Monday, September 28, 2009

Deleted Scenes…

In their current November/December 2009 issue, the great people at Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine gave us an opportunity to share with everyone a little bit about our butterfly swords – Jeui Wan Lau Yip Seung Dou (追魂柳葉雙刀), or The Spirit Chasing Willow Leaf Swords.

There’s really no other print magazine in publication right now that covers Chinese martial arts in the manner that they do at Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine. With a bimonthly magazine, a comprehensive website and discussion forum, and even a monthly online sweepstakes, it’s the biggest Chinese martial arts promoting platform on this planet. (They’re also the innovators of the “Got Qi” t-shirt.)

Anyway, if this sounds like one big plug for them – it is! The reality is Kung Fu has remained a strong presence in the massive realm of martial arts due to their grassroots efforts and our willingness to be a part of it. Just think of life without Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine and you’ll understand exactly how influential they have been and continue to be.

Getting back to the article, if you enjoy it, send Gene Ching a quick note to let them know. We’ll keep ‘em coming as long as you stay interested – but, you have to let them know.

In the meantime, this series of techniques didn’t quite make the cut in the magazine, but here it is for your viewing pleasure:

Bare Hand Application to Single Broadsword vs. Double Butterfly Swords:
Photo #1: The attacker punches with his right which is countered by the defender’s kam sau (擒手), or latching hand.
Photo #2: The attacker follows up with a left body shot which is redirected by the defender with waan sau (圜手), encircling hands.
Photo 3: As the attacker continues his assault with a right hook, the defender steps into the strike, trapping and placing the attacker into an arm bar with chuk sau (束手), or restraining hands.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Does your Kung Fu Change Over Time?


When you’ve been married to a particular system or style of martial arts for a good part of your training life, it’s natural for this question to come up.

The answer to this issue is one that requires self-reflection: Have you changed over a good part of your life?
Are you the same person you were 5 years ago? Do you do things differently now than when you did them 5 years ago?

As you can see, the answer lies with you, not your Kung Fu.

Even without ever cross-training in another martial art, your Kung Fu changes because you change. Whether it’s your body, your lifestyle, your particular stage in life… change is inevitable. It lets you know that things are no longer the same, and your ability to adapt to these ever-changing, ever-evolving scenarios is what separates the good from the best.

You should stop and ask yourself:
How have I developed?
How have I been influenced by my experiences, not only in martial arts, but in life?
Have I become a better person?

And, it can go either way – you could have gotten better, or you can get worse.

With traditional Kung Fu, we tend to think of change as a bad thing, as if we’ve become disloyal to our sifu or to the style. For many of us who have trained under a “square-minded” or old-old school teacher, this is what we have been conditioned to believe – that if we don’t follow things to the letter, we’ll never get the system. So we slave away at filling our cup of our teacher’s teachings until it overflows, believing that our “stuff” is invincible… until we meet better, stronger, smarter, faster adversaries. Then, what? Do you keep doing things the way that you’ve always done because your teacher told you to, or do you change?

The very basis of Kung Fu is to accomplish something through hard work. But, that hard work needs to have a goal that is relevant to both your needs and the conditions of your time period or it merely becomes wasted effort.

Strive to keep your Kung Fu alive.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Square One…

There are many components that form the structure of training in traditional Chinese martial arts.

Depending on the context in which these methods are taught and practiced, some are good, some are outdated, and some need to be clearly defined in order for them to be understood and appreciated.

Typically, traditional training in Southern Chinese martial arts emphasizes:

歷史 lik si (history)
獨練 duk lin (individual training)
練功 lin gung (drill for skill)
對練 deui lin (partnered training)
自衛 ji wai (self-defense)
兵器 bing hei (weaponry)
拳理 kyun lei (fighting theory)
氣功 hei gung (breath/energy skill)
跌打 dit da (fall and hit / traumatic healing)
舞獅 mou si (lion dancing)

For the most part, a practitioner may train in each of these areas; a disciple may learn them; a sifu (teacher) may understand them; and, a master will be able to properly pass them on to a subsequent generation.

