Secret #4 to Perfecting Your Kung Fu Skill

12 12 2015

If you want to travel quickly, go alone.

If you want to travel far, go together.

–Kenyan Proverb


Don’t let the title mislead you;  this is the first of a series. I have a list of “secrets” that, if you follow them, will aid you in perfecting your Kung Fu skill. Being a teacher and an author who does this for a living, I am obviously not going to give it all away on this site for free. However, I will give enough through the series, that if you follow our articles and you follow closely–you will indeed be on your way to perfecting your martial arts skill. On top of that, I am highly positive that wherever you study, you will also be known as one of the best. Very few men can actually say that at any point in their martial arts lives, they’ve ever been known as “one of the best” by anyone other than friends and students.

There are lots of “Gatdulaisms”–terminology and jargon–that I use that others might not use and we will define and explain them as we go along. If you are familiar with my writings (from the Filipino Fighting Secrets Blog or my books on Amazon), you should need little explanation. If not, keep a notepad and keep up… I think you’ll love the philosophy.

For starters, let’s explain the idea of “perfecting your Kung Fu skill”.

Perfection in the martial arts is a verb, not a noun. When you are striving to perfect a martial art, one must understand that true “perfection” in the art is a mythical place that you will never reach. As long as you endure to perfect your art, you will be closer to reaching perfection (the noun). We may perform our Kung Fu technically perfect–with good stances, good form, good speed, good power–but as long as there is breath in your body and your blood moves through your veins, understand that regardless of the level you are on you can reach a higher plateau. Everyone–every great Sifu, every great champion, every great soldier–can improve and become faster, stronger, have better understanding, attain more efficiency and effectiveness. Should you ever convince yourself that your art or your skill is perfect and needs no improvement, you will just have taken the first step towards your decline. Like a champion fighter who states that he will never be beat, and trains and thinks as if he will never be beat–he enables his future challengers to work harder than he does and devise a more superior strategy to defeating him. The only champion who retires with a “perfect” record is the one who never underestimates any opponent, and works as if his next opponent is the best he’s ever faced. Never forget that. Perfection is a verb. It is “the effort to improve and perfect the knowledge and skill you have today.”  Regardless of how good you are, one must endeavor to become better tomorrow. When you turn an art over to a student, you are essentially handing him your work in process. It is up to that student to continue your research to explore, experiement, and evolve the progress you’ve made. This is why I don’t believe in “preserving” systems. You may preserve a teacher’s teachings, but you must investigate, add, and evolve what you learned so that his system improves with you.

This is also a reason I don’t reach back. In my own system of Jow Ga, we have the desire to uncover the original version of Jow Ga, possibly back to the founders. As if what the founders taught was perfect, and that what our teachers taught was flawed. In my opinion, to do so reverses all the progress the Masters before us accomplished. They received the art one way, they added, tweaked, and revised the art to give you what they believe to be an improved version. Who are we to reject that effort and go back to the old way, and allow the revisions to die? Every system–from Jow Ga, to Hung Gar, to Ngo Cho Kun, to Faan Tzi Ying Jow–are all updated improvements of what our founders learned before there was a Jow Ga, Hung Gar, Ngo Cho, Ying Jow. If our founders felt their original knowledge was perfect, they would not have changed it or created new systems.

So, this is a freebie:  One of the secrets to Perfecting or Mastering Kung Fu is to understand that despite the rhetoric–nothing and no one:  Not our Sifu, not our Si Jo, not our system, not ourselves–nothing and no one in the martial arts is perfect. It is up to every man and woman who are entrusted with carrying the art to the next generation to strike to perfect the art we are in possession of. We must learn our teacher’s lessons thoroughly. We must review, reflect, and revise to understand it better. We must experiment, test and repeat step II–based on the outcome of our experiment. Then, we must take our research, and try to come up with a more perfect version of our teacher’s art. Finally, we must repeat this entire process until the day we die.

To recap:

  1. We must learn our teacher’s lessons thoroughly.
  2. We must review, reflect, and revise to understand it better.
  3. We must experiment, test and repeat step II–based on the outcome of our experiment.
  4. Then, we must take our research, and try to come up with a more perfect version of our teacher’s art.
  5. Finally, we must repeat this entire process until the day we die.

Now, on to the reason I wrote that article (yes, that ^^ was just a freebie). We will keep it simple and sweet.


Your teacher may not have told you this. Kung Fu can be learned in private, but it cannot be mastered in private.

I learned most of my Jow Ga privately. While I did attend classes almost daily, my time with my Sifu and my Si Hings Raymond Wong, Craig Lee, and Tehran Brighthapt were almost always one on one. However, this is where I merely learned Jow Ga, while most may have learned in the classroom. The one-on-one method of transmission does not make me any better than anyone else. In fact, learning privately was simply coincidence. Early in my training, Sifu Chin was only available to me when classes were not in session, and many of the things I had to learn were not on the curriculum. Sifu also taught a class that very few attended, and this left my brother and I alone with him many days. When he died, I was close to three Si Hings, and they were not available when other classmates were available, so my training again was private or semi-private. In the final stages of my Jow Ga education, there were no other students learning the forms I was learning, so I had to wait until classes ended in order to receive instruction, as I was teaching by that time. My practice time was solo, as my brother relocated back to the Philippines by 1987, and most of my peers were either working or in college by then, leaving me all day to train alone in the gym or at the home of my Si Hing Raymond Wong.

