Archive | Kung Fu RSS feed for this section

More on forms

29 Dec

There are few topics in traditional martial arts that get more discussion than forms / sets. I even have several blogs about the issue. Today, let’s begin with two easy ones:

FIRST: You do not need forms to learn to fight. Boxers, Savate stylists, Kickboxers, Nak Muay, Wrestlers, Jiujitsu stylists, etc etc etc more than prove that point. Furthermore, we can state pretty quickly that one thing forms definitely do NOT do is teach us how to fight.

SECOND: Some people will say “there is more to martial arts than fighting”! TRUE. Some will say there is physical education and fitness. Are forms the best (or even “good”) way to get in shape? I’d say, compare the average student in a traditional martial arts program against someone in a boxing, kickboxing or Muay Thai gym and it’s hard to go down that line of inquiry seriously.

Martial arts may not be “only” about fighting, but without some awareness of the fighting, it is not “martial arts”.

Today, most people think of “form” as the choreographed sets of moderate to longer length. But a quick look around and you will see that many traditions have “forms” that are just simple repetitions of basic techniques (concepts) in lines up and down the floor. This mimics (and thus probably originated in) the military training of the Imperial period. We see this in Shuai Jiao, Xing Yi Quan and even southern external styles. So our third question, if we need “forms” what sort of “forms” do we really need?

As if this isn’t already quite a mess, let’s just proceed with the idea that we want to train the forms we are most familiar with and get benefit out of them. So what are we looking for? If you are just looking to do something “cool”, looking to “get some culture” and/or engaging in ANTIQUARIANISM then frankly you will be fine. BUT WHAT IF YOU WANT TO DO MARTIAL ARTS?

Martial arts, particularly Chinese martial arts, do not exist in isolation. They exist in both a cultural and historical context. If you want to go beyond this blog, buy my book “Chinese martial arts: A historical outline”. But in summary, what we have today was once tied to the performance tradition of the “JiangHu” and also was filtered through various political agendas in the earaly 20th Century. How much of your “form” is nothing more than performance to get the attention of the uneducated and to draw them in for a sale?

Even in methods that remained unadulterated fighting traditions, not all movements have direct combat application. Some are designed to condition and for the development of attributes meant for fighting.

Finally, for those who have actually learned the combat applications of movements in traditional forms, follow along with me now….

“Is this a strike”?

“Or, is this a block”?

“Or, is this a joint lock”?

“Or, perhaps it is a throw”?

Perhaps, if you have trained in a traditional method, you already know the answer to the above. The answer to the above question is “YES“.

Now go practice 🙂

Advertisements

Dissecting forms and trying to find application (?)

27 Dec

In the Chinese martial arts, people are constantly looking at their empty hand sets / forms and breaking them down to find practical application. There is indeed merit in this with one major caveat; you have to understand what forms are and what they are not… and there is more to that than most ever imagine.

Forms are NOT going to teach you to fight. At best they are catalogues of techniques and concepts for you to remember important points. They are the product of a illiterate to semi-literate population. They will NEVER replace drilling with partners in context with realistic conditions.

Another factor to consider is that not all movements in a form are techniques with application. Many are for conditioning. Many are for attribute development. At best, they have application with severe modification; but really they were never meant to be combat techniques. The problem is that many never learned this distinction. Many never learned which parts were for which purpose.

Finally, it is impossible to ignore the role of the traveling martial artist in China. Performance was an essential part of survival for these martial artists. So some of what they did was pure performance to draw in the uninitiated and the ignorant. And yet again, many today do not understand this distinction.

The bigger picture….

26 Dec

Just prior to the holiday, I took my staff out to eat in NYC’s Chinatown. They are more than my staff, they are my students. Some might say they are my disciples. They are also my friends and many are like my children to me. In my life, the “lines” are usually not so clear… at least from the outside.

I suppose I confuse a lot of people; I was once this guy associated with “traditional Chinese martial arts”.

Then I was training Sanshou fighters and my team was winning the national tournaments.

I suppose the “transition” to Muay Thai wasn’t that much of a “big step” from sanshou?

Then there were the days of Mixed Martial Arts, amateur and professional.

And now I’m a guy doing “fitness kickboxing”, which appears to many a huge change

But if you follow me at all, you know that one weekend I can be training with a Muay Thai coach, the next with a Xing Yi Quan teacher from Taiwan. In my school I can go from teaching Muay Thai/kickboxing to teaching Chan Tai-San’s “traditional” Lama Pai.

Am I teaching traditional or modern? Am I training fighters or people who just want fitness. The answer is YES. It has always been yes, it will always be yes. To me, I do not see them as different “projects”. I see them all as parts of a much larger picture.

Jin / Ging (勁) in practical application

20 Dec

In Chinese martial arts circles, much is made of the term “Fa Jin” (發勁). Much like the term “Dim Mak” (Dian Mai), which is infamously mistranslated by many, it means simply to issue power / force. There is NOT in any way anything supernatural or “special” implied in the term.

Go beyond the surface, and in Chinese martial arts they talk about different forms of “Jin” or “Ging” (勁); short power, whipping power, breaking power, sinking power, rising power, etc. Certainly, certain methods are more known for certain methods than others.

But is too much made of these apparent differences? How often do debates turn into arguments and people become zealots in decrying the differences between “internal” and external”?

The southern short hand styles certainly have their characteristic “short power”. But how different, or more precisely, how similar is it to so-called “internal”?

Tibetan White Crane (Pak Hok Pai as opposed to Fujian Bai He) is often thought of as “Long Fist” style, but others suggest it should be considered more closely related to Baji, Tongbei and/or Pigua. Baji, Tongbei and Pigua are in some circles considered, and mixed, with more “internal” methods.

In the south, where Pigua was transplanted and known in Guangdonghua as “Pek Gwa”, many feel it has acquired the “ging” of southern systems like Hung Ga and Choy Lay Fut? Has it?

Perhaps performance in certain methods of certain types of “Ging” or power is for developmental purposes but never intended to be the be-all or certainly the end-all. Certainly different tasks require different power methods; a jab is different than a snap down. But was any “fighting art” meant to be limited in its scope, tools and options?

HINT: I know many martial artists, especially Chinese, who have done what many consider radically “different” methods and do them all pretty well.

The importance of the process in martial arts training

13 Nov

Often labelled a “hater” for making comments on obstacles inherent in martial arts training, I have often responded that I have no inherent bias. It is not WHAT you do, it is HOW you do it!

I can tell you without any doubt, I am CERTAIN of it; Chinese martial arts have a great depth of martial arts techniques and strategies.

I can tell you without any doubt, I am CERTAIN of it; Chinese martial arts can be used effectively in real fights against those trained in other traditions.

Finally, I can also tell you, without any doubt, that fighting skill does not come from only doing stationary basics, line basics and forms. Again, it is not so much WHAT you train as HOW you train it. Leading to my frequent re-posting of my now famous blog “Guidelines for Functional Training”.

But today’s blog is inspired by more recent observations. This Saturday we were training the “advanced students” here. As with most things in the martial arts, there is quite some irony here. My “advanced students” are those who have done what most would consider “kickboxing”. They have learned to shadow box, to work partner drills with gloves, to hit bags and kick shields.

In my “advanced class” they do stationary “basics”; wheeling body and “basic” fists. They do the various footwork pattern walkings. They do the techniques with walking. These are the things most beginners start off with in most “traditional” schools.

I am teaching them these things because while they APPEAR “basic” they actually contain many important, foundational elements. Often, and I increasingly believe this as time passes, they were not in application meant to appear just as they do in these practices. Rather they are there to teach vectors, how to produce force. They contain elements to reinforce things such as core use, waist power, angles, etc. They have hidden within them what might even be considered “advanced strategies”.

Teaching all these things last Saturday, I noted how few people I know who actually teach their students in this manner. I will not (can not?) say they do not know these things, but I can definitely say that people learning these kinds of drills are not learning them in this manner. Thus, yet again, it is not WHAT they are practicing. It is HOW they are practicing.

More observations on “internal” and Chinese martial arts in general

26 Sep

Please note: Unless I explicitly state otherwise, the opinions presented here are my own.

