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 No, we are in the age of proving that Chinese Martial Arts are not outdated, useless martial arts technique.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.