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

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.


3 06 2014

We’d like to announce new classes offering Dean Chin’s Jow Ga. If you are nearby, make sure to check us out… or at least stop by to say hello!

The new location for the DC Jow Ga Federation is at 912 Rhode Island Avenue, Northeast, in Washington, DC. Classes will be led by Instructor Sharif Talib, and will be frequented by various senior Sifus including Sifus Craig Lee and Chris Henderson. Assisting will be long time Jow Ga practitioner Dr. Ivan Robinson.

Let me jump in by telling you a little about Kung Fu and the community.

Kung Fu, while a great way to get in shape and learn to fight, has many uses. Among the benefits are two things we hear of but rarely see in most martial arts communities.

The first is the health benefit. Exercise helps to lower the blood pressure and increase one’s metabolism. Jow Ga Kung Fu training, in particular, does more than many other exercise forms to increase metabolism because of the early emphasis on stance training and punching. This in turn builds muscle in the largest group of muscles on the body–the legs. The increased skill in footwork will help the body move more efficiently and prevents tiring early; at the same time, the increased muscle mass will result in more burned fat per workout. The cardiovascular health one will build assists with the digestive system, as well as helping the practitioner sleep better and moving blood to clean impurities from the body. The strength built in the back, hips and abdomen will help prevent back and skeletal problems, decreases the chance of injury, and helps the body rid of many stress-related headaches. In the practice of Jow Ga, one is encouraged to eat healthier food, as a poor diet will impede performance on the floor and promotes an overall healthier lifestyle. The practice of Jow Ga forms are physically demanding and especially in its weapons forms–builds strength and muscle in many areas of the body most activities ignore.

Secondly, the Kung Fu school teacher is a leader of the community. The school is a protector of the community, and as a protector, its students learn to behave as warriors. They are selfless, compassionate, brave and pious. The Kung Fu school has long been a center of health and discipline as well. In many communities, the Kung Fu school is also a center of academic learning. In the West, the Kung Fu school’s ranks are filled with children, and no responsible Sifu would have the attention of children without instilling a sense of academic achievement and helping children find the answer to the question:  “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For many children living in female-led households, the Sifu is the main male role model those children have–whether boys or girls. Kung Fu Sifus, regardless of how short a student’s tenure may be, have an impact on lives even when the Sifu himself is unaware of it’s degree.

Dr. Ivan Robinson is a product of such an environment. Many of us who knew him as a child (damn I feel old) remember an obnoxious child who nearly lived in the school. He talked loud during class, he talked loud during martial arts tournaments, when he competed, he broke the rules and each of the seniors took turns lecturing as well as scolding him. I recall one tournament in 1985, during the grand championship division for the forms division in which I competed–while my opponent from the Hard Style Weapons performed his Nunchaku form, the auditorium was quiet except for one squeaky, unseen voice… saying “That guy sucks. Moe’s gonna win this. Man *I* can do the numbchucks better than him…”  It was Ivan. And I didn’t win. 😉

What many people didn’t know, was the tumultuous home life Ivan lived that caused him to want to be at the Kung Fu school nearly 7 days a week. Ivan came from a rough background. He got in trouble for fighting in the street. He sometimes bit off more than he could chew. And if he was in a jam, he’d pull weapons from his book bag and use them. He did not come from a household that could afford tuition regularly, so he was given a “scholarship” and allowed to train for free. Still a member of the Jow Ga family, Ivan stayed in trouble. Statistically, he was expected to fail in life. But he didn’t.

Ivan became a Marine. He went to college. He became a doctor. He helped to pen a program that gives patients with health problems a drug-free alternative to solving their problem. One that is low cost. One that has a history hundreds of years longer than modern medicine, and produced more healthy patients who lived longer without health insurance and big pharmaceutical companies. One that, if you so indulge, will help you live longer, with a better quality of life than most who do not, and is centuries proven to be the best side-effect free drug ever. One that will help diabetic patients live healthier, help those with heart and circulation problems have more energy, can relieve back and joint problems, and can cheer up the depressed without drugs. But don’t worry about having the money to pay for it–this program will be covered by your health insurance.

