A day for perspectives

24 Nov

Something about holidays, perhaps the quiet time it provides me, always makes me ponder where I’ve been and where I am going. I know at times it comes across as if I have always had some master plan, but the reality is that it has just come together over time, and time and distance provide perspective. Still, I think it is a pretty good story.


I started practicing martial arts after I had been sick. I had been diagnosed with Leukemia at age six. Half the children died back then, and I spent more than a year in the hospital. I missed a year of school and had to be home tutored. I hadn’t learned to play sports, I was very sick, I even had permanent nerve damage in my legs. So martial arts didn’t just help me rebuild my health and my body, it was everything for me. All my friends and all my world revolved around it.

red belt

I was extremely lucky from day one, I got quality instruction under a very qualified instructor even though initially I knew nothing about martial arts other than a few Bruce Lee movies I had seen that had peaked my interest. Today I laugh at myself, thinking about how as a kid I was sure my “master” was some old, wise secret man. I now realize he was younger then than I am now! Perspective, and irony.


I distinctly remember a few things about my early training; I asked a lot of questions, wasn’t afraid to “buck the system” and wasn’t always satisfied with the answers. The third thing I had been taught in my school was a knife hand blow to the neck. The very first thing I did the first time they had me spar was to use that knife hand blow to the neck. They stopped the entire class because of that!


To his credit, my instructor, the late Pong Ki Kim, was always willing to entertain my questions and at least attempt to provide me answers. But many of those answers left me wondering, and I continued to look for answers. I found old books on the Moo Duk Kwan my teacher had actually done. I wanted to learn more martial arts methods. In retrospect, I was always interested in the practical applications of martial arts.


When I met Chan Tai-San, I still thought there were “secrets” that could be gotten if I found the right teacher and he accepted me. 16 years with Chan Tai-San, formal “baai si” adoption, and acting as his translator and constant companion during his travel I indeed learned some “secrets”. They were not the secrets I thought I would learn.

PAL 12152007 (3)

About 5 or 6 years into my martial arts teaching career, I was exposed to the first three UFC events. I had already been interested in practical application and full contact training, but this new “no hold barred” (NHB) motivated me in a particular way. It began what ultimately was a 20-year adventure into learning what worked, how it worked and how you trained it.


While it initially may appear a contradiction, these days I am focused more on teaching martial arts for fitness. It was a transition that began in 2010 and now I really have very little interest in training people to fight. There are a lot of reasons for this, but at the core is the simple fact that I have been there and done that, and have nothing more to prove.


On the other hand, in the past six years or so I have had the immense pleasure of helping people be healthier, feel better about themselves and live better lives. Considering I started martial arts because I was a sick child, this really should not come as a surprise. Of course, being who I am, it is incredibly important to me that even though most of my students are not interested in fighting, they are still learning martial arts correctly. THAT is the real issue. I am a strong advocate of “Truth” and martial arts must always be practiced with truth.

Baai Si 2

At the same time, while I am not that interested in “fighters” anymore I am still very interested in explaining the connection between traditional martial arts and practical application. So I have refocused my efforts into showing people HOW I got to where I am today, and my “secret group” provides people with detailed demonstrations of how I went from “traditional kung fu” to producing so many champions in Muay Thai, San Da, Boxing, Kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts. If you are interested in the “secret group” email me at INFO@nysanda.com


I can’t say that life has always been easy, but it’s been a great life, with great experiences. And I look forward to the next years that are coming

Martial Business: Training fighters is NOT a business model

2 Nov


I began training fighters in 1994. The last time I had a fighter in an event was by coincidence (not design) 2015. That’s 21 years, where I trained hundreds of fighters, amateur and professional, who did very well in a variety of formats. But, as you might have guessed, I have been going to events less and less and honestly, I am not all that interested in training fighters anymore.


We were dominate in sanshou and san da, and a major presence in both Muay Thai and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). I frequently had 5, 6, 10 different fighters in an event or on a card. We were very well known. A lot of people think that stuff like that is going to get them students. Oh, I definitely had people show up at my door because of all these events. They were always people that wanted to become “fighters”. First problem, a lot of people who THINK they want to be “fighters” have no idea what that means. Most are not prepared for all the hard work. Most are not prepared for the pain, the sweat and the blood. Most will never make it to their first fight.


