“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

4 May

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

There is much debate over the exact wording and who actually said the above quote, but suffice to say, the sentiment is quite accurate. And to which I should also add; “You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you have been”!

Sifu Chan Tai San

Sifu Chan Tai San

Jeff Bolt’s national tournament was always an opportunity for Inside Kung Fu Magazine to get a photo shoot and story from the more popular teachers. Dave Cater had been in touch with me a few weeks prior, and I arrived with an article already written and in hand. Chan Tai-San was always politically astute, and he immediately observed Dave Cater talking to me and notice the article in hand. He approached me and inquired about it.


As was characteristic of Chan Tai-San, he was paranoid and didn’t accept my explanation nor translation, so he grabbed a Chinese speaker to read it to him. He began objecting to the inclusion of the story about Ah Dat-Da. He objected to the term “Tibet” even when describing the “Tibetan administration zone” that clearly included Qinghai province. Then he wanted the term “Lama Pai” stricken and replaced with “Hap Ga“!


In all the years that Chan Tai-San had been outside of China, in conversations, on business cards and stationary he himself had printed, in written notes he’d give all of us, we had NEVER used the term “Hap Ga.” Now, I am not saying there is anything wrong with “Hap Ga,” just that we had always used the term “Lama Pai” and there were more than a few compelling and logical reasons why we should use it for Chan Tai-San’s lineage and/or methods. It was frustrating, especially having Chan Tai-San break out into one of his classic rages just when we were about to do a photo shoot. My classmates were both aggravated and puzzled. I was quite aggravated, but I was NOT puzzled. I understood the issue almost immediately.


It remains an open question whether the founder of Lion’s Roar was an ethnic Han Chinese. The only name we have is a Chinese approximation of a name probably in Tibetan language, probably a monastic name. The question of whether Tibet is part of China is a HUGE ONE, that has involved armies and tanks and cost lives. And in mainland China, “Lama” is associated with both “religion” and “foreign.” So, anyone with any grounding in Chinese history, particularly Chinese political history, should understand what was in Chan Tai-San’s mind. In fact, he said quite forthrightly “this will be in print, and read all over.”

front cover art small

The problem is, so many people doing Chinese martial arts these days have NO IDEA AT ALL about Chinese history, Chinese culture, Chinese language, etc… The don’t only fail to understand the rational / motivations behind certain decisions and practices of their Chinese instructors, they embrace things that are patently ridiculous without ever understanding how ridiculous they are. To be more concise, most don’t know the background history, so they have no idea how they got to the present and the baggage that Chinese martial arts currently carry.

I address many of these issues in my first book, “Authentic Lama Pai” which you can find at https://www.createspace.com/4891253. My second book, more instructional in nature, will soon be available at https://www.createspace.com/5461916. While still in outlines stages, it appears my third book will tackle this dilemma, the difficult history of Chinese martial arts and why we have such conflicting accounts, confusing today’s students.

The unintended consequences of misperception

14 Apr

This is going to be a rather unusual blog, in that it is not as linear as most of my posts. And, honestly, I am not sure how people are going to react to it. To begin with, I am not sure how my friends in the Muay Thai community will feel after I post this. Because I am going to state that Muay Thai in the stadiums of Thailand is NOT about who is the “best fighter.” Rather, it is about who is the best at scoring under the system used in Thailand in the stadiums. deschawin vs dekkers

This distinction was never very clear. Both the Japanese and the Dutch strove for a significant period of time to “beat” the Thais using various combat methods. In the early Kyokushinkai vs Muay Thai matches, the Japanese fighters attempted to use Judo to counter. Toshio Fujiwara, a vanguard of Japan’s “new combat sport” movement, sought in western wrestling methods to counter the Thai clinch.


The Dutch were strongly influenced by the Kyokushinkai they had first studied. They were influenced by Savate traditions. The Dutch style was heavy on boxing combinations. The Dutch originated the conception that the only way to beat the Thais in Muay Thai was to KO them, and they were successful many times in this respect. Yet the basic truth still eluded them; the way to win in the ring in the stadium was not to be the “best fighter” but rather to understand the way the matches were being scored.


The unintended consequences of this misperception was not simply the creation of “kickboxing”, a Japanese sport that borrowed heavily from Muay Thai but never embraced Thai scoring, but also one of the major strains of “mixed martial arts” in Asia. Cross training to find methods of producing “better fighters” and/or to find external answers to Muay Thai methods created new arts entirely. Classic examples are Shooto and Shootboxing

. tumblr_m6ypgmqk3d1rvmom6o1_500

A more troubling observation is that even today, despite DECADES of cross training and access to authentic Muay Thai training in Thailand, this distinction is still not really understood. In today’s UFC/MMA world, “Muay Thai” has become a default training for the athletes. Unfortunately, there are a number of problems with this….


Often, a so called “MMA gym” offers some method of striking they label “Muay Thai” that is anything but! Muay Thai is NOT simply a collection of western boxing, some leg kicks and trying to grab the head to knee. Muay Thai’s clinch features UNBALANCES but not “throws” in the sense of Judo, Sanshou or Wrestling; yet students from “MMA gyms” enter Muay Thai contests and attempt double leg takedowns and hip throws!


On the flip side, authentic Muay Thai trainers often are hired to teach MMA athletes. Yet, if the coach doesn’t understand that MMA is NOT Muay Thai, and is not scored using the same criteria, certain tactics, indeed certain TECHNIQUES become not only unsuitable but irrelevant. In a stadium in Thailand under authentic Muay Thai rules, kicks to the body are high scoring. In the octagon they are being “blocked” by the arms, are not scoring and can actually lead to leg injuries. Western boxing scores as much, if not MORE, in modern MMA than kicks and clinch work. The list is extensive. Something to ponder, now go train! http://www.nybestkickboxing.com/

Learning lessons from the “hot stove” example

26 Mar

I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past that in addition to the Lama Pai theory I learned from Chan Tai-San, another major influence on my strategic thinking when it came to fighting came from US sanshou pioneer, fighter and coach Jason Yee. One of the examples he used, when in international fighting, many of the fighters (especially the Russian and former Soviet Union fighters) had to be treated like a “hot stove”. You touched them (scored points) quickly and quickly retracted. Over the years, this example proved very useful, and thinking of the “hot stove” expanded in my own mind into a wide number of useful examples in training my fighters.


I frequently pose this question to my students; why do you not touch the hot stove? With a facility in New York City, my student population is literally international. However, regardless of where you were raised, in what country, in what culture and in what language, that answer is remarkably the same. Your mother told you not to touch the hot stove, but you touched it anyway! The burn, the pain, the NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE is why you don’t touch the hot stove!


I use this example of the “hot stove”, the negative experience, in explaining the psychology behind what the Fairtex camp used to call “nothing for free” (or “don’t get mad, get even!”). We don’t just block, we ALWAYS counter! We don’t just block and counter, we use blocks that “destroy”. Your opponent should quickly learn that anytime they attack you, any time they come near you, there are very real chances of pain. Psychologically, you become that hot stove.

left kick

Another example of the “hot stove”, very much in Jason Yee’s original vein, is the idea that when we do touch the hot stove, we don’t stand there, analyse the pain and ponder a response. WE ACT QUICKLY! WE RETRACT QUICKLY! That is why we must drill out counter attacks until they are second nature. They must be quick and natural, just like we retract from the pain of a hot stove!

Dreaming in the clouds…

25 Mar

I found out last week that Stephen Laurette, the man who introduced me to Chan Tai-San, had passed away. I haven’t spoken to Stephen in twenty years, but I know he was a remarkable, intelligent man, dedicated to education, and loved both Chinese culture and Chinese martial arts. Also, I remain the official representative of Chan Tai-San’s organization, even a decade after he has passed away. So down to Chinatown I went, to arrange for the flowers.


By now, I should be used to the drills. As soon as I began writing the Chinese to go on the flowers, everyone in the shop began talking to me. Of course, they also told me how famous Chan Tai-San was, how everyone in the south, particularly Toi-San knows him. I’ve heard it all a thousand times before.


There was a time when I lived in Chinatown. Today I rarely find myself there. Yet speaking Guangdonghua, writing out the characters, talking about Chan Tai-San and, of course, thinking about Laurette, all drew my mind back to another time. How strange that a completely white person still feels so comfortable among Chinese, speaking a peculiar sub dialect of not even the mainstream Chinese language?


Then gradually I was drawn out of my dreaming. I walked up to a dim sum place where I had frequently met Chan Tai San over the years. Frequently I met him as early as 8 in the morning. I’d walk in and he’d already be sitting there with friends of his, such as my “uncle” the Choy Lay Fut teacher and the ON Leong representative I had gotten to know. I pulled on the door, and it was locked! They don’t even open until 11 am these days…. 11 am?


So I walked half a block to the small place that sits beneath the Chan Family Association building where I first trained with Chan Tai-San. Back then it was a dingy (I use that word with AFFECTION!) old place staffed by old, grumpy but efficient Toi San men. I walked in to find it had been remodeled. It was bright and clean, and… boring.. and staffed now by giggly young women…..


Ha Jeung? You can’t get that on a Monday. Now they only make it on weekends. Polei Cha? You really want that? When I was studying those early years with Chan Tai-San, my classmates and I were the only non Chinese eating dim sum. Now the place is packed with tourists?


You can never really go home, never really…..

Believe in yourself

1 Mar

If you’ve never felt sick, never had doubt, never experienced fear, if you’re healthy, if you’re successful and if you have everything you want in life STOP READING RIGHT NOW… this blogg is not for you.


Diagnosed with Leukemia at age six, I was as weak and sick from the treatment as I was from the disease. I had missed a year of school. This is the time when most children learn to play sports. I participated in none of that. Somehow? Luck? Chance? Fate? I found the martial arts.


Chemotherapy and radiation results in nerve damage, doctors told my parents I would never be able to lift my knee above my waist. I was lucky, they never told me, so I never knew I “couldn’t do that.”


Doing martial arts taught me important lessons about life. Nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself and are willing to do the work. The path is simple, but not easy. But if you keep working toward your goal, you WILL achieve it. At times, you learn to make pain your friend. That is why I believe in the martial arts, believe everyone benefits from them, and have thus taught them for most of my life to others.

pkkim school

Eventually, I also discovered that the lessons of life, that we have found in other sources, also need at times to be applied to your martial arts practice. Like Yin and Yang, the relationship is a two way street. It’s all about achieving a balance. As I previously blogged, you need to always train martial arts with truth. You also need to realize that every person is like a snow flake. Everyone wants and NEEDS something different. Not everyone wants to be a fighter. Some people are healthier and fitter than others. You NEED to address and accommodate all these factors.


Over the years, having faced my own personal challenges and overcome them, I’ve developed this worldview. It is NOT the fortune cookie wisdom of traditional martial arts. It is practical experience gained from my personal life. A fusion of the REAL traditions with a modern progressivism. Today, it informs every aspect of my martial arts program.


Perspectives on the Role of Practical Fighting in Chinese Martial Arts, Part 3

26 Feb


Re posting this one

Originally posted on nysanda:

“You Keep Using That Word,
I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”

This is part of my continuing series of articles discussing the practical training and application of Chinese martial arts. While their intent is not to insult, they are indeed intended to make the reader reexamine what they practice and how they practice it.

In conversations involving martial artists all you have to do is bring up boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai (Thai boxing), wrestling or mixed martial arts and the inevitable response will always be “those are sports.” In most cases, when a martial artist uses the term “sport” it is in a pejorative connotation. Some explanations are just silly. Others have more thought out responses; that they have a referee, rules regarding what can and can not be done, “safe” venues, no weapons, etc. My initial response to all of these is usually the…

View original 393 more words

Use truth as your path…

23 Feb

People who know me from the internet tend to think of me as that somewhat abrasive guy who does nothing but talk about fighting. I certainly talk a lot about fighting, and I’ve trained a lot of people to fight in various combat sports. But in a school that has around a thousand members, these competitive athletes are less than 5% of the population. And that was true even when I was at the height of my fighter training career.


Every day, six days a week, I teach classes and train the majority of my student body. Most of them don’t have any interest in competitive fighting, many don’t even want to do contact at all. By far, the vast majority of my time is spent helping people achieve their goals; both physical and mental. I help people to be healthier, to look better and most importantly to feel better. Feeling better is both a physical state and a mental state. I am a firm believer, what is the point of having a strong body but a weak mind?


The point I am going to make with today’s blog is that I use the same methods and philosophy to train both my athletes and my so called “normal students.” Reality is, LIFE IS A FIGHT. You have to be prepared for resistance, you have to overcome obstacles, you have to work hard and you have to face your fears and your self doubt. I said this in the clip below;

Integrally related to this is the concept that the ONLY WAY to do this all is to do it with truth. A responsible coach doesn’t put an athlete in a match without the proper preparation. A responsible coach doesn’t lead an athlete to think they are better than they really are. Certainly a responsible coach wouldn’t teach fake skills to an athlete and thus set them up for a beating in a match. As in all things, truth is always the correct path and you should always do the right thing.


Unfortunately, all too often in the martial arts community I see quite the opposite. We talk a lot about personal development, developing values, being better people. Then instructors try to teach things they aren’t qualified to teach. They teach watered down or just plain fake “skills” to people. Rather than being honest with their students, challenging them to make REAL EFFORTS, and as their coach being there and being accountable for being part of the process; they have found it easier to lie to them, to give fake praise, and to puff up their egos.


I can tell you from years of experience, the path of truth WORKS. It’s a simple concept, but simple doesn’t mean easy. It’s not easy, it’s difficult. But anything worth having is worth the effort to attain it.

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Eight pillars to success…

22 Feb

A cold rain fell onto me as I stood on the sidewalk, watching the contents of my martial arts school being loaded into a moving van. It was December 2009, and after twenty years of teaching, my school was for the first time just closed. I’d trained thousands of students, including fighters who had held world titles. I’d been the adopted disciple of a world famous teacher, traveling with him and sharing his exclusive circle of friends. I’d published articles, created instructional DVD’s, been featured on national television. But at that moment, it all seemed to be over. We weren’t moving. The contents were simply going to a storage facility on the west side of Manhattan.

My landlord ripped the building down around me to get me to leave.

My landlord ripped the building down around me to get me to leave.

My wife helped me load a few more personal items into a rented car. She initiated a conversation, asking me “so are you going to teach on Monday?” Then she abruptly stopped, aware that I didn’t have an answer. I had no idea what I was going to do. I was also over $100,000 in debt at the time. But 2009 will forever remain in my mind for yet another reason, we had lost a child. 2009 was the year I seriously considered killing myself.

Pretty serious stuff, yet I sit here today writing this. Just three years later, I received a plague from an industry body congratulating me for having one of the top performing schools in the country. I also added a number of new victories in combat sports and yet another MMA championship title to my school’s list of accomplishments. Today, I actually have the largest and most successful school I’ve ever had. I am also out of debt and quite happy with my life.


In retrospect, this had not been the first challenge in my life. It wasn’t even the most serious. At the age of six, I had been diagnosed with Leukemia. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time, but 50% of the children diagnosed with Leukemia at that time died. My father, a medical doctor, knew this and when I was adult I would hear about how my father had gone to my grandparents’ house to cry and throw things. Those children that survived weren’t exactly expected to lead a normal life either. The chemotherapy and radiation treatments resulted in nerve damage. I am medically not supposed to be able to lift my knee above the height of my waist. Fortunately, no one told me this, so I never knew I was doing the “impossible.”


I came to a conclusion a while ago, it is how you decide to tell your story. I could give you this laundry list of bad luck and tragedy and leave it there for you to sympathize with me. Or I could continue the story and inform you that I overcame each and every one of these challenges and came back better, stronger and more focused. My childhood illness was just the beginning of my journey. It was the inspiration for my worldview, which I want to share with the world.


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My dream and my vision

22 Feb

Full disclosure and absolute honesty, even brutal honesty. That is the way I do things. I’ve been doing martial arts almost my entire life, and I’ve been a teacher almost my entire adult life. But I wasn’t much of a business man, in some respects a pretty terrible one actually, until I started listening to Michael Parrella (http://www.mikeparrella.com) in 2009. Through Michael, I also met Bedros Keuilian (http://www.keuilian.com/), who has also been very influential upon me. I consider myself a very lucky person, and I have placed direct links to them so they not only get credit, but so you too can seek out their guidance.


Today, I run what would be considered a successful martial arts school. It is a nice complement to my many years of developing ways to teach real martial arts to average people, my success training fighters and my efforts to publish historically accurate information on the martial arts in general. I’m a very lucky person. I should be thankful every day for what I have and to those who helped me have this life.


This weekend, I attended Michael’s “MABS 2015.” That is short for martial arts business summit (https://www.martialartsbusinesssummit.com/). I have been very vocal about the fact that I avoid the traditional martial arts industry events like the plague. I have stated many times that I find much of what is passed off in those events utter crap, or to quote Michael himself “same shit in a different box.”


So it shouldn’t really be a surprise I go to Michael’s events, except when you consider that I’ve been exposed to Michael’s wisdom for almost six years now. Sure, there are often new speakers at these events, but CLEARLY there are times when material being presented I already have heard, implemented and understand. BUT THERE ARE ENTIRELY DIFFERENT REASONS I GO TO THESE EVENTS.


These events always re focus me. They charge me up. They fire me up. I sometimes feel like an old clock, at times I need to be wound up again. Another thing they most definitely do is help me focus my dream and my vision.


I’ve taught thousands of students since 1988. I’ve taught hundreds of seminars. I have instructional DVD’s. I recently published my first book (https://www.createspace.com/4891253). I’ve had an internet presence for over a decade. On this blog, my former blog, internet forums, etc I’ve shared many of my views and beliefs. BUT THIS WEEKEND I REALIZED THAT I HAD YET TO MAKE ONE, UNIFIED STATEMENT OF MY DREAM AND MY VISION. And that is what precisely this weekend hammered at me.


In the past, I’ve fallen victim to the myth of “perfect action.” I’ve had big ideas that weren’t focused and projects that weren’t thought completely through. I’ve also changed my opinions on things over the years. In summary, I am as human as anyone. So I am NOT promising something specific just yet, other than to say the next few blogs here will be a clear, concise and UNIFIED statement of my dream and my vision. I hope you will tune in, and I hope I can perhaps inspire you just as I have been inspired by others.

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Advice on how not to be “that guy”

16 Feb

This is just some friendly advice on how not to be “that guy” when you enter a martial arts school. Hey! It IS a free country, and you CAN do what you want, but I’m telling you things are probably not how you perceive them to be.


— Don’t be a nuisance. Don’t show up an hour early or without an appointment. And if you do, don’t expect an instructor who is teaching class to ignore his class to chat with you or amuse you. Don’t just walk onto a training floor, or pick up something, or start hitting a bag. —


— Don’t lie and don’t exaggerate. Don’t go on about ALL that martial arts training you’ve had, unless it is true. Nothing is more amusing for an instructor than watching the big mouth now struggle through the warm up, have no clue how to execute the basic techniques and/or getting punched in the face by the newbie. You’ll forever be branded a clown (rightfully so) and even if you join, no one will ever take you seriously. —


— Don’t walk into a martial arts school and say you don’t want to take classes, you just want to hit a bag. If you just want to hit a bag, get a bag and hang it in your basement. BUT you’ll end up looking like the guy in the clip below. —

— Don’t walk in wearing every piece of cliche martial arts clothing known to man, especially don’t wear stuff from another martial arts school. Honestly, if you are so in love with the school across town you should stay there. —


— Don’t tell the instructor you are training somewhere else and just want to learn some stuff from him but not be a real member. First of all, if that is what you are really trying to do, YOU ARE A PRICK. Second, if that is what you are really doing, chances are you will be the “green light special”.. and I won’t even explain to you what that means. —


— Don’t talk about how you want to fight, win titles and be a champion. If you really wanted to do that, you’d shut up, sign up and train hard. Flapping your gums about it is just about the surest indication it is all bullsh-t. —


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