50 shades of gray…..

29 May

Did the title of today’s blog get your attention? Well, don’t perv out, this isn’t about “S and M” unless that stands for Stupid and Morons. Today’s blog is about the fact that very few people can actually appreciate the many shades of gray in an issue. They always want to turn things into black and white. Or, perhaps, they are simply incapable of understanding that things are NEVER black and white.

Chan Tai San, Lama Pai and San Da master

Chan Tai San teaching fighting techniques

I have written at great length about my late teacher, Chan Tai-San. I have always presented him exactly as he was, the good, the bad and the ugly. The typical response to my writings has been either (1) talking about the bad things about him is somehow abandoning or disrespecting him or (2) I have no right to talk about the good things he did because I am no longer identified with nor teach traditional Kung Fu.

Chan Tai San was famous thoughout China. This is a copy of Kwanghai News

It’s sort of sad that people can’t wrap their minds around a pretty simple idea. Chan Tai San was a fantastic example of what traditional kung fu was about and why it is where it is today. He was a good fighter with functional skills. This isn’t just “story” or “myth”. I personally saw the certificates showing he was All Military Sparring (Sanshou) Champion. In addition;

– You can look up the 1954 Guangdong province sports almanac and see he took third in the provincial sparring championships that year

– You can look up the Daily News and Newsday from 1982 and see a story about how he was attacked by guys with knives on 42nd street and put them in the hospital.

Does this mean he was unbeatable? HELL NO. What I always found interesting about Chan Tai San was he NEVER told us a story about him winning a fight. Every story about his victories and achievements I heard from third parties (also making the claims much more credible!). When Chan Tai San told you a story, it was always about how he lost, often beaten pretty badly.

I always believed that was one of Chan Tai San’s greatest contributions to us, teaching us that people lose, that we have limitations, but that we never give up because of those.

Have I ever claimed Chan Tai San would have won the UFC, was the best ever, had magic powers, etc etc? Easy answer, NO. He had skills and was good for his day. However, he spent a considerable amount of his time doing things that had little to nothing to do with fighting, and that is the problem with much of today’s kung fu.

When Chan Tai San did talk about fighting, the techniques he showed and the approaches he advocated would not surprise any fighter. He was light on his feet, he liked working from behind a jab, and he liked throwing uppercuts as you entered a clinch. He taught knees in the clinch (look at picture above). Many of his kicks were low kicks to the legs, sweeps and trips.

Unfortunately, Chan Tai San taught forms a lot, and in those forms were often techniques that would NEVER work. What most people find even stranger, Chan Tai San KNEW they would NEVER work and was straight forward about it!

I always found this strange, a waste of time. Why teach and practice things you know will never work? For Chan Tai San, the answer was “tradition”. Also, and people never wrap their minds around this one, to impress people who don’t know any better!!! Yes, that was something Chan Tai San told us.

For many years, I’ve had my own school NY San Da and have been free to teach and do what I want. This was true even when Chan Tai San was alive! He never expected any of us to be copies of him. He was NOT a copy of his teacher, in fact he had too many to just copy one! People frequently ask me things like

– Do you teach Lama Pai?
– Do you teach real Chinese San Da?
– Is it kung fu?

Frankly, these questions are meaningless and miss the point entirely! PLEASE READ CAREFULLY (and slowly if you have to!)

My interest has always been practical and efficient fighting. I don’t care about “tradition” and have no interest in doing things just to impress the “rubes”. The practical fighting techniques that Chan Tai San taught me I kept, the rest I forgot about.

The same rule applies to the Taekwondo and Hapkido I learned from Pong Ki Kim, the Shuai Jiao I learned from Jeng Hsing Ping and James Chin and the other things I studied over the years.

I continue to learn things and incorporate them into what I do. I have learned a lot of Muay Thai from a great fighter, fantastic coach and cool guy Jeremy “Primo” Bellrose. His friends Mark “Hyena” Beecher and the “Soul Assassin” Kevin Ross were recently in my gym doing a seminar and we learned a lot of great stuff from them. I feel blessed to have met these great people and have the opportunity to learn from them.

If you are looking for black and white, you are out of luck in life. Enjoy your shades of gray.




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