Archive | Kung Fu RSS feed for this section

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?

Sifu David Ross NSFW blog…

13 Aug

People approach martial arts like religion, perhaps with even more devotion in many cases; so suggesting anything counter to their dearly held beliefs, especially any criticism, frequently causes violent reactions. But just like religion, when you have holy cows you never question there are consequences. There can be SERIOUS consequences.

Yesterday on Facebook I posted a new response to the now infamous “Taiji vs MMA” challenge fight that was not a fight (it lasted about 10 seconds). The response, a video with comments, was actually from a well respected Taiji person with excellent credentials, but the inevitable ensured. It follows a predictable pattern, ALWAYS. First, the unqualified claim that Chinese martial arts is indeed effective in fighting, and to say other wise is ridiculous (i.e. like the five stages of grief, the first response is denial). Second, when confronted with logic and requests to provide evidence of their claim you get ANGER. Gosh darn, it really IS like the five stages of grief, isn’t it?

So, predictably, you get to the third stage; BARGAINING. There are SOME people who “do it right”. Maybe they are mythical monks. Maybe they just don’t feel the need to prove their skills. You (general, to no one in particular) just have not met/encountered a “real master”.

After a few hours of consideration (and a few cups of coffee); I think the problem is more nuanced and more difficult. When I think back to growing up in the martial arts community in New York there were indeed Chinese martial arts schools and there were indeed good teachers. Teachers who understood how their systems worked and who could fight.

The first problem was, you could be aware of these schools and yet they were still very hard to get the training. They were all in NYC’s Chinatown. Unlike the average karate, taekwondo or judo school you didn’t just show up and sign up for classes. There were both language and cultural barriers.

Of course, I should also mention that NYC’s Chinatown is a maze of Tongs, associations and street gangs. This was especially true in the “old days” which were supposed to be the “kung fu age”. And, sad as I am to report it, more than a few of the schools and their teachers were involved in these things.

The point here is simple. The high quality people were probably ALWAYS the minority. They were hard to find, hard to convince to train you and then of course there the nasty fact you’d have to devote your entire life to studying with them.

Make no mistake, there were (are) a number of non-Chinese who also learned these real skills. Some learned them in NYC’s Chinatown. Others learned them in Hong Kong, or Taiwan. Unfortunately, upon consideration, most of them that I know of also seemed to learn from their teachers the same qualities of eccentrism and reclusiveness. Or, another way, a lot of us are simply a–holes….

So, when the real people abandon the community and the discussion, what is left is the charlatans and the snake oil salesman. And unfortunately, Chinese martial arts seems to attract these types in droves. And martial arts students seem eager to buy their bullsh-t. Sad but true.

If you think I’ve helped you, you can help me out

4 Aug

I put a lot of free content on the internet. There is this blog. There is my Youtube channel. There is my public facebook group. I enjoy sharing information with people, I actually sort of see it as a “calling”.

Usually, I don’t ask anything in return. And honestly now I am not expecting anything, BUT IF YOU CAN, please help my gym. Click the link below

We recently relocated and renovations were more expensive and took longer than we ever planned. So I’d really like to be able to replace my bags, but I came up a little short.

I can even sweaten the offer a bit, donate $50 or more and I’ll send you an autographed copy of any of my books! Email me at if you do

Is language a tool or an obstacle to our understanding?

7 Jun

I am addicted to coffee! Maybe not “addicted” but I certainly drink a lot of it. I add secret ingredients such as 奶. Other times I add 우유. If I am really adventurous I add молоко! But, most of the time I just add leche….


Many of my friends probably picked up on the joke immediately; 奶, 우유, молоко and leche are all words for MILK… Just different languages. So today I ask, is language a tool or an obstacle to our understanding?

While this blog is usually dedicated to Chinese martial arts, lets for a minute consider the Japanese martial art of Judo. It is not only an Olympic sport, it is one of the most popular martial arts in the world. It was originally taught in Japanese; but today it is taught in French, Spanish, English, Russian, etc…. But, no matter where it is taught, in what language it is taught, is it NOT still Judo?

When I first became interested in yoga in the 1980’s, there was a lot of discussion of the “subtle body” that can not be seen; i.e that don’t physically exist. It is the same as in Chinese martial arts when people talk about Qi (氣), Shen (神), Dan Tain (丹田) and Jin (勁). HERE IS THE QUESTION: Are we really supposed to be “looking” for these things, OR should we understand them within context as a method of explaining something that can now be explained in other “language” such as physiology, anatomy and physics?

In the yoga community, a significant part of the community has moved away from “subtle body” discussions to scientific discussions and explanations. Which is to say, we are NOT discarding training such as Qi-Gong, but we explain it with modern science and understanding.

