Perfect the Parts, Master the Whole

4 02 2014

You ever notice how some martial artists seem to do everything well–while others are just plain sloppy? Even when they train just as much, are just as committed to learning, and work just as hard? And maybe some of you–regardless of how much you practice–can’t seem to get past the “good” level and become excellent

Wanna know why?

Well, it ain’t simply explained as saying that they are “good” while others are “not so good”. There’s more to it than that.  It’s a simple concept. I call this concept “Perfect the parts, master the whole”. It probably isn’t how much you practice. Rather, what may help you get results could be HOW you practice.

In a nutshell, this is how it works (using forms performance as a point of reference):

  • Develop not just your footwork and stances, but each part of your footwork and stances–your balance, the appearance, the formation of the stance, the deepness of your stance, adherence to the integrity of the stance while moving, positioning, angle, flexibility. Follow me?
  • Do the same with your hand techniques, kicks and blocks–power, speed, position of both hands, crispness of delivery, posture, hand formation…
  • Practice short series of movements, 40 – 50 repetitions at a time. The series should be no more than 10 or so movements. The majority of your forms practice sessions should consist of this, although you may focus on a different part of the series every few repetitions–like stance, power, fluidity, etc.
  • Occasionally take ONE technique and drill it hundreds of times. I wouldn’t consider yourself to have achieved proficiency of a form until you have done this with each technique of that form at least once
  • Something as simple as a step-turn should be isolated frequently in practice and perfected. You should do this until each time you execute that particular movement–it is done precisely, sharply and needing no adjustment. In fact, you shouldn’t even need to look and make sure you performed it correctly. In other words, perfection will become a second nature habit

Too often, martial artists treat the entire form as one unit. As a result they train for very general objectives, such as endurance. However, especially for Kung Fu forms, there are too many techniques that only get practiced a few times per training session. Take for example, your style’s first form (for many Jow Ga practitioners, it is Siu Fook Fu). How many times do you perform this form per training session in its entirety? 10, 12 times? If you train the form full speed, full power it’s probably even less. Considering which technique we are discussing, in a practice session (if you do the form 10 times in that practice session), you may only be getting 10 – 20 repetitions of a technique per training session. Compare that to my routine:  taking two or three techniques, and doing them 100 times per training session. And this is full speed, full power–which you may not do at all if you are trying to do an entire form.

It takes about 500 repetitions of anything to approach “good”. It takes about 10,000 repetitions to become “great”, and only if those 10,000 reps were focused, technically sound repetitions. Most martial artists do not train this way. Instead, what they call “training” is more like “practice”–a casual, moderate rehearsing of those techniques where you may sweat and leaves you “feeling good” after training instead of sore and in pain. All martial arts training, including forms practice, is “fight training”. Fighters who approach training as if it were an aerobics session will almost never approach the level of perfection and fighting dominance they aspire to. It takes a patient, focused, tough practitioner to isolate something as simple as a step-punch and drill it thousands of times to arrive to the lonely status of “one of the best”. Training sessions will hurt, they will be boring, and they will be long. They aren’t entertaining. They don’t exactly look like a scene from a Shaw Brothers film. But they will bring you the skill and mastery every man or woman reading this article wants–but very few of you will achieve… Even some of your “Masters”.

Please take a look at the following clips. This is the “Half Step” used in Jow Ga. I will explain this skill in more detail in the next article, but observe how Instructor Sharif Talib is practicing a movement that many take for granted. Perhaps you may have had explained to you once or twice in your martial education, but once you learned it you most likely have forgotten about it and simply performed the movement while practicing other higher skills. However, improper use of the half step will result in

  1. poor centerline alignment
  2. the lack of using the shift for power, speed, penetration and reach
  3. loss of speed in the delivery of punches
  4. improper weight distribution

By giving this part of a larger technique–the step-punch–its due attention and perfection, you improve your effectiveness and delivery of the entire technique.

But more on that next time. Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

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Why Tae Kwon Do Has Such Good Kickers

14 03 2013

Hopefully this article does not offend or insult. Please hear me out.

