Using the technique of ruthlessness (殘)

6 Jun

Today’s martial arts community is certainly full of “positive thinkers”, “do good”-ers, “feel good”-ers and “don’t worry”-ers. At some point, a lot of martial arts people adopted these sorts of things as a theme in the martial arts? This may be especially true of Chinese martial artists, in particular the granola chomping, tree hugging so-called “internal stylists”.

Of course, there are also those elements that represent the “dark underbelly” of the Chinese martial arts; with origins in the Jianghu (江湖), bandit gangs, red pole enforcers, and other disreputables. While these elements were the target of early 20th century efforts to revise and remove them, they were never totally successful. It is probably not a coincidence that they survived (flourished) in contexts where being able to fight were still important; police, military and of course criminal activities.

It is said that when Wong Yan-Lam erect is wooden stage in front of the Hoi Tong Monastery (海幢寺), “Either the challenger was maimed or killed. (Wong) was a master of using the technique of ruthlessness (殘)”. Ruthlessness (殘) remains one of the four essential theories of Pak Hok Pai and I’ve certainly seen it referenced in Hap Ga as well, but in my personal experience it is most cultivated in Lama Pai lineages. I have frequently and openly discussed my teacher Chan Tai San, but I also had an opportunity to study with another Lama Pai instructor. That instructor by comparison actually made Chan Tai-San seem like a boy scout! Tha is to say, while I was interested in the material he was offering, I was never comfortable around him.

Ruthlessness (殘) is an important part of traditional training, and pretty much essential within traditional training to combat effectiveness. I certainly used it in early fighter training, especially when we were still training for Chinese style tournament fighting. But make no mistake, it is a double edged sword. If you’ve ever felt a martial artist was abrupt, angry, opinionated, rude, etc etc you were probably correct! And it was probably related to some degree to ruthlessness (殘). I suspect it accounts in some part for many of the dark, brooding and at times unbalanced martial artists we’ve seen over the years.

I pondered this tonight after I (not physically) threw someone out of my facility tonight. Oh, make no mistake, they were a rude arse whose inflated sense of self-importance merited their removal, but there were probably (definitely) better ways to address it; ie I responded how we used to back in the “old days” or the “Chinatown days” when martial arts schools weren’t quite schools, they were more “social clubs” and their business was not necessarily signing up new martial arts students.

In any discussion of “traditional” vs “modern”, training to fight, incorporating modern training and/or “combat sports, one point really can not be escaped. Ruthlessness (殘) was an essential part of traditional fight training and it had many drawbacks. It was not a “scientific method”. It did not work with all (most?). It created negativity in the individual and the culture. By contrast, modern training not only produces more predictable results, in has less “side effects”.

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The Revolution is HERE (NMR)

28 Apr

This is a REPRINT but quite relevant to my “New Martial Revolution” (NMR)

Perhaps no story related to Chinese martial arts is more famous than that of Bodhidharma, also known as Da Mo (達磨), at the Shaolin monastery. Traditionally credited as the transmitter of Chan Buddhism to China, there are many, often conflicting, accounts of his life. According to Tánlín (曇林), Bodhidharma was a South Indian prince and the favorite son of the king. However, he was not interested in a life of politics and instead chose to study with the famous Buddhist master Prajnatara and become a Buddhist monk.

damo

In the Chinese martial arts community, it is said that upon his arrival at Shaolin, Bodhidharma was disturbed by the poor physical condition of the monks, and thus instructed them in techniques to maintain their physical condition. He is said to have taught a series of external exercises called the “Eighteen Lo Han” and an internal practice called the Sinew Metamorphosis Classic (“Yi Jin Jing”). According to this legend, this training ultimately led to the creation of Shaolin Kung Fu.

old-luohan-classic-text

As with most such stories in the Chinese martial arts community, the legend of Bodhidharma cannot be taken at face value. Academic martial arts historians have shown the legend stems from a 17th-century qigong manual known as the “Yi Jin Jing” and its authenticity has been discredited by the likes of Tang Hao, Xu Zhen and Matsuda Ryuchi. According to modern historian Lin Boyuan in “Zhong Guo Wu Shu Shi” (中國武術史):

As for the “Yi Jin Jing”, a spurious text attributed to Bodhidharma and included in the legend of his transmitting martial arts at the temple, it was written in the Ming dynasty, in 1624 … and falsely attributed to Bodhidharma. Forged prefaces, attributed to the Tang general Li Jing and the Southern Song general Niu Gao were written … This manuscript is full of errors, absurdities and fantastic claims; it cannot be taken as a legitimate source

The legend of Bodhidharma cannot be accepted as literal history. That does NOT mean it is neither significant nor instructive in many ways. Most stories in the Chinese martial arts are better understood as allegorical; creating single figures to represent larger issues. The legend of Bodhidharma once again presents us with a classic “chicken or the egg” question; in the Chinese martial arts, what is the exact relationship between practical combat training and movement training for awareness, health and fitness? And perhaps even, spiritual practices?

The-Sun-Salutation-Images

Bodhidharma arrives at Shaolin and finds the monks in poor physical condition, too physically weak to properly engage in their monastic duties such as meditation. He thus instructs them in both “external” and “internal” (two terms, distinctly Chinese, of which of course much more can be said) exercises to improve their health. In the eight path structure of Indian yoga, physical conditioning (Asana) and breathing (Pranayama) are in fact seen as proper preparation for meditation (Dhyana). It is not unreasonable to assume that Bodhidharma, an Indian, brought with him an Indian understanding of the relationship between physical conditioning and meditation and taught it to his Chinese disciples.

