Kung Fu’s “Missing Link”… (Path to Mastery)

27 08 2016

I think we may end up hurting some feelings with today’s article.

A conversation we have a lot in the martial arts is over the term “Master”. Fortunately, the Chinese martial arts aren’t as bad as Karate and Filipino martial arts because we don’t have a multitude of titles and arbitrary degrees and ranks. However, we are in the same boat as many of those styles, because we have the same confusion most martial arts styles have about ranking and a standard level of skill before one is called “proficient”–or more:  Expert. In the Filipino martial arts, where traditionally there is neither the use of belts nor titles to denote expertise, we have a combination of both being confused. In my 17 years living in California I have met men who have claimed everything from tribal titles as martial art ranks, to colored belts (such as Red, White and Blue Belt and even “Camoflauge” belt!), to an unlimited number of degrees (two years ago a man gave me a card stating he was a 15th degree Black belter). In Karate and Tae Kwon Do, I have seen silly things like 6 year old Black belts, to “World Champion Green belters” who have never left the state, to 20 something year old “Masters”, 30 year old Grandmasters, and “Soke” titled men who have learned by seminar and correspondence courses…

I think I heard a giggle.

But don’t laugh, Kung Fu guys. In the Chinese community, I’ve met many Sifus who will argue that sparring in tournaments is too safe and therefore unrealistic–yet would not accept a medium, full or non-contact sparring match with me. I’ve seen Kung fu “masters” whose hand I could crush as easily as a child when we shook hands, and actually signed up students of other Sifu in my school who also carried a Sifu rank yet have never sparred with contact in their lives. We will tell potential students that yes, this art I’m teaching will protect you from a street-hardened criminal–yet YOU, the teacher, could be mugged as easily as they will by the average street punk. I’ve seen Kung Fu Masters argue that open circuit tournaments prevented their students from using “the real art” in sparring–so they barred students from sparring–just to hold Chinese-style-only tournaments and banning the same techniques and targets the open tournaments outlawed. I have attended many tournaments where Kung Fu schools will flood the forms competition and then be dressed and in the van by the time sparring begins. They drive home to friends and family and still profess to feel like warriors.

I have been challenged by Kung Fu “masters” whose skill is worse than any beginner I have ever taught. I could go on.

And then almost anytime you see a Kung Fu school attempt to appeal to the self-defense or competition fighting crowd, they distance themselves as far away from Traditional Kung Fu as they can… adding boxing, Muay Thai disguised as San Da, BJJ and Aikido disguised as Chin Na, MMA cages and clothing, Filipino martial arts and more. An entire subculture of non-traditional Kung Fu has emerged from Kung Fu itself:  Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do. It’s ironic that Bruce Lee sought to teach the world the beauty of Chinese martial arts and attempted to give respect to Kung Fu, yet his followers look to everything except Chinese martial arts (other than Wing Chun) to make their art effective. JKD folks even call their teachers “Sifu/Guro”–Guro being the Tagalog word for “teacher”.

So what went wrong? Is Kung fu effective, or is it not? If it is effective, why do we not see traditional Chinese martial arts in the ring? Why is it that the only Kung Fu people who fight, fight like MMA guys? Our Masters declare these arts valid and effective, yet no one likes to answer this question–except for the many variations of the excuse “Our art is too deadly…” or “Well, the rules don’t…” Can we, or can we not, link what we do in traditional Chinese arts with how it is supposed to be used in combat?

Short answer is “yes”. Long answer to follow…

Kung Fu teachers have a missing link. See, the Chinese martial arts has existed for too long, too many generations in the community without being challenged and isolated. If you learn a skill and immediately transfer from student to teacher without a period of forging–your skill and knowledge will not be internalized. We see this all the time when martial arts students leave from a teacher and dare to make changes or adjust his art. Sometimes teachers, sometimes classmates, and too often–both–will denounce that student for not teaching the “pure” art handed to him. As if all things must remain the same for generations in order to improve.

And that last statement:  As if all things must remain the same for generations in order to improve — is the problem. You see, Chinese martial artists are not really interested in improving anything. The spirit all of our system founders founded our systems on seems to die just as quickly as the founders canonize them. It is foolish for anyone to call a branch of Choy Lay Fut “unpure” CLF. It is foolish to call any branch of Jow Ga “unpure”. It is foolish to call a branch of Wing Chun “unpure”. Each of these systems became the systems they are today, because the founders learned some fighting style, and decided to combine it with other skills and styles in order to create the new art. Were they interested or not in “improving” what they had learned previously? I would argue that yes, they were. Yet students hundred of years later flood the internet and magazine articles with charges of blasphemy just because one Sifu did not teach his art the same way the teachers before him taught it. Using my Jow Ga system as an example, one could criticize another branch of my Sifu’s Jow Ga just because most Jow Ga schools in America do not teach the same curriculum he taught. And most do not teach his curriculum the same way he did. But to call any branch of Jow Ga “incomplete” is counter productive, because what is Jow Ga, but incomplete Hung Gar, incomplete Choy Gar, and incomplete Northern Shaolin? The art is a combination of elements of those systems, and now has its own flavor–but like recipes for a favorite dish, no two schools are exactly alike. Who is qualified to rank one above the other?

Ditto that with some systems like Wing Chun, which have an easier to follow curriculum. Generally, just three hand forms, a dummy form, a knife form and a staff form. Yet Wing Chun varies from one system to another, based on the taste and specialties of the teachers. Are they not all Wing Chun?

But most of all, does it even matter?

Which brings me to my point. In the TCMA community, we waste time arguing over frivolous things like whose art is more pure or more like the previous generation–while groups like Gracie Jujitsu cares less if their art looks like its Japanese predecessor as long as they have a better, more effective version. While we debate which form was passed down to whom, Mas Oyama is declaring that his students can lick any man in the room. While we comb historical records to argue if indeed Wing Chun was founded by a woman, Buk Sing is busy in Fremont, California accepting–and beating–all challengers. Most Chinese martial artists really don’t think their students can beat “anyone around the beltway”, as I was once told another teacher’s goal was. We are claiming that our arts are highly effective forms of combat, while most people are searching and testing themselves to find out if they are. We are satisfied just saying it, while our competition is out researching, training, and then challenging, each other to actually strive to BE highly effective.

And this is why students who are serious about self defense and combat are looking everywhere except Chinese martial arts, while we lion dance and do tornado kicks in forms while telling our students “fighting is not important”.

Here is the bottom line:  You must seek out those who think they are better than you in order to test your skill. Anyone can stand in front of a class of student, month after month, year after year–and never have an equal question your skill, and one day claim to be an expert or even a “Master”. If your knowledge and theories and concepts are ever to manifest themselves into actual skill… and even more–into expertise–you must be willing to put yourself out there for criticism, by peers, by rivals, by opponents. You must be willing to touch hands with someone you’ve never met in order to answer the question Was my training and learning in vain?  You must be brave and humble enough to admit that Perhaps my teacher’s methods need updating…  You must shed your ego and allow a man who doesn’t think you’re very good to put his skills up against yours and be willing to deal with the consequences in the event you discover that your skills need improvement. Avoid these situations and you commit your students a grave disservice, you dishonor the teachers before you, and you are creating in the Chinese martial arts a terrible injustice. For too many years, Kung Fu teachers have avoided debate and dissention, avoided the sting and humiliation of defeat by never putting their skills to the test–and then in old age dared to strap on the title “Master” or call himself an expert. You cannot harden glass or metal until you heat it to the point they will be destroyed. A man cannot improve himself until he is willing to be broken down, dissected, challenged, and doubted. No man can achieve greatness if he avoids defeat and discomfort. Even PhD candidates must be challenged and defend their thesis in order to prove themselves worthy of being among their peers.

Teachers must be willing to share, compare, criticize, accept criticism, be challenged, adjust, and reinvent. Remaining stagnant has been going on for too long. Put your art and your skills to the test. Find out what needs to be adjusted and fortified. Because we ALL need it. Don’t dare tell a student your art has been time-tested if you have never allowed another man to test YOUR Kung Fu.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Understanding Your Kung Fu Like the Cobbler

24 08 2016

When I was a kid, I had walked from my neighborhood in Northeast DC to my aunt’s house in Southeast and met a shoe cobbler. His shop was run out of the basement of his house and he had a sign saying simply “Shoe Repair”. I don’t remember how, but I ended up stopping at his store and talking to him about what he did. This conversation led to his offer of teaching me to fix shoes. For a few weeks, he taught me a little about repairing shoes and for years I saw shoes in a different way than most people. I came to appreciate shoes that were stitched versus those merely glued or cemented together. Stitched shoes, by the way, is an older method of making shoes. It is stronger, more expensive, somewhat outdated, and although most of you are probably wearing glued rubber (even if the uppers may be leather or leather-like)–the highest quality of shoes will still be stitched. I liken a good pair of shoes crafted by hand to older, well-researched systems of martial arts. Arts can be thrown together without much thought or they can can be fused and forged into the strongest steel. Although many arts are indeed outdated and impractical, nothing beats a well-researched, well-trained, experienced fighter. And I am saying this to include MMA fighters. While you may have a “complete” set of skills because you know technique on the ground as well as on your feet–a master stand up fighter or master ground fighter will murder most “complete” guys who do some stand up, some grappling any day.

But that is a conversation for another day. Back to the topic.

The cobbler (I’ve forgotten his name, my apologies) first taught me a few simple repairs. Like the Sifu who teaches his students a few self-defense moves and a punch or two and a kick or two–then later get to the traditional method of learning–soon after I learned to add heel taps and glue soles, he taught me to repair shoes from the ground up. This involved actually pulling a pair of shoes apart, into several pieces, and then showing me how the shoe was constructed (there are many, many variations to building a shoe–stitch patterns and all). Once I saw how the shoe was put together, we rebuilt those shoes until we ended up with a very clean pair of shoes which probably looked how those shoes looked when the owner first purchased them. Adding the years and years of wear and various stains and polishes, the shoe was aged, yet dignified. The shoe showed some signs of being older, but I still remember the imperfections in the shoes’ upper leather, while the sole and heels and shoestrings were brand new. And let me tell you, although we live in a disposable, throwaway society–repair a pair of shoes over two decades and take good care of them, you will have a much nicer set of kicks than anything you can buy at the store. You learn to appreciate shoes because you know what kind of work goes into them. Shoes mold to fit your feet over time, and two men wearing the same size will not experience the same level of comfort if they switch each other’s shoes. Finally, I learned at a young age how a well-crafted pair of shoes can make you feel. Forget your Air Jordan’s; I’m talking about grown man shoes that will make you feel like a million bucks.

Martial arts can be cookie-cutter, like those purchased in a store that look like what everyone on the street is wearing. Or they can be built like a craftsman’s best work, molded and shaped by years and years of wear, repair and rebuilt over time. In 20 years, the guy who bought his shoes from Walmart has forgotten about his machine-made, generic shoes. Every other year or so, he is trying to break in a new pair of shoes he neither has an attachment to nor an appreciation for. But the guy who has stuck to the same pair for the same period of time has a pair of shoes that no one in the world can understand and feel comfortable in. His shoes are strong, they were built with patience and attention, they have character, and are just as much a part of the guy wearing them as they have a unique identity to what everyone else has.

The martial artist who learns his art in the way the cobbler teaches it also has a different understanding of the arts. To one student, the art is simply a set of techniques, forms, and concepts his teacher picked up along the way. He has no strong understanding the art; he only knows how to quote maxims, give the names of terms and concepts in Mandarin or Cantonese. But he has not internalized the art, he surely can’t apply 90% of what he can only demonstrate on a willing opponent. On the other hand, the student whose teacher is like the cobbler didn’t jump right into forms and useless terminology from day one. He spent months working on footwork. He learned only two or three hand techniques that didn’t quite make sense for months at a time. He may have had to wait several months before learning traditional forms. He spent his time training and using his techniques on opponent, rather than learning concepts and how to pimp a form to win tournaments. He may only have a very streamlined lineage, rather than one that includes multiple teachers, seminars, and certificates. In the end, the cobbler’s student only knows half the number of skills and forms that the Walmart Sifu’s student knows. But what he knows, he knows well–and can apply it on a resisting, combative opponent. On top of that, the cobbler’s method of teaching the art ensured a more complete study; leading to a better understanding and more appreciation.

Arts can be taught by simply having students mimic the teacher, which is perhaps the most common method of teaching. I show you, you do it, you practice it, you demo it for me–you know it. Or the art can be deconstructed; even using the same technique. Teacher shows it to the student, but isolating one piece of the technique at a time. Practice what the only right hand is doing. Practice what only the left hand is doing. Practice only the block, the grab, the footwork. Isolating the footwork into parts (first do this, then do that/practice this/practice that). Practice the variations. Practicing the technique under fail/success stress. Practice the technique 1,000 times before teaching the next technique. Very few students can stomach this style of study. And even fewer teachers are willing to put their students through this type of study.

Your system can be deconstructed like a pair of shoes for a cobbler’s apprentice. Rather than just having students pay to practice “Monkey see, Monkey do”, try dissecting your techniques, piece by piece. Practice and understand each part. Why does this technique work this way? Can it be improved? Can it be beaten? When should the technique be used? When should it NOT be used? When you are using the technique, what is the opponent expected to be doing? What if the opponent does NOT do it? Then what? What if the technique was used on you? What can you teach the student to do, to counter this technique? Is there a way to apply or execute this technique so that it can not be countered or stopped? What if you do not have the time or room or conditions to use the technique? Have you even thought of this:  What are the ideal situations that your techniques should be or should not be used? How about opponents? What if your opponent were not from your system? What if the opponent used boxing punches? Tae Kwon Do kicks? Grappling techniques? What if you punched, and instead of blocking (as most of our techniques expect the opponent to do), he ducks instead?

Now, here is some homework… Answer these questions for everything you teach your students. This is how you understand your Kung Fu like a cobbler. Because I assure you, the cobbler knows every situation and variation to repairing shoes. Do you understand your martial art in this fashion?

Something to think about.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Is Your Jow Ga Complete?

31 07 2016

Often, I hear Kung Fu people talking about their martial arts being “complete”. When they say this, often they are referring to offering the “range of martial arts skills”. You know what I mean:  Forms, sparring, weapons, two man sets, lion dance, etc… Am I right?

This thinking, however, is only elementary. “Completeness” involves so much more. Kung Fu men who regurgitate curriculum material cannot fathom the range of missing aspects of the martial arts. Today we will deal with just one aspect:  Fighting.

In the practice of the martial arts, the subject of fighting can range from basic escaping and survival on the low end to crippling and maiming an opponent on the high end. Merely teaching “sparring” is not enough; the needs of the martial arts student may not be served through the type of sparring you teach. Let us identify some types of students and their situations that Kung Fu training may have to (and may fail to) address:

  • Armed Security Guards and Police Officers looking for skills to become more effective at their jobs
  • Correctional Officers (who are not) allowed to carry weapons who face convicts who pump iron every day
  • Teenaged boys who must deal with schoolyard bullies (without seriously injuring them)
  • Tournament point fighters
  • Kickboxers
  • MMA fighters
  • Fighters interested in street fighting vs fighters interested in actual self defense
  • Fighters who want to use their striking skill vs fighters who want to subdue their opponents
  • Women concerned with rape/sexual assault prevention
  • Mugging victims
  • Defense against clubs and knives
  • Fighting two opponents
  • Stopping a fight between two individuals
  • Street self defense against a boxer
  • Street self defense against a wrestler
  • Street self defense against your family who might have had too much to drink
  • Self defense in an elevator
  • Self defense while being accompanied by your elderly mother or a child
  • Children’s self defense from older, bigger children vs self defense from same-sized, same-aged opponents
  • Children’s anti-abudction self defense
  • A child’s self defense against a pitt bull attack

Add to this individual situations, like defense against a lapel grab and haymaker punch, a rear naked choke, a bearhug, a tackle, an abdomen stab with a knife, an overhead strike with a baseball bat–and answer the question, how would your system’s forms deal with this?

Honestly, try it!

Each of us, regardless of system, have things in our art that may address all of these needs. Kung fu is not automatically complete. If you refer to the list, simply teaching sparring fails to address 90% of this list. Most skills, if you dig deeper into the possible uses, must be both identified and researched. It is more than simple “self-expression”; it is true research. Your system may have chin na buried in the forms, but unless you extract them and train them, train the techniques with vigor, train under pressure, and put those skills to the test–you have not actually researched the Chin Na in your system. I’ve seen hours and hours of “Wing Chun Chin Na” and “Eagle Claw Chin Na” and “Tai Chi Chin Na”, and honestly, most of those demonstrating the skills couldn’t use those Chin Na skills to wring the water out of a towel. We have to connect what is in our system with the actual uses our students and potential students will require. And just as we can never master them all–we may be familiar with every facet of martial arts fighting, but that isn’t mastery–can we actually claim our Kung Fu to be “complete”?

I believe we can. However, we must be honest with our students and honest with ourselves about what we actually specialize in. If a student walked through my doors and asked for a course on stopping a child abduction for his children, I can give him one using my Jow Ga, because I have researched and developed this curriculum 20 years ago. If a lady asked for not just the generic “women’s self defense”–but actual Rape Prevention–I am prepared to give this using Jow Ga, as I developed this material as well. If a student wanted to learn how Jow Ga could be used against a boxer, against Wing Chun, or working as a bouncer in a night club… Yup, we’ve got that too. But if I had never researched this information, it would be highly dishonest of me to advertise that I offer them.

For an art to be “complete”, we must have researched our own systems beyond what our Sifu gave us. If he learned his art in 1960s Hong Kong, I must update it for 2016 Washington, DC., so that my art is complete enough for the urban martial arts student. So, the guy who wants classical Jow Ga can get his fill–just like the 10 year old victim of school bullying who needs self defense that doesn’t involve breaking another kid’s clavicle or smashing his windpipe. There is so much to discover within our systems, we do our students, ourselves and our masters a huge disservice if we merely pass on the same old stuff we learned coming up. The martial arts is ever-evolving, and the number possibilities for what we can do with these arts is endless.

Save this article, print it, read it, and reread it. Ponder it, and then on your next personal work out session, I want you to map out at least three or four new directions for you to take your Kung Fu system. Answer the question, “Who needs aren’t being served by my present teaching?” and develop a course with the Kung Fu you already know for them. I am willing to bet, as I did, that the more you dig–the more you will discover that you have more learning to do. Hopefully, you will reignite the passion you held as a young To Dai for learning your respective system.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

What Form Are You On? (How to Reach Perfection)

24 07 2016

I always smile whenever I meet another Jow Ga student and I am immediately asked this. “What form are you on?” seems to be part of the Jow Ga language–as it is, I’m sure, a common question when two people from your style meet. This is just as important to respect as saying “Hello, how are you?” because once the question is answered–the hierarchy has been established between them and the junior among the group will know not to try and sound too knowledgeable. If you are from a strong martial arts school, it can be assumed that one can gauge the skill level of the other student by knowing what form he/she is learning. I learned early on that anyone who had moved beyond our system’s beginner level was pretty darned good, and anyone who had finished the intermediate level was as good as any other school’s Black belt students.

This is an interesting fact, because Jow Ga was my first real school and the skill level was very high. I assumed that the skill level of all martial arts school matched ours. As a child I began attending tournaments in fighting and forms, and was used to seeing 100% of my classmates returning with trophies–just as I was accustomed to being the only of two Chinese martial arts schools competing in the sparring division (the other being Dennis Brown’s Shaolin Wu Shu) in every tournament. Imagine my surprise the first time I heard someone mention a guy who was advanced in the martial arts and couldn’t defend himself on the street–or a junior ranking student beating a senior. In Sifu Chin’s school, such a notion was preposterous. The skill level between one level and the next was nearly always like night and day. A common suggestion to traditional martial arts schools was that if you stripped everyone in a classroom of their belts and watched them practice, in many martial arts schools one would not be able to distinguish between the advanced and the beginner. Not true in our school, however. The skill level increased greatly from one level to the next, and we did not have a belt system.

So what is the difference between how we did things versus how other schools trained? Let’s discuss this…

First, let us state an old maxim:

One cannot become a Master Teacher/Master Fighter until he has first become a Master Student…

This article may have to be split up into several parts. The above saying is vital to the difference between our school’s culture and that of most other martial arts schools. I recall visiting martial arts schools as a child and looking at their curriculum to Black Belt. We sat in a sales presentation at Jhoon Rhee karate where an instructor explained to us that the Black Belt would be achieved in approximately 2 1/2 to 3 years. There were a very small number of forms to get from White Belt to Black Belt, possibly 8 to 10. I watched a beginner class full of squealing 10 year olds, and by the end of the class, I had memorized their first form, and recreated it at home. Not so with Jow Ga. First, the concept of “Black Belt” achievement was never discussed. The class had no children. I don’t recall looking at a curriculum, but I do remember the weapons rack containing more than 10 weapons. The discussion was slow and patient, and we were not bombarded with graphics and numbers–only a short talk about the school and the system, ending with my mother being told my brother and I were too young. By contrast, at Jhoon Rhee there were children as young as 3, Black Belts as young as 7, and plenty of pressure to sign up. At Jow Ga, we were turned away. In fact, we visited a few times before being accepted and our training was as patient and deliberate as the registration process. The school I joined was nothing like the “Family Friendly McDojo” we see today; Jow Ga was a musty, hard floored, focused and disciplined training hall for serious adult students. The commercial schools were an alternative to school sports and dance training children; Jow Ga was training warriors.

Symbolically, slow and patient marked the way we learned our martial arts. We were not rushed through a curriculum, our instructors emphasized high repetitions, attention to detail, and having a strong enough spirit not to give up when the body was ready to quit. These items are the key to the above maxim–how to become a Master Student.

What made our school stand out from the others was that there was no rush to get students promoted to the next level. Each weapon we learned came with a set of fundamentals that were practiced for weeks before the actual instruction in using that weapon actually began. Simply learning a new punch or kick or combination was not enough; students honed and fine-tuned those skills over and over and over. Even when you thought you had perfected a skill, you could always come to class and learn something new about that technique. When a Jow Ga student advanced from one form to the next, he or she knew that form like the back of their hand, could perform it blindfolded (as we often did in class), and knew all about the form… every nook and cranny, every nuance, perhaps its history, stories about another older classmate’s experience with the form, etc. When a Jow Ga student asked a classmate what form he or she was on, they were asking them more than simply what form you were learning to perform. The student asked the form because for the period you were learning that form, you studied little else besides that form. Rather than just study Jow Ga–you were really studying the form the Sifus were teaching you, as if there was nothing else to learn.

So unlike many schools, where the “form you were on” was somthing like a chapter or section of a chapter in a book–what form you were on in Jow Ga was akin to asking what course you were taking this semester. I recall a bio of Jow Ga assistant and full instructors in a brochure that was handed to students, familiarizing us with our seniors. Our curriculum contained a multitude of weapons and forms, yet in the bios most Sifu level instructors claimed expertise in only one or two areas. This fact is another factor that separated Jow Ga from our peers. We contained more forms than perhaps most schools in the area. However, specializing was encouraged and practiced. If one wanted to fight, you could attend a weekend class with Talley or Brighthapt or a Monday with Paul Adkins. If you wanted to specialize in Lion Dance, you saw Raymond Wong. If you were interested in polishing up your forms for competition, you saw Deric Mims. If you wanted Tai Chi, you looked up Stanley Dea. When students have this high number of skilled men specializing in various aspects of the same system, students have no choice but to excel, and have all needs and preferences fulfilled.

Finally, I recall that Jow Ga had perhaps 50-60 active members attending classes and well over 100 students at-large, yet there were only 12 instructors certified by Sifu himself. The focus for Dean Chin’s Jow Ga school was clearly on development of the student. Everything we learned in class, whether we learned it from an instructor in the classroom, or a class mate during breaks or in the locker room–was on how to become a better student. There was almost no one vying to “skip” levels or be promoted before one was ready. All students who were in competition were in competition with each other in a competition of skill–not rank. Ours was a culture of discipline, a culture of learning, and a culture of perfection. Under the highly detailed eye of Sifus Mims, Eugene Mackie and Craig Lee, being mediocre was not acceptable. No one was promoted just because of reaching the prescribed time-in-grade. There were no mediocre members among the teaching staff; therefore, students saw their skill as the goal–which in itself was a high level to reach. I never once heard a parent or student fuss at Sifu demanding to know when promotion to the Instructor level would come. Years later, as an instructor for Kim’s Karate in my 20s, I heard this complaint weekly. In the chinatown school, students knew that practice alone did not make perfect–perfect practice made perfect. It was an unspoken motto that all members from Sifu himself to the now nameless beginner all lived by. This is is how one perfected the art, and how you master the art. Not by learning all the forms or impressing someone with your answer about what form you were “on”–but by perfecting what you know, through perfecting the art of being a martial arts student.

At a future date, I would like to revisit this topic:  How to become the ideal martial arts student.

Some parting advice for traditional Chinese martial arts instructors:  Develop your children’s program. I have realized that many of us prefer teaching adults and teens. They are more mature, less fickle, and able to understand more concepts than children. The Chinese martial arts are more complex than our counterparts, and it would seem that turning away students who are too young to truly learn your system makes sense. In the western world, however, students have more distractions than they did 30 years ago. The world is smaller now, more young adults leave the nest and travel far from home. They develop more interests, they now have the option to enroll in correspondence courses and learn arts not even taught in their hometowns. And in addition to that, our systems contain so much material, many adult students do not have enough time to learn and master everything in your systems. If you are enrolling young men and women at age 15 or 16, they really only have two to three years of dedicated, fanatical practice before shipping off to boot camp, college or moving out of their parents homes to join the work force. At 15, you are lucky to keep a student more than five or six years before they are getting married and having children and dropping out. I have had some outstanding students quit at age 17, just when they were reaching my advance level, just to show up a decade later with small children they want me to train–and have forgotten almost all they had learned as children themselves. If you recruit young warriors at, say 10–you will have eight years to teach them your entire curriculum as well as develop their skill to a high degree before the risk of them coming in with a college acceptance letter and quitting. There is so much in our arts, we almost need to train an army of child prodigies in order to see our schools put out the best examples of our systems. Something to think about. Trust me; I am no fan of teaching a room full of squealing 10 year olds. But consider that some of the greatest masters and fighters we have known–Jet Li, Mas Oyama, Wong Fei Hung, Iron Mike Tyson–were all once “squealing 10 year olds”. LOL

Food for thought. Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

What Is Your Style’s Common Denominator?

26 06 2016

It is ironic that although my worst subject in school was mathematics–I use math terms in discussing Jow Ga pretty frequently. Jow Ga under Sifu Chin also used mathematical and physics terms and expressions. We learned of Jow Ga’s “common denominator”, the rule of velocity (distance divided by time), Jow Ga’s rule of Power (speed x force x accuracy x fluency), Sifu’s rule of the lever with the staff, and his chain of motion for punching and close quarters. I cannot explain any of these things in terms of numbers, mathematics or in engineering terms. Matter of fact, my children will not allow me to help them with homework; my son complains that every time I help him–his homework gets a low grade.

But I can certainly demonstrate them through Jow Ga. Guess the kids’ old man is good for something

Jow Ga has a common denominator–which is a set of techniques that is characteristic to the Jow Ga system. While I originally thought these techniques to be characteristic to all Jow Ga branches–the more I learn about how vast this system is, the more I learn that I don’t know about Jow Ga. I am of the opinion that given the age of Jow Ga (over 100 years), the four branches, the many lineages of the four branches, and the expressions of each Master of the lineages of each branch of Jow Ga… It is possibly true that one could never learn, let alone master, everything this system has to offer. While each branch of Jow Ga may have some core forms, such as Siu Fook Fu, Ba Gua Gwun, Man Ji Chune, what we emphasize and specialize in will vary from school to school, from lineage to lineage, and from Sifu to Sifu. In the DC lineage alone, we have 8 Full Instructors certified by Dean Chin during his lifetime. Yet each of the 8 had very different specialties within the system, and each performed Sifu’s Jow Ga differently. If one had learned from Deric Mims, his Jow Ga would look distinctly different from someone who had studied under Raymond Wong or Craig Lee. Even those who were students of Sifu Chin himself would look different from someone who learned under Sifu but spent more time with one of the 8 Full Instructors or another. None of the 8 did Jow Ga exactly as Sifu Chin. However, although we had differing tastes, accents and specialties, we all have a common denominator that identifies us a student of Sifu Dean Chin’s school. This common denominator is what we have identified as the DC Lineage of Jow Ga, a set of skills, techniques, specialties, characteristics and forms–unique to this lineage.

In your own Kung Fu systems, whether or not you recognize or acknowledge this concept, you have a common denominator as well. Do you know what that is? What do all of your Hing Dai (training brothers and sisters) have in common? What does your system have as characteristizing techniques, attacks, and concepts that makes your system unique? It must be more than just basics, weapons and forms! And let’s skip the talk about your style’s motto or characteristics, animals or whatever.

Why is this important? The answer is simple. Many of us have become very lazy in how we approach our martial arts. We learn the forms and practice them, and then when we spar–if we actually do spar–nothing we do in training is expressed in our fighting. It is sad to say, but if you took a roomful of Kung Fu practitioners of various styles, without looking at their shirts we might be able to identify what styles are represented. Attend any Kung Fu tournament, I would say that perhaps the only system that would easily be picked out the crowd when sparring began is Wing Chun. And even then, most would be only from the stance they hold. After the beginning of the fight, many of them will look like anyone else. Sifu Christophe Clark gave this compelling speech to Kung Fu people almost a decade ago, imploring Kung Fu practitioners to actually USE their Kung Fu and stop going to other systems for fighting. His speech resulted in many practitioners taking offense to his implying that they were not using their systems, but it also rung true with many others who agreed. The failure to fully explore one’s own style is a likely reason for his speech; many a Kung Fu man determined that his system was insufficient for sparring and fighting. Blame it on the rules, blame it on sparring not being “real” fighting. But if a Kung Fu man is studying Kung Fu, and then enters the ring with Muay Thai or Judo–he really does not believe his style is sufficient. And this is not saying that those who express their systems through another style really understand their styles. There are many who train in other styles, who may apply their systems through those other styles. I have seen a young man box, and using his Wing Chun through his boxing, and that was quite effective. My sister studies MMA under a Choy Lay Fut Sifu, and upon observation might confuse her Sow Choy for haymakers. It is the concepts, strategies and theories that make the systems–not the forms and “acting like a Tiger”. (Which is the contention of many of Sifu Clarke’s detractors) He has a very good point:  Kung Fu people should take what’s in their system and find a way to apply those techniques in the arena of fighting and sparring, even in tournaments with rules. This isn’t a matter of determining “what techniques work”; it is a matter of determining “how these techniques work”.

By the way, the idea that a novice in the art can spar to “determine” what works is arrogant and foolish. How dare a beginner decide if the Sijo knew what he was doing through a match with another beginner?

You could begin by identifying a list of the core set of techniques in your system’s curriculum. Once you have this, you will be ready for step two.

But next time. Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation. In the meantime, please watch the following video. Let us know what your thoughts are in the comments below!

Tempering Your Kung Fu, pt V (Escaping the Nest)

11 06 2016

One of the hottest forms of “heat” used to temper one’s martial arts knowledge is the act of immersing oneself in the world of combat. While it is understandable that many Kung Fu practitioners do not engage in the study of the arts for fighting–one should not profess to teach combat and self-defense if he does not participate in any form of fighting. In fact, it is actually unethical for teachers to claim to teaching fighting and self-defense if he trains students in a sterile, sparring-free environment. One can learn forms for the next 40 years, develop the ability to perform all manners of acrobatics, and learn to do forms with all types of weapons, but without actually engaging in sparring–and to do so with strangers–the ability to defend oneself or someone else will be very weak. This is perhaps one of the biggest shortcomings of today’s traditional Chinese martial arts:  More than half of TCMA schools do not participate in sparring and many that do so, do it at a low level of skill. This is not a judgment of teachers who dislike sparring; it is just a statement of fact.

A popular discussion among TCMA teachers is a debate about whether or not the Chinese martial arts have remained relevant. The truth is, we have. We are very relevant in the modern martial arts world. We give our students an outlet to lead healthier lives, introducing many students to a form of self-discipline, we are a connection to the Chinese culture, we take children off the street and give them a safe activity that builds self-esteem, fitness, good manners, and more. Where we have not been very relevant is in the minds of the potential student who needs martial arts study for their self-defense needs. Whether they are police officers, prize fighters, security guards, or regular every day citizens concerned with self-protection against muggers and criminals–the term “Kung Fu” seldom enters the conversation. Few Sifus would dare to intervene in their own lives to stop a streetfight; I doubt if many would ever offer students to a local business as security or bodyguards.

Pause. I think I heard someone say, that security and bodyguarding has nothing to do with Kung Fu. I beg to differ. There was a time, in the very recent past, that Kung Fu Sifu provided most of the security, soldiers, and bodyguards to his community. My own system of Jow Ga began not as a school teaching martial arts students–but a family teaching combat to soldiers. Almost all of us trace our systems back to someone who pioneered some form of combat–so why are we now shunning this use for our systems?

While agreed–Kung Fu is so much bigger than fighting in today’s society, it is–the martial arts still must fill that need. We must keep our skills useful enough so that any of us who completes our curriculum is qualified to work as a bodyguard or provide unarmed security. If not, why not just remove all strikes, punches and kicks from our curriculum and call what we do “a form of exercise”?

Many Sifu have avoided combat so long, they are actually reluctant to let a student who is interested in fighting actually do it. Many have gone so far as to tell students that sparring would impede their combat skills!! I have seen a friend in recent years here in California, do his best to talk several students out of participating in sparring, when a few of these students originally signed up just to learn to fight. What we see today are cases of many teachers projecting insecurities and feelings of inadequacy about their own fighting skill onto their students. In the end, the students suffer. They must then spend the rest of their days in just as much fear of a mugger as any non-martial artist, wasting all that classroom training time. They must spend the rest of their lives suffering from cognitive dissonance, convincing themselves that somehow–forms practitioners are more prepared to defend themselves than actual fighters, because the fighters are competing in a sport–while the forms practitioner is doing “real” combat training. They must spend the rest of their lives pretending to be self-confident around tough-looking individuals, when they are relying on dialing 9-1-1 for protection, just like the next guy. They must spend the rest of their lives practicing their arts as hobbyists, instead of the warriors they fantasize that they are. All because Sifu did not let them leave the nest to explore the life of a fighter; not even for a short period of time.

Regardless of what kind of fighting experience a Sifu has, he or she must allow students to take the risk of being defeated, injured, humiliated, etc., and experience the up and down journey of a martial artist. You can’t live safely; sometimes you will win, sometimes you will lose–but all of it makes you better. There are many lessons that only an opponent can teach you, that will never be learned in a classroom. Sifus must humble themselves and admit that there is much knowledge they cannot teach the students, and students must learn those things for themselves. For a bird who never leaves the nest will never learn to fly, and an eagle who cannot leave the ground is as useless as wooden chicken:  It looks real, but tastes horrible. 🙂

I think you get it.

Washington, DC 1979

Washington, DC 1979

In 1979, my Sifu arrived back in Asia–in Taipei, Taiwan–accompanied by a team of men he trained to compete at a full-contact Kung Fu tournament. He left for the U.S. 11 years earlier as a young man, wanting an American education and armed with martial arts as a vocation. in ten short years, he had trained some of the best fighters in Washington, DC., and he set out for this tournament to put them up against the best fighters in the world. No man returned empty-handed. This very young Sifu, not yet 35 years of age, had accomplished more in a decade than most men reading this article. With this one tournament, he established the DC lineage of Jow Ga as a fighting school, whose students should never have to fear or be subservient to any other martial artist. And he did it, not for his own reputation–but for theirs. He allowed each student to have this experience for himself, proving to themselves, their opponents, the spectators, and the world–that their training had not been in vain. Most members of the team were young men who had never traveled anywhere, some still in their teens. They returned to America, as newly matured martial artists who had fought the best the world had to offer. Some had trained in Jow Ga fewer than five years at that point. For the rest of their days, they were able to say they had traveled internationally and competed against the best of the best. How much did their Kung Fu grow with that experience? I’ll tell you, an entire universe more than many who have never dared to leave their own cities, let alone their own teachers’ classrooms.

This “leaving the nest” need not be halfway around the world, however. Students simply need to be set free from the confines of the school and the protection of the Sifu. They need the freedom of using their martial arts without being corrected or coached. They need to be able to try out the ideas they formulated in their heads while practicing–that their Sifus may not have allowed them to try. They must know what the sting of an unseen strike feels like, they must feel the unbalancing of missing a step while launching or evading an attack. They must experience the fatigue of having run out of energy while still under pressure from the opponent–and then still having to protect himself. Students must understand what it feels like to see a man who scares you, and fight him anyway. They must learn to see, recognize, create, and exploit openings. They must feel the emotional rush of having defeated an opponent. They must know what it feels like to have dominated an opponent, and have the wisdom and compassion to back off and not go for the kill in order to salvage the opponent’s dignity. They must learn to recognize attacks and defensive strategies and choose the appropriate method to counter them. There are so many lessons that can only be learned when the training wheels are off, we do them a disservice if we deny them these lessons because of a personal bias or fear. So often, we imprison our students in the walls of our protection, they must sever the relationship with us just so they can free themselves from those shackles in order to learn. Don’t be that teacher who must be escaped from because a student wants to learn what the world has to offer. Students can only learn if they accumulate a combination of good experiences and what some erroneously label “bad” experiences. A real champion is not one who has never been beaten. A real champion is one who has faced the best–even facing those who are better than him–and then become champion anyway. The greatest lessons, many times, are taught by defeat and these “bad” experiences. And nearly ALL of this knowledge is only found outside your doors.

There is a saying that is appropriate here, which says:  “The only bad experience is the one you don’t learn from.”  It’s one to live by. Let your students lift off so their knowledge base and skills can fly.

If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe so you will be notified when we have new articles. If you are a Jow Ga practitioner, any lineage, please visit our shop on the main page to see Jow Ga offerings. We have three, some offering through this blog, some for all lineages, and some specifically for DC Jow Ga lineage. Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Kung Fu for Modern Times (Impatient Students)

30 05 2016

We have to challenge tradition, sometimes.

I recall a senior classmate advising me not to ask Sifu for information. I was a child then, and naturally what he told me entered one ear and out the other. We had a visitor who taught Wing Chun for the weekend and I was not allowed to attend (by my mother; I was on punishment that weekend) and I was upset about it. One of the things I was jealous about was that my classmates the following week were practicing forms that were taught and Chi Sao–which at that time I had only read about and heard about but not learned. I wasted no time in weaseling my way into getting Sifu to offer to teach me. But the Chi Sao he taught me was his own version, unlike what my classmates learned–and hey, I got to learn it! And there were other times, I had just learned a few moves from a form, I learned to approach certain, helpful instructors and ask them to “check” my progress. That usually got me some corrections and a few new techniques. To some, I was an impatient kid. To others, I was eager to learn. Years later, I would discover that some of my favorite classmates learned this same way!

Let’s discuss this topic (I’m actually changing the title of the article because of it) a little further.

We tend to frown on students who are eager to learn, because we want them to practice and focus on skill development rather than “learning too fast”. It is certainly understandable why students should take their time and develop skill–but what if a student trained hard and trained often and was ready for new material before his peers? Why should we hold him back or impede his progress? If he has put in the work, has developed good skill in a shorter amount of time than usual–what is wrong with allowing this student to learn at a pace his diligence and discipline will allow? Do we not tell students that their progress “depends on how fast you can learn and develop”? Or is that line only used to force students to learn at a slow place? Do we really mean it, or are we just throwing it out there to explain why we will selfishly hold on to knowledge to prevent students from learning and developing quickly?

It is doubtful that learning quickly if a student is hard working, eager, and disciplined is actually bad for him. One has to question why teachers started this “you must earn knowledge slowly” business in the first place. Perhaps it’s to prevent students from getting what they want and quitting. Or it ensures a steady flow of tuition by keeping them longer. Or how about this:  You simply don’t want them learning faster than you did. Remember, I am not saying teach a student who isn’t ready more material; we are referring to hard-working, diligent and consistent students who have learned and excelled faster than usual.

A question often heard is “How long will it take me to learn to fight?”

What do we tell them? Probably something silly like, “Learn the basics, take your time–maybe a year or two.”  I totally disagree. How long does it take a 5 year old child to learn to read? In Kindergarten, a five year old will learn his alphabet in September, and by December he is reading sight words and writing phonetically. So are we suggesting that a baby can learn to read quicker than a grown man can learn to defend himself? Ridiculous. A student who asks such a thing isn’t impatient, as we try to tell ourselves. He is simply trying to decide if he is wasting his money and his time. If you do not help him make and see progress in a few months–YOU are wasting his time. And unfortunately, so many Kung Fu Sifu waste students’ time that they rarely come to us for actual self-defense anymore. If you ever thought “interest in traditional Chinese martial arts is dead”, this is the #1 reason why. We are no longer meeting their needs.

May I remind you all, that this is not the Shaolin Temple or a Shaw Brothers film. If a guy comes to me to learn carpentry, I will have him doing basic jobs in a matter of weeks. If a teen signs up to learn to drive, we have him driving in a month. Why must self-defense take so long?

You couldn’t get away with that in an MMA or Kickboxing gym. Maybe that’s why they are kicking Kung Fu schools behinds at the bank.

The modern Kung Fu student is not as interested in learning to perform forms as we were 30 years ago. We were from a different time, we had different expectations, and things have changed. The traditional Chinese martial arts school has not kept up with the times, and we cannot accomodate the very real, modern-day needs of today’s student. This is why they come to us for esoteric reasons, and go to other styles–even Tae Kwon Do–for practical reasons. If it took a year before seeing results for weight loss, a class would go out of business. If I took a pill but did not see the health benefits for a year, I would stop taking it. If you gave your mechanic your car and he didn’t fix it for a year, you would change shops. Martial arts must be capable of meeting the needs of students in a realistic amount of time. Sure, to do a decent form a year of practice would be necessary. But if a student had been mugged and is in fear of being mugged again–forms should not be his focus in learning to protect himself and his family. He surely shouldn’t have to wait 12 months before being allowed to test his skills in self-defense.

Realistically, martial arts students should learn their basic skills in 1-2 months, and start sparring by the third. If you want to take 12 months to develop his traditional footwork and forms skills, do it. But help him see his progress for the goals he came to you for as quickly as possible. A school that can teach a man self-defense in 3 months is meeting needs. It does not come overnight, but it should not take a year or more. This alone will give the modern martial arts student the results needed to bring more people to the Chinese arts, as well as respect. Sparring and self-defense practice should be strongly intertwined with traditional training for it to be relevant to today’s needs. Instead of an arbitrary long waiting period for skill, allow students to move at their own pace and make your classes worth the money. Doing so will draw more people to your school and give everything students do in the classroom a point of reference. Once they have gotten their feet wet on the floor with gloves and headgear on, their training will make more sense as they see how this skill can be applied. This will be a challenge for teachers as well, who must find out the best way to prepare students for actual combat in just a few months.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.

Tempering Your Kung Fu, pt IV (Punch from a Cat Stance)

28 05 2016

Forms are encyclopedias for the system.


In an earlier article, I mention that the last stage of a Kung Fu man’s journey will end with “Kung Fu with an Accent” or a whole new style. When you get a chance, take a look at the article here. I would like to explain a little more about that in today’s article. Today, we will discuss ways that you can strengthen and explore your art. What you discover, and what you bring to the system after discovering, is what we call your “accent” on your chosen system of martial arts.

Aside from more practice and gaining more knowledge sitting at the feet of experience, there are many things martial artists can do to make their current arsenal and knowledge base stronger. Very often, martial artists reach outside their systems to add more arts and techniques to their curriculum. More, however, does not always mean better. Much of what can be used to strengthen your Kung Fu ability can come from rearranging the techniques in the system rather than crowding your curriculum with a million ways to throw a punch. The answer isn’t always “punch stronger, punch faster, punch more accurately”. The answer could be in “punch from a Cat Stance”.


Punching from a cat stance does sound strange, especially since few forms would actually have that combination. Let me ask you, does your style have a Cat Stance? Does your style have a punch? Then punching from a Cat Stance shouldn’t be that strange to you. I’ll explain in a second. For our Kung Fu to be more relevant, we should make it applicable to today’s self-defense student. Not many Kung Fu forms contain self-defense scenarios the way a generic self-defense class today would be organized. We might have defenses from a single punch, from a grab, from a Roundhouse kick, maybe even from a bear hug. What aren’t found in many forms would be defense from a knife attack, a gun pointed at our heads, an attack while we were sitting down, an attack in an elevator… But I am pretty positive that every person reading this article can find relatable techniques in their systems, if you just rearranged the moves and the applications.

In Jow Ga, we have a set of techniques called “Mo Ying Gerk”, the Shadowless Kick. Take a look below at one of the most common type in our forms.

It is a simple concept. Throw the hands into the opponent’s face to distract him, kick him while he reacts to the hands. But this technique could be applied to other situations:

  1. A lapel grab (single or double)
  2. An attempted lapel grab
  3. Pushing an opponent who is too close to you and attacking him preemptively
  4. Throwing something in the opponent’s face and then kicking him
  5. Distracting the opponent and knocking him down with a footsweep
  6. Blocking a punch with one hand, grabbing his head or other hand and kneeing him
  7. Grabbing the opponent’s guard and pulling him into a kick

There are a few others…

So, while one Jow Ga practitioner may only practice the Mo Ying Ger as an attack, we’ve just listed seven more ways to practice it (including five defensive techniques). How boring would Jow Ga be if I only practiced the techniques the way they are presented in the form? How many more uses could I be missing out on, if I never found other ways to apply these techniques? I’m willing to bet there are some who may have stepped out from Jow Ga to import techniques to be used in the above 7 situations, where they would have had an answer right here in at least eight forms that most practitioners already train with! Like I said, why add styles when one could simply rearrange and rethink what we already have?

And then we have layers to this Kung Fu. On one hand, one could practice techniques just as they are in forms–never find alternative applications, or never find better or other ways to use them. On the other, there are the questions I don’t think many stagnant practitioners are asking that Sifu Dean Chin asked:

  • In what ways can I hit my opponent harder?
  • In what ways can I hit my opponent without him seeing it?
  • In what ways can I hit my opponent faster?
  • In what ways can I hit my opponent unanswered?

I was in my teens and running from Si Hing to Si Hing, trying to learn more moves from a new form I was learning. In those days, we had a different Si Hing teaching every night, and my Sifu taught randomly during the week and on Sundays. I met with him daily after school, but those days were usually me practicing while he talked, and Sundays I had to share his attention with whatever students were there. Sifu sat me down one day and gave me a speech about “tempering” my Kung Fu knowledge. He explained how glass was made:  Sand was burned until it melted and was able to be shaped. Once it was shaped, it was polished and made ready to give to the customer. Usually, it was. But a craftsman who really had something valuable, would take that polished piece, and put it back in the oven to be heated again until it was about to melt, then removed and cooled. Then it was placed back, heated, removed, cooled, and then heated again. Each time a glass piece went through this process, it was taken to the point that it was about to be destroyed, where it was taken back to its near-original state, then removed, then back to the oven again. In the end, the glass piece looked as polished as any other fine-crafted piece. But this one was different; was sent back to the first place in the craftsman’s shop–the oven. It was sent back to the beginning stages although it looked finished, over and over. In the end, it was stronger and nearly unbreakable. So while it looked like everything else, it had been through the process over and over and over, unlike the others. The Kung Fu practitioner who has been sent back to the beginning stages and made to practice the foundation over and over until his body was about to break–is going through the same process. He knows the Sei Ping Ma, but continues to practice holding it. He knows the Single Punch, but continues to throw it as a beginner does–but for thousands and thousands of repetitions. In the end, he may know the same number of forms as his peers–but he has been tempered and his foundations has been strengthened just like that glass piece. He is unlike the others, who may have ten glass pieces–but his one is stronger than all ten put together.

The story was summarized in a notebook I kept on the same page with the above four questions. After my Sifu died, I continued rereading every page of that notebook and can recall nearly every word I’ve written. In everything I’ve done with the martial arts–Eskrima, Kuntaw, Boxing, Tae Kwon Do–the questions have been in the back of my mind while training. And I have never studied Kung Fu after I had learned the last form in our lineage’s Jow Ga curriculum. I have taken my Jow Ga and attempted to temper it by answering for myself the four questions. Rather than adding forms to my base, after I reached the end of our curriculum I stopped learning new forms and retrained all of them. From 1987 to the present, I have never added a new Kung Fu form to my base, until 2009, when I visited my Si Hing Rahim Muhammad. What I have done is to reheat my knowledge and break them down and my work still isn’t done. The tempering process for martial arts knowledge involves several steps, and I consider this to be one of the most important.

Back to the Mo Ying Ger, if you use it in sparring you will find it to be a very helpful, very effective technique. In most Jow Ga forms, the Shadowless kick is followed by a full step forward into a Sei Ping Ma, downward block and Horse Side Punch or Charp Choy. However, in sparring, not all opponents will move back giving you the room for a full step forward. The strongest fighters (or most aggressive) will attack you a split second after you throw the kick, and this will crowd your attempt to land with a horse side punch. After many failures with the MYG, I’ve come up with three more ways to use it:

  1. Land your foot at an angle outside and continue punching, or
  2. Land in a Cat Stance and either punch the opponent to tie up his hands, or
  3. Land in a Cat Stance and push him away and continue blasting forward

And there you have it. Punch from a Cat Stance. Land in a Cat Stance after throwing the Mo Ying Ger. Look at your Kung Fu, and find other ways to use it. How can your techniques be used to hit harder? How can your opponent counter you? How can you counter that counter? Can any of your techniques be used to stop a knife or a club? Can any of your techniques be used to stop a throw or grab or takedown? Can your techniques be used against fighting two opponents? Can your techniques be used while getting in or out of a car? In a hallway? On stairs? Against a bigger man? Against someone you don’t want to hurt (like an angry or drunk relative)? How would you teach a child to use these techniques against another child (without risking serious injury)? This is how you can put a personal stamp on your Kung Fu–and give your system an “accent” that only you can give, as only you will have these experiences.

I wish I could share with you all our innovations, but some things should be saved for our students. We will, however, share a lot with you in upcoming articles and videos. Please check back with us regularly, and please subscribe and share! By the way, the video above is Instructor Sharif Talib from Washington, DC. Make sure you subscribe to his channel, and make sure you also subscribe to mine. There will be plenty of new videos coming up with ways that some in our lineage train our Jow Ga, and we hope you find them useful.

Thank you for visiting the Dean Chins Jow Ga Federation.

Tempering Your Kung Fu pt III (Update the Ancient)

28 05 2016
  1. AKA “Jow Ga for the Y2Ks”

AKA “Self Defense with a Gun”

AKA “Why We Have Styles”

We take a lot of pride in saying that our arts are X centuries old, they are ancient, they have been passed down, blah blah blah. My question is this:  When was the last time you heard a Kung Fu Sifu say his students were unbeatable or the best fighters?

*Standing by while the usual hogwash about Kung Fu people should be humble and not brag is thrown out…*

We should probably begin this conversation by first challenging the notion that Kung Fu artists should not strive to be the best, claim to be the best, or want to be the best. Honestly. How many of you went out there when you first looked for a school and looked for the worst? How many of you looked at several arts and schools and chose something you thought was mediocre? How many of you looked to get into Kung Fu and actually felt like the skills you were learning would not protect you if you were attacked? How many of you are teaching or practicing a style you felt was not the best, not one of the best, or not effective at all?

Can we agree, that each of us chose our schools because we felt that the school we were in was the best we could find? If you don’t care to be the best at your craft or don’t believe you could be the best–I’m going to need you to take up some other activity. If you are not striving to become the best and you’re teaching, we need for you to shut down your school pronto; you are obviously in the wrong business. If the martial artist can accept mediocrity, if he is satisfied merely practicing the art and never perfecting the art, then the martial arts is in sad, sad shape. Sadly, this is true for many of us. And it seems to be a huge problem in the Chinese martial arts; too often, Sifus will call themselves “Masters” and then tell their mediocre students that they are somehow flawed if they try to outdo another. That somehow, striving to be better than the next guy is “arrogant” and misguided. Folks, if your Sifu is telling you that you shouldn’t endeavor to be better than the next guy let me tell you this:  You are in a weak school, your Sifu is weak, and he can never train you to being safe on the street–because he himself believes there is something wrong with exceling at the art. See, you cannot excel at the art if you do not compare yourself to another to decide if in fact you are “good”, “improving”, or “excellent”. If you do not hold your skill up to the next guy to see where you stand, you aren’t proficient at the art at all–you are just practicing the art. One can swim, but not be a swimmer. You can run, but if you do not enter races, you are no athlete. You can practice the martial arts, but without putting forth the effort of improving and going against another martial arts practitioner–you will never be a martial artist. And until you have gauged your skill against another and worked to improve over and over and over–you can never excel or ever claim to master the art.

And when you hear a teacher discourage a student from trying to be the best, you are listening to a man who does not believe his art is very good (believe and profess are two different acts). The truth is, this teacher may claim his art is good, but he knows it is not and this is why he does not want to ever say it in the presence of other teachers or martial artists.

Now let’s add this fact:  If your system’s Sijo never believed he had a better way to practice the arts, he would have never created his own style. If he felt his experience was nothing special, he would have stayed with the arts he learned and never dared to canonize it into the name you now know it by. So every system in existence was at one time believed by its creator to be a new, improved art–not just new and improved, but the best art he could come up with. And here we are today, thinking the art is perfect and can not be improved. In doing so, you dishonor your founder by allowing his art to become stale and outdated, bland and never-evolving. The truth of the Chinese arts is this–that many of us have allowed our arts to be just that. Stale, bland, shallow, stagnant, superficial. You practice form with no connection to anything alive. If you fight at all, you reach to other arts–most likely arts that are trendy and popular. You add nothing original from your life experiences to the art you learned 20 years ago; today at 40 you pass on exactly the same lessons you had when you were 20, adding nothing from 20 years of experience. When another man tells you he found a superior art to yours, your hands are tied in debating him… you’d probably agree to avoid a fight. If these founders could see what we see today, that 100+ years later, his great, great, great grandstudents are afraid to fight–after he fought all comers to give his art a reputation, but all you can do is ride his reputation–they would turn over in their graves. No one is suggesting that Kung Fu men should be arrogant or unlikeable. But you cannot claim excellence in the art if you do not put one foot in front of the other. You cannot get stronger if you do not give yourself some kind of resistance. Practicing in the sterile atmosphere of a friendly kwoon or giving demonstrations of form without putting your actual skills to the test against another practitioner will ensure that your skill only exists and survives. It is like the old man who has lived in a bubble for 90 years, never leaving his home town, never asking the prettiest girl on a date, never trying new foods, never asking his boss for a raise, never going out to see what the world has to offer but what is around him and his immediate environment. Sure, the guys who lived a little more suffered heartbreak, were denied raises, got lost on the freeway and in airports, got sick because they drank the water–maybe even passed away at 70–but they lived. And what great stories will be told at their funeral! Kung Fu can only be improved once it is tested by an outside, sometimes hostile, entity. Just as green fruit kept in a dark house will never sweeten like those outside in the sun–Kung Fu that has avoided defeat is nothing more than exercise.

And so you must look at your art, and figure out how the art can be improved. Is it truly applicable for the current times, or are you still doing the Waltz in the times of the Whip & Nae Nae? Have you continued your Sijo’s work of discovering what the best way to defend yourself is? Or have you declared that what he had discovered by the time of his death is sufficient and should never be updated? The Chinese language is perhaps one of the only things in China that has not evolved–and even Chinese has evolved! Kung Fu in 1950 is not the same as Kung Fu in 1850, and it sure isn’t the same as Kung Fu in 1750. We are in 2016. Weapons have changed, people are bigger and stronger than they were 100 years ago. Your Sijo lived in a time when the average person knew nothing about fighting unless they studied the arts; today’s adult grew up watching martial arts movies and boxing and wrestling on TV, playing football and taking Karate lessons. His system was made for a guy who probably had never thrown a punch or done a pushup in their lives; you live in a time where even little schoolgirls know how to fight. So, sure this art is ancient–but the times are not.

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.


New York Kung Fu (Kung Fu with an Accent)

22 05 2016

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

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

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


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

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

4.2 You create your own system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.