Moe’s Still Got It (Longevity in Kung Fu)

30 09 2014

Craig Horse stance

Also known as “Craig’s Still Got It”…

It’s taken me 5 months to write this article.

So, in the months we’ve started this blog, we have gone from three guys (Ron Wheeler, Sharif Talib, and Maurice Gatdula) discussing shining a light on Dean Chin’s memory, to rounding up the legends of American Jow Ga and locating old friends and family, to planning an American Jow Ga family reunion like you wouldn’t believe. In all of this, I have made an observation that I cannot make about my other martial arts family–my Filipino Martial Arts family:  Everywhere I look, I see men in their 50s and 60s who look great. Not just “great for their age”–which is an insult to all the hard work and discipline these folks have put into still maintaining their health–but amazing in that they have maintained their youthful vibrance into an age where men are beginning to die of old age and health problems. By contrast, in the other martial arts circles I run in, I have noticed that bellies, beards and health problems run amok in men who have barely left their prime.

Even in other Chinese martial arts families I have known, the sense of athleticism isn’t there. The competitive nature of the family members isn’t there. The feuds we have isn’t even there, in the way that we have them. And I have a theory.

Chinese martial artists are always talking about “longevity” and “vitality”–ideals that most martial artists give lip service to, but few really pursue. So what are these things anyway? Is it just the endeavor to live a long life?

Martial Arts in its purest state is at its core a means of self-preservation. To some, it simply means the will to remain alive. To others, it is the effort to remain alive. There is a difference. In the same way martial artists can take a passive approach to their craft, they can also elect to take a very aggressive, assertive, proactive approach to the art. Self defense can deflect an attacker with the simple desire to get away and stay alive–or it can be an action verb, to stay alive and eliminate the attacker. The two mentalities are not the same and I submit to you that they are not equal. A passive approach for the martial artist may fail. In fact, it is highly possible that it will fail should the passive martial artist encounter an extremely hostile, violent opponent. Fighting involves more than simply knowing techniques and being able to use them. Fighting is often psychological, where one man is trying to take the life of the other. In this case, the only way to stop him would be to render him incapable of continuing to fight; this method most likely will involve crippling, maiming of killing the opponent. Passive martial artists dislike this kind of talk. They believe that a man hell-bent on taking your life can be subdued and stopped relatively unhurt using the correct technique and appropriate amount of force.

On the other side of this philosophy is the idea that one must be prepared to kill his opponent, to break his bones, to permanently disfigure him, to crush his windpipe, to put his eye out his socket… Whatever it takes to stop the opponent and eliminate the threat. The more violent the opponent or opponents, the more violent the reaction. This is a mindset, not a set of techniques. In teaching students this very specialized skill, you must also teach him the thinking of one who must use these techniques. One cannot simply teach a form with such techniques, teach him a method of performing the routine in an aesthetcially pleasing manner and leave it at that. You must condition the student to be able to hurt the opponent with these skills without hesitation. You must train him until he is not physically inferior to the attacker. You must make him mentally and emotionally tough so that he knows when to use the skills and can do so without feelings of guilt. He must be tolerant of pain and fear. He must believe that he cannot be defeated and believe that he is superior to his attackers. Only then, can a martial arts practitioner be capable of facing two or three men prepared to do him harm and send them to the hospital while he goes home safe.

So, you betcha there is a heirarchy of martial arts philosophies. One is passive and in denial about what combat really is, while the other understands that combat is not a noun, but an action verb. One teacher simply wants to live a long life, while the other wants to stay alive. One trains as a prescription to old age and poor health–and the other trains as if his life depended on it. One takes care of his body so it will still carry blood and oxygen for years and years, while the other wants to become as strong and durable and youthful as it ever was. Both will live a long time. Both are still martial artists. Perhaps one does it because he simply wants to live until he is 90. While the other may be motivated by ego or vanity–he clearly wants to live until he is 90 and hear the words, “Moe still got it.” He wants to still do the things he did as a young man when he is older. He doesn’t want to simply live, he wants to live with life pumping through his veins. They both never plan to retire, but one takes a passive approach to his aging self and the other holds on to his youth.

If you round up a group of 20 former casual martial artists, meaning they never competed, never fought to be the best, never engaged in the rat race of martial artists with an ego–all in their 50s–you will likely find men who no longer “do” martial arts. They may teach, own schools, etc., but they most likely don’t fight, compete in tournaments, and so on. They will likely be out of shape and full of health problems. On the other hand, round up a group of 20 former competitors, fighters and champions–you will most likely find the opposite. Surely, there will be bald heads and some pot bellies. But more often than not, you will find men at an advanced age, who still have “it” like they did when they were young. Because men like this can never walk away from the martial arts and the question we always ask when we are around another guy:  “I wonder if I can take him?”  <—- And this question keeps men like myself, Ron Wheeler, Sharif Talib, Craig Lee training so that, decades later, when people finally run into you, they just shake their head saying, “Yeah, Craig still got it…”

The late Master Dean Chin’s approach to Jow Ga was not that Kung Fu is a party art. It was not for the masses. It was not something we did for certificates and rank. It was a path to guaranteed preservation. Preseveration in combat when you’re young, and the side effect of that is that your youth will be preserved when you are older. It’s not enough to just still be here. You want to be here, just as strong, just as full of life as you’ve ever been. Longevity, then, if you are training your Kung Fu for the same reasons we do, if a means to bottling up the young man within you and keeping hold of it while you’re old.

If you ask me, this group of Kung Fu men (the youngest one is 45, by the way) are a fine looking bunch. Thank you for visiting the Dean Chin Jow Ga Federation.

Raymong Wong, Hon Lee, Kenny Chin

Raymong Wong, Hon Lee, Kenny Chin

Kenny Chin, Ricardo Ho, Craig Lee, and Ron Wheeler

Kenny Chin, Ricardo Ho, Craig Lee, and Ron Wheeler

Kenny Chin, Raymond Wong, Chris Henderson, Ron Wheeler, Ricardo Ho

Kenny Chin, Raymond Wong, Chris Henderson, Ron Wheeler, Ricardo Ho

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