What Is Your Style’s Common Denominator?

26 06 2016

It is ironic that although my worst subject in school was mathematics–I use math terms in discussing Jow Ga pretty frequently. Jow Ga under Sifu Chin also used mathematical and physics terms and expressions. We learned of Jow Ga’s “common denominator”, the rule of velocity (distance divided by time), Jow Ga’s rule of Power (speed x force x accuracy x fluency), Sifu’s rule of the lever with the staff, and his chain of motion for punching and close quarters. I cannot explain any of these things in terms of numbers, mathematics or in engineering terms. Matter of fact, my children will not allow me to help them with homework; my son complains that every time I help him–his homework gets a low grade.

But I can certainly demonstrate them through Jow Ga. Guess the kids’ old man is good for something

Jow Ga has a common denominator–which is a set of techniques that is characteristic to the Jow Ga system. While I originally thought these techniques to be characteristic to all Jow Ga branches–the more I learn about how vast this system is, the more I learn that I don’t know about Jow Ga. I am of the opinion that given the age of Jow Ga (over 100 years), the four branches, the many lineages of the four branches, and the expressions of each Master of the lineages of each branch of Jow Ga… It is possibly true that one could never learn, let alone master, everything this system has to offer. While each branch of Jow Ga may have some core forms, such as Siu Fook Fu, Ba Gua Gwun, Man Ji Chune, what we emphasize and specialize in will vary from school to school, from lineage to lineage, and from Sifu to Sifu. In the DC lineage alone, we have 8 Full Instructors certified by Dean Chin during his lifetime. Yet each of the 8 had very different specialties within the system, and each performed Sifu’s Jow Ga differently. If one had learned from Deric Mims, his Jow Ga would look distinctly different from someone who had studied under Raymond Wong or Craig Lee. Even those who were students of Sifu Chin himself would look different from someone who learned under Sifu but spent more time with one of the 8 Full Instructors or another. None of the 8 did Jow Ga exactly as Sifu Chin. However, although we had differing tastes, accents and specialties, we all have a common denominator that identifies us a student of Sifu Dean Chin’s school. This common denominator is what we have identified as the DC Lineage of Jow Ga, a set of skills, techniques, specialties, characteristics and forms–unique to this lineage.

In your own Kung Fu systems, whether or not you recognize or acknowledge this concept, you have a common denominator as well. Do you know what that is? What do all of your Hing Dai (training brothers and sisters) have in common? What does your system have as characteristizing techniques, attacks, and concepts that makes your system unique? It must be more than just basics, weapons and forms! And let’s skip the talk about your style’s motto or characteristics, animals or whatever.

Why is this important? The answer is simple. Many of us have become very lazy in how we approach our martial arts. We learn the forms and practice them, and then when we spar–if we actually do spar–nothing we do in training is expressed in our fighting. It is sad to say, but if you took a roomful of Kung Fu practitioners of various styles, without looking at their shirts we might be able to identify what styles are represented. Attend any Kung Fu tournament, I would say that perhaps the only system that would easily be picked out the crowd when sparring began is Wing Chun. And even then, most would be only from the stance they hold. After the beginning of the fight, many of them will look like anyone else. Sifu Christophe Clark gave this compelling speech to Kung Fu people almost a decade ago, imploring Kung Fu practitioners to actually USE their Kung Fu and stop going to other systems for fighting. His speech resulted in many practitioners taking offense to his implying that they were not using their systems, but it also rung true with many others who agreed. The failure to fully explore one’s own style is a likely reason for his speech; many a Kung Fu man determined that his system was insufficient for sparring and fighting. Blame it on the rules, blame it on sparring not being “real” fighting. But if a Kung Fu man is studying Kung Fu, and then enters the ring with Muay Thai or Judo–he really does not believe his style is sufficient. And this is not saying that those who express their systems through another style really understand their styles. There are many who train in other styles, who may apply their systems through those other styles. I have seen a young man box, and using his Wing Chun through his boxing, and that was quite effective. My sister studies MMA under a Choy Lay Fut Sifu, and upon observation might confuse her Sow Choy for haymakers. It is the concepts, strategies and theories that make the systems–not the forms and “acting like a Tiger”. (Which is the contention of many of Sifu Clarke’s detractors) He has a very good point:  Kung Fu people should take what’s in their system and find a way to apply those techniques in the arena of fighting and sparring, even in tournaments with rules. This isn’t a matter of determining “what techniques work”; it is a matter of determining “how these techniques work”.

By the way, the idea that a novice in the art can spar to “determine” what works is arrogant and foolish. How dare a beginner decide if the Sijo knew what he was doing through a match with another beginner?

You could begin by identifying a list of the core set of techniques in your system’s curriculum. Once you have this, you will be ready for step two.

But next time. Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation. In the meantime, please watch the following video. Let us know what your thoughts are in the comments below!

Tempering Your Kung Fu, pt V (Escaping the Nest)

11 06 2016

One of the hottest forms of “heat” used to temper one’s martial arts knowledge is the act of immersing oneself in the world of combat. While it is understandable that many Kung Fu practitioners do not engage in the study of the arts for fighting–one should not profess to teach combat and self-defense if he does not participate in any form of fighting. In fact, it is actually unethical for teachers to claim to teaching fighting and self-defense if he trains students in a sterile, sparring-free environment. One can learn forms for the next 40 years, develop the ability to perform all manners of acrobatics, and learn to do forms with all types of weapons, but without actually engaging in sparring–and to do so with strangers–the ability to defend oneself or someone else will be very weak. This is perhaps one of the biggest shortcomings of today’s traditional Chinese martial arts:  More than half of TCMA schools do not participate in sparring and many that do so, do it at a low level of skill. This is not a judgment of teachers who dislike sparring; it is just a statement of fact.

A popular discussion among TCMA teachers is a debate about whether or not the Chinese martial arts have remained relevant. The truth is, we have. We are very relevant in the modern martial arts world. We give our students an outlet to lead healthier lives, introducing many students to a form of self-discipline, we are a connection to the Chinese culture, we take children off the street and give them a safe activity that builds self-esteem, fitness, good manners, and more. Where we have not been very relevant is in the minds of the potential student who needs martial arts study for their self-defense needs. Whether they are police officers, prize fighters, security guards, or regular every day citizens concerned with self-protection against muggers and criminals–the term “Kung Fu” seldom enters the conversation. Few Sifus would dare to intervene in their own lives to stop a streetfight; I doubt if many would ever offer students to a local business as security or bodyguards.

Pause. I think I heard someone say, that security and bodyguarding has nothing to do with Kung Fu. I beg to differ. There was a time, in the very recent past, that Kung Fu Sifu provided most of the security, soldiers, and bodyguards to his community. My own system of Jow Ga began not as a school teaching martial arts students–but a family teaching combat to soldiers. Almost all of us trace our systems back to someone who pioneered some form of combat–so why are we now shunning this use for our systems?

While agreed–Kung Fu is so much bigger than fighting in today’s society, it is–the martial arts still must fill that need. We must keep our skills useful enough so that any of us who completes our curriculum is qualified to work as a bodyguard or provide unarmed security. If not, why not just remove all strikes, punches and kicks from our curriculum and call what we do “a form of exercise”?

Many Sifu have avoided combat so long, they are actually reluctant to let a student who is interested in fighting actually do it. Many have gone so far as to tell students that sparring would impede their combat skills!! I have seen a friend in recent years here in California, do his best to talk several students out of participating in sparring, when a few of these students originally signed up just to learn to fight. What we see today are cases of many teachers projecting insecurities and feelings of inadequacy about their own fighting skill onto their students. In the end, the students suffer. They must then spend the rest of their days in just as much fear of a mugger as any non-martial artist, wasting all that classroom training time. They must spend the rest of their lives suffering from cognitive dissonance, convincing themselves that somehow–forms practitioners are more prepared to defend themselves than actual fighters, because the fighters are competing in a sport–while the forms practitioner is doing “real” combat training. They must spend the rest of their lives pretending to be self-confident around tough-looking individuals, when they are relying on dialing 9-1-1 for protection, just like the next guy. They must spend the rest of their lives practicing their arts as hobbyists, instead of the warriors they fantasize that they are. All because Sifu did not let them leave the nest to explore the life of a fighter; not even for a short period of time.

Regardless of what kind of fighting experience a Sifu has, he or she must allow students to take the risk of being defeated, injured, humiliated, etc., and experience the up and down journey of a martial artist. You can’t live safely; sometimes you will win, sometimes you will lose–but all of it makes you better. There are many lessons that only an opponent can teach you, that will never be learned in a classroom. Sifus must humble themselves and admit that there is much knowledge they cannot teach the students, and students must learn those things for themselves. For a bird who never leaves the nest will never learn to fly, and an eagle who cannot leave the ground is as useless as wooden chicken:  It looks real, but tastes horrible. 🙂

I think you get it.

Washington, DC 1979

Washington, DC 1979

In 1979, my Sifu arrived back in Asia–in Taipei, Taiwan–accompanied by a team of men he trained to compete at a full-contact Kung Fu tournament. He left for the U.S. 11 years earlier as a young man, wanting an American education and armed with martial arts as a vocation. in ten short years, he had trained some of the best fighters in Washington, DC., and he set out for this tournament to put them up against the best fighters in the world. No man returned empty-handed. This very young Sifu, not yet 35 years of age, had accomplished more in a decade than most men reading this article. With this one tournament, he established the DC lineage of Jow Ga as a fighting school, whose students should never have to fear or be subservient to any other martial artist. And he did it, not for his own reputation–but for theirs. He allowed each student to have this experience for himself, proving to themselves, their opponents, the spectators, and the world–that their training had not been in vain. Most members of the team were young men who had never traveled anywhere, some still in their teens. They returned to America, as newly matured martial artists who had fought the best the world had to offer. Some had trained in Jow Ga fewer than five years at that point. For the rest of their days, they were able to say they had traveled internationally and competed against the best of the best. How much did their Kung Fu grow with that experience? I’ll tell you, an entire universe more than many who have never dared to leave their own cities, let alone their own teachers’ classrooms.

This “leaving the nest” need not be halfway around the world, however. Students simply need to be set free from the confines of the school and the protection of the Sifu. They need the freedom of using their martial arts without being corrected or coached. They need to be able to try out the ideas they formulated in their heads while practicing–that their Sifus may not have allowed them to try. They must know what the sting of an unseen strike feels like, they must feel the unbalancing of missing a step while launching or evading an attack. They must experience the fatigue of having run out of energy while still under pressure from the opponent–and then still having to protect himself. Students must understand what it feels like to see a man who scares you, and fight him anyway. They must learn to see, recognize, create, and exploit openings. They must feel the emotional rush of having defeated an opponent. They must know what it feels like to have dominated an opponent, and have the wisdom and compassion to back off and not go for the kill in order to salvage the opponent’s dignity. They must learn to recognize attacks and defensive strategies and choose the appropriate method to counter them. There are so many lessons that can only be learned when the training wheels are off, we do them a disservice if we deny them these lessons because of a personal bias or fear. So often, we imprison our students in the walls of our protection, they must sever the relationship with us just so they can free themselves from those shackles in order to learn. Don’t be that teacher who must be escaped from because a student wants to learn what the world has to offer. Students can only learn if they accumulate a combination of good experiences and what some erroneously label “bad” experiences. A real champion is not one who has never been beaten. A real champion is one who has faced the best–even facing those who are better than him–and then become champion anyway. The greatest lessons, many times, are taught by defeat and these “bad” experiences. And nearly ALL of this knowledge is only found outside your doors.

There is a saying that is appropriate here, which says:  “The only bad experience is the one you don’t learn from.”  It’s one to live by. Let your students lift off so their knowledge base and skills can fly.

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Instructor Sharif Talib: Aka “The Bastard Son of Jow Ga”

4 06 2016

Today’s article is penned by DC Jow Ga Federation Instructor Sharif Talib. With today’s article he introduces himself and his background. Unlike many of today’s Jow Ga practitioners, he has had the privilege of studying under several Jow Ga Sifu. This was one of the characteristics of the Dean Chin era:  Sifu allowed each instructor to have his own expression and identity within Jow Ga. Students of the time were able to study and learn from various Jow Ga Sifu. As several cameras take pictures of the same object from slightly different angles, the combined result of those multiple images give a full, multi-dimensional view. Jow Ga studied under various Sifu and various specialties give one a very 3D understanding of the system. Enjoy!



1:  an illegitimate child


2:  something that is spurious, irregular, inferior, or of questionable origin


3a :  an offensive or disagreeable person —used as a generalized term of abuse


My life in Jow Ga started with Raymond Wong at Wong’s Chinese Boxing in summer of 1986 where Sifus Raymond Wong and Craig Lee were my main teachers.  Sifu Craig Lee taught me my first Jow Ga form, our most famous, Sui Fok Fu.  Sifu Craig Lee made that process take 12 months, traditional training.  Sifu Craig Lee taught me the fighting stance and fighting application of the wheel punches that I still use to this day. Because I started my college education the same year that I came to Wong’s Chinese Boxing, I was not able to meet the financial obligation.  A kind Sifu Wong agreed to allow me to continue learning if I started assisting, then teaching, the beginner classes.  At Wong’s I also met my seniors that greatly influenced me; Maurice Gatdula, Chris Henderson, Ronald Wheeler, Howard Davis, Howard Bryant and Derek Johnson. Derek Johnson would eventually CRUSH me in two sparring sessions and then begin instructing me in his basement with a select group of students.


Of that group of “Basement students” that would start with Derek Johnson, I would be the only one to remain for the duration.  Under Derek Johnson I learned to decipher techniques from forms for myself, develop fighting drills, shadow box with kung fu techniques, handle hard core sparring and Lion Dance.  Before Derek Johnson was given his official Sifu title by Sifu Deric Mims, I followed him to Sifu Deric Mims’ school in Langley Park and assisted in teaching there while still being instructed by Derek Johnson.  Here, Sifu Deric Mims acknowledged me as a senior student and I began to attend the Sifu/Senior student meetings that were held at a Silver Springs Chinese Restaurant.  While at Sifu Mims’ school I was reintroduced to other Dean Chin students that I had originally met a Wong’s Chinese Boxing; including Ricardo Ho, Jose Diaz, Duke Amayo and Howard Davis.


Once Derek Johnson received his Sifu title from Sifu Derek Mims, I assist in the start of Sifu Derek Johnson’s Jow Ga Kung Fu Athletic Association located in Columbia Md.  As the Dai SiHing (Most Senior Brother), I was in charge of conducting classes and Lion Dance performances in Sifu Derek’s absence.  I joined Sifu Derek Johnson on a trip to Germany to help teach members of the Poland branch of the Jow Ga Kung Fu Athletic Association and perform in a event celebrating Jow Ga in Germany where I received a standing ovation from the crowd.  My Lion Dance skills continued to grow under Sifu Derek Johnson due to regular performances and taking over the Lion Dance classes for the school.  After a form performance of mine during a ceremony at the Jow Ga Kung Fu Athletic Association, Sifu Terrance Robinson commented that I should learn how to control my energy more.  A Dean Chin and Raymond Wong student that would frequently train at Wong’s Chinese Boxing, Sifu Terrance Robinson felt that even though I had good technique and could apply my skills in sparring competitions, I expelled too much energy unnecessarily. Sifu Terrance Robinson, a serious fighting instructor, had already observed me in continuous sparring competitions and suggested that I go full contact.


My path in Jow Ga then brought me to Sifu Terrance Robinson’s school in Silver Springs Md.  Sifu Robinson, like may Sifu, took his martial skills learned before joining Jow Ga and developed his own inclusive system.  For his own reasons he decided to call it Jow Hop Kuen (Jow Combining Fist).  Under Sifu Terrance Robinson, I began to learn Chi Gung exercise that helped me to control my energy.  I also began my Iron Body training and his method of full contact fight training.  While at Sifu Terrance Robinson’s school, I reconnected with my seniors Maurice Gatdula, Tehran Brighthapt and Uncle Matthew Bumphus.  After Sifu Terrance Robinson relocated to Thailand, Maurice Gatdula began guiding my Jow Ga instructions from California.


Due to the fact that I had already learned many of the Jow Ga forms, techniques and concepts; it was easy for Maurice Gatdula to deepen and broaden my understanding of Jow Ga as Sifu Dean Chin interpreted it.  Maurice Gatdula was one of the last students personally instructed by Sifu Dean Chin before his death.


Finally, upon the return of Sifu Craig Lee to the area, I was accepted as his student.


Now my instruction comes from these two; Sifu’s Craig Lee and Maurice Gatdula.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.