In the continuing series, I present to you today an interview with Pavel Macek Sifu. He currently lives and teaches in the Czech Republic, in addition to teaching seminars in many different countries. I really appreciate the mindset that traditional training IS practical. Very knowledgeable and personable as well, he brings a lot to the table and I hope you enjoy!
Wallace: As we begin I want to thank you for taking the time to do this. I have followed your websites for some time and you bring a lot of great stuff to the table and I am interested to see where this one leads!
Pavel: Hello Wallace, thank you for your kind words, it’s an honor to be featured on your blog.
Wallace: As we start, could you please share with our readers a bit about your background and training experience?
Pavel: I started as a young kid with Judo, at age of 9, and later with Chinese martial arts at age 14.
I always wanted to learn directly from the source, so in 1997 I saved some money, bought a ticket and came to San Franciso with one and only purpose – to learn real Gung Fu, real Hung Ga. I have started to learn first from Y.C. Wong Sifu and have been later introduced to famous Lam Family of Hong Kong.
Since 2002 I have been studying with Lam Chung Sifu, youngest son of Late Grand Master Lam Jou. I also owe a lot to my Si Gung, brothers of my my Sifu – Grand Master Lam Chun Fai and Lam Chun Chung, all my Si Hing Dai at Lam Gwun – Mr. Wong, Mr. Chan, Mr. Ho, Mr. Sang… as well as my Daai Si Hings, Michael Goodwin Sifu in San Francisco and Leon Dogan Sifu in London. Thank you all.
Well, that is my Chinese martial arts lineage. Apart from teaching Hung Kyun, I also work as a functional movement specialist and strength and conditioning coach (bodyweight strength, kettlebells and barbells), so I would like to give credit to my strength Master, Pavel Tsatsouline and all brothers and sisters of StrongFirst – many of them being world class athletes and martial arts experts. I can’t thank Pavel enough for all his teaching, help and support.
I wish I was so smart as my teachers, but I am not, so I try to be a good student. Standing on the shoulders of the giants indeed…
Wallace: Indeed! I would like to jump straight in to a subject that is near and dear to my heart – practical martial arts. What is your take on the practical use of the traditional techniques in Hung Kyun?
Pavel: Well… Foundational skills, Gei Bun Gung, are the basis of the pyramid – move better, get stronger, sharpen your weapons; be a better athlete so to speak. Without that nothing is going to work.
Wallace: Truer words were never spoken.
Pavel: Technique is second – in my opinion, people put too much faith in technique, especially accumulation of new techniques, or they are looking for some “secret”, fancy, complicated moves. Simple is good – Chyun Kiu, Ping Cheui, block and big right hand! Usage, tactics and strategy are the third aspect.
That said, I will talk more about the technical arsenal of Hung Kyun. We have all that we need – kicks, strikes, throws, locks… Nothing fancy, all ready to use no-nonsense techniques, BUT it depends how you train them and use them. The problem I see in the commonly taught methods – unrealistic attacks… unrealistic responses that will not work in a real fight… Movie-like choreography…. Reliance on self-defence instead of pro-active self protection and so on. The thing is – even the most stupid application will work in a gym – but will it work outside the gym?
Wallace: And this is where a lot of people miss the mark.
Pavel: Speaking of self-defence, people need to train just a few simple, reliable techniques that work for you under stress, so when the sh*t hits the fan, you just go! When testing my students, I do not require that they show all the applications – I let them pick them 3-5 offensive combos, 3-5 counter-offensive combos, and of course test them in various forms of full-contact sparring as well. Less is definitely better.
Wallace: And again, I agree 100%. In looking at your website it is obvious you make extensive use of training equipment.
Pavel: Yes, that’s right. People need to hit stuff – hit pads, sandbags, kick poles, and not only the way combat sports do that. If somebody can’t hit the bag, with speed and power, how can he expect it work in a fight?
Wallace: Obviously he can’t.
Pavel: Same goes for conditioning – your neurosystem will not let you go full speed, full power, if it knows that you are going to break your knuckles.
People also need to practice various self-defence scenarios, how to deal with the potential conflict – control the distance, position yourself properly, keep the hands up… 95% of so called self-defence is awareness, and it has to be taught and practiced… Street-smarts I would say.
