Instructor Sharif Talib: Aka “The Bastard Son of Jow Ga”

4 06 2016

Today’s article is penned by DC Jow Ga Federation Instructor Sharif Talib. With today’s article he introduces himself and his background. Unlike many of today’s Jow Ga practitioners, he has had the privilege of studying under several Jow Ga Sifu. This was one of the characteristics of the Dean Chin era:  Sifu allowed each instructor to have his own expression and identity within Jow Ga. Students of the time were able to study and learn from various Jow Ga Sifu. As several cameras take pictures of the same object from slightly different angles, the combined result of those multiple images give a full, multi-dimensional view. Jow Ga studied under various Sifu and various specialties give one a very 3D understanding of the system. Enjoy!

 

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bastard

1:  an illegitimate child

 

2:  something that is spurious, irregular, inferior, or of questionable origin

 

3a :  an offensive or disagreeable person —used as a generalized term of abuse

——————————————————————————————————————————-

My life in Jow Ga started with Raymond Wong at Wong’s Chinese Boxing in summer of 1986 where Sifus Raymond Wong and Craig Lee were my main teachers.  Sifu Craig Lee taught me my first Jow Ga form, our most famous, Sui Fok Fu.  Sifu Craig Lee made that process take 12 months, traditional training.  Sifu Craig Lee taught me the fighting stance and fighting application of the wheel punches that I still use to this day. Because I started my college education the same year that I came to Wong’s Chinese Boxing, I was not able to meet the financial obligation.  A kind Sifu Wong agreed to allow me to continue learning if I started assisting, then teaching, the beginner classes.  At Wong’s I also met my seniors that greatly influenced me; Maurice Gatdula, Chris Henderson, Ronald Wheeler, Howard Davis, Howard Bryant and Derek Johnson. Derek Johnson would eventually CRUSH me in two sparring sessions and then begin instructing me in his basement with a select group of students.

 

Of that group of “Basement students” that would start with Derek Johnson, I would be the only one to remain for the duration.  Under Derek Johnson I learned to decipher techniques from forms for myself, develop fighting drills, shadow box with kung fu techniques, handle hard core sparring and Lion Dance.  Before Derek Johnson was given his official Sifu title by Sifu Deric Mims, I followed him to Sifu Deric Mims’ school in Langley Park and assisted in teaching there while still being instructed by Derek Johnson.  Here, Sifu Deric Mims acknowledged me as a senior student and I began to attend the Sifu/Senior student meetings that were held at a Silver Springs Chinese Restaurant.  While at Sifu Mims’ school I was reintroduced to other Dean Chin students that I had originally met a Wong’s Chinese Boxing; including Ricardo Ho, Jose Diaz, Duke Amayo and Howard Davis.

 

Once Derek Johnson received his Sifu title from Sifu Derek Mims, I assist in the start of Sifu Derek Johnson’s Jow Ga Kung Fu Athletic Association located in Columbia Md.  As the Dai SiHing (Most Senior Brother), I was in charge of conducting classes and Lion Dance performances in Sifu Derek’s absence.  I joined Sifu Derek Johnson on a trip to Germany to help teach members of the Poland branch of the Jow Ga Kung Fu Athletic Association and perform in a event celebrating Jow Ga in Germany where I received a standing ovation from the crowd.  My Lion Dance skills continued to grow under Sifu Derek Johnson due to regular performances and taking over the Lion Dance classes for the school.  After a form performance of mine during a ceremony at the Jow Ga Kung Fu Athletic Association, Sifu Terrance Robinson commented that I should learn how to control my energy more.  A Dean Chin and Raymond Wong student that would frequently train at Wong’s Chinese Boxing, Sifu Terrance Robinson felt that even though I had good technique and could apply my skills in sparring competitions, I expelled too much energy unnecessarily. Sifu Terrance Robinson, a serious fighting instructor, had already observed me in continuous sparring competitions and suggested that I go full contact.

