Tempering Your Kung Fu, part II (Dojo-Busting)

4 03 2016

In the discussion to bringing Chinese martial arts up to the modern world, we must discuss all aspects of the martial arts, including our misconceptions and myths. Here in the Western world, we must understand that very few of our schools in the Americas and in Europe were established by actual Masters of Kung Fu. Yes, we call them “Masters”; after all, eventually, they each became a master. But most of us who study the art learned in a school founded by relatively young teachers. For many of our Sifu, our schools were the first schools those Sifus had. They were in their 20s. Some were child prodigies who were barely out their teens. Very few were fighting champions of any type back home. Most of them learned and grew up alongside us.

And that’s okay!

Think about it–how old was your Sifu when he brought your system to your country?

So for many of us, our teachers were learning to apply the Chinese culture and tradition to the Western culture, as well as make these arts marketable to us. This may have required many of our Sifus to adopt non-traditional methods like awarded belts, calling it “Karate” when it’s “Wu Shu”, wearing karate uniforms, etc. And despite what your websites say in your histories–I have discovered over the years that many of us had learned from teachers who did not do much fighting, and this led to the non-combative nature of Chinese Kung Fu today.

Now before you blurt out the very American idiom “Rules were meant to be broken”, I would like to throw this out right here:  Change is actually a very Chinese tradition. Myth #1.

See, we who are visitors to this Chinese tradition of the martial arts often misunderstood our teacher’s values. One of those values is tradition. Because the Chinese martial arts have been around for centuries–even millenia–and they take pride in some things being unchanged for generations, we assume that our Sifus are disrespected if we change anything in the arts they taught us. Perhaps we studied under teachers who foolishly insisted that we do no evolve. But I assure you, that change is a regular, vital part of the growth of the Chinese arts. This is why we have systems and subsystems, and lineages, North vs South, Shaolin vs Hakka vs Wu Tang, etc. Our teachers mostly likely even changed their arts to teach your generation. Why they do not want you to evolve? Who knows. But change is good, change is healthy, and change is Chinese.

Among the changes we must make to our way of treating the art is the subject of fighting and combat. Chinese martial artists must fight. I am fully aware that many Kung Fu people did not come to the CMAs to fight, but if these arts are to get to future generations with respect and dignity intact, a good number of us from each system is going to have to get out on the circuit and do some banging. Will it require some modification? Of course it will. But students must be given something more dynamic than what past generations have been passing down. This will force us and our peers to look at our techniques critically; not to decide what to discard or eliminate! We must look at our systems to gain a more full understanding of what happens in a fight, and how our arts fits into combat. EVERY art, by the way, works in combat. We simply must figure out how it works in combat. It may require the importation of skills, the de-emphasis on some, extra emphasis on others. Once you have at least two or three generations of students who have done this, a new wisdom is then brought to your lineage that most likely did not manifest itself a decade earlier. And now, you have a subculture of fighters within your schools who can prepare those who want that knowledge for themselves. Your system has dignity, and we can finally get rid of those “My-Sifu-ran-out-of-people-to -fight-in-Chinatown” stories and tell some real stories and lessons for future students. On top of that, our students will have more confidence with the arts they possess and the system can come out from corners of the Chinese community and join the mainstream.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Dojo Yaburi. This isn’t for everyone. But a group of young advanced fighters school-hop the area or extended area, looking for sparring mates. Friendly matches or not, this is as real as martial arts traditions go. You don’t have to be disrespectful or rude in your search. An introduction to the Sifu/Sensei, who you and your classmates are and why you’re there. You want the opportunity to see where you stand, skillwise, against local martial artists. “Dojo Yaburi” in Japanese means “School-busting”, a tradition whereby young teachers make a name for themselves by visiting established schools and requesting a match in the effort to establish a reputation.
  • Establish a monthly/weekly/quarterly sparring group.  It doesn’t have to be anything huge, just a regular gathering of like-minded martial artists who come around on a regular schedule for sparring and group training. You can choose with or without instruction, with or without training. But sparring with other styles is great for gaining a better understanding of your own personal skills–and how you compare to those outside your Kwoon. You may even pick up a few extra skills from regulars if you all trust each other and build a bond.
  • Attend tournaments regularly. Yes, it’s that ugly, yucky “T” word. Traditionalists hate it. Understood! It’s almost as bad as the “P” word (Politics) But there are many benefits to attending tournaments:  networking, exposure, advertising, FUN, student retention, and experience. Gives you the opportunity to tell your students, that yes, “I have used this style against practitioners of other styles…” It’s a safe environment to do so as well. No one gets hurt, and you go home a little wiser than you were the day before.
  • Create a sparring class within your school.  This should be a “Duh!” thing, but it isn’t. I am surprised how many schools have no culture of sparring within their walls. The creation of a sparring class gives those wanting more hands-on experience the chance to see how your art works in actual combat. For you the teacher, it gives you a chance to devise your teaching curriculum as it relates to fighting. A forms-based curriculum in my opinion is a boring, uninspired one. One that is both based on forms as well as sparring is interesting and follows a prescribed method for teaching strategy, combat, and testing theory. In a normal “forms” class, students assume all techniques work. In a sparring class, they are given the Y and the X, asked to figure out how the technique works, how to counter it and make it fail, and what to do when the opponent does something unexpected. You’ll be training warriors as well as thinkers!
  • Temper your Kung Fu. When you temper steel, you heat it up to the point that it starts to soften, then cool it down–doing so several times in order to harden the steel. You can do the same with Kung Fu technique:  a day when you train with extremely high repetitions of kicks, punches and drills; sets of pushups, hundreds of pushing and pulling exercises. Periodically, push your students until they drop, and you will see them slowly get stronger and stronger, in ways you would be surprised. Call the martial arts what you want; denounce combat if you wish–but don’t be confused, we are training fighters. Fighters need to be tough, aggressive, confident, and indomitable. You don’t have to allow them to be killers, but at least equip them for the battlefield in the event that they need it. Hence the Filipino saying, the man with the sharpest blade knows the most peace. Transform your students into Tigers, teach them virtue, arm them with the sharpest of blades, give them the wisdom of scholars. These values are timeless and without boundaries.

Whatever you do, don’t limit yourself to business as usual. That’s so yesterday. 🙂  Find ways to bring your ancient fighting art to modern times. Make it useful!

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.