Martial arts is NOT a game of tag!

25 Aug

In retrospect, I was sort of lucky. My first martial arts experiences were boxing (PAL program as a little kid) and Taekwondo (Moo Duk Kwan under the late Pong Ki Kim). There is no such thing as “point sparring” or light contact in boxing. The Taekwondo I learned was full contact, the old school style with out pads and full contact kicks to the head and body. So I suppose I never associated martial arts with anything other than full contact.


In Chinese martial arts, I came to learn that when most Chinese refer to sparring, they are NOT talking about full contact. I can’t say why, but among most Chinese sparring is a game of tag. It is some sort of cultural bias. Even my own teacher was guilty. He told me a guy was going to visit from Canada. He told me the guy was really good at sparring/fighting. When the Canadian arrived, we invited him to spar, and frankly he was terrible. We embarrassed him in front of Chan Tai San. Then we asked Chan Tai San why he had said the guy was good? Chan Tai San ignored us.


After Chan Tai San had passed away, the hing-dai met a teacher who has also been a coach in Guangdong. He had just arrived and was looking for students, he tried very hard to convert us. Over tea, he told us that among all the coaches he was the best at sparring. He said he had beaten all the other coaches. Stephen Innocenzi, a training brother of mine, asked if that meant that he had beaten Chan Tai San. The teacher shook his hand violently and was very clear, NO! For him sparring was like a game of tag. He said no one wanted to spar Chan Tai San, because for Chan Tai San sparring always meant full contact. Despite the one Canadian debacle, that had been my experience with Chan Tai San.


However, I had consistently and continuously seen people called “good fighters” who could never demonstrate more than light contact games of tag. It annoyed me, it still annoys me, that this was the standard in Chinese martial arts. But it sure does explain a lot!

The Chan Tai San Lama Pai book is still available at


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