Rethinking Kung Fu Footwork (Lessons from the FMAs)

17 09 2016

Today’s post is brought to you, compliments of your Southeasternly neighbor, the Filipino Martial Arts (FMAs). In case you are one of the few who have never been exposed to the Filipino Martial Arts, take a look on YouTube at it. The term “Filipino martial arts” can refer to any number of styles from the Philippines ranging from weapons-based styles–which we are known for (I’m speaking as a Filipino right now)–to boxing arts, to our own lineages of Chinese martial arts, which have evolved in the Philippines for the last few centuries into arts with Chinese names but little semblance to their origin. A few characteristics that you may find with the Filipino arts that are quite unlike those of other countries:

  1. Filipino arts traditionally have no forms. Most Filipino arts are sparring-based, and this is perhaps the main difference that makes FMAs unique. Because of the emphasis on sparring, many of the practices that restrict fighting ability do not exist in the FMA. For example, while a gripe about TCMAs is that tournaments lack fighting divisions–most Filipino tournaments are sparring tournaments that do not have forms divisions
  2. Filipino practitioners are not bound by tradition or strict adherence to custom. The grouping of techniques into stick/blade/empty hand is blurred. Often styles will start out teaching empty hand techniques and then draw a knife. FMA practitioners will spar stick versus knife, two weapons versus one, one opponent versus two, etc. The unpredictability of the streets is brought into classroom training
  3. FMA systems are created and practiced by the common man, rather than isolated groups of monks and warriors
  4. Every new generation of FMAs will evolve from the last. Teachers are not expected to keep curriculums and techniques intact. Nearly every school owner has created his own method, although he may keep the name of his teacher’s art–innovation and blending is acceptable and encouraged
  5. The practice of challenging is not frowned upon in the Filipino arts. A teacher who does not have challenges under his belt is not considered “polite”, he is considered “inexperienced”. While many masters will talk of past teachers and classmates–Filipino teachers often speak of sparring partners and rivals
  6. Speaking of rivals, many masters’ rivals are not lifelong enemies as in other styles; rivals often become co-founders, friends, or even the inspiration for a whole new art. Two good examples of such are the rivalry between US-based, late pioneers Angel Cabales and Leo Giron–whose rivalry lasted a lifetime and history is peppered with many matches (which exists even to this day); and Katatapado, a Filipino long-stick system created just to defeat Eskrima, the dominant weapons art of the Philippines
  7. Emphasis on footwork rather than stance work. In fact, most FMA styles do not have stances

FMA styles are almost the opposite of the Chinese arts, but some of those differences can be used to benefit Kung Fu fighters. Let’s explore some of them:

FMA footwork is similar to boxing footwork, in that FMA styles are more mobile that our northernly neighbors. This practice of being in perpetual motion is considered “alive” feet, versus “dead” feet that are heavy and flat footed. This may first appear to put fighters at a disadvantage because of a lack of stability. However, because of the heavy presence of blades, including the possibility for blades to be produced during a fight–FMA fighters are light footed other than times that power is needed for finishing blows. There are no set stances in most styles, so students practice attacking/advancing, retreating/withdrawing, side-stepping/flanking as much as a Kung Fu student would practice stances. Footwork is also heavily integrated with weapons practice. While stance training and footwork is considered a “beginner’s” skill in Kung Fu–even advanced FMA students practice footwork every class. This emphasis on movement does tire out the fighter more, but also produces a more agile, evasive, quicker, and fit fighter–with quickers reflexes. Watch a few rounds of Eskrima sparring and you will see how the emphasis on movement and speed can heighten the senses of your students. How can this be integrated with Kung Fu? Limit stance holding to lower ranking levels, but once strength is built in your students’ legs–switch your emphasis to movement. The goal is to make your students difficult to escape from, but equally difficult to catch. It is not necessary to neglect strength training or other skills, but giving your fighters the gift of superior mobility will insure that they will catch and opponent they are attacking while being difficult to hit when attacked. Footwork, then, is not to be an additional skill; footwork should be an integrated skill. Meaning, there is no “Footwork” Day. Every day is footwork day. Each time you drill a skill–whether you are training punches, blocks, even dagger and sword skills–find a way to incorporate footwork.

Also, let us say here, that in speaking of “mobility”, we are not trying to get Kung Fu students to practice while doing the “Ali Shuffle”. It’s so much more than that! By mobility, we mean that your students should not practice in a fighting stance where they are a sitting duck. Look at the average Kung Fu class, you will see lines of students in a perfect formation. Everyone has a dot they are standing on, and no one leaves that dot. Whether doing jumping jacks, punching, kicking–everyone in class has a spot, and that student is encouraged to stay in his place. When fighting, there is a little movement, but it is unnatural as Kung Fu students are trained to set down in stances and not move. A sniper-fighter’s dream opponent. (Edit: In case you were wondering, a sniper-fighter is an aggressive attacker who attacks quickly and violently) Train without movement, your students will find much difficulty when it is time to move, regardless if he is attacking or defending. When training for mobility, you must decide whether the technique you are training is being used as an attack, a defense or a flanking technique. For example, the basic punch in the Kung Fu classroom can either be done in a Horse, Bow, or sparring stance, and that’s about it. Yet in the FMA classroom, the punch is designated an attacking-punch (your student is the attacker), a defensive punch (your student is punching when attacked), or a flanking punch (student steps off-line and punches, whether initiating the attack or not)–and each has it’s own footwork movements. Make this one change to how you run your classes–within months you will see a great improvement in sparring ability.

