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The pivotal moments in the history of Chinese martial arts

15 Feb

Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of Chinese martial arts is that perhaps the most pivotal moments in its history and development are not to be found in the thousands of years of Chinese history but rather in the rather short period of less than three decades between the Boxer Rebellion and the War with Japan. The Chinese martial artist was almost univerally rejected by society, while confronted by foreign methods (Japanese Judo and western boxing) and modern approaches to physical training (the so called military gymnastics and the modern physical education movement).

Practical application was still a consideration; in urban areas, in the training of military and police, and ultimately on the battlefields of the War with Japan and the civil war. Of course, the context of application had changed. Some chose not to abandon practical application, while others exited the period having all but abandoned the idea.

Men such as Chang Dong Sheng (常東昇) and Chan Tai San (陳泰山) camed of age in this period, trained by those who had trained in a period before these considerations. They fought “for real”, pursued careers in branches of the military, and also embraced “sport” or “competition” which had been introduced by the Guoshu movement and it’s sponsored events. Chan Tai San certainly spent time in the modern sports apparatus of the Communist mainland, but he was a link to a period before it and largely disconnected from it. Chang Dong Sheng transplanted to Taiwan, which provided a different context for the development of his methods.

In my estimation, these are the “missing links”. They are the small cracks of light in the larger malaise of those who abandoned practical application, embraced the fantastical (ironically re-embracing the nonsese of the Yi He Quan!), or want to obscure.


A tangled web indeed

17 Jan

Sometimes, if you look closely in the background, you see things, like me at a major Chinese martial arts event from the past.

According to records Chan Tai San kept, which were surprisingly meticulous, he taught over 5000 people after arriving in the United States. He was friendly with the heads of four of the major schools in new York’s Chinatown and in the beginning he taught out of those schools. So he taught a lot of people with various martial arts affiliations. That is also why he did not initially set up a school, most of those training with him were not technically his students.

That people who trained with Chan Tai San, both as direct and indirect students, are still around and active in the martial arts world should really come as no surprise. Nor should it come as a surprise that many people came to train with his direct students when they began teaching.

But yet, I think some people would be shocked to learn that many of the people active in the NY area either trained with me at some point, or were trained by someone who trained with me. Those people probably don’t realize that the martial arts world has always been a tangled web, incestuous and complicated.

I’ve been filming stuff more than a decade now; a new “thing” in the martial arts world. So another thing you might notice if you look in the background is that “critics” often strangely (not so strangely really) appear in the background of those training sessions, seminars, tournaments and fight venues. Or, to borrow a quote…..

And all I can say is….

Conditioning and heart

16 Jan

I’ve posted this before, a “survival round” I do at testing for my intermediate students. Some carry on about how it’s sloppy, etc. But if you haven’t done it, you really don’t know how hard it is. Also, to quote a famous Chinese general, the practical is not pretty and the pretty is not practical.

A more technical explanation of this sort of training;

The secret is not secret; sweat, pain, blood and repetition

15 Jan

Over the past few years, I have divided my efforts so to speak between the “modern and practical” and the “traditional”. I have posted a lot of the application and explanation of traditional moves (often directly from hand sets) in their traditional context.

In some cases, I see the application as “1 to 1”: The movement in application is not that much different than it looks in form. Of course, there are so many experts on the internet that everything gets debated. But sometimes a long hook is just a long hook and an overhand is just an overhand.

When I was training a lot of active fighters and competing in a lot of fighting events, there was a lot less of this kind of posting and drilling. Many times, traditional is actually CONCEPTUAL. And it is based upon the presumption that you have strong basics and know how to take a punch! Yes, sad but true. Much traditional is based as much upon attributes, i.e. being a “tough guy” as it was upon application of form.

So when I was training fighters, we focused upon the basic; which also meant the increasing familiarity with sweat, pain, and blood. Another way of looking at it; you have a fight in 6 weeks, let us focus upon what we know you can learn to use in 4 to 5 weeks.

If you are looking to study ongoing, as a “way of life”, there is time to do it all (in theory). But if you want to be able to really use it, you are still going to have to do a lot of the repetition and conditioning, and sparring, with sweat, pain and blood

Sun Sing Movie Theater. A very, very long time ago. Yes, this is the incident my father has in his book, but this is the Unedited version. It’s the version I learned about at home and I really do remember everything, always. Peter Urban at a Chinatown Brawl.

13 Nov

Read this today, and having had a few fights myself in those theaters, thought it was funny and worth reposting

Tiffany F.N. Chen


This photo is on my parents’ honeymoon. This Sun Sing Theater incident happened just before.

I am one of those people who never forgets a detail.

Ironically, I never forget a detail, but I am very bad with names and faces, I need to talk, connect and really establish a feeling for you.  Once I establish this feeling, I will never forget a detail.  I don’t forget a single nuance. I remember the good you said to me.  I remember the bad you said to me.  I listen, trying to hear what it is your really intending to say and then I either reach that point where I trust you for life, or I ban you from my life.  It’s very simple.  I just let people flow because people always tell who they really are eventually, it’s human nature, it’s natural… We are meant to be individuals and make our…

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The NSFW blog: in today’s news F–K YOU…

21 Sep

Did the title of today’s blog get your attention? Good! Now read at your own risk.

Today, people do martial arts for a lot of reasons but today’s blog is for a very specific group. There are TONS of people who claim they want to train “to fight” and/or want to step onto a mat, into a ring or into a cage. First fact: most of them will never do it. It’s all talk.

If you think regular classes are hard, if you shy away from sparring, especially full contact sparring, if you aren’t ready to puke a few times or get knocked out in a training session, being “fighter” is not meant for you. Now that is 100% fine, but only if you don’t talk about “fighting” and if you don’t pretend to be a fighter. That makes you a wannbe.

If you are in a class and you complain “jab, cross and hook again”? F–K YOU. My next response is “again? and you are STILL NOT DOING IT RIGHT“! Related: how many people who CLAIM they do “Chinese martial arts” talk a huge game yet seem to forget the tradition of doing the same basics THOUSANDS OF TIMES? Remember “iron palm in 100 days”? That did NOT mean 100 days of two hours a day; it meant 2400 hours of practice!

Also, if you are in a facility with a coach who has produced many fighters, many champions, and you still have an “opinion”; F–K YOU. Opinions are like a–holes, everyone has one and they are all full of sh-t. Successful fighters shut up and listen to their coaches. At least until they get a little down the road and start thinking they got there all by themselves; but that is another blog.

Tim Cartmell on the Xingyiquan Fighter

17 Aug

As always, good stuff from Tim

Ground Dragon Martial Arts

Hey everyone, here is another my posts on Xingyiquan and Baguazhang specifically.  This time let’s discuss Tim’s view on the Xingyi oriented fighter and what that means.  All of this materially was found on the Shen Wu Discussion Boards, this is just a small bit that I pulled off a few years ago.

4171_4_15-hsing-techniquesStrategy and Technique

The underlying strategy of Xing Yi Quan is based around ending a martial confrontation in the most expedient manner possible (usually, while inflicting the maximum amount of damage to the opponent). It is not so much a system of self-defense as aggressive offense. The founder of the Art, Ji Ji Ke (Ji Long Feng), was a famous warrior, and his warrior’s mentality carried over into the boxing style he created. The “self-defense mentality” is one of escaping from a violent encounter unharmed. The ‘warrior’ mentality is one of taking out the opponent as quickly…

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Tim Cartmell on Xingyiquan’s Five Elements

2 Aug

Source: Tim Cartmell on Xingyiquan’s Five Elements

Some thoughts on failure….

10 Jul

I am a failure; let me highlight the many ways I am a failure.

My health has since childhood been a roller coaster ride and I have failed to maintain a steady weight. I do not have the body of a “martial arts master”, especially if your idea are men like the late Bruce Lee.

My school is never going to make me a millionaire. I almost closed twice in the years I was open. In fact, I tell you, I do things that I know make it not as successful as it could be.

I haven’t always been the best instructor / sifu; like my own teacher I have had moments of anger and times when I was insensitive to certain students.

On the other hand, I’ve been a relatively good son, a relatively good husband and I am trying to be the best father. I brought my daughter into the world, which made my wife, my mother and my father happy.

My school may not make me a millionaire, but thousands of people have been there, learned something, it has helped them achieve at least some of their goals. I have students that have been with me 20 years. Others may not be in class now, but they remain a part of my extended family.

I have kept alive the memory and the teachings of the late Chan Tai-San.

My own teachings have reached not only my students, but others. People have written to tell me I influenced them, some even saying I have changed how and what they practice.

So am I a failure?

I was very fortunate to have both my grandfather and my father as role models; men who defined success in ways very different than many. Different, not better. Certainly, in some ways HARDER. But I am still happy who I am (most of the time). I know I had reasons why I made most of the choices I have in life.

Special offer on my newest book “Chinese martial arts: a historical outline”

23 Feb


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