Kung Fu and the Pursuit of GREATNESS

18 11 2014

The Chinese martial arts is not a dying section of the martial arts world. Listen to a so-called “modern/tactical/CQC/street-oriented/sports” enthusiast–and one would think that we are. The martial arts, like all skills and arts, must find relevance and adjust to the change of times…. it’s just that simple. Perhaps many of us have not learned to do this. Maybe some of us are stuck in the 70s, stuck in the Hong Kong days, or stuck in the 1800s. But dying? No.

Boxing could be said to be a dying sport. They once said that about the art of wrestling; yet when former wrestlers started beating BJJ and Muay Thai fighters in the MMA arena that art found new life (and fans) didn’t they?

Kung Fu practitioners in their 30s and older may in fact be stuck in the Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest era, when most of the world began to discover the difference between Chinese and Japanese arts. Yet as the average person’s exposure to the arts increased and we now have non-martial artists who know how to throw basic martial arts techniques it is no longer enough to simply be exotic. In the 1980s, a Kung Fu guy could do a nice form and ramble off lineage for credibility–today, he needs to be able to do a thing or two on the floor with an opponent to convince his peers that he’s the real deal. This is where many of us fall short; this is why many other stylists dismiss the Kung Fu guy as “forms guys”…

You know what I’m talking about. Go hit the local open tournament. Kung Fu people in the morning doing forms and weapons, walking around with their chests puffed out. Hell, even many of us prancing around in sleeveless jackets and sporting muscles and studded bracelets. But when the Pee Wees have finished with their forms and toothpick gwun and aluminum-foil dao forms, all those Tai Chi, satin-with-frog-button, and tough-guy southern style jackets get traded in for T-shirts and school jackets just in time to sit in the bleachers and talk about how the karate guys are just “playing tag” and aren’t doing real fighting. But at the same time, those Karate guys are making the same dismissive comments about us. And when you attend a Chinese style-only tournament–pretty much the only place you’ll find a lot of Kung Fu guys fighting–you see the same playing tag and unreal fighting, just sloppier. If you happen to run up on a Kung Fu tournament with some full contact (and I discover this happens even more these days), most of the hard core fighters are sporting MMA or Muay Thai gear.

Tell me I’m wrong.

It’s pleasing to see that Kung Fu fighters have become more competitive these days. It would just be nice to see more Kung Fu guys become competive with Kung FU. Am I right, am I right, or am I right? Why should a Kwoon need to be influenced by MMA to actually introduce some toughness and fighting spirit? In each local CMA community, there only seems to be a small handful (oftentimes, one) of schools whose Sifu aspired to become great–to become dominant–over the other schools. Not just dominant over other Kung Fu schools, but to be the best school around the city. Often, this is the Sifu who never put out a video tape series, or never wrote articles on himself. He is sometimes disliked by other Sifu in town. He may have been the youngest of them. His history or credentials might have been questioned. He may have been the newest, ignored Sifu on the block many years ago, and he used that slight to fuel his desire to show the other guys up. And 20 years later, his guys are the killers of the community. <—-  And THIS is what I think happened, Kung Fu comrades…

See, we have spent the last 30-40 years training lackadaisically. We did not compete with one another. We judged each other by measuring lineages and timelines rather than win/loss records. We focused on keeping the “less-than-authentic/less-than-fully-Chinese” schools away from the Chinese New Year celebration, rather than turning our focus inward and trying to produce the best generation of students and fighters we can. We shied away from tournaments (and certainly the ring) and our students never had much to compare themselves to, and with nothing to sharpen our blades against, too many Kung Fu schools live up to the “Soft Style Division” that “Hard Style” tournament promoters deem us. We’ve gone so far from the tradition of one-upmanship that makes for great martial artists, and we’ve become the school that teaches Kung Fu for discipline, good grades, living in harmony, longevity, blah blah blah…. anything but fighting and self defense. We’ve convinced our students (and ourselves) that fighting is not the point, and that although we train as if we will never need our martial arts–if the day came when we actually DID need it–when some guy with a brick or a knife or some friends who want your wallet, all of that horse stance training and learning postures and push hands will miraculously save your ass. Even though the only bloody nose you’ve suffered in training was when some guy slipped up and did it by mistake and Sifu admonished him for using too much power in Chi Sao practice (sigh).

Training for no other reason but to make another Kung Fu practitioner look like a fool is bad. Training for no other reason but to make yourself look good is bad. However, we must still train to make another Kung Fu practitioner look like a fool and to make us look good is good–if the ultimate goal is to strengthen your skill and reach a level of dominance and really reap the self defense and combative benefits of all this training and study. Forget trying to look like you are humble, who cares what you look like? Humility is good, but does you no good if you have commited your life to the martial arts and you have no skills to keep you safe on the street. Yes, there are many of us who don’t do this for fighting. For those martial artists, they should take the words “self defense and combat” off their websites and business cards and flyers. But if you are in the business of keeping people safe, we must do away with the rhetoric and outdated, dying practices and get back to the 21st century. Your lineage means everything, but it also means nothing. Give your students what they really think they’re getting. Start practicing for greatness, so that you can produce great martial arts students. It all starts with seeing who is best between you and the next guy, then once you find out, you continue to outdo each other, until you are both great. This is how the Chinese martial arts community will get its respect in the field, not by sitting in small circles and pointing to everything except real skill.

Bring back the competitive spirit into Kung Fu. Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

The Kung Fu Bum, Redefined (Made in China) pt II

18 07 2014

This article is a continuation of this article. When you get a chance, go back a read it, I’m sure you will find it educational.

The Kung Fu Bum is not an outdated lifestyle, as many school owners will claim. It is not useless or foolish. I was taught this as a young man with a school of my own. I rubbed elbows with some martial arts millionaires as well as small school owners like me who were making a pretty good living. I found one thing in common with all of them that I just couldn’t swallow:  They made excuses for the mediocrity of their students and would blame it on the times.

Can you feed yourself with your martial arts? I can.

Most people walking through the door don’t have the discipline needed to train the way we used to.

A system needs representatives to exist. There are many GREAT Kung Fu men with no students.

I disagree terribly.

If you aren’t willing to miss a meal for Kung Fu, you don’t deserve to say you’ve Mastered it. No more than a man who says he loves a child, but is unwilling to work at McDonald’s or miss a meal to feed him. Kung Fu must be sacrificed for to achieve the higher levels, and many teachers were unwilling to sacrifice to learn it. As a result, they have little more to offer students besides certificates, forms, and the chance to dress up in “Chinese” clothing and drop names and philosophy. There are levels of understanding in the martial arts and the problem is that many who do the Chinese Martial Arts have their priorities in the wrong place, and we are speaking out of place.

You have Forms guys trying to talk like fighters.

You have traditionalists who put down fighters.

We have Lion Dancers disguising what they do as “Martial Arts”, when it’s only “Martial-like” Arts.

You have Chinese style McDojos dressed up as traditional Kwoons and pretending to be one. Many go so far as to invite emissaries from China and take frequent trips to rub elbow with “the Chinese” in the hopes that what they do looks more credible.

(Don’t get hurt or offended, please. This was only meant to define the roles of various types of Sifu.) I could go on.

We have Sifus who consider Chinese Chinese arts good, and non-Chinese Chinese arts okay–regardless of skill level.

We have students who will only study in a school if it’s dressed up to look like an MMA gym.