Wallace: And the most crucial element of all, you just mentioned; awareness, is so ignored. There is also the added challenge of testing the skills under an adrenal response. How do you address this aspect?
Pavel: We use various forms of contact training and pressure testing – full speed, full power, full aggression – not only standard 1 on 1 sparring, but 1 vs. 2, 1 vs. multiple opponents, gang fight simulation, and so on. 2 minutes of such fun is something, trust me – much more physically and mentally demanding than the usual 1 on 1 sparring.
Wallace: I have long felt that practical application is built in to any legitimate martial art. Now, the Chinese martial arts have a reputation for flashy moves and although Hung Kyun does not have what I would classify as flash, it does have some elaborate or exotic hand gestures, the kiu sao, the one finger bridge as an example. How do you address the duality of some of the gestures in training of a form as opposed to the way it will be used in confrontation?
Of course there is deep cultural meaning behind the sign, we all in Hung Kyun know – long story, encompassing the death of the last Ming Emperor, “One Finger Zen” koan, Siu Lam temple, anti-Ching rebels of Hung Mun society and their secret signs, ultimate art of “One Finger Zen” and so on – I am not going to elaborate on this, as we are talking about practical skill.
Do you remember Bruce Lee’s “don’t concentrate on the finger or… “?
Wallace: “…you will miss all of that Heavenly glory.” Yes sir.
Pavel: Well, that is one way how we use it: “Well, buddy, look… BOOM!” Reality-based self-defence is art of deception. So called Ying Sau, “Shadow Hand” or feint, is extensively used in Hung Kyun. Lam Sai Wing’s disciple writes about it in his “Tiger and Crane Double Form” book, I am not making it up.
“Single Finger Bridge Hand”, when used as defense, example to the proverbial big right hand, or wild tackle, as we often do? “Don’t concentrate on the finger”, ha ha! Get your bridge out sink the elbow, block and and hit the guy.
Wallace: Love it!
Pavel: See, even the pullling of the free hand back to the waist has its use – why not to grab the other guys sleeve, pull him into the strike. I can close my eyes and I know where he is, and hit him again, moreover, when I knock him out, he will not fall to the floor, hit the pavement with his head and die, something that we have to think of today, right.
Wallace: An excellent point. He swings, you hit him, his head hits the ground, he dies, you go to prison. So obviously you believe there is a reason behind everything we do.
Pavel: I not only believe, but I know that there is a reason behind anything we do and how we do – and if I don’t know, I do my homework, ask, research… Or change it. No room for wasted movement. There is always a practical usage behind of any of the techniques – not necessarily fighting, like first sections of our sets like Gung Ji Fuk Fu or Fu Hok Seung Ying, which are more about developing certain structure, mechanics, power, DNA of the style so to speak, but always, there is a reason why.
Following sections of our sets, so called Ha Lou, second part? All fighting, and usually very simple and useful stuff, just with few special hands. People try to use the technique just as defense – counter-attack, and against single right hand middle punch. No wonder that it does not work for them in fighting. Let’s not blame the fork for being poor knife.
Wallace: And this is where one must look beyond mere technique and start to look at the underlying strategy of the system. Let our readers in on a little bit of the fighting strategy of Hung Kyun.
Pavel: Yes… Strength and conditioning is the foundation of the pyramid. Technique development is the next layer, usage, tactics, and strategy, as well as mental preparation next layers. Our fighting strategy is summarized in Kyun Kyut, “Boxing Maxims”, transmitted to us by the past generations of Grand Masters – they are 100% applicable for today’s world and reality-based self-protection.
Our Practical Hung Kyun self-defense game plan goes like this: Learn to recognize the threat and whenever possible, avoid, escape or verbaly de-escalate. That is 99% of all self-defence and yes, it has to be learned and trained. Awareness is the key to succeful self-protection – “the eyes watch on the Four Sides, ears listen to the Eight Directions.“
If avoiding or verbal de-escalation is not an option, we don’t wait for the other guy to attack first; we strike pre-emptively – fast, accurately, with power, hard and without holding back, as the Chinese masters say, Faai, Jeun, Ging, Ngaang, Han! Less variables to juggle with – the decision is fast, and so is the action. Of course we also drill anti-ambush drills, but as for fighting, this is that last option – or better to say, no-option.
Following poem, inherited from Grand Master Wong Fei Hung, basically summarizes all fighting strategies in few verses:
Lift and chop, guard the center,
Frontally break in and destroy,
Cleverly enter from the side gate,
Penetrate, dodge, seal and intercept,
Continually advance and attack,
Every step close in and press,
Attack and defense change one into another.
As I said before, our Practical Hung Kyun defnitely emphasises pro-active self-protection – action beats reaction, defending is loosing. Hung Kyun favours straight entry, “Press and Strike” Bik Da; as the saying goes, Hung Ga enters straight ahead”. Side entry, or “Evade and Strike” – Sim Da – complements Bik Da strategy – in my opinion it is an influence of “Long Bridges” of Hap Ga.
Wallace: Excellent answer! I want to make a shift here. A few years ago I wrote an article on the “Ten Killing Hands” because I felt it to be a misunderstood topic that was getting brushed aside with the label of “secret”. More recently you published a better article on the same topic. Using the Ten Killing Hands as a point of departure, could you give us your take on so-called secret knowledge in relation to poorly understood concepts in the traditional martial arts?
Pavel: Well, I can’t really really talk about secret techniques, that’s secret…. Just kididing, ha ha.
Wallace: Ha! There is the old joke of “I would tell you but then I would have to kill you”. I met a guy once who told me that if he told me, the masters in Hong Kong would kill him!
Pavel: Ha ha ha, yes! Well… Secret methods and special techniques, are the real deal, although they mean something different than most people think.
Let’s see… I can make student in 5 minutes 20% stronger using a certain technique, breathing method and visualisation I learned from Pavel, my strength Master. Or I can make certain combat technique work like magic, just showing the simple, real and practical application with correct setup and context, as well as the way it shoud be drilled to “come alive”. Wow, awesome, right? Must be magic!
Well, secret methods are simply refined and smart teaching methodology, knowledge and skill. I am not that smart, I owe everything to my Masters. However, we at Practical Hung Kyun always ask ourselves – what is important, what is not? What technique and training method will give us the best results, both in the short and long run? The Pareto principle applied to martial arts training: Which 20% of the skills and techniques will get me 80% outcome? To tell you one of “secret” is – pssst, do not tell anybody – less is more. The key is to identify “less of what”, as well as “more of what”. A teaspoon of honey is better than bucket of sh*t,pardon my language.
Wallace: Again, love the thought!
Pavel: The Chinese have a saying – “hidding the secret in plain sight”. You have mentioned “Ten Killing Hands”, or better to say, “Ten Special Techniques”. The very first of them is simple rear high palm strike followed by low groin shot, Baat Fan Duk Jin Cheui. All Hung Kyun practitioners know the technique – the question is, do they practice it enough? Do they practice it correctly?
Wallace: Two absolutely essential questions.
Pavel: My students learn the technique, correct structure and mechanics. Having good strength foundation, they work on developing the “Heavy Hand”, ie. powerful KO strike, hitting sandbag. They work on precise timing of the combo and accuracy of the low groin strike. They work on various setups, both from non-aggresive and combat “guard”, “Continuous Attack”, Lin Waan, “Press and Hit”, Heui Sat, “Fake and Real” and other principles. They practice the technique in various self-defence scenarios, including “what if… “. They use the combo in various forms of sparring. Check out our Practical Hung Kyun Intensive Courses’ syllabi – very different from what you usually see in Chinese martial arts, right?
Wallace: Yes sir.
Pavel: And the results are excellent. Is it because of “secret” techniques and tricks? No, of course not. The secret is consistent and smart practice following logical, progressive methodology. Instead of “trial-error”, we at Practical Hung Kyun prefer “system-result” – I do not know why, but somehow works better, ha ha!
Wallace: I fully understand and appreciate having an actual methodology to the teaching; clear sight of what you want to accomplish with the students and a map detailing how you will accomplish this. Great stuff!
