New York Kung Fu (Kung Fu with an Accent)

22 05 2016

I’ve recently gotten into a debate with a distant Jow Ga cousin about the validity of what I call the “DC” Jow Ga lineage. DC as in “Dean Chin”, my Sifu. However, we have a double entendre at play with my use of “DC”, as it can also mean the Washington, DC, Jow Ga lineage. For some, my use of DC rather than say “the American” may offend, because it sounds separatist. For others, it’s racist, as my Sifu only promoted three Chinese Full Instructors in his lifetime–the rest being African American and only two Latino Assistant Instructors, none caucasian. (Consider, this kung fu school was founded in Chocolate City). There are some who refuse to acknowledge a predominantly non-Chinese lineage without a Chinese head. Sorry, but Sifu Chin (Ironically, those who were close to Sifu referred to him as “DC” when we were being sarcastic about him) didn’t think that way. During the 70s, he named Sifu Raymond Wong as President and Alma Herndon the school’s manager. Years before his death in the 1980s, he appointed Sifu Deric Mims President, an African American. As I said, to some, the lack of Chinese teachers lessened our credibility despite that we had the strongest fighters in the Kung Fu community.

But that is another topic for discussion. Today, we discuss Kung Fu with an accent.

You mean those New Yorkers right? Dose Kong Foo gize wit da fee-yancy fohms?


See, everyone who does the martial arts will go through the same stages in their development:

  1. Learn Kung Fu, get through the curriculum
  2. Become good at that curriculum. Go up against other guys to see how good you are (and determine if, in fact, you are “good”)
  3. Train with guys outside your system and compare notes, test against each other, exchange techniques, and/or expand your fighting network. It is at this point you become a freelancer, a ronin, a vagabond, a Kung fu man-at-large. In other words, you walk away from your organization to see what’s out there
  4. You end your hiatus and return to your system, bringing all that knowledge, experience, BACK to your system, or

4.2 You create your own system

I am not a computer expert, but I wanted to make #4.2 equal with #4 and give it it’s own line. I’ll explain why in a second. First, this:¬† This list is a hierarchy. Most Kung Fu Sifus have only gotten to stage #1. I don’t care what the websites say, I grew up with most of these guys and I can tell you from experience that most of the Sifus out here did almost no fighting at all, and they darn sure didn’t do it in venues where they came up against other styles. At most, a few of them competed in forms. Notice, I did not mention forms at all. That, I consider to be another subject. Most teachers in the Chinese arts did very little to no fighting, and for that reason I draw a difference between stage 1 and stage 2. Stage 2 are the Kung Fu men who actually got out there, and you can recognize them right away because they rarely talk about their Sifu’s fights or their Grand Sifu’s ( ūüôā ) experiences, as they have their own to refer to. Those who have done a fair amount of fighting will recognize them by the change in how they apply their Kung Fu and present their martial arts. Those who have proven themselves in the ring–any king of ring–can actually say they were “good” because they showed themselves and their colleagues. Stage 3 Sifus automatically roll to 4 if they teach, which happens to be the only difference between 3 and 4. One group leaves the presence of his teacher, travels outside his hometown, goes among non-Kung Fu guys and seeks Karate men, kickboxers, boxers, wrestlers, Jiu Jitsu fighters… all to explore the martial arts world. Sometimes they may travel among other styles of kung fu, which I think fits in this category as well. However, there was a shortage of Chinese martial arts events and schools that were welcoming to non-TCMA fighters and so this group most likely had to walk among the karate and kickboxing fighters.

When they felt it was time to wind down their discovery and wandering/traveling stage–they return to their systems or they found new ones. This is most likely how each of our styles were founded. Our Si Jo studied a few arts, traveled around and tested and studied his art against other arts, and decided to devise a new system which–100 years later, you are doing today. This is why I respect new creations in the art; all of our systems were once new creations.

Skipping over the guys who created new systems, lets talk about the 4th group who returned home. After 3-5 years of training against non-Hung Gar guys and fighting Japanese stylists and Tae Kwon Do stylists, training in a boxing gym, learning Wing Chun, studying Hakka systems or Bai Ji or Hsing Yi… surely you don’t expect his Hung Gar to look like what his Sifu taught him 10 years earlier, do you? Of course not, unless you did all that training and fighting and discovered that the time was a waste, and I have yet to meet a man who thought his journey was a waste.

So, one Wing Chun student goes east and trains with other Kung Fu styles while his brother travels west and boxes. In three years, the meet back in their hometown, neither will have the same view of Wing Chun. Neither will have the same expression of Wing Chun. Both will most likely disagree on how best to use Wing Chun.

I take two boys, aged 8 and send one to study English in the UK and send his brother to Texas in America. Age 12 the boys meet, and you and I both know–neither will speak English the same way.

If you practice your Kung Fu at age 40 exactly the same way you practiced it at age 20, you have wasted 20 years of your training. If your Sifu taught you and your brother Kung Fu and you both parted ways. If you meet in a decade doing your system the same way–you have both wasted ten years in the arts. Kung Fu must develop and accent as you travel through life with these arts. Along the way, you will experience things your teacher did not. You will experience fighters your classmates will not. You will come up with ideas. You will specialize in certain parts of the system. You will compensate for some things that you do not specialize in. You will learn lessons, pick up techniques, lose to opponents, win over others, exchange with different fighters. When you return home–and we all do, eventually–you will have a personal flavor on your system, and “accent” if you will… that your own brothers you came up will not. But you both still do the same art, same style, even have many similarities as you both inherited your Sifu’s version of that style. A style that will even differ from his own brothers.

When I discovered YouTube, and searched for Jow Ga–I found myself looking at forms performed by my own Si Hings’ students and recognized who their Sifus were without even knowing from the descriptions. That is because I know most of my brothers’ accents in this system. You could take our lineage’s Siu Fook Fu (Small Tiger) and each location of Jow Ga in America will do it slightly different because of the Sifu it came from–but we all have a certain accent that originated from Sifu Dean Chin.

And by the way, Sifu “spoke” his Jow Ga with an Eagle claw, White Eyebrow, and boxing accent. It is a unique DNA stamp that although other lineages may have the similar combination–only this lineage does it his way. Whether you are in Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia, or any state in America–you have it if your Jow Ga came from us. However, we are not the only Jow Ga in America. Sifu Sam Chan teaches in Michigan. Sifus Richard Chin and Chuck Yuen are in New York. Joi Ying and Yun Yee Tong are in the San Jose area of California. Buk Sing do Jow Ga in Fremont. None of them are from Sifu Chin’s school, but all are American Jow Ga. This is why I call our lineage “DC” so that we do not fail to acknowledge all those Masters.

If you spend enough time in your art and you gain enough experience, you should have an accent of your own, even if you do not assign a new name to it. Without this accent–as with American English without Texas, Boston, New York, Georgia, Mississippi–we have a very bland, homogenuous skill.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

What’s Next for the Chinese Martial Arts in the West?

6 05 2016

So while we are on the subject of conflict…

There is a saying that “bad press is better than no press”. Lot’s of truth to that. People think everything in life must be 100% positive, 100% of the time–and I disagree. There is a balance that must be managed to everything, and those who ignore the part they don’t like will find difficulty¬† when they are forced to encounter them. Best that you acknowledge and learn the negative, than have it smack you in the face and not know how to handle it. The Chinese martial arts is a good example of this, and I have a theory. You may not agree, and that’s okay. Think about it; if every martial artist never had a feud, never had differences, never fought each other, agreed on EVERYTHING–TCMA (traditional Chinese martial arts) would be so boring. So, Sijo #1 says I found a great way to do Kung Fu. Sijo #2 says no, I have a better way. #1 and #2 can’t agree, so they spar to see who was right, and voila! Regardless of who wins, both have tested their art, both modified their methods based on the results of the match. Perhaps there were several matches over time, several over generations… wouldn’t both systems get stronger from all of that tempering and testing and modifying? Besides, in order to have a “better way”–wouldn’t that require them to disagree with their teachers?

And right there ^^ in one short paragraph, the DC Jow Ga Federation has summed up the entire history of Kung Fu over all these centuries and millenia. A Kung Fu man learns Kung Fu. He thinks he can improve it. He encounters someone who thinks not–they test their theories–and new arts and systems are born and fused and molded and hardened. So here’s another saying:¬† A little conflict is good. And so it is!