We have students who will only study in a school if it looks like the set to a David Carridine sit-com (sorry, bad joke)

And here, we arrive at my point. The true Kung Fu lifestyle is not a thing of the past, nor is it something that can only exist in China. Good Kung Fu should be strived and sacrificed for–regardless of who you pay to get it from. The Kung Fu Bum is actually not a bum at all. On occasion, a Kung Fu Man (which is what I call him) has been able to navigate this economy to find his place, professionally, as a Kung Fu expert. In the days of old, Kung Fu men became soldiers, security men, body guards, taught soldiers and police. Today, the process is more complex, but this is still the option for a Kung Fu man besides simply opening a school. Or a Kung Fu man who does open a school would just have to figure out the formula to success using his art–without watering it down, as many claim you must. Once you learn the art, develop the skill, you must then find a way to transform that art into a marketable, sustaining form of income. This, in turn, will allow you to spend more of your time in a Sei Ping Ma and in front of a punching bag–rather than a desk–and continue to see where the potential of your Kung Fu skill will take you. Kung Fu need not be a burden, and it is as valid a path as any academic endeavor. Should you pursue Kung Fu the right way, even those called Martial Arts “Masters” will admire your skill, rather than your wallet or reputation.

I have some suggestions. Stay tuned. In the meantime, please see our “Offerings” page and donate $19 to receive a copy of my mini-book “Make a Living with Your Backyard/Garage/Community Center Dojo”.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

The Kung Fu Bum, Redefined (Made in China)

18 07 2014

In my archives, I have a booklet entitled, “Stuff I’d Like You to Know”, which was given to any new Jow Ga student I took during the 90s and early 2000s. In those days, my school was a Filipino Martial Arts school, and I only taught Jow Ga privately. In the booklet, I introduce my new students to the life upon which they are about to embark–as this is not a class, I tell them… it is a lifestyle.

In it, I have a section about the Kung Fu Bum:  A man, who, while perhaps highly skilled in Kung Fu, is a loser in life because he defined himself by the martial arts and neither completed his formal academic education nor pursued a successful career. This is a man who foregoes study in college to study martial arts, who often attends classes free because his Sifu sees him as a great protegè although he cannot pay tuition. We all know them; often they are vagrants who still live with family or parents–but when it’s demo time or sparring time, even his class mates who are doctors and lawyers envy him. I was a Kung Fu bum, but I found a little financial stability by opening a school. Few of us martial arts bums do, however–so I did my best to persuade my students not to follow in my footsteps and choose life over martial arts.

Boy, was I wrong.

Kung Fu, it turns out, is a way of life. Not all paths lead to financial prosperity, and that’s okay. Not everyone measures himself by homeownership or what kind of car is in his driveway. If this art is to flourish and prosper, someone will have the carry the torch of the Masters before us and undertake the burden of a Kung Fu gatekeeper. All of this, in spite of the fact that some of us will sleep in our gyms and have to skip a meal when it’s tuition time. I may draw criticism from many of my own brothers by saying this, but when you are gone from this Earth, styles will mostly be remembered by the heroes who represented this art as a Tiger in the jungle–not by the many smaller animals who sat as prey in his presence. This is not to say that those of us who have many students are insignificant or less credible as Kung Fu men. There is room for all types of martial artists in this community, and there is room for all degrees of knowledge and skill on a system’s family tree… There is a role for everyone in every system, including the Kung Fu Bum.

Like it or not, martial arts must be trained daily and full time to reach its potential. I have a Si Hing who is criticized by other Si Hing for talking some of the younger generation to forego college for martial arts. I have my opinion about his approach and his motive, but I am also thankful that he introduced me to this idea, as many have done the martial arts for years and have never known the feeling of being dominant over most others in their presence. There are many Kung Fu men who are simply called a “Master” because they have many years in the system and have many students and grand students. Yet there are still some men (many unnamed and largely unknown) whose skill shadows those Masters, and they serve as role models to those who knew them. Some of your Si Gung and Si Jo were such men. They died penniless. They were not famous. But they possessed skill that most in the martial arts have never witnessed in person or in the media, and the stories told about them as myth were, in fact, true. We didn’t get these martial arts greats by some guy practicing a few hours a week after work. These men developed such a level of skill because they didn’t have a traditional career; to them, the martial arts was not a hobby, not a job, not a business–it was a calling.

When your Master said that you would be lucky to have 2 great students in your life time, he wasn’t speaking of “good” martial arts students… he was talking about the Kung Fu Bum. Or, as you will one day call him:  A Master whom you would hope to one day be as skilled as.

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!

Lessons In Death

11 10 2013

The passing of our Grandmaster, Sifu Chan Man Cheung is a sad one, but it does not have to be. My Si Gung lived a full and fulfilling, celebrated life. He was able to see his Jow Ga grow from his humble school in Hong Kong to an major force on the International Jow Ga Kung Fu scene. Most of the time someone sees a Jow Ga practitioner around the world–especially if you are an English speaker–they assume you came from his lineage. Cheung Sifu was fortunate enough to see generation after generation after generation spring from the loins of his teachings. Not only to know what and where his Jow Ga has gone; he was able to travel the world and actually meet those students and see the schools himself.

Not bad for a man who was unlettered and not wealthy.

Chances are pretty good that if you know Jow Ga and you are in America, Si Gung could look at you perform and he could tell you who your Sifu came from, he could tell you why your Sifu does things the way he did them, and he could probably recall when your Sifu learned those things. He is like a father to us all in Kung Fu, and rather than treat his passing as a sad occasion, celebrate it. Chan Man Cheung paved the way for one or two (or more) of his offspring to branch off and duplicate or surpass what HE did for Jow Ga. In passing, Si Gung passed the torch to each one of us to make this art better, and make this art grow. If you do not aspire to accomplish great things with your Kung Fu, then support your brothers and sisters who do. And we’ve got plenty:

  • Sifu Hoy Lee
  • Sifu Hon Lee
  • Sifu Rahim Muhammad
  • Sifu Randy Bennett
  • Sifu Raymond Wong
  • Sifu Reza Momenan
  • Sifu Ron Wheeler
  • Sifu Deric Johnson
  • Sifu Troy Williams
  • Sifu Terrance Robinson
  • Sifu Charles Middleton
  • Sifu Howard Bryant
  • Sifu Ed Tomaine
  • Me
  • Sifu Sharif Talib
  • Instructor Luyi Shao


I’m sure there are others. But these are the owners of Jow Ga schools I know of. If we’ve missed anyone, please comment below and we’ll make sure to update the list…

One more thing. If you have students, make sure you talk to them about their duty in carrying this art forward. If the system had died with the founders there would be no Jow Ga today. Martial arts are an ever-evolving entity–and those in whose hands it is trusted have a duty to perfecting what they know, testing what they know, and unlocking its secrets so that your future generations will be given a better art than what was given to you. Just as your Sifu did for his or her students. Just as your Si Gung did for his students. Just as Master Cheung did for his students.

That said, all of us who are in direct lineage to Grandmaster Cheung should be wearing a black armband for 30 – 90 days around our left upper arm, as a sign of mourning. However, like I said, do not let this period of mourning simply be one of sadness and “do-nothingness”, but one of celebrating the life of a great Master who gave each of us a Master who founded a very strong branch of this “one family”:  The American Branch of Jow Ga. Dean Chin’s Jow Ga. Please make sure your students know where they came from, so they will have a direction for where they will go next. We have “Jow Ga” as a system, Jow Ga as a name as a result of mourning. Depending on which history of Jow Ga you subscribe to–our system was named Hung Tao Choy Mei when the art was taught to General Fook Lam’s soldiers. In 1919, when Si Jo Jow Lung died, his brothers renamed the art “Jow Ga” in memory of their brother, and Jow Biu took the reins to the art, opening 14 schools shortly after. Great things happen when you are motivated by love and mission. If you love this art and our leader, let’s see what great things you will accomplish next. We are one family, bigger than the original family that created this art. If we pull together, tightly, like the fingers to a fist (rather than open and spread out), we can crush rocks with it. Use this time to motivate yourself to doing something big.

Thank you for visiting the Dean Chin’s Jow Ga Federation.

R.I.P. Chan Man Cheung Sifu (Message to Jow Ga America)

6 10 2013

So my Si Gung, Chan Man Cheung Sifu, has joined the ancestors. What a joyous occasion.

Chan Man Cheung is one of the Jow Ga masters who had made his name as one who excelled in Kung Fu rather than Lion Dance. Yes, all Kung Fu masters do lion dance. Yes, Si Gung was known for his lion dance. But CMC what known for his martial arts skill, and he was not just an old guy who knew kung fu–he really was known for his good skill, and his ability followed him well into his old age.

But none of that matters. Martial Arts, my friends is an individual activity. It is one where no one rides the bench–every man stands on his own feet, and his skill speaks for itself whether he is alone or with an opponent. Even if you are on a team, at some point your individual skill is what matters, not lineage. Not affiliation. Not title. Not organization. Your Sifu could have been the great Bruce Lee, and if your skill reminds onlookers of a wet noodle–your kung fu is “no good”.

Si Gung was known for his skill, his students’ excellence–but none of that matters because it is up to you to build your own reputation and support the reputation of your own Sifu. CMC is simply an ancestor, and you cannot take him into a fight with you, a tournament ring, not even the office when you are attempting to convince potential students to join you rather than the guy down the street.

Kung fu people get so much into certificates, lineages, affiliations and alignments–with both well-known masters as well as just someone just because they are Chinese–that we tend to forget the only thing that matters is what you can do when you step out on the floor and the level of character you have with those who are not on the floor with you.

We Jow Ga people have our drama. We always will. We are a family–close, extended, love and hate. Many of us Sifu knew each other as kids. Some other Sifu knew us when we were kids. There will always be differences of opinions and philosophies, and there will always be those we simply don’t like. But we area all Jow Ga, and we either represent our Sifu, our grandmaster, or ultimately–each other. When outsiders look at us, they see every other Jow Ga man out there. When they see Sifu Deric Mims’ students, they also think of Sifu Rahim Muhammad and his people. When they look at Sifu Sam Chan, they also think of Sifu Raymond Wong. We are all Jow Ga, and don’t you forget it. Because when students go looking for a school, and they must choose between Tae Kwon Do, Wing Chun and JOW GA–not Tae Kwon Do, Wing Chun or Maurice Gatdula. Don’t flatter yourself.

CMC was to all of us who knew him, a father. He gave advice, he scolded, he bragged. He loved our Sifu and was proud of him. He had said on a few times that when Dean Chin wanted to show off his students, he brought them to fight. Few other Jow Ga Sifu were like that. Few other KUNG FU Sifu were like that. Most simply donned their fanciest uniforms and weapons and titles, and demonstrated forms or Lion Dance, while Sifu made his guys suit up and knuckle up. CMC liked this about our Sifu, and we need to keep that going.

As I look around the Jow Ga world, I see men who love to tell stories of Jow Lung’s exploits as a fighter, but then they get on youtube and only do forms and Lion Dance. That is not what drove our lineage forward. There is a reason why other branches of Jow Ga do tricks with their Lion Dance and Dragon Dance, while ours still wear plain T shirts and perform forms with heavy Kwan Dao. It’s in our DNA as Kung Fu men under Chan Man Cheung. Please, keep it alive.

We don’t have to love each other. We don’t have to get together at functions and hug all over each other and act fake. But we do need to keep our skills high, and represent this style strongly. And if you feel like your branch of this branch is missing something–just remember that you have family all around you.

The Dean Chin Jow Ga Federation is dedicated to spreading the Dean Chin version of Jow Ga under Chan Man Cheung, and we’d love to do it through our own brothers and sisters. All you have to do is ask.

“Yat Ga” (One family)

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation website.