 

My path in Jow Ga then brought me to Sifu Terrance Robinson’s school in Silver Springs Md.  Sifu Robinson, like may Sifu, took his martial skills learned before joining Jow Ga and developed his own inclusive system.  For his own reasons he decided to call it Jow Hop Kuen (Jow Combining Fist).  Under Sifu Terrance Robinson, I began to learn Chi Gung exercise that helped me to control my energy.  I also began my Iron Body training and his method of full contact fight training.  While at Sifu Terrance Robinson’s school, I reconnected with my seniors Maurice Gatdula, Tehran Brighthapt and Uncle Matthew Bumphus.  After Sifu Terrance Robinson relocated to Thailand, Maurice Gatdula began guiding my Jow Ga instructions from California.

 

Due to the fact that I had already learned many of the Jow Ga forms, techniques and concepts; it was easy for Maurice Gatdula to deepen and broaden my understanding of Jow Ga as Sifu Dean Chin interpreted it.  Maurice Gatdula was one of the last students personally instructed by Sifu Dean Chin before his death.

 

Finally, upon the return of Sifu Craig Lee to the area, I was accepted as his student.

 

Now my instruction comes from these two; Sifu’s Craig Lee and Maurice Gatdula.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.





When the Si Dai Becomes the Si Hing…

1 01 2016

Should we change? The philosophy, that is. On one hand, we might consider our Si Hing, to always be our Si Hing. On the other hand, shouldn’t we recognize when our Junior classmate has surpassed us?

Put strictly into family terms, your older brother will always be your older brother. Even if your older brother drops out of high school and you continue on to college, he is still your older brother. You may graduate from college, go to law school, become an attorney–and he is still your older brother. You go to him for advice, he chastizes you on your neglectful ways, your womanizing, perhaps your drinking, your arrogance–and you take it, despite that you make more money, you have more status, you are more educated… But he is your older brother, you love and respect him, and deep down you know he is right.

But what about this:  You and your older brother both are hired at the same company. He is your supervisor, but you are in school and finish. You then are promoted to a supervisor, and years later, you become his manager. At home, he is older brother, but for at least 8 hours a day–YOU are the man. Awkward situation.

In the martial arts school, especially in Chinese systems where we do not use belts or such ranks–it’s a little stickier. One may elect to keep training and bypass rank promotions, while others pursue rank. Not much different than education or rank in the military, I suppose–but similarily, you may find that one day a once-junior will become senior to you or vice versa. In some cases, there is the thin line of what ranks you actually possess or what titles to use. This is a very real dilemma in the Chinese arts, because the ranks are not as cut-and-dry as in belt-granting traditions like Karate. Our relationships are much more personal. We actually refer to our classmates as “brothers” and “sisters”, and unlike many systems where Black belt is granted in 3 years and new instructors move out shortly after to open schools–the Kung Fu family remains together sometimes for decades. When I run into an old boxing gym mate from 20 years ago, whether I was better than he or not, I can great him as easily as saying, “Jose! How are you, fool?” Not so for us Kung Fu guys–I have a Jow Ga classmate named Jose, and I can only fix my mouth to call him “Si Hing”, although I have outranked him since I was perhaps 15 or 16 years old.

Through social media, I have reconnected with some old Jow Ga brothers from decades ago who were simply “Si Hing” in 1986, but a year later in 1987 I had learned the final form on our curriculum and was given permission to teach a few years later. I was then “Sifu”, and have been for over twenty years. Upon reconnecting, I never hesitated to address any of my old Si Hing as “Si Hing”. However, on occasion, one will forget that I am a full instructor of Jow Ga–and he quit as a beginner–and want to chastize or correct me on Jow Ga matters…

Um, I don’t think so.

And so, we arrive at the point of this article. When our schools were built, our traditions and customs were established, the notion that we would “reconnect” with old si hings may not have been significant enough to create a standard operating procedure. I have never been told how to communicate with any Si Hing I may one day have conflict with, as I’m sure most of you reading this blog haven’t either. I have not done much traveling and interacting with many other Kung fu schools outside of a competitive nature, so perhaps there is already a tradition in place. But for the purpose of furthering a system, building stronger Kung Fu families–it may be a good idea for Kung Fu leaders to establish protocols and traditions to govern how we conduct ourselves among each other, within this family, within this system.

Every system, lineage and geographical branch of a Kung Fu family has it’s “leader” or seniors. But leadership has to be more than simply the oldest guy or the first to join. Quite often, the senior is not the most qualified, he is not the best skilled, he may not be the most knowledgeable, he may not be the most respected… He may not even be a “he”–“He” might even be a she. Every school has it’s Dai Si Hing, but have you ever heard of a school with a Dai Si Je? Our late masters and grandmasters were just that–martial arts masters. They taught us to fight, taught us to use weapons and defend ourselves, they even taught us how to teach students. Yet I would dare to say that most of our Masters were not great leaders and did not necessarily prepare us to ensuring the preservation of the permanence of our styles and schools. This is why the average Golden Era of any Kung Fu system only lasts the duration of our master’s lives, and when they are gone–little can be done to keep them together. We become as fragmented as siblings after dividing up Mom and Dad’s inheritance. One way to help preserve a style is by clearly defining who is senior in a system, defining who is qualified to lead, agreeing to back and follow those who have been chosen to lead, and basing our decisions on logic and not emotion, knowledge and ability–not amiability.

Seniors, you must want the system and the branch to outlive you. This means every member of every single branch of your tree must be respected, advised, and shown the way to success. We do not kiss someone’s foot because they walked through the door before you did. You are not a “leader” of your system simply because you are older, or wrote the most articles, or speak the best Mandarin, or know the most forms. At the same time, protocols must be put into place so that future generations understand the hierarchy of a Kung Fu family. This will enable those who are leading the Kung Fu style to pushing forward the system toward greatness for future generations. We do more than simply “preserve” the name; we make this system bigger, stronger, more respected, and closer knit as one unit than ever before.

Even if that means you have to follow the advice of one whom you once saw struggling to learn his basics. Respect your school, your style and your Sifu enough to know when someone has worked hard enough to be at the head of the pack. We want our system to live longer than we do, and therefore some traditions may have to be altered, eliminated, or created and instituted to make sure it happens.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.





Secret #4 to Perfecting Your Kung Fu Skill

12 12 2015

If you want to travel quickly, go alone.

If you want to travel far, go together.

–Kenyan Proverb

 

Don’t let the title mislead you;  this is the first of a series. I have a list of “secrets” that, if you follow them, will aid you in perfecting your Kung Fu skill. Being a teacher and an author who does this for a living, I am obviously not going to give it all away on this site for free. However, I will give enough through the series, that if you follow our articles and you follow closely–you will indeed be on your way to perfecting your martial arts skill. On top of that, I am highly positive that wherever you study, you will also be known as one of the best. Very few men can actually say that at any point in their martial arts lives, they’ve ever been known as “one of the best” by anyone other than friends and students.

There are lots of “Gatdulaisms”–terminology and jargon–that I use that others might not use and we will define and explain them as we go along. If you are familiar with my writings (from the Filipino Fighting Secrets Blog or my books on Amazon), you should need little explanation. If not, keep a notepad and keep up… I think you’ll love the philosophy.

For starters, let’s explain the idea of “perfecting your Kung Fu skill”.

Perfection in the martial arts is a verb, not a noun. When you are striving to perfect a martial art, one must understand that true “perfection” in the art is a mythical place that you will never reach. As long as you endure to perfect your art, you will be closer to reaching perfection (the noun). We may perform our Kung Fu technically perfect–with good stances, good form, good speed, good power–but as long as there is breath in your body and your blood moves through your veins, understand that regardless of the level you are on you can reach a higher plateau. Everyone–every great Sifu, every great champion, every great soldier–can improve and become faster, stronger, have better understanding, attain more efficiency and effectiveness. Should you ever convince yourself that your art or your skill is perfect and needs no improvement, you will just have taken the first step towards your decline. Like a champion fighter who states that he will never be beat, and trains and thinks as if he will never be beat–he enables his future challengers to work harder than he does and devise a more superior strategy to defeating him. The only champion who retires with a “perfect” record is the one who never underestimates any opponent, and works as if his next opponent is the best he’s ever faced. Never forget that. Perfection is a verb. It is “the effort to improve and perfect the knowledge and skill you have today.”  Regardless of how good you are, one must endeavor to become better tomorrow. When you turn an art over to a student, you are essentially handing him your work in process. It is up to that student to continue your research to explore, experiement, and evolve the progress you’ve made. This is why I don’t believe in “preserving” systems. You may preserve a teacher’s teachings, but you must investigate, add, and evolve what you learned so that his system improves with you.