Thanks to Bruce Lee, the Chinese martial arts had its “bad press”. He criticized how our masters and grandmasters were doing Kung Fu. People disagreed, feelings were hurt, there were even a few fights. In the long run, more people became curious about the Chinese arts, and our Sifus were able to give themselves a pretty good living from all that attention. Sure, some pieces of the art had to be adjusted to accomodate the new type of martial arts student:¬† the western, non-Chinese student. Admit it, they learn different from Asians. So Kung Fu here in the West got a few tweaking here and there so that our Sifus could attract, teach, and retain students. Gave it its own personality too. You could take Hung Gar here in America and put it against Hung Gar in China and see some differences in most cases. Sometimes the art and forms may be the same, but terminology and cultures will differ. In others, simply because there are more non-Chinese styles around American kwun (schools)–American Kung Fu schools may be practiced differently, have different clothing, etc. Like it or not, we must acknowledge and honor American lineages of Chinese martial arts to be just as valid as other non-Chinese lineages, despite how unique and strange they may seem. Sadly, many who come from non-Chinese lineages do not feel secure in being different, and therefore look to leave what their teachers gave them in order to look or resemble Chinese lineages. And this practice only gives credibility to those who discredit American/European/Latin lineages. Either way, Bruce Lee’s demand that Kung Fu update to modern, Western culture had an effect on all of us, as we all benefited from the increased interest and enrollments as well as the new developments that occurred as a result of his influence.


yeah, thanks for forcing us to take on kiddie classes, Daniel San!

yeah, thanks for forcing us to take on kiddie classes, Daniel San!

In the 1980s, I would say two things had an effect on Chinese martial arts:¬† Inflation and Karate Kid, the movie. (Yeah, I said it!) First, with the rising cost of real estate, a Sifu could no longer make a living with a small school of 20 students like he could in the 70s. Tuition was weighed against one’s own bills and many people would drop out if personal finances disallowed practice. And Karate Kid–I could write a book on how it hurt Kung Fu… Chinese martial arts schools which at first were teenaged and adult-oriented schools, now had to compete with Karate schools to be relevant in a new industry being created because of that movie’s popularity. In 1981, I was turned away by my Sifu who thought I was too young for Jow Ga. By 1987, schools were recruiting students as young as 5! If you wanted to stay in business or capitalize on the new children’s market–you had to accept (and learn to teach) children. Well, many Chinese style teachers taught arts that were too difficult for younger students to learn. We also taught techniques that were inappropriate for younger children. Unlike our Tae Kwon Do/Karate counterparts, Chinese martial arts had to be modified for age-appropriateness, and many Sifu could not keep up. Tae Kwon Do’s first form, Chun Ji/Tae Kuk Il Jang/Pal Gye Il Jang, consists mainly of three or four movements done several times–compared to Bak Siu Lum’s Gune Lic or Hung Gar’s Gung Gee Fuk Fu–which helped those schools retain younger students, while CMA schools could only retain the few whose focus allowed them to stay interested in such complicated forms. Tae Kwon Do is simpler and easier to teach to large groups, while Chinese styles require more one-on-one attention–making it difficult to do in a commercially successful school. These two things made running a succesful Chinese style school much more difficult than a Karate or TKD school, so we saw less growth in Chinese styles.

I could go on and possibly write a book about why Kung Fu had not grown like Karate and Tae Kwon Do, but I’d like to get to my point… Let’s skip forward to the 90s and Y2Ks.

I would call the 1990s the hey day for child-oriented martial arts schools, aka the “McDojo”. (This is actually an unfair label, as many child-oriented schools are in fact very good and NOT out to take your money) In the 90s, I saw more millionaires come out of this industry than ever, and many of them were Chinese martial artists who came to TKD just to make a better living. I recall a group of teachers come to me to invest in a franchise and I turned them down, just to watch each become wildly successful. None were TKD teachers, but they became them in order to enter the business. One such teacher is today an MMA gym–which leads me to my second point. Coming out of the 90s, MMA was becoming popular as was another genre of martial arts school you might not have noticed:¬† the Self Defense academy. Look around you, in whatever city you happen to be in, you will notice many adult oriented schools returning–and non are commercial karate. They may teach Krav Maga, Filipino Martial Arts, Brazilian Jujitsu, Aikido (nod to Steven Segal), Jeet Kune Do (Bruce Lee is still more popular than ever)… and many arts you may not have noticed. Most are doing very well, not all are riding the wave of a fad either. So the question you might ask is, What about the Chinese Martial Arts?

What happened?

I think many of us got stuck into tradition. Unlike our own Sifus and Masters, who were willing to evolve in order to accomodate the change in times and culture–many of us feel like we are doing something wrong if we don’t practice this art exactly as our teachers gave it to us. Some of us who live in America, look to Hong Kong to figure out what to do, yet we have two separate cultures, traditions and industries. Many of us learned and practiced our Kung Fu completely unaware of what the rest of the martial arts community is up to. Even after 20, 30 years in the arts we looked around one day and discovered that the martial arts community evolved several times over yet we are still doing the same things, the same way. No one is saying to add Zumba or MMA to your repertoire. But it would be a good idea to find out what successful martial artists are doing and to find a way to fit what we do in with that! One of the most successful flyers I used–I got my tag line from a grappler:¬† “Got Stand Up?”¬† I don’t know much about grappling, but I do know how to fight standing up. We did a monthly fight night for years, and fought all types in our school. As a result, we have had many mixed martial arts fighters come to my school to learn plain old, Jow Ga and FMA. So I marketed to that group offering just to work with them with standup fighting and I didn’t have to change much¬† to accomodate them. You could do the same. Here are a few other areas:

  • Fitness classes with a Kung Fu theme
  • Weapons workshops
  • Martial Arts for aspiring actors (a GREAT area. I’ve taught several myself)
  • Self Defense/Street Survival–learn the jargon and see what street survival experts do; you’ll find that Kung Fu fits perfectly with this area
  • **Tie-ins with the Ip Man/Tony Jaa/Jet Li movies**–I can’t believe more schools aren’t doing this! Our children don’t know much about Bruce Lee these days, but they sure as heck know who Yip/Ip Man is. Isn’t that crazy? He is crazy popular. You better get on this bandwagon!!!
  • Tie-ins with every Ninja Turtle/Anime movie that hits the big screen–This is a gold mine. Chinese martial arts fits in so well with this genre, it’s crazy
  • Tournaments as an alternative to school/intramural sports–many children are not athletically gifted. Most sports will try your kid out then reject them if they aren’t “naturals”. I really dislike that. However, the martial arts is possibly one of the only sports where no kid rides the bench, they don’t have to try out to do it, and every kid is taught the game from the ground up with zero fear of being left behind. How could a parent turn that down. Not only that, your child is really learning a trade! Even if he goes to college, gets a job, he will always be able to supplement his income by teaching Kung Fu. Come on, Sifu–you know what to say!

The point is, Kung Fu isn’t dying. We are just experiencing a recession. It’s time to realize it isn’t 1985; it’s 2016. The potential Kung Fu student isn’t turned on by Shaw Brothers films anymore. This art has survived longer than many spoken languages–outlived governments. Surely, the generation walking the Earth today can find a way to keep it relevant.

Anyone have ideas to add? Please list them in the comments below! Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.



The Secret to Advanced Kung Fu… (Pursuit of Perfection)

3 05 2016

Here is a simple concept that should be common sense knowledge, but is instead a little-known secret:

The key to perfection–and mastery–of the arts lies in what is taught in the first year of training

Funny thing about Kung Fu people. Although we like to act humble, many Chinese style martial artists are not humble at all. And it seems that the more a Kung Fu student learns, the further he gets from humility. This key is often underused or even ignored–as most strive to “learn” more forms, “more” techniques, “more” weapons, “more” concepts and principles, “more” terminology. This pursuit of “more” is much like those who aspire for “more” rank and higher degrees of Black belts in the Karate world. The misconception is that the martial artist’s ultimate skill and ability will come from learning the right technique or forms, and sometimes–the right combinations of styles. The result of this philosophy¬†is a mediocre skilled martial artist with very little fighting experience and ability, despite that he or she knows many forms and has multiple styles in his repertoire. As the student progresses, very little attention is given to the practice of “beginner” skills in favor of “advanced” skills and forms. For example, think of the last time you saw advanced kung fu students struggling to recall a lower level form or weapon. If that student understood this concept, his knowledge of the system’s basic skills would actually¬†strengthen, rather than be placed on the shelf of forgetfulness as he advanced.

As a youth, I had once asked my Sifu about “advanced Jow Ga” right after I had arrived to the intermediate level. He answered that “advanced Jow Ga” was not much more than beginner Jow Ga done at a high degree of skill, and able to be applied in more ways than the simple. This was disappointing to me, as I expected to hear about secret forms and techniques that would make me unbeatable once I had learned them. In fact, when my Sifu began teaching me privately, I had just arrived to our 4th beginner level–which was an accomplishment in our school because it took 2 to 3 years to achieve. As I prepared for my Intermediate exam, I learned privately from him at least three days a week. The first thing he did was retrain me: ¬†and not our first form, I might add. We literally started from the first thing one learns in a Kung Fu school: ¬†the salutation. See, your salutation tells everyone watching you what’s to come. When martial arts students have taken care to execute a sharp and crisp salutation (arms balanced, stance strong, posture upright, power in the short distance from chest-forward), the rest of your Kung Fu will reflect that same attention to detail. When the student has mastered the simple Sei Ping Ma–feet parallel, knees pushed to the corners of the “box”, fists chambered all the way to the ribs, elbows tucked in, eyes focused in the right direction–the rest of his Kung Fu skill will be just as sharp. When these two basic things are allowed to slip or exist as weak and sloppy in one’s skill set, many other things will exist weak and sloppy. Teaching such a man “advanced”, complex skills will be a waste of time; like erecting a stone structure on lose, wet sand.

When judging form for tournaments, many will say that certain judges are unqualified to¬†give scores because they do one style and the competitor does another. There is some truth to that. However, many principles are universal among similar styles. In Southern styles, for example, strong, balanced stances and hand placement are mostly the same. Some differences do exist though, like chambered fists resting on the hips in some systems and next to the lower ribs in others–but Kung Fu teachers can see when someone has put in ample practice versus someone who has not. Judges can see when someone has power versus someone who loses energy and defined technique as the form progresses. How would one best prepare for a competition: By practicing more forms, or by practicing the form you plan to perform more?

In teaching students who have had some prior experience in the martial arts, I have encountered many students who felt too advanced to learn my elementary level skills, like our Stance Training Form. However, everything in my system, from our first form to our Kwan Dao form, are resting on the foundation laid by the Stance Training Form. I have been practicing Jow Ga for 33 years, and I still include practice of the STF with my personal practices. This form builds strength in the legs, allowing the fighter to explode into movement from nearly any position, builds good posture and strength in the upper back. In addition to this, every advanced form relies on strong footwork for its techniques to be useful. Regardless of how much martial arts you know, you can always improve–even your basics. You can always get stronger, faster, more limber, develop more accuracy, cover more range and move more responsively. These things are basic skills, and without those simple basic skills, everything is weak. An advanced, acrobatic martial artist with a weak foundation is like a scholar with a wonderful vocabulary and multiple degrees who can’t spell or chokes up whenever giving lectures.

Remember, one can never get enough skill in the basics. Stance, footwork, simple hand techniques, flexibility, power, endurance, balance, and focus–all make the Kung Fu world go ’round. Don’t be one who is satisfied “knowing” advanced martial arts; be one who perfects advanced martial arts. As the saying goes, you must perfect the parts to master the whole. “Perfect” can be an adjective or it can be a verb. In the martial arts, perfect-the-adjective does not exist. Perfect is an action word, a process… It is a level that one will never reach if you are doing this right. The moment a Kung Fu man believes he has perfected the art and stops pursuing perfection–be assured that he has just begun¬†his decline in the arts. It is this pursuit of perfection that delivers you to mastery.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Tempering Your Kung Fu, part II (Dojo-Busting)

4 03 2016

In the discussion to bringing Chinese martial arts up to the modern world, we must discuss all aspects of the martial arts, including our misconceptions and myths. Here in the Western world, we must understand that very few of our schools in the Americas and in Europe were established by actual Masters of Kung Fu. Yes, we call them “Masters”; after all, eventually, they each became a master. But most of us who study the art learned in a school founded by relatively young teachers. For many of our Sifu, our schools were the first schools those Sifus had. They were in their 20s. Some were child prodigies who were barely out their teens. Very few were fighting champions of any type back home. Most of them learned and grew up alongside us.

And that’s okay!

Think about it–how old was your Sifu when he brought your system to your country?

So for many of us, our teachers were learning to apply the Chinese culture and tradition to the Western culture, as well as make these arts marketable to us. This may have required many of our Sifus to adopt non-traditional methods like awarded belts, calling it “Karate” when it’s “Wu Shu”, wearing karate uniforms, etc. And despite what your websites say in your histories–I have discovered over the years that many of us had learned from teachers who did not do much fighting, and this led to the non-combative nature of Chinese Kung Fu today.

Now before you blurt out the very American idiom “Rules were meant to be broken”, I would like to throw this out right here:¬† Change is actually a very Chinese tradition. Myth #1.

See, we who are visitors to this Chinese tradition of the martial arts often misunderstood our teacher’s values. One of those values is tradition. Because the Chinese martial arts have been around for centuries–even millenia–and they take pride in some things being unchanged for generations, we assume that our Sifus are disrespected if we change anything in the arts they taught us. Perhaps we studied under teachers who foolishly insisted that we do no evolve. But I assure you, that change is a regular, vital part of the growth of the Chinese arts. This is why we have systems and subsystems, and lineages, North vs South, Shaolin vs Hakka vs Wu Tang, etc. Our teachers mostly likely even changed their arts to teach your generation. Why they do not want you to evolve? Who knows. But change is good, change is healthy, and change is Chinese.

Among the changes we must make to our way of treating the art is the subject of fighting and combat. Chinese martial artists must fight. I am fully aware that many Kung Fu people did not come to the CMAs to fight, but if these arts are to get to future generations with respect and dignity intact, a good number of us from each system is going to have to get out on the circuit and do some banging. Will it require some modification? Of course it will. But students must be given something more dynamic than what past generations have been passing down. This will force us and our peers to look at our techniques critically; not to decide what to discard or eliminate! We must look at our systems to gain a more full understanding of what happens in a fight, and how our arts fits into combat. EVERY art, by the way, works in combat. We simply must figure out how it works in combat. It may require the importation of skills, the de-emphasis on some, extra emphasis on others. Once you have at least two or three generations of students who have done this, a new wisdom is then brought to your lineage that most likely did not manifest itself a decade earlier. And now, you have a subculture of fighters within your schools who can prepare those who want that knowledge for themselves. Your system has dignity, and we can finally get rid of those “My-Sifu-ran-out-of-people-to -fight-in-Chinatown” stories and tell some real stories and lessons for future students. On top of that, our students will have more confidence with the arts they possess and the system can come out from corners of the Chinese community and join the mainstream.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Dojo Yaburi. This isn’t for everyone. But a group of young advanced fighters school-hop the area or extended area, looking for sparring mates. Friendly matches or not, this is as real as martial arts traditions go. You don’t have to be disrespectful or rude in your search. An introduction to the Sifu/Sensei, who you and your classmates are and why you’re there. You want the opportunity to see where you stand, skillwise, against local martial artists. “Dojo Yaburi” in Japanese means “School-busting”, a tradition whereby young teachers make a name for themselves by visiting established schools and requesting a match in the effort to establish a reputation.
  • Establish a monthly/weekly/quarterly sparring group.¬† It doesn’t have to be anything huge, just a regular gathering of like-minded martial artists who come around on a regular schedule for sparring and group training. You can choose with or without instruction, with or without training. But sparring with other styles is great for gaining a better understanding of your own personal skills–and how you compare to those outside your Kwoon. You may even pick up a few extra skills from regulars if you all trust each other and build a bond.
  • Attend tournaments regularly. Yes, it’s that ugly, yucky “T” word. Traditionalists hate it. Understood! It’s almost as bad as the “P” word (Politics) But there are many benefits to attending tournaments:¬† networking, exposure, advertising, FUN, student retention, and experience. Gives you the opportunity to tell your students, that yes, “I have used this style against practitioners of other styles…” It’s a safe environment to do so as well. No one gets hurt, and you go home a little wiser than you were the day before.
  • Create a sparring class within your school.¬† This should be a “Duh!” thing, but it isn’t. I am surprised how many schools have no culture of sparring within their walls. The creation of a sparring class gives those wanting more hands-on experience the chance to see how your art works in actual combat. For you the teacher, it gives you a chance to devise your teaching curriculum as it relates to fighting. A forms-based curriculum in my opinion is a boring, uninspired one. One that is both based on forms as well as sparring is interesting and follows a prescribed method for teaching strategy, combat, and testing theory. In a normal “forms” class, students assume all techniques work. In a sparring class, they are given the Y and the X, asked to figure out how the technique works, how to counter it and make it fail, and what to do when the opponent does something unexpected. You’ll be training warriors as well as thinkers!
  • Temper your Kung Fu. When you temper steel, you heat it up to the point that it starts to soften, then cool it down–doing so several times in order to harden the steel. You can do the same with Kung Fu technique:¬† a day when you train with extremely high repetitions of kicks, punches and drills; sets of pushups, hundreds of pushing and pulling exercises. Periodically, push your students until they drop, and you will see them slowly get stronger and stronger, in ways you would be surprised. Call the martial arts what you want; denounce combat if you wish–but don’t be confused, we are training fighters. Fighters need to be tough, aggressive, confident, and indomitable. You don’t have to allow them to be killers, but at least equip them for the battlefield in the event that they need it. Hence the Filipino saying, the man with the sharpest blade knows the most peace. Transform your students into Tigers, teach them virtue, arm them with the sharpest of blades, give them the wisdom of scholars. These values are timeless and without boundaries.

