The “Essence” of Jow Ga

20 12 2013

I’ve been hearing this term in the recent few years, in debates mostly about my Si Hing Ron Wheeler’s books and videos.

The topics range from “Ron is promoting himself” to “Ron’s tournament wins don’t mean shit” to “The material does not capture the uniqueness of Jow Ga”. I call bullshit.

As if most of the clips you find of Jow Ga on the internet or offered for sale as a DVD show this “uniqueness”. You know what I see? Jow Ga on the internet, to the trained eye–not necessarily Jow Ga trained, but any Kung Fu style–looks like Hung Gar if one guy does it, to Choy Lay Fut if another does it. Most clips, if you are trained, are actually performed by what are obviously beginners of the art, and out of politeness or wisdom we don’t rake them over the coals. The videos for sale supposedly don’t capture Jow Ga’s “essence” like these overseas clips on youtube do, but they are supposed to capture the essence of whose Jow Ga? Jow Lung? Chan Man Cheung? Lee Ngau? Dean Chin?

Tell you what. No one reading this blog right now is qualified to say what Jow Lung’s Jow Ga looked like, and you damn sure aren’t qualified to say that YOUR Jow Ga looks like his and someone else’s does not. You weren’t here 100 years ago, and there weren’t video cameras in those days. Hell, you can’t even tell us what Jow Lung himself looked like. And excuse me for stating my opinion out loud, but the computer generated picture of Jow Lung (because none actually exists) is about as reliable as a picture of Jesus himself. Let’s call a spade a spade, in those few conversations about Ron Wheeler’s videos, we’re not discussing whether Ron’s videos are real Jow Ga or not–we’re talking about something very personal, and we shouldn’t have these conversations about a guy we’ve known since childhood. I’m actually embarrassed that we did, when a plus for Jow Ga is a plus for all of us, and until someone puts out a DVD or book that brings more students through my door beside’s Ron’s products, I say his stuff is top notch. Because like or not, we are all seen as being on the same team, even if you’re mad he’s playing the position you don’t think he deserves. Ron chose the path he chose, he earned the accolades that he has, he has built the reputation he has without anyone’s help, and the products he offers are the only products for Jow Ga available except for Master Sam Chan’s videos. There is room for more products promoting the system, and if you feel like we should put out a better product please do–and I would buy it myself.

So enough about that…

The Essence of Jow Ga

No one man could claim to have the “correct” or “authentic” Jow Ga, just like no religion could say they have the “only” religion. Even our system of Jow Ga had five founders and the main founder himself did not own a school–nor did he appoint a disciple or inheritor. Each school, under each founder had its own flavor and nuances, and each founder had students who had their own branches, flavors and versions of Jow Ga. The late Grandmaster Chan Man Cheung had a version of Jow Ga that was very different from Dean Chin’s Jow Ga. I know, because I learned from both, and they didn’t even do the same first form. Jow Ga has, at its core very simple principles that we learned from Sifu Dean Chin:

  • Strong but agile footwork
  • Quick, powerful hand techniques
  • Control of the opponent’s arm whenever you made contact
  • Make use of strong, destructive blocks
  • Develop a powerful grip
  • Make use of sensitivity
  • Use legs to knock the opponent down
  • Use the stance and footwork to knock the opponent down
  • Don’t retreat without advancing twice as much
  • Use techniques from your form to fight with

Now I haven’t traveled to every country that has Jow Ga, but pretty much everywhere I’ve seen Jow Ga I have only seen Lion Dance and forms that had very little of these principles. Maybe they are hidden?

When Dean Chin wanted to show off his students, had us fight. Sifu took me to a tournament in 1984 himself, and he wanted me to fight. I didn’t even suit up until forms divisions were nearly over. He had three techniques he wanted me to use, and I used them. The next day, on Sunday, in front of Raymond Wong’s class–he first congratulated me for my 2nd place win, then chastised me for losing and not using enough power in my final fight, which was with a friend of mine–despite that I had fought hard in my earlier fights.

Bottom line is this. Dean Chin’s Jow Ga doesn’t look like Hong Kong’s. He taught in a different environment. The student based he taught were different. His experience was different from his Sifu’s. He had a different mentality. And each student under him had a different background, different skill set, and our own abilities. We were DC students, not Hong Kong students. So DC Jow Ga doesn’t look like Hong Kong Jow Ga.  Hong Kong’s Jow Ga shouldn’t even look like Hong Kong’s Jow Ga. If people of the same generation, or worse–different generations–looked the same, even if they came from the same Sifu… You have very bland, uninspired, untested Kung Fu. Kung Fu must change, and it must be personalized. Within Dean Chin’s own students we have men like Sifu Craig Lee whose Kung Fu looks nothing like anyone else in his generation–or the previous, or the next. Craig’s Jow Ga looked like a totally different style from Tehran Brighthapt’s, and Sifu Chin was proud of both men and their ability.  Each Kung Fu man will have his own preferences, likes, dislikes, specialties and limits–and only a fool will look at a peer who has dedicated a lifetime to the art and say, “Your version of this art is invalid.”  If Jow Lung were here today, he wouldn’t recognize any of the stuff any of us do–not even the forms.