The beauty in attempting to embrace a system in its entirety is that it is a discipline – one that would ideally transfer its finest attributes across all aspects and sectors of a practitioner’s life. However, it is also important to understand that not everyone approaches a study of martial arts in this manner - and that needs to be respected.

In some systems, certain characteristics of training may be deemphasized or even absent due to the instructor’s perception of its relevance to the curriculum. For instance, lion dancing may not be a part of a teacher’s syllabus. Does this mean that the system is lacking – which can lead to questions about its integrity as a whole? Absolutely not. This just points to the fact that the instructor may have never learned this aspect of the art or has deemed it unsupportive toward developing one’s fighting orientation. [Within our lineage, Master Kwong Man Fong does not teach lion dance.]

In Pak Mei Kung Fu, the emphasis has always been on fighting (then again, so is every martial art’s focus; otherwise, they wouldn’t be called martial arts).
In your twenties, something such as iron palm training is considered essential to your conditioning and imperative to your progress (also, you really have no choice when your sifu says that you have to do it).
But as we age and our life situations shift, iron palm may not necessarily be the best area of concentration for our efforts.
Instead, deepening your knowledge of self-defense within the system’s principles may better suit your needs; or furthering your energy output from cultivating and enhancing your understanding of hei gung, or energy circulation; or even expanding your herbal awareness arising from that curious formula for dit da jau that always accelerated the healing of your bruises from iron palm training.

As a potential student or an established veteran of the arts, it is always important to assess what your priorities are, what stage your life is currently in, and where you eventually want to be with regard to your journey in the arts.

Ultimately, the art becomes yours. But, you must acknowledge that it is, rather than pass it on as representative of an established style or system.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What’s new is old; and, what’s old is new again…

Traditions exist because there are individuals who find something, or some things, worthy of passing on to a future generation.

Traditional martial arts exist because there is something, or some things, a generation wants to have passed onto it.

The mindset on martial arts changed dramatically on November 12, 1993 – The premier of the first Ultimate Fighting Championship. Prior to this, visions of the “deadliest techniques” and the idea that “my fighting art is the best martial art” ran rampant in the minds of anyone who had ever formally learned to throw a punch or block a kick. In each of our respective training arenas, we were invincible. But for the most part, most of that was in theory – “If he does this, I’ll do this… and if he continues from there, I’ll do this… “
What I’ll do often defined what we trained; what he’ll do often determined how we trained. The problem was that what he’ll do was something that we all did because, typically, we trained in the same exact techniques since we went to the same school. And, anything different was what we imagined someone else would do from what we had heard, read, or seen at public demos about their styles.
That was just the way things were in a very traditional school.
Anyone who tells you any different has a very peculiar opinion not only about their traditional martial arts training, but more so, about reality.

Then, in 2006, YouTube exposed us to everything and anything – period. And again, it changed the way we looked at martial arts all around the world. At the click of a mouse, you had access to nearly every martial art ever created – a virtual library of qinna locks, triangle chokes, knife disarms…
every way possible to disable, maim, or make someone tap out.

To this day, the site is ever growing with demos, infomercials, and pirated footage of all of the above and more.

But in many ways, it still leaves you with a hollow feeling. Perhaps it’s information overload. Or, maybe it’s a sense that “I have access to it all already. So what?” Or, just, “It’s not that impressive.”

So it takes us back to where we started: traditional martial arts.

Is it for everyone? No, because no one is the same. Everyone’s wants and needs are different.
Quite honestly, if I were growing up today, MMA (mixed-martial arts) would be my thing simply because it’s what’s out there – right here and right now, the same way boxing, Judo, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, Ninjutsu, Aikido, and Brazilian Jiujutsu were there for those of us who grew up during those respective eras.

A traditional martial art humanizes us during these technologically-driven times. It offers an environment of customs and cultural heritage, fighting strategies and philosophical structures, stories of both inspiration and aspiration (whether true or highly exaggerated), protocols for a sense of civility and community, and most of all, a sense of self-awareness and personal growth. You not only acquire a set of physical fighting skills, but more so, you obtain the tools and mindset to prepare you for the biggest challenge of all – LIFE. Its comprehensive package addresses many of the “gaps” that we may experience on our martial quest. And as long as it provides you with a balance in your life, and doesn’t develop into a cultish mentality, it can be your spiritual salvation.

In this time of modern martial sports, enthusiasts and experts alike have gone to explore the vast possibilities of combative systems around the world, and the research and results have yielded one overwhelming response: There is no perfect martial art. It’s whatever works best for you.
But, having a traditional background can provide you with a strong foundation that will enable you to navigate through the negativity and uncooperative obstacles that you will encounter in the arts and even more so, in your life.

It’s ironic that over time, the culture of MMA will be considered “traditional” to a future generation of martial explorers.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

1974: The Kung Fu Craze, Rotary Phones, and Pak Mei Kung Fu…

The 1970s were a most interesting time in New York City.

Skelly and stickball games preoccupied playtime on the asphalt jungle. Technology was the LCD watch and Pong. TV needed rabbit ear antennas to receive three network VHF channels: 2, 4, and 7; 5 and 11 always showed reruns – Channel 11 must have owned The Honeymooners and The Twilight Zone because they were always on; 9 was one of those weird local stations; and, 13 was known for The Electric Company and Sesame Street.

Rotary phones hung from walls or sat on a wooden stand almost specifically designed to showcase this social networking device. They were brontosauruses of the phone world compared to today’s cellular raptors. But there’s something very nostalgic, even romantic, about that rotary sound – the clicking of the dial that went back to its original position each time your finger wound the seven digits within your own area code (things were much simpler back then). It was such a part of your life that you would almost feel as if something was missing if you made a phone call and didn’t hear that rotary melody. That’s probably why some phones have a pulse mode (that serves absolutely no purpose in today’s technological times) in case you missed that sound.

Something missing… that’s probably why things get started – to fill a void.

You only begin to realize this over time.

It was also during this period that an Asian martial art seemed to dominate this decade.
It really did seem as if “Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting” according to Carl Douglas in 1974 when Jet Li visited and performed an intense 2-person fighting routine for President Nixon at the White House lawn. Just a year before, Enter the Dragon starring Bruce Lee exploded onto the theater screens and oftentimes spilled over onto the streets after the movie as well. The Sun Sing Theater on East Broadway and The Music Palace on the Bowery were places where you would go to if you practiced Kung Fu or were a non-Chinese looking to be awed by the martial action that you saw on the screen – either way, you needed to know some form of Kung Fu or “run fu” to dodge the occasional stray bullets that came from overly ambitious teens looking to prove their worthiness to their peers (if you know what I mean). And on the small screen, momentary flashbacks of Master Po and the young Grasshopper gave home viewers a glimpse into the romantic ideals that “Kung Fu” had to offer.

Under these ubiquitous conditions, Kung Fu had no place to go but up on the ladder of martial arts.

It gave Chinese and Chinese-Americans a presence in a country that was just beginning to embrace, rather than curse, its multiculturalism.

For Chinese-American youths, boys in particular, it was more of a curse than a blessing. The blessing was, you got picked on a whole lot less because the bullies were never quite sure if you really knew Kung Fu or not. So, chances were, they didn’t want to take that chance and you got to keep your lunch money for another day. On the other hand, your lunch money and a whole lot more could be taken away from you if you didn’t accept “membership” into a “club” that would help “protect” you not just by learning Kung Fu (if you know what I mean).
So, like the Green Destiny – the straight sword in Ang Lee’s homage to Chinese swordplay films: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kung Fu was double-edged.

As if your tween and teen years weren’t bad enough walking a tightrope of friendships and fiend-ships, you had this to deal with. So I retreated to the cave of my home to meditate on articles in New Martial Hero, Real Kung Fu, Secrets of Kung Fu, and Inside Kung Fu magazines; classics by Donn Draeger, Kam Yuen, Bruce Lee & M. Uyehara… My appetite for all of it was insatiable. And, as with anything, there’s always one or two that stand out in your mind – always. For me, it was this dark blue hardcover book draped in a bright mustard-colored dust-jacket. Maybe it was the color; or the glossy photos in between; or the very brief manner in which the style and its master were described.
But it caught my attention and stayed with me – like a splinter in my mind. The book was called Pak Mei Kung Fu: White Eyebrow by H.B. Un, © 1974.