Whatever you do, don’t limit yourself to business as usual. That’s so yesterday. ūüôā¬† Find ways to bring your ancient fighting art to modern times. Make it useful!

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Bridging the Gap Between Traditional and Applied Kung Fu

13 02 2016

This blog was originally intended to be for a Jow Ga audience, but it seems that most of my feedback has come from non-Jow Ga practitioners. So, while I will be writing these articles from the point of view of a Jow Ga practitioner–you may notice that I will occasionally reference non-Jow Ga or tag other styles in my articles.

One of the calling cards of Jow Ga students that local martial artists will notice is how our students emphasize low, strong stances. I’ve even heard some mention it as if our low stances were over-emphasized like it was a bad thing. I’d like to use that notion as a point of reference for the rest of this article.

First, understand that Chinese martial arts in general tends to emphasize low, strong stances as one of the building blocks of our systems. Some styles do not, but if the first thing your Sifu taught was some version of the Horse Stance–chances are pretty good that your system claims to emphasize strong, low stances. However, what happens later in training? Are stances then unimportant? I have a theory:

  • Kung Fu people tend to be of three types. 1. Traditional curriculum-based practitioners–They practice curriculum material, some excel at it, others casually practice it–but there is very little introspection and/or innovation. 2. Fighters–Emphasize fighting of any type over tradition, from tournament to full contact to streetfighting. Plenty of innovation and reconstructing of technique, whether with the base system or not. 3. Forms specialists, philosophers and lion dancers–This is where I put everyone else. This group learns and barely practices the curriculum, outside of forms for performance. There is little sparring, very little breaking down of the system, and applied martial arts is secondary to whatever it is the Sifu chooses to specialize in.
  • Of the three types, the fighter is usually the primary detractor of traditional stance work. Traditional stances simply have very little use in their chosen piece of the field. They can’t use it while fighting, it’s not mobile enough, can’t seem to make sense out of traditional footwork with these fighting techniques we use in the ring… you name it. The other two types rarely think about it.
  • Fighters are quick to label traditional stances and footwork as “outdated” and impractical.¬† This is the primary reason we abandon the training after the first few forms. Practitioners learn to hold their guards and therefore stop practicing chambered punches. They dance in their footwork rather than stand. They stand upright for mobility instead of sitting for good rooting. I blame this on the simplification of Kung Fu–rather than a full understanding of how to apply it. So we end up with two sets of fighter/Kung Fu men:¬† those who keep traditional kung fu, but teach a separate set of skills for fighting–versus those who simply discard the traditional in favor of more modern methods altogether.
  • Kung Fu Sifu, then, become followers of the trend, rather than stand rooted in their theories. And here is the culprit; every traditional Sifu will argue all day long about how traditional stances are useful and practical in fighting. Yet how many can actually prove their theories? Very few, you and I both know that. So blame the economy, blame the lack of dedicated students, blame the faith of the modern kung fu student–but ultimately, the blame lies on those of us who teach the art, yet cannot convince our students that the traditional can hold its own against the modern. The result is that our traditional skills are either (foolishly) deemed “too deadly for the ring” or simply not sufficient or applicable to fighting.

The Solution

I have said this over and over on my Filipino Martial Arts blog, Filipino Fighting Secrets:¬† Not only are there too many of us out here teaching the art, there are too many of us out here teaching who do not have the skills, knowledge, and experience to be teachers. It’s worse for the Chinese martial arts. Most schools are led by men who simply have no fighting record at all. Not in light contact competition, not in full contact competition, not even in the street. Too many Kung Fu students are being brought to tournaments by Sifus who don’t even own a set of sparring gear–let alone ever wore any. When our schools are being led by men who never fought, the students will be lost in any kind of combat, whether simulated, sportive, or real. The solution is simple, but not easy. This next generations of Kung Fu experts must be taught more than just curriculum, theories, and form. Your understanding of what your system has to offer shouldn’t rely on your knowledge of Muay Thai or Brazilian Jujitsu. Future generations of Sifus must be well-researched and given ample time to question what you are teaching and call your theories to the carpet; you cannot hide from their doubts. You cannot pass on your insecurities about whether your system really holds up to boxers and grapplers, and if the only way you can win a fight is to blind them or break their knees–you apparently aren’t skilled enough to be teaching “fighting”. Students must be encouraged to try their hand against other systems and other fighters, and win or lose–bring that experience to the classroom and figure out what happened… What works best, what needs to be tweaked, and how your traditional art can be used to stop or defeat those modern methods. And finally, students must be given enough time to really advance their skills and not rushed along some timeline of forms and exams (and exam fees). Given enough time to develop and fine tune, most martial arts students will have discovered things that they never would have if they rush through a curriculum. I’ve met young instructors who are barely out of their 20s who have already forgotten forms. It’s not a race!

And forgive me if I come across as insulting–but it starts with you, the Sifu. You must be the first guinea pig of your new thinking. I’ve seen Sifus put their students through workouts they know they couldn’t handle. I fixed a fighter’s gear once, when his own Sifu put it on for him–incorrectly. Travel outside of your city a few times if you need–and enter some fight contests. Train on everything you plan to teach, and test it out on other instructors to gain a clearer picture on how this stuff works. Basically, I’m telling you to walk the talk first, and practice what you preach. It’s only fair to your students, and will give you better insight when teaching.

Going back to the subject of traditional stances and footwork, consider this… if you observe the best boxers and grapplers, you will notice that under pressure, they sink in their stances for power and rooting. Almost all stances can be applied in some way while fighting–forward stances for power body shots, horse stance for hooks, upper cuts and evasive maneuvers, even cross stances when throwing. It’s not a matter of discovering what works in fighting; those things have already been investigated by our system’s creators. Rather, it is a process to discover how they work. There is a huge difference. As teachers and coaches, we all know how to throw a hook punch–but not everyone understands how to use the hook punch. And you cannot teach the hook punch without teaching how the stance and footwork is integrated with the hook. Only discovery and experimentation can give it to you.

Finally, I am a strong advocate of modern training. I just do not believe that modern training can replace the traditional, nor do I believe it should. They compliment each other. Can stances and traditional footwork be carried in the ring? Of course they can, but it’s not my job to teach you on this blog. Augment your traditional training with wind sprints, squats, hops, dancing by the round. Learn to move like a boxer, then find ways that your traditional footwork can be used against a boxer’s footwork. (Trust me, there are disadvantages to their footwork)¬† I would like to offer a few tips below:

  1. Build strong legs. You cannot rely on tactics alone. Tactics without strength is like a big engine with no gas. With strong legs, you will be more stable, your footwork will be more responsive and explosive, your hand work will be more powerful, and you will be more equipped to uproot the opponent with your footwork alone
  2. When you practice your footwork, label all movements and techniques as “advancing”, “retreating”, “evasive”, or “rooting”. This way, you can train for specific skills and applications. Not all stance and footwork training is equal
  3. Train your footwork explosively. Slow footwork with no sense of urgency is as useless as those forms you do, if you perform them without intensity and fighting spirit
  4. Make sure footwork training involves flanking and retreating
  5. Learn to alternate between strong stance position to mobility, and from being mobile to rooted positions. I cannot emphasize this enough. The most basic of these is what I call the initial attack:¬† Going from your resting fighting position into your first technique when attacking the opponent. Possibly 95% or more of fighters just cannot get off the line fast enough to attack an opponent. I’d put my money on this:¬† 95% of those reading this article must sit back and try to understand what I mean by “get off the line fast enough to attack an opponent”
  6. ^^^ What that means is, to develop the ability to stand 3 feet away from an opponent and hit him with the first two hand techniques you throw–faster than he can block them or move away. Most people train as if your first two techniques will land. Look at how we hit the punching bag. Do you stand close enough to the bag to touch it when practicing? Or do you stand 3 feet away and close the distance each time you hit the bag? Ask yourself, “Where does the opponent stand, inside an arms distance or more than a leg’s distance?” Most fighters have to be pursued to hit. Train your footwork to catch them, faster than he can avoid your attack

Hopefully, you have found some useful points in this article… We are 1700 words in, so I’ll close here. If you like it, please comment and share! And don’t forget to subscribe!

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.


Roles of Martial Arts Friendships (Series)

5 02 2016

“Greatness is never created in a vacuum.”



I once heard a wise man say, that if an accomplished man ever told you he took his journey alone, you are listening to the words of an ungrateful man. The two sayings are connected; rarely does one man create greatness alone. He may be the mastermind of that greatness, but no man can do it alone. He may have thought up the entire plan for his climb but someone helped him. Perhaps they helped him in small ways–for example supporting him, assisting him, or even through conversations with him allowing him to work out his ideas verbally. Sometimes, that assistance can come through a rivalry when the competition fuels his drive to excel. Perhaps, it is some silent partner, student, or forgotten teacher who planted a seed that sprouted in the field of his imagination.

No man did it without help, and only a fool undertakes a mission alone.

The most well-known and greatest thinkers in the martial arts may have been given sole credit for their creations:

  • Bruce Lee
  • Chojun Miyagi
  • Mas Oyama
  • Helio Gracie
  • Yip Man
  • Wong Fei Hung

However, people rarely talk about the training partners, the rivals, the other teachers, the comrades with whom the Grandmaster-in-the-making shared his plans for evolution… History has a way of being biased like that. Even the greatest of prophets–Ibrahim/Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad (peace be upon them all)–had men in their presence whose contributions we know nothing about. I guarantee that each of these men assisted the other in some way, even if one was a follower of another.

Martial artists whether learning, developing, or teaching always need at least one martial arts friendship. This friendship need not necessarily be a training partner; that is simply one type of friendship. One of my best friends and training partners is a blind brother I taught Chi Sao to almost 30 years ago. He is terminally ill and I talk to him at least 4 or 5 times a month. Often, you can work out ideas simply by discussing them. Another close friend of mine is not a martial artist at all; he is a boxer who thinks 99% of martial artists are full of it. Yet, when he and I get together, he is more formidable than most martial artists I know. Although he downs the martial arts, due to our sparring sessions, he practices Eskrima and traps and elbows… all of which he incorporated into his “streetfighting” repertoire. I joke with him that he is a secret, “closet” martial artist, as he practices, trains, and uses these arts, but tells his colleagues they are “tricks” he picked up (he is a bodyguard and limo driver, and quite an effective streetfighter). I have several martial arts friends I mostly talk business with, who pick at me for my testosterone-laced flyers and advertisements and websites. Their advice is extremely valuable and humbling, as well as respected. Friendships where you both are like-minded and 100% in agreement are a waste of time; you improve when you disagree and must justify, argue, or defend your stance. It is through those exchanges that ideas are modified and sharpened. Remember that.

Today’s martial artist seem to gravitate towards their own kind. A roomful of men who agree on everything will leave that room having learned nothing during their time together. But get a roomful of Sifu/Sensei of different styles and mindsets, you will find that at the end of the day you will have a dynamic outcome… Some friendships will be built or severed, some will learn something new, some will go home questioning one’s own system, some will go home to train harder and investigate the arts deeper than they have ever done in their lives. Some will challenge each other. Some will fight and win, some will fight and lose. Some will chicken out, but go home to reflect on why confrontation made him uncomfortable. It is through this dessent–this disagreement–that martial artists evolve their ideas. They must be forced to defend their systems. Yes, you love Jow Ga or Wing Chun. Yes, you believe Praying Mantis is superior, or that Hung Gar is stronger. Yes, Bak Siu Lum or Tai Chi is more advanced… but why? If you do this, I can do that; what would you do then? This is where the rubber meets the road in martial arts relationships. In the classroom, you only need to show students what’s next and what’s in the curriculum. In the presence of your Sifu or your brothers, you only need to be personable and likeable. In public, your skills are irrelevant as long as you have decent lineage and an a nice personality. In none of these situations are you challenged to maintain skills or improve from wherever you were yesterday. Kung Fu is not something in which we should be stagnant. Unlike sports where 35 years old is considered past one’s prime, in the martial arts we are considered to be more valuable, more knowledgeable, and overall a better expert as we get older. How can this happen when you do not surround yourself with people who force you to become better? Do you improve simply by being involved in the arts longer?

One of my best friends, Sifu/Guro Billy Bryant, surrounded himself with training partners and sparring opponents until he was into his 50s. He is a man who would embarass the majority of men reading this blog, I guarantee it. Why can I say so with such confidence? Because I know that most martial arts teachers have not trained or sparred in years, and Billy at 50 years old held a gathering every month at his dojo in Pasadena, MD, where fighters came from all over to spar with him–including men who had beaten him in competition (yes, Billy was still fighting the last I saw him). And you read that right; when a man would beat him, Billy would invite him to his dojo for a rematch. It’s an excellent strategy for growth and excellence. He told me once, that you always keep guys who are superior to you in your company. Some men will just use the opportunity to beat you up regularly, others will want to help you improve–but BOTH men will help you become a better fighter regardless of his intent. Words to live by.

On the other end of the discussion are men like my Si Hing Tehran Brighthapt. He is arguably one of my Sifu’s top fighters. At 6’2″, 250+ lbs, he is both strong and quick, he is both aggressive and tricky, and an encyclopedia of knowledge. Each time Sifu Chin brought visiting masters in to teach, Bright, who does not like forms, would learn and either choose to adopt their lessons into his training program or file it away in the “entertainment purposes only” section of his memory. Like clockwork, regardless of holidays or snow storm, Brighthapt trained 2 to 4 hours every Saturday and Sunday in seclusion, stopping only to teach his hourlong sparring class. I have personally witnessed him pound the bag with wheel punches for 30 minutes with very few breaks while wearing ankle weights and brass rings. He did not like spectators to his training sessions, so one had to be on the other bag or dummy while he trained. He was always good for a quick lesson in Kung Fu fighting techniques, a sparring session, or Chi Sao practice. Being one of the men who could easily lick any man in the room, he always obliged if you asked. Yet despite his insisting on practicing alone–he had two regular sparring partners:¬† Si Hings Terrance Robinson and Lemuel Talley, both men of similar size and strength. As a child, I was usually told to leave the classroom and close the door behind me for their sparring matches. As a teen, when I was old enough to join them, I knew these sparring sessions to be with heavy contact and nothing to shake a stick at. Sometimes, when other visitors came around, whether or not they were Jow Ga fighters–they would join in those matches. So long periods of solo training would be broken by the occasional sparring match to test skill.

Just keep in mind, that whether you are a student, a young teacher, or a mature Master–we all need to remain in the company of people who will help us grow. Some may only be foes for philosophical debates, some may be fierce rivals, others can be training partners, some can be sparring partners–either superior or inferior. Choose your friends wisely. They all can help you with your journey. And often, you may not realize the impact they’ve had on you until years later, after you’ve reaped the benefits of their company.

There is more to say on this subject, but we will revisit in a future installment. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an issue! Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Teaching the Timid

31 01 2016

Today we will discuss some tips to help you come up with ways to teach one of our more difficult types of students:  The passive student.

Due to the way the Chinese martial arts have been labeled by the community–as well as how we have marketed them–Kung Fu schools have always attracted students who were not as interested in fighting and combat. Or perhaps they wanted to learn to fight, but feared sparring or training with contact. This is not commonplace for other martial arts, such as the grappling arts or stick-based arts, because those styles keep sparring and combat as a yardstick for measuring skill. In the Chinese arts, we highlight forms, the age of the systems, lion dance, health benefits, etc. Because of this, students come to the CMA not expecting to touch gloves, while in other martial cultures they simply assume that actual combat will be practiced regularly.

I have seen personally, and entire classroom of students get nervous when the Sifu announced that they will be sparring that day. A culture of prearranged defense and lack of emphasis of sparring has created entire generations of martial arts students who are here more for the “art” than the “martial”. In other words, we have entire generations of students who fear sparring. Sadly, a timid student becomes a timid Sifu, and nothing is worse than a school led by a Sifu who never learned to fight. Even worse than that, however, are students being put into fight competition by a Sifu who does not know how to fight.

To keep it simple, we will offer some solutions in bullet format:

  • Fear of fighting can either come from two places:¬† 1. embarassment from failure (or fear of losing), or 2. fear of getting hurt
  • Fear of failure can be eliminated by drilling techniques, both attack and defense with a partner, in such high numbers, the student actually develops a high level of proficiency with those skills. Often, the lack of confidence is due to one’s realization that he/she has a low level of skill
  • Fear of getting hurt is eliminated by introducing the student to contact gradually. This is accomplished through holding pads during power hitting practice, allowing contact in drills–first lightly, and then increasing the amount allowed gradually. Most people can develop a high pain tolerance level, but the barrier is psychological. As students allow themselves to be hit more and more, they lose the fear of pain as they discover they can take it
  • Giving students ample time in practice for impact training. Too often, Kung Fu training is practiced solo, or students are instructed to pull techniques when face to face. Using a combination of kicking shields, focus mitts, and striking bags and posts–having students hit with power as well as being on the receiving end of the blows will give your fighters more confidence and build up their levels of aggression (referred to in the Jow Ga system as “fighting spirit”)
  • Impact training also leads to another type of confidence. When martial arts students realize the potential for damage with their skills, they also will develop a respect for their knowledge. Martial artists must learn what these arts can do to an opponent so that they do not become reckless with it. Irresponsible students who have never been hit in the jaw may deliver such strikes to opponents and training partners unnecessarily because they are unaware what it feels like. Once they have been on the receiving end, students can then regulate when, where, and how much power to use–as well as when not to use it
  • Do not fear allowing for mistakes in the gym. You cannot protect your students from getting hurt or minor accidents all the time. Let them sort it out themselves; not so much that you have students getting injured daily–but allow them to slip up and get popped. These lessons are valuable and helps to build resistance and pain tolerance
  • Another important source of confidence comes from physical strength. Many Kung Fu schools all but ignore strength-building exercises such as pushups, pull-ups and dips. Doing exercises that build muscular strength gives students powerful limbs and a strong physique, which leads to self-confidence. Although a muscular body is not indicative of fighting skill, it does give students a psychological edge against their opponents and provides physical resistance to injury. Strength of the core also helps the fighters resist injury when being hit
  • When introducing sparring, you consider having students spar with only two or three techniques. For example one student must use punches against opponents who are only allowed to use their right arm and leg to fight with. Be creative. This isolation builds competency quickly, is challenging and gives quick-thinkers an edge over some more physically gifted classmates, and is fun. Additionally, by isolating techniques, your fighters are forced to learn to adapt their skills to a number of attacks
  • Finally, the most basic way to deal with the timid:¬† Simply have them spar more. Gradually, of course, but do it more often. The more your students spar, the less they fear it, and surely, the better they become at it. It’s that simple!

Hopefully, we’ve given you some useful tips and make sure to give your students time to develop. The results won’t come overnight, but if they have had enough time–you will definitely see an improvement.

If you like this or any other article on this blog, please share and spread the word! And remember to subscribe! Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation. We welcome any tips, criticism and comments below.

A Not-So-New Way of Looking at Kung Fu Weapons (Reverse Engineering, pt II)

18 01 2016
Many of you know this weapon. But what do you DO with it? How do you practice with it?

Many of you know this weapon. But what do you DO with it? How do you practice with it?

Going to ask you to step out the box you’re normally in for this one… We’re going to file this article under¬† “Technique and Strategy”, too.

Typically, Kung Fu teachers limit most weapons practice to learning the skills necessary to perform the forms accompanying the weapon properly. I don’t believe this is enough. If one cannot simply learn a form and the basic applications and use them in fighting, why do we think we can do so with the weapons?

Looking at the history of most styles, many of our Si Jo were not experts at many weapons. Without referencing my library or visiting any websites, I recall that founders of systems I’ve read about studied hand techniques and often, only one or two weapons. Yet a century later, the schools teaching their arts often have ten or more weapons in their curriculums. How many of your system’s history also includes a history of each weapon in your curriculum? I’ll give an example using myself. My system speaks of only one weapon/form, in its history the 8 Diagram Pole. Yet Jow Ga–depending on the lineage and school–offers as many as 12 or more weapons and forms. I do pass on to my students however, the story behind four weapons I was taught by him in close detail:¬† the double headed staff, the spear, the broadsword, the three-sectioned staff, and the double daggers. I have learned all the weapons my lineage has, yet these four weapons I know the best because I spent years with my teacher learning them. Training was not just form also. We had diagrams, techniques practice, combinations, I practiced techniques for use against other weapons, applications for the techniques of these weapons to modern “non” weapons, power-generating practice, applications of the techniques to the empty hand, and sparring. When I speak to other Si Hing about their experience with our Sifu, I discovered that these weapons appeared to be his weapons of choice as well. As a young instructor, I received further instruction from my Si Gung on the staff that were quite different from that which I learned from my Sifu, so my students now get a fifth story to add to their Jow Ga history. If you are one of the fortunate ones to still have access to your Sifu, I would highly encourage you to question him about these same things, as often our teachers neglect to give us the source of such knowledge and technology.

Taking our previous discussion about “Reverse Engineering”, (if you hadn’t read it, please read that article so that this one makes more sense) I have a strong suggestion for you. Take one weapon form from your system and give yourself 12 months to deconstruct it. Apply the Reverse Engineering philosophy to that form and weapon, and whatever you come up with make a list into two groups:¬† Group I and Group II. Group I would be the easy, superficial applications that one could surmise by simply learning the form. Start with the first technique in the form, and make your list of techniques all the way to the last. Skip anything that doesn’t actually look like a technique. Then Group II would be the applications that are more difficult (some of these could be techniques that appear in Group I, but are alternative applications) to execute and requires more training and practice. Be sure to include in Group II those things that make no obvious sense; you will work and rework these techniques until you have exhausted all possibility that the techniques are useful. You now have a working curriculum for that weapon.

Allow me to offer what I have done with my Jow Ga weapons training. Perhaps you may see something you like:

  1. Perform your weapon’s form 100 times. Yes, you read that right, 100 times. You should begin any new endeavor within your system with a thorough understanding of what you are doing. This comes in part from a Filipino proverb, that a skill is not learned until it has been performed 500 times. 500 is a lot to ask for an entire Kung Fu form, which is why I am suggesting 100 for starters. I know over 40 forms, yet there are 8 that I have performed 500 times, and two that I have performed 1,000. Doing so will reveal things to you that will escape most people. My Sifu, who died prematurely, had also confided in me that he had performed three forms 100 times in his youth consecutively and he considered himself an expert of those forms. I am merely continuing his research.
  2. Identify all possible techniques into “Group I/Group II” categories. Leave no stone unturned. Make sure that you can easily answer the question, “Sifu, what’s this for?”¬† You would be surprised how many Kung Fu experts cannot answer that question for a good portion of things in their system. Everything has a use; everything has a reason for being there… it’s up to you to discover them. If you can’t answer “why” and “how”, my question is, why do you do it at all?
  3. Identify the basic strikes, blocks, traps, cuts, etc., necessary to form a proper foundation with the weapon. Many of you may have them. Some of you only have them for certain weapons, and only a form or two for others. Dissect the weapon so that you can truly understand them. This list will make up daily practice for those learning the weapon. The same way you perform stance training, punching practice, Chi Sao, impact training, hand conditioning, blocking practice, etc., with the empty hand–you should also have the same regimen offered when students are learning a weapon.
  4. Your curriculum is 50% created; now become a guinea pig. Take your basics, train only those things for 3 months religiously. Focus on those weapons basics in place of what you normally train with for the empty hand in your system. Do your bag work (using the weapon). Do your shadowboxing (using the weapon). Have someone attack you so that you could practice your blocking (using the weapon). Even do some light sparring (using the weapon). Then take your Group I techniques, and train it for 3 months–doing the same as above. And finally, Group II. This will take you a year. Along the way, you should have new items, perhaps some things you want to eliminate or modify. You may even have created new drills. And I bet your skill with this weapon will be second to none. That can be the only outcome!
  5. The new discoveries should now have brought your weapons curriculum at least 25% more information. If not, you’re probably doing something wrong! Add this information to the list…
  6. Teach. Teaching, they say, is 1/3 of Mastery. You cannot class and seminar your way to Mastery; you must at some point, compile all you have learned and pass it on to students who lack your knowledge and skill. At this point, more will be revealed to you as you witness the students undergo the learning process. They will stumble, they will make mistakes, they will ask questions you hadn’t thought of. Where you were once the guinea pig, you now have a classroom full of eager test subjects–so teach!
  7. While they learn, go ahead and do your form 400 more times. In the course of learning, your students will teach you through their own imperfections. This will be a great opportunity to contribute to the evolution of your system and your lineage. After all, who are we but inheritors of our Masters’ work. They have passed it on to us to continue their quest for a more perfect system. Keep training, and by the 500th time you execute that form–I guarantee you will discover things that perhaps your own Sifu had yet found.

This was a 1,300 word article, but it will be a 2-3 year process. Keep this article in your “favorites” folder, and make it a part of your martial arts philosophy. One thing is for sure, if you do it, the next generation of students under you will receive a more potent, concentrated, better-researched version of what you could have given them. If you are satisfied with the outcome, it’s time for yum cha… breathe deep…. pull out a copy of your system’s curriculum. Which weapon’s next?

Life is short. Don’t waste time. There is so much work to do! Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Reverse Engineering in the Art of Kung Fu Application

16 01 2016

It can be said that there are many paths to to success in martial arts, just as there are many roads to a destination. However, one cannot argue that all the paths and roads are created equal and are therefore objective. While you may prefer a particular method to develop proficiency in the martial arts, some methods are better than others. Some deliver more quickly than others. Some bring students to that point with better understanding of the art than other. And, like it or not–some can nearly guarantee great skill, while others can guarantee failure. Instructors must be realistic and honest in their approach to martial arts instruction. Perhaps you do not like form or fighting; but to dissuade students to ascribe to your approach and deny them the opportunity to decide for themselves is simply unfair and unethical. A good example of this are Sifus who were not proficient in sparring as young men, so as a teacher he tells his students that sparring leads to bad habits or worse:¬† Sparring is unnecessary. Rather than deal with the stress of facing to himself that he left some stones in his martial arts training unturned and fixing his short comings, it was easier to pretend that his failures were unimportant. Therefore, by convincing himself that sparring is unimportant or even unproductive, Sifu So-n-So could ignore that underdeveloped skill and not have to deal with it when producing new martial arts students.

One may observe that in the Chinese martial arts, we have many Sifu who do not have fighting/sparring skill and therefore do not teach it. And as the saying goes, there are many paths to the destination so we will deal with a road often ignored by many of today’s Sifu–even those who can fight.

Reverse Engineering

This is one of those paths that I’m referring to. How most Kung Fu practitioners practice, they divide training into possibly three or four areas. One might be basics. Stances, punches, blocks, kicks. Here, one would have their system’s drills and specialized skills like Chi Sao or Sam Sing/Chut Sing. The second would be forms practice. Learn the forms, then practice the performance of those forms. Tighten up your movements, pauses, foowork, jumps and sweeps. Mostly, in this second area, you are practicing to win a forms competition in a tournament. For many in the TCMAs, this takes up the bulk of your training time, and includes weapons. Sadly, when it comes to weapons, this appears to be the ONLY place Kung Fu people allow their weapons to be used. Weapons practice is rarely applied in any of the other areas. Empty hand forms, however, may see some applications extracted and practiced in the first phase, depending on the taste of the instructor. The third area is conditioning and fitness. As I get to visit more and more Kung Fu schools, I find that often this is thrown into the warm-up phase of practice or a part of the group class format, and little else is done in this area. It appears that superior conditioning, extreme body strength and flexibility is not as important to many of us, outside of what might be done in the course of a regular Kung Fu class. The fourth area, if utilized at all, is sparring practice. This should be integrated in some way with the other three areas, but most often it is not. This is the place that “Kung Fu” practice no longer looks like “Kung Fu”, and transforms into a quasi-kickboxing style training or point karate. You might find a few style-recognizable techniques thrown in here and there, like a trap or wheel punch or sweep. But more often than not, everything from the first three areas is abandoned for “practical” kung fu. In other words, “what works”.

The Reverse Engineers have a fifth phase, however, which is named after themselves. This phase is where the Sifu takes techniques directly from the form, extracts techniques and fits them into situations a fighter may find himself and applies techniques to those situations–whether or not it was the original purpose of the technique. Regardless of what your Sifu may have told you, the Kung Fu system as we know it is most likely between 100 and 200 years old. Few of us are actually training in a system that has been untouched or unmodified prior to that. (I’m going to refrain from my opinion that most Kung Fu styles are in fact 100 years or less in age, because I’d like to keep you as readers. Perhaps we may visit that theory at another time)¬† During the time these systems were created, many technological advances had not been made. For example the sparring glove, headgear, weight lifting, the jab, the punching combination or the one-legged/two-legged takedown. Does that mean we should ignore those things? So your system only addresses chambered punches aimed at the chest and has no built-in defenses from a rear naked choke or jab-cross combinations or hook punches… is there nothing in the style that can be used for those purposes?

This is where Reverse Engineering comes in. The forms in your system are broken down into core techniques and themed techniques. Those techniques and trained, studied, dissected and absorbed into your regularly-accessed arsenals. So when the opponent uses techniques not addressed by your system:¬† How to deal with a Spinning Heel Kick or a Tackle–you have something in your system’s first form that is perfect to stop it. Now, the entire system is dissected this way and modifications are found and created so that every possibility imaginable is addressed by something within your system’s forms. This reduces the need to cross train, combine arts, or abandon. In my opinion, this is the higher level of Kung Fu training, because it takes your system to a place that perhaps your own Sifu, his Sifu, or even your system’s founder–has not investigated. Rather than add more forms and more styles to your arsenal, you find new ways to apply and adapt the system and techniques you already know, thus adding an additional dimension to your style. Even a whole new set of techniques that your ancestors and senior were previously unaware. Using this philosophy, you take your first, second and fourth area of training, and join them with the fifth.

The Dean Chin Jow Ga lineage has in fact, incorporated some outside styles, forms and techniques to enhance our Jow Ga–but we are most certainly Reverse Engineers in this way. If you are not, before knocking it, give it a shot. You might like what you discover when you do so, regardless of the style you practice.

Or you could skip it and chalk forms practice off as “done for tradition/entertainment purposes only”, and go back to doing your Muay Thai and BJJ, while still calling yourself a “kung fu guy”. Not that there is anything wrong with it; like we always say–there are many paths….

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Conflict in the Kung Fu Style… (aka “How Lineages Split”)

9 01 2016

A theme you may hear oft-repeated on this blog will the recurring idea that innovation–or breaking from tradition–is in fact, a very traditional tradition in the Chinese martial arts. The main idea behind this statement is that every new style and new lineage began with one master learning an art (or several), and thinking, “I bet I can come up with something better”.¬† It isn’t disrespectful, as many would imply. It isn’t arrogant, although some may argue that the Si Jo was too immature or inexperienced to start/create his own style. This may be true, but if you go back in time, and look up your own heroes and the Grandmasters you follow and admire–you just might notice that many of these men did so after only 2-3 years of study, and were often in their early 20s. Some were mere teens!

Add to that the fact that every time a man steps out on his own to do something new, there will be 25 detractors saying it cannot be done. And this is why we all know who the great Kung Fu founders and Grandmasters are, but we most often cannot name their Si Hing or other classmates. History remembers the daring, the courageous, the different. Remember that.

On the other side, let’s look at the inverse to this notion… When new styles and lineages are not positive. We hear of it every day in the West. Master dies, leaving five senior students behind. Yet rather than a powerful organization with five leaders, or four leaders backing a named new senior–we find that many once-great Kung Fu families become splintered trees of many branches, often with all five students claiming to be the new Grandmaster. Or worse–each of the five claiming that the other four lack knowledge, “true” art that Sifu only taught the one, disassociation, etc.

Why does this happen? Why was everyone strong when Sifu was alive and now no one is on the same page? Let’s look at some of the causes.

  1. No clear hierarcy of who is senior to whom. Often, as teachers we do not like to name a clear, definite lineage rank structure. Who do you rank higher? The guy who got their first? The student twenty years later who was the best fighter? The guy who wasn’t the best fighter or the first to walk through the door, but was most loyal? The guy who learned the most? The one you were closest to? Your son? If you do not name a successor that everyone agrees with and will respect when you are alive, don’t expect them to do it when you are dead. Add to this phenomena a money-generating business system–you’re lack of clarity is sure to cause friction. And here is the important part:¬† If you do name a successor, it is your job to make sure that this successor truly is the lion in the room, and he must be a wise, admired, respected lion at that. There is nothing worse than having a senior in the presence of juniors who know they can demolish him, except having a senior that the juniors can defeat–whom they also do not like nor look up to. Leadership must come with respect and admiration. As the Master, you must ensure that the man/woman you name is capable of handling that role in as many capacities as the role requires. Some may argue that fighting skill is irrelevant. I beg to differ; this is the martial arts–not a college fraternity.
  2. Rank structure unclear. There is a difference between hierarchy and rank structure. In the Chinese martial arts, we often do not have clearly defined rank structures. Something we often question each other is proof of that:¬† Not “What rank are you?”, but “What form are you on?”¬† If the form a student is learning happens to actually reflect your school’s rank structure–adhere to it, and never stray. I have seen teachers show favoritism and violate their own system’s rank/form list, and it led to all sorts of problems. The result? Guys who know three forms who were far better in skill than other classmates who knew ten. Consistently training students who attended classes for five years being outranked (forms-wise) than junior classmates who attended sporadically. Trust me, years later when they are both grown Sifu, neither will respect the other. “I outranked you although you’re my senior”, but the other saying “You were teacher’s pet but I always could whip you…”¬† Bottom line, create a rank structure, adhere to it, and make ALL students pay their dues whether you like them more than the others or not, adding this:¬† Make sure SKILL reflects RANK. Don’t let one slip through just because they’ve been around, it will backfire.
  3. Have a plan or schedule of events for your school’s/system’s growth. This is huge. For many, especially in the Chinese martial arts, we do not strategize, nor do we define “growth”. Growth can equate to the number of schools. It can also refer to the number of people who have seen our styles and students. It can refer to the number of alliances we have. Political accomplishments. Community functions. The influence and impact our schools have on the local community. The amount of respect our system and school receives from other martial artists. The number of tournaments and other accolades won by our students. Or one that many CMA teachers do not seem very concerned with:¬† The actual skill of your students’ Kung Fu. Being Sifu, Grandmaster, local system leader–you must be more than simply a “certified” Kung Fu man. You need to be more than just Chinese, or Chinese-speaking. You must have a vision for your system, and everyone under you should know what that vision is, and be guided by your vision as well as your plan to get there. When a ship has been circling the ocean endlessly and the crew realize that the ship’s Captain doesn’t know where they are going–it is inevitable, they will mutiny and one will take hold of the rudder. Don’t be that Sifu. Your students will follow you to the ends of the Earth, but you must assure them that there is a pot of gold at the end of the journey. I myself do not follow my system’s leader, I follow two of my Si Hing whom I admire and believe in, and trust their knowledge, leadership and vision. Is it traditional or disrespectful to my system? To be honest, it doesn’t matter. I want to see my system grow and be respected, and I found these two to have the vision that aligns with my dreams. Styles grow when there are luminaries at the head. They do not when no one is holding a compass.
  4. If you are the leader of your system or school, you must have the qualities of a leader. A. You must have integrity. If people do not trust your honesty and sincerity, they will not follow you. They must have a good feeling when you speak, or they will not follow you–even if they may be mistaken. Greasy personalities need not apply. B. You must be unselfish. You must put the organization ahead of yourself, and want the organization to be for the masses, not yourself. If you spend all your time talking about the system, good. If you spend all your time talking about yourself, bad. You can be a good man, likeable and honest, but as a leader, people will not follow you. Even if it were true–you cannot allow yourself to be seen as narcissistic; it’s off-putting. C. You want the system and school to outlive you. Don’t plan for retirement, unless you are actively grooming a successor for years. Too many masters are so wrapped up in themselves and their leadership, they fail to prop up their students. My Sifu always put us out to demonstrate his art. When he died, most of us were well-known in the community and all of our schools were successful because we each had intact reputations built by him shining the spotlight on us. By contrast, I know a master who rarely put his students out. He was the center of attraction of all his demonstrations, he never introduced his seniors to other masters, and when he relocated (eventually passing a decade later)–no one knew who his students were and their schools were relatively unknown, although they had been around for nearly 20 years. D. You cannot love money, ego, pride, or power. Make up your mind–either you are a Kung Fu master, or you are a businessman. Yes, it is possible to be both. However, the system benefits most from a leader who does not sacrifice the integrity of his art to line his pockets, boost his ego, feed his pride, or increase his power. One cannot be slave to two masters, and if anything is competing with your love for your martial arts, just as it would competing with your wife–one will be neglected and unattended. You know what happens to unattended loves right? Someone comes along and takes it away. E. You must be a master at psychology and relationships. Funny story. All my life, I grew up thinking that I was my grandfather’s favorite grandson. I loved him deeply, and to this day can barely talk about him without feeling emotional. Everything about my life after his death, I’ve done with him in mind. Out of his grandsons, everyone says I look the most like him. I have his mannerisms, his temper, his uniqueness, and his love for the martial arts. At a family function a shortly after his death, I was distributing some of his belongings to my cousins because I wanted them to have something to remember him by. After all, I was his favorite grandson. To my surprise, most of them HAD items. I mentioned that they could take a few more, as my father convinced me not to be selfish with my Lolo even if I were in fact, the favorite grandson. Well, guess what? One of my cousins broke it down to me with one rather juvenile, but profound statement:¬† Dummy, we ALL were his favorite grandson. How about that? Every kid of my generation grew up feeling like some special Golden Child, because my grandfather made us think that we were each extra talented, extra smart, bound for greatness–because we held a title no other boy on Earth shared: I was his favorite grandson, and boy I tell you–I felt invincible. Each one of us who came from this poor, illiterate martial arts teaching farmer went on to foreign soil to do something big. He was the master of psychology, able to balance the jealousy and competitiveness of more than 30 grandchildren and inspired us to do big things. <—-¬† Now take that example, Sifu, and do the same with your students. And find a way to do it where they do not fight, but love each other and support each other.

In the absence of effective leadership, the students will lead themselves. If styles splinter and relationships sour, it is often an indication that leadership failed to keep everyone reaching for the same goals. Sure, they can all travel different paths to the same goal–just another route–but a system’s leadership can keep all branches of that system or lineage tight as a single unit. Not necessarily as one big martial arts school, however, but as a family of many schools representing the same Ga supporting each other and their goals. This is the difference I see between many Tae Kwon Do schools for example, and Kung Fu schools. TKD schools will come together to promote each other’s events and functions, they bind together for “Master Club” memberships where your school’s premier membership will allow you to train at other TKD schools–even in other states, I have seen 10, 15 TKD schools purchase thousands of uniforms as a single unit to get a good quality, heavyweight uniform for under $10! If you take your system’s lineage, add up all the schools and all the students–we would have a small army. Imagine if that small army had powerful leadership, what they could accomplish.

One last thing, please do not confuse this article with a criticism of students who branch off to open schools. That is not my intent. I am merely making a statement of a system’s leader being unable to keep all the branches tightly together as one family unit. Perhaps your system or lineage does not have one leader in your country. You could start one beginning with you, or pull together as many of your Kung Fu brothers and sisters to start one. Hopefully, this article can help you get started with leadership.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.