NSFW Blogging: martial arts “purity” is a lie and so is “tradition”

15 Apr

A frequently remembered moment among my staff (which are also my students) was an episode at a martial arts business event where several instructors ask me how I generate so much content; this blog, my facebook posts, my youtube, my DVD’s, my books, my secret facebook group(s) (YES, several0, etc etc yadda yadda. To which I replied something to the effect that as long as I am breathing and awake I seem to generate content.

Of course, there are more logical observations to be made. I have a background in education. I have written many papers and a large thesis that was turned into a book. I prepared curriculum when I taught at the university level. I have a vast background in martial arts; having studied with many teachers and/or coaches. In some of these things I have pretty advanced rank. I have practiced four decades and taught almost three decades. And, finally, as I run a full time school the very classes themselves of course produce content daily.

I have so much content that I run a web page featuring just this content at http://www.sifudavidross.com/. I went further and recently set up a page at “teachable”; https://new-york-san-da-martial-arts.teachable.com/. I am currently editing two new projects for the “teachable” page; an instructional “Striking for Mixed Martial Arts” and a module for instructors “How to Teach Kickboxing” to help develop class formats.

And yet anyone who knows me even in passing knows how I feel about “laundry lists” and that despite the many materials I have produced to HELP both instructors and students, ultimately, there is no such thing as teaching martial arts! There is no such thing as “purity” and the idea of “tradition” is misguided at best (fraud at worst). At best I can suggest and point you in a direction; ultimately, you must do the work and are responsible for the product.

Put another way, those who trained with me who go on to train others will not “teach” what I taught them. They will teach what they “learned”, which means filtered by what appealed to them, how they interpreted it, how they wanted to view it, how they want to “pass it on” and by experiences they had before, during and after training with me.

They will NOT teach “what I taught” anymore than I teach what Chan Tai San “taught” in the sense of a complete body of work. They will keep some of it, discard some of it, teach some of it the way I did, teach some of it differently. They will add what is uniquely their own.

I have tried to help my students understand this fundamental truth, but inevitably all “students” who progress to “teacher” will move in this direction. Those who consciously fight the inevitable, who struggle to maintain “purity” and/or “lineage” fail to understand TRUTH. Martial arts is a living thing, it MUST evolve.

This is the opposite of most people’s initial perception of the martial arts, and for many it makes them uncomfortable. But in the end, you can not fight TRUTH.


All my content, including archival, will be available on line!

30 Mar

While I still have a TON of material in over 10 DVD’s available on AMAZON, the time has come when a lot of people just don’t buy physical DVD’s anymore. So I have finally decided to make ALL of my material downloadable / watchable on line.

Beginning today, material will begin to appear at https://new-york-san-da-martial-arts.teachable.com/. Furthermore, much of the material will be re-edited; if you bought the original DVD you will find bonus footage, much of it from the archives and/or the “lost DVD” set which was never released.

Eventually, I will also upload on here all the material that is sitting on my VHS and needs to be digitized. This will include rare footage of Chan Tai San and footage from the fight vault.

Once again, beginning today, material will begin to appear at https://new-york-san-da-martial-arts.teachable.com/.

The pivotal moments in the history of Chinese martial arts

15 Feb

Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of Chinese martial arts is that perhaps the most pivotal moments in its history and development are not to be found in the thousands of years of Chinese history but rather in the rather short period of less than three decades between the Boxer Rebellion and the War with Japan. The Chinese martial artist was almost univerally rejected by society, while confronted by foreign methods (Japanese Judo and western boxing) and modern approaches to physical training (the so called military gymnastics and the modern physical education movement).

Practical application was still a consideration; in urban areas, in the training of military and police, and ultimately on the battlefields of the War with Japan and the civil war. Of course, the context of application had changed. Some chose not to abandon practical application, while others exited the period having all but abandoned the idea.

Men such as Chang Dong Sheng (常東昇) and Chan Tai San (陳泰山) camed of age in this period, trained by those who had trained in a period before these considerations. They fought “for real”, pursued careers in branches of the military, and also embraced “sport” or “competition” which had been introduced by the Guoshu movement and it’s sponsored events. Chan Tai San certainly spent time in the modern sports apparatus of the Communist mainland, but he was a link to a period before it and largely disconnected from it. Chang Dong Sheng transplanted to Taiwan, which provided a different context for the development of his methods.

In my estimation, these are the “missing links”. They are the small cracks of light in the larger malaise of those who abandoned practical application, embraced the fantastical (ironically re-embracing the nonsese of the Yi He Quan!), or want to obscure.

A tangled web indeed

17 Jan

Sometimes, if you look closely in the background, you see things, like me at a major Chinese martial arts event from the past.

According to records Chan Tai San kept, which were surprisingly meticulous, he taught over 5000 people after arriving in the United States. He was friendly with the heads of four of the major schools in new York’s Chinatown and in the beginning he taught out of those schools. So he taught a lot of people with various martial arts affiliations. That is also why he did not initially set up a school, most of those training with him were not technically his students.

That people who trained with Chan Tai San, both as direct and indirect students, are still around and active in the martial arts world should really come as no surprise. Nor should it come as a surprise that many people came to train with his direct students when they began teaching.

But yet, I think some people would be shocked to learn that many of the people active in the NY area either trained with me at some point, or were trained by someone who trained with me. Those people probably don’t realize that the martial arts world has always been a tangled web, incestuous and complicated.

I’ve been filming stuff more than a decade now; a new “thing” in the martial arts world. So another thing you might notice if you look in the background is that “critics” often strangely (not so strangely really) appear in the background of those training sessions, seminars, tournaments and fight venues. Or, to borrow a quote…..

And all I can say is….

Conditioning and heart

16 Jan

I’ve posted this before, a “survival round” I do at testing for my intermediate students. Some carry on about how it’s sloppy, etc. But if you haven’t done it, you really don’t know how hard it is. Also, to quote a famous Chinese general, the practical is not pretty and the pretty is not practical.

A more technical explanation of this sort of training;

The secret is not secret; sweat, pain, blood and repetition

15 Jan

Over the past few years, I have divided my efforts so to speak between the “modern and practical” and the “traditional”. I have posted a lot of the application and explanation of traditional moves (often directly from hand sets) in their traditional context.

In some cases, I see the application as “1 to 1”: The movement in application is not that much different than it looks in form. Of course, there are so many experts on the internet that everything gets debated. But sometimes a long hook is just a long hook and an overhand is just an overhand.

When I was training a lot of active fighters and competing in a lot of fighting events, there was a lot less of this kind of posting and drilling. Many times, traditional is actually CONCEPTUAL. And it is based upon the presumption that you have strong basics and know how to take a punch! Yes, sad but true. Much traditional is based as much upon attributes, i.e. being a “tough guy” as it was upon application of form.

So when I was training fighters, we focused upon the basic; which also meant the increasing familiarity with sweat, pain, and blood. Another way of looking at it; you have a fight in 6 weeks, let us focus upon what we know you can learn to use in 4 to 5 weeks.

If you are looking to study ongoing, as a “way of life”, there is time to do it all (in theory). But if you want to be able to really use it, you are still going to have to do a lot of the repetition and conditioning, and sparring, with sweat, pain and blood

More on forms

29 Dec

There are few topics in traditional martial arts that get more discussion than forms / sets. I even have several blogs about the issue. Today, let’s begin with two easy ones:

FIRST: You do not need forms to learn to fight. Boxers, Savate stylists, Kickboxers, Nak Muay, Wrestlers, Jiujitsu stylists, etc etc etc more than prove that point. Furthermore, we can state pretty quickly that one thing forms definitely do NOT do is teach us how to fight.

SECOND: Some people will say “there is more to martial arts than fighting”! TRUE. Some will say there is physical education and fitness. Are forms the best (or even “good”) way to get in shape? I’d say, compare the average student in a traditional martial arts program against someone in a boxing, kickboxing or Muay Thai gym and it’s hard to go down that line of inquiry seriously.

Martial arts may not be “only” about fighting, but without some awareness of the fighting, it is not “martial arts”.

Today, most people think of “form” as the choreographed sets of moderate to longer length. But a quick look around and you will see that many traditions have “forms” that are just simple repetitions of basic techniques (concepts) in lines up and down the floor. This mimics (and thus probably originated in) the military training of the Imperial period. We see this in Shuai Jiao, Xing Yi Quan and even southern external styles. So our third question, if we need “forms” what sort of “forms” do we really need?

As if this isn’t already quite a mess, let’s just proceed with the idea that we want to train the forms we are most familiar with and get benefit out of them. So what are we looking for? If you are just looking to do something “cool”, looking to “get some culture” and/or engaging in ANTIQUARIANISM then frankly you will be fine. BUT WHAT IF YOU WANT TO DO MARTIAL ARTS?

Martial arts, particularly Chinese martial arts, do not exist in isolation. They exist in both a cultural and historical context. If you want to go beyond this blog, buy my book “Chinese martial arts: A historical outline”. But in summary, what we have today was once tied to the performance tradition of the “JiangHu” and also was filtered through various political agendas in the earaly 20th Century. How much of your “form” is nothing more than performance to get the attention of the uneducated and to draw them in for a sale?