Many “internal” martial artists discuss “post standing” or Zhan Zhuang (站桩). Many insist it is a way to develop or build “energy” or strength. Others, such as respected “internal” teacher Luo Dexiu, note that strength is already in our body, and comes from the proper use of the body; i.e. “post standing” makes us more aware of our body. OR, there are rational, scientific explanations to these things.

Chinese martial arts: a historical outline

22 May

The following is from my most recent book, “Chinese martial arts: A historical outline”

The Buddhist monk Xin Cheng boasted “my whole body has Qi Gong.” Modern martial arts practitioners are certainly familiar with the term, but in this context it probably had a slightly different significance than the modern understanding of Qi Gong practice. A number of scholars agree, Xing Cheng meant he had
“breath efficacy”; the ability to circulate his qi throughout his body. The concept of qi circulation had its origins in Daoist practice, but its application in martial arts circles certainly had a more syncretic approach. Xin Cheng linked his qi circulation ability to possession by “Jin Gang”; potentially a reference to the Buddhist Bodhisattva Vajrapani (who also happens to be the patron saint of Shaolin monastery), or to “Vajra” and/or the “Diamond Body”.

As we have previously discussed, the idea that qi circulation could have martial arts application was a relatively late development from probably the late Ming period. Reference to such practice is notably absent from Qi Jiguang’s New Book on Military Efficiency which was written in 1560. The “Sinew-Transformation Classic” (Yijin Jing), the earliest extant manual that assigns qi circulation or “Daoist gymnastics” (Daoyin) a role in developing martial arts skill, originates, despite its pretenses to the contrary, in 1624. The first text of its kind, it was already highly syncretic in nature. Meir Shahar notes how Buddhist imagery is attached to exercises of clearly Daoist origin. The text falsely attributes the method to the monk Bodhidharma and Shaolin. Martial excellence, in the form of body hardening influenced by Tantric Buddhist concepts of “Diamond Body,” are also linked to religious transcendence articulated in classical Daoist terminology.

By the Qing period, discussions of breathing and qi circulation accompanied most martial arts texts. Although the term Qi Gong can be found in Daoist texts from as early as the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907), it was not a common term in martial arts literature during this period. Martial arts literature during the period instead referred to the practice or cultivation of qi (Lian Qi). We have previously seen civil and martial divisions within martial arts groups, a similar dyadic relationship between “Wai-Gong” and “Nei-Gong” begins to appear more frequently. We see that within the Mei Hua Quan group, “Wai-Gong” referred to the practice of the actual martial arts techniques while “Nei-Gung” referred to study, meditation (Ming Xiang or Zuo Gong), and learning to heal.

While the modern martial arts practitioner is likely familiar with these terms, Wai-Gong and Nei-Gong, their perception of what they actually describe is probably largely influenced by trends that originated in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Note the description above refers to Mei Hua Quan, where both were practiced simultaneously inside the group, and probably describes how the terminology was applied at least as early as the 1860’s. I would always caution against rushing to judgement; the vigorous practice of martial arts techniques certainly produces an “outward skill” or “outward achievement” visible to the naked eye, while study and meditation produce results which would be more “internal” or not immediately apparent to an outside observer. As with many of the topics we discuss in this volume, the reader cannot simply apply their contemporary understanding or

(This version does not have the footnotes and Chinese characters that the actual book does)

My most recent book, “Chinese martial arts: A historical outline” is available on Amzon

Are we in a downward spiral? Chinese martial arts in the 21st C

19 May

I woke up this morning to find that a good friend had sent me a link to yet another “master” of Chinese martial arts being knocked unconscious in a challenge match. My friend, with an excellent pedigree in Chinese martial arts, particularly applicable Chinese martial arts, subtitled the message “and yet another embarrassment posted – why?”

I have long noted, both here on this blog and in other conversations, that problems of this sort within the Chinese martial arts world are NOT NEW. A good example is a previous blog of mine entitled “The people should be very ashamed”. There seems to be some sort of structural or cultural problem that lends itself to people overly concentrating on forms work, ignoring practical application work and still thinking they are fighters.

Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling) master Chang Tung Sheng (常東昇 aka Cháng Dōng Shēng) is often remembered for a rather forthright interview he gave to a Taiwan newspaper. Chang had traveled around China, had fought many matches and even won the 1933 heavyweight national Lei Tai tournament. He scoffed at claims of using “Chi” in fights, of “Dim Mak” or “Dian Xue”, and of the many claims of people who proclaimed themselves masters yet never seemed to fight. In a vein similar to the Gracie family, Chang said he’d still take on any comer, and that if he could put his hands on you, he would hurt you! Keep in mind that at a relatively advanced age, Chang engaged in two matches at the behest of a Moroccan royal family member and KO’ed both a Judo black belt and a Kyokushin fighter.