As crazy as it sounds, a man who has joint and back problems due to being overweight can either take drugs to mask the fact that he is STILL overweight, or he can get weight loss surgery, or–in the case of this new health care program–he can be “prescribed” and exercise class to lose the weight. Regardless of your opinion of President Obama’s new health care plan–this option is brilliant, inexpensive, and safe. An in the Washington, DC area–it is a Jow Ga man, who was once a poor kid from the hood–who instituted this program. Back to my point, the Kung Fu school is more than a place you go to learn to fight. It is a place where a kid from the hood with a Master’s Degree in Mathematics can share the floor with the son of a drug addict, a parolee, and a U.S. Marshall. It is a place where a guy who was once an alcoholic is like a brother to a psychiatrist, who helps him beat his addiction. It is a place where a low wage earner who struggles to pay tuition meets a doctor who hires and trains him to do billing, a job he would never be considered for in most cases. The Kung Fu school is a community and a family, and a man like Dr. Ivan Robinson is proof of that.

I am proud to call him a brother, and I admire him–although he will always be that talkative boastful teen I use to teach in the kids class. And as a self employed middle aged man with health problems and no insurance (lol), he is my go-to guy when I’m sick.

If you are in the DC area and interested in learning Jow Ga, come check us out! If you are already a Jow Ga practitioner and would like to learn a little about Jow Ga from a different angle, come by! We are all part of the same family, and Jow Ga is a system that can vary from teacher to teacher–you can never learn too much. This location will feature many instructors from time to time, and each one will be able to show you this system from various points of view and specialties. For more information, visit Dr. Robinson’s site at MyHealthyDC.

Thank you for visiting the Dean Chin 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!

Dong Quai Tea and Onion Soup

5 01 2014

During Sifu Chin’s last few years with us, I spent a lot of time learning from him in the gym before classes began. It was here, beginning around 3 p.m., and ending shortly before the first students arrived for the two hour class at 6 p.m. I got to hear conversations between Sifu Chin and my Si Hing Tehran Brighthapt, who had a special relationship with Dean Chin as one of his best fighters. On Sundays, training with Sifu started with class at 10 a.m., which Sifu Raymond Wong normally taught–unless Sifu decided to crash the class. Whether or not he so decided, Sifu taught shortly after lunch when Raymond’s class ended. Then on days when Sifu didn’t come to the school–usually on Saturdays, my brother and I would walk down South Glebe Road in Arlington, Virginia, and practice at Sifu’s house.

One of my strongest memories was the smell of Dong Quai tea, cigar smoke, incense, and Dit Da Jow, as Sifu’s practices involved him sipping on the tea–which he drank for headaches–while he puffed on his cigar, incense for the founders, and Jow because Sifu believed strongly in conditioning. If you were to take Jow Ga from me versus some of my training mates, you would notice the difference of how I teach the art, because I teach how I was taught.

Training with Sifu was rarely formal. There was no Gin Lai at the beginning and ending of class. Actually, each time Sifu taught a technique, he expected a Gin Lai. Normally, I would arrive from school (Sifu had given me a key to the school when I was 13) before him usually, to do homework. When Sifu arrived, he would send me out to fetch his tea and a cup of Onion Soup with dried noodles. After a short talk, or me reading magazines while Sifu and Brighthapt chat while people-watched, Sifu would tell me to go into the gym and practice. I use to daydream that he would show me some amazing new form, weapon or a super-technique that would empower me to whip everyone. Instead, what I learned was the value of hard work, attention to detail, and occasionally, something that was not on the curriculum. Something unique that was between me and him, that I could only practice alone–to be revealed at some function when Sifu would tell me, “Go and do that form.” I took a lot of pride in that relationship, because I learned a piece of Sifu Chin that most of my classmates did not know existed. I beat the drums and learned his favorite rhythms and powerful drumming technique that only a few could duplicate. Once he told me that a shop owner told him that when he heard me playing the drums, he thought it was him. Sifu spent a lot of time on the same few forms, and we did the same applications over and over for common techniques that everyone did differently. Only years later would I realize that this was the “Dean Chin version” of those techniques. And through the conversations with him, I learned the DNA of his fighting logic. While some folks chased rank and form, I was the second youngest student in the school–and kept my mouth shut while I just waited for Sifu to decide when I got to learn next, and what it would be.

When our lessons first began a regular schedule, Sifu just told me to come to the gym to clean up and practice. That was the result of me dusting my pants while practicing splits. Stanley Dea was teaching, and we were stretching while Sifu sat in the front and watched. He asked why I was moving and I told him the floor was dirty. He chastised the entire class for the school being dirty. After class my brother and I cleaned the floor, and we received our first instruction. It was a Saturday, and Sifu was in the office fussing at the instructors. He came in and told us to practice when we were done. Some time later he came in to explain the horse stance to us and how it was used to generate power in punching. He later told me that he was impressed with the length of time my brother and I practiced, that he rarely saw children so young practice without complaining. After a few hit-or-miss training sessions with him, Sifu pulled me in the office with Sifu Wong. He told me that if he were to teach me, I needed to teach the art forever, that the lessons with him were more expensive than any other lessons I could find anywhere. Basically, I would owe my life for them, and I agreed. I was 13. I was to stick close to Raymond, and Sifu would come down on Sundays for practice after the regular scheduled class. Every Sunday led to several days after school, and that led to lessons at his house–and that led to the conversations, which seemed trivial then. Yet years later I see that they were just as valuable as the lessons.

I was already an advanced beginner when my one-on-one lessons began, and Sifu first retaught me my basics. complaining that I had moved too quickly. (And prior to that, I thought I was learning too slow! It took me a year to learn our first form)  But once I had gathered the courage to ask Sifu for more instruction, and he agreed, teaching me forms that were not “on the list”. Yet by the time I was in high school, I had learned half the curriculum. I was able to meet and train with his uncle. When he had visitors, I got to learn from them as well. When I was 14, I told Sifu that I would have to work a part time job in my family’s store because my mother was paying for my lessons to three martial arts schools and I had to pitch in. Sifu waived my tuition for life, telling me to see Raymond Wong and Craig Lee if anything happened to him. One year later, Sifu was dead.

During that last year, I became fond of the smell of Dong Quai and Onion soup. I could drink the soup, but warned to stay away from the tea. He said it was not for children, and was more medicine for headaches and blood, rather than a drink (Sifu actually enjoyed wine). I use to equate cigar smoke and incense with training, and soup with wisdom. I learned that the martial arts is not a business arrangement after you get through the fundamentals. Once you reach a foundation in the art, it becomes a relationship. You can’t pay for this kind of thing; you don’t need a business arrangement for it. You don’t need a term to describe it. You don’t even arrive with expectations. You simply commit to learning, and when the student is ready, the Master appears. When you literally sit at the feet of the teacher, you will learn things that cannot come from a book. You must be patient. You must be willing to come to the gym, practice for hours, and sometimes do that for several sessions without “learning” anything new.

Then one day, years in the future, you will look back and realize you had received some of the most valuable instruction money can’t buy. Sifu left us too soon, but everyone who came away with a piece of the Dean Chin puzzle has a piece that is worth more than gold or silver. If you would like to learn more about Dean Chin’s Jow Ga, I would strongly encourage you to look up each of his students who are teaching and spend time with them. Everyone–Sifus Momenan, Henderson, Bennett, Hon Lee, Mims, Hoy Lee, Rahim Muhammad, Troy Williams, Raymond Wong, Deric Johnson, Brighthapt, Howard Davis, Wheeler, myself–we all have a part of Dean Chin’s unique fighting style. If you’re lucky, patient, and dedicated, you might get a good taste of what it was like learning from the Chinatown school in the days when Sifu Chin was teaching, and why his version of this art was so special.

Thank you for visiting the Dean Chin Jow Ga Federation.

The “Essence” of Jow Ga

20 12 2013

I’ve been hearing this term in the recent few years, in debates mostly about my Si Hing Ron Wheeler’s books and videos.

The topics range from “Ron is promoting himself” to “Ron’s tournament wins don’t mean shit” to “The material does not capture the uniqueness of Jow Ga”. I call bullshit.

As if most of the clips you find of Jow Ga on the internet or offered for sale as a DVD show this “uniqueness”. You know what I see? Jow Ga on the internet, to the trained eye–not necessarily Jow Ga trained, but any Kung Fu style–looks like Hung Gar if one guy does it, to Choy Lay Fut if another does it. Most clips, if you are trained, are actually performed by what are obviously beginners of the art, and out of politeness or wisdom we don’t rake them over the coals. The videos for sale supposedly don’t capture Jow Ga’s “essence” like these overseas clips on youtube do, but they are supposed to capture the essence of whose Jow Ga? Jow Lung? Chan Man Cheung? Lee Ngau? Dean Chin?

Tell you what. No one reading this blog right now is qualified to say what Jow Lung’s Jow Ga looked like, and you damn sure aren’t qualified to say that YOUR Jow Ga looks like his and someone else’s does not. You weren’t here 100 years ago, and there weren’t video cameras in those days. Hell, you can’t even tell us what Jow Lung himself looked like. And excuse me for stating my opinion out loud, but the computer generated picture of Jow Lung (because none actually exists) is about as reliable as a picture of Jesus himself. Let’s call a spade a spade, in those few conversations about Ron Wheeler’s videos, we’re not discussing whether Ron’s videos are real Jow Ga or not–we’re talking about something very personal, and we shouldn’t have these conversations about a guy we’ve known since childhood. I’m actually embarrassed that we did, when a plus for Jow Ga is a plus for all of us, and until someone puts out a DVD or book that brings more students through my door beside’s Ron’s products, I say his stuff is top notch. Because like or not, we are all seen as being on the same team, even if you’re mad he’s playing the position you don’t think he deserves. Ron chose the path he chose, he earned the accolades that he has, he has built the reputation he has without anyone’s help, and the products he offers are the only products for Jow Ga available except for Master Sam Chan’s videos. There is room for more products promoting the system, and if you feel like we should put out a better product please do–and I would buy it myself.

So enough about that…

The Essence of Jow Ga

No one man could claim to have the “correct” or “authentic” Jow Ga, just like no religion could say they have the “only” religion. Even our system of Jow Ga had five founders and the main founder himself did not own a school–nor did he appoint a disciple or inheritor. Each school, under each founder had its own flavor and nuances, and each founder had students who had their own branches, flavors and versions of Jow Ga. The late Grandmaster Chan Man Cheung had a version of Jow Ga that was very different from Dean Chin’s Jow Ga. I know, because I learned from both, and they didn’t even do the same first form. Jow Ga has, at its core very simple principles that we learned from Sifu Dean Chin:

  • Strong but agile footwork
  • Quick, powerful hand techniques
  • Control of the opponent’s arm whenever you made contact
  • Make use of strong, destructive blocks
  • Develop a powerful grip
  • Make use of sensitivity
  • Use legs to knock the opponent down
  • Use the stance and footwork to knock the opponent down
  • Don’t retreat without advancing twice as much
  • Use techniques from your form to fight with

Now I haven’t traveled to every country that has Jow Ga, but pretty much everywhere I’ve seen Jow Ga I have only seen Lion Dance and forms that had very little of these principles. Maybe they are hidden?

When Dean Chin wanted to show off his students, had us fight. Sifu took me to a tournament in 1984 himself, and he wanted me to fight. I didn’t even suit up until forms divisions were nearly over. He had three techniques he wanted me to use, and I used them. The next day, on Sunday, in front of Raymond Wong’s class–he first congratulated me for my 2nd place win, then chastised me for losing and not using enough power in my final fight, which was with a friend of mine–despite that I had fought hard in my earlier fights.

Bottom line is this. Dean Chin’s Jow Ga doesn’t look like Hong Kong’s. He taught in a different environment. The student based he taught were different. His experience was different from his Sifu’s. He had a different mentality. And each student under him had a different background, different skill set, and our own abilities. We were DC students, not Hong Kong students. So DC Jow Ga doesn’t look like Hong Kong Jow Ga.  Hong Kong’s Jow Ga shouldn’t even look like Hong Kong’s Jow Ga. If people of the same generation, or worse–different generations–looked the same, even if they came from the same Sifu… You have very bland, uninspired, untested Kung Fu. Kung Fu must change, and it must be personalized. Within Dean Chin’s own students we have men like Sifu Craig Lee whose Kung Fu looks nothing like anyone else in his generation–or the previous, or the next. Craig’s Jow Ga looked like a totally different style from Tehran Brighthapt’s, and Sifu Chin was proud of both men and their ability.  Each Kung Fu man will have his own preferences, likes, dislikes, specialties and limits–and only a fool will look at a peer who has dedicated a lifetime to the art and say, “Your version of this art is invalid.”  If Jow Lung were here today, he wouldn’t recognize any of the stuff any of us do–not even the forms.

I don’t claim to have the only authentic version of Jow Ga, and I would never fool a student into believing that I do. I might claim to have the best version of Jow Ga, and if I do, it’s up to me to prove it. We can argue all day long about “purity” and other silliness like that. But good and bad can be easily proven.

And that is what Kung Fu is all about anyway, right? Not demonstrating what you can do, but proving it? Now, how can we prove anything over the internet? Foolishness. Such conversations should be held only in person. As for the “essence” of Jow Ga, you can only capture the “essence” of a particular teacher’s version. There is Jow Ga on nearly every continent on Earth, and each school came from a different lineage. Who will be the one to travel to each one and challenge or update each teacher on the “correct” version? There are better things to do to promote the art besides chopping each other down.

One family, my foot. If you believe in one family, then you must accept that each one of us is unique and has our own skills, specialties and ability in the art. As long as we are keeping our skills sharp and making the art look good,  promoting the name Jow Ga and giving respect to the founders, our teachers and our respective lineages–the family is in good hands. In other words, the Essence of Jow Ga is that this is a family of Kung Fu practitioners and we should act like one.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Jow Ga’s Pao Choy

17 12 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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