The next stage of my development, however, involved training partners and opponents. And this is the secret…

If you notice, Kung Fu systems almost always have two man dueling sets and partner drills like Chi Sao and Sam Sing. This is no accident. While one can learn to punch and kick and train alone, to develop the higher level skills–such as timing and reflexes, you will need to have strike and kicks thrown at you. The less predictable those techniques are–with more power and speed, as well as an adversarial nature to the drills–the more beneficial they are to your perfection of the art. This is why we draw a line of distinction between performing a Jow Ga form and executing a Jow Ga form. In performing your Jow Ga, you do the form as a solo activity. When executing the form, you involve an opponent–whether real or imaginary–and the techniques are thrown in the same manner they would be utilized with an opponent. Forms done for points and applause are “performed”; forms done for fighting are “executed”. When you train the form alone, it will be performed. When you train the techniques from that form with a partner or on an opponent, you learn to execute the form. One of the complaints I had as a student was the idea of “pairing up” students with another student for two man sets. I thought it to be a silly notion, as if we were pairing dance partners. What I did not understand then, was that partners for two man sets often become training partners, sparring partners, even rivals. Looking at my own Kung Fu brothers, I remember the pairs:  Chris Henderson vs Ron Wheeler, Mu vs San Wong, Derek Johnson vs Troyon Williams, Stephanie Dea vs Reza Momenan, Craig Lee vs Eugene Mackie… and the list goes on. What ended up happening with this was more than just chemistry. The pairs trained so much, they exchanged energy, ideas, even strengths and weaknesses and rivalries. Two man sets were not compliant as in other schools. Over 15 years of training side by side with these fighters, I can recall two man set demonstrations turning into near fights where they were angry at each other afterwards:  Ron sending Chris to the hospital to stitch his foot after cutting him, Howard Davis cursing at me for hitting his head with a staff during a tournament demo. The partners become lifelong friends as well. They spar so many rounds against each other, for example Tehran Brighthapt and his weekly matches against Terrance Robinson every Sunday–the two ended up fighting with almost the same techniques and strategy, even Terry coming for his weekly match after suffering a broken nose the week prior. After all, you can’t keep your training partner waiting!

Entire systems have been developed from these training partners too. But we will have to discuss that another time. Before we close, let me add one last piece of information, along with a summary:

  • Training partners cannot be compliant. Compliant partners lend no benefit to your skill. You gain from a partner challenging you, even working against you. The better skilled your partner, the better skill you will gain. If your partner is more of an opponent to overcome, each time you train, you are forced to work harder and improve
  • Training partners, in fact, are also adversaries. They must be willing to make your techniques difficult to execute. No opponent on the street will allow you to use your Kung Fu, so why should your partner? The harder you must work to land a hit, the easier it will be to land hits
  • Training partners must not be equally skilled. One must be better than the other. However, the weaker partner will eventually catch up to the stronger, and this forces the stronger partner to fight to stay ahead. It does the pair no good for one to beat the other up week after week. Perhaps in the beginning this might happen, but within months, the weaker partner should improve and become a formidable opponent who forces the stronger partner to watch his back!
  • Training partners should not be like minded. You don’t need two Yes Men in the gym. They should disagree on techniques and methods, so that each develops his own ideas independently–and must defend those ideas against his partner. At some point, however, the two can share ideas and discoveries. Or they could continue to disagree and strive to outdo the other. This is perhaps the best type of training partner one can find
  • Training partners must be honest, loyal, and even-tempered. You both will ultimately leave the teacher’s womb and become teachers yourselves. There will be no benefit if at some point, you are no longer friends and can no longer reflect upon the years of training together for whatever reason. Even if there was a rivalry, after years of such–even a slight dislike for each other, remember this:  You are brothers of the same Ga, and progress for each of you is progress for the other. So you are good at fighting, and he is good at lion dance… are you satisfied never learning your brother’s Lion Dance technique? Will you never share your fighting skill with your brother’s students? How can this system progress to the next level if brothers withold information from each other?
  • And finally, I repeat, training partners must be honest. You mustn’t be too worried to hurt the other’s feelings that you cannot give him your true opinion of his Kung Fu. At the same time, you must allow your training brother to be comfortable being honest with you if he sees a place you can improve. We all want to master the art. But the best of you are those who want for your brother what you want for yourselves. If you remove yourself from this equation, you will never perfect the art. Martial arts systems and families are a cipher, and that cycles must be allowed to revolve and circle without interruption, without interference, and most of all–without any misrepresentation or omission. When relationships are blurred or severed, the entire system is out of balance. This is why styles die with their masters, if students do not remain connected, and connected tightly.

High definition images are created by having many views of the same image, but from slightly different angles. If an image is only seen from one angle, the result is a bland, one dimensional view. The more angles you introduce to the same image, the picture becomes clearer and sharper and more potent and pure. Training partners can give you four eyes on your system rather than just your two. Going alone will give the Kung Fu man a very lonely, uninspired, selfish, one-dimensional path to the same destination all Kung Fu men aspire to reach. Please scroll to the top, and ponder on the African proverb posted at the beginning of this article. Stay tuned for the next installment!

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.



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