Teaching the Timid

31 01 2016

Today we will discuss some tips to help you come up with ways to teach one of our more difficult types of students:  The passive student.

Due to the way the Chinese martial arts have been labeled by the community–as well as how we have marketed them–Kung Fu schools have always attracted students who were not as interested in fighting and combat. Or perhaps they wanted to learn to fight, but feared sparring or training with contact. This is not commonplace for other martial arts, such as the grappling arts or stick-based arts, because those styles keep sparring and combat as a yardstick for measuring skill. In the Chinese arts, we highlight forms, the age of the systems, lion dance, health benefits, etc. Because of this, students come to the CMA not expecting to touch gloves, while in other martial cultures they simply assume that actual combat will be practiced regularly.

I have seen personally, and entire classroom of students get nervous when the Sifu announced that they will be sparring that day. A culture of prearranged defense and lack of emphasis of sparring has created entire generations of martial arts students who are here more for the “art” than the “martial”. In other words, we have entire generations of students who fear sparring. Sadly, a timid student becomes a timid Sifu, and nothing is worse than a school led by a Sifu who never learned to fight. Even worse than that, however, are students being put into fight competition by a Sifu who does not know how to fight.

To keep it simple, we will offer some solutions in bullet format:

  • Fear of fighting can either come from two places:  1. embarassment from failure (or fear of losing), or 2. fear of getting hurt
  • Fear of failure can be eliminated by drilling techniques, both attack and defense with a partner, in such high numbers, the student actually develops a high level of proficiency with those skills. Often, the lack of confidence is due to one’s realization that he/she has a low level of skill
  • Fear of getting hurt is eliminated by introducing the student to contact gradually. This is accomplished through holding pads during power hitting practice, allowing contact in drills–first lightly, and then increasing the amount allowed gradually. Most people can develop a high pain tolerance level, but the barrier is psychological. As students allow themselves to be hit more and more, they lose the fear of pain as they discover they can take it
  • Giving students ample time in practice for impact training. Too often, Kung Fu training is practiced solo, or students are instructed to pull techniques when face to face. Using a combination of kicking shields, focus mitts, and striking bags and posts–having students hit with power as well as being on the receiving end of the blows will give your fighters more confidence and build up their levels of aggression (referred to in the Jow Ga system as “fighting spirit”)
  • Impact training also leads to another type of confidence. When martial arts students realize the potential for damage with their skills, they also will develop a respect for their knowledge. Martial artists must learn what these arts can do to an opponent so that they do not become reckless with it. Irresponsible students who have never been hit in the jaw may deliver such strikes to opponents and training partners unnecessarily because they are unaware what it feels like. Once they have been on the receiving end, students can then regulate when, where, and how much power to use–as well as when not to use it
  • Do not fear allowing for mistakes in the gym. You cannot protect your students from getting hurt or minor accidents all the time. Let them sort it out themselves; not so much that you have students getting injured daily–but allow them to slip up and get popped. These lessons are valuable and helps to build resistance and pain tolerance
  • Another important source of confidence comes from physical strength. Many Kung Fu schools all but ignore strength-building exercises such as pushups, pull-ups and dips. Doing exercises that build muscular strength gives students powerful limbs and a strong physique, which leads to self-confidence. Although a muscular body is not indicative of fighting skill, it does give students a psychological edge against their opponents and provides physical resistance to injury. Strength of the core also helps the fighters resist injury when being hit
  • When introducing sparring, you consider having students spar with only two or three techniques. For example one student must use punches against opponents who are only allowed to use their right arm and leg to fight with. Be creative. This isolation builds competency quickly, is challenging and gives quick-thinkers an edge over some more physically gifted classmates, and is fun. Additionally, by isolating techniques, your fighters are forced to learn to adapt their skills to a number of attacks
  • Finally, the most basic way to deal with the timid:  Simply have them spar more. Gradually, of course, but do it more often. The more your students spar, the less they fear it, and surely, the better they become at it. It’s that simple!

Hopefully, we’ve given you some useful tips and make sure to give your students time to develop. The results won’t come overnight, but if they have had enough time–you will definitely see an improvement.

If you like this or any other article on this blog, please share and spread the word! And remember to subscribe! Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation. We welcome any tips, criticism and comments below.

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A Not-So-New Way of Looking at Kung Fu Weapons (Reverse Engineering, pt II)

18 01 2016
Many of you know this weapon. But what do you DO with it? How do you practice with it?