This is also a reason I don’t reach back. In my own system of Jow Ga, we have the desire to uncover the original version of Jow Ga, possibly back to the founders. As if what the founders taught was perfect, and that what our teachers taught was flawed. In my opinion, to do so reverses all the progress the Masters before us accomplished. They received the art one way, they added, tweaked, and revised the art to give you what they believe to be an improved version. Who are we to reject that effort and go back to the old way, and allow the revisions to die? Every system–from Jow Ga, to Hung Gar, to Ngo Cho Kun, to Faan Tzi Ying Jow–are all updated improvements of what our founders learned before there was a Jow Ga, Hung Gar, Ngo Cho, Ying Jow. If our founders felt their original knowledge was perfect, they would not have changed it or created new systems.

So, this is a freebie:  One of the secrets to Perfecting or Mastering Kung Fu is to understand that despite the rhetoric–nothing and no one:  Not our Sifu, not our Si Jo, not our system, not ourselves–nothing and no one in the martial arts is perfect. It is up to every man and woman who are entrusted with carrying the art to the next generation to strike to perfect the art we are in possession of. We must learn our teacher’s lessons thoroughly. We must review, reflect, and revise to understand it better. We must experiment, test and repeat step II–based on the outcome of our experiment. Then, we must take our research, and try to come up with a more perfect version of our teacher’s art. Finally, we must repeat this entire process until the day we die.

To recap:

  1. We must learn our teacher’s lessons thoroughly.
  2. We must review, reflect, and revise to understand it better.
  3. We must experiment, test and repeat step II–based on the outcome of our experiment.
  4. Then, we must take our research, and try to come up with a more perfect version of our teacher’s art.
  5. Finally, we must repeat this entire process until the day we die.

Now, on to the reason I wrote that article (yes, that ^^ was just a freebie). We will keep it simple and sweet.

SECRET #4 TO PERFECTING YOUR KUNG FU SKILL

Your teacher may not have told you this. Kung Fu can be learned in private, but it cannot be mastered in private.

I learned most of my Jow Ga privately. While I did attend classes almost daily, my time with my Sifu and my Si Hings Raymond Wong, Craig Lee, and Tehran Brighthapt were almost always one on one. However, this is where I merely learned Jow Ga, while most may have learned in the classroom. The one-on-one method of transmission does not make me any better than anyone else. In fact, learning privately was simply coincidence. Early in my training, Sifu Chin was only available to me when classes were not in session, and many of the things I had to learn were not on the curriculum. Sifu also taught a class that very few attended, and this left my brother and I alone with him many days. When he died, I was close to three Si Hings, and they were not available when other classmates were available, so my training again was private or semi-private. In the final stages of my Jow Ga education, there were no other students learning the forms I was learning, so I had to wait until classes ended in order to receive instruction, as I was teaching by that time. My practice time was solo, as my brother relocated back to the Philippines by 1987, and most of my peers were either working or in college by then, leaving me all day to train alone in the gym or at the home of my Si Hing Raymond Wong.

The next stage of my development, however, involved training partners and opponents. And this is the secret…

If you notice, Kung Fu systems almost always have two man dueling sets and partner drills like Chi Sao and Sam Sing. This is no accident. While one can learn to punch and kick and train alone, to develop the higher level skills–such as timing and reflexes, you will need to have strike and kicks thrown at you. The less predictable those techniques are–with more power and speed, as well as an adversarial nature to the drills–the more beneficial they are to your perfection of the art. This is why we draw a line of distinction between performing a Jow Ga form and executing a Jow Ga form. In performing your Jow Ga, you do the form as a solo activity. When executing the form, you involve an opponent–whether real or imaginary–and the techniques are thrown in the same manner they would be utilized with an opponent. Forms done for points and applause are “performed”; forms done for fighting are “executed”. When you train the form alone, it will be performed. When you train the techniques from that form with a partner or on an opponent, you learn to execute the form. One of the complaints I had as a student was the idea of “pairing up” students with another student for two man sets. I thought it to be a silly notion, as if we were pairing dance partners. What I did not understand then, was that partners for two man sets often become training partners, sparring partners, even rivals. Looking at my own Kung Fu brothers, I remember the pairs:  Chris Henderson vs Ron Wheeler, Mu vs San Wong, Derek Johnson vs Troyon Williams, Stephanie Dea vs Reza Momenan, Craig Lee vs Eugene Mackie… and the list goes on. What ended up happening with this was more than just chemistry. The pairs trained so much, they exchanged energy, ideas, even strengths and weaknesses and rivalries. Two man sets were not compliant as in other schools. Over 15 years of training side by side with these fighters, I can recall two man set demonstrations turning into near fights where they were angry at each other afterwards:  Ron sending Chris to the hospital to stitch his foot after cutting him, Howard Davis cursing at me for hitting his head with a staff during a tournament demo. The partners become lifelong friends as well. They spar so many rounds against each other, for example Tehran Brighthapt and his weekly matches against Terrance Robinson every Sunday–the two ended up fighting with almost the same techniques and strategy, even Terry coming for his weekly match after suffering a broken nose the week prior. After all, you can’t keep your training partner waiting!

Entire systems have been developed from these training partners too. But we will have to discuss that another time. Before we close, let me add one last piece of information, along with a summary:

  • Training partners cannot be compliant. Compliant partners lend no benefit to your skill. You gain from a partner challenging you, even working against you. The better skilled your partner, the better skill you will gain. If your partner is more of an opponent to overcome, each time you train, you are forced to work harder and improve
  • Training partners, in fact, are also adversaries. They must be willing to make your techniques difficult to execute. No opponent on the street will allow you to use your Kung Fu, so why should your partner? The harder you must work to land a hit, the easier it will be to land hits
  • Training partners must not be equally skilled. One must be better than the other. However, the weaker partner will eventually catch up to the stronger, and this forces the stronger partner to fight to stay ahead. It does the pair no good for one to beat the other up week after week. Perhaps in the beginning this might happen, but within months, the weaker partner should improve and become a formidable opponent who forces the stronger partner to watch his back!
  • Training partners should not be like minded. You don’t need two Yes Men in the gym. They should disagree on techniques and methods, so that each develops his own ideas independently–and must defend those ideas against his partner. At some point, however, the two can share ideas and discoveries. Or they could continue to disagree and strive to outdo the other. This is perhaps the best type of training partner one can find
  • Training partners must be honest, loyal, and even-tempered. You both will ultimately leave the teacher’s womb and become teachers yourselves. There will be no benefit if at some point, you are no longer friends and can no longer reflect upon the years of training together for whatever reason. Even if there was a rivalry, after years of such–even a slight dislike for each other, remember this:  You are brothers of the same Ga, and progress for each of you is progress for the other. So you are good at fighting, and he is good at lion dance… are you satisfied never learning your brother’s Lion Dance technique? Will you never share your fighting skill with your brother’s students? How can this system progress to the next level if brothers withold information from each other?
  • And finally, I repeat, training partners must be honest. You mustn’t be too worried to hurt the other’s feelings that you cannot give him your true opinion of his Kung Fu. At the same time, you must allow your training brother to be comfortable being honest with you if he sees a place you can improve. We all want to master the art. But the best of you are those who want for your brother what you want for yourselves. If you remove yourself from this equation, you will never perfect the art. Martial arts systems and families are a cipher, and that cycles must be allowed to revolve and circle without interruption, without interference, and most of all–without any misrepresentation or omission. When relationships are blurred or severed, the entire system is out of balance. This is why styles die with their masters, if students do not remain connected, and connected tightly.

High definition images are created by having many views of the same image, but from slightly different angles. If an image is only seen from one angle, the result is a bland, one dimensional view. The more angles you introduce to the same image, the picture becomes clearer and sharper and more potent and pure. Training partners can give you four eyes on your system rather than just your two. Going alone will give the Kung Fu man a very lonely, uninspired, selfish, one-dimensional path to the same destination all Kung Fu men aspire to reach. Please scroll to the top, and ponder on the African proverb posted at the beginning of this article. Stay tuned for the next installment!

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.

 





Critique the Master

2 12 2014

Ah, yes. Analyze the master, even if you have to find fault with the way he did things. Understand that no man (or woman) is above reproach, and as long as we are human there will always be room for improvement. We strive for perfection, but no man should ever believe he has arrived at that point. For the moment you believe you have perfected the martial arts, you have just initiated your demise. Perfection, my brothers, is a never-ending, always out of reach plateau. You may get near it, you may realize you are approaching it, but the closer you reach perfection, you will realize a new goal or challenge. In order to become the perfect martial artists, you must always be in pursuit of it.

(My #1 gripe with Bruce Lee fans, btw–many hurt their own growth because they believe in Lee’s doctrine without question, without deviating from his path when the man was 32 years old…)

If your Sifu has done his job right, the day you become a full instructor, you should be the absolute best product he could produce. We martial arts teachers are a curious bunch. We honor our Masters and teachers by hoping to become the best Kung Fu fighters we can, but in order to do so, we must improve our teachers and their systems. We are often friendly and cordial with each other, but inside our minds, we think we are better than the next guy and do our best to show it. Some of us actually call each other up and tease each other about being better. Some of us take it personal and actually dislike our “competition”. Some of us are in competition with our own brothers. My Si Hing Chris Henderson and I used to kill each other with insults because he owned a Kung Fu school and I worked for a commercial Dojo. When I encountered his students in tournaments I would tell my students to get those “Wu Shu artists”. Another Si Hing of mine would call me a traitor whenever he saw me in a Karate uniform point fighting, telling me I was playing Tag. I would tease another Si Hing, Ron Wheeler, for being a break dancer in a Kung Fu uniform–and he’d tease me about the time he popped me in the nose when we fought at American University (I won lol). My Baltimore friends, who represented four different styles, were my opponents every month in tournaments up and down the 95. Through all of this, we sought to improve ourselves and improve each other through friendly (and not-so-friendly) competition. Yet the one person with whom we should also compete against is the person we often refuse to oppose: Our own Masters.

If we teach our respective styles without acknowledging the potential or need for improvement, our system will not improve. How can you teach your students to develop an unstoppable attack if we do not understand where our weaknesses lie? How can you give your students an impenetrable defense if you do not also teach them how they can potentially be beaten? In the Filipino martial arts, there is a term called “counter for the counter”. When you teach an attack, you must identify the possible counters to that attack, then you must learn how to counter that counter. In other words, in order to understand your system better, you must understand how to beat the system your Master taught you. Many of you are not psychologically ready to face this. Too many believe that their system cannot be improved. Too many believe it would be disrespectful to question what your Sifu taught, or if they had made any mistakes when they taught you. I would suggest that your Sifu very likely improved the art his own Sifu taught him when he taught you, however. Very few of us teach exactly as we were taught. Most of us have our own specialties, our own weaknesses, and things that we like in the art. Doesn’t it make sense to personalize our Hung Gar, our Wing Chun, our Tong Lung, our Choy Lay Fut–so that our students can get the best we can offer?

There are few ways to do this without changing your Sifu’s curriculum. One way is to omit those things you cannot do well. Another is to send your students to various classmates who can perform skills in your system better than you can. You can also elect to emphasize some skills and forms more than others, based on your own taste. But more often than not–you will have to change many things to fit your own individuality as a teacher, and your student’s learning ability, physical limitations or gifts, and needs.

When formulating your school’s lesson plans, it would be very fair to your student to find the most efficient, effective means to results that you can. Our teachers did not know everything. We must admit that. Of course, we respect our masters, but we do them a disservice by idolizing them and deifying them to the point that their legacy is ruined because we are too much in adoration to allow their art to grow. Don’t simply take the training plan you had as a student and regurgitate it without thought. Think of things that you and your classmates struggle with. Is there a way to make it easier to learn? Was there something in your Sifu’s school that caused a many students to drop out? It isn’t fair to just say they were “losers” or “weak”. Did you have classmates who did not get results? Have you found many instances of beginners becoming better than advanced students? Or, let’s just cut to the chase… Can you find a better way to teach than your teacher? Is there anything in the curriculum that is impractical, needs an overhaul, or needs to be emphasized? You are now the Sifu, give your students what they are paying for!

This is one reason I am not in favor of newly made Sifus being allowed to leave right out and open schools. Either that, or we should give instructor candidates ample time to work out those things out before getting in front of a student body. Once the instructor-student has learned the art, he or she may need time to fully absorb and understand the system before it is presented and taught to new students. We want to be fair to our students, and our students’ students by making sure that the art we are giving them has been absorbed, tested, developed and revised. New Sifus must be comfortable enough with the art–with his teacher’s art–to look at it with a critical art, and not be afraid to say, “I’ve improved my teacher’s art.” It is not a slap in your Sifu’s face to say that. In fact, it is a compliment. You are saying, “Sifu, I have learned your art and I have found a way to make it fit me better.”

Saying so means that your Sifu has done more than just taught a student; he has created a confident and wise Sifu-student who has become more than just a certified instructor, he has become a peer.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.





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.





Moe’s Still Got It (Longevity in Kung Fu)

30 09 2014

Craig Horse stance

Also known as “Craig’s Still Got It”…

It’s taken me 5 months to write this article.

So, in the months we’ve started this blog, we have gone from three guys (Ron Wheeler, Sharif Talib, and Maurice Gatdula) discussing shining a light on Dean Chin’s memory, to rounding up the legends of American Jow Ga and locating old friends and family, to planning an American Jow Ga family reunion like you wouldn’t believe. In all of this, I have made an observation that I cannot make about my other martial arts family–my Filipino Martial Arts family:  Everywhere I look, I see men in their 50s and 60s who look great. Not just “great for their age”–which is an insult to all the hard work and discipline these folks have put into still maintaining their health–but amazing in that they have maintained their youthful vibrance into an age where men are beginning to die of old age and health problems. By contrast, in the other martial arts circles I run in, I have noticed that bellies, beards and health problems run amok in men who have barely left their prime.

Even in other Chinese martial arts families I have known, the sense of athleticism isn’t there. The competitive nature of the family members isn’t there. The feuds we have isn’t even there, in the way that we have them. And I have a theory.

Chinese martial artists are always talking about “longevity” and “vitality”–ideals that most martial artists give lip service to, but few really pursue. So what are these things anyway? Is it just the endeavor to live a long life?

Martial Arts in its purest state is at its core a means of self-preservation. To some, it simply means the will to remain alive. To others, it is the effort to remain alive. There is a difference. In the same way martial artists can take a passive approach to their craft, they can also elect to take a very aggressive, assertive, proactive approach to the art. Self defense can deflect an attacker with the simple desire to get away and stay alive–or it can be an action verb, to stay alive and eliminate the attacker. The two mentalities are not the same and I submit to you that they are not equal. A passive approach for the martial artist may fail. In fact, it is highly possible that it will fail should the passive martial artist encounter an extremely hostile, violent opponent. Fighting involves more than simply knowing techniques and being able to use them. Fighting is often psychological, where one man is trying to take the life of the other. In this case, the only way to stop him would be to render him incapable of continuing to fight; this method most likely will involve crippling, maiming of killing the opponent. Passive martial artists dislike this kind of talk. They believe that a man hell-bent on taking your life can be subdued and stopped relatively unhurt using the correct technique and appropriate amount of force.