Second problem, pretty much everyone who shows up at your door and tells you they want to be “fighters” will not be able to pay your regular tuition. It is the nature of the beast. Well! You say to yourself, “when they go professional I’ll make money that way”. Give me a minute to stop laughing…. Most fighters will never become professionals. Those that can become professional, won’t likely be ready for that level for maybe two years. And, finally, when they go professional, you know what you make? Yes, you make a whole 33%….. That is 1/3 of the $200 or $300 that most promotions will pay them…..

PAL 12152007 (3)

So, go back to an earlier observation I made; all those fights you win at local events are NOT likely to bring in many regular people who want to take classes regularly and will pay you regularly. Now I am going to give you the third piece of bad news…. The average “fighter” is also going to scare away a lot of those regular people….


If you are lucky, your “fighters” won’t pick on the regulars, and they won’t injure them. But fighters hang around your gym at all hours, they sweat a lot and make the place stink, they also tend to have bad personal hygiene. The don’t wash their workout clothing, their gear stinks, they leave their gear all around the gym. This is the sort of stuff that grosses out women, some of the most reliable clients a gym can have.


Fighters also often bring with them “drama”. Imagine if you will the sort of person who decides that their “career” is going to be beating people up (and getting beaten up). Fighters are also notorious for their lack of loyalty. You’ll invest a lot of time training them, get them ready for a title or to be professional, and they will think you’re too controlling or holding them back or the grass is greener in some other gym.


None of this has yet to account for the weekends you either close your gym or are not around to do sales because you are at a fight. It doesn’t account for the money you pay for a rental car, a night in a hotel, food, etc. And never forget, time really is money. So how much time are you spending with people who aren’t really making you money and MIGHT be obstacles to attracting and retaining the people who DO pay you money?


All of which is to say; training fighters may be a lot of things, but it is NOT a business model

Chinese martial arts the “old way”

28 Oct

Last weekend I took some of my more senior students to another state to attend a seminar by a well respected Chinese martial arts teacher. Some people find this unusual, since many instructors try to isolate their students and keep them from seeing other teachers and approaches. But as I have said many times in the past, I have never had an issue with it; I am trying to educate my students and I have always found that training with quality instructors reinforces what I have already taught them and they actually appreciate me MORE.

Chan Tai San inside grip

The seminar would always begin with form, something that initially my students were not accustomed to. That is, until they realized it was just practicing a technique in isolation, just as we do shadowing or warming up. Then the real “meat” would begin, after every form practice people would partner up and begin drilling. THIS is how I learned. THIS is how all Chinese martial arts used to be practiced. But, sadly, today it seemed so rare. It was partly why I brought my students, to see it up close and personal.


The forms and the initial drills were not to confine the practice, they were just the launching point for practice. The more we practiced, the move variations there were to do, the more material there was to add. Every technique had at LEAST five variations. So, “five elements” was at LEAST 25 techniques… If you walked in just during these segments, it would have looked like an MMA seminar!


Training with this teacher reminded me so much of my teacher. As he got to know us, he beat up my arms, he punched me (multiple times) in the spleen and the kidneys. He locked me up and threw me. All the time, laughing. He was laughing, we were laughing. We were getting the crap knocked out of us and ENJOYING IT… that is what real kung fu was about, what in my opinion it should still be about.

History is perspective…

7 Oct

I actually missed the first three UFC’s, but I was given them on a VHS tape not long afterwards. I think people training today have a hard time imagining that in those days Brazilian Jiujitsu instruction was not easy to find, and if you wanted to train in it you had to ally yourself with them against the rest of the martial arts world. It was actually sort of a hostile period of time, quite unlike the era of cross training we live in now.


Today, Brazilian Jiujitsu is a very popular (and organized) sport, but in the early days people were interested in it as it related to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Since there was that “US against THEM” mentality, there were those who joined Jiujitsu and then there was the rest of the world; looking at wrestling, Judo, Sambo and anything else they could learn to “counter” Jiujitsu. People became interested in the scene that evolved in Japan out of pro wrestling; UWF, UWFi, Shooto, Pancrase, etc. This also led to interest in “Catch wrestling” and some rather interesting events which I won’t go into in this particular blog.


The thing is, in this initial period, people equated the ground with grappling and submissions. We saw armbars and triangle chokes from your back (the guard). Since people were looking to Japan for information, people became interested in lots of “exotic” submissions; weird leg locks and neck cranks. Early Pancrase “borrowed” professional wrestling “rules” and had only open hand slapping, and pretty much striking was NOT used on the ground.


