Chinese martial arts needs NEW RULES

8 Oct

As I moderate my facebook group “Real Kung Fu Application” at, I find again and again it necessary for me to ask people to provide examples, produce evidence and adhere to basic logic. I can not really think of another community that is so resistant to the use of common sense. Here are a few of my “favorite” dysfunctions and the “new rules” I apply to my group. Enjoy!


Lineage: Much of the lineages we know in the Chinese martial arts world are simply nothing more than fairly tales. In recent history (early 19th Century), martial artists who had no idea who developed their arts or where they came from faced a challenge. They wanted notice, they wanted to market their skills, they wanted fame, they wanted social acceptance, they wanted legitimacy and they wanted to differentiate themselves from others. Most lineages are nothing more than a (feeble) attempt to bring legitimacy to a method by linking them to a famous general, a famous temple or a famous figure. There is seldom any evidence to support these claims. Most lineages can not be reliably spoken of beyond a 100 years. MOST OF THEM.


Opinions: The greatest tragedy of the internet age is the idea that just because you have an opinion, it is valid. You certainly have a right to hold an opinion, but NOTHING guarantees your opinion is worth more than a bucket of warm piss. Furthermore, just because your “master” told you it doesn’t make it true! Want people to take your opinion seriously? Provide evidence your opinion is grounded in fact and reality.


On “fighting”: If you have never fought, and have never trained a fighter, FACE IT, you really don’t know much about fighting. If you are trying to argue with someone who HAS trained fighters, especially if they have trained both amateur and professional fighters, and you are still insisting your opinion is “just as valid” YOU ARE A BUFFOON. Hate to be “rude”, or “aggressive” or hurt your little feelings, but the fact remains that it is true! You are the equivalent of a plumber bursting into the operating theater to tell the brain surgeon how to do his job.


On “real fighting”: The last refuge of the desperate (and clueless). Let me explain this to you; if in a ring, with a referee, safety rules, and knowing the guy in the other corner is going to attack you at the ring of the bell, you still can’t stop them from kicking you, punching you, throwing you, sitting on your chest and punching you in the face, etc etc WHY DO YOU THINK IT WOULD BE DIFFERENT IN THE STREET IN A “REAL FIGHT”?

Why “Lion’s Roar Martial Arts”?

7 Oct


“It is said, upon the birth of the Buddha, he stood up, pointed one finger to the sky, pointed the finger of the other hand to the earth, and roared like a lion to announce he had arrived”.
– The Lantern Passing Record

The lion is considered a divine animal of nobleness and dignity, which can protect the Truth and keep off evils. So, perhaps people can understand why in the Mind Dynasty, a martial art associated with Buddhism was called “Lion’s Roar”. But for my personal method? Is there more to it?

“I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path.
– Jiddu Krishnamurti


I have developed in my approach to martial arts the idea that one must always train with Truth. Yet Truth is subtle and elusive, and as Krishnamurti stated in so many variations, it is impossible to organize in a static form. Thus, my method is always adapting and changing. If it were not so, it would not be a living thing, and it would cease to be practical and relevant.

In retrospect, my interest in practical application of the martial arts and in training fighters inspired the process by which I came to this conclusion. In combat, you become interested in what works. If something is ineffective, regardless of its origins, you rationally discard it. A major theme of my method is that it is not what you practice; your style, system, tradition, lineage, teacher or school. It is HOW you practice. You must practice with Truth.


For more than twenty years, I have been known for producing fighters. To many it appears I run a school and have a curriculum that is far removed from traditional Chinese martial arts. I certainly have never been anything less than completely forthright about my cross training and my incorporation of different material, especially non-Chinese martial arts, into my teachings.


Yet, I still consider the core of my teachings the material that Chan Tai-San taught me. I have compared it to a human body; Chan Tai-San’s methods are the skeleton, the connective tissues, and the heart. My cross training has certainly filled in certain areas, but in other cases all that it did was give me a deeper appreciation for material I already had learned from Chan Tai-San. I had never abandoned my teacher or his methods; I had simply expanded and evolved them.

There are those who learned the same system, even those who studied with the same teacher; but who do not teach how I do and have not produced the same results. It is clearly not WHAT they practice. It is HOW they practice. In this book, I examine traditional Chinese martial arts and ask if there is anything inherent in them to account for those who cannot practically apply them? The answer is NO. It is not the material, it is the PROCESS.


