Kung Fu for Modern Times (Impatient Students)

30 05 2016

We have to challenge tradition, sometimes.

I recall a senior classmate advising me not to ask Sifu for information. I was a child then, and naturally what he told me entered one ear and out the other. We had a visitor who taught Wing Chun for the weekend and I was not allowed to attend (by my mother; I was on punishment that weekend) and I was upset about it. One of the things I was jealous about was that my classmates the following week were practicing forms that were taught and Chi Sao–which at that time I had only read about and heard about but not learned. I wasted no time in weaseling my way into getting Sifu to offer to teach me. But the Chi Sao he taught me was his own version, unlike what my classmates learned–and hey, I got to learn it! And there were other times, I had just learned a few moves from a form, I learned to approach certain, helpful instructors and ask them to “check” my progress. That usually got me some corrections and a few new techniques. To some, I was an impatient kid. To others, I was eager to learn. Years later, I would discover that some of my favorite classmates learned this same way!

Let’s discuss this topic (I’m actually changing the title of the article because of it) a little further.

We tend to frown on students who are eager to learn, because we want them to practice and focus on skill development rather than “learning too fast”. It is certainly understandable why students should take their time and develop skill–but what if a student trained hard and trained often and was ready for new material before his peers? Why should we hold him back or impede his progress? If he has put in the work, has developed good skill in a shorter amount of time than usual–what is wrong with allowing this student to learn at a pace his diligence and discipline will allow? Do we not tell students that their progress “depends on how fast you can learn and develop”? Or is that line only used to force students to learn at a slow place? Do we really mean it, or are we just throwing it out there to explain why we will selfishly hold on to knowledge to prevent students from learning and developing quickly?

It is doubtful that learning quickly if a student is hard working, eager, and disciplined is actually bad for him. One has to question why teachers started this “you must earn knowledge slowly” business in the first place. Perhaps it’s to prevent students from getting what they want and quitting. Or it ensures a steady flow of tuition by keeping them longer. Or how about this:  You simply don’t want them learning faster than you did. Remember, I am not saying teach a student who isn’t ready more material; we are referring to hard-working, diligent and consistent students who have learned and excelled faster than usual.

A question often heard is “How long will it take me to learn to fight?”

What do we tell them? Probably something silly like, “Learn the basics, take your time–maybe a year or two.”  I totally disagree. How long does it take a 5 year old child to learn to read? In Kindergarten, a five year old will learn his alphabet in September, and by December he is reading sight words and writing phonetically. So are we suggesting that a baby can learn to read quicker than a grown man can learn to defend himself? Ridiculous. A student who asks such a thing isn’t impatient, as we try to tell ourselves. He is simply trying to decide if he is wasting his money and his time. If you do not help him make and see progress in a few months–YOU are wasting his time. And unfortunately, so many Kung Fu Sifu waste students’ time that they rarely come to us for actual self-defense anymore. If you ever thought “interest in traditional Chinese martial arts is dead”, this is the #1 reason why. We are no longer meeting their needs.

May I remind you all, that this is not the Shaolin Temple or a Shaw Brothers film. If a guy comes to me to learn carpentry, I will have him doing basic jobs in a matter of weeks. If a teen signs up to learn to drive, we have him driving in a month. Why must self-defense take so long?

You couldn’t get away with that in an MMA or Kickboxing gym. Maybe that’s why they are kicking Kung Fu schools behinds at the bank.

The modern Kung Fu student is not as interested in learning to perform forms as we were 30 years ago. We were from a different time, we had different expectations, and things have changed. The traditional Chinese martial arts school has not kept up with the times, and we cannot accomodate the very real, modern-day needs of today’s student. This is why they come to us for esoteric reasons, and go to other styles–even Tae Kwon Do–for practical reasons. If it took a year before seeing results for weight loss, a class would go out of business. If I took a pill but did not see the health benefits for a year, I would stop taking it. If you gave your mechanic your car and he didn’t fix it for a year, you would change shops. Martial arts must be capable of meeting the needs of students in a realistic amount of time. Sure, to do a decent form a year of practice would be necessary. But if a student had been mugged and is in fear of being mugged again–forms should not be his focus in learning to protect himself and his family. He surely shouldn’t have to wait 12 months before being allowed to test his skills in self-defense.

Realistically, martial arts students should learn their basic skills in 1-2 months, and start sparring by the third. If you want to take 12 months to develop his traditional footwork and forms skills, do it. But help him see his progress for the goals he came to you for as quickly as possible. A school that can teach a man self-defense in 3 months is meeting needs. It does not come overnight, but it should not take a year or more. This alone will give the modern martial arts student the results needed to bring more people to the Chinese arts, as well as respect. Sparring and self-defense practice should be strongly intertwined with traditional training for it to be relevant to today’s needs. Instead of an arbitrary long waiting period for skill, allow students to move at their own pace and make your classes worth the money. Doing so will draw more people to your school and give everything students do in the classroom a point of reference. Once they have gotten their feet wet on the floor with gloves and headgear on, their training will make more sense as they see how this skill can be applied. This will be a challenge for teachers as well, who must find out the best way to prepare students for actual combat in just a few months.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Tempering Your Kung Fu, pt IV (Punch from a Cat Stance)

28 05 2016

Forms are encyclopedias for the system.


In an earlier article, I mention that the last stage of a Kung Fu man’s journey will end with “Kung Fu with an Accent” or a whole new style. When you get a chance, take a look at the article here. I would like to explain a little more about that in today’s article. Today, we will discuss ways that you can strengthen and explore your art. What you discover, and what you bring to the system after discovering, is what we call your “accent” on your chosen system of martial arts.

Aside from more practice and gaining more knowledge sitting at the feet of experience, there are many things martial artists can do to make their current arsenal and knowledge base stronger. Very often, martial artists reach outside their systems to add more arts and techniques to their curriculum. More, however, does not always mean better. Much of what can be used to strengthen your Kung Fu ability can come from rearranging the techniques in the system rather than crowding your curriculum with a million ways to throw a punch. The answer isn’t always “punch stronger, punch faster, punch more accurately”. The answer could be in “punch from a Cat Stance”.


Punching from a cat stance does sound strange, especially since few forms would actually have that combination. Let me ask you, does your style have a Cat Stance? Does your style have a punch? Then punching from a Cat Stance shouldn’t be that strange to you. I’ll explain in a second. For our Kung Fu to be more relevant, we should make it applicable to today’s self-defense student. Not many Kung Fu forms contain self-defense scenarios the way a generic self-defense class today would be organized. We might have defenses from a single punch, from a grab, from a Roundhouse kick, maybe even from a bear hug. What aren’t found in many forms would be defense from a knife attack, a gun pointed at our heads, an attack while we were sitting down, an attack in an elevator… But I am pretty positive that every person reading this article can find relatable techniques in their systems, if you just rearranged the moves and the applications.

In Jow Ga, we have a set of techniques called “Mo Ying Gerk”, the Shadowless Kick. Take a look below at one of the most common type in our forms.

It is a simple concept. Throw the hands into the opponent’s face to distract him, kick him while he reacts to the hands. But this technique could be applied to other situations:

  1. A lapel grab (single or double)
  2. An attempted lapel grab
  3. Pushing an opponent who is too close to you and attacking him preemptively
  4. Throwing something in the opponent’s face and then kicking him
  5. Distracting the opponent and knocking him down with a footsweep
  6. Blocking a punch with one hand, grabbing his head or other hand and kneeing him
  7. Grabbing the opponent’s guard and pulling him into a kick

There are a few others…

So, while one Jow Ga practitioner may only practice the Mo Ying Ger as an attack, we’ve just listed seven more ways to practice it (including five defensive techniques). How boring would Jow Ga be if I only practiced the techniques the way they are presented in the form? How many more uses could I be missing out on, if I never found other ways to apply these techniques? I’m willing to bet there are some who may have stepped out from Jow Ga to import techniques to be used in the above 7 situations, where they would have had an answer right here in at least eight forms that most practitioners already train with! Like I said, why add styles when one could simply rearrange and rethink what we already have?

And then we have layers to this Kung Fu. On one hand, one could practice techniques just as they are in forms–never find alternative applications, or never find better or other ways to use them. On the other, there are the questions I don’t think many stagnant practitioners are asking that Sifu Dean Chin asked:

  • In what ways can I hit my opponent harder?
  • In what ways can I hit my opponent without him seeing it?
  • In what ways can I hit my opponent faster?
  • In what ways can I hit my opponent unanswered?

I was in my teens and running from Si Hing to Si Hing, trying to learn more moves from a new form I was learning. In those days, we had a different Si Hing teaching every night, and my Sifu taught randomly during the week and on Sundays. I met with him daily after school, but those days were usually me practicing while he talked, and Sundays I had to share his attention with whatever students were there. Sifu sat me down one day and gave me a speech about “tempering” my Kung Fu knowledge. He explained how glass was made:  Sand was burned until it melted and was able to be shaped. Once it was shaped, it was polished and made ready to give to the customer. Usually, it was. But a craftsman who really had something valuable, would take that polished piece, and put it back in the oven to be heated again until it was about to melt, then removed and cooled. Then it was placed back, heated, removed, cooled, and then heated again. Each time a glass piece went through this process, it was taken to the point that it was about to be destroyed, where it was taken back to its near-original state, then removed, then back to the oven again. In the end, the glass piece looked as polished as any other fine-crafted piece. But this one was different; was sent back to the first place in the craftsman’s shop–the oven. It was sent back to the beginning stages although it looked finished, over and over. In the end, it was stronger and nearly unbreakable. So while it looked like everything else, it had been through the process over and over and over, unlike the others. The Kung Fu practitioner who has been sent back to the beginning stages and made to practice the foundation over and over until his body was about to break–is going through the same process. He knows the Sei Ping Ma, but continues to practice holding it. He knows the Single Punch, but continues to throw it as a beginner does–but for thousands and thousands of repetitions. In the end, he may know the same number of forms as his peers–but he has been tempered and his foundations has been strengthened just like that glass piece. He is unlike the others, who may have ten glass pieces–but his one is stronger than all ten put together.

The story was summarized in a notebook I kept on the same page with the above four questions. After my Sifu died, I continued rereading every page of that notebook and can recall nearly every word I’ve written. In everything I’ve done with the martial arts–Eskrima, Kuntaw, Boxing, Tae Kwon Do–the questions have been in the back of my mind while training. And I have never studied Kung Fu after I had learned the last form in our lineage’s Jow Ga curriculum. I have taken my Jow Ga and attempted to temper it by answering for myself the four questions. Rather than adding forms to my base, after I reached the end of our curriculum I stopped learning new forms and retrained all of them. From 1987 to the present, I have never added a new Kung Fu form to my base, until 2009, when I visited my Si Hing Rahim Muhammad. What I have done is to reheat my knowledge and break them down and my work still isn’t done. The tempering process for martial arts knowledge involves several steps, and I consider this to be one of the most important.

Back to the Mo Ying Ger, if you use it in sparring you will find it to be a very helpful, very effective technique. In most Jow Ga forms, the Shadowless kick is followed by a full step forward into a Sei Ping Ma, downward block and Horse Side Punch or Charp Choy. However, in sparring, not all opponents will move back giving you the room for a full step forward. The strongest fighters (or most aggressive) will attack you a split second after you throw the kick, and this will crowd your attempt to land with a horse side punch. After many failures with the MYG, I’ve come up with three more ways to use it:

  1. Land your foot at an angle outside and continue punching, or
  2. Land in a Cat Stance and either punch the opponent to tie up his hands, or
  3. Land in a Cat Stance and push him away and continue blasting forward

And there you have it. Punch from a Cat Stance. Land in a Cat Stance after throwing the Mo Ying Ger. Look at your Kung Fu, and find other ways to use it. How can your techniques be used to hit harder? How can your opponent counter you? How can you counter that counter? Can any of your techniques be used to stop a knife or a club? Can any of your techniques be used to stop a throw or grab or takedown? Can your techniques be used against fighting two opponents? Can your techniques be used while getting in or out of a car? In a hallway? On stairs? Against a bigger man? Against someone you don’t want to hurt (like an angry or drunk relative)? How would you teach a child to use these techniques against another child (without risking serious injury)? This is how you can put a personal stamp on your Kung Fu–and give your system an “accent” that only you can give, as only you will have these experiences.

I wish I could share with you all our innovations, but some things should be saved for our students. We will, however, share a lot with you in upcoming articles and videos. Please check back with us regularly, and please subscribe and share! By the way, the video above is Instructor Sharif Talib from Washington, DC. Make sure you subscribe to his channel, and make sure you also subscribe to mine. There will be plenty of new videos coming up with ways that some in our lineage train our Jow Ga, and we hope you find them useful.

Thank you for visiting the Dean Chins Jow Ga Federation.

Tempering Your Kung Fu pt III (Update the Ancient)

28 05 2016
  1. AKA “Jow Ga for the Y2Ks”

AKA “Self Defense with a Gun”

AKA “Why We Have Styles”

We take a lot of pride in saying that our arts are X centuries old, they are ancient, they have been passed down, blah blah blah. My question is this:  When was the last time you heard a Kung Fu Sifu say his students were unbeatable or the best fighters?

*Standing by while the usual hogwash about Kung Fu people should be humble and not brag is thrown out…*

We should probably begin this conversation by first challenging the notion that Kung Fu artists should not strive to be the best, claim to be the best, or want to be the best. Honestly. How many of you went out there when you first looked for a school and looked for the worst? How many of you looked at several arts and schools and chose something you thought was mediocre? How many of you looked to get into Kung Fu and actually felt like the skills you were learning would not protect you if you were attacked? How many of you are teaching or practicing a style you felt was not the best, not one of the best, or not effective at all?

Can we agree, that each of us chose our schools because we felt that the school we were in was the best we could find? If you don’t care to be the best at your craft or don’t believe you could be the best–I’m going to need you to take up some other activity. If you are not striving to become the best and you’re teaching, we need for you to shut down your school pronto; you are obviously in the wrong business. If the martial artist can accept mediocrity, if he is satisfied merely practicing the art and never perfecting the art, then the martial arts is in sad, sad shape. Sadly, this is true for many of us. And it seems to be a huge problem in the Chinese martial arts; too often, Sifus will call themselves “Masters” and then tell their mediocre students that they are somehow flawed if they try to outdo another. That somehow, striving to be better than the next guy is “arrogant” and misguided. Folks, if your Sifu is telling you that you shouldn’t endeavor to be better than the next guy let me tell you this:  You are in a weak school, your Sifu is weak, and he can never train you to being safe on the street–because he himself believes there is something wrong with exceling at the art. See, you cannot excel at the art if you do not compare yourself to another to decide if in fact you are “good”, “improving”, or “excellent”. If you do not hold your skill up to the next guy to see where you stand, you aren’t proficient at the art at all–you are just practicing the art. One can swim, but not be a swimmer. You can run, but if you do not enter races, you are no athlete. You can practice the martial arts, but without putting forth the effort of improving and going against another martial arts practitioner–you will never be a martial artist. And until you have gauged your skill against another and worked to improve over and over and over–you can never excel or ever claim to master the art.

And when you hear a teacher discourage a student from trying to be the best, you are listening to a man who does not believe his art is very good (believe and profess are two different acts). The truth is, this teacher may claim his art is good, but he knows it is not and this is why he does not want to ever say it in the presence of other teachers or martial artists.

Now let’s add this fact:  If your system’s Sijo never believed he had a better way to practice the arts, he would have never created his own style. If he felt his experience was nothing special, he would have stayed with the arts he learned and never dared to canonize it into the name you now know it by. So every system in existence was at one time believed by its creator to be a new, improved art–not just new and improved, but the best art he could come up with. And here we are today, thinking the art is perfect and can not be improved. In doing so, you dishonor your founder by allowing his art to become stale and outdated, bland and never-evolving. The truth of the Chinese arts is this–that many of us have allowed our arts to be just that. Stale, bland, shallow, stagnant, superficial. You practice form with no connection to anything alive. If you fight at all, you reach to other arts–most likely arts that are trendy and popular. You add nothing original from your life experiences to the art you learned 20 years ago; today at 40 you pass on exactly the same lessons you had when you were 20, adding nothing from 20 years of experience. When another man tells you he found a superior art to yours, your hands are tied in debating him… you’d probably agree to avoid a fight. If these founders could see what we see today, that 100+ years later, his great, great, great grandstudents are afraid to fight–after he fought all comers to give his art a reputation, but all you can do is ride his reputation–they would turn over in their graves. No one is suggesting that Kung Fu men should be arrogant or unlikeable. But you cannot claim excellence in the art if you do not put one foot in front of the other. You cannot get stronger if you do not give yourself some kind of resistance. Practicing in the sterile atmosphere of a friendly kwoon or giving demonstrations of form without putting your actual skills to the test against another practitioner will ensure that your skill only exists and survives. It is like the old man who has lived in a bubble for 90 years, never leaving his home town, never asking the prettiest girl on a date, never trying new foods, never asking his boss for a raise, never going out to see what the world has to offer but what is around him and his immediate environment. Sure, the guys who lived a little more suffered heartbreak, were denied raises, got lost on the freeway and in airports, got sick because they drank the water–maybe even passed away at 70–but they lived. And what great stories will be told at their funeral! Kung Fu can only be improved once it is tested by an outside, sometimes hostile, entity. Just as green fruit kept in a dark house will never sweeten like those outside in the sun–Kung Fu that has avoided defeat is nothing more than exercise.

And so you must look at your art, and figure out how the art can be improved. Is it truly applicable for the current times, or are you still doing the Waltz in the times of the Whip & Nae Nae? Have you continued your Sijo’s work of discovering what the best way to defend yourself is? Or have you declared that what he had discovered by the time of his death is sufficient and should never be updated? The Chinese language is perhaps one of the only things in China that has not evolved–and even Chinese has evolved! Kung Fu in 1950 is not the same as Kung Fu in 1850, and it sure isn’t the same as Kung Fu in 1750. We are in 2016. Weapons have changed, people are bigger and stronger than they were 100 years ago. Your Sijo lived in a time when the average person knew nothing about fighting unless they studied the arts; today’s adult grew up watching martial arts movies and boxing and wrestling on TV, playing football and taking Karate lessons. His system was made for a guy who probably had never thrown a punch or done a pushup in their lives; you live in a time where even little schoolgirls know how to fight. So, sure this art is ancient–but the times are not.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.


New York Kung Fu (Kung Fu with an Accent)

22 05 2016

I’ve recently gotten into a debate with a distant Jow Ga cousin about the validity of what I call the “DC” Jow Ga lineage. DC as in “Dean Chin”, my Sifu. However, we have a double entendre at play with my use of “DC”, as it can also mean the Washington, DC, Jow Ga lineage. For some, my use of DC rather than say “the American” may offend, because it sounds separatist. For others, it’s racist, as my Sifu only promoted three Chinese Full Instructors in his lifetime–the rest being African American and only two Latino Assistant Instructors, none caucasian. (Consider, this kung fu school was founded in Chocolate City). There are some who refuse to acknowledge a predominantly non-Chinese lineage without a Chinese head. Sorry, but Sifu Chin (Ironically, those who were close to Sifu referred to him as “DC” when we were being sarcastic about him) didn’t think that way. During the 70s, he named Sifu Raymond Wong as President and Alma Herndon the school’s manager. Years before his death in the 1980s, he appointed Sifu Deric Mims President, an African American. As I said, to some, the lack of Chinese teachers lessened our credibility despite that we had the strongest fighters in the Kung Fu community.

But that is another topic for discussion. Today, we discuss Kung Fu with an accent.

You mean those New Yorkers right? Dose Kong Foo gize wit da fee-yancy fohms?


See, everyone who does the martial arts will go through the same stages in their development:

  1. Learn Kung Fu, get through the curriculum
  2. Become good at that curriculum. Go up against other guys to see how good you are (and determine if, in fact, you are “good”)
  3. Train with guys outside your system and compare notes, test against each other, exchange techniques, and/or expand your fighting network. It is at this point you become a freelancer, a ronin, a vagabond, a Kung fu man-at-large. In other words, you walk away from your organization to see what’s out there
  4. You end your hiatus and return to your system, bringing all that knowledge, experience, BACK to your system, or

4.2 You create your own system

I am not a computer expert, but I wanted to make #4.2 equal with #4 and give it it’s own line. I’ll explain why in a second. First, this:  This list is a hierarchy. Most Kung Fu Sifus have only gotten to stage #1. I don’t care what the websites say, I grew up with most of these guys and I can tell you from experience that most of the Sifus out here did almost no fighting at all, and they darn sure didn’t do it in venues where they came up against other styles. At most, a few of them competed in forms. Notice, I did not mention forms at all. That, I consider to be another subject. Most teachers in the Chinese arts did very little to no fighting, and for that reason I draw a difference between stage 1 and stage 2. Stage 2 are the Kung Fu men who actually got out there, and you can recognize them right away because they rarely talk about their Sifu’s fights or their Grand Sifu’s ( 🙂 ) experiences, as they have their own to refer to. Those who have done a fair amount of fighting will recognize them by the change in how they apply their Kung Fu and present their martial arts. Those who have proven themselves in the ring–any king of ring–can actually say they were “good” because they showed themselves and their colleagues. Stage 3 Sifus automatically roll to 4 if they teach, which happens to be the only difference between 3 and 4. One group leaves the presence of his teacher, travels outside his hometown, goes among non-Kung Fu guys and seeks Karate men, kickboxers, boxers, wrestlers, Jiu Jitsu fighters… all to explore the martial arts world. Sometimes they may travel among other styles of kung fu, which I think fits in this category as well. However, there was a shortage of Chinese martial arts events and schools that were welcoming to non-TCMA fighters and so this group most likely had to walk among the karate and kickboxing fighters.

When they felt it was time to wind down their discovery and wandering/traveling stage–they return to their systems or they found new ones. This is most likely how each of our styles were founded. Our Si Jo studied a few arts, traveled around and tested and studied his art against other arts, and decided to devise a new system which–100 years later, you are doing today. This is why I respect new creations in the art; all of our systems were once new creations.

Skipping over the guys who created new systems, lets talk about the 4th group who returned home. After 3-5 years of training against non-Hung Gar guys and fighting Japanese stylists and Tae Kwon Do stylists, training in a boxing gym, learning Wing Chun, studying Hakka systems or Bai Ji or Hsing Yi… surely you don’t expect his Hung Gar to look like what his Sifu taught him 10 years earlier, do you? Of course not, unless you did all that training and fighting and discovered that the time was a waste, and I have yet to meet a man who thought his journey was a waste.

So, one Wing Chun student goes east and trains with other Kung Fu styles while his brother travels west and boxes. In three years, the meet back in their hometown, neither will have the same view of Wing Chun. Neither will have the same expression of Wing Chun. Both will most likely disagree on how best to use Wing Chun.

I take two boys, aged 8 and send one to study English in the UK and send his brother to Texas in America. Age 12 the boys meet, and you and I both know–neither will speak English the same way.

If you practice your Kung Fu at age 40 exactly the same way you practiced it at age 20, you have wasted 20 years of your training. If your Sifu taught you and your brother Kung Fu and you both parted ways. If you meet in a decade doing your system the same way–you have both wasted ten years in the arts. Kung Fu must develop and accent as you travel through life with these arts. Along the way, you will experience things your teacher did not. You will experience fighters your classmates will not. You will come up with ideas. You will specialize in certain parts of the system. You will compensate for some things that you do not specialize in. You will learn lessons, pick up techniques, lose to opponents, win over others, exchange with different fighters. When you return home–and we all do, eventually–you will have a personal flavor on your system, and “accent” if you will… that your own brothers you came up will not. But you both still do the same art, same style, even have many similarities as you both inherited your Sifu’s version of that style. A style that will even differ from his own brothers.

When I discovered YouTube, and searched for Jow Ga–I found myself looking at forms performed by my own Si Hings’ students and recognized who their Sifus were without even knowing from the descriptions. That is because I know most of my brothers’ accents in this system. You could take our lineage’s Siu Fook Fu (Small Tiger) and each location of Jow Ga in America will do it slightly different because of the Sifu it came from–but we all have a certain accent that originated from Sifu Dean Chin.

And by the way, Sifu “spoke” his Jow Ga with an Eagle claw, White Eyebrow, and boxing accent. It is a unique DNA stamp that although other lineages may have the similar combination–only this lineage does it his way. Whether you are in Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia, or any state in America–you have it if your Jow Ga came from us. However, we are not the only Jow Ga in America. Sifu Sam Chan teaches in Michigan. Sifus Richard Chin and Chuck Yuen are in New York. Joi Ying and Yun Yee Tong are in the San Jose area of California. Buk Sing do Jow Ga in Fremont. None of them are from Sifu Chin’s school, but all are American Jow Ga. This is why I call our lineage “DC” so that we do not fail to acknowledge all those Masters.

If you spend enough time in your art and you gain enough experience, you should have an accent of your own, even if you do not assign a new name to it. Without this accent–as with American English without Texas, Boston, New York, Georgia, Mississippi–we have a very bland, homogenuous skill.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

What’s Next for the Chinese Martial Arts in the West?

6 05 2016

So while we are on the subject of conflict…

There is a saying that “bad press is better than no press”. Lot’s of truth to that. People think everything in life must be 100% positive, 100% of the time–and I disagree. There is a balance that must be managed to everything, and those who ignore the part they don’t like will find difficulty  when they are forced to encounter them. Best that you acknowledge and learn the negative, than have it smack you in the face and not know how to handle it. The Chinese martial arts is a good example of this, and I have a theory. You may not agree, and that’s okay. Think about it; if every martial artist never had a feud, never had differences, never fought each other, agreed on EVERYTHING–TCMA (traditional Chinese martial arts) would be so boring. So, Sijo #1 says I found a great way to do Kung Fu. Sijo #2 says no, I have a better way. #1 and #2 can’t agree, so they spar to see who was right, and voila! Regardless of who wins, both have tested their art, both modified their methods based on the results of the match. Perhaps there were several matches over time, several over generations… wouldn’t both systems get stronger from all of that tempering and testing and modifying? Besides, in order to have a “better way”–wouldn’t that require them to disagree with their teachers?

And right there ^^ in one short paragraph, the DC Jow Ga Federation has summed up the entire history of Kung Fu over all these centuries and millenia. A Kung Fu man learns Kung Fu. He thinks he can improve it. He encounters someone who thinks not–they test their theories–and new arts and systems are born and fused and molded and hardened. So here’s another saying:  A little conflict is good. And so it is!

Thanks to Bruce Lee, the Chinese martial arts had its “bad press”. He criticized how our masters and grandmasters were doing Kung Fu. People disagreed, feelings were hurt, there were even a few fights. In the long run, more people became curious about the Chinese arts, and our Sifus were able to give themselves a pretty good living from all that attention. Sure, some pieces of the art had to be adjusted to accomodate the new type of martial arts student:  the western, non-Chinese student. Admit it, they learn different from Asians. So Kung Fu here in the West got a few tweaking here and there so that our Sifus could attract, teach, and retain students. Gave it its own personality too. You could take Hung Gar here in America and put it against Hung Gar in China and see some differences in most cases. Sometimes the art and forms may be the same, but terminology and cultures will differ. In others, simply because there are more non-Chinese styles around American kwun (schools)–American Kung Fu schools may be practiced differently, have different clothing, etc. Like it or not, we must acknowledge and honor American lineages of Chinese martial arts to be just as valid as other non-Chinese lineages, despite how unique and strange they may seem. Sadly, many who come from non-Chinese lineages do not feel secure in being different, and therefore look to leave what their teachers gave them in order to look or resemble Chinese lineages. And this practice only gives credibility to those who discredit American/European/Latin lineages. Either way, Bruce Lee’s demand that Kung Fu update to modern, Western culture had an effect on all of us, as we all benefited from the increased interest and enrollments as well as the new developments that occurred as a result of his influence.


yeah, thanks for forcing us to take on kiddie classes, Daniel San!

yeah, thanks for forcing us to take on kiddie classes, Daniel San!

In the 1980s, I would say two things had an effect on Chinese martial arts:  Inflation and Karate Kid, the movie. (Yeah, I said it!) First, with the rising cost of real estate, a Sifu could no longer make a living with a small school of 20 students like he could in the 70s. Tuition was weighed against one’s own bills and many people would drop out if personal finances disallowed practice. And Karate Kid–I could write a book on how it hurt Kung Fu… Chinese martial arts schools which at first were teenaged and adult-oriented schools, now had to compete with Karate schools to be relevant in a new industry being created because of that movie’s popularity. In 1981, I was turned away by my Sifu who thought I was too young for Jow Ga. By 1987, schools were recruiting students as young as 5! If you wanted to stay in business or capitalize on the new children’s market–you had to accept (and learn to teach) children. Well, many Chinese style teachers taught arts that were too difficult for younger students to learn. We also taught techniques that were inappropriate for younger children. Unlike our Tae Kwon Do/Karate counterparts, Chinese martial arts had to be modified for age-appropriateness, and many Sifu could not keep up. Tae Kwon Do’s first form, Chun Ji/Tae Kuk Il Jang/Pal Gye Il Jang, consists mainly of three or four movements done several times–compared to Bak Siu Lum’s Gune Lic or Hung Gar’s Gung Gee Fuk Fu–which helped those schools retain younger students, while CMA schools could only retain the few whose focus allowed them to stay interested in such complicated forms. Tae Kwon Do is simpler and easier to teach to large groups, while Chinese styles require more one-on-one attention–making it difficult to do in a commercially successful school. These two things made running a succesful Chinese style school much more difficult than a Karate or TKD school, so we saw less growth in Chinese styles.

I could go on and possibly write a book about why Kung Fu had not grown like Karate and Tae Kwon Do, but I’d like to get to my point… Let’s skip forward to the 90s and Y2Ks.

I would call the 1990s the hey day for child-oriented martial arts schools, aka the “McDojo”. (This is actually an unfair label, as many child-oriented schools are in fact very good and NOT out to take your money) In the 90s, I saw more millionaires come out of this industry than ever, and many of them were Chinese martial artists who came to TKD just to make a better living. I recall a group of teachers come to me to invest in a franchise and I turned them down, just to watch each become wildly successful. None were TKD teachers, but they became them in order to enter the business. One such teacher is today an MMA gym–which leads me to my second point. Coming out of the 90s, MMA was becoming popular as was another genre of martial arts school you might not have noticed:  the Self Defense academy. Look around you, in whatever city you happen to be in, you will notice many adult oriented schools returning–and non are commercial karate. They may teach Krav Maga, Filipino Martial Arts, Brazilian Jujitsu, Aikido (nod to Steven Segal), Jeet Kune Do (Bruce Lee is still more popular than ever)… and many arts you may not have noticed. Most are doing very well, not all are riding the wave of a fad either. So the question you might ask is, What about the Chinese Martial Arts?

What happened?

I think many of us got stuck into tradition. Unlike our own Sifus and Masters, who were willing to evolve in order to accomodate the change in times and culture–many of us feel like we are doing something wrong if we don’t practice this art exactly as our teachers gave it to us. Some of us who live in America, look to Hong Kong to figure out what to do, yet we have two separate cultures, traditions and industries. Many of us learned and practiced our Kung Fu completely unaware of what the rest of the martial arts community is up to. Even after 20, 30 years in the arts we looked around one day and discovered that the martial arts community evolved several times over yet we are still doing the same things, the same way. No one is saying to add Zumba or MMA to your repertoire. But it would be a good idea to find out what successful martial artists are doing and to find a way to fit what we do in with that! One of the most successful flyers I used–I got my tag line from a grappler:  “Got Stand Up?”  I don’t know much about grappling, but I do know how to fight standing up. We did a monthly fight night for years, and fought all types in our school. As a result, we have had many mixed martial arts fighters come to my school to learn plain old, Jow Ga and FMA. So I marketed to that group offering just to work with them with standup fighting and I didn’t have to change much  to accomodate them. You could do the same. Here are a few other areas:

  • Fitness classes with a Kung Fu theme
  • Weapons workshops
  • Martial Arts for aspiring actors (a GREAT area. I’ve taught several myself)
  • Self Defense/Street Survival–learn the jargon and see what street survival experts do; you’ll find that Kung Fu fits perfectly with this area
  • **Tie-ins with the Ip Man/Tony Jaa/Jet Li movies**–I can’t believe more schools aren’t doing this! Our children don’t know much about Bruce Lee these days, but they sure as heck know who Yip/Ip Man is. Isn’t that crazy? He is crazy popular. You better get on this bandwagon!!!
  • Tie-ins with every Ninja Turtle/Anime movie that hits the big screen–This is a gold mine. Chinese martial arts fits in so well with this genre, it’s crazy
  • Tournaments as an alternative to school/intramural sports–many children are not athletically gifted. Most sports will try your kid out then reject them if they aren’t “naturals”. I really dislike that. However, the martial arts is possibly one of the only sports where no kid rides the bench, they don’t have to try out to do it, and every kid is taught the game from the ground up with zero fear of being left behind. How could a parent turn that down. Not only that, your child is really learning a trade! Even if he goes to college, gets a job, he will always be able to supplement his income by teaching Kung Fu. Come on, Sifu–you know what to say!

The point is, Kung Fu isn’t dying. We are just experiencing a recession. It’s time to realize it isn’t 1985; it’s 2016. The potential Kung Fu student isn’t turned on by Shaw Brothers films anymore. This art has survived longer than many spoken languages–outlived governments. Surely, the generation walking the Earth today can find a way to keep it relevant.

Anyone have ideas to add? Please list them in the comments below! Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.



The Secret to Advanced Kung Fu… (Pursuit of Perfection)

3 05 2016

Here is a simple concept that should be common sense knowledge, but is instead a little-known secret:

The key to perfection–and mastery–of the arts lies in what is taught in the first year of training

Funny thing about Kung Fu people. Although we like to act humble, many Chinese style martial artists are not humble at all. And it seems that the more a Kung Fu student learns, the further he gets from humility. This key is often underused or even ignored–as most strive to “learn” more forms, “more” techniques, “more” weapons, “more” concepts and principles, “more” terminology. This pursuit of “more” is much like those who aspire for “more” rank and higher degrees of Black belts in the Karate world. The misconception is that the martial artist’s ultimate skill and ability will come from learning the right technique or forms, and sometimes–the right combinations of styles. The result of this philosophy is a mediocre skilled martial artist with very little fighting experience and ability, despite that he or she knows many forms and has multiple styles in his repertoire. As the student progresses, very little attention is given to the practice of “beginner” skills in favor of “advanced” skills and forms. For example, think of the last time you saw advanced kung fu students struggling to recall a lower level form or weapon. If that student understood this concept, his knowledge of the system’s basic skills would actually strengthen, rather than be placed on the shelf of forgetfulness as he advanced.

As a youth, I had once asked my Sifu about “advanced Jow Ga” right after I had arrived to the intermediate level. He answered that “advanced Jow Ga” was not much more than beginner Jow Ga done at a high degree of skill, and able to be applied in more ways than the simple. This was disappointing to me, as I expected to hear about secret forms and techniques that would make me unbeatable once I had learned them. In fact, when my Sifu began teaching me privately, I had just arrived to our 4th beginner level–which was an accomplishment in our school because it took 2 to 3 years to achieve. As I prepared for my Intermediate exam, I learned privately from him at least three days a week. The first thing he did was retrain me:  and not our first form, I might add. We literally started from the first thing one learns in a Kung Fu school:  the salutation. See, your salutation tells everyone watching you what’s to come. When martial arts students have taken care to execute a sharp and crisp salutation (arms balanced, stance strong, posture upright, power in the short distance from chest-forward), the rest of your Kung Fu will reflect that same attention to detail. When the student has mastered the simple Sei Ping Ma–feet parallel, knees pushed to the corners of the “box”, fists chambered all the way to the ribs, elbows tucked in, eyes focused in the right direction–the rest of his Kung Fu skill will be just as sharp. When these two basic things are allowed to slip or exist as weak and sloppy in one’s skill set, many other things will exist weak and sloppy. Teaching such a man “advanced”, complex skills will be a waste of time; like erecting a stone structure on lose, wet sand.

When judging form for tournaments, many will say that certain judges are unqualified to give scores because they do one style and the competitor does another. There is some truth to that. However, many principles are universal among similar styles. In Southern styles, for example, strong, balanced stances and hand placement are mostly the same. Some differences do exist though, like chambered fists resting on the hips in some systems and next to the lower ribs in others–but Kung Fu teachers can see when someone has put in ample practice versus someone who has not. Judges can see when someone has power versus someone who loses energy and defined technique as the form progresses. How would one best prepare for a competition: By practicing more forms, or by practicing the form you plan to perform more?

In teaching students who have had some prior experience in the martial arts, I have encountered many students who felt too advanced to learn my elementary level skills, like our Stance Training Form. However, everything in my system, from our first form to our Kwan Dao form, are resting on the foundation laid by the Stance Training Form. I have been practicing Jow Ga for 33 years, and I still include practice of the STF with my personal practices. This form builds strength in the legs, allowing the fighter to explode into movement from nearly any position, builds good posture and strength in the upper back. In addition to this, every advanced form relies on strong footwork for its techniques to be useful. Regardless of how much martial arts you know, you can always improve–even your basics. You can always get stronger, faster, more limber, develop more accuracy, cover more range and move more responsively. These things are basic skills, and without those simple basic skills, everything is weak. An advanced, acrobatic martial artist with a weak foundation is like a scholar with a wonderful vocabulary and multiple degrees who can’t spell or chokes up whenever giving lectures.

Remember, one can never get enough skill in the basics. Stance, footwork, simple hand techniques, flexibility, power, endurance, balance, and focus–all make the Kung Fu world go ’round. Don’t be one who is satisfied “knowing” advanced martial arts; be one who perfects advanced martial arts. As the saying goes, you must perfect the parts to master the whole. “Perfect” can be an adjective or it can be a verb. In the martial arts, perfect-the-adjective does not exist. Perfect is an action word, a process… It is a level that one will never reach if you are doing this right. The moment a Kung Fu man believes he has perfected the art and stops pursuing perfection–be assured that he has just begun his decline in the arts. It is this pursuit of perfection that delivers you to mastery.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.