I don’t claim to have the only authentic version of Jow Ga, and I would never fool a student into believing that I do. I might claim to have the best version of Jow Ga, and if I do, it’s up to me to prove it. We can argue all day long about “purity” and other silliness like that. But good and bad can be easily proven.

And that is what Kung Fu is all about anyway, right? Not demonstrating what you can do, but proving it? Now, how can we prove anything over the internet? Foolishness. Such conversations should be held only in person. As for the “essence” of Jow Ga, you can only capture the “essence” of a particular teacher’s version. There is Jow Ga on nearly every continent on Earth, and each school came from a different lineage. Who will be the one to travel to each one and challenge or update each teacher on the “correct” version? There are better things to do to promote the art besides chopping each other down.

One family, my foot. If you believe in one family, then you must accept that each one of us is unique and has our own skills, specialties and ability in the art. As long as we are keeping our skills sharp and making the art look good,  promoting the name Jow Ga and giving respect to the founders, our teachers and our respective lineages–the family is in good hands. In other words, the Essence of Jow Ga is that this is a family of Kung Fu practitioners and we should act like one.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

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Jow Ga’s Pao Choy

17 12 2013

The Uppercut technique is the second most used technique in the Siu Fook Fu form, next to the straight punch. The uppercut can be thrown with the front hand or the back, as a part of the Wheel Punch or alone, as a leading/opening strike or as a part of a combination. It is a powerful technique that can be used to damage the body or the face/head. It can be thrown for speed or for power. The uppercut is a surprising technique that you can hide from the opponent until it is too late, or it can be thrown as a powerful, yes-you-can-see-it-but-you-can’t-do-anything-about-it punch.

The uppercut, if thrown directly behind a straight technique as a feed or distraction is known to boxers as an advanced technique called a “Bolo Punch” (named for a Filipino boxer Cerfino Garcia), which mimicked farmers cutting cane in the fields. It worked equally as devastating as an attack or a counter to a straight attack.

I teach my students to use the uppercut off the centerline, which is a Filipino strategy that I believe is paired very effectively with it. In order to do so the fighter will either

  1. feed the opponent a straight attack
  2. check the opponent’s front hand
  3. draw a straight attack from the opponent–ALL, while stepping off the line–

and when the opponent reacts to one of the above, you will execute the strike. If the opponent is standing in the open position, you will attack from under his front arm with either your front or rear fist. If he is standing in the closed position, you will split his hands (Kuntaw terminology, meaning strike between his guard) with the uppercut. The checking hand can either deflect, capture, or stick to the opponent’s arm to ensure that your uppercut makes it through–or it can simply keep moving to allow the break in contact to distract the opponent from seeing the punch. Side note:  Some fighters can sense the punch coming through if you maintain contact with their arm with your non-punching arm. Those of you who practice Chi Sao will know what I’m referring to. By breaking contact, you take away their ability to rely on sensitivity for defense.

A good follow-up for the attack (or if the opponent leans back from your uppercut) is the straight punch.

The uppercut is theoretically an easy punch to block. However, very few teachers understand the strike well enough to teach how to defend from it. However, one needs to do more than simply slap down the punch–which is the typical defense taught against it. Many styles have no defense from the uppercut at all, because many of those do not use the uppercut. When used in combination, in the frenzied confusion of an exchange, the uppercut should be slipped in while you and the opponent are moving. Because of the angle of the technique–especially if you step off line, as I recommend–the opponent will not see the punch coming.

Think of the way opponents typically hold their guard. Hands up near the face, elbows resting near the rib cage. If you look in the mirror, you may notice that whether you are face front or face 3/4 turned, there is a triangle of open targets… from the entire midsection leading up to the chin at the vertex/top. The entire area–between the elbows all the way up to the chin–are vulnerable to the uppercut. This technique was designed to exploit that opening, which most fighters believe they are protected from, simply by holding up their hands. If you train to penetrate the guard, no opponent is safe.

Refer to the following two videos. One demonstrates the Uppercut strike; the other demonstrates the Uppercut Wheel Punch. In the first video, the fighter demonstrates the result of stepping directly into the line of fire of the opponent as well as the angled step I describe in this article. In the second video, the Uppercut Wheel Punch is demonstrated as a counter.

For more information, please see a Jow Ga Sifu near you. Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.