Of course, the UFC and all the subsequent promotions in the United States that followed it eventually changed the playing field. The Gracie family had always had the idea of getting a mount, or back mount, and striking. Some Brazilians excelled in this (I remember watching Rickson for example). But they usually used the strikes to set up a submission. Increasingly striking to end the match became an end unto itself and people really developed it as a skill.


I was asked by the now defunct USKBA under Paul Rosner to judge an MMA event at Mohegan Sun. It was a Russian team, made up of Sambo trained fighters, against a team of Brazilian Jiujitsu fighters (mostly relocated Brazilians). In the “golden age” of early MMA people would have expected some sort of battle of submissions. The event was rather disappointing; the Jiujitsu fighters all systematically took down the Russians and used “ground and pound” to end the matches. They didn’t even need judges.

Submissions aren’t “dead”, we still see lots of chokes and Ronda Rousey certainly demonstrated that a good old school Jujigatame still had its place in modern MMA. But I think that is exactly the point. The basics, the “bread and butter” submissions still work in MMA. Like most things, the “flash” or the “clinic technique” is never what real fighting is about. It is about BASICS. Writing this blog, I think back to watching a documentary on Holland’s Jon Bluming. His fusion of Kyokushinkai and Judo featured only the most basic of Judo, three or four arm locks and three or four chokes (including lapel chokes).


Go for the bacon, not the sizzle.

Steal, steal a lot, and steal from the best…..

28 Sep

The other day a guy who trains with me (and who has an extensive background and trains in a lot of different places) told me that one of the other instructors he knows told him he shouldn’t train with me because I steal stuff…..


If you know me, you probably already knew that would be my reaction… But more seriously, I have three different responses to this “attack”.

First, of course I steal stuff! I have stated MANY TIMES my opinion that if an instructor claims to have no influence other than their primary art/primary instructor they are either being dishonest or are unacceptably intellectually lazy.


It is impossible for one person to have all the techniques or the “answers”. Even an organization like mine, where I am friends with and continue to network with many respected fighters, coaches and trainers, we can’t make such a claim. That is precisely why you’ll find us consistently training with others.


Second, if you really think I “stole” stuff, ask how did I do it? How did I learn it, integrate it into what I do and how am I able to teach it? Let me put it another way, the instructor in question told my “friend” (won’t even call him a student) that I stole stuff from him (well, it is quite a funny story there, but that is another blog). My friend told him basically, “yeah, but he understands it better and explained it to me better.” So, I ask you, who really “owns” it? The person who thinks they “had it first” or the person who really understands it?


Third, how do you “own” anything for me to steal it? Does anyone really think there is one technique that only they and their teacher have? Human beings all have one torso, one head, two arms, two hands, two elbows, two legs, two knees and two feet. The reality is, NO ONE OWNS TRUTH. You might as well accuse me of “stealing” your air!


This stuff is really the product of small minds and insecurity. Never be afraid to attend a seminar or go to another school to train and learn something new. Take every opportunity you can to train with the best. If a famous fighter or teacher is coming to your town to do a seminar, or is a reasonable traveling distance from you take that opportunity. Don’t be afraid to “steal” and don’t be concerned with what others may say. The “purity” of certain traditional martial art traditions is not only an obstacle to your advancement; it is in fact a myth!

Chinese martial arts; a historical outline .. more ROUGH CUTS

11 Sep

Paragraphs, pages and even chapters change daily during the edit process, but here’s some more “rough cuts”…..


Relevant to our study, we must also understand how these confusions were created due to outsiders with little understanding of the practices they were observing applying their own external labels. Relatively disinterested Qing officials found it convenient to label all heterodox religious sects part of the White Lotus movement. Thus, the Eight Trigrams Sect was labelled White Lotus, and if they practiced “Armor of Golden Bell” then it too must be a White Lotus teaching. Liu Shiduan’s group practiced and even called themselves “Armor of Golden Bell”; which in this convoluted train of pseudo-logic purportedly linked them to the White Lotus?

So how then did the public at the time and generations of subsequent historians and political scientists establish a link between the Spirit Boxers and the White Lotus? The relationship was certainly not due to practice of the “Armor of Golden Bell.” The Spirit Boxer’s brand of invulnerability practice was based not in orthodox martial arts but rather mass spirit possession rituals. (Esherick 55 and Cohen 17) Rather, Liu Shiduan’s group, which was linked to the White Lotus tenuously based upon the “Armor of Golden Bell,” and the Spirt Boxers are linked by the “Big Sword Society” banner. Of course, we have established that neither group actually called themselves “Big Sword Society,” it was a label applied to them by outside observers. It would be almost humorous had it not important consequences.


Finally, both Joseph Esherick and Paul Cohen note fundamental problems in trying to link the Spirit Boxers / Yi He Quan to the White Lotus Sect. First, mass spirit possession, a defining characteristic of the Spirit Boxers, is conspicuously absent from the White Lotus Sect tradition. (Cohen 30). Second, mention of the “Eternal Venerable Mother,” a figure central to White Lotus sect tradition, is absent from Spirit Boxer traditions. (Esherick 221, Cohen 30). The “Eternal Venerable Mother” was a syncretic pseudo-Buddhist figure that offered salvation to White Lotus followers, if they were under the direction of the appropriate leadership. The Spirit Boxers offered supernatural powers via possession by the spirits of popular figures from history, fiction and the Chinese opera, and the technique was so easy it could be learned by anyone, especially poor uneducated peasant youth.

If by this point in this study the reader has not already begun questioning these things, let me more explicitly state my point. In the general absence of reliable, authoritative documents regarding specific traditions produced by the participants themselves, we must always question whether the things we have come to believe originated with the practitioners or were the product of external forces. Are we confusing peasant superstition, Chinese opera performance or street performance tricks with authentic martial arts practice?

One Shandong master promised that the techniques [of invulnerability] could be learned in a day; another said seven or eight days; a third more rigorous teacher claimed 103 days but still noted that it was “much easier than the Armor of the Golden Bell.”
(Esherick 294)

Do many believe that martial arts are a health and spiritual activity because that is how the educated elites, who by virtue of their literacy had a virtual monopoly on documenting them for most of our history, were interested in and viewed them? Perhaps today, many can believe that the association of religion with martial arts has had many positive benefits for both health and spiritual development. Yet, in the aftermath of the Boxer Uprising, it may have seemed to have been the worst thing to happen to the martial arts.

“Rough cuts” , more draft work from forthcoming volume

6 Sep


The confusion surrounding Cheng Tinghua’s adoption of the name Nei Jia Quan in 1894 was indicative of a larger problem. By the late Qing period, the lines between martial arts and religion were significantly blurred. At this point in our study, it should be clear that martial arts did not originate as religious practices. Both documents relating to the general practice of martial arts and specific biographies of select martial artists demonstrate that into the early to mid-twentieth century there were still men who had a strictly utilitarian view of their practice; it was for self-protection, it was an occupation, it served concrete economic and political goals. Some of these men saw value in incorporating Daoist Daoyin, though to what degree they already had similar exercises remains an unanswered question. It does seem clear that in general the martial arts community had adopted Daoyin concepts and terminology, but that still doesn’t necessarily indicate that someone practicing martial arts viewed it as religious or spiritual practice.

On the other hand, Meir Shahar has demonstrated that the monks of Shaolin practiced martial arts not only for self-protection but also specifically because they were intrigued by its potential for spiritual cultivation and medical applications. (Shahar, esp 137) Approaching martial arts as a spiritual and/or health practice seemed to be its major appeal to the educated classes, who helped document it and ultimately served as its patrons. Finally, there were indeed men who practiced martial arts as a practical skill for violence yet believed something more profound lay beneath its surface. Sun Lutang’s (孫祿堂) first teacher, a Shaolin practitioner named Wu (吳), told him “the martial arts are not just for fighting, these principals are very deep.”

The problem with associating martial arts with religion was the society’s perception of disruptive heterodox religious sects and ignorant peasant superstitions. Combining martial arts with qi circulation practices, using religious terminology and imagery was indeed the slippery slope that provided the fertile ground from which the Spirit Boxers / Yi He Quan grew. To many outside observers, martial artists appeared to be ignorant peasants who boasted using borrowed religious vocabulary, engaged in questionable quasi-religious practices, and were inescapably linked to heterodox religious sects. Long held suspicions of a direct relationship between “White Lotus” religious sectarians and martial arts groups seemed vindicated after the Boxer Uprising.

There is no stronger evidence of these perceptions than the generations of trained historians and political scientists, such as Elizabeth Perry and Susan Naquin, who continued for decades to assert an integral relationship between heterodox religion and the practice of martial arts. Susan Naquin appears to have believed that all “White Lotus” sects (keeping in mind Barend J. ter Haar’s previously discussed caveat about Qing officials’ the generic use of “White Lotus” label) offered martial arts training and all sectarians engaged in practice. (Naquin Millenarian 30-31). In another volume, Naquin even embraces the idea of a “White Lotus martial arts tradition.” (Nanquin Shantung rebellion p 192) Naquin, noting the presence of a practitioner within the Eight Trigrams Sect, identifies the “Armor of Golden Bell” as a White Lotus teaching. (Naquin Millenarian 30-31). In response, Joseph Esherick notes that this “Armor of Golden Bell” practitioner, Zhang Luo-Jiao (張洛焦), learned the method prior to joining the sect, from someone not involved in the sect, and in fact left the sect well before the rebellion. (Esherick 97) Never the less, identification of the “Armor of Golden Bell” as a White Lotus teaching appears to be at least part of the reason that Naquin believed that the Boxer Uprising was a direct result of the White Lotus tradition (Naquin Millenarian p 3).


More random thoughts on a Tuesday morning

6 Sep

The martial art I teach begins instruction with a technique known as the “penetrating strike” (穿搥). The correct execution of this technique requires learning to turn both the hips and shoulders, engaging in a practice referred to as the “wheeling body” (車輪身). Ironically, while today most would classify my method as “external,” this practice is similar to the Taiji Quan concept “the waist turns like a wheel” (腰如輪轉). Learning to turn correctly and developing thoracic flexibility allows us to develop “waist power” (腰力). We refer to our strikes as “shooting star fists (流星拳). In Xing Yi Quan there is the saying “punch like a shooting star” (拳出如流星).

If I have a student who has studied Indian yoga, they will inevitably observe that the execution of the “penetrating strike” and the exercises to prepare the body (練功) are similar to many Yogic asana such as the “virabhadrasana.” Based upon their experience, this is how the student relates to my martial art. It does not mean that my martial art has origins in India, in Yoga, or a relationship to Hinduism. If I decide (and I have) to also study Yoga, it gives me a different perspective on my martial art, it teaches me new methods and approaches to teaching flexibility. In the end, I have absorbed Yogic techniques which allow me to better teach my martial arts students how to execute the strike. In addition, if practicing my martial art also strengthens my students’ bodies and makes them healthier, I am still teaching them my martial art and not Yoga.

At this point, I will further complicate my story by letting you know that the martial art I teach is called “Mi Zong Lama Pai“ (密宗喇嘛派), or “Tantric Lama Sect.” My method is not called this because the individuals in my lineage were particularly religious, they were not. One worked as an armed escort and engaged in a number of public challenge matches, several were military officers and a number were members of secret societies and/or involved in organized crime. The method is named Mi Zong Lama Pai simply because the ethnic Chinese who learned it in southern China in the mid nineteenth century learned it from a Buddhist monk affiliated with the Tantric Buddhist Sect (密宗佛教). That Buddhist monk also engaged in challenge matches and may have used a hooked sword to kill a few people. As I have already discussed here, Buddhist monks in Imperial China frequently did not conform to our contemporary understanding and expectations. We’ll return to that monk a little later.

The Big Sword Society (大刀會)

2 Sep

The Big Sword Society (大刀會) first appears operating in southwestern Shandong province (山東) in the late 1890’s. (Esherick 96) As a border region, it was not tightly governed and the local gentry were politically weak. (Cohen 17) It was prone to banditry, opium growing and salt smuggling. Yet the Big Sword Society was neither a bandit gang nor a secret society nor a sectarian movement.


Liu Shiduan (劉士端), who is credited as the founder and leader of the Big Sword Society, was a martial artist who in his thirties had learned the “Armor of the Golden Bell” from an itinerant martial artist named Zhao (趙) (Esherick 107). Liu was both well-educated and prosperous; he owned about 100 mu of land. In the early 1890s, Liu started to teach martial arts and the “Armor of the Golden Bell” to his own disciples. His students were typically rich peasants or small landowners such as Cao Deli (曹得禮) and Peng Guilin (彭桂林) who would both become leaders in his society. [Esherick 107-108]

During this period, already existing banditry had intensified due to the imperial military having been diverted out of the region in response to the Sion-Japanese war. The society began as an anti-bandit group; supported by local gentry, landlords and rich peasants. That is, the society represented the interests of those who had property to defend. The poor did not join, as they had nothing to protect (Esherick 109 Cohen 17).


