Failure to plan is planning for failure…

11 Dec

Failure to plan is planning for failure. Or, as a popular wrestling saying goes, proper preparation precludes poor performance. Of course, the following is just my opinion; but it is the opinion of someone who has been teaching 25 years and training fighters for 20 years. I also would say that my program has provided both benefits and real skills to even non-competitive students over the years. These are the things I believe a real program should entail.



Proper conditioning is the foundation of not only martial arts, but life itself. I am consistently amazed how some martial arts schools not only don’t provide proper conditioning, but even shy away from it, afraid it will scare off students. One of the most tangible benefits of martial arts training is improved health.

Boxing structure


I use the term “boxing structure” in a more liberal sense. I don’t mean only western boxing techniques, but I mean first learning hand techniques. We are much more comfortable, indeed we have natural developmental pathways for using our hands. I introduce stance and the proper mechanics of power generation in a set framework. For beginners, having a few basics rules they can refer to. Students learn the basic strikes, and then learn the defenses.

Footwork and movement


The cliche is in fact true; footwork is both the most basic and the most advanced aspect of martial arts. Since I have established an existing framework with the boxing structure, my footwork is pinned to this. Students learn to move to close the distance, evade, set up angles of attack, to slip, to duck and to set up shooting.



People are not used to using their legs in the same manner they use their legs. There is no natural developmental pathway. For this reason, learning to use the legs is a longer, and at times uncomfortable, process. An instructor should always keep that in mind.

Clinching (standing grappling)

In my opinion, standing grappling is the most important and varied, but most frequently ignored aspect of martial arts training. For self defense, it is the most essential. No matter what, you will end up in a clinch in a real fight. I have broken down the clinch/standing grappling as such;

- hand fighting
– body clinching
– neck clinching
– arm clinching
– entries
– escapes
– striking
– takedowns / throws
– defenses against takedowns / throws
– standing submissions

I have 25 years experience structuring programs and teaching classes. If you are a school owner or instructor and need help, I am available for consult at


Training with Equipment

9 Dec


The heavy bag
The heavy bag is the most basic piece of training equipment. Its primary use is to allow the student to practice their striking and kicking techniques at full power and to become accustomed to the impact. However, when properly utilized, the bag can also be used to teach distance, timing and footwork. The following points should be kept in mind when practicing;

 Don’t stand square in front of the heavy bag. Use your fighting stance, keeping one shoulder in front of the other.

 Don’t stand in place in front of the heavy bag. Move in both directions around the bag.

 Since you do not have to worry about injuring a partner, use full speed and power.

 Picture the heavy bag as an actual opponent with arms and legs. Identify actual anatomical targets on the bag.

 The most effective fighters visualize oncoming attacks and defend as well as launching attacks.

Muay Thai pads
Muay Thai pads are strapped to the trainer’s forearms and allow the student to practice both striking and kicking techniques in combination while developing focus, accuracy, distance, reaction time and footwork. The trainer may also use shin-n-instep guards and various kinds of body armor that will allow even more variety in the types of techniques being practiced. With the exception of actual free sparring, working with the forearm pads is the most realistic practice a student can engage in.

After an initial period of learning how to hold the pads and getting familiar with the format, it is time to start interactive pad work. In addition to holding the pads for the student to attack, the person holding the pads will also attack so that defense is incorporated into the training.

Leg Kick Shield
1. Jab, right round kick (leg)
2. Jab, right round kick (leg), cross
3. Cross, right round kick (leg) (“double wind”)
4. Foot jab
5. Foot jab, thrust kick
6. Foot jab, right round kick (leg)
7. Right low kick, sprawl
8. Skip knees
9. Foot jab, thrust kick, side kick, back kick
10. Foot jab, side kick, back kick

Where did we go wrong? Chinese martial arts and fighting

8 Dec

My name is David Ross. For those who do not already know me, I began training in the Dang Fong lineage of Hung Ga, studied Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling), and eventually became the adopted (Baai Si) disciple of the late Chan Tai-San where I learned Lama Pai and some Choi Lei Fat from him for sixteen years.

For about twenty years, I have trained fighters. My students have seen success in Sanshou/San Da, Muay Thai, amateur boxing, kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts. All in all, I have trained 3 world champions, 18 national (tournament) champions, national and regional champions in these combat sports. While I have cross trained, the marrow of my teaching is based upon my Chinese martial arts, particularly Chan Tai-San’s Lama Pai.

