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.





Moe’s Still Got It (Longevity in Kung Fu)

30 09 2014

Craig Horse stance

Also known as “Craig’s Still Got It”…

It’s taken me 5 months to write this article.

So, in the months we’ve started this blog, we have gone from three guys (Ron Wheeler, Sharif Talib, and Maurice Gatdula) discussing shining a light on Dean Chin’s memory, to rounding up the legends of American Jow Ga and locating old friends and family, to planning an American Jow Ga family reunion like you wouldn’t believe. In all of this, I have made an observation that I cannot make about my other martial arts family–my Filipino Martial Arts family:  Everywhere I look, I see men in their 50s and 60s who look great. Not just “great for their age”–which is an insult to all the hard work and discipline these folks have put into still maintaining their health–but amazing in that they have maintained their youthful vibrance into an age where men are beginning to die of old age and health problems. By contrast, in the other martial arts circles I run in, I have noticed that bellies, beards and health problems run amok in men who have barely left their prime.

Even in other Chinese martial arts families I have known, the sense of athleticism isn’t there. The competitive nature of the family members isn’t there. The feuds we have isn’t even there, in the way that we have them. And I have a theory.

Chinese martial artists are always talking about “longevity” and “vitality”–ideals that most martial artists give lip service to, but few really pursue. So what are these things anyway? Is it just the endeavor to live a long life?

Martial Arts in its purest state is at its core a means of self-preservation. To some, it simply means the will to remain alive. To others, it is the effort to remain alive. There is a difference. In the same way martial artists can take a passive approach to their craft, they can also elect to take a very aggressive, assertive, proactive approach to the art. Self defense can deflect an attacker with the simple desire to get away and stay alive–or it can be an action verb, to stay alive and eliminate the attacker. The two mentalities are not the same and I submit to you that they are not equal. A passive approach for the martial artist may fail. In fact, it is highly possible that it will fail should the passive martial artist encounter an extremely hostile, violent opponent. Fighting involves more than simply knowing techniques and being able to use them. Fighting is often psychological, where one man is trying to take the life of the other. In this case, the only way to stop him would be to render him incapable of continuing to fight; this method most likely will involve crippling, maiming of killing the opponent. Passive martial artists dislike this kind of talk. They believe that a man hell-bent on taking your life can be subdued and stopped relatively unhurt using the correct technique and appropriate amount of force.

On the other side of this philosophy is the idea that one must be prepared to kill his opponent, to break his bones, to permanently disfigure him, to crush his windpipe, to put his eye out his socket… Whatever it takes to stop the opponent and eliminate the threat. The more violent the opponent or opponents, the more violent the reaction. This is a mindset, not a set of techniques. In teaching students this very specialized skill, you must also teach him the thinking of one who must use these techniques. One cannot simply teach a form with such techniques, teach him a method of performing the routine in an aesthetcially pleasing manner and leave it at that. You must condition the student to be able to hurt the opponent with these skills without hesitation. You must train him until he is not physically inferior to the attacker. You must make him mentally and emotionally tough so that he knows when to use the skills and can do so without feelings of guilt. He must be tolerant of pain and fear. He must believe that he cannot be defeated and believe that he is superior to his attackers. Only then, can a martial arts practitioner be capable of facing two or three men prepared to do him harm and send them to the hospital while he goes home safe.

So, you betcha there is a heirarchy of martial arts philosophies. One is passive and in denial about what combat really is, while the other understands that combat is not a noun, but an action verb. One teacher simply wants to live a long life, while the other wants to stay alive. One trains as a prescription to old age and poor health–and the other trains as if his life depended on it. One takes care of his body so it will still carry blood and oxygen for years and years, while the other wants to become as strong and durable and youthful as it ever was. Both will live a long time. Both are still martial artists. Perhaps one does it because he simply wants to live until he is 90. While the other may be motivated by ego or vanity–he clearly wants to live until he is 90 and hear the words, “Moe still got it.” He wants to still do the things he did as a young man when he is older. He doesn’t want to simply live, he wants to live with life pumping through his veins. They both never plan to retire, but one takes a passive approach to his aging self and the other holds on to his youth.

If you round up a group of 20 former casual martial artists, meaning they never competed, never fought to be the best, never engaged in the rat race of martial artists with an ego–all in their 50s–you will likely find men who no longer “do” martial arts. They may teach, own schools, etc., but they most likely don’t fight, compete in tournaments, and so on. They will likely be out of shape and full of health problems. On the other hand, round up a group of 20 former competitors, fighters and champions–you will most likely find the opposite. Surely, there will be bald heads and some pot bellies. But more often than not, you will find men at an advanced age, who still have “it” like they did when they were young. Because men like this can never walk away from the martial arts and the question we always ask when we are around another guy:  “I wonder if I can take him?”  <—- And this question keeps men like myself, Ron Wheeler, Sharif Talib, Craig Lee training so that, decades later, when people finally run into you, they just shake their head saying, “Yeah, Craig still got it…”

The late Master Dean Chin’s approach to Jow Ga was not that Kung Fu is a party art. It was not for the masses. It was not something we did for certificates and rank. It was a path to guaranteed preservation. Preseveration in combat when you’re young, and the side effect of that is that your youth will be preserved when you are older. It’s not enough to just still be here. You want to be here, just as strong, just as full of life as you’ve ever been. Longevity, then, if you are training your Kung Fu for the same reasons we do, if a means to bottling up the young man within you and keeping hold of it while you’re old.

If you ask me, this group of Kung Fu men (the youngest one is 45, by the way) are a fine looking bunch. Thank you for visiting the Dean Chin Jow Ga Federation.

Raymong Wong, Hon Lee, Kenny Chin

Raymong Wong, Hon Lee, Kenny Chin

Kenny Chin, Ricardo Ho, Craig Lee, and Ron Wheeler

Kenny Chin, Ricardo Ho, Craig Lee, and Ron Wheeler

Kenny Chin, Raymond Wong, Chris Henderson, Ron Wheeler, Ricardo Ho

Kenny Chin, Raymond Wong, Chris Henderson, Ron Wheeler, Ricardo Ho





Small Tiger Form (Step-by-Step)

20 03 2013

Performed by a student from the Wong Chinese Boxing Association. This is the first of three parts.

Enjoy!

And as always, if you would like to learn more about the system, please contact a Jow Ga Sifu. Thanks for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.