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.