Perspective is always relative to your position. I grew up in a time when Chinese martial arts had a lot of fighting. I have noted that the fighting was not always organized, nor very fair, but it certainly existed. My Youtube channel has a few examples of this “old school” – see below:

These days, if you post these clips in a forum dedicated to Chinese martial arts, you will hear a number of different responses. For some, it is validation of what they do. They exclaim “see, kung fu fighting.” Others dismiss it entirely. It is mere “sport” and, after all, “kung fu is about real fighting.” Those clips demonstrate nothing but “kickboxing,” i.e, they do not show real application of Chinese martial arts.

To me, these responses and discussions are very important to understand why Chinese martial arts has lost its fighting reputation, why so many of its students lack skills and to find solutions to these issues. My thesis, very little people understand what Chinese martial art was really about, its history in relation to larger Chinese history and the origins of many of conceptions which, even at their best, obscure important issues.


To those who hold up the “old days” of fighting and insist that Chinese martial arts are fine as they are, I use clips such as those above to disagree. A trained boxer, kickboxer or Muay Thai fighter will provide you a long list of things wrong in those clips. My own short list would have to include (1) sloppy execution of basic techniques, (2) lack of good combinations, (3) lack of good defense and (4) lack of conditioning.


However, I also use those same clips against those who attempt to dismiss Chinese martial arts wholesale. Chinese martial arts is in NO WAY simply “fluff.” Many of today’s critics aren’t even aware that for instance, in the United States, the first “full contact” events were done by Chinese martial arts groups. Chinese martial arts has had it’s fair share of fighters and much of the authentic material is not only effective, it has the unique feature of already being “integrated.” Chinese martial art was “mixed martial art” long before the UFC. Authentic Chinese martial art MUST include Tek (kick), Da (Strike), Seut (Wrestle) and Na (Seizing).


Those in the Mou Lam who dismiss these events and talk about “real fighting” demonstrate that they have a very poor understanding of the history of the real arts. If we consult General Qi Jiguang’s books we learn that the real Chinese martial artists have long had to warn about “flowery” technique and remind the hobbyist that real application is not “pretty.” If we examine the Lei Tai events from the early nationalist period, we see that those who were effective fighters were pragmatic and open minded. Their critics similarly dismissed them as not showing “real Chinese martial art” but engaged in their criticism from the audience, afraid to actually fight! Professor Xia Bahua, former president of the Chinese Wushu Association and a founder of the Sanshou program at the Beijing Physical Culture Institute, had in several interviews discussed that many so-called “traditional” techniques are not in fact practical and that a real martial artist keeps an open mind. I could make a long list of these sorts of examples.

My personal perspective; when I began training students to fight many of our early fights looked like the clips above. We quickly learned that experience at fighting, proper conditioning and cross training improved those results. Thus, I ask why Chinese martial arts as a whole did not learn a similar lesson? Perhaps worse, I personally watched Sanshou pushed out of the major Chinese martial arts events in the United States. I personally watched the focus in Chinese martial arts move even farther away from practical fighting.

When people ask me why these changes occurred, I am afraid I have many answers but the most depressing is the most obvious. Many of the individuals in positions of importance benefit from the misinformation, misconceptions and outright fantasy perpetuated in the modern Mo Lam. And they would suffer if the standard they were held to was the ability to effectively teach practical fighting.

REPOST: THE Korean martial art (not what you think!)

6 Dec

UNESCO has added the first martial art ever to its list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”. China has long pushed for the inclusion of “Shaolin kung fu” but the bid failed in the 12th hour. The martial art to be added is not Japanese either, neither Karate nor Judo (the latter which Japan itself has pushed for inclusion). It is a Korean marital art. More to the point, its inclusion on the UNESCO list would make it THE Korean martial art. However, it’s an art many in the Western world has never heard of, an art called TaekKyun.

In the Western world, Koran martial art = Taekwondo, but the real story is a bit more complex. The inclusion of TaekKyun on the UNSECO list prompted an article in the Korea Times (“Han Guk Il Bo”) which I personally found fascinating. When I was doing Taekwondo, the issue of Japanese (read Karate) influence on the art was taboo to discuss but always pretty obvious. The average person could see the same stances, the same strikes, the same blocks. In my case, my Taekwondo teacher taught us the “original Moo Duk Kwan forms” which were Karate Kata (Heian, Tekki, Bassai, etc). Even the “Korean forms” which came along, the “Palgwe”, looked like re-hashes of the Heian kata.

