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

4 06 2016

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

 

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

1:  an illegitimate child

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.





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.

 

 





Secret #4 to Perfecting Your Kung Fu Skill

12 12 2015

If you want to travel quickly, go alone.

If you want to travel far, go together.

–Kenyan Proverb

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

To recap:

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

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

SECRET #4 TO PERFECTING YOUR KUNG FU SKILL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.





Tempering Your Kung Fu (Dojo-Busting)

2 09 2015

There is an ongoing debate in the Chinese Martial Arts world–in America, particularly–about what direction Kung Fu needs to go towards. I don’t live in a town with many real Kung Fu schools (there are only about 5 or so), and out of those schools none fight on the circuit where I would meet and bond with them. Over the years, and recently on social media, I have engaged in this discussion with enthusiasm.

My philosophy is the same now as it was in the late 1980s when I began teaching Jow Ga:  Kung Fu people must modernize their view of their martial arts.

Notice I said we must modernize our view, and not modernize our styles.

Lately, I’ve come to enjoy another blog discussing the Chinese martial arts, NY Sanda–run by Master David Ross. He is a student of the late Master Chan Tai San, practicing Choy Lay Fut, Lama Pai, Bak Mei and Jow Ga. Sifu Ross is one I consider to have kept up with the times. I approach my modernizing slightly differently than he does, but I do not disagree with any of his methods. When you get a chance, make sure to get over there and see what he is up to. He is a Sifu that I believe if a challenger walked in his door, that challenger would be leaving with some body parts rearranged. We can’t say that about too many Kung Fu teachers.

When I say that we should modernize our view, I am referring to how we treat our arts. How we train, and what goals we set for the fighting skills we teach, are vital to whether our arts are outdated or useful. Too often, Kung Fu practitioners value their arts by how many forms they know, how well they perform a form, or how popular/famous they or their teacher is. But Kung Fu is not measured in those things in the mind of a non-practitioner. We do our systems a disservice when we cannot easily relay what we do to a non-martial artist in terms they understand. The non-CMA guy doesn’t care who our master was, how popular our style is in other countries, where we got write ups.

In the modern world, the usefulness of a Kung Fu school is measured by:

  1. Combat usefulness on the street or the ring
  2. Its relevance for health–REAL benefits like weight loss, lifestyle changes, mental health benefits, and repairing/healing the body
  3. Works the Kung Fu school has done for the community. Not for paying students, but the community. Basically, does your school’s presence benefit those who are NOT members?
  4. How the students’ experience in your school has enhanced their lives once they are no longer attending classes
  5. The respect other martial artists will have for your lineage and your system after encountering you and your students

Some things to talk about and consider. Ponder on this, and I will expound in the next few articles. I estimate this to be at least a five-part series.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

 





Stance Training Form – Strong but Mobile (Master Deric Mims)

12 01 2015
From left to right:  Masters Reza Momenan, Master Deric Mims, and Master Hon Lee

From left to right: Masters Reza Momenan, Master Deric Mims, and Master Hon Lee

Senior Jow Ga Sifu Deric Mims, out of all of the Dean Chin students, was perhaps our lineage’s secret weapon. He is a unique character in American Jow Ga history, because unlike all the original Full Instructors, Sifu Mims joined following his mother. Other Jow Ga members–Howard Davis, Chris Henderson, Stephanie Dea and a few others–followed their fathers and older brothers; Deric’s mother was an advanced student of Dean Chin and one of his original “fighting women”, as I recall him saying. In the American Kung Fu community, Jow Ga stood out due to the fact that our school’s foundation was not standing on Chinese community members–but mostly African American and Latino–many female students who were just as good, just as strong as the men, and put out fighters rather than forms competitors. Sifu Mims had an eye for detail, perhaps better than Sifu Chin himself, and under his direction, Jow Ga students could do more than fight–Jow Ga students could present our forms well while adhering to the standards any self-respecting fighter would have for himself. Some of Jow Ga’s best forms competitors owed their skill to Sifu Deric without compromising the combative nature of Jow Ga.

Few Jow Ga websites make reference to Deric Mims for various reasons, but no one can deny that without his instruction and his ideas–DC Jow Ga might have become just another Kung Fu fighting school whose forms no one notices. Often, schools that focus on fighting perform their system’s forms poorly. To do both well is rarely found in the community. Unfortunately, the Chinese Martial Arts community has yet to evolve to a level where an African American Sifu can be recognized as a Master without making a movie or promoting himself in media. For this reason, I refer to Deric Mims as a best-kept secret in Jow Ga–if American Jow Ga can be categorized into sublineages, Sifu Mims’ Jow Ga has its own identity and uniqueness due to his talent. One cannot give a proper history of DC Jow Ga without paying homage to him and his leadership. About 5 years before his death, Sifu Chin named Deric the Jow Ga Association’s President and senior instructor. He ran the promotion exams. He conducted the business of the school, making Jow Ga a professional organization. He oversaw demonstrations, tournament performance, and kept the lights on. Even if Jow Ga members did not attend Sifu Mims’ classes, we were all impacted by his mark on the system.

One of those major contributions is the Stance Training Form, or as some would call it–the “Stepping Form”.

The Stance Training Form was a foundation form Sifu Mims created to teach basic footwork, balance, and movement to new students. Regardless of one’s prior experience, this routine taught our basic stances and how those stances are used in movement–from advancing in short bursts as well as full steps, to retreating, to hopping, twisting, sinking, rising, and flanking. No student could touch our first form without first learning it. Few schools pay this kind of attention to footwork and foundation, other than learning to hold stances. In Jow Ga, whose head is Hung and tail is Choy, one must incorporate strong stances even while in motion. Few Kung Fu practitioners can do this. By observing any forms division in the TCMA community, from beginner to advanced, you may notice that forms might open with low stances and close with low stances. But stances will be high and mostly non-existent, save for a few pauses and poses. Not so with Jow Ga foundational training. Even our strongest fighters will have solid stances. And stances must be strong, but mobile–unlike many who teach that footwork would be strong OR mobile…

Not many Jow Ga schools today utilize the Stance Training Form due to philosophical or business reasons. However, a few have preserved the form, including mine (Maurice Gatdula). The video below is our version of this form, with a few changes and the addition of the “Wheel Punch Form”, also choreographed by Sifu Mims, at the end of the form. Jow Ga students in this lineage must train the form for 9 months to a year and be able to perform the routine ten times in one set before moving on to Siu Fook Fu (Small Subduing Tiger), our first form.

Stay tuned, Jow Ga students, as the Federation will be releasing a DVD soon teaching this form. Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

 





The “Tools” of Kung Fu Weapons

21 12 2014

Sam Jeet

Attend any open tournament and one would probably find that “Chinese Style Weapons” is possibly the most interesting division. Our schools are decorated with them. Any CMA style has a larger variety of them than most other systems. As students, we are excited at the thought of learning each new, exotic weapon as we progress through the ranks.

But what purpose does learning these arts serve? Besides the obvious “cool” factor, what is the practical benefit to learning the kwan dao, the gim, the sern bin, the sam jit gwun? If you’re like the rest of us, you have the canned answer that “learning all these weapons allows the kung fu man to pick up any object and use it for self-defense purposes”. Come on, you know you say it. Hell, most of our Sifus put it on flyers. Some of you probably added, “–have you seen a Jackie Chan movie?” (lol)

Mostly, I agree with you. Learning such weapons as the steel whips, the double dagger, and the humble-but-king-of-weapons:  the lowly staff–will give the martial artist a foundation that will enable almost anything in his hand to turn you into a one man tornado of death. 🙂  However, we must add that it won’t be automatic. The way most of us practice weapons actually won’t give you those butt-kicking skills. You might be offended, but the way most of us were trained, you probably can’t even pick up a broadsword and kick someone’s butt with it. It’s all in how you actually view these weapons.

If you look at kung fu weaponry the way a mechanic views his tools, then you are on the right track. Unfortunately, most martial artists do not. We see a Kung Fu weapon as a cheerleader’s baton, or a set of pom-poms. Some of you treat your three sectioned staffs as musical instruments–the floor is the drum, and your weapon as drumsticks. When looking at Traditional Chinese Martial Arts weapons demonstrations, there will always be someone asking the perplexing question, “Yeah, but can you fight?”

(pause)

Well, can you?

Looking at how most TCMA practitioners practice with their weapons, an actual match with the weapon would leave the average Kung Fu man stumped. Honestly, most of us have NEVER sparred with our weapons. We know forms with the weapons. We can “demonstrate” (quotation marks added for emphasis) application, as long as our partner doesn’t actually try to attack us. But fight with these things, we’ve never really done. So we are relying on the same thing as the McDojo students with our supposed ability with our skill… We hope these skills will work, but in reality we don’t actually know. Because of the price on these weapons, we don’t even practice our 2-man sets with any real intent. You and I both know, if you’ve actually done a 2 man set with intensity, that going through the form ONCE with power and intensity you’ll completely ruin a good set of weapons.

When a mechanic learns to change an alternator, he knows the first thing he should do is to test the alternator before telling a customer to spend his money. His knowledge of other skills within the automechanic field will help him do this, in the same way a Kung Fu man must have knowledge of other skills in fighting and combat will enhance his ability to use his weapons. The mechanic knows that he must disconnect his battery for a reason. He must have certain tools on hand to loosen bolts, to pry the alternator from it’s space, to remove the belt… Some tools will have various uses in varying stages of the work. And each vehicle will have a different process to the job, although the outcome may be the same.

For the martial artist, there are universal principles with the weapon. There are some techniques that are emphasized for specific weapons, just as there are techniques that cannot or should not be used with those weapons. Some skills can be applied to other weapons; some cannot. Skill with each weapon must be learned, trained and developed individually. Skills with the Kwan Dao may seem like those of the Cheung, but knowing how to use to the Kwan does not mean you are skilled with the spear. A slash with the gim is very different from a slash with the dao. You must understand the nuances and intricasies of each weapon. They are different weapons that require specialized skill, and although they may complement each other–they are separate, yet related, skills. For the martial artist to simply learn a weapons form as an item on his system’s curriculum without deep insight, training and research is to do one’s system a disservice. Form is not enough.

I would like to offer some tips to assist you in your search for more understanding of your system’s weapons:

  • Divide your weapons form into attacks, defenses, and counterattacks. Some techniques may have alternative applications and uses
  • Identify foundation skills with that weapon. For example, the 8 attacks with the Staff, three pokes with the Spear, and five blocks with the short swords. These foundational skills must be trained regularly and individually as skills–not just as part of the form
  • Practice the foundation skills more than you practice the form
  • Identify uses for your weapon in combat:  to break bones, to throw the opponent, to stab organs, to cut or destroy limbs, to disarm the opponent, to destroy the opponent’s weapon… These things are your weapon’s “tools”
  • Find a simulated way to practice your weapons, so that you can beat the weapon up without having to replace a $200 sword every few weeks. One suggestion is to use toy plastic bats for your double broadswords
  • Speaking of double broadswords, have you ever struck anything full power with yours? I have, and it taught me a lot about the use of that weapon. Try it, and you will find that there are many intricasies to learn when employing your weapon full power. A fight is the wrong place to discover how difficult it is to swing a weapon with bad intentions
  • Find an Eskrima tournament, a Cold Steel tournament, an SCA event, or a Chanbara tournament. These are some great places to put your weapons ability to the test without getting hurt, and can be eye-opening. There are people who have one-upped the TCMA community with weapons skills, we really need to get out there and find out what I’m talking about
  • Put together some safe sparring in your schools for your students to try out their weapons skills. It’s another level to aspire to in the martial arts, and many of us are unaware that this level even exists
  • Bridge the gap between what works in sparring and what’s found in your form. Believe it or not, the gap in the Chinese martial arts is actually very small. Most of what is in our systems works; we just need to discover how they work. Getting a feel for these weapons in an environment other than a choreographed form

Many schools have a very good grasp on the use of weapons for fighting. Overall, I believe that the Wing Chun community and the Choy Lay Fut community have done a very good job of doing so with their weapons work. For most of us, we have limited our knowledge and skill to simply the skill of performing a form–and there is so much more in the arts than that. Please take this advice and discover for yourself a whole new world within the Chinese martial arts, even if you realize that you may be a novice… and take your Kung Fu to another level.

Thanks for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.





Clouding Your Kung Fu Mind

11 12 2014

A conversation I have often had with Kung Fu practitioners is that I lament the diluting of Chinese martial artists these days. In the traditional Chinese martial arts–the TCMAs–we have two extremes in modern times. On one hand, there are the highly idealistic practitioners who teach exactly as they learned it without modifying or modernizing anything. They practice only forms, fight from a cat stance if they fight at all, and basically have no idea how to fill the needs of the average person seeking self defense. At the far right of this discussion, we have the SanDa/San Shou practitioner who loves to fight. Regardless of what system he studies, his entire repertoire looks exactly like every other fighter at the events he frequents. He may be a Tong Long student, a Hung Gar student, a Wing Chun student–but in the gym he looks like a Muay Thai guy. Kung Fu just doesn’t seem to be Kung Fu anymore.

But somewhere in the middle there are the rest of us, who do a mixture of traditional training and modern methods. We shadowbox, we do roadwork for our wind, but we also practice our Sei Ping Ma, Chi Sao and use the all metal Kwan Do for our strength training. Our forms may have a little extra zing in it, based on our taste and research as modern students of the art. We may do our techniques with the fist rather than the Fu Jow because it seems more practical. We may have boxed for a few months to gain an understanding on how that style of fighting works–and then import those lessons to our Choy Lay Fut.

All those things are good, but please, don’t cloud your Kung Fu mind, or you run the risk of diluting your system.

Before I get jumped on by the guys at the Kung Fu online forums, here’s a test:

Can YOU fight using only techniques from your system’s first form? No jabs, no round house kcks, no clinching… Just the techniques from your first form’s techniques?

If not, read on.

This is my point. Many of us love our systems and we have a few bread and butter techniques that we hold dear to. Most of us, however, have almost nothing in the form that we actually use in sparring or street fighting. Those of us who can fight, most likely use what every other guy uses. We have boxing punches, Muay Thai kicks, and jujitsu takedowns. Our mind simply cannot wrap itself around the idea of taking our classical techniques and fighting a mugger at the ATM with them or taking them into the ring. I have a Si Hing who was a boxer before joining Jow Ga, and he used his background in applying his Jow Ga. I respect him, I honor him and his version of Jow Ga, but I believe there is another level that the art could have been taken to and that is where I arrived to this philosophy. Chinese martial arts systems are very valid forms of fighting and they really don’t need to be cross pollinated with other styles of fighting. To do so is not bad; I do it myself. But I understand that there is a dimension that I must strive for and for the last ten years, my personal journey in Jow Ga has been guided by this idea. Any system’s first form can be broken down into bite-sized pieces of gold and used in fighting without any help from outside systems. The hard part is making it happen. Once you do so, you will understand your system better than most other practitioners. Give yourself six months of foreign system-free training, and see where it takes you.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.