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Life with and without Chan Tai-San….

14 Jul

July 12. 2016 would have been Chan Tai-San’s 96th birthday, and in response someone asked me a very interesting question. In essence, they asked how exactly Chan Tai-San effected me personally when he was alive, and how effected I was once he passed. I generally think that people have misperceived how Chan Tai-San conducted himself, thinking that martial arts “masters” must act in a certain way, based more on bad movies than real life.

public class

I not only learned awesome martial arts from Chan Tai-San, my relationship with him really did establish me in the Wu Lin. I already had training, and I had already had a certain reputation in New York City’s Chinatown prior to meeting him; but that reputation was not positive and I was definitely an “outsider”. Chan Tai San put me in charge of his public classes and introduced me to the world as his disciple. He opened a lot of doors for me.


In running Chan Tai San’s public classes, I was training almost everyone in the system’s basics and I was given a rather free hand. I’d even say that if I wanted input, I had to ask for it! I vividly remember learning methods and drills only because I had asked a question and received them in response. There are still people around who were there in those days, and they can confirm that training included a lot of conditioning, a lot of two person drilling and sparring. I was also the person who made the decision to attend our first NACMAF tournament; where we placed equally in empty hand forms, weapons forms and sparring.


Like many traditional teachers, Chan Tai San only directly trained a small circle of his most advanced students. He full expected and accepted that from that circle, his own students would teach the larger group in his name. Not only was I leaving New York to attend graduate school, Michael Parrella was already planning to open a location in Long Island. At the same time Steve Ventura returned from living in Florida and opened a location in Manhattan with the help of Stephen Innocenzi. So there were several locations you could learn Chan Tai San’s methods, but not directly from him. He supervised and was there to offer advice, but he definitely ran a “loose ship”.


My personal interests have always seemed to lean toward application and fighting. Experiences while I was away in graduate school, and the major changes in the martial arts world in general, resulted in my trying my hand at training fighters for full contact venues. A lot of people seem to think that was some sort of a “break” with Chan Tai San? But Chan Tai San had himself fought in organized fighting competitions. He fought in the Guangdong provincial sparring championships, in several military sparring contests and even in several western boxing bouts. Not only did I have the “freedom” to train fighters, it was something Chan Tai San actually found personally interesting.


Chan Tai-San officially retired more than 16 years ago. The few years proceeding that retirement, he was not that active either as his health had deteriorated as a result of diabetes. Which is to say, some people with “opinions” were infants or yet to be born when most of this happened. Chan Tai San actually attended many of the events I brought my fighters to; if anyone really thinks that Chan Tai-San did not enjoy watching people associated with his name win full contact matches then they did not know him very well.


Of course, once he retired and after he passed away I was “free” to do anything I wanted. I did a lot of cross training, but I always remind people that Chan Tai San did TONS of cross training, had studied many methods, had many teachers and even done the “Baai Si” ceremony with more than one! In addition to Choy Lay Fut, Lama Pai and Pak Mei, he was extremely fond of western boxing and Japanese Judo.


Furthermore, I had already trained in other martial arts PRIOR to meeting Chan Tai San, he was fully aware of that and never had a problem with that. In fact, he told me that it figured into his decision to have me teach his public classes. Go figure….

Learn more about Chan Tai San by reading my book (click here)


Today is Chan Tai-San’s birthday

12 Jul

July 12 is Chan Tai-San’s birthday. Today he would have been 96. It is a chapter of my life that is hard to explain to people if they were not there. Yes, in some ways it was “cool” like some sort of kung-fu movie. In other ways, it was quite a wake up call about what Chinese martial arts were most definitely NOT. I was a very lucky person to get to study with Chan Tai-San, I think about him every day and despite our complicated relationship, I still think about him every day.


The first time I saw Chan Tai San, I didn’t even know who he was, much less that I’d spend a good part of my life with him. I had heard some things about him around Chinatown, particularly during the brief period I was lion dancing with the Dragon style. Some of the people there had tried to get Chan Tai San to teach them Pak Mei (white eyebrow). Later I would figure out that a friend had actually been telling me about Chan Tai San, but he had told me that there was a teacher from “Taiwan” when really Chan Tai San was from “Toi San”.


At that time in my life, I wasn’t interested in finding a teacher. I had studied Hung Ga and Shuai Jiao, and had bits and pieces of material from floating around Chinatown for years. I was actually making some money lion dancing, though the politics of the place meant I wasn’t really learning any martial arts there. I already had my own group of students, and I never really imagined how meeting Chan Tai San would change my life so much.

tiger claw

So one day I was sitting in Tin Yik, a restaurant that no longer exists but in which at the turn of the century Sun Yat Sen had tea there while collecting money for his cause in NY. It was a little place, and mostly Chinese, but I always managed to order and it was the sort of place that if you sat and BS’ed they didn’t care. A lot of the people who studied in Chinatown knew about the place and ate there.


Old Chinese men arguing was nothing strange here, but one guy was louder than the rest. He then suddenly stood up and proceeded to run through a line of movement. Now, I know it was Pak Mei, but at the time I just knew it was some sort of Kung Fu. After demonstrating the movement, he apparently must have felt he proved his point. The guy he was arguing with sort of put his head down, and Sifu Chan actually slapped his forehead. As I would later learn, when it came to martial arts, Chan Tai San was ALWAYS right, and he wasn’t shy about telling you, showing you and pointing it out afterwards.

cts bccs

At this point, Steve ventura, who was eating with me, had pulled our friend the waiter over. He was a man I’d get to know over the years and call “uncle”. I didn’t know either at the time, but he was a relative of Sifu Chan’s. He did Taiji and Tan Teui (spring legs) in the part every morning. His Taiji was his own synthetic form, he’d studied with like 20 different guys including version of yang, chen, wu, hao and li…

CTS chan kiu

Anyway, my “uncle” as I would learn to call him, told us he was a famous teacher who had just arrived from China recently. He told us the name, which only sort of stuck, we were dumb foreigners who didn’t speak Chinese at the time. But he also told us he spoke no English and wasn’t exactly interviewing for students. A little crest fallen, I figured it wasn’t mean to be…. of coure, I was wrong

Is your martial art “shallow”?

3 Jun

Are you my friend on FACEBOOK? Do you follow my fan page “Sifu David Ross”? Perhaps you follow my Youtube channel? You might have noticed I actually have a second Youtube channel with a slightly different focus. Well, people who do often ask me why I give away so much free content?


When I began training, back when I was doing the Korean martial arts of Taekwondo and Hapkido under the late Pong Ki Kim, I often heard that one of the problems with martial arts was that once you got your black belt there wasn’t a lot more to learn? I didn’t believe it back then and rather quickly saw one of the major problems. Pong Ki Kim set up a class for the black belts, but many of them had forgotten the foundation material as they had worked their way from belt to belt, test to test. We ended up spending more time reviewing the requirements from white to black belt than we did learning new material.


Training with the late Chan Tai-San I saw the same problem, perhaps exasperated by the fact there were language barriers. Chan Tai-San was a walking encyclopedia of Chinese martial arts, particularly their training and application. But people frequently lacked the basics and the understanding to progress with him.


So, returning to my initial statement, why do I offer so much free content? The easiest answer is because I have so much material, I never feel I will run out of material to demonstrate or teach. In fact, I frequently worry I will never have enough time to teach it all!

drag three

Four books, and more then ten instructional DVD’s (which you can find at and I have barely scratched the surface. Every day I think of something else I want to film, and I frequently get to it! So my “challenge” to you all is, ask yourself, can you say the same thing? And if not, is it because your training to this point has been shallow?

Kung Fu and Western Boxing

19 May

Quick quiz! What do Chan Tai-San, Huang Xiao-xia, Xia Bai-Hua, Wong Shun-Leung, Chu Kao-Lou, and a plethora of other Chinese martial artists all have in common? The answer is training in Western boxing. Western boxing, it has been the 800 lb. gorilla that has been sitting in the room for more than 150 years.


Recently I have seen a number of web sites claim that Western boxing was first introduced to China in the port city of Shanghai in the 1920’s. The fact the first Chinese language instruction manual in Western boxing, titled “The Technique of Western Boxing”, was published there during this period and the first public events pitting Chinese participants against Westerners also first appeared in this location might make this a tempting conclusion, but there is ample evidence to the contrary.


Chinese martial artists were exposed to Western boxing almost as soon as Europeans began making regular contact during the Qing Dynasty. We have an anecdotal account that the founder of Choy Lay Fut, Chan Heung, made comments on Western boxing and compared it to Chinese martial arts.


