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.




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