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.