With this in mind, it is probably important to consider that the first Western boxing that Chinese martial artists observed was of the bare knuckle variety. It may not have had kicks or Qin Na (joint locks), but it certainly had striking techniques and throws which would have been familiar to these men. The two traditions were not as separate as today’s student probably now consider them, and Chinese martial arts were most certainly influenced by Western boxing!


For as long as I have practiced Chinese martial arts, I have had friends who found similarities between Western boxing and the internal art of Hsing Yi (Xing Yi). Again, we have anecdotal accounts that Chinese martial arts originally favored punches to the body almost to the total exclusion of strikes to the head. Certainly, Western boxing (and the Lion’s Roar teacher Wong Yan-Lam, but that is another blog) caused reconsideration of head punching as a combat tactic.

Of course, there were always those who resisted innovation, and particularly anything foreign. At one of the government sponsored Lei Tai competitions, Chu Kao-Lou placed second. Chu openly admitted he also trained in Western boxing, to which one of the Taiji masters who had been in the audience complained that Chu’s fighting style was not using Chinese Martial Arts at all! Chu’s brother, Chu Kao-Chen, challenged that Taiji master, who in response didn’t accept that challenge. Truly, nothing changes in the Wu Lin!


While Chan Tai-San’s training in Western boxing had long been known by his students, in 2006 one of my classmates traveled to Taishan county, Guangdong province to dig up more history. He returned with an interesting story on Chan Tai-San’s early introduction to Western boxing. My sifu had entered a competition with no previous Western boxing training and lost the match. His initial response was rather familiar; he blamed the gloves, he blamed the restrictive rules, and he wanted to challenge the person that had beaten him to a no rules fight. Then he reconsidered. He decided to train a little with the gloves and find what worked in that environment. His second match was not successful either, a bad referee did not control a break and my sifu was actually KO’ed when the referee was holding his hands! The fact he came back after THAT, and eventually won several regional events and incorporated boxing into his fighting method was what made Chan Tai-San unique, and a real fighter.


It does not take much research to find out that by the 1920’s, both Western boxing and Japanese Judo had made a huge impact on many Chinese martial artists. However, due to more modern nationalistic and style pride, many will now not openly admit to it! They in turn trained a generation of students who blindly follow the words of their teachers. In doing so, they deny truth and limit the opportunity for growth and advancement.

Lion’s Roar Martial Arts

Authentic Lama Pai, the art of Chan Tai San

Lama Pai Kung-Fu’s Fundamentals

1 May

The following is a re-print of an article I wrote which appeared in “Inside Kung Fu” magazine in the 1990’s

Traditionally, there have been many ways of differentiating the many systems of martial arts found in China. Sometimes they are divided into “internal” (Taiji, Ba Gua and Hsing Yi) and “external” (Hung Ga, Choy Lay Fut, Wing Chun, etc.) or classified as either northern or southern systems. Perhaps the most famous differentiation is between the Shaolin (Siu Lam in Cantonese) and Wu Tang (Mo Dang in Cantonese) traditions. The Shaolin tradition, further divided into the northern and southern, is suppossed to represents the martial arts practiced by Chinese Buddhists while the Wu Tang tradition issaid to represent the martial arts practiced by Taoists. However, there exists a third tradition of martial arts most Americans know little to nothing about. That tradition is the Lama school.


There have been numerous debates concerning the exact nature of the Lama school. While it has often been labeled “Tibetan”, it appears in many respects to be very Chinese. Furthermore, the martial arts that exists in what is modern Tibet in most respects do not resemble the Lama school as preserved in China. The truth is that Lama represents the vast tradition of Western Chinese martial arts. It represents the martial arts practiced in Tibet but also the martial arts practiced in Outer Mongolia, inner Mongolia, Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Xinjiang provinces. It also represents the martial arts of Tibetans, Mongolians, Manchurians, Ethnic Han Chinese and a wide variety of minorities. What these very different groups have in common is a common faith, Tibetan Buddhism, better known as Lamaism. Therefore, the Lama school, Lama Pai, is named for its common religious influence, not its ethnic inspiration.


Lama Pai was founded in the Ming Dynasty by an ethnic Chinese who became a Buddhist Monk. He is known either as Ah Dat-Ta or the Dai-Dat Lama. Neither of these are real Chinese names and are Chinese approximations of this person’s Buddhist name. While we know very little about this person, we do know he was ethnically Chinese, a follower of Tibetan Buddhism, lived in Qinghai province and studied a wide variety of martial arts. These martial arts were Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian and even Indian in origin and a good representation of the martial tradition in Western China.


Ah Dat-Ta’s system was originally known as “Lion’s Roar” and consisted of 8 fist strikes, 8 palm strikes, 8 elbow strikes, 8 finger strikes, 8 kicking techniques, 8 seizing (clawing) techniques, 8 stances and 8 stepping patterns. It included techniques derived from a wide variety of influences including Mongolian and Manchurian wrestling (Shuai Jiao), Northern and Western Chinese long arm and kicking techniques, and Tibetan and Indian close range hand techniques and evasive footwork. However, the more time it spent in China, the more “Chinese” the system became.


Presented here are the eight divisions. In most cases, techniques were never intended to be limited to these fundamentals. Instead, they were designed to preserve various basic principles from which other techniques could be derived. For example, in Lama Pai all straight punches are derived from Chyuhn Choih. However, when Lama Pai came into contact with other Chinese martial arts, straight punching techniques such as Chaap Choih were added to the basic punches within this category. The basic punch Paau Choih represents all techniques that rise up from a lower point, such as uppercuts. The basic punch Kahp Choih was also expanded to include Pek Choih (45 degree hammer fist) and Cham Choih (90 degree hammer fist).

The 8 fists strikes

chan tai san chyuhn choih solo
– Straight punch

chan tai san jyu geng paau choih
– Uppercut

– Overhand punch

– Horizontal backfist, with the thumb toward the sky

– 45 degree backfist strike, with palm toward the sky

jit choih 1
– Forearm strike

guaai mah lahp choih
– Hook punch

th pak yik paau
– Wing Flap

There are also;
The 8 palm strikes
The 8 elbow strikes
The 8 finger strikes
The 8 kicking techniques
The 8 seizing (clawing techniques)
The 8 Stances
The 8 footwork patterns

These eight divisions were then used to create three distinct “forms”, sometimes thought of as different levels or fighting theories. The three forms were “flying crane hands” (Fei Hok Sau), “Maitreya hands” (Neih Lahk Sau), and “Dou Lo hands”. Thus, the system was actually quite complex.

“Flying crane hands”
(Fei Hok Sau)
was devoted to all of the fundamental level fighting techniques of the system and was composed of both fist strikes and open hand techniques aimed at vital points, kicking and sweeping techniques, evasive footwork, and continuous circular striking combinations.

“Maitreya hands”
(Neih Lahk Sau)
was devoted to the advanced fighting techniques and was composed of seizing, holding and twisting techniques and a very specialized skill known as the “vein seizing hand”.

The third and final division was known as “Dou Lo hands” and was named for a plant indigenous to India, whose seeds have a hard outer shell but a soft, cotton like, substance within it. “Dou Lo Sau” was devoted to internal aspects of the system such as vital point striking and the special “vein changing skill”. The needle in cotton hand set is derived from techniques of the “Dou Lo Sau” division.
After several generations, teachers of Lion’s Roar kung-fu created a number of hand sets named after the Lo Han (Buddhist Saints) and the Gam Gong (literally “diamond” but referring to Buddhist Guradians). Furthermore, once Lion’s Roar came to southern China its was renamed Lama Pai kung-fu and incorporated many techniques and ideas from Chinese martial arts. The original eight divisions, eight fundamentals in each division, and the three forms were gradually either forgotten or only explained to advanced students. If it were not for the recorded history left by earlier teachers, we may have never understood how Ah Dat-Ta developed the original Lion’s Roar kung-fu system.

Lama Pai Kung Fu striking techniques

23 Apr

The following is a re-print of an article I wrote which appeared in “Inside Kung Fu” magazine in the 1990’s

Lama Kung-Fu Striking Techniques By David A Ross

Today, some martial artists are also under the false impression that traditional striking techniques are no longer practical for self-defense and leave the attacker open to counter attack. This is unfortunate. The key is to learn the techniques correctly.

chan tai san jyu geng paau choih

The key to learning any technique is to learn its correct execution, its actually application and to undergo the training needed to perfect it. Repetition and making contact with focus mitts, heavy bags, sand bags, wooden dummies, etc. are essential to developing power. Learning when to use a specific technique is just as essential to making it work.


Lama Kung-Fu striking techniques include all those techniques which use parts of the upper body. Included in that arsenal are the fist, the palm, the fingers, the forearm, the elbow, the use of claw techniques, shouldering and the head butt. For this reason, martial artists of all styles could benefit from studying Lama Kung-Fu striking techniques.


Open to counterattack?

One of the most common criticisms of traditional striking techniques is that they leave the attacker open to counterattack. These critics ask why the other hand is often chambered on the waist or, in the case of many Kung-Fu styles, extended behind the body. the answer is that one must understand the true applications of these techniques or they will be unable to use them safely and effectively.
In Lama Kung-Fu, the lead hand often whips out in front of the body and then is extended behind the body while the rear hand strikes. The Lama Kung-Fu stylist appears an open target. However, they do not understand the application of the lead hand technique.

th jyu geng paau

The lead hand technique is used in response to an attack, something you obviously can’t see by simply watching a solo form. It is used to either grab or deflect that oncoming strike and to create an opening. Thus, the lead hand technique is controlling the attacker and the Lama Kung-Fu stylist is safe to launch his rear hand strike. He is striking with purpose and is in complete control of the situation.


Of course, there are times when one must initiate an attack. When the Lama Kung-Fu stylist is initiating an attack he holds his other fist close to his face, just as a Western boxer would. In this way he can attack but is protected from counterattack.

Fist strikes (Kyuhn Faat)

The urge to close the hand into a fist and use it as a weapon is one of man’s most basic instincts. For example, both the Chinese and the Ancient Greeks have independently created, well developed methods of using the closed fist. In China, Lama Kung-Fu is particularly famous for its continuous circular fist strikes and has some of the most powerful strikes found in any system. It is a fighting system well suited to someone wishing to develop stopping power.

gwa kahp

Among the basic fist techniques are a number that would be familiar to Western boxers. the system features straight punches (Chyuhn Choih), hooks (Gok Choih), uppercuts (Paau Choih), and overhand strikes (Kahp Choih). In addition, there are also a great number of fist techniques unique to the Lama Kung-Fu system including Pek Choih (chopping fist), Siu Kau Dah (small trapping strike), Bin Choih (whip strike), Pak Yik Paau (crane wing strike) and Gwa Choih (45 degree backfist).

Another unique aspect of Lama Kung-Fu fist strikes is that they are used to intercept and overcome other punches. For example, a powerful Bin Choih (whip strike) will deflect a jab and simultaneously strike the face.


If you are not in the New York Tri-State area and still want to learn the material being offered in the new Lion’s Roar martial arts association’s program, now is your limited time opportunity! Only $29 per month with no commitment gives you UNLIMITED ACCESS to the material. —>

Lama Pai Kahm Na (Chin Na)

22 Apr

The following is a re-print of an article I wrote which appeared in “Inside Kung Fu” magazine in the 1990’s

Lama Kung-Fu “Kahm-Na” Techniques By David A Ross

A truly complete fighter must understand not only the strengths and applications of his various techniques but their limitations as well. Under certain circumstances, a particular technique can be the key to victory. Under different circumstances, that very same technique can mean certain defeat.
For example, you may have extremely powerful kicks and punches but you should never rely on striking techniques alone. In the average street fight, kicks and punches often don’t land exactly on target and there are always those exceptional individuals who are able to withstand tremendous amounts of punishment. Full body throws and takedowns can also be devastating but have similar limitations. Against a larger, stronger opponent who is struggling it is often difficult, if not impossible, to set up and complete a throw.

inside trip

For all these reasons, Kahm-Na is a necessary addition to any fighter’s arsenal. More commonly known by its Mandarin dialect pronunciation of “Chin-Na”, Kahm-Na is one of the four fundamental skills necessary for complete fighting mastery. It is an extremely broad term encompassing many different skills and techniques including joint manipulation, strangulation and specialized striking techniques aimed at soft targets on the body.


Basic Kahm-Na techniques

1) Fun Gun (joint manipulation)
In Cantonese, “Fun” means to divide and “Gun” refers to connective tissues (i.e. both ligaments and tendons). Fun Gun refers to joint manipulation techniques achieved through twisting, pulling, and pushing. These actions cause the connective tissues to be stretched and/or separated and result in pain which can be used to convince an attacker to discontinue his attack. These are the most commonly seen and taught Kahm-Na techniques and can also be found in non-Chinese systems such as Jujitsu and Hapkido

2) Cho Gwat (bone breaking)
In Cantonese, “Cho” means placed wrongly and “Gwat” refers to bones. Together, “Cho Gwat” means placing the bone in an incorrect position.

3) Jaau Gun (muscle, tendon and/or ligament seizing)
This “Jaau” is pronounced exactly the same as the word for “claw” and is a verb referring to the use of the claw to seize or tear. Jaau Gun is related to Fun Gun because both cause the connective tissues to be stretched and/or separated and result in pain. However, Jaau Gun refers to those techniques in which the separation is accomplished by actually grabbing and using physical strength. For obvious reasons, Jaau Gun requires superior hand strength.

4) Baai Heih (strangulation)
In Cantonese, “Baai” means to seal and “Heih” refers to not only internal energy but the breath and the blood as well. Baai Heih involves depriving the opponent’s brain of blood and oxygen in order to render the opponent unconscious (i.e. strangulation). The simplest way to achieve this is to wrap either your arm or your leg around the opponent’s neck and to squeeze. However, it is also possible to seal the breath by using striking techniques. Strikes can be used to cause muscles in the rib cage to contract and thus prevent the opponent from inhaling. .


Practical application of Kahm-Na techniques

Obviously, you must be relatively close to your opponent in order to apply Kahm-Na techniques. It should also be pretty obvious that your opponent isn’t going to simply give you his arm and allow you to apply your technique. Kahm-Na techniques must be used in combination with kicking, punching, trapping and throwing techniques in order to be effective.

Kicking, punching and trapping allow you to close the distance safely and have the additional benefit of simultaneously “softening” your opponent. Once you are close to your opponent, there are a wide variety of options. First, you can attempt a full body throw. However, as discussed previously, full body throws are often difficult, if not impossible, to set up and complete. Partially completed throws may be followed by a Kahm-Na technique to end the confrontation. For example, a hip throw might be followed by the application of an arm bar or a double knee lift might be followed by a leg lock.


Because the use of Kahm-Na techniques was so common among fighters in traditional China, Lama Kung-Fu developed a wide variety of defenses against Kahm-Na techniques. Of course, one must first learn the many Kahm-Na techniques before one can learn their reversals. For this reason, students of Lama Kung-Fu learn a wide variety Kahm-Na techniques. In this way, they learn to be a complete fighter.


Understanding my method (Lion’s Roar martial arts)

12 Apr

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”
― Gustav Mahler


In order to understand my method, my thinking, I have provided a few statements here. However, as my thinking always evolves, as I am never the same person I was yesterday, of course these thoughts can change. But in a way that is precisely the point; martial arts is like a river, you never step in the same river twice. Martial arts is something living, it must continue to evolve or it becomes meaningless.


My method embraces both “fighting” and “health” or “physical culture”. It has never been, nor will it ever likely ever likely be an exclusive “either/or” proposition. I am identified widely for my success in training fighters, but I began my journey in the martial arts due to being deathly ill as a child (diagnosed with Leukemia at age six). Currently, my focus again in many ways has returned to using martial arts as health and corrective movement.


The essential foundation of my method, which allows for both of these divisions, is a strict adherence to always training with Truth. Truth transcends your style, system, tradition, lineage, teacher or school. You must embrace Truth regardless of the consequences. You must practice with Truth.


Most martial arts traditions have created a cult centering on the teacher. Disregard the teacher. In a minute, I will tell you why the very term is wrong! Disregard me, I am nothing but a clerk, a conduit; I have passed along information to the next generation. The messenger is not the message.


In reality, I can not really “teach” you anything. If I give you a laundry list of techniques, unless you understand them, can break them apart, put them back together and create your own technique, you have not really learned them. You have “borrowed them” from me and will likely soon “return them”. My job is to help you understand concepts, and help you along in the process of learning. I can help you, but ultimately I can not make you understand. I can only put you in front of the Truth.

Straight punching the Chan Tai-San way…. Lion’s Roar Martial Arts

27 Mar

The straight punch, known as “Chyuhn Kyuhn” (穿拳) or the “penetrating punch”, is one of the most fundamental strikes in the late Chan Tai-San’s method. In fact, the very first time I ever saw Chan Tai-San fight, it was the only strike he used! We were in the Chan Family Association on Bayard Street one night when someone came in to challenge Chan Tai-San. With a single “Chyuhn Kyuhn” aimed at the solar plexus, the matter was resolved in Chan Tai-San’s favor.

chan tai san chyuhn choih solo

In the late Chan Tai-San’s method, all the basic techniques were initially learned from a side stance (横弓步) using the “wheel body” (車身). This method teaches the student how to use the hips and shoulders to generate power, teaching the proper coordination and integration of the entire body.


