A revival of traditional Chinese fighting arts…

1 Aug

Few people would characterize me as an “optimist” but I have indeed been pleasantly surprised by trends I have seen in recent years. For a while, it had seemed to me that authentic Chinese martial arts were on the verge of extinction, to be replaced by “fantasy fu”, Chi blasts, the Shaolin and Wu Dang circuses and forms fairies. However, a few “old timers” have hung on through all the nonsense and I see a few new comers who are interested in the real deal. This blog is going to make some observations, makes some suggestions and suggest some resources.

When you have a few quiet minutes to yourself (40 to be exact), sit down and watch the above video. The Taiwanese “Tang Shou Tao” organization was a very early influence on me. I never trained directly in it, but it attracted my attention because it did two essential things in my estimation. First, it produced effective fighters, and practical skills was always what I was interested in. Second, it seemed that a part of that success was the fact that its teachings were SO WELL ORGANIZED. Tang Shou Tao is not a “system” unto itself, it is a methodical approach to training the arts of Tai Chi, Hsing Yi and Bagua. While I was training, I saw a lot of good Chinese martial art, but I certainly did not see a lot of methodical organization. To this day, I feel that Tang Shou Tao’s organization was a model more teachers should have taken notice of.


One of the things influencing this blog was seeing Shihfu Mike Patterson, a product of the Tang Shou Tao organization, show up on facebook and start a wonderful group to cut through the nonsense and discuss REAL training. Be advised, the group is not your typical internet free-for-all, it is moderated and tight on topic, but you should still check it out at https://www.facebook.com/groups/HsingIMartialArtsInstitute/

NY based Sifu Frank Allen fighting full contact in 1982.

NY based Sifu Frank Allen fighting full contact in 1982.

I’ve stated this many times, the Chinese martial arts community I began training in and which I developed within was still very much connected with real fighting. This is not a “lost time”. Many of its participants, such as New York based teacher Frank Allen of http://www.wutangpca.com/ shown fighting above, are still teaching! And they, like myself, have been fighting the good fight against the lies, fairy tales and nonsense that slowly crept into the Chinese martial arts community. If we want a true revival, if we want to see our beloved arts restored, a major part of the movement must be dismissing the false and re-establishing the truth about Chinese martial arts. We must, as I have stressed time and time again, train with truth.

NY based Tai Chi instructor William CC Chen, 2nd from right

NY based Tai Chi instructor William CC Chen, 2nd from right

There is a sad truth we must confront; my generation was probably the last generation of crazy people who were willing to drop their lives to train. I count among my friends many “kung fu bums” who did pretty much nothing but follow their teachers around and train. And THAT was the only way you could learn the vast body of material known as Chinese martial arts. Real Chines martial arts is technically diverse; it covers kicking, striking, wrestling and join locking. It covers both fighting art and healing and health methods. Its body methods not only prepare for combat, but can also heal and invigorate. There is “external” and the “internal”, and then the realization that they are both paths that end up in the same place. But this massive body of knowledge, also poorly organized for the most part, could only be acquired though nothing short of total dedication, and who does that anymore?

Kuoshu Lei Tai fighting in Taiwan

Kuoshu Lei Tai fighting in Taiwan

I maintain that the best way to revive Chinese martial arts is to understand and accept these limitations. We have to realize and accept that today’s student has less time. So we must be more efficient and organized in how we train them. We also have literally no time to waste on some of the nonsense that has become attached to the Chinese martial arts. We can only afford truth, pure truth, at this point. Not necessarily even “just for fighting”, but for every reason people pursue Chinese martial arts. We must separate the wheat from the chafe and offer our students only the “real stuff”. Even if you are just seeking health, there are no “magic bullets” and no short cuts. In the past, those who found the health benefits of Chinese martial arts found them because the training was very hard, it was excellent exercise; i.e. people worked hard, there was much conditioning and sweat. We need to once and for all bury the myths of “no muscle” and “no hard work”.

Rigorous basic training "Ge Bon Gong"

Rigorous basic training “Ge Bon Gong”

There is also no time for our infamous “secrecy fetish”. We need to make the real material available to EVERYONE. Certainly the internet has made this easier. I invite you all to join my facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/practicalkungfu/, though be aware that, like Shihfu Patterson’s, it is highly moderated.


The exact place empty hand forms practice has in the Chinese martial arts, especially in the context of modern training, will never be an easy conversation. Nor is there every likely to be a unanimous opinion and agreement. However, all legitimate students of the Chinese martial arts WILL agree that drills, especially with partners is essential for authentic training. Whether you call it push hands, chi sau, rou shou, Shuai Jiao, clinching, wrestling, sparring, etc we must once again put an emphasis upon this type of training as its authentic practice is gradually disappearing! Tai Chi “push hands” has in many places become a poor shadow of its original self. A good place to discuss real push hands, though a bit of the “wild west” at times is Stuart Shaw’s group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/thefajinproject/

The above video on Tai Chi push hands I have preserved on one of my channels, but I did NOT make it. Still, I find it quite a good discussion starter, not matter what opinion you may originally hold.

Perhaps this is enough for now, but feel free to comment.
Sifu David Ross

Stillness, movement and awareness in martial arts

16 Jul

In Yoga, it has been said that the two most difficult Asana (positions) to master are the corpse (lying on the floor) and the mountain (standing). In some so called “internal martial arts” (those who know me know I hate that term!) the idea of mastering “stillness” has become a cliche bordering on fetish. However, as someone who has done training akin to “internal” and also who has trained in Yoga, there is something to be said about “stillness,” but only when understood in integration with movement.

"Savasana" or the corpse posture

“Savasana” or the corpse posture

In this asana, the object is to imitate a corpse. Once life has departed, the body remains still and no movements are possible. By remaining motionless for some time and keeping the mind still while you are fully conscious, you learn to relax. This conscious relaxation invigorates and refreshes both body and mind. But – it is much harder to keep the mind than the body still. Therefore, this apparently easy posture is one of the most difficult to master.
– The Illustrated Light on Yoga, B. K. S. Iyengar

The corpse position, to lie on the floor, appears so simple. It is an excellent example of how hard “stillness” is, how true stillness is probably impossible and probably not even what we really want. If you have done “Savasana” (usually at the end of a Yoga class) then you probably realized that you didn’t really stay perfectly still. Your body “settles,” readjusting which is probably an ideal thing for it to do (I will harass one of my friends, a skilled physical therapist, for his thoughts on this!). As long as you stay “in the moment” and focus on that settling, you should feel your entire body. You should learn awareness of the entire body


Assuming a standing posture always reminds me personally of the opening of a Taiji set, that slow bending of the knees and finding a comfortable distance for the feet, and that sinking into a comfortable posture. They say most of our common discomforts can be traced to poor posture; the spine not properly aligned or tightness or stiffness in the back, resulting in an imbalance in the body (at this point just screaming for comments from my friend!).


Yoga’s “mountain” reminds me of “internal” martial arts’ standing meditations, its “post clasping”. Again, perfect stillness is probably both impossible nor desirable. Standing introduces another level of difficulty, and so a chance at a higher degree of awareness. At this point, in my method, it is an excellent opportunity to begin actual movement.

side stance

The side stance, the “Waan Gung Sik”, has practical application as self defense. In Lama Pai, it also serves to teach the “eight character true essence,” which is to stretch out the limbs to strike while keeping the body out of reach of counter attack. In addition, the turning of the body (the “wheel body”) is an increasingly difficult challenge to maintain awareness. At the same time it is an opportunity to learn the “three external harmonies” (三外合法).

The three external harmonies (三外合法)
1. Your hips coordinate with your shoulders.
2. Your knees coordinate with your elbows.
3. Your feet coordinate with your hands.

Of course, martial arts can not be about just standing in one place. Movement must evolve. And as it evolves, we have increasing challenges to maintain complete body awareness. From the stationary (a sort of “stillness”) we evolve into “eight directional stepping” (Baat Gwa Bouh); forward and backward stepping, the “female triangle”, the “male triangle”, etc.

In Lama Pai, the next step is movement away from the point of origin. In Lama Pai, this is with the so called “unmatched lead stepping” (七星);

Some of this is discussed in my current book Lion’s Roar San Da. I will have an in depth examination of this in the next book….