Even in methods that remained unadulterated fighting traditions, not all movements have direct combat application. Some are designed to condition and for the development of attributes meant for fighting.

Finally, for those who have actually learned the combat applications of movements in traditional forms, follow along with me now….

“Is this a strike”?

“Or, is this a block”?

“Or, is this a joint lock”?

“Or, perhaps it is a throw”?

Perhaps, if you have trained in a traditional method, you already know the answer to the above. The answer to the above question is “YES“.

Now go practice 🙂

What is “bad martial arts”?

28 Dec

NOTE: This may come across as a very negative, even insulting blog. But it is not intended to be that way. It is NOT personal. It is Truth, and Truth is always the most important thing.

I have approached this with light hearted amusement in previous blogs, but the “danger” of running a public martial arts school is the people who come in and prior to taking your class tell you about all the training they have had. Some have only been in the basic class without contact. Others have talked their way into my intermediate class with contact. I would never put someone I have never seen practice into free sparring, though some might have deserved it. But my intermediate class has plenty of contact in it.

I have watched people who told me they had ten (10) years of boxing training not be able to throw the most basic combination; jab, cross and left hook. I usually write that off to just pure LIES; watching boxing on TV and having a heavy bag in your basement is NOT “boxing training”.

I had a person who really, really, REALLY wanted to do my intermediate contact class. They said they had trained for eight years. They had trained in something (they said boxing, Muay Thai and “martial arts”) because they could throw some basic punches and some basic kicks. But other than that they were completely lost. They were bounced around by people who had far less training under my program.

Do I feel bad for this person? Of course I do. I am not attacking them. What I am attacking is the increasing evidence that what is being taught as “martial arts” these days IS NOT. I don’t really know what to call it.

Traditional Okinawa Karate may not actually have a “roundhouse kick” depending upon who you talk to, but those schools that do; it is different than the Japanese Karate way of execution. The various Korean “kwan” taught roundhouse / round kicks differently. Seven Star Mantis has a “door shutting kick” which is like a snap round kick. Many northern styles have a swinging kick similar to the Muay Thai style. What they all have in common is that they are martial arts techniques capable of inflicting some damage.

In my estimation (which is more than “opinion”) real, “GOOD” martial arts are NOT about “technique”. There should be certain things EVERYONE who does martial arts should manifest

1. Body awareness
2. Awareness of distance
3. Ability to issue power

I was tempted to make a longer list, but NO. These are the first three things everyone should learn, regardless of their goals in studying, regardless of the method they practice. So why do so few people learn these things in so called “martial arts training”

Dissecting forms and trying to find application (?)

27 Dec

In the Chinese martial arts, people are constantly looking at their empty hand sets / forms and breaking them down to find practical application. There is indeed merit in this with one major caveat; you have to understand what forms are and what they are not… and there is more to that than most ever imagine.

Forms are NOT going to teach you to fight. At best they are catalogues of techniques and concepts for you to remember important points. They are the product of a illiterate to semi-literate population. They will NEVER replace drilling with partners in context with realistic conditions.

Another factor to consider is that not all movements in a form are techniques with application. Many are for conditioning. Many are for attribute development. At best, they have application with severe modification; but really they were never meant to be combat techniques. The problem is that many never learned this distinction. Many never learned which parts were for which purpose.

Finally, it is impossible to ignore the role of the traveling martial artist in China. Performance was an essential part of survival for these martial artists. So some of what they did was pure performance to draw in the uninitiated and the ignorant. And yet again, many today do not understand this distinction.

The bigger picture….

26 Dec

Just prior to the holiday, I took my staff out to eat in NYC’s Chinatown. They are more than my staff, they are my students. Some might say they are my disciples. They are also my friends and many are like my children to me. In my life, the “lines” are usually not so clear… at least from the outside.

I suppose I confuse a lot of people; I was once this guy associated with “traditional Chinese martial arts”.

Then I was training Sanshou fighters and my team was winning the national tournaments.

I suppose the “transition” to Muay Thai wasn’t that much of a “big step” from sanshou?

Then there were the days of Mixed Martial Arts, amateur and professional.

And now I’m a guy doing “fitness kickboxing”, which appears to many a huge change

But if you follow me at all, you know that one weekend I can be training with a Muay Thai coach, the next with a Xing Yi Quan teacher from Taiwan. In my school I can go from teaching Muay Thai/kickboxing to teaching Chan Tai-San’s “traditional” Lama Pai.

Am I teaching traditional or modern? Am I training fighters or people who just want fitness. The answer is YES. It has always been yes, it will always be yes. To me, I do not see them as different “projects”. I see them all as parts of a much larger picture.

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