Many of you know this weapon. But what do you DO with it? How do you practice with it?

Going to ask you to step out the box you’re normally in for this one… We’re going to file this article under  “Technique and Strategy”, too.

Typically, Kung Fu teachers limit most weapons practice to learning the skills necessary to perform the forms accompanying the weapon properly. I don’t believe this is enough. If one cannot simply learn a form and the basic applications and use them in fighting, why do we think we can do so with the weapons?

Looking at the history of most styles, many of our Si Jo were not experts at many weapons. Without referencing my library or visiting any websites, I recall that founders of systems I’ve read about studied hand techniques and often, only one or two weapons. Yet a century later, the schools teaching their arts often have ten or more weapons in their curriculums. How many of your system’s history also includes a history of each weapon in your curriculum? I’ll give an example using myself. My system speaks of only one weapon/form, in its history the 8 Diagram Pole. Yet Jow Ga–depending on the lineage and school–offers as many as 12 or more weapons and forms. I do pass on to my students however, the story behind four weapons I was taught by him in close detail:  the double headed staff, the spear, the broadsword, the three-sectioned staff, and the double daggers. I have learned all the weapons my lineage has, yet these four weapons I know the best because I spent years with my teacher learning them. Training was not just form also. We had diagrams, techniques practice, combinations, I practiced techniques for use against other weapons, applications for the techniques of these weapons to modern “non” weapons, power-generating practice, applications of the techniques to the empty hand, and sparring. When I speak to other Si Hing about their experience with our Sifu, I discovered that these weapons appeared to be his weapons of choice as well. As a young instructor, I received further instruction from my Si Gung on the staff that were quite different from that which I learned from my Sifu, so my students now get a fifth story to add to their Jow Ga history. If you are one of the fortunate ones to still have access to your Sifu, I would highly encourage you to question him about these same things, as often our teachers neglect to give us the source of such knowledge and technology.

Taking our previous discussion about “Reverse Engineering”, (if you hadn’t read it, please read that article so that this one makes more sense) I have a strong suggestion for you. Take one weapon form from your system and give yourself 12 months to deconstruct it. Apply the Reverse Engineering philosophy to that form and weapon, and whatever you come up with make a list into two groups:  Group I and Group II. Group I would be the easy, superficial applications that one could surmise by simply learning the form. Start with the first technique in the form, and make your list of techniques all the way to the last. Skip anything that doesn’t actually look like a technique. Then Group II would be the applications that are more difficult (some of these could be techniques that appear in Group I, but are alternative applications) to execute and requires more training and practice. Be sure to include in Group II those things that make no obvious sense; you will work and rework these techniques until you have exhausted all possibility that the techniques are useful. You now have a working curriculum for that weapon.

Allow me to offer what I have done with my Jow Ga weapons training. Perhaps you may see something you like:

  1. Perform your weapon’s form 100 times. Yes, you read that right, 100 times. You should begin any new endeavor within your system with a thorough understanding of what you are doing. This comes in part from a Filipino proverb, that a skill is not learned until it has been performed 500 times. 500 is a lot to ask for an entire Kung Fu form, which is why I am suggesting 100 for starters. I know over 40 forms, yet there are 8 that I have performed 500 times, and two that I have performed 1,000. Doing so will reveal things to you that will escape most people. My Sifu, who died prematurely, had also confided in me that he had performed three forms 100 times in his youth consecutively and he considered himself an expert of those forms. I am merely continuing his research.
  2. Identify all possible techniques into “Group I/Group II” categories. Leave no stone unturned. Make sure that you can easily answer the question, “Sifu, what’s this for?”  You would be surprised how many Kung Fu experts cannot answer that question for a good portion of things in their system. Everything has a use; everything has a reason for being there… it’s up to you to discover them. If you can’t answer “why” and “how”, my question is, why do you do it at all?
  3. Identify the basic strikes, blocks, traps, cuts, etc., necessary to form a proper foundation with the weapon. Many of you may have them. Some of you only have them for certain weapons, and only a form or two for others. Dissect the weapon so that you can truly understand them. This list will make up daily practice for those learning the weapon. The same way you perform stance training, punching practice, Chi Sao, impact training, hand conditioning, blocking practice, etc., with the empty hand–you should also have the same regimen offered when students are learning a weapon.
  4. Your curriculum is 50% created; now become a guinea pig. Take your basics, train only those things for 3 months religiously. Focus on those weapons basics in place of what you normally train with for the empty hand in your system. Do your bag work (using the weapon). Do your shadowboxing (using the weapon). Have someone attack you so that you could practice your blocking (using the weapon). Even do some light sparring (using the weapon). Then take your Group I techniques, and train it for 3 months–doing the same as above. And finally, Group II. This will take you a year. Along the way, you should have new items, perhaps some things you want to eliminate or modify. You may even have created new drills. And I bet your skill with this weapon will be second to none. That can be the only outcome!
  5. The new discoveries should now have brought your weapons curriculum about 25% more information. If not, you’re probably doing something wrong! Add this information to the list…
  6. Teach. Teaching, they say, is 1/3 of Mastery. You cannot class and seminar your way to Mastery; you must at some point, compile all you have learned and pass it on to students who lack your knowledge and skill. At this point, more will be revealed to you as you witness the students undergo the learning process. They will stumble, they will make mistakes, they will ask questions you hadn’t thought of. Where you were once the guinea pig, you know have a classroom full of eager test subjects–so teach!
  7. While they learn, go ahead and do your form 400 more times. In the course of learning, your students will teach you through their own imperfections. This will be a great opportunity to contribute to the evolution of your system and your lineage. After all, who are we but inheritors of our Masters’ work. They have passed it on to us to continue their quest for a more perfect system. Keep training, and by the 500th time you execute that form–I guarantee you will discover things that perhaps your own Sifu had yet found.

This was a 1,300 word article, but it will be a 2-3 year process. Keep this article in your “favorites” folder, and make it a part of your martial arts philosophy. One thing is for sure, if you do it, the next generation of students under you will receive a more potent, concentrated, better-researched version of what you could have given them. If you are satisfied with the outcome, it’s time for yum cha… breathe deep…. pull out a copy of your system’s curriculum. Which weapon’s next?

Life is short. Don’t waste time. There is so much work to do! Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.





Reverse Engineering in the Art of Kung Fu Application

16 01 2016

It can be said that there are many paths to to success in martial arts, just as there are many roads to a destination. However, one cannot argue that all the paths and roads are created equal and are therefore objective. While you may prefer a particular method to develop proficiency in the martial arts, some methods are better than others. Some deliver more quickly than others. Some bring students to that point with better understanding of the art than other. And, like it or not–some can nearly guarantee great skill, while others can guarantee failure. Instructors must be realistic and honest in their approach to martial arts instruction. Perhaps you do not like form or fighting; but to dissuade students to ascribe to your approach and deny them the opportunity to decide for themselves is simply unfair and unethical. A good example of this are Sifus who were not proficient in sparring as young men, so as a teacher he tells his students that sparring leads to bad habits or worse:  Sparring is unnecessary. Rather than deal with the stress of facing to himself that he left some stones in his martial arts training unturned and fixing his short comings, it was easier to pretend that his failures were unimportant. Therefore, by convincing himself that sparring is unimportant or even unproductive, Sifu So-n-So could ignore that underdeveloped skill and not have to deal with it when producing new martial arts students.

One may observe that in the Chinese martial arts, we have many Sifu who do not have fighting/sparring skill and therefore do not teach it. And as the saying goes, there are many paths to the destination so we will deal with a road often ignored by many of today’s Sifu–even those who can fight.

Reverse Engineering

This is one of those paths that I’m referring to. How most Kung Fu practitioners practice, they divide training into possibly three or four areas. One might be basics. Stances, punches, blocks, kicks. Here, one would have their system’s drills and specialized skills like Chi Sao or Sam Sing/Chut Sing. The second would be forms practice. Learn the forms, then practice the performance of those forms. Tighten up your movements, pauses, foowork, jumps and sweeps. Mostly, in this second area, you are practicing to win a forms competition in a tournament. For many in the TCMAs, this takes up the bulk of your training time, and includes weapons. Sadly, when it comes to weapons, this appears to be the ONLY place Kung Fu people allow their weapons to be used. Weapons practice is rarely applied in any of the other areas. Empty hand forms, however, may see some applications extracted and practiced in the first phase, depending on the taste of the instructor. The third area is conditioning and fitness. As I get to visit more and more Kung Fu schools, I find that often this is thrown into the warm-up phase of practice or a part of the group class format, and little else is done in this area. It appears that superior conditioning, extreme body strength and flexibility is not as important to many of us, outside of what might be done in the course of a regular Kung Fu class. The fourth area, if utilized at all, is sparring practice. This should be integrated in some way with the other three areas, but most often it is not. This is the place that “Kung Fu” practice no longer looks like “Kung Fu”, and transforms into a quasi-kickboxing style training or point karate. You might find a few style-recognizable techniques thrown in here and there, like a trap or wheel punch or sweep. But more often than not, everything from the first three areas is abandoned for “practical” kung fu. In other words, “what works”.

The Reverse Engineers have a fifth phase, however, which is named after themselves. This phase is where the Sifu takes techniques directly from the form, extracts techniques and fits them into situations a fighter may find himself and applies techniques to those situations–whether or not it was the original purpose of the technique. Regardless of what your Sifu may have told you, the Kung Fu system as we know it is most likely between 100 and 200 years old. Few of us are actually training in a system that has been untouched or unmodified prior to that. (I’m going to refrain from my opinion that most Kung Fu styles are in fact 100 years or less in age, because I’d like to keep you as readers. Perhaps we may visit that theory at another time)  During the time these systems were created, many technological advances had not been made. For example the sparring glove, headgear, weight lifting, the jab, the punching combination or the one-legged/two-legged takedown. Does that mean we should ignore those things? So your system only addresses chambered punches aimed at the chest and has no built-in defenses from a rear naked choke or jab-cross combinations or hook punches… is there nothing in the style that can be used for those purposes?

This is where Reverse Engineering comes in. The forms in your system are broken down into core techniques and themed techniques. Those techniques and trained, studied, dissected and absorbed into your regularly-accessed arsenals. So when the opponent uses techniques not addressed by your system:  How to deal with a Spinning Heel Kick or a Tackle–you have something in your system’s first form that is perfect to stop it. Now, the entire system is dissected this way and modifications are found and created so that every possibility imaginable is addressed by something within your system’s forms. This reduces the need to cross train, combine arts, or abandon. In my opinion, this is the higher level of Kung Fu training, because it takes your system to a place that perhaps your own Sifu, his Sifu, or even your system’s founder–has not investigated. Rather than add more forms and more styles to your arsenal, you find new ways to apply and adapt the system and techniques you already know, thus adding an additional dimension to your style. Even a whole new set of techniques that your ancestors and senior were previously unaware. Using this philosophy, you take your first, second and fourth area of training, and join them with the fifth.

The Dean Chin Jow Ga lineage has in fact, incorporated some outside styles, forms and techniques to enhance our Jow Ga–but we are most certainly Reverse Engineers in this way. If you are not, before knocking it, give it a shot. You might like what you discover when you do so, regardless of the style you practice.

Or you could skip it and chalk forms practice off as “done for tradition/entertainment purposes only”, and go back to doing your Muay Thai and BJJ, while still calling yourself a “kung fu guy”. Not that there is anything wrong with it; like we always say–there are many paths….

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.





Conflict in the Kung Fu Style… (aka “How Lineages Split”)

9 01 2016

A theme you may hear oft-repeated on this blog will the recurring idea that innovation–or breaking from tradition–is in fact, a very traditional tradition in the Chinese martial arts. The main idea behind this statement is that every new style and new lineage began with one master learning an art (or several), and thinking, “I bet I can come up with something better”.  It isn’t disrespectful, as many would imply. It isn’t arrogant, although some may argue that the Si Jo was too immature or inexperienced to start/create his own style. This may be true, but if you go back in time, and look up your own heroes and the Grandmasters you follow and admire–you just might notice that many of these men did so after only 2-3 years of study, and were often in their early 20s. Some were mere teens!

Add to that the fact that every time a man steps out on his own to do something new, there will be 25 detractors saying it cannot be done. And this is why we all know who the great Kung Fu founders and Grandmasters are, but we most often cannot name their Si Hing or other classmates. History remembers the daring, the courageous, the different. Remember that.

On the other side, let’s look at the inverse to this notion… When new styles and lineages are not positive. We hear of it every day in the West. Master dies, leaving five senior students behind. Yet rather than a powerful organization with five leaders, or four leaders backing a named new senior–we find that many once-great Kung Fu families become splintered trees of many branches, often with all five students claiming to be the new Grandmaster. Or worse–each of the five claiming that the other four lack knowledge, “true” art that Sifu only taught the one, disassociation, etc.

Why does this happen? Why was everyone strong when Sifu was alive and now no one is on the same page? Let’s look at some of the causes.

  1. No clear hierarcy of who is senior to whom. Often, as teachers we do not like to name a clear, definite lineage rank structure. Who do you rank higher? The guy who got their first? The student twenty years later who was the best fighter? The guy who wasn’t the best fighter or the first to walk through the door, but was most loyal? The guy who learned the most? The one you were closest to? Your son? If you do not name a successor that everyone agrees with and will respect when you are alive, don’t expect them to do it when you are dead. Add to this phenomena a money-generating business system–you’re lack of clarity is sure to cause friction. And here is the important part:  If you do name a successor, it is your job to make sure that this successor truly is the lion in the room, and he must be a wise, admired, respected lion at that. There is nothing worse than having a senior in the presence of juniors who know they can demolish him, except having a senior that the juniors can defeat–whom they also do not like nor look up to. Leadership must come with respect and admiration. As the Master, you must ensure that the man/woman you name is capable of handling that role in as many capacities as the role requires. Some may argue that fighting skill is irrelevant. I beg to differ; this is the martial arts–not a college fraternity.
  2. Rank structure unclear. There is a difference between hierarchy and rank structure. In the Chinese martial arts, we often do not have clearly defined rank structures. Something we often question each other is proof of that:  Not “What rank are you?”, but “What form are you on?”  If the form a student is learning happens to actually reflect your school’s rank structure–adhere to it, and never stray. I have seen teachers show favoritism and violate their own system’s rank/form list, and it led to all sorts of problems. The result? Guys who know three forms who were far better in skill than other classmates who knew ten. Consistently training students who attended classes for five years being outranked (forms-wise) than junior classmates who attended sporadically. Trust me, years later when they are both grown Sifu, neither will respect the other. “I outranked you although you’re my senior”, but the other saying “You were teacher’s pet but I always could whip you…”  Bottom line, create a rank structure, adhere to it, and make ALL students pay their dues whether you like them more than the others or not, adding this:  Make sure SKILL reflects RANK. Don’t let one slip through just because they’ve been around, it will backfire.
  3. Have a plan or schedule of events for your school’s/system’s growth. This is huge. For many, especially in the Chinese martial arts, we do not strategize, nor do we define “growth”. Growth can equate to the number of schools. It can also refer to the number of people who have seen our styles and students. It can refer to the number of alliances we have. Political accomplishments. Community functions. The influence and impact our schools have on the local community. The amount of respect our system and school receives from other martial artists. The number of tournaments and other accolades won by our students. Or one that many CMA teachers do not seem very concerned with:  The actual skill of your students’ Kung Fu. Being Sifu, Grandmaster, local system leader–you must be more than simply a “certified” Kung Fu man. You need to be more than just Chinese, or Chinese-speaking. You must have a vision for your system, and everyone under you should know what that vision is, and be guided by your vision as well as your plan to get there. When a ship has been circling the ocean endlessly and the crew realize that the ship’s Captain doesn’t know where they are going–it is inevitable, they will mutiny and one will take hold of the rudder. Don’t be that Sifu. Your students will follow you to the ends of the Earth, but you must assure them that there is a pot of gold at the end of the journey. I myself do not follow my system’s leader, I follow two of my Si Hing whom I admire and believe in, and trust their knowledge, leadership and vision. Is it traditional or disrespectful to my system? To be honest, it doesn’t matter. I want to see my system grow and be respected, and I found these two to have the vision that aligns with my dreams. Styles grow when there are luminaries at the head. They do not when no one is holding a compass.
  4. If you are the leader of your system or school, you must have the qualities of a leader. A. You must have integrity. If people do not trust your honesty and sincerity, they will not follow you. They must have a good feeling when you speak, or they will not follow you–even if they may be mistaken. Greasy personalities need not apply. B. You must be unselfish. You must put the organization ahead of yourself, and want the organization to be for the masses, not yourself. If you spend all your time talking about the system, good. If you spend all your time talking about yourself, bad. You can be a good man, likeable and honest, but as a leader, people will not follow you. Even if it were true–you cannot allow yourself to be seen as narcissistic; it’s off-putting. C. You want the system and school to outlive you. Don’t plan for retirement, unless you are actively grooming a successor for years. Too many masters are so wrapped up in themselves and their leadership, they fail to prop up their students. My Sifu always put us out to demonstrate his art. When he died, most of us were well-known in the community and all of our schools were successful because we each had intact reputations built by him shining the spotlight on us. By contrast, I know a master who rarely put his students out. He was the center of attraction of all his demonstrations, he never introduced his seniors to other masters, and when he relocated (eventually passing a decade later)–no one knew who his students were and their schools were relatively unknown, although they had been around for nearly 20 years. D. You cannot love money, ego, pride, or power. Make up your mind–either you are a Kung Fu master, or you are a businessman. Yes, it is possible to be both. However, the system benefits most from a leader who does not sacrifice the integrity of his art to line his pockets, boost his ego, feed his pride, or increase his power. One cannot be slave to two masters, and if anything is competing with your love for your martial arts, just as it would competing with your wife–one will be neglected and unattended. You know what happens to unattended loves right? Someone comes along and takes it away. E. You must be a master at psychology and relationships. Funny story. All my life, I grew up thinking that I was my grandfather’s favorite grandson. I loved him deeply, and to this day can barely talk about him without feeling emotional. Everything about my life after his death, I’ve done with him in mind. Out of his grandsons, everyone says I look the most like him. I have his mannerisms, his temper, his uniqueness, and his love for the martial arts. At a family function a shortly after his death, I was distributing some of his belongings to my cousins because I wanted them to have something to remember him by. After all, I was his favorite grandson. To my surprise, most of them HAD items. I mentioned that they could take a few more, as my father convinced me not to be selfish with my Lolo even if I were in fact, the favorite grandson. Well, guess what? One of my cousins broke it down to me with one rather juvenile, but profound statement:  Dummy, we ALL were his favorite grandson. How about that? Every kid of my generation grew up feeling like some special Golden Child, because my grandfather made us think that we were each extra talented, extra smart, bound for greatness–because we held a title no other boy on Earth shared: I was his favorite grandson, and boy I tell you–I felt invincible. Each one of us who came from this poor, illiterate martial arts teaching farmer went on to foreign soil to do something big. He was the master of psychology, able to balance the jealousy and competitiveness of more than 30 grandchildren and inspired us to do big things. <—-  Now take that example, Sifu, and do the same with your students. And find a way to do it where they do not fight, but love each other and support each other.

In the absence of effective leadership, the students will lead themselves. If styles splinter and relationships sour, it is often an indication that leadership failed to keep everyone reaching for the same goals. Sure, they can all travel different paths to the same goal–just another route–but a system’s leadership can keep all branches of that system or lineage tight as a single unit. Not necessarily as one big martial arts school, however, but as a family of many schools representing the same Ga supporting each other and their goals. This is the difference I see between many Tae Kwon Do schools for example, and Kung Fu schools. TKD schools will come together to promote each other’s events and functions, they bind together for “Master Club” memberships where your school’s premier membership will allow you to train at other TKD schools–even in other states, I have seen 10, 15 TKD schools purchase thousands of uniforms as a single unit to get a good quality, heavyweight uniform for under $10! If you take your system’s lineage, add up all the schools and all the students–we would have a small army. Imagine if that small army had powerful leadership, what they could accomplish.

One last thing, please do not confuse this article with a criticism of students who branch off to open schools. That is not my intent. I am merely making a statement of a system’s leader being unable to keep all the branches tightly together as one family unit. Perhaps your system or lineage does not have one leader in your country. You could start one beginning with you, or pull together as many of your Kung Fu brothers and sisters to start one. Hopefully, this article can help you get started with leadership.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.





When the Si Dai Becomes the Si Hing…

1 01 2016

Should we change? The philosophy, that is. On one hand, we might consider our Si Hing, to always be our Si Hing. On the other hand, shouldn’t we recognize when our Junior classmate has surpassed us?

Put strictly into family terms, your older brother will always be your older brother. Even if your older brother drops out of high school and you continue on to college, he is still your older brother. You may graduate from college, go to law school, become an attorney–and he is still your older brother. You go to him for advice, he chastizes you on your neglectful ways, your womanizing, perhaps your drinking, your arrogance–and you take it, despite that you make more money, you have more status, you are more educated… But he is your older brother, you love and respect him, and deep down you know he is right.

But what about this:  You and your older brother both are hired at the same company. He is your supervisor, but you are in school and finish. You then are promoted to a supervisor, and years later, you become his manager. At home, he is older brother, but for at least 8 hours a day–YOU are the man. Awkward situation.

In the martial arts school, especially in Chinese systems where we do not use belts or such ranks–it’s a little stickier. One may elect to keep training and bypass rank promotions, while others pursue rank. Not much different than education or rank in the military, I suppose–but similarily, you may find that one day a once-junior will become senior to you or vice versa. In some cases, there is the thin line of what ranks you actually possess or what titles to use. This is a very real dilemma in the Chinese arts, because the ranks are not as cut-and-dry as in belt-granting traditions like Karate. Our relationships are much more personal. We actually refer to our classmates as “brothers” and “sisters”, and unlike many systems where Black belt is granted in 3 years and new instructors move out shortly after to open schools–the Kung Fu family remains together sometimes for decades. When I run into an old boxing gym mate from 20 years ago, whether I was better than he or not, I can great him as easily as saying, “Jose! How are you, fool?” Not so for us Kung Fu guys–I have a Jow Ga classmate named Jose, and I can only fix my mouth to call him “Si Hing”, although I have outranked him since I was perhaps 15 or 16 years old.

Through social media, I have reconnected with some old Jow Ga brothers from decades ago who were simply “Si Hing” in 1986, but a year later in 1987 I had learned the final form on our curriculum and was given permission to teach a few years later. I was then “Sifu”, and have been for over twenty years. Upon reconnecting, I never hesitated to address any of my old Si Hing as “Si Hing”. However, on occasion, one will forget that I am a full instructor of Jow Ga–and he quit as a beginner–and want to chastize or correct me on Jow Ga matters…

Um, I don’t think so.

And so, we arrive at the point of this article. When our schools were built, our traditions and customs were established, the notion that we would “reconnect” with old si hings may not have been significant enough to create a standard operating procedure. I have never been told how to communicate with any Si Hing I may one day have conflict with, as I’m sure most of you reading this blog haven’t either. I have not done much traveling and interacting with many other Kung fu schools outside of a competitive nature, so perhaps there is already a tradition in place. But for the purpose of furthering a system, building stronger Kung Fu families–it may be a good idea for Kung Fu leaders to establish protocols and traditions to govern how we conduct ourselves among each other, within this family, within this system.

Every system, lineage and geographical branch of a Kung Fu family has it’s “leader” or seniors. But leadership has to be more than simply the oldest guy or the first to join. Quite often, the senior is not the most qualified, he is not the best skilled, he may not be the most knowledgeable, he may not be the most respected… He may not even be a “he”–“He” might even be a she. Every school has it’s Dai Si Hing, but have you ever heard of a school with a Dai Si Je? Our late masters and grandmasters were just that–martial arts masters. They taught us to fight, taught us to use weapons and defend ourselves, they even taught us how to teach students. Yet I would dare to say that most of our Masters were not great leaders and did not necessarily prepare us to ensuring the preservation of the permanence of our styles and schools. This is why the average Golden Era of any Kung Fu system only lasts the duration of our master’s lives, and when they are gone–little can be done to keep them together. We become as fragmented as siblings after dividing up Mom and Dad’s inheritance. One way to help preserve a style is by clearly defining who is senior in a system, defining who is qualified to lead, agreeing to back and follow those who have been chosen to lead, and basing our decisions on logic and not emotion, knowledge and ability–not amiability.

Seniors, you must want the system and the branch to outlive you. This means every member of every single branch of your tree must be respected, advised, and shown the way to success. We do not kiss someone’s foot because they walked through the door before you did. You are not a “leader” of your system simply because you are older, or wrote the most articles, or speak the best Mandarin, or know the most forms. At the same time, protocols must be put into place so that future generations understand the hierarchy of a Kung Fu family. This will enable those who are leading the Kung Fu style to pushing forward the system toward greatness for future generations. We do more than simply “preserve” the name; we make this system bigger, stronger, more respected, and closer knit as one unit than ever before.

Even if that means you have to follow the advice of one whom you once saw struggling to learn his basics. Respect your school, your style and your Sifu enough to know when someone has worked hard enough to be at the head of the pack. We want our system to live longer than we do, and therefore some traditions may have to be altered, eliminated, or created and instituted to make sure it happens.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.