Forget the “form” and look for the “intention”

11 Jul

I’ve often said, wearing a parka doesn’t make you an Eskimo. Just like when Sanshou people decided to wear shorts, it didn’t make them Thai boxer (Nak Muay). For that matter, when the Thais started wearing shorts, it didn’t make them the Western boxers they got them from. Suffice to say, what I am wearing doesn’t really determine who I am. Nor does the language I speak or use in relation to what I am practicing.

No silk kung fu uniforms in the clip above. We’re barefoot and in “kickboxing” shorts. In some respects, what we are demonstrating looks like western wrestling’s “pummel”. But in other respects, it is pure Chinese martial arts, “internal” even, just applied to fighting.

Look at the second clip. I’ve repeatedly said that what I’ve done over the years was develop the proper training and application of the late Chan Tai-San’s methods. Even if we no longer practice the traditional sets, we’ve kept the essence alive because we’ve kept the real applications alive. I’d even argue the ability to actually use the skills is more important than just “dancing” a facsimile.

I’ve made other interesting observations. When I’ve posted clips like this, those who I know have real training and real skills don’t really seem to have any trouble identifying the connections between the “form” and the “intention”. Inevitably, those who can’t see these things reveal themselves to have very superficial training and exposure to real Chinese martial arts.

If you fixate on the “form”, the outward experience, but ignore the “intention”, the real application, you have very shallow understanding indeed.

You can buy my new book “Lion’s Roar San da” on Amazon!

Challenge matches in the 21st century?

6 Jul

Two men who I still consider friends and still speak to frequently probably remember the day I accepted a challenge match at NYU. It was advertised as “bare knuckle” by the person who issued the challenge. I assumed that mean “no holds barred”. When I arrived at the appointed time and location, it became apparent they thought that meant W.U.K.O (World Union of Karate Organizations) rules…

left kick

To paraphrase my mother’s old saying “it is all fun and games until someone’s nose opens up and the front of their gi turns bright red”. I had reached out, seized the collar of the uniform and landed 3 or 4 straight punches to my opponent’s nose. Since we were suddenly doing WUKO rules, there was a “referee” and a “break” since clinching was technically illegal. As clinching was technically illegal (yes, in a “challenge match”), they broke us up and I offered my opponent a chance to bow out. He opted to continue.


In between rounds (yes, “rounds”), a friend of mine who was a law student kept warning me about the legal ramifications of this fight. Increasingly, I was less angry that I had been challenged. I was more amused that a person who had challenged me to a “bare knuckle fight” was trying to point spar me and more concerned that if something did go wrong, I’d be in trouble. And face it, I was 19 at the time, I was worried my parents would be mad at me. I attacked less and less as 5 rounds went on. The end was anticlimactic.


After the match, the guy who had challenged me wasn’t aggressive as he had been previously at all. He asked me what I practiced and how. What I remember more distinctly is a few of the spectators and later, people who heard about it. People asked why I hadn’t used “so and so” technique. Why had it been “sloppy”? Why had I gotten hit (yes, I was not “perfect” and got hit as well). Now, mind you, these were the comments of the “peanut gallery”; people who hadn’t fought that day, some who hadn’t even been there.


Over the years, I took various challenges at my school. I was taught the sparse rules of Chinese martial arts matches; (1) lock the doors, (2) no weapons, (3) no groin striking and (4) no eye gouging. Other than that, it was all fair game. Now, far more people told me they going to come down to “beat me up” than ever showed up. And more than a few were less than chivalrous about it. One purposely waited until I had spend three hours sparring with my fighters to show up!


I’ve never guaranteed I’d win a fight. I knew better than that. I can guarantee that I’ll hit you, and it will hurt, and in the end you will know you were in a fight. I also know that in the end, BOTH of us are going to hurt. Unless you’ve never trained in your life and/or are mentally ill, chances are if you’ve put yourself in that position you are going to at least try to fight! I remember cleaning blood out of my nose, having a sore neck, etc.


