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!

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.



When the Si Dai Becomes the Si Hing…

1 01 2016

Should we change? The philosophy, that is. On one hand, we might consider our Si Hing, to always be our Si Hing. On the other hand, shouldn’t we recognize when our Junior classmate has surpassed us?

Put strictly into family terms, your older brother will always be your older brother. Even if your older brother drops out of high school and you continue on to college, he is still your older brother. You may graduate from college, go to law school, become an attorney–and he is still your older brother. You go to him for advice, he chastizes you on your neglectful ways, your womanizing, perhaps your drinking, your arrogance–and you take it, despite that you make more money, you have more status, you are more educated… But he is your older brother, you love and respect him, and deep down you know he is right.

But what about this:  You and your older brother both are hired at the same company. He is your supervisor, but you are in school and finish. You then are promoted to a supervisor, and years later, you become his manager. At home, he is older brother, but for at least 8 hours a day–YOU are the man. Awkward situation.

In the martial arts school, especially in Chinese systems where we do not use belts or such ranks–it’s a little stickier. One may elect to keep training and bypass rank promotions, while others pursue rank. Not much different than education or rank in the military, I suppose–but similarily, you may find that one day a once-junior will become senior to you or vice versa. In some cases, there is the thin line of what ranks you actually possess or what titles to use. This is a very real dilemma in the Chinese arts, because the ranks are not as cut-and-dry as in belt-granting traditions like Karate. Our relationships are much more personal. We actually refer to our classmates as “brothers” and “sisters”, and unlike many systems where Black belt is granted in 3 years and new instructors move out shortly after to open schools–the Kung Fu family remains together sometimes for decades. When I run into an old boxing gym mate from 20 years ago, whether I was better than he or not, I can great him as easily as saying, “Jose! How are you, fool?” Not so for us Kung Fu guys–I have a Jow Ga classmate named Jose, and I can only fix my mouth to call him “Si Hing”, although I have outranked him since I was perhaps 15 or 16 years old.

Through social media, I have reconnected with some old Jow Ga brothers from decades ago who were simply “Si Hing” in 1986, but a year later in 1987 I had learned the final form on our curriculum and was given permission to teach a few years later. I was then “Sifu”, and have been for over twenty years. Upon reconnecting, I never hesitated to address any of my old Si Hing as “Si Hing”. However, on occasion, one will forget that I am a full instructor of Jow Ga–and he quit as a beginner–and want to chastize or correct me on Jow Ga matters…

Um, I don’t think so.

And so, we arrive at the point of this article. When our schools were built, our traditions and customs were established, the notion that we would “reconnect” with old si hings may not have been significant enough to create a standard operating procedure. I have never been told how to communicate with any Si Hing I may one day have conflict with, as I’m sure most of you reading this blog haven’t either. I have not done much traveling and interacting with many other Kung fu schools outside of a competitive nature, so perhaps there is already a tradition in place. But for the purpose of furthering a system, building stronger Kung Fu families–it may be a good idea for Kung Fu leaders to establish protocols and traditions to govern how we conduct ourselves among each other, within this family, within this system.

Every system, lineage and geographical branch of a Kung Fu family has it’s “leader” or seniors. But leadership has to be more than simply the oldest guy or the first to join. Quite often, the senior is not the most qualified, he is not the best skilled, he may not be the most knowledgeable, he may not be the most respected… He may not even be a “he”–“He” might even be a she. Every school has it’s Dai Si Hing, but have you ever heard of a school with a Dai Si Je? Our late masters and grandmasters were just that–martial arts masters. They taught us to fight, taught us to use weapons and defend ourselves, they even taught us how to teach students. Yet I would dare to say that most of our Masters were not great leaders and did not necessarily prepare us to ensuring the preservation of the permanence of our styles and schools. This is why the average Golden Era of any Kung Fu system only lasts the duration of our master’s lives, and when they are gone–little can be done to keep them together. We become as fragmented as siblings after dividing up Mom and Dad’s inheritance. One way to help preserve a style is by clearly defining who is senior in a system, defining who is qualified to lead, agreeing to back and follow those who have been chosen to lead, and basing our decisions on logic and not emotion, knowledge and ability–not amiability.

Seniors, you must want the system and the branch to outlive you. This means every member of every single branch of your tree must be respected, advised, and shown the way to success. We do not kiss someone’s foot because they walked through the door before you did. You are not a “leader” of your system simply because you are older, or wrote the most articles, or speak the best Mandarin, or know the most forms. At the same time, protocols must be put into place so that future generations understand the hierarchy of a Kung Fu family. This will enable those who are leading the Kung Fu style to pushing forward the system toward greatness for future generations. We do more than simply “preserve” the name; we make this system bigger, stronger, more respected, and closer knit as one unit than ever before.

Even if that means you have to follow the advice of one whom you once saw struggling to learn his basics. Respect your school, your style and your Sifu enough to know when someone has worked hard enough to be at the head of the pack. We want our system to live longer than we do, and therefore some traditions may have to be altered, eliminated, or created and instituted to make sure it happens.

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.


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.

My Style’s Too Deadly

21 11 2015

A Kung Fu guy, a Karate guy, a Jeet Kune Do guy, a Streetfighting guy, a Jiu Jitsu guy, and a Ninja guy walk into a tournament. The one who can’t fight goes, “My style’s too deadly.”  The rest of the group smacks him upside his head, and they all have a good laugh. The end.

Okay, my joke telling skills aren’t that good. 🙂

But it is a long-standing joke that martial artists who can’t fight love to throw out that “My art’s too deadly” reason to shunning competition. As if your respective style doesn’t have backfist, side kick, round kick, straight punch, etc… Or, as if you only engage in death matches.

Here’s the thing:  ALL styles are too deadly for competition. Hell, look at Paint Ball. What’s more deadlier than small arms combat, and they even have found a safe way to practice! Martial arts tournaments were not designed to simulate the battlefield. However, if you wanted a place to test the few safe techniques in your system without risking broken bones, crushed windpipes, dislocated knees–the tournament is the way to go. Either you can block a punch or kick or you can’t, and a 3 minute, hit-him-five-times-or-lose match is a great way to find out really quick if you have the timing and speed to stop a punch or kick. So what some guys are slapping–block the slap. The good old straight punch to the ribs is still legal, so take the shot!

I believe in the 1960s all martial arts on these shores were on equal ground. However, the Karate and Tae Kwon Do schools engaged in competition and honed their arts into something that was more practical than when they first arrived–and Chinese stylists sat in the bleachers ridiculing it until, six generations later, you are hard pressed to find more than three Kung Fu schools in each city willing to slug it out, regardless of the rules.

Let’s define something, by the way, as I’m sure some will object to my use of the expression “more practical”:

In saying Karate/Tae Kwon Do becoming “more practical” over the years, I am saying that as time went on, those arts moved away from prearranged practice into a type of practice that is more suitable for fighting on the street. Yes, tournament techniques are somewhat unrealistic. But today’s point fighters are faster, more athletic, have better reflexes, trickier, and have more strategies up their sleeves than their Grandmaster’s generation.

Back to my point. Kung Fu practitioners have good fighting techniques within every style. The problem is that too many schools over emphasize forms practice and do not engage enough in sparring for students to have the attributes needed to bridge what they do in forms practice with what they do in fighting practice. As a result, we see Kung Fu people studying Muay Thai and abandoning their style’s specialty. Kung Fu people putting opponents in the guard when their system calls for breaking arms and legs. Kung Fu people politely declining offers to have a friendly match, and later exclaiming to friends that their art was designed for killing, not acquiring points.

Even if your system has no punches and only eye gouges and throat smashes, you still need speed and timing to catch an eye before an opponent can turn his head. Even if your system has no hook punches or elbow techniques, you still need to know how to defend against a hook punch or elbow to the face. This is why sparring against foreign systems is absolutely necessary, because each form of fighting–from the lightest contact sparring division to the body slamming San Shou competition–delivers a different set of skills to the Kung Fu fighter who engages in it. You are not going to learn to take jabs by hitting mitts with a classmate. You are not going to learn to avoid leg kicks–or learn to manuever after eating a few Charlie-horse-inflicting thigh kicks–unless you’ve actually faced a man attacking your legs. Your Sifu teaches you techniques, but opponents teach you how to fight.

No clever conclusion here, that’s it. Understand, that every Kung Fu student needs to engage in combat with unfamiliar faces and styles if he is to take your art to the next level. Yes, we are all training to cripple, maim or kill. But we need safe places to test out the few skills we can if those skills are to be reliable when we need them.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

The Two Fatal Mistakes of Teaching Kung Fu

21 11 2015

We have the art of doing Kung Fu, and then there is the art of teaching Kung Fu.

While closely related, the two are not equal, and as the cliche goes–skill in one does not equate to skill in the other. We are going to take this discussion to a deeper level than the normal generic explanation. I believe that not fully understanding the development of Kung Fu skill in oneself versus the development of Kung Fu skill in a student have terrible consequences. It could very well be the perfect explanation for the state of Chinese Martial Arts today. Please hear me out, before making a judgment about this view.

Mistake #1–Thinking there is no more to learn

In the Filipino arts is an expression, that the moment one believes his skill is “good enough” that martial artist’s skill begins to decline. There is always another level to an ever-growing onion.  In the martial arts, many focus on the attainment of rank. We foolishly refer to this pursuit as “finishing the system”, and then neglect to dig deeper than our own teacher’s research within an art. There are several ways to make this mistake:

  • Learning the forms of the system, and little else
  • Develop fighting skill that is completely unrelated to the skills of one’s system
  • Neglecting to utilize techniques from your system’s forms in fighting
  • Denial of, or shunning, the value of competitions and tournaments
  • Refusing to learn from another teacher or another school–even within your own system–or its inverse–
  • Adding more arts and systems to your repertoire arbitrarily
  • Immediately transitioning from learning the system directly to teaching the system
  • Failing to realize that your own personal skill in Kung Fu can become stronger, faster, more accurate, more instantaneous, and sharper
  • Desiring to keep the system exactly as it was taught to you, with no innovations or alterations or personalization

Simply put, many teachers have undertaken their teaching career prematurely. They are passing on to their students a snapshot of the classroom from the days when Sifu was a student, with no development or changes from Si Gung to Sifu to student. What a disservice! When the teacher believes there is nothing more to learn, he fails to see the beauty on the other side of the mountain. When going uphill, it is difficult to see that there is another plateau to the mountain. We often fail to reach the summit when we stop to rest and believe we’d gone “far enough”. It is only when we are never satisfied, always hungry for more, never tiring or becoming bored with our climb that one day we do actually reach the top. It is at this point, you are standing at the top and can see the bottom of the mountain on both sides, and realize that you’ve arrived. And here’s the thing about arriving at the point of mastery:  It always comes long after you thought you would, and no man can take you there. <— This is my problem with schools that award “Master” rank to a student. You simply cannot. Mastery is a climb that one must make alone. It is a point of self-realization that many others may not share with you–nor will they agree that you have arrived. But don’t worry, the reason most men do not believe you have arrived is because they have not reached that summit themselves, and did not accompany you. At the same time, men who have been there themselves will know, because they’ve seen what you’ve seen, they’ve tasted the bitter cold, the thin air, felt the burn in their thighs, and recognize the psychological high you share with them after reaching the peak.

This is the reason I believe most men abandon martial arts perfection in order to pursue easier goals that are more pleasing to the ego. Things like rank, titles, additional styles, multiples of ranks in other systems (without actually study–these men gain them through correspondence courses and weekend seminars), publicity and fame and popularity. They embellish accomplishments because they have none to be proud of. They are prone to rivalries and severed relationships. They abandon families and start their own groups to do it their way. They deny their histories and pretend to have traveled another path. Few men have earned their way to the title of Master, so they find ways to do it the quick, easy way–or they simply wait until they are too old to be questioned on their skill, and use Age-as-rank to strap on that title.

But a mediocre young man only grows into a mediocre old man. And this is the point where we begin our descent to the other side of the mountain, and the second flaw.

Mistake #2–Thinking there is more to teach

Teachers try to be everything to everyone. I recall a meme I had recently seen on social media. Something to the effect of “Martial arts teachers, aka career counselors, aka marriage counselors, aka dietician, aka historian, aka child disciplinarian, blah blah blah”.

How foolish. We are martial artists. And to explain it to a non-Martial Artist, that could mean one or several of many things:

  • A fighting coach
  • A fitness coach
  • An educator
  • A bodyguard
  • A surrogant parent
  • A cultural center curator
  • A tournament fighter’s coach
  • A self-defense expert
  • blah, blah, blah

It is either ignorance or arrogance for a teacher to think he knows it all. We simply do not. Life is too short for a Sifu to be a self-defense expert, a kickboxing coach, a fitness expert, a weight loss specialist, a chiropractor, an expert on ADHD, a weapons expert, etc.  If we are a true “Master” of the arts, there must be something we specialize in, within our arts. Perhaps we can teach the fundamentals of many things. But carry every student to the point of mastery in every aspect of our arts is not just foolish, it is dishonest. As a master, I must represent to my students that I have “mastered” everything in my system and know those things better than most of my peers. Honestly, no man can make that claim. This is how I believe Kung Fu styles ended up with so many weapons forms–while the Founder may have studied one or two weapons with a true master, 150 years later his system is teaching 15 weapons. In the meantime, all students get is a form with that weapon, and nothing more. Yet Kung Fu websites all boast 9, 10, 15 weapons. One can’t possibly excel at all of them.

What have you spent your career doing, within the arts? Fighting? Performing exhibitions? Performing Lion Dance? Kicking? Punching? Kickboxing? Teaching?

Yes, after 30 years of study in the arts, most of us should be qualified to call ourselves an “expert” in our respective styles. But an expert in what? Yes, you may know 40 forms, but you can’t possibly have mastered all 40 forms. I know close to 50, and I have spent nearly all of my Kung Fu training practicing 9. If a Jow Ga student came to me and wanted to learn the best of my Jow Ga, I would be cheating him to spend any length of time with forms other than those 9. Can I teach them? Sure, I can. If he wanted to perfect them–it would either be a solo effort, with me supervising–or I would send him to another Jow Ga Sifu whom I know has already perfected that skill. I love Lion Dance and can teach it. However, if an advanced student of mine loved it and wanted to perfect his ability and knowledge I would have to send him to another Si Hing once I had shown him all I knew.

And that, brothers and sisters ^^, is the point of the second fatal mistake in Kung Fu. Not realizing that one’s knowledge is not infinite. We must understand our limits, and be confident in our skills, but humble enough to know when we can not teach a student further than the boundaries of our knowledge and experience. We got a good example of this in last week’s fight between Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm, when Rousey’s trainer attempted to teach her how to defeat Holm, who was an expert stand up fighter. Rather than understand his limits as a coach, he attempted to do it alone rather than bring in a real expert at stand up to take Rousey to the next level. I have seen the man move, and I can tell you, Ronda was training with a man she can beat.

Now, how many times have you seen Kung Fu Sifus bring students to a full-contact competition when that Sifu has never fought full contact himself?

I hope you get my point.

We can teach our students what we know, and what we’ve developed. However, we must also admit to ourselves what we are truly proficient and knowledgeable in, and limit what we teach to those things. If you find that that you need more research, keep training and climbing. Sometimes, you may need to climb more than one mountain. Sometimes, you reach old age while still climbing mountains. Pass the torch on to your students when you can no longer climb mountains, and let them elevate your art after you have taken it as far as you can go.

To recap, you must first develop and research and master you art as far as you can. Then secondly, you must teach what you know best–the heavily concentrated version of the best of your Kung Fu knowledge–to your students, and enlist other Sifus if you must. This is what keeps Kung Fu pure and strong–not pretending to know everything when you don’t.

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.


Kung Fu’s “Changing Times”

24 12 2014

Let’s organize this article differently first. I would like to introduce the conclusion first, then the body. That should make this interesting….

Like it or not, Kung Fu is changing. It isn’t the “old days” anymore. You are now a dinosaur. Yes, you probably can’t relate to today’s Sifu–and especially today’s students. But guess what? These arts are older than the word “old”, and there was a time that some Sifu looked at what you called the “old days”, shook his head, and couldn’t relate. Bottom line… The martial arts is an ancient, but ever-changing, art. The key to staying relevant is to realize what the changes are, and to find a way to make the most of those changes.

Edit:  Instructor Charles Kwok (Hung Gar teacher in Richmond, Canada. He studies Mok Kwai Lan Hung Gar under Sifu Joseph Kwok, and Wang Kiu Wing Chun under Sifu Ray Van Raamsdonk) posed the following statement:

Been watching a few documentaries about different styles of kung fu. Many of them talk about the old days in Hong Kong. I noticed a common phrase they would use and that is “In the old days, life was hard.” So life was hard back then, the economy wasn’t great, so people had to work. However, they also all talk about how students would still show up to the school and practice hard. Nowadays I keep hearing people say that they have to work and therefore miss class. Kind of confusing if you asked me.

Something we often hear in the Chinese martial arts is how much older the Chinese arts is than other arts. We love to brag about how the Chinese culture birthed the “mother martial art” to other countries’ arts and other styles. On the other hand, there are many who consider Chinese martial artists as guys stuck in the past, who refuse to allow their arts to change and evolve. Even many that are considered classical and outdated (compared to modern/mixed styles) look at the Chinese martial artist and think how useless our arts happen to be. At the same time, the two groups may not realize that the other is here to stay, and both groups are as valid as any other. A good analogy is to look at the acceptance of rap music in American pop culture. When rap music was born, many thought it a fad that would be isolated among African American urban youth (even older African Americans scoffed at it)–and now look. Hip Hop culture is the single most influential form of pop culture in the world. While the African American may be seen as a second class citizen in America–Hip Hop culture as a subculture of the African American community has influenced music, dress, behavior, standards of beauty on every continent on the planet. Likewise, both MMA and Chinese martial arts are found in everything from the fitness industry, to fashion, to children’s cartoons, to applications in health care, and in every form of media.

Like I said, you just have to find your place.

The old days saw martial artists who were die-hard fanatics. People walked on the street wearing martial arts uniforms. My colleagues and I even passed up college educations to study the martial arts full-time. We took whatever abuse our teachers dished out in class, trained until our knuckles bled, and if we broke a bone–we took off the cast and fought in tournaments. One thing our Masters could count on… tomorrow night, regardless if it was Christmas Eve, we were hurt, or the lights were cut off–we were coming to class. Fighters were even tougher. They fought anyone anytime anywhere, and no one bickered over money. You accepted whatever the promoter was willing to pay, regardless of the rules or how long you had to train. The only thing that mattered was there was an opponent and I wanted to prove that I could beat him. Today? HUH! Fighters cancel fights because they got hurt in training. Go figure…

Teachers lament the caliber of students we attract today. When I came to Jow Ga in the 80s, my Sifu told my family I was too young–and I was 11. We visited three times, and had it not been for my Si Hing Raymond Wong, I might have gone to another school. But today’s Sifu is promoting kids younger than 11 to Sifu (and they call that a “Black Sash”, whatever that is). 😉  Today’s student is lazy, worried that he might get hurt, impatient, thinks the Sifu works for HIM since he is paying him, will quit if work gets busy/he gets married/has a child/finds a kwoon with more convenient classes or lower rates. Today’s student is younger, more fickle and impulsive, thinks he knows everything, will research your system’s history and argue that Shaolin is a fable and Da Mo didn’t create kung fu, blah blah blah….

But we have to understand that even the Kung Fu Sifu has changed, along with the art and the student, as well as how we run our schools. First of all, more information is available to students today than it was 30+ years ago. You have students who research all over the world via the internet before walking through your doors. Hell, with Youtube, I wouldn’t be surprised if guys joined your schools already knowing your school’s first form! The economy demands that teachers take on more students than he needed to 40 years ago. At one time, Kung Fu was only for the tough, and either you were strong enough to handle the training, or your took your sissy self to a dance studio. You can’t do that today, where rent is $2,000/month and students who get hurt will sue you. The martial arts, if it is to survive in today’s economy, must cater to the masses to a point. Either that, or you have a class for the average guy walking through your door–and a separate class for the hard-core students. Many of us have not found that middle ground, so we are either suffering financially or making a living but unable to put out the quality that our own Masters did. We also must understand that today’s student is more educated, probably has more on his plate than yesterday’s student, and has far more teachers and schools and lineages to choose from. Simply put, it takes more effort to retain students than it did yesteryear. We also must find a way to make what we do more relevant to the lives of the types of students we encounter today.

Teachers often have to decide if they will focus on fighting, form, competition, lion dance, fitness, children, street self-defense, or simply preserving the art. Yes, it is possible to do all of the above. However, there are far more Sifu in every city than there was 30 years ago when our Masters arrived on these shores (wherever “these shores” happen to be). Competition is fierce. Students are also more critical. When I lived in Baltimore in the 90s, I took students to a tournament and fought as a light weight. I won my division, but as usual, I lost to a larger opponent for Grands. Matter of fact, I sometimes beat the heavyweights, but found problems with faster-but-still-stronger middle weights. No biggie, Guro lost a match, and Monday it’s back to the grind at the school. Yet, today, a loss could mean a loss of students, as we real guys must compete against Masters who have claimed to have never lost a fight and movie characters who could beat 10 men, etc. There wasn’t pressure on teachers in the 80s to fight and be a champion, but in today’s community we have several “World Champion 10th Degree Grandmasters” in every city! Advertising is not as easy as it was years ago when you could simply say you teach Kung Fu and people joined. Today, you need to be slick, have a nice logo/slogan, claim a high rank, dress your school up like a Shaolin temple or MMA gym… It’s just not as bad a thing as it seems. Kung Fu in Hong Kong in the 60s is unlike in the hometown its masters came from in the 40s. Kung Fu systems under the founders are unlike they are today, even 20 years ago under your Grandmasters. We just have to find where the martial arts fits in the society we live in–then find a way to apply our knowledge in that society… not much different than finding out how techniques from the form must be applied when fighting for your life. In a way, the martial arts aren’t supposed to stay the same from generation to generation. So, the next time we point a finger at younger Sifus and shake our heads, remember that once upon a time, some old, grumpy Sifu pointed his finger at us and shook his head. 🙂

Yeah, you’re right, times have changed.

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?”


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.

Critique the Master

2 12 2014

Ah, yes. Analyze the master, even if you have to find fault with the way he did things. Understand that no man (or woman) is above reproach, and as long as we are human there will always be room for improvement. We strive for perfection, but no man should ever believe he has arrived at that point. For the moment you believe you have perfected the martial arts, you have just initiated your demise. Perfection, my brothers, is a never-ending, always out of reach plateau. You may get near it, you may realize you are approaching it, but the closer you reach perfection, you will realize a new goal or challenge. In order to become the perfect martial artists, you must always be in pursuit of it.

(My #1 gripe with Bruce Lee fans, btw–many hurt their own growth because they believe in Lee’s doctrine without question, without deviating from his path when the man was 32 years old…)

If your Sifu has done his job right, the day you become a full instructor, you should be the absolute best product he could produce. We martial arts teachers are a curious bunch. We honor our Masters and teachers by hoping to become the best Kung Fu fighters we can, but in order to do so, we must improve our teachers and their systems. We are often friendly and cordial with each other, but inside our minds, we think we are better than the next guy and do our best to show it. Some of us actually call each other up and tease each other about being better. Some of us take it personal and actually dislike our “competition”. Some of us are in competition with our own brothers. My Si Hing Chris Henderson and I used to kill each other with insults because he owned a Kung Fu school and I worked for a commercial Dojo. When I encountered his students in tournaments I would tell my students to get those “Wu Shu artists”. Another Si Hing of mine would call me a traitor whenever he saw me in a Karate uniform point fighting, telling me I was playing Tag. I would tease another Si Hing, Ron Wheeler, for being a break dancer in a Kung Fu uniform–and he’d tease me about the time he popped me in the nose when we fought at American University (I won lol). My Baltimore friends, who represented four different styles, were my opponents every month in tournaments up and down the 95. Through all of this, we sought to improve ourselves and improve each other through friendly (and not-so-friendly) competition. Yet the one person with whom we should also compete against is the person we often refuse to oppose: Our own Masters.

If we teach our respective styles without acknowledging the potential or need for improvement, our system will not improve. How can you teach your students to develop an unstoppable attack if we do not understand where our weaknesses lie? How can you give your students an impenetrable defense if you do not also teach them how they can potentially be beaten? In the Filipino martial arts, there is a term called “counter for the counter”. When you teach an attack, you must identify the possible counters to that attack, then you must learn how to counter that counter. In other words, in order to understand your system better, you must understand how to beat the system your Master taught you. Many of you are not psychologically ready to face this. Too many believe that their system cannot be improved. Too many believe it would be disrespectful to question what your Sifu taught, or if they had made any mistakes when they taught you. I would suggest that your Sifu very likely improved the art his own Sifu taught him when he taught you, however. Very few of us teach exactly as we were taught. Most of us have our own specialties, our own weaknesses, and things that we like in the art. Doesn’t it make sense to personalize our Hung Gar, our Wing Chun, our Tong Lung, our Choy Lay Fut–so that our students can get the best we can offer?

There are few ways to do this without changing your Sifu’s curriculum. One way is to omit those things you cannot do well. Another is to send your students to various classmates who can perform skills in your system better than you can. You can also elect to emphasize some skills and forms more than others, based on your own taste. But more often than not–you will have to change many things to fit your own individuality as a teacher, and your student’s learning ability, physical limitations or gifts, and needs.

When formulating your school’s lesson plans, it would be very fair to your student to find the most efficient, effective means to results that you can. Our teachers did not know everything. We must admit that. Of course, we respect our masters, but we do them a disservice by idolizing them and deifying them to the point that their legacy is ruined because we are too much in adoration to allow their art to grow. Don’t simply take the training plan you had as a student and regurgitate it without thought. Think of things that you and your classmates struggle with. Is there a way to make it easier to learn? Was there something in your Sifu’s school that caused a many students to drop out? It isn’t fair to just say they were “losers” or “weak”. Did you have classmates who did not get results? Have you found many instances of beginners becoming better than advanced students? Or, let’s just cut to the chase… Can you find a better way to teach than your teacher? Is there anything in the curriculum that is impractical, needs an overhaul, or needs to be emphasized? You are now the Sifu, give your students what they are paying for!

This is one reason I am not in favor of newly made Sifus being allowed to leave right out and open schools. Either that, or we should give instructor candidates ample time to work out those things out before getting in front of a student body. Once the instructor-student has learned the art, he or she may need time to fully absorb and understand the system before it is presented and taught to new students. We want to be fair to our students, and our students’ students by making sure that the art we are giving them has been absorbed, tested, developed and revised. New Sifus must be comfortable enough with the art–with his teacher’s art–to look at it with a critical art, and not be afraid to say, “I’ve improved my teacher’s art.” It is not a slap in your Sifu’s face to say that. In fact, it is a compliment. You are saying, “Sifu, I have learned your art and I have found a way to make it fit me better.”

Saying so means that your Sifu has done more than just taught a student; he has created a confident and wise Sifu-student who has become more than just a certified instructor, he has become a peer.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.