I am completely comfortable with my method and my approach. I have already tested and proven it in many different venues. I strongly believe that I have never abandoned my teacher or his methods; I have simply expanded and evolved them. My current method combines old (traditional) and new (modern) methods. It combines both Chinese and non-Chinese methods. This is because I am dedicated to Truth, and Truth transcends any tradition, any school, any lineage, or any teacher.

Lost in translation?

11 Sep

Taijiquan’s push hands (推手), Wing Chun Kyuhn’s sticking hands (黐手), or Baguazhang’s Rou Shou (柔手); these things are clearly Chinese martial arts. But what about clinching, hand fighting, pummeling, wrestling? These are the things Nak Muay (Muay Thai boxers), wrestlers and MMA fighters do; surely they have no relationship to Chinese martial arts? Chinese martial arts require technique, skill, sensitivity, some would even say “qi” (?) while these other things? Perhaps often, language is the barrier and it is all just lost in translation?

Push hands or a wrestling duck under?

Push hands or a wrestling duck under?

We must cross the bridge (橋) to close the distance. Then we attack the arms, to open the doors (開門) and enter the in door area (內部門). At times, we must be flexible (柔). Other times we must be hard (剛). We must be continuous (連環). We must listen (聽) to respond. At times we yield (產). Other times we must attack (捅). Whatever you chose to call this, these are the essential principles.

jit choih deng jaangpek and jong combination

Chinese martial arts people are usually very familiar with the “bridge arm”, but usually see it as the elaborately shaped movements in their hand forms.

Crossing the bridge

Crossing the bridge

Parrying and absorbing punches to set up the neck ties, under hooks, over hooks and clinches used in Muay Thai and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is just as much “bridging” and “crossing the bridge”.

Seven Star Footing

Seven Star Footing

Chinese martial artists are used to seeing a posture in a hand set….

ankle pick 2

… and then (maybe) learning its application.

inside trip

They frequently don’t even know the exact same technique exists in a foreign martial art like Judo or in western wrestling.

捨身探海uchi 4

One strength of Chinese martial arts was that they found various practice skills (Gung) to improve the techniques in application. But over the years, often the Gung was preserved but not the application!

bicpts grip

As I have said before, often people are obsessed with the outward shape, and forget the intention. Or they simply want to believe what they do is unique, perhaps so unique as to be the “secret” of their teacher and their teacher only!

bicepts arm pummeling

My personal belief, we should focus on the PRINCIPLES… they are universal.

hand blocking throw cross bodycracking 2


Learning from the example of Wong Yan-Lam of Lama Pai

9 Sep

“In the Qing dynasty, the Tibetan Monk came to the mainland, A lot of fighting in the city, the Ten Tigers of Guandong made the earth tremble, The heirs of Lama Pai spread under the summit of Hingyun Monastery, Boxers practice ten thousand punches”
– Poem of Lama Pai

Most stories about Chinese martial artists fighting are little more than the stuff of legends. Even matches featuring famous figures from the recent past are scant on details and lack external validation. One of the few exceptions to this is the Lei Tai matches of Lama Pai grandmaster Wong Yan Lam. His matches are universally recognized, even by those teachers not affiliated with his line or martial arts tradition, and there is contemporary third party verification. While the often sighted one hundred and fifty matches are probably an exaggeration, we know the event was still quite a phenomenon. It lasted several days and we know that challengers were dispatched with more than simply punches and kicks. Quite a few were thrown until they submitted and at least one succumbed to a choke hold.


Wong Yan Lam is the first “historical” figure in the lineage. Events prior to his challenge, even much of his early training, fall within the realm of “legend.” Wang Yan Lam supposedly learned from a monk who came from the “Tibetan” region (what would now be Qinghai in western China). The monastery where his training took place appears to be a location long associated not only with martial arts, but with secret societies and revolutionaries. We ask, are details hard to come by and blurry because of the association with such societies and revolutionary activities? Or, was this association with this monastery rather a legitimation device? We will probably never have a complete picture or a definite answer.


Wong appears in Guangdong City with a reputation as an escort and bodyguard. He erected a large wooden stage in front of Hai Tung Monastery (海幢寺) and announced that he would accept any challenger. At the time, the city was southern China’s foremost center for martial artists and fighters and such challenges were not taken lightly. Matches such as these had no rules and no restrictions and permanent injury and even death were common.

lei tai pan

Over the course of eighteen days, the claim is made that Wong defeated over one hundred and fifty challengers. “Either the challenger was maimed or killed,” said noted Hap Ga Sifu David Chin. “He never let one challenger leave his school without injury. He was a master of using the technique of ruthlessness (殘)”. While there is no question that Wong Yan-Lam erected the stage and earned his reputation because of it, the details have been questioned. Undefeated in one hundred and fifty matches might appear inflated, especially the roundness of the number seems suspect, to Westerners at least. In the context of Chinese culture, it appears quite less controversial. Rounding of numbers is common practice, the author personally knows a woman who celebrated her 60th birthday at age 57! However, there are conventions to how this is done. The cited hundred and fifty matches may have indeed been less, but it was clearly more than a hundred.


There was a considerable about of press and documents regarding this event, and much of it still floats around. Romantic visions aside, some matches resulted simply from the challenger being forced off the stage, perhaps even jumping off the stage of their own volition once they realized they were no match. A few are said to have been knocked unconscious, and remarkably we are told that at least one was choked (the use of Baai Heih or “sealing the breath” 閉氣). There is nothing supernatural or extraordinary in any of the descriptions. Wong Yan-Lam is described as a well-rounded fighter with a great deal of experience who appeared to have no reservations when it came to beating challengers to establish his reputation.

Celebratory Cloud Temple 2

A few comments regarding this event, and what we can learn from it.

– If you are from this lineage, it means NOTHING about your own practice or abilities!
– Wong won his matches with solid basics, a variety of tactics and an attitude.
– There were no secrets, no magical powers, and most likely some of the matches were just “ugly”!
– Considering how many accepted and lost, overestimating abilities is probably not a new phenomenon.

Kung Fu contradictions….

7 Sep

In any discussion of Chinese martial arts, you are sure to notice that different people have widely different ideas about what Chinese martial arts are really about, what is important when practicing them, and what their ultimate aims are. It may even seem as if people aren’t even discussing the same subject? How can perceptions be so divergent? What accounts for all these seeming contradictions?


The traditional Confucian society, the elite of the nation and those in power, elevated the scholar as the ultimate aspiration. A Confucian scholar spent his days indoors, studying texts. They were immaculate and had a strictly defined sense of propriety. The ideal physicality was pale, and almost emaciated. This was quite a contradiction from the average martial artist, brown from the sun, covered in both sweat and dirt, developing a muscular frame from strenuous physical activity.


While the practice of martial arts may have been associated with village militias that protected vital interests, they were just as equally (if not more) associated with the undesirable underclass of the Jianghu (江湖 literally “rivers and lakes”). Many would be shocked to learn this, but for much of Chinese society martial arts equated with lawlessness, criminality and random violence.

20080310-1009_wushenglaomusecretsoc columb

In 1728 the Yong-zheng emperor issued an imperial prohibition specifically on MARTIAL ARTS. The emperor condemned teachers as “drifters and idlers who refuse to work at their proper occupations” who gather with their disciples all day, leading to “gambling, drinking and brawls”. A 1899 pamphlet by Zhili magistrate Lao Nai-wuan described local martial arts groups as “vagabonds and rowdies who draw their swords and gather crowds.” He then stated that they “are overbearing in the villages and oppress the good people.” After the Boxer Rebellion, the popular image of a martial artist in China was an uneducated, superstitious peasant who was prone to violence and despite his martial arts training, ineffective!


If today’s conversations seem full of contradictions, it is because as we entered the modern era Chinese martial arts were being affected by contradictory trends. For the “new culture movement” martial arts were just another aspect of the traditional culture that had undermined China’s power and standing in the world. Simply put, there was no good in anything traditional, and perhaps ESPECIALLY in superstitious, ignorant and violent martial artists.


And yet, there was no denying that Chinese was a nation that was physically sick; not only from Confucian scholars who hid away inside away from the sun, but from poverty, malnutrition and lack of proper medical attention. Wasn’t Chinese martial arts supposed to be able to make people healthy and strong? YES! seems the almost universal response. Yet HOW did Chinese martial arts achieve these results?


Modern, educated progressives, men such as the founder of the Jing Wu Association, stressed rational, scientific explanations of how Chinese martial arts could be used as physical education. At the same time, this segment of society sought to downplay or eliminate the negative features of traditional martial arts. They sought to downplay or eliminate the fighting aspect, and to ignore that these had for the large part been the practices of the underclass, the Jianghu.


Conservative elements in society, nationalists, the “May 4th movement”, etc saw in Chinese martial arts a way to strengthen the nation and prepare it for war! An entire nation training in martial arts would be prepared for wars to win back China’s former glory. And China was of course both unique and better! From this segment of society originated unique, often fantastical explanations of the power of Chinese martial arts! After all, if martial arts offered health benefits just for scientific reasons, the same as any other exercise, why would the nation uniquely embrace it? China should do Chinese martial arts because it was a uniquely Chinese technology, offering unique benefits that could not be gotten from anything in the west!


People tend to believe what their teachers taught them. They often don’t think to ask if their teacher has an inherent bias, or an agenda. By the time the Chinese communists entered the game, martial arts in China had been appropriated by many different groups with contradictory visions and purposes. Frankly, you’d need a score card to keep it all straight! But ask where YOUR tradition came from, and what inherent bias it might have?

Ground fighting Chinese martial arts style….

28 Aug

Set aside fanciful stories about Buddhist and Daoist monks, spiritual alchemy, achieving enlightenment and later history of cultural appropriation and examine Chinese martial arts for what they originally were intended, combat. The sooner we accept these origins, the sooner we can examine a correct history and appreciate its consequences. The sooner we can realize that the evolution from battlefield combat method to personal combat method is not all that different from the same evolutionary path that took place in Japan, and even took place in Europe. With the proper context we can understand the proper application.


As a battlefield combat art, there is very little place for ground fighting. On a battlefield, a man who falls or is taken to the ground is likely to be stabbed, speared, crushed or trampled to death. When we talk about battlefield combat, casualties are both unavoidable and accepted, a price of doing business. The single man is NOT a consideration, so the man who finds himself on the ground is NOT a concern.


As these methods trickle down to the general population and become methods of personal defense, the frame of reference changes. The man training to defend himself is not a general willing to sacrifice troops to achieve victory, he is the very individual the general would sacrifice to achieve larger aims. The man training for personal combat wants potential solutions should he find himself on the ground. He may known that his chances are reduced in combat with weapons, against multiple attackers, etc, but he won’t abandon all hope and resign to his fate. That is not human nature.


The first ground fighting skill is learning to stand back up. If you can’t get off the ground quickly enough, the next tier of defense is defending against the standing attacker. The most common Chinese martial arts ground fighting tactic is indeed kicks from the ground.

ground fighting scissor stomp

A lot of people who identify themselves as traditional Chinese martial artists are highly critical of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Unfortunately, most are not that educated regarding the actual art. The original Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as developed by the Gracie family (as opposed to sport jiujitsu which has come up rather recently by comparison) was a self defense art. It was also designed for “Vale Tudo” or no-holds-barred fighting. The original Gracie family jiujitsu contained a lot of kicks from the ground upwards at an attacker, techniques that would seem familiar to Chinese martial artists. Also, those who really are familiar with the diversity of Chinese martial arts might find techniques similar to Gracie jiujitsu.


Most Chinese martial artists have learned the scissors legs (“Gaau Jin Geuk”) that appears universally in all traditions’ ground fighting teachings. It is often seen as simply a way to get up. But it is an extremely complicated movement for simply a method of returning to a standing position? Many students of Chinese martial arts have seen it used as simple leg sweeps, but what if it also could be used for the guard sweeps so common in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Or perhaps even the arm bars and triangle chokes used from the guard?


If we consider that originally Chinese martial arts, as a battlefield combat method, had no ground fighting techniques, only developing them later, can we not ask why we can’t continue to develop our ground fighting methods? When Chinese martial arts were adopted for personal combat, ground techniques were developed, but within the context of that period. Today, we are in another period. Should we not continue to develop?


A theory for counter attacks

26 Aug

The “five elements” (五行) is essentially a universal concept within Chinese martial arts. Its cycles of “creation” and “destruction” are often explained as methods of technique linkage or as methods of counter attack. Students are often told that one technique is followed by another. Or, they are given formulas of counter attack; a “metal” technique overcomes or destroys a “wood” technique, just as an ax cuts down a tree.


Upon closer examination, systems like Hung Ga have five element techniques, but they do not follow the order of either the creation or destruction cycles? In fighting, believing the answer to an attack is as simplistic as a universal counter measure is both illogical and dangerous. Thus, if the entire scheme appears questionable to you, I agree fully. In fact, I have found others, notable Chinese boxers who also shared this view.

“One should know that the original ‘Xingyi’ …. It did not have the theory of the mutual promotion and restraint of the five elements, there were just the five elements representing five kinds of forces… This is the syncretism of the five elements. It has nothing to do with one technique overcoming another technique as the modern people claim”.

alternate jit application

The above quote is Wang Xiangzhai, Xingyi teacher, noted fighter and founder of Yi Quan. Sifu Wang further noted;

I remember well the words of my late teacher about the five elements: Metal means the strength contained in the bones and the muscles, the mind being firm like iron or stone, being able to cut gold and steel. Wood has the meaning of the bending but rooted posture of a tree. Water means force like the waves of the vast sea, lively like a dragon or a snake, when used, it is able to pervade everything. Fire means strength being like gunpowder, fists being like bullets shot out, having the strength to burn the opponent’s body by the first touch. Earth means exerting strength heavy, deep, solid, and perfectly round, the qi being strong, having the force of oneness with heaven and earth.

It is somewhat extraordinary, and somewhat disconcerting, to know that for generations most students have been given false interpretations of such a fundamental theory! In my own tradition, I was rather lucky to have never believed that combat was a simple as “A beat B, B beat C, and C beats A”. I always saw the five elements as a metaphor for possibilities; creation cycles showing how one type of technique can set up another, destruction cycles as potential counters.

jaat teui with arm pull

As I have often stated, looking through different lineages and traditions can provide us with valuable insights. We can see how the SAME techniques can counter each other; a kick counters another kick.

cut kick low

In reality, our methods are often contradictory. We punch against a kick…. then we kick against a punch….

kick vs punch

We use knee strikes against throws, but we also use throws against knees.

kick blocking

The cycles of “creation” and “destruction,” can suggest metaphorically how techniques create opportunities or can be used to counter, but we cannot take it literally.

You may not be interested in clinching, but clinching might be interested in you!

25 Aug

Today, most Chinese martial artists are stuck in the kicking and punching phase. Despite how frequently they use the word “kickboxing” in derision, as an insult, that is in fact what they are doing; and doing it rather poorly for the most part! “Oh, but in a real fight I don’t want to grapple / clinch / wrestle” they will tell you… But can they really avoid this phase of combat?

dominant angle

Have you ever watched a professional boxing match? Did you realize that the clinch is actually illegal? Yet it seems to be unavoidable. Then watch a Lei Tai, San Da or Muay Thai match, where the clinch and wrestling is legal, and see who those who have developed these skills dominate. Or, even those who have the skill to ESCAPE the clinch may be successfully, note how they had to DEVELOP the skills to escape! How do you develop those skills if you never engage in the phase / range?

head inside single leg

Whether you chose to close the distance or your opponent does, the clinch happens. Once the distance has been closed, the fundamental nature of fighting changes. In clinching, fighting for position, establishing grips, breaking grips, and unbalancing all become essential skills. They are used to control both the neck and the body and to set up strikes, knees, some kicks, throws and takedowns.

leg blocking graphic

The clinch may be the most important position in a fight but in most traditional martial arts it has been virtually ignored. Despite their best intentions, those who rely upon striking will find themselves in the clinch at some point in a fight. They need to learn clinching in order to remain standing. On the other side of the equation, most grapplers will rely upon clinching as a defense against strikes and to set up their throws and takedowns.

kao graphic

Thus, all fighters must learn to clinch. The first priority in the clinch is to establish CONTROL. The first few seconds are the most important and the most dangerous. Fighting for position, establishing grips, breaking grips, and unbalancing are all essential skills. In general terms, clinching will either be used to control the neck or the body. Once you have established control, you have several options; striking (knees, elbows, etc.), throws and takedowns, or escaping.


The clinch for striking

elbow strike upward 2

If we examine different combat sports we will find that striking in the clinch varies depending upon the format. In Western boxing, the rules limit the options to either (1) punching out of the clinch with short punches such as the uppercut, or (2) throwing body punches, or (3) holding the arms to prevent punching and waiting for the referee to break the hold. In Muay Thai, the cultural aesthetic has led to the development of knee and elbow strikes, with some basic wrestling to throw the opponent to the canvas. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has incorporated elements of both of these sports while also introducing new methods. An intelligent fighter familiarizes themselves with ALL of the options in the clinch and understands their relative advantages and disadvantages.

knee face

The primary method of clinching for strikes is to use the neck tie or double neck tie (often seen in Muay Thai). A neck tie keeps your opponent from escaping while also maintaining enough distance to strike. There are some opportunities to strike from other positions like the “50/50 clinch” which we will also discuss

knee to body

The clinch for throws and takedowns

middle inner hooking graphic

The advantage of using a throwing technique is obvious. A good throw can inflict as much damage, if not more, than a combination of strikes. You are hitting your opponent with the ground. For the purposes of definition, a full body throw involves both of the attacker’s feet leaving the ground as the body goes up and over your center of gravity. A properly executed throw also places an opponent in a position where you can strike, including STOMPING on their head!

vertical lifting uchi

A takedown is a much simpler undertaking. Any technique which puts the attacker on the ground and which is not a full body throw is considered a takedown. Full body throws can be devastating but are more difficult to set up and complete. A takedown is much easier. The disadvantage of takedowns is that they seldom disable the opponent and thus require a submission technique to complete the encounter.

body contact two

More to come
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Preparing the body for war 練功

21 Aug

Chinese martial arts are war arts, arts of combat. That is how they originally developed and how they were primarily used for most of China’s history. In fact, the fusion of what were originally military methods with Buddhist and Daoist concepts and practices arrived only in the Ming dynasty, comparatively late. However, I think for many, the existence within Chinese martial arts of yogic like practices is a major reason for the frequent confusion that these traditions were rather health, meditative or spiritual in nature.

neck bridge

There is no question that Chinese martial arts promote health. Nor is there anything wrong with those who practice them strictly for health or recreation. But the original purpose of these yoga like practices was directly related to their combat utility. The body must be prepared for war. IN an earlier blog I already touched upon this. In “making pain a friend” I focused more upon the hardening of the body and the acceptance of pain. This time around, I am going to discuss flexibility, particularly in the waist, back and shoulders.

push ups

Circular, long arm striking is a feature of many systems, both “northern” and “southern” and both “external” and “internal” (despite the fact I hate these terms, they are in fact artificial and of very limited use). The Lama Pai I learned from the late Chan Tai-San is particularly noted for its long arm strikes. They can be extremely powerful, but all to frequently I see people throw these techniques with limited power. Ironically, in trying to develop power, they are usually stiff and the end result is limited power. The true power of long arm strikes comes from relaxed power and flexibility in the waist, back, and sholders.

alternating arms

Shoulder exercises, the “arm wheels” that contemporary wushu has become noted for, are so common to Chinese martial arts they can be found in every manual. As with most things, begin with the basic and advance to the complex. Stretch up, feel the shoulders release, and alternate in dropping each arm in a arcing manner. As you become more comfortable, only then begin to include the martial intention of a chopping (劈) strike / palm.

arm circles forward

Circle the arms forward, both in unison. People almost immediately appreciate the calisthenic nature of these exercises, but often fail to understand their martial aspect.

alternating arm circles

Alternate the arm, but keep the motion continuous (連還). Begin with relaxation, then introduce the martial intent.

waist flexibility
waist flexibilit 2

Martial artists usually recognize the value of strength, and so push ups, cat push ups, bridges, etc are all common drills. As in “yin and yang” all practice must be balanced, so we must realize that strength often compromises flexibility. Since we realize we need BOTH, we must engage in a careful balancing act.

arm wheel downward
arm wheel upward

From the waist and back flexibility, we return to shoulder flexibility done in stance to teach the INTEGRATION of the whole body. Now it is essential to maintain martial intent. This is not just calisthenics, this is preparation for striking.

double arm whieel

I suspect people have seen variations of the double arm wheel in contemporary wushu and thought it was there only for aesthetic value. The movement does originate in traditional Chinese martial arts and is used not only for striking but also for wrestling, throwing and joint locks. However, that is another blog.

Structuring your curriculum

18 Aug

“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.


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