For the sake of space, let’s end here, but I’d like to give you a few things to think about:

  • footwork can be used to lure the opponent into traps. a mongoose attack, for example, named for the Philippine mongoose, uses a retreat to get the opponent to follow–and then attack when the opponent is mid-stride while following you
  • advancing on the opponent can be more than just moving forward to get close to the opponent. advance on the opponent to upset his balance (difficult to keep balance while moving backward), run the opponent into unstable ground (off sidewalks, etc.), or into barriers (walls, furniture, or the ropes of a boxing ring)
  • keeps even an opponent with the strongest stance off-balance, as your movement can force him to leave his stance and follow or move. this makes him vulnerable to attack
  • cut off an opponent’s movement. study movement, and plan two or three steps ahead so that if he continues in the direction he is moving–he moves right into the direction of your next attack
  • can be used to make an opponent miss. practice what you can do if the opponent misses an attack. this MUST be incorporated into training. many styles plan for follow ups if the opponent blocks, but what about throwing an attack, allowing the opponent to block you, then waiting for his counter, and then firing on him after you make him miss? in the FMA this is called “counter-the-counter”, something I have not seen in any style besides the Filipino art other than Wing Chun–and even Wing Chun does not have techniques to make an opponent miss his attack
  • for those who enjoy fighting from a strong stance–you could use movement to set up that strong launching position. move to force the opponent into a place where you want him. land into position while he is still moving by moving quicker–and then firing on him as he arrives to a position you were waiting for

There is still much more to add to this subject, but we will put up another article in the near future. We hope you found something useful! Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

In case you forgot to take a look at the link I embedded above, here is a clip of a tournament. Enjoy!


Quick Tip for Kung Fu Practitioners

11 09 2016

No long article today. Just some quick tips for my Kung Fu brothers and sisters, that if you incorporate them, will help you on your martial arts journey towards self-defense and combat dominance:

  • Train your skills and techniques in sets of 50 if you are a beginner, 100 if an intermediate, and 500 if you are advanced enough to teach classes. Far too often, Kung Fu practitioners are not familiar enough with their systems that when called to do anything outside a form or choreographed, prearranged demonstration–they fumble. I see it all the time on YouTube and in demonstrations. Martial arts should be second nature, skills should flow from the hands as easily as a well-rehearsed, memorized song. When an opponent strikes at you, your response should be immediate, automatic, and without thought
  • Train invidual techniques with resistance. That means make the use of bicycle innertubes, small hand weights, weighted wrist weights and ankle weights, iron rings
  • Break your form down into specific techniques and applications. You should know exactly what is in your forms, rather than only knowing the routine and “knowing what each move is for”. “Each move” is something you should train individually and be able to execute when needed–not demonstrate, execute. For example, in my system, our first form Siu Fook Fu–I have 55 techniques and applications I have extracted from this form. Those 55 techniques make up the curriculum I teach my students stretched over 3 beginner levels. They fight with these techniques in sparring, we use them for self-defense, and even have techniques to be used against weapons attacks and multiple opponents. Gain more value from the art you have dedicated your study to by reinvestigating and reverse engineering your Kung fu
  • Identify all moves for your system into “Attacks”, “Counterattacks”, and “Self defense”. Very few of us actually do this. We practice forms, we practice some skills, we exercise, we might even do choreographed techniques–but when we spar, we often limit ourselves to kickboxing-like practice. If you assign everything in your arsenal a specific use, your practice and training can be more directed and efficient. Attend any tournament and watch Kung Fu students in action. Everyone will use the same Jab/Cross/Roundhouse/Side kick/Backfist/Spin kick set of skills to spar with. But look in their forms, you’ll find that most of the techniques in the form are not used in sparring at all, and most of what they do in sparring is NOT in the forms!
  • Rather than see your form’s techniques as “defense from a punch/defense from a grab”, why not look at actual self-defense needs? Take a look at mugging and attacks caught on video, and see how your system can be applied in those situations? Check out this video. How would your forms handle such an attack? And trust me, although your Sifu may not have taught you specifically a defense for it, I’m willing to bet your forms have some techniques that are perfect to be used against it. You just have to dig a little deeper, young Jedi.


  • Here is a revolutionary idea that should be common sense:  Practice your techniques out of sequence. If you break down each technique into mini techniques, small, movable parts–you can mix and match blocks, grabs, twists, strikes, kicks, gouges–whatever–with those from other techniques or even forms, and create whole new uses. My Sifu did this, and I believe this made his Kung Fu more useful for those of use who studied with him. Although you have the freedom to add boxing, karate, etc., to your styles, simply by rearranging techniques, you can give your techniques a whole new life…
  • Finally, rather than cross-train, cross-fight. It’s no secret that I studied other arts besides Jow Ga. I’ve also boxed, competed in point karate, Olympic style Tae Kwon Do, and study Judo. However, most of my experience is used to make my Jow Ga more capable of fighting a Karate fighter or grappler or boxer. Each art you experience has a rhythm and a mindset. It’s almost like learning the habits and mannerisms of someone who speaks another language. Once you pick up how a boxer moves or how a Tae Kwon Do competitor fights, you don’t need to learn how to box to apply your art against him. You simply learn enough about him that you can figure a way to use your Kung fu to beat him. Going to point karate tournaments only hurts your Kung Fu if you drop your Kung Fu to start point fighting. Bring all experience and learning back to your art, and this strengthens your art. There is no need to mix, just understand.

Hopefully, you will find some usefulness in today’s article. This was originally going to be several articles, but I decided to just lay it all down (however simplified I made it) here. Perhaps at a later time, we can explore each tip further.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.


Bridging the Gap Between Traditional and Applied Kung Fu

13 02 2016

This blog was originally intended to be for a Jow Ga audience, but it seems that most of my feedback has come from non-Jow Ga practitioners. So, while I will be writing these articles from the point of view of a Jow Ga practitioner–you may notice that I will occasionally reference non-Jow Ga or tag other styles in my articles.

One of the calling cards of Jow Ga students that local martial artists will notice is how our students emphasize low, strong stances. I’ve even heard some mention it as if our low stances were over-emphasized like it was a bad thing. I’d like to use that notion as a point of reference for the rest of this article.

First, understand that Chinese martial arts in general tends to emphasize low, strong stances as one of the building blocks of our systems. Some styles do not, but if the first thing your Sifu taught was some version of the Horse Stance–chances are pretty good that your system claims to emphasize strong, low stances. However, what happens later in training? Are stances then unimportant? I have a theory:

  • Kung Fu people tend to be of three types. 1. Traditional curriculum-based practitioners–They practice curriculum material, some excel at it, others casually practice it–but there is very little introspection and/or innovation. 2. Fighters–Emphasize fighting of any type over tradition, from tournament to full contact to streetfighting. Plenty of innovation and reconstructing of technique, whether with the base system or not. 3. Forms specialists, philosophers and lion dancers–This is where I put everyone else. This group learns and barely practices the curriculum, outside of forms for performance. There is little sparring, very little breaking down of the system, and applied martial arts is secondary to whatever it is the Sifu chooses to specialize in.
  • Of the three types, the fighter is usually the primary detractor of traditional stance work. Traditional stances simply have very little use in their chosen piece of the field. They can’t use it while fighting, it’s not mobile enough, can’t seem to make sense out of traditional footwork with these fighting techniques we use in the ring… you name it. The other two types rarely think about it.
  • Fighters are quick to label traditional stances and footwork as “outdated” and impractical.  This is the primary reason we abandon the training after the first few forms. Practitioners learn to hold their guards and therefore stop practicing chambered punches. They dance in their footwork rather than stand. They stand upright for mobility instead of sitting for good rooting. I blame this on the simplification of Kung Fu–rather than a full understanding of how to apply it. So we end up with two sets of fighter/Kung Fu men:  those who keep traditional kung fu, but teach a separate set of skills for fighting–versus those who simply discard the traditional in favor of more modern methods altogether.
  • Kung Fu Sifu, then, become followers of the trend, rather than stand rooted in their theories. And here is the culprit; every traditional Sifu will argue all day long about how traditional stances are useful and practical in fighting. Yet how many can actually prove their theories? Very few, you and I both know that. So blame the economy, blame the lack of dedicated students, blame the faith of the modern kung fu student–but ultimately, the blame lies on those of us who teach the art, yet cannot convince our students that the traditional can hold its own against the modern. The result is that our traditional skills are either (foolishly) deemed “too deadly for the ring” or simply not sufficient or applicable to fighting.

The Solution

I have said this over and over on my Filipino Martial Arts blog, Filipino Fighting Secrets:  Not only are there too many of us out here teaching the art, there are too many of us out here teaching who do not have the skills, knowledge, and experience to be teachers. It’s worse for the Chinese martial arts. Most schools are led by men who simply have no fighting record at all. Not in light contact competition, not in full contact competition, not even in the street. Too many Kung Fu students are being brought to tournaments by Sifus who don’t even own a set of sparring gear–let alone ever wore any. When our schools are being led by men who never fought, the students will be lost in any kind of combat, whether simulated, sportive, or real. The solution is simple, but not easy. This next generations of Kung Fu experts must be taught more than just curriculum, theories, and form. Your understanding of what your system has to offer shouldn’t rely on your knowledge of Muay Thai or Brazilian Jujitsu. Future generations of Sifus must be well-researched and given ample time to question what you are teaching and call your theories to the carpet; you cannot hide from their doubts. You cannot pass on your insecurities about whether your system really holds up to boxers and grapplers, and if the only way you can win a fight is to blind them or break their knees–you apparently aren’t skilled enough to be teaching “fighting”. Students must be encouraged to try their hand against other systems and other fighters, and win or lose–bring that experience to the classroom and figure out what happened… What works best, what needs to be tweaked, and how your traditional art can be used to stop or defeat those modern methods. And finally, students must be given enough time to really advance their skills and not rushed along some timeline of forms and exams (and exam fees). Given enough time to develop and fine tune, most martial arts students will have discovered things that they never would have if they rush through a curriculum. I’ve met young instructors who are barely out of their 20s who have already forgotten forms. It’s not a race!

And forgive me if I come across as insulting–but it starts with you, the Sifu. You must be the first guinea pig of your new thinking. I’ve seen Sifus put their students through workouts they know they couldn’t handle. I fixed a fighter’s gear once, when his own Sifu put it on for him–incorrectly. Travel outside of your city a few times if you need–and enter some fight contests. Train on everything you plan to teach, and test it out on other instructors to gain a clearer picture on how this stuff works. Basically, I’m telling you to walk the talk first, and practice what you preach. It’s only fair to your students, and will give you better insight when teaching.

Going back to the subject of traditional stances and footwork, consider this… if you observe the best boxers and grapplers, you will notice that under pressure, they sink in their stances for power and rooting. Almost all stances can be applied in some way while fighting–forward stances for power body shots, horse stance for hooks, upper cuts and evasive maneuvers, even cross stances when throwing. It’s not a matter of discovering what works in fighting; those things have already been investigated by our system’s creators. Rather, it is a process to discover how they work. There is a huge difference. As teachers and coaches, we all know how to throw a hook punch–but not everyone understands how to use the hook punch. And you cannot teach the hook punch without teaching how the stance and footwork is integrated with the hook. Only discovery and experimentation can give it to you.

Finally, I am a strong advocate of modern training. I just do not believe that modern training can replace the traditional, nor do I believe it should. They compliment each other. Can stances and traditional footwork be carried in the ring? Of course they can, but it’s not my job to teach you on this blog. Augment your traditional training with wind sprints, squats, hops, dancing by the round. Learn to move like a boxer, then find ways that your traditional footwork can be used against a boxer’s footwork. (Trust me, there are disadvantages to their footwork)  I would like to offer a few tips below:

  1. Build strong legs. You cannot rely on tactics alone. Tactics without strength is like a big engine with no gas. With strong legs, you will be more stable, your footwork will be more responsive and explosive, your hand work will be more powerful, and you will be more equipped to uproot the opponent with your footwork alone
  2. When you practice your footwork, label all movements and techniques as “advancing”, “retreating”, “evasive”, or “rooting”. This way, you can train for specific skills and applications. Not all stance and footwork training is equal
  3. Train your footwork explosively. Slow footwork with no sense of urgency is as useless as those forms you do, if you perform them without intensity and fighting spirit
  4. Make sure footwork training involves flanking and retreating
  5. Learn to alternate between strong stance position to mobility, and from being mobile to rooted positions. I cannot emphasize this enough. The most basic of these is what I call the initial attack:  Going from your resting fighting position into your first technique when attacking the opponent. Possibly 95% or more of fighters just cannot get off the line fast enough to attack an opponent. I’d put my money on this:  95% of those reading this article must sit back and try to understand what I mean by “get off the line fast enough to attack an opponent”
  6. ^^^ What that means is, to develop the ability to stand 3 feet away from an opponent and hit him with the first two hand techniques you throw–faster than he can block them or move away. Most people train as if your first two techniques will land. Look at how we hit the punching bag. Do you stand close enough to the bag to touch it when practicing? Or do you stand 3 feet away and close the distance each time you hit the bag? Ask yourself, “Where does the opponent stand, inside an arms distance or more than a leg’s distance?” Most fighters have to be pursued to hit. Train your footwork to catch them, faster than he can avoid your attack

Hopefully, you have found some useful points in this article… We are 1700 words in, so I’ll close here. If you like it, please comment and share! And don’t forget to subscribe!

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.


Teaching the Timid

31 01 2016

Today we will discuss some tips to help you come up with ways to teach one of our more difficult types of students:  The passive student.

Due to the way the Chinese martial arts have been labeled by the community–as well as how we have marketed them–Kung Fu schools have always attracted students who were not as interested in fighting and combat. Or perhaps they wanted to learn to fight, but feared sparring or training with contact. This is not commonplace for other martial arts, such as the grappling arts or stick-based arts, because those styles keep sparring and combat as a yardstick for measuring skill. In the Chinese arts, we highlight forms, the age of the systems, lion dance, health benefits, etc. Because of this, students come to the CMA not expecting to touch gloves, while in other martial cultures they simply assume that actual combat will be practiced regularly.

I have seen personally, and entire classroom of students get nervous when the Sifu announced that they will be sparring that day. A culture of prearranged defense and lack of emphasis of sparring has created entire generations of martial arts students who are here more for the “art” than the “martial”. In other words, we have entire generations of students who fear sparring. Sadly, a timid student becomes a timid Sifu, and nothing is worse than a school led by a Sifu who never learned to fight. Even worse than that, however, are students being put into fight competition by a Sifu who does not know how to fight.

To keep it simple, we will offer some solutions in bullet format:

  • Fear of fighting can either come from two places:  1. embarassment from failure (or fear of losing), or 2. fear of getting hurt
  • Fear of failure can be eliminated by drilling techniques, both attack and defense with a partner, in such high numbers, the student actually develops a high level of proficiency with those skills. Often, the lack of confidence is due to one’s realization that he/she has a low level of skill
  • Fear of getting hurt is eliminated by introducing the student to contact gradually. This is accomplished through holding pads during power hitting practice, allowing contact in drills–first lightly, and then increasing the amount allowed gradually. Most people can develop a high pain tolerance level, but the barrier is psychological. As students allow themselves to be hit more and more, they lose the fear of pain as they discover they can take it
  • Giving students ample time in practice for impact training. Too often, Kung Fu training is practiced solo, or students are instructed to pull techniques when face to face. Using a combination of kicking shields, focus mitts, and striking bags and posts–having students hit with power as well as being on the receiving end of the blows will give your fighters more confidence and build up their levels of aggression (referred to in the Jow Ga system as “fighting spirit”)
  • Impact training also leads to another type of confidence. When martial arts students realize the potential for damage with their skills, they also will develop a respect for their knowledge. Martial artists must learn what these arts can do to an opponent so that they do not become reckless with it. Irresponsible students who have never been hit in the jaw may deliver such strikes to opponents and training partners unnecessarily because they are unaware what it feels like. Once they have been on the receiving end, students can then regulate when, where, and how much power to use–as well as when not to use it
  • Do not fear allowing for mistakes in the gym. You cannot protect your students from getting hurt or minor accidents all the time. Let them sort it out themselves; not so much that you have students getting injured daily–but allow them to slip up and get popped. These lessons are valuable and helps to build resistance and pain tolerance
  • Another important source of confidence comes from physical strength. Many Kung Fu schools all but ignore strength-building exercises such as pushups, pull-ups and dips. Doing exercises that build muscular strength gives students powerful limbs and a strong physique, which leads to self-confidence. Although a muscular body is not indicative of fighting skill, it does give students a psychological edge against their opponents and provides physical resistance to injury. Strength of the core also helps the fighters resist injury when being hit
  • When introducing sparring, you consider having students spar with only two or three techniques. For example one student must use punches against opponents who are only allowed to use their right arm and leg to fight with. Be creative. This isolation builds competency quickly, is challenging and gives quick-thinkers an edge over some more physically gifted classmates, and is fun. Additionally, by isolating techniques, your fighters are forced to learn to adapt their skills to a number of attacks
  • Finally, the most basic way to deal with the timid:  Simply have them spar more. Gradually, of course, but do it more often. The more your students spar, the less they fear it, and surely, the better they become at it. It’s that simple!

Hopefully, we’ve given you some useful tips and make sure to give your students time to develop. The results won’t come overnight, but if they have had enough time–you will definitely see an improvement.

If you like this or any other article on this blog, please share and spread the word! And remember to subscribe! Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation. We welcome any tips, criticism and comments below.

A Not-So-New Way of Looking at Kung Fu Weapons (Reverse Engineering, pt II)

18 01 2016
Many of you know this weapon. But what do you DO with it? How do you practice with it?

Many of you know this weapon. But what do you DO with it? How do you practice with it?

Going to ask you to step out the box you’re normally in for this one… We’re going to file this article under  “Technique and Strategy”, too.

Typically, Kung Fu teachers limit most weapons practice to learning the skills necessary to perform the forms accompanying the weapon properly. I don’t believe this is enough. If one cannot simply learn a form and the basic applications and use them in fighting, why do we think we can do so with the weapons?

Looking at the history of most styles, many of our Si Jo were not experts at many weapons. Without referencing my library or visiting any websites, I recall that founders of systems I’ve read about studied hand techniques and often, only one or two weapons. Yet a century later, the schools teaching their arts often have ten or more weapons in their curriculums. How many of your system’s history also includes a history of each weapon in your curriculum? I’ll give an example using myself. My system speaks of only one weapon/form, in its history the 8 Diagram Pole. Yet Jow Ga–depending on the lineage and school–offers as many as 12 or more weapons and forms. I do pass on to my students however, the story behind four weapons I was taught by him in close detail:  the double headed staff, the spear, the broadsword, the three-sectioned staff, and the double daggers. I have learned all the weapons my lineage has, yet these four weapons I know the best because I spent years with my teacher learning them. Training was not just form also. We had diagrams, techniques practice, combinations, I practiced techniques for use against other weapons, applications for the techniques of these weapons to modern “non” weapons, power-generating practice, applications of the techniques to the empty hand, and sparring. When I speak to other Si Hing about their experience with our Sifu, I discovered that these weapons appeared to be his weapons of choice as well. As a young instructor, I received further instruction from my Si Gung on the staff that were quite different from that which I learned from my Sifu, so my students now get a fifth story to add to their Jow Ga history. If you are one of the fortunate ones to still have access to your Sifu, I would highly encourage you to question him about these same things, as often our teachers neglect to give us the source of such knowledge and technology.

Taking our previous discussion about “Reverse Engineering”, (if you hadn’t read it, please read that article so that this one makes more sense) I have a strong suggestion for you. Take one weapon form from your system and give yourself 12 months to deconstruct it. Apply the Reverse Engineering philosophy to that form and weapon, and whatever you come up with make a list into two groups:  Group I and Group II. Group I would be the easy, superficial applications that one could surmise by simply learning the form. Start with the first technique in the form, and make your list of techniques all the way to the last. Skip anything that doesn’t actually look like a technique. Then Group II would be the applications that are more difficult (some of these could be techniques that appear in Group I, but are alternative applications) to execute and requires more training and practice. Be sure to include in Group II those things that make no obvious sense; you will work and rework these techniques until you have exhausted all possibility that the techniques are useful. You now have a working curriculum for that weapon.

Allow me to offer what I have done with my Jow Ga weapons training. Perhaps you may see something you like:

  1. Perform your weapon’s form 100 times. Yes, you read that right, 100 times. You should begin any new endeavor within your system with a thorough understanding of what you are doing. This comes in part from a Filipino proverb, that a skill is not learned until it has been performed 500 times. 500 is a lot to ask for an entire Kung Fu form, which is why I am suggesting 100 for starters. I know over 40 forms, yet there are 8 that I have performed 500 times, and two that I have performed 1,000. Doing so will reveal things to you that will escape most people. My Sifu, who died prematurely, had also confided in me that he had performed three forms 100 times in his youth consecutively and he considered himself an expert of those forms. I am merely continuing his research.
  2. Identify all possible techniques into “Group I/Group II” categories. Leave no stone unturned. Make sure that you can easily answer the question, “Sifu, what’s this for?”  You would be surprised how many Kung Fu experts cannot answer that question for a good portion of things in their system. Everything has a use; everything has a reason for being there… it’s up to you to discover them. If you can’t answer “why” and “how”, my question is, why do you do it at all?
  3. Identify the basic strikes, blocks, traps, cuts, etc., necessary to form a proper foundation with the weapon. Many of you may have them. Some of you only have them for certain weapons, and only a form or two for others. Dissect the weapon so that you can truly understand them. This list will make up daily practice for those learning the weapon. The same way you perform stance training, punching practice, Chi Sao, impact training, hand conditioning, blocking practice, etc., with the empty hand–you should also have the same regimen offered when students are learning a weapon.
  4. Your curriculum is 50% created; now become a guinea pig. Take your basics, train only those things for 3 months religiously. Focus on those weapons basics in place of what you normally train with for the empty hand in your system. Do your bag work (using the weapon). Do your shadowboxing (using the weapon). Have someone attack you so that you could practice your blocking (using the weapon). Even do some light sparring (using the weapon). Then take your Group I techniques, and train it for 3 months–doing the same as above. And finally, Group II. This will take you a year. Along the way, you should have new items, perhaps some things you want to eliminate or modify. You may even have created new drills. And I bet your skill with this weapon will be second to none. That can be the only outcome!
  5. The new discoveries should now have brought your weapons curriculum at least 25% more information. If not, you’re probably doing something wrong! Add this information to the list…
  6. Teach. Teaching, they say, is 1/3 of Mastery. You cannot class and seminar your way to Mastery; you must at some point, compile all you have learned and pass it on to students who lack your knowledge and skill. At this point, more will be revealed to you as you witness the students undergo the learning process. They will stumble, they will make mistakes, they will ask questions you hadn’t thought of. Where you were once the guinea pig, you now have a classroom full of eager test subjects–so teach!
  7. While they learn, go ahead and do your form 400 more times. In the course of learning, your students will teach you through their own imperfections. This will be a great opportunity to contribute to the evolution of your system and your lineage. After all, who are we but inheritors of our Masters’ work. They have passed it on to us to continue their quest for a more perfect system. Keep training, and by the 500th time you execute that form–I guarantee you will discover things that perhaps your own Sifu had yet found.

This was a 1,300 word article, but it will be a 2-3 year process. Keep this article in your “favorites” folder, and make it a part of your martial arts philosophy. One thing is for sure, if you do it, the next generation of students under you will receive a more potent, concentrated, better-researched version of what you could have given them. If you are satisfied with the outcome, it’s time for yum cha… breathe deep…. pull out a copy of your system’s curriculum. Which weapon’s next?

Life is short. Don’t waste time. There is so much work to do! 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.


A Sei Ping Secret…. (sshhh!)

10 10 2014

Occasionally, on this blog we will be sharing some “little known DCJG facts”. I say this sarcastically, because whenever I share them in class around non-Jow Ga friends, they always seem amazed by simple things that all DC Jow Ga students know… and these little known DCJG facts exist in their systems, are so obvious and simple, and shouldn’t amaze anyone who teach the martial arts.

I would like to emphasize that nothing here is secret; they are in every style. You probably teach it in your system. Each time you teach a beginner some of these things, I’m positive you tell him this very thing–without the emphasis.

Without the Emphasis

“Without the emphasis” is where Dean Chin’s Jow Ga is different. There are many details in Kung Fu that are taught, but not emphasized. For example, in Southern styles when we shift from the Sei Ping Ma (Horse Stance) to the Jee Um Ma (Bow and Arrow/Front Stance), everyone tells students that the shift adds power, speed and reach to an attack. However, only in schools where the Sifu emphasizes that element of making the shift increase power, increase speed and increase reach–will those benefits find their way into the strategic advantage of a fighter’s arsenal. The teacher must emphasize this in both form and fighting also. Too many teachers teach the shift, tell of the many benefits and advantages and details, then on to the next move or the form… In Dean Chin’s Jow Ga, these minor details are dissected, studied, developed and emphasized in the student’s skill until they become habit. It must be more than a talking point. Each detail of a technique, each alternate application, each variation, each benefit, must all be identified, separated from the form and practiced and drilled as a separate skill.

I “emphasize” for emphasis:  As a separate skill.

Today’s little known DC Jow Ga fact:  The punching hand that retracts is pulling a grabbing arm into the opponent while punching with the opposite arm.

I don’t even know you, but I know that when you teach the Horse Stance Punch, you tell the student at some point that the non-punching hand “can pull the opponent in if he grabs your arm”. The question is, how much time do you spend practicing it? If you are like most martial artists, you will teach punching like this:

Lop Jin… Sei Ping Ma. Horse Stance Punch, ready? YAT. YEE. SAM. SEI….

And you do this, every time you teach punching ^^. Not us. We do this to practice punching. But in almost every session practicing punches, we do something with the opposite hand–Eagle Claw grab and punch. Tiger Claw rake and punch. Counter grab the opponent’s hand and punch. Yank the hand back (this article’s “secret”) and punch. Grab the opponent’s lapel and punch.

Get it? You pull the non-punching hand back with as much power as the punch going out. That’s it. I won’t tell you how to do this, just that it needs to be done if you want to practice the way we do.

If you want to know more, please find a DC Jow Ga teacher (look on our Blog Roll for a school near you) and study with him. Or you could order our Small Tiger DVD (shameless plug).

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation!


Execution of the Kung Fu Form

11 03 2014

Some people confuse the terms “execution” of a form versus “performance” of a form.

In Sifu Dean Chin’s Jow Ga, we don’t perform our forms–we execute them. Some teachers show their students how to perform a form so that it is aesthetically pleasing–They will add multiple kicks and jumps, poses–even acrobatics–to their forms. Others focus on the combat value of the form:

  • Power. Every strike and kick done in the form must be executed with enough power to injure an opponent. You must identify how each attack works, and then use it every time it appears in your form. The same rule applies to your blocking techniques. If someone struck you while performing your form, would the blocks in your form have enough power to intercept the attack? Some blocks should hurt the opponent’s attacking limbs, as well as throwing your opponent off balance–should he make contact with you while attacking
  • Speed. You must use the appropriate amount of speed in the execution of the techniques that make them functional in fighting. Most often, forms are done too slow or too fast. We treat our forms as “folders” in which we store our system’s techniques and strategies. When we practice the form, we are practicing the techniques within them. If you do not use the correct amount of speed, you will not be preparing for application
  • Fluency. Some combinations of movements must be practiced enough so that the movements flow easily from one section to another. Some techniques are more complicated and complex than others; so people will either “shorten” or simplify movements, while others practice them until those techniques are functional as-is. Excessive modification and dumbing down of a style is not a sign of skill, according to Chin Sifu’s philosophy–it is a sign of laziness. One can easily see the way a fighter executes those complex techniques and see if he truly understands and is able to use them, or if he’s simply performing a dance. Complex techniques and combinations should flow easily without looking choppy–and without sacrificing speed and power
  • Footwork. Stances should be more than just low. They must be well-balanced, powerful, immovable, agile, and explosive. Half of your speed in attacking is the actual delivery of the attacker to the defender (position-wise). If one only focuses on having low stances, he is only concerned with appearing to be well-trained. He must be able to move out of a position in an instant, and to do so while executing or countering an attack. Low stances alone do not translate to good footwork; footwork must be functional and enhance the execution and power of your technique
  • Function. Once you understand how a technique is used, one could either keep that application in his mind while practicing, or use the technique as it was intended to be used. For example, consider the grab-punch in Jow Ga, which we often refer to as the “small tiger technique“. In this lineage, we are doing more than simply balling up our fist and retracting our arm right before punching. We are grabbing our opponent’s wrist, his shirt, his head–and then yanking him in to punch him. Most would perform a passive grab and perhaps a powerful punch. However, if you ignore the control–the Fook of Siu Fook Fu–you miss the beauty of this form. You are attacking the opponent as well as controlling him. The application and spirit of the form should be conveyed along with the performance of the form
  • Transition. This is perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Dean Chin’s Jow Ga. Sifu considered forms with one pace throughout the duration of a form to be boring and thoughtless–even if you perform it at lightning-fast speed. The execution of the techniques should be explosive and quick, but not the transition of one technique to another. For this reason, Sifu added pauses and varying paces throughout the forms. If anything about Sifu was considered “show boat”–this would be it. This has nothing to do with fighting applications; our goal is not to move as fast as possible without thoughts of fighting applications. Our pace is patient and calculated, and the attacks are quick and powerful. Think of the difference between a run-on paragraph, rather than one with sentences separated by periods, and phrases separated by commas

Again, what is foremost in the practitioner’s mind while executing the form is execution of the techniques. Learn this difference, and you may find more life and understanding in your Jow Ga. Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

P.S. – If you are able to travel, consider attending the Jow Ga picnic in DC in May of this year. We also have a 3-day Dean Chin’s Jow Ga Summer Camp planned for August 2014. Stay tuned!

Jow Ga’s Pao Choy

17 12 2013

The Uppercut technique is the second most used technique in the Siu Fook Fu form, next to the straight punch. The uppercut can be thrown with the front hand or the back, as a part of the Wheel Punch or alone, as a leading/opening strike or as a part of a combination. It is a powerful technique that can be used to damage the body or the face/head. It can be thrown for speed or for power. The uppercut is a surprising technique that you can hide from the opponent until it is too late, or it can be thrown as a powerful, yes-you-can-see-it-but-you-can’t-do-anything-about-it punch.

The uppercut, if thrown directly behind a straight technique as a feed or distraction is known to boxers as an advanced technique called a “Bolo Punch” (named for a Filipino boxer Cerfino Garcia), which mimicked farmers cutting cane in the fields. It worked equally as devastating as an attack or a counter to a straight attack.

I teach my students to use the uppercut off the centerline, which is a Filipino strategy that I believe is paired very effectively with it. In order to do so the fighter will either

  1. feed the opponent a straight attack
  2. check the opponent’s front hand
  3. draw a straight attack from the opponent–ALL, while stepping off the line–

and when the opponent reacts to one of the above, you will execute the strike. If the opponent is standing in the open position, you will attack from under his front arm with either your front or rear fist. If he is standing in the closed position, you will split his hands (Kuntaw terminology, meaning strike between his guard) with the uppercut. The checking hand can either deflect, capture, or stick to the opponent’s arm to ensure that your uppercut makes it through–or it can simply keep moving to allow the break in contact to distract the opponent from seeing the punch. Side note:  Some fighters can sense the punch coming through if you maintain contact with their arm with your non-punching arm. Those of you who practice Chi Sao will know what I’m referring to. By breaking contact, you take away their ability to rely on sensitivity for defense.

A good follow-up for the attack (or if the opponent leans back from your uppercut) is the straight punch.

The uppercut is theoretically an easy punch to block. However, very few teachers understand the strike well enough to teach how to defend from it. However, one needs to do more than simply slap down the punch–which is the typical defense taught against it. Many styles have no defense from the uppercut at all, because many of those do not use the uppercut. When used in combination, in the frenzied confusion of an exchange, the uppercut should be slipped in while you and the opponent are moving. Because of the angle of the technique–especially if you step off line, as I recommend–the opponent will not see the punch coming.

Think of the way opponents typically hold their guard. Hands up near the face, elbows resting near the rib cage. If you look in the mirror, you may notice that whether you are face front or face 3/4 turned, there is a triangle of open targets… from the entire midsection leading up to the chin at the vertex/top. The entire area–between the elbows all the way up to the chin–are vulnerable to the uppercut. This technique was designed to exploit that opening, which most fighters believe they are protected from, simply by holding up their hands. If you train to penetrate the guard, no opponent is safe.

Refer to the following two videos. One demonstrates the Uppercut strike; the other demonstrates the Uppercut Wheel Punch. In the first video, the fighter demonstrates the result of stepping directly into the line of fire of the opponent as well as the angled step I describe in this article. In the second video, the Uppercut Wheel Punch is demonstrated as a counter.

For more information, please see a Jow Ga Sifu near you. Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

DC Jow Ga Training Clips

25 11 2013

This will be quick and easy.

Our purpose for creating this page is to pay homage to our Sifu and branch founder, Master Dean Chin. However, my personal motivation for doing such a site is to see established the acceptance of Dean Chin’s lineage as a unique and authentic version of the Jow Ga Kung Fu family. Every style has its branches and strains. Some are viewed as credible; some are not. As long as the person teaching a style/variation has an understanding of that style as a combat art and pays his dues–as well as proving its effectiveness–I view any strain of an art to be validated and acceptable.

There are many within our ranks who do not see Dean Chin’s Jow Ga as “pure” or valid as the Asian branches. Sifu modified his forms, he altered the way he taught the art, he added some elements of other arts. In the end, he called it all Jow Ga and sought to promote the style, and he didn’t even brand it as “Dean Chin’s Jow Ga”. I chose this name, because the term “Dean Chin version of Jow Ga” forms was often used to claim that a form was not authentic or incomplete.

Sifu did shorten many forms. He also forgot some forms. But do not allow these two facts fool you into believing that what he taught was not effective and powerful. Simply by viewing those who sprung from the loins of his school, you will see how strong Dean Chin Jow Ga is. However, despite that Sifu’s students were very good at performing forms–from Sifus Hoy Lee to Randy Bennett to Rahim Muhammad to Deric Mims to Troy Williams to Raymond Wong to Deric Johnson–when Sifu wanted to showcase the strength of his Kung Fu, he elected to have his students fight. When Sifu accompanied me to my first National tournament in 1983, he did not enter me into forms division–he entered me as a fighter. When he took a team to Taiwan–he brought fighters. When Sifu crashed a class while on of my Si Hings taught, he taught not Small Tiger form (everybody knew it anyway), he taught techniques within the form. Form, to Sifu Chin, was not a performance art. Forms were a collection of fighting technique, and this is what he used forms for in his classes.

When Sharif Talib and I decided to upload Jow Ga clips to youtube, then, we determined that there were enough forms on youtube under Jow Ga. So we committed ourselves to showing Dean Chin fighting techniques, as he taught them to us. We hope you will find them as valuable and useful as we did. Occasionally, we will produce (street quality, not studio quality… hey, it’s the information that matters!) Jow Ga videos that will highlight fighting rather than form, and these will be offered for less than the price of one month of lessons. When we teach workshops and clinics, they will be addressing the combat applications of this unique version of Jow Ga. Please check with us regularly, and subscribe to both my channel as well Sharif’s.

As a preview, I will present two examples below. Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

DC Jow Ga Footwork Development

DC Jow Ga Small Tiger Technique