It probably isn’t much of a secret that I have been interested in Hsing Yi / Xing Yi for a long time. My interest has been both technical and historical, and I discuss it at some length in my book “Chinese martial arts: A historical outline”. It is not only the oldest of the so called “internal arts” it raises a lot of questions about that very term. It links back to a demobilized Ming military man who was disarmed (they took away his spear) who adopted his battlefield methods to a personal method. Even its legendary history is full of references to generals and Shaolin, not much about Daoists and such. Hsing Yi / Xing Yi was well represented in the fighting events of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, while the famous Taiji Quan players were just “honored quests” sitting in the stands.

I first became aware of Luo Dexiu (羅德修) from Mike Patterson. The Chinese martial arts community being what it is, it then took me some time to find an opportunity to train with him. I was impressed with his attitudes; power was already in the body and “standing work” only made you more aware of your body and that power, the “Qi” in martial arts was NOT the “Qi” in Daoism and Chinese medicine, the ideas and concepts are more important than the initial outward appearances, etc.

I was even more impressed with Luo’s skills. The first time I trained with him we did applications of the first three of the five fists and then the “Tai bird”. Honestly, it went over the heads of a lot of the participants, sadly so. It would have also blown the minds of many “Mixed Martial Arts” MMA types.

This year, we worked material from the “linear Bagua” of the Gao school. Shihfu Luo was quick to buck the idea that Bagua is “just” walking in a circle, and instead stressed angles and ways to “cut in half” the opponent. Among the many things we worked (training with Shihfu Luo is always a day FULL of variations and follow ups!) was the Bagua punch no one seems to talk about; Beng Quan. It was remarkably like the Lama Pai approach I learned from Chan Tai-San. And Luo commented on how it was utilizing the “seven star stepping” which is the same thing Lama Pai says.

Another observation I made was how inter-related the techniques were to the Xing Yi Quan we had done the previous year. Shihfu Luo responded that no matter what martial art you do, humans only have two arms and two legs. My own thoughts, related to Shihfu Luo and inter-related were how Bagua had long already been associated with Xing Yi and how at heart, all the Chinese martial arts that were effective seemed to all be built upon very similar bases. I saw things that were not only similar to Lama Pai but also to the Bak Mei or “white eyebrow” I had also learned from Chan Tai San. Once again I came away convinced that much of the marketing and mysticism of the Chinese martial arts has done it a great disservice and made learning how to really use them even harder.

MORE TO COME

NSFW: mountains and other sh-t

14 Sep

老僧三十年前未參禪時、見山是山、見水是水、及至後夾親見知識、有箇入處、見山不是山、見水不是水、而今得箇體歇處、依然見山秪是山、見水秪是水

Or, in other words

Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.

This famous Buddhist teaching, often called “Mountains are Mountains” comes from Ch’ing-yüan Wei-hsin. Yet most martial artists know the teaching from a paraphrasing that Bruce Lee used. Forgive me, really, but people seem to love Bruce Lee without ever understanding that most of his “deep thoughts” were from his many philosophy classes in college and without ever really embracing the ideas behind them.

In my “initial phase” of life I spent my time learning staff, sword and spear, learning many hand sets and in the world of “traditional martial arts”. That’s the world of the so-called Northern and Southern styles, the so-called “internal” and “external” styles. They will tell you that there is “Daoist breathing” and “Buddhist breathing”. They will tell you there is Qi Gong and Nei Gong.

In what to many may seem like another life, I spent many years doing “mixed martial arts” or “progressive training”; my friends were Muay Thai fighters, wrestlers, Jiujitsu people, MMA fighters. I have said often my evolutionary path was based a lot upon Japanese shooto. The “mixed” or “progressive” world is one in which people doing boxing, Muay Thai, Judo, Jiujitsu, wrestling, Catch wrestling, Sambo, etc.

These days, I am to many an even more unusual animal; you are equally likely to find me in Muay Thai shorts teaching what I call (for convenience sake) a “kickboxing class” OR teaching students the first foundation set of Lama Pai kung fu called “Siu Lo Han” 小羅漢拳 with its “traditional” applications.

Clearly some people will wonder how (maybe “why”?) I can do these things? How do I “compartmentalize” it all? The answer is simple, but probably uncomfortable to many, I DO NOT. I do not compartmentalize them in any way because to me they are all the same. If you ask me, once you learn them correctly and dismiss the “marketing” (and bullshit) they you learn that the human body only moves so many ways and there are only things that work and things that do not.

People may want them to be different, they may in fact believe them to be different. Many are certainly emotionally invested in them being different. But, to quote an old friend, “all the shit is the same”. Your shit, their shit, my shit, all the same……

Remembering the late Chan Tai San

1 Sep

Remembering the late Chan Tai-San (July 12, 1920 – September 1, 2004) today.
Authentic Lama Pai, the teachings of the late Chan Tai San

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.

To borrow a phrase, often imitated but never duplicated.

To remember him, save 25% on “Authenitc Lama Pai” with discount code LNJQEYED only at https://www.createspace.com/4891253

Authentic Lama Pai, the teachings of the late Chan Tai San

The kung fu hobbyist…

16 Aug

Another NSFW blog from Sifu Ross…

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of video footage of the late Chan Tai-San. It just wasn’t a time when video cameras were something we all walked around with in our pockets. Much of the footage of Chan Tai-San is from demonstrations, but one particularly good film involves him teaching some Bak Mei (白眉) to Michael Parrella.

The footage is on the internet, so it is inevitable it will inspire various reactions. However, the reaction I want to focus upon today is this one; people ask why Chan Tai-San performs so differently than so much of the other footage that is available.

It has often been said that Chan Tai-San was one of those links to a lost past. But more importantly, he was indicative of a major change in the evolution of Chinese martial arts. Chan Tai-San was born in 1920. It was a time when we first began to see the kung fu hobbyist. Chan Tai-San was more indicative of an earlier period, he was not a hobbyist. He had occupational necessity for practical kung fu. He was in the military most of his life.

As my book Chinese martial arts: a historical outline details, prior to the 1920’s almost everyone doing kung fu had occupational necessity for practical kung fu. It was something almost exclusively practiced by military men or police (or, the other side of that equation).

Other great kung fu men, such as Chang Tung Sheng, continued to follow in this tradition. Chang was both a military officer and a member of the CID in Taiwan. He taught his brand of Shuai Jiao in the police training college.

As my book details, the “break” was not immediate, nor was it complete. In the 1920’s organizations like the Jing Wu still offered BOTH military related training (bayonet training for example) and public kung fu classes focused on physical education, ie for the”hobbyist”. None the less, more and more people who were not necessarily dependent upon practical application became involved in martial arts practice.

Sifu Ross NSFW blog continued

14 Aug

Pretty much every morning I wake up and remember what it was like to be that little kid that walked into the late Pong Ki Kim’s Dojang. I was positive my instructor was some wise old sage (he was younger at the time than I am now). I was positive he had learned some ancient secrets. I wanted to learn to fly through the air like Bruce Lee had done in that movie I had just seen.

I had been diagnosed with Leukemia at age 6. I spent almost two years in the hospital. I had been home schooled. I wasn’t necessarily supposed to live, I was definitely supposed to be a cripple. I didn’t know how to play any of the sports my peers were engaged in. If I hadn’t found martial arts, where would I be today?

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that I took to martial arts. It didn’t just provide me “health”, everyone I knew, everyTHING I knew was related to it. But there is always one thing that I am quick to point out; somehow, by sheer luck (?), I started off my path with an awesome and pretty unique martial arts teacher, and I continued on that path literally stumbling into great opportunity after great opportunity.

From Pong Ki Kim, I stumbled into Dang Fong (aka Tang Fung) Hung Ga under an herbalist from Malaysia. I wandered around NYC’s Chinatown mostly getting into trouble (that is another blog entirely) until I stumbled in Jeng Hsin Ping’s Shuai Jiao school. Perhaps the world’s best authority on Chang’s method and certainly full of knowledge, it prepared me to appreciated Chan Tai San’s method later. It was also where I met the late Stephen Laurette, who not only introduced me to Chan Tai San, but also exposed me to many of his Praying Mantis classmates under the late Chiu Leun.

Of course, Chan Tai San’s social circle was the stuff of legends and I met and interacted with a lot of them. But I continue to “get lucky”; recently we trained with Taiwan’s Luo Dexiu.

For whatever strange reason, I also got interested in “fighting”. This led me to meeting a whole other sub set of extraordinary people. ME, the little sick kid that wasn’t necessarily supposed to live and was supposed to be a cripple?

%d bloggers like this: