More thoughts on the future of Chinese martial arts

10 Feb

I have written before about the difficulties in organizing truth, and thus how over organization can actually cripple martial arts practice. With all that being said, Chinese martial arts in general has an appalling lack of organization and in my experience is in fact a reason why it has had problem producing quality students.


I consider myself lucky that my first formal martial arts training was under the late Pong Ki Kim. He taught Moo Duk Kwan Taekwondo and Sin Moo Hapkido with (often unacknowledged) influences from Praying Mantis kung fu that he had also studied. Korean martial arts are less structured than Japanese training, yet compared to Chinese martial arts they are highly structured. We had ranks, set material for each rank, set warm ups, set class structures, rotating curriculum, etc.

Again, as I have already stated previously, when I entered Chinese martial arts I found a lot of good teachers and a lot of good technique. But I found almost no organization. I heard about Taiwan’s “Tang Shou Tao” but it only influenced me conceptually, since I did not have access to anyone directly from the lineage. I still recommend that anyone interested in organizing traditional Chinese martial arts follow Tang Shou Tao people like Mike Patterson (

public class

When I became responsible for Chan Tai-San’s public classes, my experience teaching Taekwondo was a template. I also had the “luxury” of spending a lot of time with Sifu Chan, slowly teasing out more drills and ideas from him. Which, however I must note, a casual student would not have gotten access to. In fact, certain people who studied with Chan Tai-San NEVER got the basic drills form him!


Though admittedly a “loose structure” (which I have explained vis-a-vie my thoughts on “truth” previously), having at least some structure allowed me to effectively cross train. I cross trained to “flesh out” areas that required it. Or I cross training to give me different perspectives, different drills, etc on existing material. Thus, it was an “outline” that helped me in my training.

Learn more about Lion’s Roar Martial Arts (click here)

Teaching is a constant revision and expansion of methods

5 Feb

“Teaching is a constant revision and expansion of methods based
on a training program which is systematic and progressive”
– Donn Draeger, 1962

fun gam choih

Some of you may already be familiar with the concept of a “rotating curriculum”. Here, I’ll explain not only how it works but also address aspects and features unique to a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) program. These are suggestions based upon my personal experience. Each instructor will have to determine for themselves specifics and make modifications based upon their unique circumstances.

control the indoor area two

The rotating curriculum concept is not necessarily a new idea, but it has gained popularity and is now used by most commercially successful schools. First, let me explain how it works. Then we can discuss why we use it and the benefits. Using a rotating curriculum, the whole class is working the same material.

superman 1b

The most popular model is to set up six “semesters” of two months each. Since the sequence is not what is important here, let’s instead label the semesters with letters.

Semester A is January/February
Semester B is March/April
Semester C is May/June
Semester D is July/August
Semester E is September/October
Semester F is November/December

It’s up to the instructor to determine what material will be covered in each semester. Most instructors will want to mix up different skills in a semester; i.e. certain boxing drills, kickboxing drills, throws, and self defense techniques per semester. In a traditional martial arts program, each semester might include learning one form.


The example above is simplified and intended only to help you grasp the concept. Another suggestion is that you might want to offer separate programs for striking, clinching/wrestling and your ground / Jiu-Jitsu, in which case you will develop separate rotating curriculum.

knee to body a

The key to this concept is that EVERYONE will be learning the same material during that semester, whether they joined that month or three months ago. Most traditional instructors initially have trouble with this concept. They can’t imagine a student who has been studying for 6 months learning the same material as someone who just joined that month. It’s something you’ll have to get used to, but experience will show you that this sort of program works.

For traditional martial arts programs, belts and/or ranking figures into this arrangement as well. In a year period, a student progresses through six semesters and, if you are using a belt system, you can award a belt after successful completion of each semester. You’ll probably immediately observe that if you implement a rotating curriculum, two students with two months’ training (in most martial arts systems, the equivalent of a gold belt) may not know the same material. The student who joined in “Semester A” at the end of two months knows different material than the student who joined in “Semester D”. I am also aware that in some systems, like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, belts are never “given away” and even the first rank of blue belt is considered an achievement.

public class

In response to those concerned that a rotating curriculum “waters down” or “cheapens” rank, I offer a different perspective. Remember that under a rotating curriculum, after a year of training each student will all know the all the same techniques. In my opinion, these are the sorts of benchmarks we should be worried about. After a year, whether you call it “first level” or “blue belt” or “star spangled red belt” a student should have the basics of your program. A rotating curriculum will make sure this happens.


Let’s start examining why this happens, why having a rotating curriculum allows us to organize our classes better and make sure everyone is learning the material correctly. Think about the traditional model of teaching. When a student joins, the first thing he learns are punch #1, kick #1 and block #1. So “Joe” joins your school in January and by February he has learned all those techniques. It’s time to teach him punch #2, kick #2 and block #2. However, in February, “Mike” has joined the class. So in February, according to the traditional model, you have to teach “Joe” the #2’s and “Mike” the #1’s. March rolls in and “John” has joined. Now you have to teach John the #1’s, “Mike” the #2’s and “Joe” the #3’s….

In reality, you’d all better hope you have a lot more than one student joining a month. In reality, you may have 12 people in class, representing four different groups. Do you have three other instructors so you can run a mini-class within a class? Do you have four different time slots to teach the different groups? The answer to both is probably not. Nor would you want to. You’re dividing up your resources and you’re dividing up your energy. You’re also denying your students a diversity of partners to work with. If you use a rotating curriculum, everyone in your school gets to work together. This also means your students can all become friends. This adds to the excitement and enjoyment of their classes.

I hope by now you are starting to understand the idea of a rotating curriculum. I also hope you are starting to see some of the advantages.

Empty your cup…..

29 Jan

“Empty your cup”, the title of today’s blog, has become a cliche. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t also true! In practicing martial arts, we learn important life lessons, if we are just willing to pay attention to them.


In martial arts, as in life, people simply don’t want to leave their comfort zone. It’s completely understandable, but leaving your comfort zone is exactly what people need to do. A person who was a very high level striker with many fights, I’m tempted to even say they were a “natural”, wanted to train to do Mixed Martial Arts and so off to Brazilian Jiu JItsu class he went.


Needless to say, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, he was not the rock star. He was, in fact, a no one. In striking, he could dominate anyone. In Jiu Jitsu class he was tapping out right and left. He did what most people in this situation would do, he quit. He never did MMA and he never went back to any form of grappling. The reverse has also been frequently true. A masterful wrestler has come home from the gym with a black eye, bruised ribs and sore legs and never returned to stand up training.


I mentioned once that being promoted to instructor level in a martial art and opening a school can be one of the most damaging things to happen to a martial artist. The martial arts community has built up a false image of instructors, as god-like figures who can do no wrong and can never be defeated. An instructor may want, may in fact NEED additional training, but all too often is afraid to “show weakness.”


If you’ve read this blog, if you know me at all, you’ll know that I’ve sought out additional training well after I was established as an instructor under the late Chan Tai-San and well after I had my own school. I like to joke that I’ve been beaten up by some of the best. I’ve been tapped out more than my fair share of times. I’ve also been out wrestled, kicked around, and punched by people who as fighters were much better than me.

In fact, I have frequently taken my own students with me to seminars. I”ve never told them I was a super man, I’ve never claimed I am undefeated. Also, I don’t fear them seeing what others have to offer. I’ve taught them the best material I have, which I know to be pretty good stuff. Never once have I lost a student when they’ve seen another instructor’s material. In fact, most of the time my students not only felt more motivated after the training, but also said the experience gave them more confidence in what we do at our school.

So my advice to anyone is, put on that white belt….

HIT SOMETHING! Solo practice has limits….

28 Jan


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

Beyond the basics, there must be variety

24 Jan

An instructor must keep a close eye and a direct hand on the training of students. It is easy to fall into a set pattern, but such patterns mean the student will not have have well rounded training, will not learn the entire system and most importantly will not have the proper live training to apply the techniques.

A student learns a technique in isolation, then with resistance (on equipment such as a heavy bag or a pad), and then with a partner they learn the defense(s). Once the basic defenses are learned, it’s an instructor’s responsibility to constantly break down and rearrange the techniques into different combinations.


A proper defense drill not only introduces the technical defense, it also conditions the student for the reality of fighting. It must condition the student to become familiar with contact. Begin with very limited and simple drills; I have a drill I call “four shields” which begins the process of learning to get hit.

Basic drills progress to more free form drills, approaching sparring. We call these “survival drills”

Parrying, shielding, slipping and ducking will progressively lead to clinching and/or “shooting” (takedowns involving seizing the legs). In particular, the shielding drills lead well into both neck and body clinching and these methods are extremely functional methods of defending against a better striker.


However, I believe equally in the importance of footwork as a form of defense. Be careful not to stress clinching to the exclusion of evasive footwork. Evasive footwork is also an excellent defense against those trying to clinch.

– Never move backward in a straight line, use lateral movement
– Do not “run away”, stay in range to counter
– Move to your right against an orthodox fighter
– Move to your left against a “south paw”

Let’s examine the most basic boxing drill; parry vs. jab.

First, make sure the structure is correct. Both students have to be in the correct stance, the correct execution of the jab, the correct execution of the block, etc.

Second, the drill must be done with movement; you don’t fight standing still so don’t drill that way.

Third, even though this is a partner drill there is impact; the punch is thrown to actually connect and is actually blocked.

Fourth, all the basic drills will eventually be practiced with appropriate counters so that the students are used to the resistance (counter attack) of a real opponent.

Fifth, introduce every drill within context. Explain both why the technique is used and when it is used.

It is important to understand that all drills have “two sides”. Doing parry vs. jab isn’t just about defense. Every jab needs to be thrown correctly, i.e. you are practicing your jab as well. Of course, drills are not sparring and there is NO EGO. Never injure your partner doing drills.


Live training keeps an art alive…

22 Jan

When people who practice Chinese martial arts say they don’t want their art to be “kickboxing”, it usually bothers me. Chinese martial arts consist of many strikes and kicks, and what are strikes and kicks if not “kickboxing”? In fact, I’d often argue that when many students of Chinese martial arts try to practically apply what they do, it is much LESS than “just kickboxing”.


However, discussions like this in at least some part are perhaps a poorly articulated fear that something characteristic of their particular style, something fundamental to their style, will be lost. Certainly, traditional Chinese martial arts are not ONLY the fundamental punches and kicks. There are other methods of striking, methods of sweeping, trips, takedowns, throws, joint locks, etc.


I have several, related, observations on this point. First, when people primarily rely upon empty hand forms practice and after generations of this behavior it is often hard to sort what is what out. Techniques which were never meant to be strikes, kicks or blocks are often interpreted as such. In Chinese martial arts, some of the contents of empty hand forms were not even meant to have strict fighting applications; they are forms of physical training and conditioning. In short, to find out how to apply Chinese martial arts practically, we must first sort out these issues.


Second, and to me this is the most important point, we must practice alive. We must drill with another person with context, resistance and realism. A lot of people seem to fear that this will lead to degeneration, that it will become “just kickboxing”. This is short sighted and based upon ignorance. If in the initial stages a student displays bad habits or is “sloppy” when training alive, this is a natural progression. What it most certainly NOT is reason not to train live!


For those who think that live training will somehow result in the loss of those techniques characteristic of their particular tradition, they are wrong. At the beginning, live drilling WILL be of the most basic punches, kicks, throws, etc. BUT THE MORE YOU DRILL AND TRAIN LIVE THE MORE REAL TECHNIQUE YOU WILL UNCOVER AND BECOME PROFICIENT AT!

scissors catch

It is the same learning curve we have seen in the much maligned mixed martial arts. In the beginning the events were sloppy, and little technique could be found. Then over time we saw the “basics” emerge and become applicable. Today, we see a wide variety of techniques some thought would never work in MMA actually winning matches!

tiger claw

If you really care about your own skill, if you really care about your system, if you really care about Chinese martial arts, you have to understand that only live training keeps them alive!

Chan Tai-San’s favorite style

19 Jan

What was Chan Tai San’s favorite system? What style do you teach? Which style is best? Is it a northern system? Etc etc blah blah…

chan tai san jyu geng paau choih

Before I ever met Chan Tai San, I had done western boxing, had second degree black belts in Taekwondo and Hapkido and had studied Shuai Jiao and Hung Ga.

I learned a lot of things with Chan Tai San, but my primary area of study was “Lama Pai”. What exactly is (was) “Lama Pai”? Western Chinese long arm, Northern Chinese kicking, Mongolian wrestling, Southern Chinese short arm and a good deal of Indian martial art as well. To think of “Lama Pai” as a “pure system” is to miss the point entirely.

I should also note that Chan Tai San studied anywhere from 5 to 9 different versons / traditions / lineages / different teacher’s version of “Lama Pai” so his version was a mix of many things. Of course, Chan Tai San also knew Choy Lay Fut, Village style Hung fist, White Eyebrow, Mok Ga, Hung Fut and bits of a lot of martial arts. Some of them not even Chinese! Chan Tai San was very fond of both Japanese Judo and western boxing.

When we did demonstrations, whether it was Chan Tai San or any of the students, people were always confused. They would see elements of all the systems mentioned on our demonstrations. “Which was it” they wanted to know? It was Chan Tai San’s method, often influenced by what we the students had also done (a lot of my demos were influenced by my Hung Ga background as well)

Was Lama Pai Chan Tai San’s favorite system? NO. I can safely say that Chan Tai San’s favorite system was “take my fist and smash your face”. He was also pretty fond of “Kick you in the nuts”.