What is Kung Fu people generally known to excel at? Take note that the key word here is “excel”–as in “few others do better”. Our hedgehog. It is the one thing that we do, that we are so good at, that anytime someone wants to learn this one thing (or short list of things), general consensus is that you need to go see a Kung Fu guy. You’re not going to like this…

With the exception of only a few within our arts–like Wing Chun or Shuai Chiao–the answer is “nothing”.

See, in Kung Fu, there exists a phenomena that we seem to embrace and it prevents us from being dominant in the world of martial arts. And that one thing is this:  We try to learn and do everything. Our systems often boast of teaching 10 weapons or more, but most of us only know one or two forms for each weapon, and we don’t really possess any fighting skill with those weapons. In fact, we probably have never fought with those weapons… ever. Our Sifus have never fought with those weapons. If asked to fight, say, a fencer or a Japanese Kendoka–we probably couldn’t do it. We don’t want to admit it, but a vast majority of the things we teach our students have almost no combat value to us. We will tell those who ask, “Later, later” until they stop asking. Instead, we distract them by telling them to focus on learning the form at hand, or promising some later period in their training when it will come. And one day, years from now–that student will be a Sifu himself, and offer the same, lame excuses for why the butterfly sword is no more effective against a broadsword than a pair of double daggers. Why? Because the truth is, we’ve never tried it ourselves.

So the Kung Fu man, if he is known for everything, is generally known for knowing a little of everything–but not knowing and being able to do anything well.

Hey, don’t kill me, I’m just the messenger.

There’s no reason for it to be this way. We are, after all, the forefathers of most Asian martial arts. The Chinese arts, if you dig deep, are highly advanced. Traditional Chinese arts are perhaps more advanced than most systems tenfold. But over the generations, we have weakened to the point that we must throw Chinese-style only tournaments and tout fighters (San Da/San Shou) whose fighting styles look nothing like what we do in our schools as proof that CMAs are just as effective as any styles. We have the disease called “Oh-we-have-that-too”, and then in our classes we fumble around with techniques that are very unfamiliar to us:

  • We have “hidden” grappling in our arts, but a wrestler would murder us on the ground
  • We have trapping, but a Wing Chun guy tells others that what we do “isn’t the same” (out of respect)
  • We teach the same punches that a boxer teaches, but please….
  • We have staff techniques, but we have to use waxwood so that our technique looks strong
  • We kick, but TKD green belters kick way better than our Sifus, unless that Sifu use to train in TKD too
  • We have “sword” techniques, just don’t try to hit anything with those swords (they’re too expensive to have to keep replacing broken spring steel pool noodles

I think you get it.

So what can we do? Easy. From this point forward, I want you to take one set of skills and one weapon. If you want it to be one form, or techniques from one group of forms, or one type of technique–whatever. For the next 6 months, aside from your classes, practice nothing else. Experiment. Spar. Test it with someone whose martial arts experience is very unlike your own. See what you can come up with. If you have a form that you want to use, start with a chart and doing that form 500 times from beginning to end. Then once you accomplish that, start breaking down that form, technique by technique. Find ways to work those techniques into your sparring. Replace the tiger claw with a punch, the chop with a back fist. You get it.

Because the reason why the Tae Kwon Do guy is known for his kicks is that he doesn’t do much else besides that. He can kick far better than you can–in fact, he can fight a whole match and use nothing else–and probably kick your behind. And you’ll be sitting there after a loss complaining that the rules prevented you from using “your” techniques, as if your system doesn’t have a Roundhouse, a front kick, a side kick… blah blah blah. He just does it better; it’s his hedgehog.

Here in the Chinese Martial Arts, we offer a little of everything and that isn’t good enough. We can offer a little of everything, but we need a lot–a WHOLE lot–of something. So perhaps your lineage has not come up with one–so you do it. You’ll be glad you did.

We welcome comments and dialogue either here or on our Facebook page.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.