The straight punch, extended from the side stance, is also perhaps the most easily recognizable manifestation of the strategic concept of “stretch the arms out while keeping the body away” (手去身離). That is, the preferred strategy is to strike from a position where it is difficult for my opponent to counter strike.

center line lama pai

For some beginning students, the side stance can be confusing; they throw their punches from the hip and not directly. It is important to learn that even from the side stance, the strike travels on the center line. In fact, it DOMINATES THE CENTER LINE. Chan Tai-San taught to use the punch to “cut the bridge” and “intercept” as a counter strike.



To learn how to use the center line and control it, we say that for punches to the face you begin your strike in front of your nose and for strikes to the body you begin your strike in front of your own solar plexus.

The straight punch from the side stance can also be used to “slip” or evade and counter punch.


We were also taught three essential ideas to keep in mind when using the straight punch. First, you must concentrate your intent (yi) upon the fist and the selected target. The nose, the throat, the solar plexus, the liver and the spleen are all potential targets.

th chyuhn choih

Second, you must focus upon the connection of the entire body, that is total body integration. The line “backward” from the fist, to the elbow, to the shoulder, to the hip, to the knee to the ankle and then to the ground.

guaai mah lahp choih

The third consideration, directly related to the second, is how the power travels through this connection; from the floor, to the ankle, to the knee, to the hip, to the shoulder, through the elbow and into the strike.

Learn more about Chan Tai-San’s Lion’s Roar method in the book “Lion’s Roar Martial Arts” (click)

Isn’t all Chinese Martial Art (CMA) really Mixed Martial Art (MMA)?

20 Mar

Chan Tai San catches a kick and sweeps the supporting leg

Chan Tai San catches a kick and sweeps the supporting leg

One of the best aspects of the internet and especially Facebook is the ability to reconnect with old students. I recently reconnected with a student from the early 1990’s.

Chan Tai-San's public class from early 1990's

Chan Tai-San’s public class from early 1990’s

After twenty plus years, it is easy to lose perspective. People ask me how I got interested in all this “fighting stuff”? As if one day I was just doing pretty kung fu forms and the next day we were fighting professional MMA matches? In one sense, of course, there was evolution. But in quite another sense, what we were doing even when we were Chan Tai-San’s kung fu school was VERY MUCH about fighting! To quote that student in a recent post he put on facebook.

I like to say when I trained With you back in the day we were doing MMA. We just didn’t get deep into the ground game.


I’d argue that all legitimate Chinese martial art (CMA) really is Mixed Martial Art (MMA). Chan Tai-San was having us drill kicks, strikes, clinches, throws and takedowns. We were sparring quite a lot actually.

Sparring in Chan Tai-San's school

Sparring in Chan Tai-San’s school

To quote another classmate who was also there back in those days, the classes were very much about conditioning, followed by technique drills and then partner drills. Forms always came LAST. And there were days it wasn’t there at all.


So when my student, the first one mentioned here, says “All we were missing was some BJJ” they are EXACTLY ON POINT.


I didn’t see the first three UFC events live. I was given them on a video tape as a gift and watched them all in one night. I was fascinated in several ways, watching Royce Gracie win all those matches, wondering why so many so called martial artists seemed so limited in skill. I was definitely interested in this thing called “Gracie Jiujitsu” but I also felt that a major problem was that the other participants really did not have the proper skills for the format.


Not long after I was given the UFC on video tapes, someone also gave me a tape of Japanese shooto. BOOM! There is was. Those guys were doing that ground fighting stuff, they knew submissions. But they also had what I considered the necessary stand up skills of kicking, striking, knees, and stand up wrestling. THIS is what I thought martial art should be. I only had to learn some ground stuff and some more stuff to link it to my existing Chinese martial art based stand up training.


My interest in Shooto subsequently led me to learn about Erik Paulson. Paulson, a walking encyclopedia of martial arts knowledge, challenged me not only to look for “ground fighting” stuff but to expand my knowledge in every area. The rest, as they say, is “history”….

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