My Style’s Too Deadly

21 11 2015

A Kung Fu guy, a Karate guy, a Jeet Kune Do guy, a Streetfighting guy, a Jiu Jitsu guy, and a Ninja guy walk into a tournament. The one who can’t fight goes, “My style’s too deadly.”  The rest of the group smacks him upside his head, and they all have a good laugh. The end.

Okay, my joke telling skills aren’t that good. 🙂

But it is a long-standing joke that martial artists who can’t fight love to throw out that “My art’s too deadly” reason to shunning competition. As if your respective style doesn’t have backfist, side kick, round kick, straight punch, etc… Or, as if you only engage in death matches.

Here’s the thing:  ALL styles are too deadly for competition. Hell, look at Paint Ball. What’s more deadlier than small arms combat, and they even have found a safe way to practice! Martial arts tournaments were not designed to simulate the battlefield. However, if you wanted a place to test the few safe techniques in your system without risking broken bones, crushed windpipes, dislocated knees–the tournament is the way to go. Either you can block a punch or kick or you can’t, and a 3 minute, hit-him-five-times-or-lose match is a great way to find out really quick if you have the timing and speed to stop a punch or kick. So what some guys are slapping–block the slap. The good old straight punch to the ribs is still legal, so take the shot!

I believe in the 1960s all martial arts on these shores were on equal ground. However, the Karate and Tae Kwon Do schools engaged in competition and honed their arts into something that was more practical than when they first arrived–and Chinese stylists sat in the bleachers ridiculing it until, six generations later, you are hard pressed to find more than three Kung Fu schools in each city willing to slug it out, regardless of the rules.

Let’s define something, by the way, as I’m sure some will object to my use of the expression “more practical”:

In saying Karate/Tae Kwon Do becoming “more practical” over the years, I am saying that as time went on, those arts moved away from prearranged practice into a type of practice that is more suitable for fighting on the street. Yes, tournament techniques are somewhat unrealistic. But today’s point fighters are faster, more athletic, have better reflexes, trickier, and have more strategies up their sleeves than their Grandmaster’s generation.

Back to my point. Kung Fu practitioners have good fighting techniques within every style. The problem is that too many schools over emphasize forms practice and do not engage enough in sparring for students to have the attributes needed to bridge what they do in forms practice with what they do in fighting practice. As a result, we see Kung Fu people studying Muay Thai and abandoning their style’s specialty. Kung Fu people putting opponents in the guard when their system calls for breaking arms and legs. Kung Fu people politely declining offers to have a friendly match, and later exclaiming to friends that their art was designed for killing, not acquiring points.

Even if your system has no punches and only eye gouges and throat smashes, you still need speed and timing to catch an eye before an opponent can turn his head. Even if your system has no hook punches or elbow techniques, you still need to know how to defend against a hook punch or elbow to the face. This is why sparring against foreign systems is absolutely necessary, because each form of fighting–from the lightest contact sparring division to the body slamming San Shou competition–delivers a different set of skills to the Kung Fu fighter who engages in it. You are not going to learn to take jabs by hitting mitts with a classmate. You are not going to learn to avoid leg kicks–or learn to manuever after eating a few Charlie-horse-inflicting thigh kicks–unless you’ve actually faced a man attacking your legs. Your Sifu teaches you techniques, but opponents teach you how to fight.

No clever conclusion here, that’s it. Understand, that every Kung Fu student needs to engage in combat with unfamiliar faces and styles if he is to take your art to the next level. Yes, we are all training to cripple, maim or kill. But we need safe places to test out the few skills we can if those skills are to be reliable when we need them.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

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The Two Fatal Mistakes of Teaching Kung Fu

21 11 2015

We have the art of doing Kung Fu, and then there is the art of teaching Kung Fu.

While closely related, the two are not equal, and as the cliche goes–skill in one does not equate to skill in the other. We are going to take this discussion to a deeper level than the normal generic explanation. I believe that not fully understanding the development of Kung Fu skill in oneself versus the development of Kung Fu skill in a student have terrible consequences. It could very well be the perfect explanation for the state of Chinese Martial Arts today. Please hear me out, before making a judgment about this view.

Mistake #1–Thinking there is no more to learn

In the Filipino arts is an expression, that the moment one believes his skill is “good enough” that martial artist’s skill begins to decline. There is always another level to an ever-growing onion.  In the martial arts, many focus on the attainment of rank. We foolishly refer to this pursuit as “finishing the system”, and then neglect to dig deeper than our own teacher’s research within an art. There are several ways to make this mistake:

  • Learning the forms of the system, and little else
  • Develop fighting skill that is completely unrelated to the skills of one’s system
  • Neglecting to utilize techniques from your system’s forms in fighting
  • Denial of, or shunning, the value of competitions and tournaments
  • Refusing to learn from another teacher or another school–even within your own system–or its inverse–
  • Adding more arts and systems to your repertoire arbitrarily
  • Immediately transitioning from learning the system directly to teaching the system
  • Failing to realize that your own personal skill in Kung Fu can become stronger, faster, more accurate, more instantaneous, and sharper
  • Desiring to keep the system exactly as it was taught to you, with no innovations or alterations or personalization

Simply put, many teachers have undertaken their teaching career prematurely. They are passing on to their students a snapshot of the classroom from the days when Sifu was a student, with no development or changes from Si Gung to Sifu to student. What a disservice! When the teacher believes there is nothing more to learn, he fails to see the beauty on the other side of the mountain. When going uphill, it is difficult to see that there is another plateau to the mountain. We often fail to reach the summit when we stop to rest and believe we’d gone “far enough”. It is only when we are never satisfied, always hungry for more, never tiring or becoming bored with our climb that one day we do actually reach the top. It is at this point, you are standing at the top and can see the bottom of the mountain on both sides, and realize that you’ve arrived. And here’s the thing about arriving at the point of mastery:  It always comes long after you thought you would, and no man can take you there. <— This is my problem with schools that award “Master” rank to a student. You simply cannot. Mastery is a climb that one must make alone. It is a point of self-realization that many others may not share with you–nor will they agree that you have arrived. But don’t worry, the reason most men do not believe you have arrived is because they have not reached that summit themselves, and did not accompany you. At the same time, men who have been there themselves will know, because they’ve seen what you’ve seen, they’ve tasted the bitter cold, the thin air, felt the burn in their thighs, and recognize the psychological high you share with them after reaching the peak.

This is the reason I believe most men abandon martial arts perfection in order to pursue easier goals that are more pleasing to the ego. Things like rank, titles, additional styles, multiples of ranks in other systems (without actually study–these men gain them through correspondence courses and weekend seminars), publicity and fame and popularity. They embellish accomplishments because they have none to be proud of. They are prone to rivalries and severed relationships. They abandon families and start their own groups to do it their way. They deny their histories and pretend to have traveled another path. Few men have earned their way to the title of Master, so they find ways to do it the quick, easy way–or they simply wait until they are too old to be questioned on their skill, and use Age-as-rank to strap on that title.

But a mediocre young man only grows into a mediocre old man. And this is the point where we begin our descent to the other side of the mountain, and the second flaw.

Mistake #2–Thinking there is more to teach

Teachers try to be everything to everyone. I recall a meme I had recently seen on social media. Something to the effect of “Martial arts teachers, aka career counselors, aka marriage counselors, aka dietician, aka historian, aka child disciplinarian, blah blah blah”.

How foolish. We are martial artists. And to explain it to a non-Martial Artist, that could mean one or several of many things:

  • A fighting coach
  • A fitness coach
  • An educator
  • A bodyguard
  • A surrogant parent
  • A cultural center curator
  • A tournament fighter’s coach
  • A self-defense expert
  • blah, blah, blah

It is either ignorance or arrogance for a teacher to think he knows it all. We simply do not. Life is too short for a Sifu to be a self-defense expert, a kickboxing coach, a fitness expert, a weight loss specialist, a chiropractor, an expert on ADHD, a weapons expert, etc.  If we are a true “Master” of the arts, there must be something we specialize in, within our arts. Perhaps we can teach the fundamentals of many things. But carry every student to the point of mastery in every aspect of our arts is not just foolish, it is dishonest. As a master, I must represent to my students that I have “mastered” everything in my system and know those things better than most of my peers. Honestly, no man can make that claim. This is how I believe Kung Fu styles ended up with so many weapons forms–while the Founder may have studied one or two weapons with a true master, 150 years later his system is teaching 15 weapons. In the meantime, all students get is a form with that weapon, and nothing more. Yet Kung Fu websites all boast 9, 10, 15 weapons. One can’t possibly excel at all of them.

What have you spent your career doing, within the arts? Fighting? Performing exhibitions? Performing Lion Dance? Kicking? Punching? Kickboxing? Teaching?

Yes, after 30 years of study in the arts, most of us should be qualified to call ourselves an “expert” in our respective styles. But an expert in what? Yes, you may know 40 forms, but you can’t possibly have mastered all 40 forms. I know close to 50, and I have spent nearly all of my Kung Fu training practicing 9. If a Jow Ga student came to me and wanted to learn the best of my Jow Ga, I would be cheating him to spend any length of time with forms other than those 9. Can I teach them? Sure, I can. If he wanted to perfect them–it would either be a solo effort, with me supervising–or I would send him to another Jow Ga Sifu whom I know has already perfected that skill. I love Lion Dance and can teach it. However, if an advanced student of mine loved it and wanted to perfect his ability and knowledge I would have to send him to another Si Hing once I had shown him all I knew.

And that, brothers and sisters ^^, is the point of the second fatal mistake in Kung Fu. Not realizing that one’s knowledge is not infinite. We must understand our limits, and be confident in our skills, but humble enough to know when we can not teach a student further than the boundaries of our knowledge and experience. We got a good example of this in last week’s fight between Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm, when Rousey’s trainer attempted to teach her how to defeat Holm, who was an expert stand up fighter. Rather than understand his limits as a coach, he attempted to do it alone rather than bring in a real expert at stand up to take Rousey to the next level. I have seen the man move, and I can tell you, Ronda was training with a man she can beat.

Now, how many times have you seen Kung Fu Sifus bring students to a full-contact competition when that Sifu has never fought full contact himself?

I hope you get my point.

We can teach our students what we know, and what we’ve developed. However, we must also admit to ourselves what we are truly proficient and knowledgeable in, and limit what we teach to those things. If you find that that you need more research, keep training and climbing. Sometimes, you may need to climb more than one mountain. Sometimes, you reach old age while still climbing mountains. Pass the torch on to your students when you can no longer climb mountains, and let them elevate your art after you have taken it as far as you can go.

To recap, you must first develop and research and master you art as far as you can. Then secondly, you must teach what you know best–the heavily concentrated version of the best of your Kung Fu knowledge–to your students, and enlist other Sifus if you must. This is what keeps Kung Fu pure and strong–not pretending to know everything when you don’t.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.