I also know that real fights don’t look like kung fu movies. Without equipment and with limited rules, and face it, I am NOT a professional fighter, it’s going to be “sloppy”. But those living in “fantasy land” always want to use your less than Shaw brothers’ quality performance to degrade you. And the kung fu world is really full of old women and gossip. I’ve heard stories that have no bearing on anything that really happened, told by people who were never there… told as if they had been sitting ringside, and if THEY had stepped up, things would have been oh so different. (cough) bullshit (cough)

gwa kahp

So in more recent years, I’ve asked myself if there is any real reason to do them? They have seldom proved anything, and your critics will believe what they want to believe regardless. As a recent episode last year proved, even when the VIDEO is in front of them, people find ways to justify their beliefs contrary to the facts in front of them. Recently, someone showed up while I was teaching. I told them to come back in an hour. I reasoned, CORRECTLY, that my students who pay me for my instruction and have given me their dedication are more important the a random loser who is living in kung fu fantasy land. Of course, this person, who I had no doubt if they had come back an hour later I would have KO’ed (seriously!) was really just trying to posture and be a pain in the ass. Rather than come back and take a beating like a man, they decided to harass a student. They were then escorted out of the building. They then took to the internet to claim victory! Sadly, how typical and how predictable.


Again, in conclusion, I have never proved anything to an opponent from fighting them. I have never shocked myself or proved myself wrong from a fight. I’ve never won over a critic. In fact, critics have created lies to justify their existences. What I have done is wasted plenty of time, nursed a few injuries and probably lost a few students. So, pardon my language, why the F–K would I want to continue to do this at age 50?

My love affair with the clinch

14 Jun

Ever since I saw mixed martial arts in 1993, I’ve been fascinated with the clinch. While it has been largely ignored in traditional martial arts in recent memory, it is in many regards the deciding factor in a real engagement. The striker who wants to remain mobile and deliver kicks and punches must know how to use the clinch to stop the takedown and how to break out of it. The grappler who wants to take an opponent to the ground much master the clinch and the throws and takedowns from it. Finally, there are those who fight in the clinch. In retrospect, while I was not conscious of it and had a wildly undeveloped game, for much of my “career” I had used the clinch for defense and to set up my attacks.

first knee head 2

In Chinese martial arts, we have push hands (Tui Shou), sticking hands (Chi Sau) and pulling hands (Rou Shou); all designed to control, redirect, unbalance and create opportunities. Yet misconceptions, and outright conceit, prevents many from every equating these things with grappling, the clinch or wrestling. Those things are beneath them.

wedge 6

Under the umbrella of jacket wrestling, we have Judo, Sambo and Shuai-Jiao. Russian Sambo derives not just from Judo influences, but hundreds of ethnic jacket wrestling styles that existed within the regions that made up the former Soviet Union. Wrestling, with and without jackets, is without question the universal human activity. Chinese Shuai-Jiao, with its short sleeves, also has much of the hand fighting and pummeling tactics of the non jacket style.

hip throw 4

Most people in the world are familiar with the two most popular non jacket wrestling styles, free style and Greco-Roman wrestling. We can throw into the mix “catch-as-catch-can” which is just wrestling with submissions. If the world ever had doubts that wrestling was an efficient martial arts, decades of mixed martial arts competitions should have put that to rest.

underhook defend punch 3

Finally, we have the wrestling or clinching used for striking. Western Boxing’s clinch is relatively limited by the current rules of the game, though if we look back in history to the bare knuckle days we find more wrestling applications. A favorite of the bare knuckle boxer was the “cross buttocks”, a hip throw every Judoka, Sambo player, Shuai Jiao student or wrestler would know. For clinching with striking, Thailand’s Muay Thai offers a well developed and deep resource.

drag three

I’ve spent about two decades now researching the various traditions and their methods. I’ve developed over time a clinch method that combines striking with throws and takedowns; applicable to San Da, Mixed Martial Arts and self defense. The task was made easier by an early realization; despite all the different source traditions, they all shared the same principles at their core.

Pummel the head

Pummel the head

You need to learn to control three areas; the head, the arms and the chest / body.

Pummel the arms

Pummel the arms

Pummel the body

Pummel the body

My background in Chinese martial arts never hurt my studies, in fact it enriched them. Having been taught the idea of “gates” and “indoor” vs “outdoor” areas, I understood the need to control the inside.

control the indoor area two

I understood ideas like pushing, pulling, rising, pressing, etc…







As you might have already guess, YES, these things will be the topic of my third book!

In the meantime, my second book “Lion’s Roar San Da”, covering the striking, kicking and blocking system is available at https://www.createspace.com/5461916

“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.



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