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!

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.

Stance Training Form – Strong but Mobile (Master Deric Mims)

12 01 2015
From left to right:  Masters Reza Momenan, Master Deric Mims, and Master Hon Lee

From left to right: Masters Reza Momenan, Master Deric Mims, and Master Hon Lee

Senior Jow Ga Sifu Deric Mims, out of all of the Dean Chin students, was perhaps our lineage’s secret weapon. He is a unique character in American Jow Ga history, because unlike all the original Full Instructors, Sifu Mims joined following his mother. Other Jow Ga members–Howard Davis, Chris Henderson, Stephanie Dea and a few others–followed their fathers and older brothers; Deric’s mother was an advanced student of Dean Chin and one of his original “fighting women”, as I recall him saying. In the American Kung Fu community, Jow Ga stood out due to the fact that our school’s foundation was not standing on Chinese community members–but mostly African American and Latino–many female students who were just as good, just as strong as the men, and put out fighters rather than forms competitors. Sifu Mims had an eye for detail, perhaps better than Sifu Chin himself, and under his direction, Jow Ga students could do more than fight–Jow Ga students could present our forms well while adhering to the standards any self-respecting fighter would have for himself. Some of Jow Ga’s best forms competitors owed their skill to Sifu Deric without compromising the combative nature of Jow Ga.

Few Jow Ga websites make reference to Deric Mims for various reasons, but no one can deny that without his instruction and his ideas–DC Jow Ga might have become just another Kung Fu fighting school whose forms no one notices. Often, schools that focus on fighting perform their system’s forms poorly. To do both well is rarely found in the community. Unfortunately, the Chinese Martial Arts community has yet to evolve to a level where an African American Sifu can be recognized as a Master without making a movie or promoting himself in media. For this reason, I refer to Deric Mims as a best-kept secret in Jow Ga–if American Jow Ga can be categorized into sublineages, Sifu Mims’ Jow Ga has its own identity and uniqueness due to his talent. One cannot give a proper history of DC Jow Ga without paying homage to him and his leadership. About 5 years before his death, Sifu Chin named Deric the Jow Ga Association’s President and senior instructor. He ran the promotion exams. He conducted the business of the school, making Jow Ga a professional organization. He oversaw demonstrations, tournament performance, and kept the lights on. Even if Jow Ga members did not attend Sifu Mims’ classes, we were all impacted by his mark on the system.

One of those major contributions is the Stance Training Form, or as some would call it–the “Stepping Form”.

The Stance Training Form was a foundation form Sifu Mims created to teach basic footwork, balance, and movement to new students. Regardless of one’s prior experience, this routine taught our basic stances and how those stances are used in movement–from advancing in short bursts as well as full steps, to retreating, to hopping, twisting, sinking, rising, and flanking. No student could touch our first form without first learning it. Few schools pay this kind of attention to footwork and foundation, other than learning to hold stances. In Jow Ga, whose head is Hung and tail is Choy, one must incorporate strong stances even while in motion. Few Kung Fu practitioners can do this. By observing any forms division in the TCMA community, from beginner to advanced, you may notice that forms might open with low stances and close with low stances. But stances will be high and mostly non-existent, save for a few pauses and poses. Not so with Jow Ga foundational training. Even our strongest fighters will have solid stances. And stances must be strong, but mobile–unlike many who teach that footwork would be strong OR mobile…

Not many Jow Ga schools today utilize the Stance Training Form due to philosophical or business reasons. However, a few have preserved the form, including mine (Maurice Gatdula). The video below is our version of this form, with a few changes and the addition of the “Wheel Punch Form”, also choreographed by Sifu Mims, at the end of the form. Jow Ga students in this lineage must train the form for 9 months to a year and be able to perform the routine ten times in one set before moving on to Siu Fook Fu (Small Subduing Tiger), our first form.

Stay tuned, Jow Ga students, as the Federation will be releasing a DVD soon teaching this form. Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.


Frivolity in Kung Fu

14 03 2013
I have always said that martial artists with good skill on the path to mastery have no time for silly things. Where you find a martial artist who is preoccupied with rank, politics, online battles, bragging rights, and money, you will often find the most poorly skilled among us. There is a saying that martial arts politics–be it money, rank or power–is for those who have little useful skill. That is a very true statement, because the skilled have little interest in those things. This is the reason that every school has a group of men who are low Black Belters or under belts, who are the best fighters in the school–yet they have yet to test for higher rank:  they have little use for anything that does not improve their skill.
Why don’t you chew on that one for a minute?
See, as martial artists we should have two things foremost in our minds:  the development and improvement of our personal skill, and the promotion of our reputations–our school’s reputation, and our teacher’s reputation. And that emphasis on reputation brings you back to your own personal fighting skill. Anything outside of those two things–who is recognized as “senior” in your system, who has the “real deal” version of your teacher’s teacher’s art, who was teacher’s favorite, which master can lay claim to the creator of a concept or style, I could go on–means nothing. Nothing, if the man in front of you has the superior fighting skill. Please don’t forget this.
But what of other martial arts skills? Like brick-breaking? Chi Sao skill? Form performance? The number of forms learned? The ability to hold a strong stance? Physical Strength? Speed? Flexibility?
Listen. If those things will make a difference in your ability to put a man on his behind after you learn them, then I say go for it. I have had my own classmates talk of going to Hong Kong and bringing back a different version of the forms we learned here in America. They talk of learning the second version of a Broadsword form we learned from our teacher 30 years ago. My question is, will these things improve our fighting ability and the functional knowledge we have of our style? Probably not. So I’ll pass. But it is a personal choice. Some people enjoy learning new forms, and that’s fine. But let’s not get so preoccupied with it that our judgment of good Kung Fu vs mediocre Kung Fu or authentic versions vs illegitimate versions is not affected by adding all this stuff.
We love history, foreign-language terminology, arguments about what to call our arts, titles and ranks we should be using, blah blah blah. But those things are silly non-issues for the true warrior. And anytime you meet someone obsessed with those things, I guarantee you that you are in the presence of the inferior martial artist. And that’s why you will be wasting your time until you get away from that conversation and back into the gym.
Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

While On the Subject of Tigers (Running Into Walls)

4 03 2013

While we’re on the subject of Tigers…

Perhaps we should take this time to inform the readers that Tiger style Kung Fu has little to do with Tiger clawing and making “hwa” sounds. Sort of.

Tiger claw Kung Fu is a style of fighting in which one takes on the characteristics of a Tiger:

  • No animal in its right mind attacks a Tiger. Not even the Lion. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a Tiger fight a Lion?
  • The Tiger is indomitable
  • He is powerful
  • He is ruthless
  • He is not known for speed, except at close quarters
  • His footwork is a pouncing-style attack
  • He does not retreat
  • And, oh yeah, he has those claws

When Jow Ga refers to itself (and Jow Lung) as “Fu Pow”–Tiger and Leopard–we are referring to the combination of a fighting style that is powerful and cruel, like a Tiger, as well as quick and agile, like the Leopard. Without wanting to teach by blog, we’ll leave it at that.

In the Dean Chin school, considerable time is spend building the horse upon which the fighter stands. In other words, we build the strong and powerful legs that enable us to attack an opponent from what seems like a safe distance to the opponent. More than a kicking/leg’s distance away, but not so far that the opponent cannot be reached. The training starts by teaching the stances, and building the fighter’s ability to hold them for a long periods of time. Immediately after the fighter begins developing strength, we introduce movement–first short, basic movements, then later to more complex movements. Next, the movement with the feet will incorporate hand attacks, so that power is generated from the legs through the attacking motion of the body through the arms and hands and expelled through the destructive power of the attack.

Think of the difference between a 2 ton elephant swatting you, and a 1/2 ton Tiger rushing full speed and crashing into you. Both have power, but one is more devastating and sudden. When the elephant attacks, it has power but it is a power that one feels confident that you can escape it. However, when the Tiger attacks it is both intimidating and frightening because what is hurled at you is coming so fast even if you see it, you can’t escape it. If the Tiger has generated enough momentum, his power can feel like an elephant hit you when he lands.

And, like we stated earlier, his posture, his build, his presence is such that everyone in the room knows he’s there. It is a forceful, yet latent, presence. Can go from 0 – 60 in the blink of an eye. This kind of velocity has nothing to do with Tiger Claws. It all comes from the Horse. We must build the fighter’s physique into the personified image of a Tiger:  Strong, explosive legs, powerful upper body, and a killer instinct. There are three important tools used to accomplish this:

  • lifetime of stance training
  • weighted handwork (dumbells, brass rings, bricks, etc.)
  • plenty of impact training

Not exactly hi-tech stuff, but it’s very effective. And if you don’t want join problems, don’t look for shortcuts.

With this kind of training, we have no need to run from the opponent. In none of our Tiger forms, do we retreat. In one form–the Fu Pow Chune (Tiger and Cougar) form–there is one part that shuffles back to draw the opponent into attacking, and once the opponent does so, we capture him and tear his arm off. Just like a Tiger.

When the body rushes forward in a forward-moving attack, not only are we “shuffling” forward with the feet–we are actually attacking with our torso as well as the limbs. This way, if the opponent counters while we attack or is foolish enough to lunge forward, he will run smack into a wall. Although you may only weigh 190 lbs (like I do), the forward motion multiplies the force attacking him, and increases the damage we intended to inflict.

Wish I could tell you more, but you’ll have to hunt down a Jow Ga Sifu to learn more.

Thanks for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Bio of Late Jow Ga Master Chin Yuk Din

2 01 2013

Dean Chin took up the martial arts at the age of seven. His first instructors were uncles who taught him from the systems they knew: the White Eyebrow system, the White Crane system and the Hung Gar system. By the age of nine, when it became clear he was a prodigy of kung fu, he began the formal study of the Jow Ga system of kung fu. At thirteen he was invited into the Eagle Claw system at the school of the King of Eagles, Sifu Fu Liu, who taught him both Northern Shaolin and Eagle boxing forms. In spite of his youth, he mastered all of these kung fu methods, and excelled in grappling and Dim Mark (striking at pulse points).

It is not surprising that at the age of fourteen, the Jow Ga system recognized his genius and requested him to teach. From that time on, throughout the many years he taught Jow Ga, he never stopped learning from other kung fu masters with whom he exchanged system techniques. Some of these systems he learned from were: Wing Chung, Choy Li Fut, Jow Ga Praying Mantis, as well as Thai Boxing.

Master Dean Chin arrived in the United States in 1966. Shortly thereafter, he established the Jow Ga Kung Fu Association and opened the first Jow Ga kung fu academy in the Western hemisphere. In the ensuing years until his death in 1985, Master Dean Chin held many and diverse professional titles: the Overseas Coach for the Jow Biu branch of the Jow Ga Kung Fu Association; Eastern United States representative of the Hong Kong Chinese Martial Arts Association; member and qualified Sifu of Liu Fat Man’s (King of Eagles) Fan Tzi Eagle Claw School (a Northern Shaolin system); Advisor for the Presidents Cup (held annually in Taiwan-the worlds largest kung Fu tournament); and Vice Chairman of the Eastern United States Kung Fu Federation.

In the summer of 1999 at a dinner meeting in Hong Kong, Grand Master Chan Man Cheung, Master Dean Chins’ teacher and a direct disciple of Jow Biu (one of the founders and “Five Tigers” of Jow Ga), stated that Dean Chin was his most famous student. He went further to say that he only taught a few teachers here in the United States for any length of time. Those individuals were Master Dean Chin (founder of Jow Ga in the US), Master Hon Lee who resided in Hong Kong for several years and now teaches in Mclean, Virginia and the Chin brothers who live in New York.