Kung Fu and the Pursuit of GREATNESS

18 11 2014

The Chinese martial arts is not a dying section of the martial arts world. Listen to a so-called “modern/tactical/CQC/street-oriented/sports” enthusiast–and one would think that we are. The martial arts, like all skills and arts, must find relevance and adjust to the change of times…. it’s just that simple. Perhaps many of us have not learned to do this. Maybe some of us are stuck in the 70s, stuck in the Hong Kong days, or stuck in the 1800s. But dying? No.

Boxing could be said to be a dying sport. They once said that about the art of wrestling; yet when former wrestlers started beating BJJ and Muay Thai fighters in the MMA arena that art found new life (and fans) didn’t they?

Kung Fu practitioners in their 30s and older may in fact be stuck in the Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest era, when most of the world began to discover the difference between Chinese and Japanese arts. Yet as the average person’s exposure to the arts increased and we now have non-martial artists who know how to throw basic martial arts techniques it is no longer enough to simply be exotic. In the 1980s, a Kung Fu guy could do a nice form and ramble off lineage for credibility–today, he needs to be able to do a thing or two on the floor with an opponent to convince his peers that he’s the real deal. This is where many of us fall short; this is why many other stylists dismiss the Kung Fu guy as “forms guys”…

You know what I’m talking about. Go hit the local open tournament. Kung Fu people in the morning doing forms and weapons, walking around with their chests puffed out. Hell, even many of us prancing around in sleeveless jackets and sporting muscles and studded bracelets. But when the Pee Wees have finished with their forms and toothpick gwun and aluminum-foil dao forms, all those Tai Chi, satin-with-frog-button, and tough-guy southern style jackets get traded in for T-shirts and school jackets just in time to sit in the bleachers and talk about how the karate guys are just “playing tag” and aren’t doing real fighting. But at the same time, those Karate guys are making the same dismissive comments about us. And when you attend a Chinese style-only tournament–pretty much the only place you’ll find a lot of Kung Fu guys fighting–you see the same playing tag and unreal fighting, just sloppier. If you happen to run up on a Kung Fu tournament with some full contact (and I discover this happens even more these days), most of the hard core fighters are sporting MMA or Muay Thai gear.

Tell me I’m wrong.

It’s pleasing to see that Kung Fu fighters have become more competitive these days. It would just be nice to see more Kung Fu guys become competive with Kung FU. Am I right, am I right, or am I right? Why should a Kwoon need to be influenced by MMA to actually introduce some toughness and fighting spirit? In each local CMA community, there only seems to be a small handful (oftentimes, one) of schools whose Sifu aspired to become great–to become dominant–over the other schools. Not just dominant over other Kung Fu schools, but to be the best school around the city. Often, this is the Sifu who never put out a video tape series, or never wrote articles on himself. He is sometimes disliked by other Sifu in town. He may have been the youngest of them. His history or credentials might have been questioned. He may have been the newest, ignored Sifu on the block many years ago, and he used that slight to fuel his desire to show the other guys up. And 20 years later, his guys are the killers of the community. <—-  And THIS is what I think happened, Kung Fu comrades…

See, we have spent the last 30-40 years training lackadaisically. We did not compete with one another. We judged each other by measuring lineages and timelines rather than win/loss records. We focused on keeping the “less-than-authentic/less-than-fully-Chinese” schools away from the Chinese New Year celebration, rather than turning our focus inward and trying to produce the best generation of students and fighters we can. We shied away from tournaments (and certainly the ring) and our students never had much to compare themselves to, and with nothing to sharpen our blades against, too many Kung Fu schools live up to the “Soft Style Division” that “Hard Style” tournament promoters deem us. We’ve gone so far from the tradition of one-upmanship that makes for great martial artists, and we’ve become the school that teaches Kung Fu for discipline, good grades, living in harmony, longevity, blah blah blah…. anything but fighting and self defense. We’ve convinced our students (and ourselves) that fighting is not the point, and that although we train as if we will never need our martial arts–if the day came when we actually DID need it–when some guy with a brick or a knife or some friends who want your wallet, all of that horse stance training and learning postures and push hands will miraculously save your ass. Even though the only bloody nose you’ve suffered in training was when some guy slipped up and did it by mistake and Sifu admonished him for using too much power in Chi Sao practice (sigh).

Training for no other reason but to make another Kung Fu practitioner look like a fool is bad. Training for no other reason but to make yourself look good is bad. However, we must still train to make another Kung Fu practitioner look like a fool and to make us look good is good–if the ultimate goal is to strengthen your skill and reach a level of dominance and really reap the self defense and combative benefits of all this training and study. Forget trying to look like you are humble, who cares what you look like? Humility is good, but does you no good if you have commited your life to the martial arts and you have no skills to keep you safe on the street. Yes, there are many of us who don’t do this for fighting. For those martial artists, they should take the words “self defense and combat” off their websites and business cards and flyers. But if you are in the business of keeping people safe, we must do away with the rhetoric and outdated, dying practices and get back to the 21st century. Your lineage means everything, but it also means nothing. Give your students what they really think they’re getting. Start practicing for greatness, so that you can produce great martial arts students. It all starts with seeing who is best between you and the next guy, then once you find out, you continue to outdo each other, until you are both great. This is how the Chinese martial arts community will get its respect in the field, not by sitting in small circles and pointing to everything except real skill.

Bring back the competitive spirit into Kung Fu. Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

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