On the other side of this philosophy is the idea that one must be prepared to kill his opponent, to break his bones, to permanently disfigure him, to crush his windpipe, to put his eye out his socket… Whatever it takes to stop the opponent and eliminate the threat. The more violent the opponent or opponents, the more violent the reaction. This is a mindset, not a set of techniques. In teaching students this very specialized skill, you must also teach him the thinking of one who must use these techniques. One cannot simply teach a form with such techniques, teach him a method of performing the routine in an aesthetcially pleasing manner and leave it at that. You must condition the student to be able to hurt the opponent with these skills without hesitation. You must train him until he is not physically inferior to the attacker. You must make him mentally and emotionally tough so that he knows when to use the skills and can do so without feelings of guilt. He must be tolerant of pain and fear. He must believe that he cannot be defeated and believe that he is superior to his attackers. Only then, can a martial arts practitioner be capable of facing two or three men prepared to do him harm and send them to the hospital while he goes home safe.

So, you betcha there is a heirarchy of martial arts philosophies. One is passive and in denial about what combat really is, while the other understands that combat is not a noun, but an action verb. One teacher simply wants to live a long life, while the other wants to stay alive. One trains as a prescription to old age and poor health–and the other trains as if his life depended on it. One takes care of his body so it will still carry blood and oxygen for years and years, while the other wants to become as strong and durable and youthful as it ever was. Both will live a long time. Both are still martial artists. Perhaps one does it because he simply wants to live until he is 90. While the other may be motivated by ego or vanity–he clearly wants to live until he is 90 and hear the words, “Moe still got it.” He wants to still do the things he did as a young man when he is older. He doesn’t want to simply live, he wants to live with life pumping through his veins. They both never plan to retire, but one takes a passive approach to his aging self and the other holds on to his youth.

If you round up a group of 20 former casual martial artists, meaning they never competed, never fought to be the best, never engaged in the rat race of martial artists with an ego–all in their 50s–you will likely find men who no longer “do” martial arts. They may teach, own schools, etc., but they most likely don’t fight, compete in tournaments, and so on. They will likely be out of shape and full of health problems. On the other hand, round up a group of 20 former competitors, fighters and champions–you will most likely find the opposite. Surely, there will be bald heads and some pot bellies. But more often than not, you will find men at an advanced age, who still have “it” like they did when they were young. Because men like this can never walk away from the martial arts and the question we always ask when we are around another guy:  “I wonder if I can take him?”  <—- And this question keeps men like myself, Ron Wheeler, Sharif Talib, Craig Lee training so that, decades later, when people finally run into you, they just shake their head saying, “Yeah, Craig still got it…”

The late Master Dean Chin’s approach to Jow Ga was not that Kung Fu is a party art. It was not for the masses. It was not something we did for certificates and rank. It was a path to guaranteed preservation. Preseveration in combat when you’re young, and the side effect of that is that your youth will be preserved when you are older. It’s not enough to just still be here. You want to be here, just as strong, just as full of life as you’ve ever been. Longevity, then, if you are training your Kung Fu for the same reasons we do, if a means to bottling up the young man within you and keeping hold of it while you’re old.

If you ask me, this group of Kung Fu men (the youngest one is 45, by the way) are a fine looking bunch. Thank you for visiting the Dean Chin Jow Ga Federation.

Raymong Wong, Hon Lee, Kenny Chin

Raymong Wong, Hon Lee, Kenny Chin

Kenny Chin, Ricardo Ho, Craig Lee, and Ron Wheeler

Kenny Chin, Ricardo Ho, Craig Lee, and Ron Wheeler

Kenny Chin, Raymond Wong, Chris Henderson, Ron Wheeler, Ricardo Ho

Kenny Chin, Raymond Wong, Chris Henderson, Ron Wheeler, Ricardo Ho