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!

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