If you’ve read my book, “Chinese martial arts: A historical outline”, you will note how as soon as people began associating martial arts with Daoist practices such as Daoyin, and using that language to explain things, a slippery slope was created. There is certainly nothing wrong with martial arts practice for health, but the same slippery slope resulted in the Boxer Rebellion disaster and probably today’s Chinese martial arts carnival side shows.

NY based Sifu Frank Allen fighting full contact in 1982.

In response to my friend, I’d suggest, as I have just above, that we’ve always had that sort of problem. It’s nothing new. But, perhaps what IS new is that we used to have more “counter balance”. We used to have Chinese martial arts people organizing full contact events and students participating in them.

Even in the old days, not everyone was a fighter. The traditional Chinese martial arts school usually had a lot happening at any given time; some would be practicing lion dancing, some would be practicing sparring drills or actually sparring, some would be do Chi Kung. Everyone did forms back then. But I’d suggest two differences, people spent a LOT MORE TIME at their schools in the past. We were literally “kung fu bums”. And, while not everyone in a school fought, back in the “old days” I’d hazard to say that every school had at least one fighter. There was always that one person who fought and thus was responsible for answering the “challenges”. A lot of my circle happen to have been those kinds of students.

In the past, there also seemed to be a lot more teachers willing to show the sparring drills and the applications, the REAL APPLICATIONS.

Today’s problems seem to be rooted in people spending a lot less time in their schools AND instructors who have consequently let their students spend a lot less time drilling application yet without informing them that in doing so they have lost the essential combat skills. I am even tempted to say that a lot of instructors have BENEFITED from this trend, because many of them also seem to lack real combat skills. Today, it is MUCH EASIER to set up shop as a “master” even if you weren’t that student back in the day who took the challenges.

Cowards and weasels, (one of) Chinese martial arts’ saddest moments

9 May

With this blog I perhaps return to what many consider my “former” internet persona; I am going to heavily criticize most of the so called “traditional” Chinese martial arts community. But I’ll suggest that if what I say here offends you, then YOU are part of the problem.

Xu Xiaodong has been silenced, likely for good. The Chinese Wushu Association, the extension of the Chinese government responsible for regulating martial arts in mainland China, has deleted Xu’s channel, forbidden him from engaging in media of any sort, and of course, put an end to any talk of more matches. Oh, and along the way they accused him of being a spy for the West to undermine “Chinese culture.” How sad, as this event, like others in the past, reveal that “Chinese culture” is already corrupt and without ethics already.

The “Thunder God of Taiji Quan”, whom Xu dispatched in less than 10 seconds, was quick to jump onto television and explain how his strikes were “too deadly” to really use. Ah, yes, of course! He would have won if it had been “serioius”, but of course it wasn’t so he ended up bloody and on his butt in under 10 seconds.

We also learned that the “fight” happened because of similar absurd claims by the so called “Thunder God”, including that he was immune to rear naked chokes. Of course, Mr “Thunder God” could have just had Xu put a choke on him, but he REFUSED to test it that way….

Let us also remember that when a match with Xu Xiaodong was still on the table, one of the four elders of Chen village declared that Chen style Taiji Quan was NOT for fighting and said they wouldn’t send a challenger. Only after the Chinese Wushu Association completely tied Xu’s hands did Chen village send not ONE, but SEVEN! “challengers” to confront Xu. My how brave! Oh, sorry, what I meant to write is what weasels and chicken sh-ts….

“Strangely”, with ZERO POSSIBILITY of a real match actually happening now, a bunch of other cowards and weasels have said they suddenly want to fight. “Yi Long” the fake shaolin monk who has made a name for himself mostly by setting up mis-matches, and when that doesn’t work having the judges in his pocket, suddenly wants to fight!

If anyone ever “brags” to you about Yi Long, you can show them the above picture.. or better yet this video clip!

Sadly, this all reminds me of the DECADES that self proclaimed defenders of “traditional” heaped criticism upon myself and my students for, gasp!, actually fighting! The funniest comment to date was how Chan Tai-San would be opposed to his lineage engaging in such “violence” on the Lei Tai and in rings and cages. To people who really knew Chan Tai-San, man oh man I can tell you that sh-t is funny funny funny!

Of course, I also noted that when those evil, nasty and mean “MMA types” would criticize traditional Chinese martial arts as useless crap, those same idiots would be quick to point out “Chan Tai San’s disciples are traditional and they have won a lot of fights”….

And people wonder why for decades I stayed away from the so called “Wu Lin”…..

Without reality, martial arts are meaningless….

5 May

Some people ask me, “how did you get involved in all this fighting stuff”? As if Chan Tai-San was teaching us all how to play checkers? I usually refer them to an album of pictures of Chan Tai-San teaching us fighting technqiues as a start. Then I usually suggest that if you really go back in time, all traditional martial arts were once about fighting.

Returning to an often discussed topic, today of course people do martial arts for a number of reasons. And MANY have almost no interest in “fighting”. And, as I have often stated during seminars, in my books and in this blog, THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH DOING MARTIAL ARTS WITHOUT THE FIGHTING ASPECT. The key in all of this is another topic I frequently discuss here, TRUTH. Train with truth, and you can never go wrong. Train without Truth and you invite countless problems.

If you are not training to fight, engaging in that training which can be rough, which produces both blood and sweat, and which results in injuries, it is a real problem to think you can fight just because you are “doing a martial art”. We have seen this time and time again, especially in the age of videos and social media. We see how the worst lie is a lie you tell yourself; we see people who have absolutely no fighting skills stepping up to fight!

For better or for worse, I was frequently the person who accepted challenges when Chan Tai-San’s school was still active and accepting them. I was raised in that “culture” and accepted many of them. Am I claiming I can not be beaten? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Am I claiming I was a “great fighter”? ABSOLUTELY NOT.

And that is a HUGE DIFFERENCE. You won’t find me telling stories about street fights in which I took on multiple opponents. You won’t find me telling stories about fighting some “master”, beating him and taking the keys to his school. You also will note if you look closely that I do not issue challenges. Nor do I step up to accept random challenges. For example, I wouldn’t be the guy to go to Xu Xiaodong to fight him to “prove” something. NO. I accepted challenges when it was necessary to do so, in context.

I have always accepted challenges knowing full well a few things. First, there was no guarantee I would win. All I knew was that, having trained realistically, I’d likely have an opportunity to demonstrate some skills and do some damage. But I also knew full well that anyone can lose any time. Very skilled professional fighters have lost in mere seconds, everyone has a bad day. Second, I knew that the next day I’d likely be nursing at least some injuries. I’ve had bloody noses and I’ve had broken noses. I’ve had stiff necks, sprained ankles, micro tears and nagging pains. I know the reality of fighting. I know is it NOT a Shaw Brothers’ kung fu movie.

When I train fighters, I train them not just for the match they will KO someone, but also for the match that they will be KO’ed. I’ve celebrated both victories and sucked up loses time and time again. But, again, as people training with reality, training with TRUTH, we understand the meaning and significance of these events.

Those that do not train with this reality and with Truth do themselves a great disservice and expose themselves to dangers they will be incapable of understanding.

Perspectives on the role of fighting in “martial arts”

3 May

The pioneer of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in China, Beijing based Xu Xiaodong, recently engaged in the following “match” (if you can even call it that!) with Wei Lei, the founder of the so called “Thunder Taiji Quan”.

The brutal truth is, for those increasingly rare individuals who have been involved in the relatively small circle of Chinese martial artists that have remained practically oriented, this was hardly a surprise at all. Nor were the inevitable responses across the internet. The prevalence of Chinese martial artists who lack any basic fighting ability, many little more than con men and frauds, and of those who bury their heads in the sand and refuse to address the problem is a long standing problem. It is not at all new;

(Chinese martial arts) … are in a chaotic state, thus the people cannot know what course to take. Summed up, they have abandoned the quintessence and kept only the scum, nothing more. Although the martial arts of Japan and the boxing of Western Europe are one-sided, they all have their original points. In comparison to an ordinary boxer of our nation, they are countless miles ahead. The people should be very ashamed of this.
– Wang Xiangzhai (王薌齋)

However, let me clarify. If Xu Xiaodong had walked into a park and challenged people doing Taiji Quan for simply exercise or recreation he would, in fact, just be a jerk. NO, Wei Lei claimed he was a fighter, he engaged in ridiculous demonstrations of his “application” and stepped up to show Xu that his Taiji was an effective fighting method. That a man who clearly had zero combat skills stepped up to fight sadly reminds me of another debacle in which lying to yourself is the worst of all lies.

Is there anything “wrong” with doing martial arts without doing “fight training”? ABSOLUTELY NOT. However, I am an advocate of the philosophy that even if you train just for health or recreation, you still train “martially”. The two paths are really inter related.

In this vein, we note that in response to Xu Xiaodong’s statements, Chen Zhenglei who is one of the main leaders of Chen village has now made an official statement in which he claims that Chen style Taiji Quan is now NOT about “fighting” but rather its about promoting health and a way of life. Which is fine, except that we pretty much all know that the circus and carnival tricks promoting Chen style will likely continue.

Click here to read an excellent debunking of the above video and more statements on Chen village’s propoganda.

If one says they just do martial arts for health, enjoyment, as physical education, more power to them. If they then claim they can still fight, shame on them. The man who enjoys racquetball doesn’t think he can replace his racquet with a sword and become a warrior!

%d bloggers like this: