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.


Why Fat Guys Make the Best Sifus

10 09 2016

I had started to write this article about a year ago, and stopped because I didn’t want to offend. Over the last few months, I tried again and again to finish it–looking for a way to get my point across without hurting some feelings. Recently, while reflecting on my Sifu’s own unpolitically correct self–he said things as they were, but one thing we knew… He’d never tell you a lie. Sifu would curse in class, tell someone to take a shower before training, tell another to wash her hair, throw you out of class if he smelled alcohol (RIP JE), give you your money back, even jump on instructors in front of their students for not training enough or telling advanced students that beginners are catching up on them. He once laughed after class and told one my Si Hings “Well, Barrington (a beginner) really kicked your ass today…”

So, I scrapped every word I had written, changed the title… and here goes.

My Sifu once told our class that “Fat guys make the best Sifus”. This was right after fussing at me and my brothers for giggling after a classmate had fallen while doing kicks. He stated something to this effect a few times, and I am constantly reminded of what he meant as an instructor myself. One of the most profound statements indeed. I believe after you hear me out, you may agree.

Quite often, we celebrate athleticism and “natural ability”. We love great physiques, and especially admire those who seem to be born with beauty and ability. As teachers, we speak of silly ideas like being “built for Northern/Southern styles”, as if a short, fat man cannot learn Tien Shan Pai–or a tall, skinny man couldn’t learn Hung Gar. I recall a former employer of mine–a Tae Kwon Do master–instructing our sales staff to target soccer games for recruiting because he liked the flexibility and agility of soccer players and how it transferred skills to TKD. As a tournament competitor, I was often approached by coaches who wanted me to join their schools to go pro so that they could take credit for the instruction I had already received under my Sifu and Si Hings. In the modern martial arts community, I’ve seen jujitsu teachers at my son’s wrestling meets to recruit boys for their MMA teams. Why all of this? I believe it is laziness, really. So much easier to train a student who is walking through the door with endurance, flexibility, strength, and other physical attributes. As a boxer, I’ve heard trainers say that it was easier to pack muscle on a skinny guy for power, than it was to slim down an overweight novice and train him to become quick. Teachers pride themselves often on students who come to them after years of football, soccer, gymnastics, even dance. I get it. They are easier to teach. They are a pleasure, because you don’t have to build strong students–just mold athletes.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the fat guy. He has just as much enthusiasm for the arts as the basketball players. He watched the same movies, bought the same books to learn from, stood in the mirror as a youth throwing the same moves, ran outside after Black Belt Theater to copy the same actors. But the fat guy is harder to train. He is winded easier. He’s not as limber. He has two left feet often and can’t remember forms. He needs more breaks. But like fat guys when dating, he also has fewer distractions. Girls like the handsome boys, but the handsome boys know lots of girls. The athletic guy takes frequent breaks from Kung Fu training because it’s football season and the coach has increased practice to 5 days a week. He’s also playing flag football, he can’t attend Chinese New Year because it’s the playoffs, and he can’t attend sparring class because his basketball team has a series of games on Saturday. Very often, the fat guy isn’t into any other sport, so Kung Fu is his only outlet. He may be frustrated because he can’t seem to catch up with the skinnier guys. Everyone is already doing splits, and he’s still trying to master the Horse Stance. They are drilling Swallow Tail kicks, and he can barely do the Tornado kick. He is also self-conscious about performing forms in front of a group… so he practices when no one is watching… a lot. And do you know what happens? In time, the fat guy isn’t so fat anymore. Sure, he’ll probably never have washboard abs. He may still be a little chubby. Perhaps he did slim down, but he’s still young. Wait till he’s in his 30s, and he won’t have that build by then; he’ll be back. At some point in his training career–and every chubby guy I’ve ever known who stuck with the art has done this–he will pass the athletic guys in skill and ability, to the surprise of even himself. You ever see the guy at the tournament who everyone loves because he “doesn’t move like most chubby guys”? The one who was a big guy, but he is just as quick, just as strong, just as smooth as any pro. I’m talking about the Sammo Hung type. The Butterbean. One of my favorite students and best fighters to this day, is a young man named Marcos, whom we named “Butter Burrito” because I don’t think any of his classmates could beat him. He was limber, fast, wise, big, AND strong. But he weighed over 300 lbs and built like a Rhino. Among my Jow Ga seniors, we had a few big guys as our best fighters–Tehran Brighthapt and “Kung Fu” Joe Colvin to name a few. They got there because they had to work twice as hard to become equal in skill with their classmates, and in the process many of them had passed them.

And this led to a type of wisdom that many athletic martial artists won’t have. I’ve known some guys who have been fit their entire lives, tell overweight students to “suck it up” when their backs and hips and knees started hurting. They judge students by their waistlines rather than actual ability and knowledge. Many have even gone so far as judge character and discipline, based on someone’s fitness level! Many Sifus who were once overweight–including those who still struggle with their weight–are more empathetic, more compassionate, and more aware of the challenges of those who are not as fit when they first put on a uniform. This includes adult students who may have old injuries, children who just have coordination problems, older students, and male students with poor upper body strength. There are many Sifus who had it easy because of their natural ability and don’t know how hard it is to develop skill if one lacks athletic talent. Sadly, it does affect them as teachers because they only know how to mold students as they are. Lord help them if they get a student with two left feet! Martial arts teachers who have endured the same challenges as their students will know how to guide those students. They will understand how to inspire those who may be discouraged by physical limitations. They are patient, understanding teachers. And most of all, they can shape a beautiful, precious stone out of a plain, dusty rock. Those teachers who had to work harder, commit more time, and suffer many losses and humiliating defeats to gain skill in this art will be the best at teaching others how to do it.

Anyone can take a fit, strong, young healthy student and turn them into a champion. But the best skilled Sifus can take a scrawny, sickly, scaredy cat–and turn him into a Tiger. Those who know how hard it is to overcome obstacles often make the best teachers to show others the way. Some teachers are good for showing; others are good for growing. Good teachers can take your high school athlete and make him into a good forms competitor. GREAT teachers will do the same with the school nerd. Strive to be that guy. And when you look into the classroom at the chubby student who can barely do pushups, kick to his waist level, or hold a horse stance like everyone else–give him a chance to show you what he’s made of. And don’t blink; he may end up becoming your school’s next champion.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Traveling Lightly vs. The Hoarder

2 09 2016

In the journey towards perfection in the martial arts, whether one is a student or a teacher, there are two basic schools of thought:

  1. Those who travel lightly
  2. Those who try to bring the whole house in a suitcase

While they both have their merits, only one is a guarantee of success.

If you look at the development of Kung Fu styles, both modern and classical, you would notice that there are no original ideas in the Chinese martial arts. All styles, concepts, and systems originated from another style or teacher. In Jow Ga, we are a combination of Hung Ga, Choy Ga, and Northern Shaolin. However, our founders did not including the entire systems of Hung Ga, Choy Ga, and Northern Shaolin. On top of that, there were five founders, each having his own set of martial arts experiences. No doubt, some of them had exchanged with various teachers outside his own systems and picked up techniques, forms and ideas along the way. Yet, today, what modern Jow Ga practitioners have today represents only a fraction of what was collected and learned. Much of this knowledge was fused with other knowledge and new techniques, forms and ideas replaced older ones. Some of this new knowledge is condensed from the combination of several ideas. Ultimately, Jow Ga is not a “collection” of the three systems–but a concentrated, repackaged, fused combination of the three systems. Furthermore, downline from the founders–individual Sifus and sub-lineages of Jow Ga will be new concentrated versions of Jow Ga, based on the research, testing, and findings of each Sifu. Some will be repackaged classical Jow Ga–while others will contain knowledge from outside systems and influences.

Yet, rather than combine and concentrate all of their learning into a newer version of their knowledge, many teachers today do the opposiste; they leave entire forms intact, combine systems and techniques that are completely unrelated, and give their  students more than they could perfect. Instead of combining flour, eggs, oil, sugar and fruit to make a beautiful cake–those Sifus throw everything in the bowl and hand students all the ingredients, unmixed, unblended… Just a messy bowl full of strawberries, powder, whole eggs and oil drenched on the mix. For some, ego causes teachers to boast of knowing 50+ forms and systems. For others, I believe it is pure laziness of not investigating and developing enough. And for a most, teachers feel it disrespectful to change or combine what they learned into a homogenous, new creation. This last category, I believe has hurt the Chinese martial arts. It is both selfish and egotistical, to prevent self-expression. When a teacher bans proficient students from investigating their arts until skills leak into other learning, he is suppressing his student’s progress. In his own way, he is ordering students to remain a student forever, and never acknowledging that the student has progressed enough to know what to strip away and discard. He does not believe that the student is capable of determining for himself what piece of the art he will specialize in. Teach this art the way I taught you, and never develop a mind of your own.

I call these Kung Fu men “Kung Fu Hoarders”. They are collectors of new arts, new forms, new versions and techniques. They never allow the new information to blend with the old; to gain an identity of its own within their own repertoire. They never allow Hung Ga concepts to become applied towards their Choy Ga. They never use their Whipping power of Choy hands to enhance their Northern Shaolin punching. They never allow Northern feet to back up their Hung Ga. As a result, their Kung Fu knowledge is never internalized, but merely memorized. Looks good on paper, but in the frenzied confusion of a fight–very few of those skills will manifest themselves into actual, deliverable applied fighting skill.

We all know them. The guys who will pull you to the side to show you what Master So-n-So taught them, and they’ve got plenty. But they can never don the gloves and show you how this skill looks in real time. At demos, they impress others with their “vast knowledge of forms” from other systems. This is what they do, they’ve committed these things to memory and can recall anything for your viewing pleasure.

Unfortunately, this is not useful in the pursuit of Kung Fu perfection. We must remember that in order to perfect a skill, it must be practiced, used, thrown, executed an average of 10,000 times. Very few men reading this article has ever practiced anything ten thousand repetitions. This is why most people calling themselves “Master” are using the word as a title, rather than as a verb. One can be a master, or one can master a skill. Very few martial artists have the stomach to train anything in their art enough times to truly master it. The more you have in your arsenal, the longer you must train before approaching proficency–and even longer to approach mastery. There are those who travel lightly, combine skills, eliminate waste, perform enough research to fuse ideas and create new ones; they are the only ones who will most likely master what they know. The true masters of an art understand that in order to master a system, one does not have to master everything in the system–especially those who are studyings arts with multiple forms, weapons and skills. In the training and investigative process of ones own style–many cuts will be made. Forms and techniques will be eliminated; as well as strategies will be created and fine-tuned. Each generation of an art should not become more and more diluted.

This is the outcome of having too much in the curriculum; mediocrity. Sure, students will know up to 8 or 10 different weapons and 15 or so forms. But how much of this knowledge will be perfected? Can those students fight with superior, dominant skill, with all 8 weapons? Or will they only be able to demonstrate forms with them? Will the student’s skill be good enough to win a forms competition with any form in his arsenal? Or can he only demo the other forms, while only performing one or two to the best of his ability? Think about this, seriously and honestly… Are you really trying to perfect your systems or are you merely preserving what’s been picked up over the years? Can you honestly take everything in your skill base and bet the house on it against all comers? Or are you traveling with years and years of barely memorized forms, techniques you can only talk about, and fighting skill that has nothing to do with 99% of your curriculum?

Those who dare to let go of the unnecessary, will have a concentrated, potent skill set he honestly feels is the best around. Those martial artists have the time to devote to the best of their knowledge, and only the best of their knowledge. While others travel with everything their brains can hold–most likely, must do so with mediocrity. Quality over quantity. It is a very simple, but universal concept.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Kung Fu’s “Missing Link”… (Path to Mastery)

27 08 2016

I think we may end up hurting some feelings with today’s article.

A conversation we have a lot in the martial arts is over the term “Master”. Fortunately, the Chinese martial arts aren’t as bad as Karate and Filipino martial arts because we don’t have a multitude of titles and arbitrary degrees and ranks. However, we are in the same boat as many of those styles, because we have the same confusion most martial arts styles have about ranking and a standard level of skill before one is called “proficient”–or more:  Expert. In the Filipino martial arts, where traditionally there is neither the use of belts nor titles to denote expertise, we have a combination of both being confused. In my 17 years living in California I have met men who have claimed everything from tribal titles as martial art ranks, to colored belts (such as Red, White and Blue Belt and even “Camoflauge” belt!), to an unlimited number of degrees (two years ago a man gave me a card stating he was a 15th degree Black belter). In Karate and Tae Kwon Do, I have seen silly things like 6 year old Black belts, to “World Champion Green belters” who have never left the state, to 20 something year old “Masters”, 30 year old Grandmasters, and “Soke” titled men who have learned by seminar and correspondence courses…

I think I heard a giggle.

But don’t laugh, Kung Fu guys. In the Chinese community, I’ve met many Sifus who will argue that sparring in tournaments is too safe and therefore unrealistic–yet would not accept a medium, full or non-contact sparring match with me. I’ve seen Kung fu “masters” whose hand I could crush as easily as a child when we shook hands, and actually signed up students of other Sifu in my school who also carried a Sifu rank yet have never sparred with contact in their lives. We will tell potential students that yes, this art I’m teaching will protect you from a street-hardened criminal–yet YOU, the teacher, could be mugged as easily as they will by the average street punk. I’ve seen Kung Fu Masters argue that open circuit tournaments prevented their students from using “the real art” in sparring–so they barred students from sparring–just to hold Chinese-style-only tournaments and banning the same techniques and targets the open tournaments outlawed. I have attended many tournaments where Kung Fu schools will flood the forms competition and then be dressed and in the van by the time sparring begins. They drive home to friends and family and still profess to feel like warriors.

I have been challenged by Kung Fu “masters” whose skill is worse than any beginner I have ever taught. I could go on.

And then almost anytime you see a Kung Fu school attempt to appeal to the self-defense or competition fighting crowd, they distance themselves as far away from Traditional Kung Fu as they can… adding boxing, Muay Thai disguised as San Da, BJJ and Aikido disguised as Chin Na, MMA cages and clothing, Filipino martial arts and more. An entire subculture of non-traditional Kung Fu has emerged from Kung Fu itself:  Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. It’s ironic that Bruce Lee sought to teach the world the beauty of Chinese martial arts and attempted to give respect to Kung Fu, yet his followers look to everything except Chinese martial arts (other than Wing Chun) to make their art effective. JKD folks even call their teachers “Sifu/Guro”–Guro being the Tagalog word for “teacher”.

So what went wrong? Is Kung fu effective, or is it not? If it is effective, why do we not see traditional Chinese martial arts in the ring? Why is it that the only Kung Fu people who fight, fight like MMA guys? Our Masters declare these arts valid and effective, yet no one likes to answer this question–except for the many variations of the excuse “Our art is too deadly…” or “Well, the rules don’t…” Can we, or can we not, link what we do in traditional Chinese arts with how it is supposed to be used in combat?

Short answer is “yes”. Long answer to follow…

Kung Fu teachers have a missing link. See, the Chinese martial arts has existed for too long, too many generations in the community without being challenged and isolated. If you learn a skill and immediately transfer from student to teacher without a period of forging–your skill and knowledge will not be internalized. We see this all the time when martial arts students leave from a teacher and dare to make changes or adjust his art. Sometimes teachers, sometimes classmates, and too often–both–will denounce that student for not teaching the “pure” art handed to him. As if all things must remain the same for generations in order to improve.

And that last statement:  As if all things must remain the same for generations in order to improve — is the problem. You see, Chinese martial artists are not really interested in improving anything. The spirit all of our system founders founded our systems on seems to die just as quickly as the founders canonize them. It is foolish for anyone to call a branch of Choy Lay Fut “unpure” CLF. It is foolish to call any branch of Jow Ga “unpure”. It is foolish to call a branch of Wing Chun “unpure”. Each of these systems became the systems they are today, because the founders learned some fighting style, and decided to combine it with other skills and styles in order to create the new art. Were they interested or not in “improving” what they had learned previously? I would argue that yes, they were. Yet students hundred of years later flood the internet and magazine articles with charges of blasphemy just because one Sifu did not teach his art the same way the teachers before him taught it. Using my Jow Ga system as an example, one could criticize another branch of my Sifu’s Jow Ga just because most Jow Ga schools in America do not teach the same curriculum he taught. And most do not teach his curriculum the same way he did. But to call any branch of Jow Ga “incomplete” is counter productive, because what is Jow Ga, but incomplete Hung Gar, incomplete Choy Gar, and incomplete Northern Shaolin? The art is a combination of elements of those systems, and now has its own flavor–but like recipes for a favorite dish, no two schools are exactly alike. Who is qualified to rank one above the other?

Ditto that with some systems like Wing Chun, which have an easier to follow curriculum. Generally, just three hand forms, a dummy form, a knife form and a staff form. Yet Wing Chun varies from one system to another, based on the taste and specialties of the teachers. Are they not all Wing Chun?

But most of all, does it even matter?

Which brings me to my point. In the TCMA community, we waste time arguing over frivolous things like whose art is more pure or more like the previous generation–while groups like Gracie Jujitsu cares less if their art looks like its Japanese predecessor as long as they have a better, more effective version. While we debate which form was passed down to whom, Mas Oyama is declaring that his students can lick any man in the room. While we comb historical records to argue if indeed Wing Chun was founded by a woman, Buk Sing is busy in Fremont, California accepting–and beating–all challengers. Most Chinese martial artists really don’t think their students can beat “anyone around the beltway”, as I was once told another teacher’s goal was. We are claiming that our arts are highly effective forms of combat, while most people are searching and testing themselves to find out if they are. We are satisfied just saying it, while our competition is out researching, training, and then challenging, each other to actually strive to BE highly effective.

And this is why students who are serious about self defense and combat are looking everywhere except Chinese martial arts, while we lion dance and do tornado kicks in forms while telling our students “fighting is not important”.

Here is the bottom line:  You must seek out those who think they are better than you in order to test your skill. Anyone can stand in front of a class of student, month after month, year after year–and never have an equal question your skill, and one day claim to be an expert or even a “Master”. If your knowledge and theories and concepts are ever to manifest themselves into actual skill… and even more–into expertise–you must be willing to put yourself out there for criticism, by peers, by rivals, by opponents. You must be willing to touch hands with someone you’ve never met in order to answer the question Was my training and learning in vain?  You must be brave and humble enough to admit that Perhaps my teacher’s methods need updating…  You must shed your ego and allow a man who doesn’t think you’re very good to put his skills up against yours and be willing to deal with the consequences in the event you discover that your skills need improvement. Avoid these situations and you commit your students a grave disservice, you dishonor the teachers before you, and you are creating in the Chinese martial arts a terrible injustice. For too many years, Kung Fu teachers have avoided debate and dissention, avoided the sting and humiliation of defeat by never putting their skills to the test–and then in old age dared to strap on the title “Master” or call himself an expert. You cannot harden glass or metal until you heat it to the point they will be destroyed. A man cannot improve himself until he is willing to be broken down, dissected, challenged, and doubted. No man can achieve greatness if he avoids defeat and discomfort. Even PhD candidates must be challenged and defend their thesis in order to prove themselves worthy of being among their peers.

Teachers must be willing to share, compare, criticize, accept criticism, be challenged, adjust, and reinvent. Remaining stagnant has been going on for too long. Put your art and your skills to the test. Find out what needs to be adjusted and fortified. Because we ALL need it. Don’t dare tell a student your art has been time-tested if you have never allowed another man to test YOUR Kung Fu.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Understanding Your Kung Fu Like the Cobbler

24 08 2016

When I was a kid, I had walked from my neighborhood in Northeast DC to my aunt’s house in Southeast and met a shoe cobbler. His shop was run out of the basement of his house and he had a sign saying simply “Shoe Repair”. I don’t remember how, but I ended up stopping at his store and talking to him about what he did. This conversation led to his offer of teaching me to fix shoes. For a few weeks, he taught me a little about repairing shoes and for years I saw shoes in a different way than most people. I came to appreciate shoes that were stitched versus those merely glued or cemented together. Stitched shoes, by the way, is an older method of making shoes. It is stronger, more expensive, somewhat outdated, and although most of you are probably wearing glued rubber (even if the uppers may be leather or leather-like)–the highest quality of shoes will still be stitched. I liken a good pair of shoes crafted by hand to older, well-researched systems of martial arts. Arts can be thrown together without much thought or they can can be fused and forged into the strongest steel. Although many arts are indeed outdated and impractical, nothing beats a well-researched, well-trained, experienced fighter. And I am saying this to include MMA fighters. While you may have a “complete” set of skills because you know technique on the ground as well as on your feet–a master stand up fighter or master ground fighter will murder most “complete” guys who do some stand up, some grappling any day.

But that is a conversation for another day. Back to the topic.

The cobbler (I’ve forgotten his name, my apologies) first taught me a few simple repairs. Like the Sifu who teaches his students a few self-defense moves and a punch or two and a kick or two–then later get to the traditional method of learning–soon after I learned to add heel taps and glue soles, he taught me to repair shoes from the ground up. This involved actually pulling a pair of shoes apart, into several pieces, and then showing me how the shoe was constructed (there are many, many variations to building a shoe–stitch patterns and all). Once I saw how the shoe was put together, we rebuilt those shoes until we ended up with a very clean pair of shoes which probably looked how those shoes looked when the owner first purchased them. Adding the years and years of wear and various stains and polishes, the shoe was aged, yet dignified. The shoe showed some signs of being older, but I still remember the imperfections in the shoes’ upper leather, while the sole and heels and shoestrings were brand new. And let me tell you, although we live in a disposable, throwaway society–repair a pair of shoes over two decades and take good care of them, you will have a much nicer set of kicks than anything you can buy at the store. You learn to appreciate shoes because you know what kind of work goes into them. Shoes mold to fit your feet over time, and two men wearing the same size will not experience the same level of comfort if they switch each other’s shoes. Finally, I learned at a young age how a well-crafted pair of shoes can make you feel. Forget your Air Jordan’s; I’m talking about grown man shoes that will make you feel like a million bucks.

Martial arts can be cookie-cutter, like those purchased in a store that look like what everyone on the street is wearing. Or they can be built like a craftsman’s best work, molded and shaped by years and years of wear, repair and rebuilt over time. In 20 years, the guy who bought his shoes from Walmart has forgotten about his machine-made, generic shoes. Every other year or so, he is trying to break in a new pair of shoes he neither has an attachment to nor an appreciation for. But the guy who has stuck to the same pair for the same period of time has a pair of shoes that no one in the world can understand and feel comfortable in. His shoes are strong, they were built with patience and attention, they have character, and are just as much a part of the guy wearing them as they have a unique identity to what everyone else has.

The martial artist who learns his art in the way the cobbler teaches it also has a different understanding of the arts. To one student, the art is simply a set of techniques, forms, and concepts his teacher picked up along the way. He has no strong understanding the art; he only knows how to quote maxims, give the names of terms and concepts in Mandarin or Cantonese. But he has not internalized the art, he surely can’t apply 90% of what he can only demonstrate on a willing opponent. On the other hand, the student whose teacher is like the cobbler didn’t jump right into forms and useless terminology from day one. He spent months working on footwork. He learned only two or three hand techniques that didn’t quite make sense for months at a time. He may have had to wait several months before learning traditional forms. He spent his time training and using his techniques on opponent, rather than learning concepts and how to pimp a form to win tournaments. He may only have a very streamlined lineage, rather than one that includes multiple teachers, seminars, and certificates. In the end, the cobbler’s student only knows half the number of skills and forms that the Walmart Sifu’s student knows. But what he knows, he knows well–and can apply it on a resisting, combative opponent. On top of that, the cobbler’s method of teaching the art ensured a more complete study; leading to a better understanding and more appreciation.

Arts can be taught by simply having students mimic the teacher, which is perhaps the most common method of teaching. I show you, you do it, you practice it, you demo it for me–you know it. Or the art can be deconstructed; even using the same technique. Teacher shows it to the student, but isolating one piece of the technique at a time. Practice what the only right hand is doing. Practice what only the left hand is doing. Practice only the block, the grab, the footwork. Isolating the footwork into parts (first do this, then do that/practice this/practice that). Practice the variations. Practicing the technique under fail/success stress. Practice the technique 1,000 times before teaching the next technique. Very few students can stomach this style of study. And even fewer teachers are willing to put their students through this type of study.

Your system can be deconstructed like a pair of shoes for a cobbler’s apprentice. Rather than just having students pay to practice “Monkey see, Monkey do”, try dissecting your techniques, piece by piece. Practice and understand each part. Why does this technique work this way? Can it be improved? Can it be beaten? When should the technique be used? When should it NOT be used? When you are using the technique, what is the opponent expected to be doing? What if the opponent does NOT do it? Then what? What if the technique was used on you? What can you teach the student to do, to counter this technique? Is there a way to apply or execute this technique so that it can not be countered or stopped? What if you do not have the time or room or conditions to use the technique? Have you even thought of this:  What are the ideal situations that your techniques should be or should not be used? How about opponents? What if your opponent were not from your system? What if the opponent used boxing punches? Tae Kwon Do kicks? Grappling techniques? What if you punched, and instead of blocking (as most of our techniques expect the opponent to do), he ducks instead?

Now, here is some homework… Answer these questions for everything you teach your students. This is how you understand your Kung Fu like a cobbler. Because I assure you, the cobbler knows every situation and variation to repairing shoes. Do you understand your martial art in this fashion?

Something to think about.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Protected: How to Knock Out an Opponent with Your Jow Ga

31 07 2016

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Is Your Jow Ga Complete?

31 07 2016

Often, I hear Kung Fu people talking about their martial arts being “complete”. When they say this, often they are referring to offering the “range of martial arts skills”. You know what I mean:  Forms, sparring, weapons, two man sets, lion dance, etc… Am I right?

This thinking, however, is only elementary. “Completeness” involves so much more. Kung Fu men who regurgitate curriculum material cannot fathom the range of missing aspects of the martial arts. Today we will deal with just one aspect:  Fighting.

In the practice of the martial arts, the subject of fighting can range from basic escaping and survival on the low end to crippling and maiming an opponent on the high end. Merely teaching “sparring” is not enough; the needs of the martial arts student may not be served through the type of sparring you teach. Let us identify some types of students and their situations that Kung Fu training may have to (and may fail to) address:

  • Armed Security Guards and Police Officers looking for skills to become more effective at their jobs
  • Correctional Officers (who are not) allowed to carry weapons who face convicts who pump iron every day
  • Teenaged boys who must deal with schoolyard bullies (without seriously injuring them)
  • Tournament point fighters
  • Kickboxers
  • MMA fighters
  • Fighters interested in street fighting vs fighters interested in actual self defense
  • Fighters who want to use their striking skill vs fighters who want to subdue their opponents
  • Women concerned with rape/sexual assault prevention
  • Mugging victims
  • Defense against clubs and knives
  • Fighting two opponents
  • Stopping a fight between two individuals
  • Street self defense against a boxer
  • Street self defense against a wrestler
  • Street self defense against your family who might have had too much to drink
  • Self defense in an elevator
  • Self defense while being accompanied by your elderly mother or a child
  • Children’s self defense from older, bigger children vs self defense from same-sized, same-aged opponents
  • Children’s anti-abudction self defense
  • A child’s self defense against a pitt bull attack

Add to this individual situations, like defense against a lapel grab and haymaker punch, a rear naked choke, a bearhug, a tackle, an abdomen stab with a knife, an overhead strike with a baseball bat–and answer the question, how would your system’s forms deal with this?

Honestly, try it!

Each of us, regardless of system, have things in our art that may address all of these needs. Kung fu is not automatically complete. If you refer to the list, simply teaching sparring fails to address 90% of this list. Most skills, if you dig deeper into the possible uses, must be both identified and researched. It is more than simple “self-expression”; it is true research. Your system may have chin na buried in the forms, but unless you extract them and train them, train the techniques with vigor, train under pressure, and put those skills to the test–you have not actually researched the Chin Na in your system. I’ve seen hours and hours of “Wing Chun Chin Na” and “Eagle Claw Chin Na” and “Tai Chi Chin Na”, and honestly, most of those demonstrating the skills couldn’t use those Chin Na skills to wring the water out of a towel. We have to connect what is in our system with the actual uses our students and potential students will require. And just as we can never master them all–we may be familiar with every facet of martial arts fighting, but that isn’t mastery–can we actually claim our Kung Fu to be “complete”?

I believe we can. However, we must be honest with our students and honest with ourselves about what we actually specialize in. If a student walked through my doors and asked for a course on stopping a child abduction for his children, I can give him one using my Jow Ga, because I have researched and developed this curriculum 20 years ago. If a lady asked for not just the generic “women’s self defense”–but actual Rape Prevention–I am prepared to give this using Jow Ga, as I developed this material as well. If a student wanted to learn how Jow Ga could be used against a boxer, against Wing Chun, or working as a bouncer in a night club… Yup, we’ve got that too. But if I had never researched this information, it would be highly dishonest of me to advertise that I offer them.

For an art to be “complete”, we must have researched our own systems beyond what our Sifu gave us. If he learned his art in 1960s Hong Kong, I must update it for 2016 Washington, DC., so that my art is complete enough for the urban martial arts student. So, the guy who wants classical Jow Ga can get his fill–just like the 10 year old victim of school bullying who needs self defense that doesn’t involve breaking another kid’s clavicle or smashing his windpipe. There is so much to discover within our systems, we do our students, ourselves and our masters a huge disservice if we merely pass on the same old stuff we learned coming up. The martial arts is ever-evolving, and the number possibilities for what we can do with these arts is endless.

Save this article, print it, read it, and reread it. Ponder it, and then on your next personal work out session, I want you to map out at least three or four new directions for you to take your Kung Fu system. Answer the question, “Who needs aren’t being served by my present teaching?” and develop a course with the Kung Fu you already know for them. I am willing to bet, as I did, that the more you dig–the more you will discover that you have more learning to do. Hopefully, you will reignite the passion you held as a young To Dai for learning your respective system.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.