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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 🙂

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What is “bad martial arts”?

28 Dec

NOTE: This may come across as a very negative, even insulting blog. But it is not intended to be that way. It is NOT personal. It is Truth, and Truth is always the most important thing.

I have approached this with light hearted amusement in previous blogs, but the “danger” of running a public martial arts school is the people who come in and prior to taking your class tell you about all the training they have had. Some have only been in the basic class without contact. Others have talked their way into my intermediate class with contact. I would never put someone I have never seen practice into free sparring, though some might have deserved it. But my intermediate class has plenty of contact in it.

I have watched people who told me they had ten (10) years of boxing training not be able to throw the most basic combination; jab, cross and left hook. I usually write that off to just pure LIES; watching boxing on TV and having a heavy bag in your basement is NOT “boxing training”.

I had a person who really, really, REALLY wanted to do my intermediate contact class. They said they had trained for eight years. They had trained in something (they said boxing, Muay Thai and “martial arts”) because they could throw some basic punches and some basic kicks. But other than that they were completely lost. They were bounced around by people who had far less training under my program.

Do I feel bad for this person? Of course I do. I am not attacking them. What I am attacking is the increasing evidence that what is being taught as “martial arts” these days IS NOT. I don’t really know what to call it.

Traditional Okinawa Karate may not actually have a “roundhouse kick” depending upon who you talk to, but those schools that do; it is different than the Japanese Karate way of execution. The various Korean “kwan” taught roundhouse / round kicks differently. Seven Star Mantis has a “door shutting kick” which is like a snap round kick. Many northern styles have a swinging kick similar to the Muay Thai style. What they all have in common is that they are martial arts techniques capable of inflicting some damage.

In my estimation (which is more than “opinion”) real, “GOOD” martial arts are NOT about “technique”. There should be certain things EVERYONE who does martial arts should manifest

1. Body awareness
2. Awareness of distance
3. Ability to issue power

I was tempted to make a longer list, but NO. These are the first three things everyone should learn, regardless of their goals in studying, regardless of the method they practice. So why do so few people learn these things in so called “martial arts training”

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.

Thoughts on “pure system” vs “cross training”

26 Jul

Among my students there is a widely known concept, based upon my own experiences with the late Chan Tai-San. We would ask Chan Tai-San, “Sifu, is it this or this”? “Is it a throw or a strike”? “Do we do it this way or this way”? And the answer was inevitably the same; YES.

In life, things are seldom black OR white. There are a lot of shades of gray. Yet in the martial arts world, many people cling to absolutes usually to their own detriment. Such is the case of those who, for lack of a better term, look for “pure system” vs those who embrace “cross training”.

The approach of the “pure system” person is that all the material, all the answers, are already there. Certainly, a real system passed on correctly (Chinese martial arts) will have “ti, do, shuai, and na”; a well rounded complete approach. Of course, we could argue (observe) that most traditional systems do not have anything resembling the modern approach to ground fighting. We could note the long history of Chinese martial artists against Muay Thai fighters (and now MMA fighters). But I’ll return to this in a minute.

Today, “cross training” is a very popular approach. Cross training embraces ideas such as Western boxing to improve hand striking. Muay Thai or Savate to improve kicking, wrestling to improve the clinch, etc etc. One thing is certain, the various “source methods” are all very effective at producing fighters. The question remains, the central problem, is “cross training” just meaninglessly random? How should it be approached correctly?

My own approach or “take” on all this? My students and those who have come to train with me all know that anything I teach I can simultaneously “source” to BOTH traditional Chinese martial arts AND other non-Chinese (often “modern”) methods. Yes, there is probably nothing in “modern” methods that can’t be found in traditional Chinese methods. Yet, let us also be brutally honest, there are VERY FEW people in traditional Chinese martial arts today who can demonstrate with practicality many of these methods.

The late Chan Tai-San taught me a tremendous amount. But part of my appreciation of his methods was based upon other training I had done before meeting him, both Chinese and non-Chinese methods. Furthermore, more importantly, I would NOT be who I am if I had settled for the training I did with Chan Tai-San.

For me at least, “cross training” allowed me to appreciate and IMPROVE what I had learned from Chan Tai-San. What we know as “arm drag” exists in a lot of Chinese martial arts, most notably as a push hand (Tui Shou) tactic in Taiji Quan, but learning how Western wrestlers drill it improves your understanding and execution without question! Chan Tai-San certainly taught me side kicks and back kicks, but training in Taekwondo and Savate gave me new ways of approaching and training them! At bare minimum, boxing gloves gave us better ways to train the powerful strikes of Lama Pai.

Keep up with my products, seminars and coaching programs at http://www.SifuDavidRoss.com

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Some thoughts on “defense”, impact and pain

9 Jun

A brief and simplified outline; First, get used to pain

Second, learn basic methods to defend

Third, get used to impact

Fourth, learn the theory….

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….


우유
молоко
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.

Late night thoughts on DEFENSE

26 May

We can not escape biology, psychology or physics. We must be constantly aware of them and work not only around them, but with them. The “fight or flight” response may be one of the most foundational; but at times flight is not possible and it can be detrimental to combat.

Shielding is probably the most instinctive response in defense. This is not surprising; gross motor skills are always easier acquired than fine motor skills. But shielding must be learned intelligently and correctly. There are correct ways to shield.

Shielding quickly allows the student to also become accustomed to contact. Becoming accustomed to pain and contact is essential to learning defense. Again there are correct ways to learn this.

Against linear / direct attacks, the parry is probably the highest percentage defense. That is, it is probably the easiest defense against linear / direct attacks for most people to learn.

Other methods of defense require awareness of angles of attack, and comfort with moving forward in the face of those attacks. That is what makes them more advanced methods.

HOW to train (if you want to have fighting skills)

17 May

Fighting must be rational.
Do not be reckless, giving no thought to defense.
“Do not be a caveman”

There are many methods or schools of thought on defense. In the kickboxing structure we first introduce a method we call the “six gate defense system”. The name derives from traditional Chinese martial arts theory that divides the body up into six gates. First, the body is divided down the middle by the center line into left and right. There are then three gates corresponding to the area above the shoulders (“heaven gate”), between the shoulders and the hips (“man gate”) and the hips down (“earth gate”). The six gate defense system involves parrying (redirecting an attack) and shielding (covering up using the hardest parts of the body, the elbows, the knees and the shins). We believe this is the easiest method for beginners to learn. In addition, it introduces students to the idea of getting hit.

The basics of sparring

– Keep your hands UP
And by this I mean thumbs at eyebrows or at least top of fists at your cheek bones. This isn’t boxing. We have kicks, later we have elbows.

– Keep your chin down
Put it in your chest, and “peek a boo” through your gloves

– Keep your head up
Hips in, hips/shoulders/head in one line, head up. Put your head down you are going to be kneed in the face! Or snapped down! Or choked out!

– Stay up on your toes, light on your feet and MOVE!

– Don’t like getting punched? (no one does!)
1. Keep your distance and kick them (kick the puncher)
2. Tie them up

– Clinch with a PLAN!
In the clinch it is the person who is first with the most that wins

– Don’t like getting kicked? (no one does?)
1. block the kick
2. destroy the kick
3. punch the kicker
4. ride the kick
5. catch the kick
6. avoid the kick

– Knee when they clinch

– Don’t forget your “dirty boxing”

– Throw when they knee

– It is better to be thrown than controlled

– Learn how to fall, how to shrimp, and how to get up

Free sparring in the school is not a competition and there are no winners. There should be NO EGO in free sparring and every student must understand that they are responsible for the safety of their partners. Make free sparring all about improving skills and having fun.

At higher levels, they’ll begin to understand that a good sparring session involves times when both partners are actually cooperative, giving a student the security and opportunity to develop new moves. Light sparring will allow you to work on techniques you have not yet perfected. Constantly sparring with full force will only result in injuries, stagnation and frustration and is counterproductive.

Make sure your training partner knows the plan and the pace of your
sparring workout.

Introduce free sparring gradually. Beginning students should engage in no more than three rounds of free sparring per class until they learn to address their fears and adrenaline response.

The first few weeks, basic boxing drills like the “four shields” will get a student accustomed to being hit. Follow up with some of the “live training” drills we’ve already discussed here.

Get comfortable with the idea of getting hit and hitting someone. The earlier you integrate this acceptance, the more progress you will make.

Remember that there are many different free sparring formats designed to develop different skills. In our program we actually use six different formats;

1. Kickboxing sparring with gloves and shin guards
2. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sparring starting from the knees
3. Pummeling for neck control with knees strikes
4. Pummeling for body control with takedowns
5. San Da sparring (kickboxing with the throws but not ground work)
6. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) (standing and ground)

Each format has its own advantages and disadvantages so doing all of them produces very well rounded students. Finally, realistic expectations of your performance are important. You will make mistakes.

A few guidelines for kickboxing sparring
1. Hands up
2. Chin down
3. Up on your toes
4. Do no lunge with your punches
5. After every strike or kick recover your guard
6. “Nothing for free”
7. Do not lean back to avoid strikes and kicks
8. Keep your back off the wall/ropes
9. Attack with combinations
10. Set up your kicks
11. Punch vs. kicks
12. Kick vs. punches
13. Clinch to strike
14. Clinch to throw
15. Knee vs. throws
16. Throws vs. knees

NOW GO TRAIN
NY San Da
NY Best Kickboxing

Steal, steal a lot, and steal from the best…..

28 Sep

The other day a guy who trains with me (and who has an extensive background and trains in a lot of different places) told me that one of the other instructors he knows told him he shouldn’t train with me because I steal stuff…..

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If you know me, you probably already knew that would be my reaction… But more seriously, I have three different responses to this “attack”.

First, of course I steal stuff! I have stated MANY TIMES my opinion that if an instructor claims to have no influence other than their primary art/primary instructor they are either being dishonest or are unacceptably intellectually lazy.

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It is impossible for one person to have all the techniques or the “answers”. Even an organization like mine, where I am friends with and continue to network with many respected fighters, coaches and trainers, we can’t make such a claim. That is precisely why you’ll find us consistently training with others.

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Second, if you really think I “stole” stuff, ask how did I do it? How did I learn it, integrate it into what I do and how am I able to teach it? Let me put it another way, the instructor in question told my “friend” (won’t even call him a student) that I stole stuff from him (well, it is quite a funny story there, but that is another blog). My friend told him basically, “yeah, but he understands it better and explained it to me better.” So, I ask you, who really “owns” it? The person who thinks they “had it first” or the person who really understands it?

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Third, how do you “own” anything for me to steal it? Does anyone really think there is one technique that only they and their teacher have? Human beings all have one torso, one head, two arms, two hands, two elbows, two legs, two knees and two feet. The reality is, NO ONE OWNS TRUTH. You might as well accuse me of “stealing” your air!

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This stuff is really the product of small minds and insecurity. Never be afraid to attend a seminar or go to another school to train and learn something new. Take every opportunity you can to train with the best. If a famous fighter or teacher is coming to your town to do a seminar, or is a reasonable traveling distance from you take that opportunity. Don’t be afraid to “steal” and don’t be concerned with what others may say. The “purity” of certain traditional martial art traditions is not only an obstacle to your advancement; it is in fact a myth!

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