The Korean instructors insisted that Taekwondo descended from ancient Korean martial arts, but the stories never were more than “legends” and it was an established fact that the last living taekkyun master, Song Duk-ki, had no relationship with any of the original Taekwondo schools. Taekwondo strived to be more “Korean”. Despite practicing kata (forms) based upon Japanese Karate with few kicking techniques, Taekwondo began to mirror TaekKyun in its emphasis on kicks. Taekwondo masters developed a wide range of thrusting, spinning and jumping kicks.

Again, to discuss any of this openly was TABOO, which is why I was shocked to see it discussed so openly now in the Korea Times. Apparently, and remember that I have been removed from the Korean martial arts community for almost 25 years, this openness is related to a general decline in Taekwondo in Korea itself. Part of this decline is precisely due to the rebirth of TaekKyun.

After the Japanese occupation of Korea, TaekKyun was on shaky legs. By the mid 20th century there was only one living recognized master, Song Duk-ki. But the ancient martial art survived Song’s death in 1987 and his students oversaw the art surging in popularity in the 1990s, mainly on university campuses. It became increasingly obvious, even to the layman’s eyes, that TaekKyun was very different than Taekwondo and it raised questions about Taekwondo’s dubious historical claims. Now, an official designation recognizing taekkyun, not taekwondo, as Korea’s traditional martial art, drives a further nail into Taekwondo’s re-constructed history.

Another point raised by this article I of course also found fascinating. Another factor contributing to the decline of Taekwondo in Korea itself is the ever increasing popularity of Mixed Martial Arts. The modern Korean has experienced growing prosperity making them less hardy, while ever-increasing leisure options create competition for martial arts. Thus, in a dwindling pool of prospective students, Taekwondo has found itself competing with MMA, and losing.

All pretty fascinating stuff to me at least.

Hidden history: avoiding the real world in martial arts legends

5 Dec

As I have stated numerous times previously, martial arts stories are seldom real history, with one of their most important defects being a failure to recognize the intersection of the martial arts world with the “real world.” I’ve seen countless martial arts stories that patently ignore well established facts and realities. Worse yet, many students reading these stories never appreciate how the agendas and complexities of that “real world” have effected the accounts they read. Today’s blog post is about these “hidden histories.”


Jigoro Kano (1860 – 1938) was not simply the founder of Judo, he fundamentally changed the martial arts world with his concepts of randori (乱取り) and shiai (試合). Today, many appreciate his contribution to modern Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. An educated few appreciate his contribution to Russian Sambo. Most are ignorant of, or consciously try to deny, his link to modern Sanshou / San Da. The entire history of Kano, Judo, randori, and shiai is obscured by the influences of the “real world.”


For decades now, histories (if we can really call them that) of Judo have often failed to cite the role of Japanese militarism, World War II, and the post war occupation of Japan upon Judo’s development. Kano was actually an opponent of Japan’s militarism and resisted attempts to turn his Kodokan into a military academy. Some believe that Kano was actually poisoned by the Japanese government to remove him as an obstacle to inclusion of the Kodokan as a military academy. Keeping this in mind, in the post war occupation period, the Kodokan not only had to quickly distance themselves from their ties to Japanese militarism, they also had to reform their image as physical education and sport rather than fighting art in order to secure permission to re open their doors. Thus, discussions of randori and shiai as COMBAT TRAINING METHODS remained largely obscured in post-war Kodokan writings.

Note the rifles on the walls

Note the rifles on the walls

Judo’s original format stressed throws designed to either knock out an opponent or injure them enough to make them submit. When that was not sufficient, ground work (newaza) would result in either a choke or joint attack that would make the opponent submit (or go unconscious). This is to say, Judo was not a “sport”, it was a COMBAT METHOD.


Nothing demonstrates this fact better than an 1886 challenge match between Kano’s Kodokan Judo and the so called “deadly” traditional Jujitsu Ryu organized by the Tokyo Police. The Tokyo Police were interested only in one thing, what was effective. The 1886 matches have been either obscured or ignored by most mainstream accounts for obvious reasons. They were “no rules” matches designed to prove which art was the most effective COMBAT METHOD. The Kodokan won 13 of the 15 matches (two being labelled “draws”?). Even more obscured, to further the Kodokan’s re-branding of itself as physical education and sport, is the fact that some of the traditional Jujitsu Ryu participants subsequently died from injuries they received from being thrown!


Our history now shifts focus to the former Soviet Union and the martial art of Sambo. A man named Vasili Oshchepkov was certainly one of the founding fathers of this martial art, if not THE major influence. Living on the eastern fringes of the Russian empire, in land of disputed ownership, Oshchepkov was admitted to the Kodokan at age 19, the first Russian and only the fourth European in history to receive a black belt ranking in Judo from Kano. Oshchepkov was exposed to how randori and shiai took traditional methods and made them alive and practical, and applied the same principles to native, ethnic Russian styles of fighting.


If you are unfamiliar with Vasili Oshchepkov, or Kodokan Judo’s relationship to Russian Sambo, it is due the very real world political realities that were at play in the former Soviet Union. Oscchepkov was accused of being a Japanese spy and placed in prison during political purges in the 1930’s. Once again, to ignore that traditions exist within the context of the real world, that martial artists are just as effected by the history and politics around them, is to fail to properly understand many things.


Other real world influences upon so called martial arts histories are nationalism and xenophobia. There is no place this is more true than China. Chinese martial arts stories frequently obscure or flatly deny any foreign influences, whether those influences are western boxing, Japanese Judo or Russian martial arts. Of course, you can deny all you want, but facts will always remain.


I’ve encountered many revisionists who have attempted to refute the following, but please see if you follow me. Let us begin with established historical fact. In January 1923 Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, leader of the Guomindang (Nationalist party) signed an agreement with the Soviet Union. The Russians promised Sun not only arms, but advisers as well.

“Since we wish to learn their (the Soviet Union’s) methods, I have asked (Soviet advisor) Mr. (Michael) Borodin to be director of training of our Party.”

Michael Borodin

Michael Borodin

Michael Borodin led a contingent of Soviet advisers to Guangzhou, where Sun had established a local government. Under Borodin’s tutelage, the Guomindang embraced Soviet principles of party organization and of party discipline and learned methods of mass organization, propaganda and infiltration. In 1924, the Whampoa Military Academy was established with Soviet assistance in order to train the party’s leadership cadre and create a modern military force. Soviet style political science classes were instituted (taught by Zhou Enlai) and the Peasant Training Institute, where the young Mao Zedong served, was created.


Whampoa included in it’s curriculum close quarters combat (CQC) training for its military cadets. This trained was influenced by the current Soviet methods of CQC, i.e. Sambo. Of course, Sambo had been influenced by Oshchepkov’s Judo training; concepts of randori and shiai. These were the beginnings of Sanshou / San Da. Yet many revisionists remain who want to deny this.

Military Sanshou 1

Once again, the historical record is very clear. Every single aspect of both the Guomindang party and the Whampoa Academy was subject to Soviet influence; the party organization, the party discipline, the political indoctrination, mass organization methods, Soviet style infiltration and sabotage methods, political science courses, etc etc etc. I’ve confronted these revisionists with this, they don’t (because they can not) deny it. Their response? Every single aspect of the Guomindang and Whampoa during this period was under Soviet influence EXCEPT the martial arts training! I will leave the reader to ponder this claim.

Kung Fu’s incestuous past PART THREE

25 Nov

PLEASE NOTE: Before you begin reading this blog, be sure to read Kung Fu’s incestuous past PART TWO

As we examine the story of Hung Hei-Gun (洪熙官) and the Hung Ga martial arts tradition, we begin to see many common threads in Southern Chinese martial arts. They all have common bonds in Fujian province, they all attempt to link themselves not only to a “Shaolin monastery” in Fujian, but also to the legendary “Shaolin Elders.” Of course, we have already discussed the lack of evidence of such a monastery and the counter evidence that these stories might all have common origin in a myth created by secret societies both as a recruitment tool and as a legitimization and justification tool.

Tourist dollars obscure searches for the truth about "Fujian Shaolin"

Tourist dollars obscure searches for the truth about “Fujian Shaolin”

If you keep digging, the common threads begin to weave together. For example, Hung Hei-Gun meets, exchanges kung fu with and marries Fong Wing-Chun (方詠春). Is Fong related to the Fujian white crane tradition? Perhaps to Wing Chun? Perhaps to both? Some stories tell us that Fong’s uncle is no other than Fong Sai-Yuk (方世玉), another of southern China’s famous kung fu figures.


Fong Sai-Yuk may or may not have killed or been killed by Pak Mei (白眉), another one of the legendary elders of the Fujian Shaolin monastery. Of course, the fact that Pak Mei may never have existed further complicates our tale. In 2012 academic research was done into the origins of the Pak Mei kung fu system. Both American and Chinese professors, of both history and Buddhist studies participated, including members of the Emei mountain historical society in Sichuan province. They note that the earliest reference to Pak Mei are not in historical records but rather in a “Wu Xia” novel called Wunnian Qing (A Thousand Years Green or Evergreen). This novel is in fact the source of the “Shaolin temple elders” story, with no reliable, historical documents to support it.


Another aspect of Fong Sai-Yuk stories concern his mother and primary instructor, Miu Chui-Fa (苗翠花). Miu Chui-Fa is yet another figure of prominence in southern kung fu, with many tales about her skill. She is also supposed to be the daughter of yet another of the Shaolin elders, Miu Hin (苗顯). Not only are all three of these figures associated with the so called Fujian Shaolin temple, they also appear in different versions of stories concerning Fujian white crane, sub traditions of Hung system and even some Wing Chun traditions. Incestuous indeed these kung fu people!


However, it is at this point that we see a pin point of light shine through a curtain of what is probably for the most part fiction. Miu (苗) is a relatively rare family name. It is in fact one of those names that does NOT appear in the “Book of One Hundred Names.” It is also a family that has many verifiable historical records concerning it.


The Miu family, NOT to be confused with the Miao ethnic people, were in fact strongly affiliated with the former Ming Dynasty. As such, they have been persecuted and “moved north” until they settled on Zhou Shan Island (舟山岛) in Zhejiang Province (浙江省). They were warriors, as evidenced by the fact they settled in what had formerly been the Zhang (張) ancestral fortress, i.e. they forced them out (I know this because I have been there personally).

A quick look at a map will reveal that Zhou Shan Island is south of Shanghai. While we don’t know exactly how far north the Miao family was forced moved, south of Zhejiang is Fujian. So we have a family that potentially was situated near Fujian, which definitely was both affiliated with the former dynasty and which had an established tradition of training warriors. A Miu Hin or a Miu Chui-Fa, a trained martial artist with anti-Qing sentiments, can therefore not completely be ruled out as a possibility.

Kung Fu’s incestuous past PART TWO

24 Nov

Kung Fu’s incestuous past: Part Two
subtitled: When legend, illiteracy and confusion cross paths

For many students of Chinese martial arts, their first source of information on their systems might have been the popular Shaw Brothers films. In fact, a book purporting to be a Hung Ga history that circulated in the early 1990’s in the United States was based almost entirely upon the Lau family’s many Hung Ga themed movies as sources. As absurd as that might sound, the harsh reality is that the stories which teachers held in their lineages and even many of the published books contained stories no less fanciful and no more authentic.


Chinese martial arts stories, I avoid using the term “history” here and will explain why shortly, first and foremost will always be subject to the fact that they originate and were contained in a subculture that was at best semi-literate and poorly educated. A prime example is how they often attempt to validate themselves with reference to imperial reigns only to contradict themselves in the process. In my own lineage, we hear stories about Sing Lung (聖龍) arriving in Southern China during the reign of the Daoguang Emperor (道光) and facing the pirate Cheung Po-Tsai (张保仔). Our ancestors didn’t have easy reference to Google, nor a library most likely, or they wouldn’t have made such obvious errors.

Cheung Po Tsai

Cheung Po Tsai

Another, perhaps less obvious, observation about Chinese martial arts stories is that they are not history. Not in the modern, academic sense. They are literature and propaganda. They are more concerned with spreading a tradition, validating it, bringing it fame and honor. So, keeping this all in mind, consider some of the stories we have been given about our traditions.


Hung Hei-gun (洪熙官) is said to have originally been a tea merchant with the name Jyu (朱). Chinese martial arts stories tell us he studied at a/the (?) “Shaolin monastery” in Fujian province, with one of the legendary Shaolin elders Jee Sin (至善), until the temple was attacked and destroyed by the Qing Dynasty. He then became involved with anti-Qing movements and is credited as the founder of the Hung Ga system.


This short summary already confronts us with several problems. First, and perhaps the least problematic, is how most Hung Ga lineages trace back not to Hung Hei-Gun but to Luk Ah Choi (陸亞采), who may or may have not studied with Hung Hei-Gun, depending upon which story you have heard and/or want to believe. However, by far, the more problematic issues revolve around the lack of substantiation of any Fujian Shaolin temple, nor any evidence of the Qing Dynasty attacking or destroying one. Instead, we have much more documented and detailed accounts of how secret societies made up stories about a Fujian temple as a recruitment tool and justification for their existence. These same secret societies also associated themselves with the name “Hung,” raising questions of the actual origins of the martial arts tradition.


Hung Hei-Gun is said to have met and married a woman named Fong Wing-Chun (方詠春), who practiced crane style kung-fu. In the book “Tiger and Crane Double Form” written under Lam Sai Wing’s supervision by his pupils; Hung, who had beaten dozens of the best fighters with his hard fists and aggressive tiger claws style before, was not able to defeat the weak lady with her soft and elegant style. Fong offered to teach Hung her crane style in exchange for helping her to avenge her father’s death. Thus, the core part of the famous “Tiger and Crane Double Form.”


At this point, I suggest you make sure you are comfortable in your seat, perhaps pour yourself a nice coffee or tea, and prepare for all the problems associated with this story. Let’s begin with the ambiguous “crane style” that is purported to be the basis of the “Tiger and Crane Double form.” We know beyond a reasonable doubt that material from Wong Yan Lam, the Hop Ga/Tibetan White Crane/Lama Pai lineage teacher, made its way into the set. We find Wong Yan Lam’s material not only in the long arm fist strikes, but even in the crane techniques. In other accounts, we also find versions of stories that state that in fact, the “Tiger and Crane Double Form” is in fact a composite of several different traditions; techniques Wong Fei Hung (黃飛鴻) absorbed into his curriculum. Should we not ask, is the story of Fong Wing-Chun just a “nicer” way to validate the “Tiger and Crane Double set”? A story that makes the set older and attributing it to the founder of the system?


A story about a woman with the family name Fong and “crane” kung fu also divert our attention to Fujian white crane kung fu. Fujian white crane kung fu credits as its founder a woman named Fong Chat-Leong (方七娘). Both the Fukien white crane story and the Hung Ga story describe a woman who had already studied martial arts, but is inspired by an unsuccessful attempt to shoo away cranes with a staff. But wait, the story gets complicated further…

Yim Wing Chun

For others, a female martial artist with the name “Wing Chun” divert our attention to Yim Wing-Chun (嚴詠春) and the Wing Chun system. Yim Wing-Chun is also associated with a fabled Fujian Shaolin temple, in this case through another of the legendary Shaolin elders Ng Moi (五枚).


Wait! Want to blow your mind? Wait for it, wait for it….. In Fujian white crane lineages, we are told that Fong Chat-Leong eventually marries a respected martial artist and moves to…. are you ready? Wing Chun county, Fujian Province….


What exactly are we seeing? Confusion in which details of different traditions and persons are crossing over? The same master narrative, but broken up by traditions that only had partial information? Or perhaps, cynically, the creation of characters to suit an agenda, the details of such creations borrowed from a real but unrelated person? Any or all of the above more likely in my opinion.

Tomorrow, in part three, I will continue this story and follow a tenuous thread to real, verifiable martial arts history.

Traditional vs Modern: wrong thinking

19 Nov


I occupy a rather unique position in the larger martial arts community. I don’t want that interpreted as “special,” or “better,” or as some sort of conceit. I am just explaining my perspective and how I arrived at it. I spent the early part of my life receiving some excellent traditional training. I’ve always said it was just blind luck; I take no credit for it. I stumbled upon the late Pong Ki Kim and received excellent, authentic Korean martial arts training. I stumbled upon my Hung Ga training, in a small private setting where I got quality instruction and personal attention. I stumbled upon Shihfu Jeng Hsin Ping’s Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling) school. I initially wasn’t even interested in meeting Chan Tai-San when he was first suggested to me. Can you imagine that?


My cross training, in modern methods, in modern combat sports, was a much more conscious effort. I actively sought out instruction in areas I felt I was either weak or completely lacking. However, I appear to have had the same blind luck in many respects; I had opportunities to train with so many great figures in that world. I was honored to even develop relationships and friendships with a few. Truly I tell you, I am not special in any way. I am just and extremely lucky guy who was blessed by forces beyond me.


As a result of my unique position, I have been able to develop some interesting relationships with some disparate groups. So I suspect my audience will be mixed and I’ve tried to write with the intent of connecting with each group and finding common ground. First, and I suspect perhaps the majority who will read it, come from Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) community. While some seem to have an automatic antipathy towards the modern approach to martial arts, most simply don’t know much about it. My hope is that this book might suggest to them the potential benefits and new insights the modern approach offers. For the second group, my friends in the modern, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) community I’d like this volume to suggest new training methods, ways of improving their programs in their schools and finally, to suggest to them that these two groups can benefit from each other and should be working together towards the future of all martial arts.

pkkim school

- Traditional Martial Arts (TMA)

As a person with an extensive traditional martial arts background who now runs a school and program with a modern, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) approach, I am still somewhat puzzled by the traditional martial arts community’s resistance and, at times, outright hostility to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). If you are a real traditional martial artist, you should be thrilled to see the fighting arts finally getting the attention they deserve. You should also take this opportunity to re-invigorate your practice and your school.

If you haven’t already done so, sit down and watch a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) event; Straight punches, hook punches, front kicks, round kicks, sidekicks, foot sweeps, throws, takedowns, joint locks and chokes. These are techniques we’ve all practiced, which we all have in our self-defense programs, which we all have in our forms, sets, Hyungs or Kata.

If you are from the traditional Chinese martial arts community, I always point out that traditional Chinese martial arts has the “Si Ji Fa” (四擊法) or the Four Martial Arts Skills. These four skills are Ti (踢) Kicking, Da (打) Striking, Shuai (摔) Grappling and Throwing, and Na (拿) Seizing and Controlling. Is this not a central aspect of our tradition? Do Chinese martial arts not teach us that these four skills are essential and MUST fully integrated? To me, sure does sound like “mixed martial arts” is hardly a new concept, it is rather ALWAYS been a Chinese martial arts concept.

Clearly, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) didn’t invent the techniques being used in modern combat sports. They are drawn from traditional martial arts systems and we’ve all learned them. Nor is the idea of competitive fighting really unique either, but that’s for another book perhaps? The difference between Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is not “what” they train; it is “how” they train.


- Modern Martial Arts (MMA)

I am certainly not the first person to substitute the word “Modern” for “Mixed” in the acronym MMA. It isn’t just marketing, or a gimmick. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) really is a modern way of viewing the martial arts, though its rapid growth has been accompanied by its own share of issues.

As I write this, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (“UFC”), the foremost Mixed Martial Arts event in the world, is over two decades old. The first UFC introduced (really re-introduced, but again, that is another book) the United States martial arts community to the idea of Mixed Martial Arts. Initially, the Mixed Martial Arts approach appealed to those who had backgrounds in traditional martial arts but had run away from the more restrictive and ridiculous aspects of traditional martial arts. People like me, with backgrounds in Chinese or Korean or Japanese martial arts, started practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling, started sparring with more contact and in more open formats allowing more legal techniques.

Today, Mixed Martial Arts has become its own community and many members of that community have never done a traditional martial art. People have actually grown up watching the UFC and its television series, “Ultimate Fighter,” and when they got old enough, signed up a facility dedicated to MMA. It’s cliché of course, but these guys show up in their MMA clothing and do a few punches, a few kicks, some takedowns and some rolling. Today’s MMA facility is NOT a martial arts school and these guys never get that sense of tradition, structure or respect.

When your community is twenty-something-year-olds whose entire frame of reference is the most elite, professional combat sport in the world, you get misperceptions of reality and you also risk raising a generation of potential bullies. The modern MMA person is under the false perception that every martial arts teacher should be a professional fighter and every student should also be some sort of fighter. This is clearly not reality. The MMA community is also quickly learning that a head instructor’s primary responsibility isn’t to be a great fighter; it is to be a teacher and a coach, and often a mentor.

