Kung Fu’s “Missing Link”, pt II (True Kung Fu Tournaments)

16 09 2016

The folks over at New York Sanda have an article appropriately entitled “Why Can’t Johnny Fight?”  When you get a chance, I recommend you mosey over there and take a look at their blog–which have lots more good information besides just that article. I enjoyed the article, which is addressing a theme we repeat often on this site–that Kung Fu people have to engage in combat and combat training more than we have been doing. Every TCMA community has its heavy hitters. But the problem is that each local Chinese martial arts community only has one or two. Now if you compare the percentage of Kung Fu schools to other styles that are known for being superior in fighting and self defense, you’ve got to admit that we are terribly lacking. And please spare us the speech about martial arts not being for fighting (or the one I like so much about you having nothing to prove). You know and we know it. We just don’t talk about it.

In a nutshell, Sifu Ross is referring to this tournament, called the “Tru to Form” format which in its defense is an attempt to get Kung Fu fighters to use the techniques in their respective systems in fighting. Sifu Kristoff Clarke gave a passionate speech at a tournament that went viral in the martial arts community a few years back, and most people agree with him. When you compare competitors at a tournament, very few show any signs of the systems they are supposed to be representing. Why do you suppose–if these arts are indeed practical–do Kung Fu stylists do boxing, Muay Thai and Jujitsu when they fight? Is it because those arts don’t work? I don’t think so. I think it’s something much simpler; in my opinion, many of the folks who are teaching have not explored their arts enough to see, not if they work, but how they work.

Let’s use an analogy. We have Mike, a landloving beach nut who’s never actually been to the beach. He’s read all kinds of books about what goes on the beach. He collects all sorts of fishing rods, swimwear, surfboards, and what not. He has watched all the movies about divers, swimmers, tunes into the Olympics, can describe all types of swimming strokes and marine life… you name it. Only thing is, Mike has never been to the beach. He did go to the river one time, got in and got water up his nose. Never again, he swears, this shit was not fun–plus, this isn’t like, a real beach. The river sucks. He is so enamored with the beach, he listens only to the Beach Boys, walks around town in his swim shorts and goggles, and will argue how that one Navy Seals movie is fake because the actors they used aren’t even real sailors. He is as true a Beach Bum as one has ever known.

But one day, Mike gets to fulfill his dream. He moves to the ocean and opens a swim school, which also has a well-equipped beginner-to-pro fishing program. One day, he takes his advanced swimming class to the ocean for a popular race.

Not only does Mike’s students LOSE the race, half of them nearly drown.

(Story over)

So what went wrong? Did Mike not study the right swimmers? Were his students the wrong build for swimming? Was the pesky rules of the damned tournament? Can a swim tournament really determine if a guy is a good swimmer or not? Mike not only knows the Back Stroke, the Doggy Paddle–he’s made up seven more strokes! He studied all the masters!

Back to reality, let me just say that every martial arts style has its merits. They all work. The techniques can be applied against an opponent in a real match or fight and protect the fighter who trains in them. But the missing link is that, like Mike–the teacher himself has not used these techniques in even simulated combat, so how is he going to give proper instruction in using them? Mike knew how to swim and fish–but since he had never gotten the water to do it himself, since he never felt the pull of a fish tugging at his bait–he can’t teach a fishing student the difference between a nibble and a bite, or a hard current that felt like a fish. Yes, you don’t have to fight to know a technique, but there are many details about that technique you could never teach a student if you have no experience using them yourself. Monkey See, Monkey Do is the wrong way to teach self-defense. If you’ve ever wondered why you could take three years of high school Spanish and not be able to order dinner–yet a three year old could spend the summer with Abuela and come home speaking fluent Spanish–you’d understand. That difference is this:  There is a difference between learning to perform an art and learning to use an art. I can teach all the vocabulary in a language, but until you get into the trenches and actually use that language you’ll only be good at impressing nonspeakers and friends who can’t tell the difference between Spanish and Portuguese (or Kung fu and Karate).

Here’s some food for thought… It is understandable that many of you have schools and have never fought using these arts. You may even be a fighter, but you drew from Karate and Boxing because perhaps you know your Sifu was not a fighting guy. Some of you use your athletic prowess, your size, or your reputation to succeed in fighting or avoid fighting altogether. If you truly want your students to evolve your art further than your teacher, or even further than you took it yourself–here is a simple, but difficult suggestion:  You must extract techniques and concepts from your system, train your students in them (not just teach, but actually train and drill them), then throw them in the ocean with non-Kung Fu fighters to see your system in action. Let’s be realistic; most of you won’t go enter tournaments or sparring Round Robins at 45-50 years old. Understandable. But don’t fool your students the way our hypothetical friend Mike fooled his students. Put them in front of foreign styles and systems, have them do what you taught them, study the action–and accept the outcome of the matches, whether your guys win or lose. Perhaps the #1 reason Kung Fu guys don’t go to Karate tournament isn’t because those tournaments have rules–Kung Fu tournaments have rules. It isn’t because tournaments aren’t “real” fights. It isn’t because they can’t use deadly tournaments. It’s because they are afraid–just as you are afraid. Not afraid you’ll get hurt, you are afraid of losing. You don’t want to have students become discouraged, and bring shame on your school and/or your style. You don’t want students to feel like their training is a waste of time; and they now have the same fear their Sifu had. It’s time for that to end. You don’t need boxing. Sure, there are many things you can learn from boxers. They have a well-developed training regimen that could be used to enhance traditional martial arts. Just don’t rely on it for your combat readiness. Take the time and explore your system deeper. Be more courageous and get out there with strangers and bang–or put your students out there. And important stage in your growth as a Sifu is to develop your own ideas in the art you study and actually study how it stands up against other ideas and styles. Once you’ve seen the results, don’t make excuses why they failed or fell short. Just adopt what you’ve observed and they’ve learned. Modify, test, execute. Wash, rinse, repeat.

So perhaps your art has that missing link. Don’t pass that handicap down to your students.

Sifu Clarke is an old friend of mine. When I met him, he had challenged my Si Hing to a sparring match, and then ended up training with us for a while. He is a sincere, dedicated martial artist. I get his point. Unfortunately, many Sifus and Masters who get his point just don’t have the knowledge and experience base to represent his concept well. Traditional Chinese Martial Arts has been around too long to be a laughing stock, so I expect this next generation to come out with a vengeance and make these arts look good–without “sleeping with the enemy”…  😉


Thank you for visiting the Dean Chin Jow Ga Federation. Kristo