learn them, then I say go for it. I have had my own classmates talk of going to Hong Kong and bringing back a different version of the forms we learned here in America. They talk of learning the second version of a Broadsword form we learned from our teacher 30 years ago. My question is, will these things improve our fighting ability and the functional knowledge we have of our style? Probably not. So I’ll pass. But it is a personal choice. Some people enjoy learning new forms, and that’s fine. But let’s not get so preoccupied with it that our judgment of good Kung Fu vs mediocre Kung Fu or authentic versions vs illegitimate versions is not affected by adding all this stuff.
We love history, foreign-language terminology, arguments about what to call our arts, titles and ranks we should be using, blah blah blah. But those things are silly non-issues for the true warrior. And anytime you meet someone obsessed with those things, I guarantee you that you are in the presence of the inferior martial artist. And that’s why you will be wasting your time until you get away from that conversation and back into the gym.
Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

While On the Subject of Tigers (Running Into Walls)

4 03 2013

While we’re on the subject of Tigers…

Perhaps we should take this time to inform the readers that Tiger style Kung Fu has little to do with Tiger clawing and making “hwa” sounds. Sort of.

Tiger claw Kung Fu is a style of fighting in which one takes on the characteristics of a Tiger:

  • No animal in its right mind attacks a Tiger. Not even the Lion. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a Tiger fight a Lion?
  • The Tiger is indomitable
  • He is powerful
  • He is ruthless
  • He is not known for speed, except at close quarters
  • His footwork is a pouncing-style attack
  • He does not retreat
  • And, oh yeah, he has those claws

When Jow Ga refers to itself (and Jow Lung) as “Fu Pow”–Tiger and Leopard–we are referring to the combination of a fighting style that is powerful and cruel, like a Tiger, as well as quick and agile, like the Leopard. Without wanting to teach by blog, we’ll leave it at that.

In the Dean Chin school, considerable time is spend building the horse upon which the fighter stands. In other words, we build the strong and powerful legs that enable us to attack an opponent from what seems like a safe distance to the opponent. More than a kicking/leg’s distance away, but not so far that the opponent cannot be reached. The training starts by teaching the stances, and building the fighter’s ability to hold them for a long periods of time. Immediately after the fighter begins developing strength, we introduce movement–first short, basic movements, then later to more complex movements. Next, the movement with the feet will incorporate hand attacks, so that power is generated from the legs through the attacking motion of the body through the arms and hands and expelled through the destructive power of the attack.

Think of the difference between a 2 ton elephant swatting you, and a 1/2 ton Tiger rushing full speed and crashing into you. Both have power, but one is more devastating and sudden. When the elephant attacks, it has power but it is a power that one feels confident that you can escape it. However, when the Tiger attacks it is both intimidating and frightening because what is hurled at you is coming so fast even if you see it, you can’t escape it. If the Tiger has generated enough momentum, his power can feel like an elephant hit you when he lands.

And, like we stated earlier, his posture, his build, his presence is such that everyone in the room knows he’s there. It is a forceful, yet latent, presence. Can go from 0 – 60 in the blink of an eye. This kind of velocity has nothing to do with Tiger Claws. It all comes from the Horse. We must build the fighter’s physique into the personified image of a Tiger:  Strong, explosive legs, powerful upper body, and a killer instinct. There are three important tools used to accomplish this:

  • lifetime of stance training
  • weighted handwork (dumbells, brass rings, bricks, etc.)
  • plenty of impact training

Not exactly hi-tech stuff, but it’s very effective. And if you don’t want join problems, don’t look for shortcuts.

With this kind of training, we have no need to run from the opponent. In none of our Tiger forms, do we retreat. In one form–the Fu Pow Chune (Tiger and Cougar) form–there is one part that shuffles back to draw the opponent into attacking, and once the opponent does so, we capture him and tear his arm off. Just like a Tiger.

When the body rushes forward in a forward-moving attack, not only are we “shuffling” forward with the feet–we are actually attacking with our torso as well as the limbs. This way, if the opponent counters while we attack or is foolish enough to lunge forward, he will run smack into a wall. Although you may only weigh 190 lbs (like I do), the forward motion multiplies the force attacking him, and increases the damage we intended to inflict.

Wish I could tell you more, but you’ll have to hunt down a Jow Ga Sifu to learn more.

Thanks for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Jow Ga Wheel Punch

4 03 2013

Jow Ga has three important techniques that is emphasize through all Jow Ga forms:  The Wheel Punch.

Branches will pick and choose which of the many techniques to be specialized, according to the tastes of that branch’s teacher. These three techniques happen to be some personal favorites of our late Master Dean Chin.

Instructor Sharif Talib demonstrates some basic uses for the Wheel Punch taught in the Dean Chin branch of Jow Ga.

The techniques have been honed, so that minimal modification is needed from form to fighting. There are many idiosyncrasies that exist within these techniques, although basic–they are very effective and are in no way trivial. For more information, please contact a Jow Ga teacher near you.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Build the Tiger

4 03 2013

In Dean Chin’s Jow Ga, we believe in Building the Tiger.

Jow Ga training is more than simply learning forms, a bunch of weapons, and performing Lion Dance. For most in the Kung Fu world this may be true, but training in the Dean Chin branch of Jow Ga is much more rigorous and (for many) quite boring. Our list of forms and techniques is as long as any other Southern style one would find, but considerable time is spent building strength in various parts of the body which enable our techniques to be effective.

This is one of those things misunderstood about Kung Fu. While many systems simply impart techniques that simulate tearing, strangling, dislocating and breaking–the Kung Fu student must develop his body to be able to actually use those techniques for what they were intended for. When the body has been forged properly, the fighter has, in effect become a Tiger:

  • Powerful shoulders
  • The Tiger’s Claw:  the fingers, the hand, the wrist and forearms
  • A strong and destructive fist
  • Strong neck and abdomen
  • Strong, explosive legs
  • A courageous and fearless, and where necessary–ferocious–heart

Take your system’s clawing techniques. If you were to use those techniques on a real attacker, what damage would you be capable of inflicting? The Jow Ga man, if properly trained, can answer that question. Rather than learn forms on top of forms on top of forms–one’s time would be better spent if a full year were devoted to developing the body much in the way a Tiger’s body is developed:

  • powerful upper body to overpower an attacker
  • powerful grip for grappling, seizing, strangling and for forming the fist
  • a desensitized fist that can be used as a blunt-force weapon against the opponent
  • a durable body that can withstand the opponents’ attack
  • strong neck that can resist a neck-snapping knockout punch
  • legs that allows the fighter to explosively pounce on or chase down an escaping opponent
  • the confidence that your opponent cannot hurt you
  • the ability to turn on the malicious intent when the appropriate time calls for it

That last item is what is often referred to as “Fighting Spirit” in the old school. It is one aspect that is too often omitted from Kung Fu training. In other words, the psychological capacity to injure, maim, or kill the opponent where necessary. A Tiger is never dangerous when he is not hungry or under attack. This is because although he has the ability to destroy anything in its path, it is unnecessary. The law of nature does not allow the Tiger to just go through the jungle killing everything it encounters. Yet when provoked, or hungry, or defending its young–nothing will stop it from a merciless, cruel attack.

The Kung Fu fighter must have all of the above:  Technique, physiology, courage, and the mental switch to turn him from law-abiding citizen into unstoppable killer. This is not a technique one can learn from a book or video. It is a principle; one that must be cultivated and developed through years of training to turn a man–regardless of what he comes through the school doorway with–into a Tiger through proper Kung Fu training. The body must be transformed into something extra-human, and the kind of training that this requires is a slow, patient, arduous process. You cannot develop this kind of Kung Fu ability if you are concerned with partying and celebrating all the time. Dean Chin was not a Kung Fu historian. He was not a collector of forms. He was not a Kung Fu politician, nor was he a Kung Fu party animal.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Patient Learning

3 03 2013

When two Kung Fu men of the same style meet, a popular greeting in place of “nice to meet you” are the words

“What Form Are You On?”

Did I hit the nail on the head? I know I did.

Kung fu students must avoid the pitfall of becoming form collectors. This art has so much more to offer besides forms. We walk into our schools and look on the wall, and see the list of interesting-sounding forms: Tiger and Cougar. Five Animals. Nine Ring Big Knife. Dang, that stuff sounds cool.

What we are really looking for, when learning the next new form, is often those fighting techniques we believe will turn us into Kung Fu Fighting Machines, just by learning the forms, aren’t we? I think I just heard a chuckle.

I mean, no one really wants to learn forms just to step out in front of a crowd and give a dazzling demonstration of “cool-looking” techniques. Hopefully, the Kung Fu community has matured beyond that. No, we are in the age of proving that Chinese Martial Arts are not outdated, useless martial arts technique. Back in the 80s it was enough to demo an interesting form with Shaw Brothers – looking moves. In the current age of the internet, MMA and the popularity of fight sports, Kung Fu people are struggling for relevancy, and it is only a matter of time we see pure kung fu guys enter the cage and restore the respect Bruce Lee gave us on the big screen.

But it won’t happen overnight. And today, you young guys, who have yet to degenerate to rubbing elbows with masters or name-dropping styles and titles to prove yourselves–it is up to YOU to bring Chinese Martial Arts back to prominence. Nobody really cares how much Cantonese you know. Nobody is impressed that you know 30+ forms, or that you once got Chiu Chi Ling’s autograph. No one gives a damn if your lineage is recognized in China. They don’t care if you were the first one to bring your art to town, or how many awards you’ve won, or if your version of forms is the “original” version. That stuff is so 80s.

In the current community of martial artists, all they really care about is can you thump. Can you step out onto the floor and check your “can’t-use-my-deadliest-stuff-because-of-the-rules” excuses at the door and PROVE that your time with your Sifu was not a waste of time. Trust me, if Kung Fu is to be respected for the reliable form of self defense that we say it is, now is the time for you young cats to get out there and show us what you’re made of.

And the first virtue you must embrace and adopt is that of patience.

Patience in training and learning are of the same variety, and they are by products of two of the five virtues of Kung Fu–Loyalty (to teacher, style, school and training) and Humility (to remain a student long enough to truly learn and develop, and not try to be a master before you were ready). If you strive to learn more and more forms, you will end up with just that–forms. Likewise, if you strive for more and more fighting skill, you will end up with the same:  Fighting Skill. Fighting Skill is what people respect, and fighting skill is where true confidence originates in the Kung Fu man. Yes, they will respect other things, like age, intelligence, even skill at forms. Yet nothing silences a room, nothing humbles the arrogant, like a man whose physical presence has just entered because everyone knows who the Tiger is. The Monkey is the guy who jumps around with the loud noises and gets noticed, with his boisterous personality. The Owl is the guy who is wise, been around a long time and people look up to him. The Peacock is beautiful, flashy and may even scare you with his feathers and array of colors. But when that Tiger walks into the room, no animal feels safe, and I don’t care how many Masters you befriend or how many articles you write or what you call yourself. The Owl can rationalize that killing ability is not the point of Kung Fu, but he’d better stay up in that tree. The Mouse can talk of getting along and being friends. In the world of Animals and killers and prey, no one relaxes around the Tiger. And here’s the thing about the Tiger:  as a cub he was just as helpless as any animal and his growth from cute furry animal to the most feared predator in the jungle didn’t happen overnight.

Trust me, it won’t happen overnight for you either.

Train hard, study patiently, listen closely to your Sifu, be acutely aware of other styles and their habits, and your style’s strengths and weaknesses. Give yourself time to absorb the training and build your body. In time, you will be a Tiger yourself. Alliances, forms, terminology, and lineages mean nothing in combat. There is a saying that good soup takes time, and so does good skill. Most people are not patient enough to acquire it, so they spend their time self promoting and trying to convince you that they are Tigers in every way except in the #1 way a Tiger does it.

Trust me when I say this:  Every Kung Fu man who adopts this virtue will eventually become a Tiger, regardless of what style you do, who your master is (or who your master isn’t), what version of forms you’re doing, or how many forms you know. Kung Fu skill lies in the training and the way you approach your training and how you test it. Never forget that. The whole process takes honor, respect, loyalty, integrity, and humility. It takes time.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Lesson #1 from the Dean Chin Rule Book (Attendance)

3 03 2013

Well, it’s a little more than just attendance.

I don’t have the list of rules anymore. Some years have gone by that my box of Jow Ga memorabilia is in an attic in either my aunt’s or father’s house–basement or something. But I do remember possibly one of the first three rules, and hopefully one of my Si Hing can help me out with this:

Students must attend a minimum of 8 classes per month to remain in good standing and continue membership.

In other words, Sifu Chin wasn’t begging anyone to be a student here. See, one of the dark clouds that hovered overhead for the Jow Ga student under Sifu Chin was the possibility that he might ask you to leave his school. We were ordered to practice, clean the school, attend enough classes to make Jow Ga look good, abstain from alcohol use, show courage and reject cowardice… Yeah, other schools said that stuff too, good grades, show respect, blah blah blah. But in the Jow Ga school, it was a reality, and you would be hard pressed even in the 1980s to find a teacher more demanding. This was the kind of school where the students who cut out right after class (despite that they showed up to attend every week) were considered “un-dedicated”, and the REAL kung fu training started about an hour after the last of them left. Few people know what I’m talking about, because most people in those days despised Sifu Chin’s classes and did not hang around long after classes to see what went on in the school.

There were several full instructors in the school who taught classes and had their own followers during the 80s, and very few learned directly from Sifu by that time. Those who did were part of a sort of “Secret Society”, a fraternity of Jow Ga people who were a school within the school, long after Sifu Chin taught his last scheduled class. It was here, that Sifu’s requirement of “Attend 8 classes” was enforced. There are four weekends in a month, and Dean Chin was present nearly every weekend day, after class. You were not really expected to attend the regularly scheduled class in the morning that most students took. But attendance to the 2 hour sparring taught by Tehran Brighthapt and Lemuel Talley was strongly encouraged, and after that was when you got to learn from Sifu. Sometimes it was technique. Sometimes it was form. And it was always lecture.

But what’s your point, Mo?

Sifu did not treat the Kung Fu education like a class. He looked at Kung Fu as a calling. This is not just something you are taking and paying for. It is a total lifestyle change, and only few people who dared walk through those doors and actually sign up are of the caliber he was looking for. Anyone with $35 could join the school. But once inside those walls, only a few of them would become the kind of person he actually taught himself. Most people wouldn’t like it. People actually got mad at Sifu because of how he taught or how he talked to you, and then wanted to post websites decades later about how they were his students. (excuse the personal feelings)

Back to the article.

So if you truly want to understand what separates the men from the boys in Jow Ga, what makes some people proud of their skills versus proud of their alliances, or what makes some people Kung Fu teachers versus Kung Fu men–you must look at the lifestyle one leads as a Kung Fu practitioner. Some people are lucky to find a way to make a good living doing what we do. Most will not, but still practice this art, well beyond the days where they are no longer physically able to do it, broke or not, until the day they die. How they live the art as a Sifu at large depends on how they treated it as students. Your martial arts training should not depend on class availability, finances, or what you’ve got going on in your personal life/the job. If you miss Kung Fu training because “things are crazy”, you’re not a Kung Fu Man–as Sifu Chin would describe it–you’re just a Kung Fu student. And therefore, if you cannot commit to 8 measly classes out of a 30 day month–he didn’t want you as a student.

I could say more, but due to my promise to my Si Hings that this blog would be a happy, happy, joy, joy, positive blog–pull me up next time I’m in DC. I’ll tell you exactly how I feel.

The path to Kung Fu excellence, not just Jow Ga excellence, is how you treat your art. This is a vocation, a life purpose, an identity. It is NOT a class. Nothing should get in the way of your Jow Ga. As Sifu once put it, there are tons of schools in Washington DC. This training is for serious students only.


Thank you for visiting DC Jow Ga Federation.