While I had been teaching since 1988, my first real venture into the public arena as far as coaching fighting was concerned began in 1994. Prior to that, like most Chinese martial arts schools, we did our training in our school and amongst ourselves. A little previous to this, we had done a weird sort of “hard point fighting” (no head shots, but full contact to the body, like Kyokushinkai) at the NACMAF nationals and even with it’s more lenient rules, we mostly got disqualified. With Chan Tai San’s long range, whipping arm strikes, the regular point tournaments were certainly out of the question. In 1994, the newly formed USA WKF began introducing sanshou under the IWUF format.
If you come from a traditional martial arts background, the first time you step into a regulated combat sports venue there is going to be some culture shock. In my personal opinion, the poor organization of most Chinese based events makes it even more difficult. It is hard enough to prepare for combat sports as it is. Doing so when you aren’t sure of the rules, the organization isn’t even sure of the rules, the officials make inconsistent decisions and the events are random stunts the growth of the programs involved and the participants.
After our first Lei Tai fights in 1994, we began to compete in everything. I do mean “everything.” We did sanshou, amateur boxing, kickboxing, muay thai, forms of mixed martial arts, push hands, shuai jiao, even submission grappling tournaments.
In this initial period, I was personally out to prove that traditional Chinese martial arts could be practical and effective in fighting. Let’s be blunth, there is a LOT of really bad, downright FAKE Chinese martial arts out there. During this time, if you showed me one of these really bad kung fu people, I would have said “that is not real kung fu.”
In retrospect, I have come to change my approach and vision. The word “real” isn’t accurate and it certainly isn’t meaningful. All those miserable displays and horrific failures were real. They WERE kung fu. THAT ws the problem…. traditional Chinese martial arts / “kung fu” had come to include all this bad stuff and there was very little left of the “old days” when it was about fighting, the training was rigorous and the approaches practical.
The other defining characteristic of this early period was that I was looking WITHIN my tradition for material. Having come to the conclusion there was both good and bad in traditional kung fu, I was still sifting out the good and figuring out the best way to train it.
The ventures into so many different formats seemed crazy, but to me it was the ultimate test. I was looking for the UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLES that applied REGARDLESS OF THE FORMAT or rules. And I can safely say that I found them.
I evolved into a different “world view.” Two major changes evolved. First, I accepted the many problems and deficiencies in the traditional Chinese martial arts tradition. You aren’t defending and you certainly aren’t helping the tradition if you bury your head in the sand and deny the many issues the traditions have. The sooner you accept the problems the sooner you can DISGARD THEM.
Second, I evolved my thinking. It was this point that forever separated me from my traditional roots. I was interested in what worked, and I no longer cared where the source material came from. Certainly, a large amout of the material, the very base and skeleton of what I do, is Chinese martial art, but I have incorporated plenty of Thai, Korean, Japanese, French, Russian and other western martial arts into it.
To some this is blasphemy, to them I say “it is time to leave your cave and see the world.”