Pavel: Exactly. The goals have to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-related. S.M.A.R.T. This applies to all other skills, not just martial arts training.
Wallace: Do you find a lot of resistance to your approach, or do you see a broad acceptance and perhaps even a growing interest in the approach you are taking to teaching traditional martial arts in the modern “everyone-and-their-uncle-is-the-MMA-champion-of-the- world” world that we live in?
Pavel: People interested in studying Hung Ga who already have previous experience with Hung Ga or Chinese martial arts as such often say that the practice method of Practical Hung Kyun is very different from other schools. I tell them that I sincerely hope so! Check out our Mission Statement at our webpage, you’ve got it all there.
We are not interested in fancy silk uniforms, sets performances and empty socializing at the restaurants where everybody praises each other how good they are, and once somebody leaves, they start badmouth him – so common in traditional Chinese martial world, sorry to say so.
Wallace: The people I know don’t even wait for you to leave the room!
Pavel: My motto is: “Be who you are and do what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”. People have found out that they have been climbing the ladder hard, for many years, only to find out that the ladder is leaning on wrong building. Most of them learned only lots of sets, bunch of useless applications, and that is it. So they come to us and basicaly start from scratch, if they have the balls to empty their cup. In couple of weeks or months they get better than in the last few years…
Haters will hate, I do not care at all. We at Practical Hung Kyun are pioneers. Many Hung Ga Kyun “Sifu” are watching what we do, and quietly imitate us. We hit pads – so they hit pads as well. We spar – everybody starts to wear gloves and shin pads. We practice with kettlebells, everybody starts to use them. Everybody is suddenly “functional” and “reality-based” and “fullcontact”, whatever. The “results” are sometimes very funny, but as i said, I do not care, well, in the end, “imitation is the most sincere form of flattery”.
Other people say: “But hey, that is not traditional! On the contrary – Practical Hung Kyun goes back to the roots, it is a revolution in the original sense of the world, “return”. Old Masters spent a lot of time on strength and conditioning – so do we. They were strong, healthy and able to fight – so are we. If they had a chance to use modern protective gear, they would use it, because it is a chance to go full speed, full power, and it means less injuries. Back to the roots – practical self-defence, strength and health, personal development.
Well, we neither the first, the only ones, nor the best. Dave and Vince Lacey Sifus of Buk Sing Choy Lai Fut, David Ross Sifu, David Rogers Sifu and Chris Heintzman Sifu of Hop Gar/Lama Pai, my Si Hing Michael Goodwin Sifu, my good friend Ivan Rzounek of Wing Chun… All these gentlemen are huge inspiration for me and the future of Chinese martial arts.
Speaking of strength and conditioning? You can’t find anything better than Pavel Tsatsouline’s StrongFirst, period. Meeting Pavel and learning from him was definitely one of the most important turning points in my practice. Hats off, respect to the Masters!
Wallace: And finally, I would like to hear a bit about your goals. Best case scenario, what will you be doing, say five or ten years down the road?
Pavel: First of all, learn more, practice smarter. Continuous education and sharpening the blade is a must.
Third, write and publish more; together with my Daai Si Hing Michael Goodwin we are working on translation of various old and rare manuals and articles for my archives, I am preparing a series of Practical Hung Kyun Ecourses, many other publication projects on the way… People will love it, guaranteed.
For further “inside” information I invite the readers to join our Practical Hung Kyun Newsletter, as well as our Official Practical Hung Kyun Facebook fanpage. Our website is online for about a year, and it this short period it has become number one Hung Ga Kyun resources on the web. Fan community is growing every day, I am really happy for that.
Last but not least, as for the plans, I intent drink Pu Erh Tea on a porch after “Iron Thread Set” morning recharge, listen to the birds, enjoy the life… Sounds like a good plan, right?
Pavel: Life is good.
Wallace: This has been awesome and I appreciate you taking the time to do this and give us a lot to think about!
Pavel: Thank you very much Wallace, it has been a pleasure, I really enjoyed the interview. You are doing an excellent job promoting martial arts, as a regular reader of your blog I am looking forward to read more articles and interesting interviews.
Wallace: I appreciate the kind words.