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So, as the legend instructs us, the conditioning / health / spiritual came first and THEN the martial arts developed later, right? Perhaps not! From the “Shaolin Disciples Union” own website;

Perhaps drawing on the martial arts training he would have received as an Indian aristocrat, Damo devised 49 exercises to develop strength, flexibility, balance and mental focus.

Was the training the Shaolin monks received based upon Indian martial arts (combat) traditions? Once only whispered about but seldom seen, the Indian martial art of Kalaripayattu should raise a lot of questions for students of the Chinese martial arts. In Kalaripayattu, we see elements of both “external” and “internal” yet the tradition maintains no such division. We also see movement which we may have initially identified as “yogic” as not only conditioning for combat, but as actual applicable combat technique. Finally, in attempting to define “yogic” we must be aware that the British actively attempted to suppress Kalaripayattu as it was a martial (combat) art. The art survived in some part by affiliating itself with and passing itself off as Indian health and/or spiritual practices.

In the earliest times known in history, the object of athletic exercise was the destruction of life. The hunter and the warrior were the ideal athletes of those days. But it so happened that these men, in pursing their hardy, outdoor life, now in vigorous exercise, anon in lazy repose, found themselves in the enjoying the same splendid health of body and activity that belongs to the wild animal … While they lasted, the exercises of chivalry produced two effects, physical and mental. Physically, they produced graceful and vigorous bodies; mentally, they tended to courage, generosity, and truth.

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These are the words of Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery, a figure largely forgotten but recently resurrected by a republication of his “Self Defense for Gentlemen” by Ben Miller. Monstery clearly understood and actually engaged in the practical use of martial (combat) techniques. He was a master swordsman that had fought under twelve different flags and had engaged in more than fifty duels with a variety of weapons. Yet he also understood and embraced their application for fitness and health. Nor should this come as a surprise considering he was educated at least in part at the Central Institute of Physical Culture, located in Stockholm, Sweden. The institute was founded by Dr. Pehr Henrik Ling. Dr. Ling was not only a master fencer, he pioneered the teaching of physical education in Sweden and was a founding father of Swedish gymnastics.

shaolin-warrior-monks-of-the-1920s

If we return our attention to China and the Shaolin monastery, we note that upon the founding of the monastery, some thirty years before Bodhidharma arrived, two of the original Chinese monks, Huiguang (慧光) and Sengchou (僧稠), both had exceptional martial skills. For example, Sengchou’s skill with the staff is even documented in the Chinese Buddhist canon. We then note that Bodhidarma ‘s own Chinese disciple, Huike (慧可), was also a highly trained martial arts expert. There are clear implications that these three Chinese Shaolin monks, Huiguang, Sengchou, and Huike, had been military men before entering the monastic life. Perhaps this explains not only the presence of martial arts at Shaolin, but suggests that exercises used to condition military men may have been adopted for monastic life.

The New Martial Revolution (NMR) is here…

27 Apr

I am about to go LIVE on Facebook and will repeat much of what is said here. But the blog will keep it well beyond the LIVE video. I spent the past two days downloading and re-editing videos because, YET AGAIN, I “crashed” my secret facebook group. Three times now I put up so much instructional video in there that even a huge corporation like Facebook’s servers couldn’t handle it(?).

I already frequently put up clips (for free) on both my timeline and in my “closed” but public/free group Real Kung Fu Application but editing a bunch of videos allowed me (motivated me?) to put up a lot this morning. AND THAT IS WHEN IT REALLY HIT ME.

I put up stuff that, to me, should be obvious, that everyone should know. Sadly, a lot of people are NOT learning this stuff. Even worse, many in Chinese martial arts in particular are mis-led to believe a lot of the stuff I do is somehow not Chinese martial arts. In short, I am astounded, shocked, confused, disgusted and saddened by the shallow experience of many so called “teachers” of martial arts.

When I say “believe”, or rather “do not believe”, I am saying based upon my EDUCATED OPINION based upon 40 years of training (often with very famous teachers), 30 years of teaching (as of July 2018), and most importantly evidence and science!

I do not believe in “internal” vs. “external”.

I do not believe in “traditional” vs. “modern”.

I do not believe that considerations such as “I do not want to fight”, “not everyone wants to be a fighter”, “I do it for health”, “I do it for recreation” etc etc justify the manipulation and watering down of training.

I do not believe, I REFUSE to believe fairy tales and lies.

So what DO I believe in?

1. Train with real technique. Whether your interest is self defense or “fighting”, recreation, health, etc you DO NOT teach or train anything but 100% real technique. If you teach, you teach it CORRECTLY. This includes teaching body awareness, fundamental concepts and real power generation.

2. Train with real awareness of self; if you are an amateur fighter don’t think you are a professional world champion. If you train for health, don’t think you are a fighter. Understand and accept who you are and WHAT you are.

3. Train with the dedication and intensity that martial arts were meant to be trained with. This DOES NOT mean dedicating you life and spending countless hours like people like I have done. It means that even if you do a one hour class once a week, that class should be real training with real conditioning. The watering down of martial arts, and especially the LIE of “no muscle” and other associated “internal” nonsense is a FRAUD.

4. Train martial arts with a real understanding of its real origins and its real original purpose. Then, and only then, can you understand and appreciate its other applications.

5. Train with an open mind, train with a progressive attitude and most importantly embracing logic, fact and science.

THE NEW MARTIAL REVOLUTION IS COMING….. Exact details coming soon

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 🙂

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