Much has been made by some of the group’s association with the supposedly “heterodox technique” of “Armor of the Golden Bell.” In fact, there is evidence the group may have actually referred to itself as “the Armor of the Golden Bell.” (Esherick 55) Just as Qing officials had applied the label “White Lotus” to virtually all heterodox religious sects, the name “Big Sword Society” may have been attributed to Liu’s group by external observers. We will return again to the issue of externally applied names. For now, we note that the local officials, who certainly were concerned with “heterodox practices” and sectarian activity, could also distinguish between lawless bandits and anti-bandit groups defending the social order. [Esherick 109] As Paul Cohen notes, “[in] the initial phase of its development, the organization’s sole purpose was to protect people’s lives and property.” (Cohen 17)


In 1895, Liu’s society caught the attention of the Caozhou (曹州) prefect Yuxian (毓賢) by arresting a large number of outlaws and turning them over to the local authorities. With official approval, they continued suppressing banditry between 1895 and 1896. Liu himself was credited with the capture of the bandit leader known as “Rice-Grain Yue the Second” (岳二米子). [Esherick 109-110]

Most histories related to the Boxer Uprising focus upon a shift with Liu’s group towards anti-Christian violence in 1896. However, evidence suggests that the nature of these disputes was not religious per se as much as the tendency of Christian missionaries to abuse their position as foreigners and their frequent interference in everyday affairs. In the first instance of conflict with Christians, bandits who have been involved in conflict with Liu’s society converted to Catholicism to gain legal immunity from arrest and to place them under the protection of the foreign powers. (Cohen 19)

In the second instance, Liu himself did not even actively participate, but events spun out of control and resulted in the end of his society. In northern Jiangsu (江蘇), the Pang family (龐) and Liu family (劉) were involved in lineage disputes over land use. The Liu lineage had sought leverage by converting to Catholicism. The leader of the Pang lineage, a young man who had only recently come into his position, requested the assistance of the Big Sword Society. (Cohen 19) Liu Shiduan sent his disciple and Big Sword Society co-leader Peng Guilin (彭桂林) to assist the Pang family.

Jospeh Esherick details the entire incident, which ultimately resulted in burned houses and other property damage but no Christian casualties. (Esherick 116-119) The government response was clearly disproportionate; Liu Shiduan and thirty other leaders of the society were arrested, tried and beheaded. (Cohen 20) As Esherick notes, the society had been created by landowners to protect their property and had maintained close relationships with local officials and local militia; it was an orthodox institution. For this very reason, the execution of its leadership had been extremely effective and immediately brought the society for all practical purposes to an end. “After Liu Shiduan was killed, there just wasn’t anymore Big Sword activity.” (Liu’s son quoted in Esherick 120) Yet, the name “Big Sword Society” would re-emerge during the Boxer Uprising?

Chinese martial arts: a historical outline

30 Aug

A very brief tease from the forthcoming volume, “Chinese martial arts: a historical outline”

Very few events are ever what they first appear to be!

The previously mentioned leader of the Spirit Boxers, Zhu Hongdeng (朱紅燈), it is said “could not use a sword or a spear.” (Esherick 393)


We then have the 1900 account of a local Zhili official;

..the members of my family went to have a look at the [martial arts] ground at the temple. They were told that boys ten of so years of age, after practicing there for seven or eight days, became invulnerable to swords. I certainly didn’t believe this. But on the first day of the fifth month, as we passed through the village of Gaoqiao, the driver said there was a [martial arts] ground at the temple there. So I got down from the cart to go see. I saw that the people there were all young lads of thirteen of fourteen, the youngest no older than eight…. I asked them: “Who teaches the [martial arts]? In reply they said: “There is no instructor at all. Only the gods who attach themselves to the boys’ bodies, after which the latter are able to do the [martial arts] exercises. It is called Spirit Boxing. After eighteen days of practice, they achieve mastery.
(Cohen 96-97)

The above account is self-explanatory. Later, Paul Cohen suggests that many of the Spirit Boxers had learned (at least in part) their “fighting techniques” from Chinese opera performances. (Cohen 107).


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