In the combat sports community, I think my best friends are those affiliated with Muay Thai (Thai boxing). They engage in practical fighting, they approach training progressively, but they also have a connection with a tradition. It is somewhat ironic, but the art that gave birth to modern MMA, Brazilian Jiu-Jistu, is also a VERY TRADITIONAL in many aspects. They have uniforms, use belts ranking, bow in before class, have huge respect for their teachers and lineages, etc.

Personally, I think of my curriculum and school as a practical, hardworking but also TRADITIONAL martial art. I have two primary martial arts teachers; Chan Tai San and Pong Ki Kim. We respect them and realize the core of what we do is based upon their teachings. We have kept a ranking structure, acknowledge our lineage and try to cultivate respect. I am still “SIFU” in my school. I would say we have more in common with an art like Kyokushinkai than with the modern MMA facility.

Taekkyon: the Original Martial Art of Korea

18 Nov

Originally posted on SMA bloggers:

f0064134_4cb5e92f7d049Almost everybody has heard of Taekwondo and Hapkido these days, but Taekkyon, the original indigenous martial art of Korea, is almost unheard of.  Almost wiped out during the Japanese colonisation of Korea, the art is now making a revival, and is listed both as a national treasure of Korea, and is the first martial art on the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list.

The history of Taekkyon goes back to the mid Joseon Dynasty, around the 1700s, where it was practiced as a competitive sport with a winner-stays-on type rule set. It is believed Taekkyon evolved out of an even older, but now lost art called Subak. Little is known about Subak, but it is believed that it may have been the martial art of the Hwarang warriors of the Silla Dynasty (57BC-935AD). During this time martial arts were reserved for the ruling class, but after the fall of the Silla became popular among common folk. During the Joseon Dynasty…

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Secrets of the 36th chamber

18 Nov


It’s like a bad (good) kung fu movie. They’re coming to steal the secrets of the fabled 36th chamber of Shaolin. There are a few problems with the script though… First, I see these spies from miles away. Second, they never get near the “secrets.” Third and finally, even if they saw the secrets they wouldn’t understand them.


It happens at least once a month. Someone registers for one of my introductory programs or buys a groupon and comes in to take classes, but I know they are a “spy.” Usually, it’s pretty obvious. These cats, they aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed! They wear clothing from the gym they train at. They often list it on their paperwork. And a good percentage flat out say “well, I am training someplace else right now.”


New York San Da (aka NY Best Kickboxing) has been training fighters for twenty years now. The Sanshou / San Da world is not very big, but we’ve produced tons of people who have fought Muay Thai and Mixed Martial Arts. Love us or hate us (and believe me, tons of people HATE US), it’s hard not to hear about us and know about us if you are in the New York area. And, again, while some gyms produce boxers OR Nak Muay OR MMA fighters, we have produced guys that can fight and win in all these formats.


So, these guys come in to try and figure out what we are doing and maybe steal some secrets. But, like the Shaolin wooden dummy hall or the 108 bronze men, there are obstacles for them to overcome. First, everyone starts off in my basic / fundamentals class. No, you aren’t going to jump in and on day one do all the sparring drills and sparring. And this is why I’ve learned a rather distressing fact; so many of these guys have NO BASICS. Honestly, I am shocked at how few schools really stress and drill the basics; stuff like proper stance, proper movement, hands up, etc,.


The second issue; CONDITIONING. Since we’ve become an school, we’ve grown a huge fitness kickboxing program, but in large part because we were already used to running kick-ass, windows to the walls, crazy workout classes. I’ve always stressed conditioning and my fighters have always been known for it. And, again, I look at these guys who are supposed to be training already, and they totally lack basic conditioning?


I’ll admit, in the old days, no one got near the two man drilling until they put their time in. But these days, sometimes because people have pushed their way in, I’ve let these “spies” drill. Call me an a-hole, but nothing is more amusing than someone who pushes themselves into a contact class and then can’t block basic punches. I really wonder, if you can’t block jab-cross-hook, what were you really looking to steal from here?


I’ve said it before; in essence my program runs exactly like “kung fu.” We have our conditioning, our basics and our fundamental drills. Of course, being in this game twenty years, we have experience. You can’t steal experience. The rest? You’d think anyone teaching “martial arts” and claiming to train people to fight would have it, but sadly…..



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