I started teaching martial arts like most people do, I was “asked” by my Taekwondo instructor to help out. Well, “asked” is totally the wrong word. For whatever reason, people doing traditional martial arts find themselves teaching classes and working in their schools (uncompensated).
I almost forgot this, but was recently reminded. By the time I was 16 I had a small group working out on Saturday mornings in a public park on Queens Blvd. For a 16 year old kid I had a sizable group, and they were actually paying me. Most were high school friends, but a few were adults who really wanted to learn Chinese martial arts and back then such instruction was not common.
Of course, by the time I was in college I was teaching several nights a week and weekends in space I was subleasing. I was running Chan Tai San’s “public classes” which meant anyone that wanted to train with him came to me first, learned their basics and had to be judged worthy before they could train directly with Chan Tai San. Stephen Laurette had met Chan Tai San first, and actually introduced Steve Ventura and myself to him. But everyone else came through the public classes and were trained by me.
My background in teaching Taekwondo and my training experience with Hung Ga gave me a good foundation for running these classes. They were traditional classes, in the sense of what was traditional AT THAT TIME. The world I grew up in seems quite foreign to what is being passed off as Chinese martial arts today. We trained very hard, we trained relatively long classes, we had plenty of contact, did lots of sparring and resisting drills. We were interested in FIGHITNG and things like forms were viewed as methods of learning more about fighting.
My classes began with stance work and stationary techniques. To a large extent, this stationary training was also integrated with the “internal” training. With my background in Hung Ga, I introduced dynamic tension, bridge extensions, etc during this phase of the class. We also did the “gam gong lihn gung” (Vajra yoga) and “feu hok gung” (flying crane skil) during this part of the class.
The next part of the class was “ge bong gung” or what we called then “line basics.” This included stepping, stretch kicks, moving kicks and combinations. We did between 25 and 35 different techniques in a class during this phase.
The next thing WE ALWAYS DID (no matter the day) was partner work. Some days it was more kicks and punches (proto kickboxing if you will). Other days it was trapping, joint locking and throws. This was of course before ground grappling was much of a thought. For us, “ground fighting” was a few simple kicks from the floor against a standing attacker and ways to get back on our feet.
Then, depending upon the day, we either did basic forms or sparring. We alternated them. But stop and think about this, EVERY DAY WE DID THE BASIC TRAINING AND CONDITIONING. Every single day.
The first Chan Tai San commercial schools in Manhattan and Long Island began with the same curriculum and class formats. Unfortunately, while many people showed up and said they were interested, increasingly over the years they were interested in learning forms and not in training hard. That seemed especially true for the fighting aspects. Furthermore, we found that people who were interested in learning to fight avoided us because they came to think of “kung fu” as removed from fighting. I can’t say when exactly or why at all these changes in public perception of kung fu happened, but I can say they did in fact happen.