Of course, he had a lot of variations upon these systems. I still teach variations of “take my fist and smash your face” and “kick you in the nuts”. I was already teaching my own versions of these systems when Chan Tai San was still alive, and he was pretty supportive of my versions.

People don’t get who I am and why I am the way I am. They wonder (aloud) why I “left Chan Tai San’s teachings” when in fact they have no idea what Chan Tai San’s teachings were about. Only my hing-dai (training class mates) get it, because THEY WERE THERE. Even a lot of them don’t get it, because they were busy drinking the kool-aid….

I am seeking a few good people

18 Jan

A number of things have kept this on the “back burner” but I am now prepared to announce the formation of the official Lion’s Roar San Da Instructor’s program. I will be offering a program that will not only teach you the system, but also teach you HOW to teach it. The program should begin in March 2016 and will require participants to commit to training a minimum of 40 hours in the initial stage.


    What is the Lion’s Roar San Da Instructor’s Program?

The program is designed not only to teach an individual all the techniques and skills of the Lion’s Roar system; but also the system’s theory and concepts and the why and how the system has been arranged. A candidate will learn how to teach the system from the ground up, including the methods of correcting technique and movement.


    What does the Lion’s Roar San Da Instructor’s Program include?

Broadly speaking, the Lion’s Roar San Da system includes the following divisions of study;
(1) Traditional Lion’s Roar foundation techniques including the “shooting star fists” etc.
(2) Contemporary training divided into “kickboxing”, “clinching” and “ground fighting”.
(3) Conditioning and corrective movement based upon the Gam Gong Myuhn system.


    Is the Lion’s Roar San Da Instructor’s program only for amateur and professional fighters?

NO, the program is actually designed for those who want to learn a complete martial arts system and also for those who may wish to eventually pass it along, even if just on a small scale. The focus of the program is NOT “fighting”, although some “live” training is included.

control the indoor area two

    Is a particular “rank” or previous training required to join this program?

NO, no particular martial arts training or rank is required. In fact, while we will not discriminate, in some cases previous martial arts training may actually hinder learning this method. Those with backgrounds in other things such as physical therapy, yoga, other corrective movement or exercise science would be especially welcome!

    How is the program structured?

The program will initially require a commitment of forty (40) hours of training. Additional levels of instruction and certification will include one hundred (100) hours, one hundred fifty (150) hours and two hundred (200) hours of instruction. Certification is also contingent upon successful completion of examinations.


In addition to being personally trained by Sifu David Ross, members of the program will be supported by my books, my instructional DVD’s and also have access to supporting materials the public will not have access to.

If you think you are interested please send me an email with the subject “Instructor’s Program” to

How do you block a jab?

17 Jan

If you’ve read my book Lion’s Roar San Da, you might have noticed that the first method I advocate to block a jab is a parry with the hand.

my parry

Using the hand to parry is a very common method. You will find it in western boxing and Muay Thai as well.


However, if you’ve seen some of my DVD’s or trained with me, you might have also noticed that the jab can be deflected in a similar manner using the forearm. This method, using the forearm, corresponds with the more traditional Lama Pai method known as “Jit” (截).

jit choih 1

The purpose of this particular blog is NOT to teach you how to defend against a jab (though you might walk away with a few new ideas). Rather, it is to discuss how and why different traditions have selected certain methods. I have chosen the jab because it is one of the most basic and common attacks there is. It is nothing more than a straight punch. Yet, there are a multitude of potential defenses against such an attack;

jab defense

In many Asian martial arts systems, it is common to see tactics in which there is a deflection / block from the outside.

outside parry

However, both Asian methods and western boxing sometimes advocate deflections / block from the inside. Many people operate under the assumption that defenses are predicated on whether the training is barehanded or with gloves. I will demonstrate as we progress that this is NOT one of the major considerations.


In deciding what to teach a beginning student, certainly one consideration is what might be the easiest for them to learn and successfully apply, i.e. the higher percentage defense. Deflections and blocking are certainly higher percentage than some of the movement based defense I will discuss next. But there are even variations on basic themes. A variation on the basic parry which I teach is to “catch” the jab using the same rear hand.


Using movement, especially head movement, for defense has certain advantages. Since the hands are not being used to defend, they are free to quickly (often simultaneously) counter attack. The outside slip is a common western boxing tactic exactly for this reason. I also teach this tactic, but I consider it more advanced. It requires a higher degree of awareness, being comfortable with angles and small degrees of movement and also acquiring “cool under fire” attitude.


Western boxing embraces a number of head movement defenses. Above is a “duck” against a jab. Why does western boxing have so many of these tactics yet in Asian martial arts they appear less frequently? I will get to that soon.

inside slip

Slipping to the “outside” may be the most common boxing tactic, but certainly many boxers slip to the “inside” (Mike Tyson being a prime example).

In western boxing, if you are skilled enough, sometimes you can even keep your hands down and avoid the jab with a slight retraction of the head.


Now, I return to the central question of this blog which is how and why did I pick the tactics that I teach my students? Certainly, every single tactic I have shown you so far in this blog is effective against a jab. Do I avoid teaching all of them simply because there is no need for so many different tactics to block a single technique? That is certainly part of the answer.


The larger issue is that while these techniques may all be effective against a jab IN ISOLATION, how do they fit into a “larger picture”? Another way to address this, what is likely to happen AFTER the jab? Do I only have to worry about more punches (as in boxing)? Or do I have to worry about kicks (kickboxing)? Low kicks (most international styles of kickboxing)? What about elbows (Muay Thai, Mixed Martial Arts)? What about throws and takedowns (Sanshou, San Da and Mixed Martial Arts)?

proper round kick

In my method, over time I was very selective in choosing what tactics I would teach my students. First, they had to be not only high percentage but also the ones most students would have the attributes to execute. Blocking is stressed first, and head movement later and only for those with an aptitude toward it. Second, the defense must also anticipate ALL the possible “follow ups”. It must not put me in an awkward position that would expose me to these potential “follow ups”. Third, it must keep me in a structure where I can respond with all the potential “follow ups”. That is to say, the tactics demonstrated here are not “wrong” per se, they are just wrong for the context in which we operate.

Is there a proper way to “cross train”?

15 Jan

I’ve met those who identify themselves as traditional Chinese martial arts stylists who feel “cross training” is wrong and perhaps even not “traditional”. Considering how many systems practiced today are derived from cross training, and how certain systems (such as Hsing Yi and Bagua) are now frequently practiced together, I think that’s a hard position to maintain. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, I know quite a lot of people doing “Mixed Martial Arts” (MMA) whose approach is random, haphazard and often contradictory. Is there a proper way to cross train?


Before the first event, I read about the UFC in Black Belt Magazine. I wondered if the event was going to be staged, like professional wrestling. It seemed to me that with virtually no restrictions, someone who was well trained could do some serious damage to another person. In some regards, I was still naive about the reality of martial arts, but in another respect I was somewhat correct. The first three UFC’s, which I watched all one night on a VHS tape, weres sloppy and full of people who were very limited in their training. It was the age when you could really label someone a “striker” or a “grappler”. Even Royce Gracie, who was well trained in his family’s system and well prepared for the matches, demonstrated a one dimensional game.


While the UFC’s left me somewhat interested in what it was that this Gracie family from Brazil was doing, the real significant moment in my life was when I saw my first Shooto event. You have to remember (or go back and re-watch) that in the first few UFC events, the “stand up” was not too good. There were not many people trained in Muay Thai and its clinch, and the wrestlers had yet to show up. But in Shooto, I saw fighters who had impressive stand up skills AND were also fighting on the ground. So, honestly, I had a lot more respect for Shooto and its stand up.


Put another way, I saw Shooto and said to myself “well, with my existing training, I have a lot of the elements of stand up, what I need is ground training”. It may be hard to remember, but at that time, just cross training in Brazilian Jiujitsu was NOT an option. It was a time when it was “us against them” or “the Brazilians against the world”. So I started looking at Judo, Sambo, wrestling and eventually some “catch wrestling”.


So how does this relate to the title of this blog? Well, I began with an already existing frame, the method my teacher had taught me. I wasn’t just randomly training in things; I was looking for thing to fill the “gaps”. I was attaching additional material to an already existing frame.


The more I trained, the more I was exposed to different methods. And while initially I was most interested in the “ground”, along the way I learned more stand up in the form of standing wrestling, Muay Thai clinching, etc. But as I explained many times before, often I wasn’t learning something totally new as much as learning to look at them different ways and learning new ways to train them. A western wrestler may not know (nor care) about the many terms and concepts we have in Chinese martial arts, yet they are there in their pummeling and grappling.


Finally, I like to think I just didn’t randomly chose what I continued to practice and integrated into my method. I chose thing that were not only good fills for the “gaps” but also which, I think more importantly, worked with my already existing base method. I use the term “internally consistent“.

Learn more about my method in my book “The Master Text” available on AMAZON


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,987 other followers

%d bloggers like this: