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.



One response

18 01 2016
A Not-So-New Way of Looking at Kung Fu Weapons (Reverse Engineering, pt II) | Dean Chin's Jow Ga Kung Fu Federation

[…] 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 […]

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