On “Warrior”

     In my previous post, I talked about the misuse and over use of the word “master” in the martial arts community. Today I will talk about the grossly misused word “warrior”.

     The word warrior carries many heavy images within it, and it is this almost universal feel of awe and respect for a warrior that brings many black belts to use the word when describing themselves. Depending upon your upbringing, you may picture a armored knight on horseback, perhaps rescuing a maiden girl. You might picture a Samurai, wielding a four foot razor blade with deadly accuracy in single combat of a battlefield in Japan. For some of us, we may picture someone in the military, for soldiers are the real warriors. This is the common thread between the knight, the Samurai,and the soldier. They really are warriors.

     But is it appropriate for someone who practices a martial art to label themselves a warrior based on this practice alone? Obviously, the martial arts came from somewhere, the word martial means “war type”, based on the root Mars, the Roman God of war. So, this means that martial arts are warrior arts, right?

     Well, that may be an unwarranted jump to an erroneous conclusion. I have long felt that martial arts was an incorrect term for what I practice, but never tried to change it, as I simply followed along with what everyone else was calling it. The sin of the incorrect precedent, I think it is called. 

     There is little real connection between what we do in the training hall, and the realities of combat on the battlefield. For the modern soldier, hand fighting is what they do after everything else has gone wrong. They have a whole host of things they would prefer to do prior to engaging the enemy hand to hand. However, the same cannot be said for the modern martial arts practitioner who wants to classify himself as a warrior. In speaking to one such a few days ago, he told me that he didn’t even want to know how to use a gun. He claimed he was taking the high road in that “anyone can pull a trigger, my skills are the result of years of practice”. And while this line is echoed throughout the martial arts world, the reality of what they are saying is captured in the first line – ANYONE can pull a trigger! Why would you consider yourself a warrior and yet not prepare for any eventuality, and set yourself to the greatest advantage possible?

     The simple fact is that martial arts are fun. They are mostly a sport, with few exceptions wherein the trainees are training for actual hand to hand combat, with only the barest limitations set in place in the interest of protecting the trainees from injury. But even this does not make the trainee a warrior, only a fighter in training.

     There are words which should be used less often and warrior is one of them. Hero is another, along with tragedy. These are important words that should be reserved for important moments. It may be best to stick to the term fighter, and leave the word warrior for the real warriors.


On Mastery

                I was thinking about some of the terms we use every day, or nearly every day, and how we tend to use them incorrectly. In discussing this with a friend, we noted how often people will use the word “momentarily” in a context where the proper word would be “presently”. If you say to someone, “I will be with you momentarily”, what you just told them is that you will be with them for a moment. When you wish to tell someone that you will be with them in a moment, the proper term would be “presently”.

                While this was an interesting discussion, this blog is about martial arts. I wanted to write something about the improperly used words in the martial arts, and so, here is my first entry on the list.  

Master. Right at the top of the list would have to be the word “master”. Personally, I cannot stand this word. I have met many very talented and hard working martial artists. But the term master seems out of line. Implied when one presents themselves as a master of the martial arts is the idea that they know all there is to know, there is nothing left for them to learn, and this cannot ever be the case. The martial arts encompass so broad an area as to be entirely out of reach as far as mastery is concerned. In general categories one might list self protection, sport, and health aspects of the training. Empty hands and weapons. The deeper you go into the training, the broader the number of subspecialties you find. To master them all is hardly possible. Even the mastery of one specialty is out of the question for most people. One can be truly talented, even exceptional. But to be a master is far enough out of reach as to be safely considered impossible.

     Another aspect that I hate in the use of this term is the attitude of the people who claim it for themselves. Most of the people I have met who claimed the title of “Master” were in even worse shape than me, and were lazy. True skill in the martial arts is developed through effort, and it is usually an even trade off. The more effort one puts into proper training, the more results, the less, the less. It is the same as in any other physical skill. Tennis players don’t get better by quitting their training once they make the pros, and then insist on their superior skill while never training, but spending instead, enormous amounts of time philosophizing about tennis and how things “should be done”. I was reading about an old time Judoka recently. It was said about him that when his knees gave out, he intensified his study of ground fighting. That is someone who understood the way. In our time, when something goes out (which is usually the waistline) most people will stop all training, and only talk about martial arts for the rest of their career. Yet, they wish to be referred to as “master”. It is a shame.

I am all for respecting those who dedicate their life to training. But to a one, all of the men and women I have met who come close to fitting the “mater” category were not interested in being called masters, and those who wished to be called masters were self inflated egos looking for outside validation, even if it had to be forced.

If you are secure, you can allow respect to come naturally to you, and you will never need to ask for it. In the end, martial arts are about the training itself. Some of my best memories are from the training hall. The people I met there, trained with, sweated and learned with, and sometimes even bled with made it an amazing experience. I still train, and I still learn something every day, so I cannot call myself a master. And I don’t care to have other people call me one either.

I am still a student. What about you?

Children in the Martial Arts

                As everyone who knows me is aware, but for the benefit of those who may not know me but still read my posts, I teach martial arts for a living. I work for Chuck Norris’ KICKSTART KIDS Foundation. We teach a karate class as an alternative PE credit elective. We are a part of our student’s regular daily class schedule, and this gives us a distinct advantage when it comes to seeing first hand the benefits that children receive from training in the martial arts.

                In a standard commercial martial arts school, attendance from children is inconsistent. And anything we know about the positive benefits from the training, and the impact we have on the lives of our students is going to be heard through the parents.

                Not so for those of us lucky enough to work for KICKSTART KIDS. We see our students in class, in the halls between classes, in the cafeteria, before and after school. We see first hand how they interact with their peers.

                Training in the martial arts changes a child. The wonderful thing about martial arts, in my opinion, is that if the child has a good instructor, they will be successful in it. I do not want any of what follows to seem as if I am speaking ill of team sports, so let me be clear, team sports have a powerful positive impact on the lives of children as well, with the same disclaimer that the coach has to be good at coaching. But what I want to address specifically are the benefits of training in the martial arts.

                Perhaps it comes from some of my life experiences. I was bullied when I was in school. In my early school years (until maybe 4th grade), I was a tiny, sickly timid kid. Later, I was a robust, timid fat kid. I learned early on, without being able to name is such, about the group monkey dance. All I knew at the time was that there was no good reason to trust humans when they get in groups. Once the group mindset came into play, many of the people involved did things completely out of character.  The end result of this and some other experiences led me into martial arts, and later still when I became involved in the sport side of martial arts I really found my niche. Here was a sport, but where my winning and losing was all on me. It wasn’t a situation where if the rest of the defensive line decided to lay down we got destroyed no matter how hard I worked. It was all on me.

                In this setting, the child can learn a lot in a short period of time about self reliance. To the child that participates in martial sports, their ability to truly feel that they can stand on their own will just keep growing. And if they have an instructor who can teach them that the point of the competition is the competition itself, this will only help the child more so. This is one area where some instructors go wrong, and focus only on the actual winning, but this is true for all sports, and going into this in depth would really be like beating a dead horse, so we will move on.

                Self reliance is a much needed character trait in life. The people who do not have the ability stand a much greater chance of being a victim. Anything that can increase a child’s self reliance is a good thing in the long term.

                As stated above, with a good instructor, any child can be good at martial arts. The movements are only slight exaggerations of natural movements in most cases. Especially in the beginner levels, there is nothing really complicated going on. With each technique introduced, the child sees instantly that they can do it right. Self confidence grows. Who doesn’t want their child to be self confident?

                As the student trains more, they get in better physical condition. In America, our kids spend far too much time sitting and playing video games, or sitting and watching TV, or sitting and doing nothing. This is a shame. Enrolling a child in a martial arts class gets them up and moving around, another benefit.

                With martial arts, you don’t need other people or any special equipment to practice. You only need some will power and an open floor space.

                In the standard children’s martial arts class, the instructor will keep things pretty fast paced, and the students are required to answer up and acknowledge each command given. This forces the student to pay attention, and increases their ability to do so. As the classes are dynamic and fun, the student does not become bored, and is engaged in the process of learning. The interaction between student and instructor is a deeply needed psychological affirmation and acceptance that carries a powerful emotional charge for the children involved in the class. Kids want to be noticed, yes, but it is even more important to the child that the child feel accepted. Everyone should be able to understand this need.

                The friendships the child develops in the martial arts class can be long lasting and very positive. I find that when a child is thinking of quitting, their friends have more of an influence on their staying in class than I have.

                Put simply, I believe that there is no down side to placing your child in a martial arts class. The benefits are tremendous, and will serve the child well, even years after they stop training. Don’t focus on the fighting or self defense aspects. Children’s martial arts classes are built on fun, and that is how they should be.

How to become a Fake Martial Arts Master

I have thought for a long time about writing a “how to” on becoming a fake martial arts master. Just the idea of putting in plain sight all of the asinine lies used by those who wish to avoid the traditional road of work and sweat and pain, strung out in the open to show how absurd these guys are seemed like it would be fun. In the end, it wasn’t all that fun. I got kind of depressed part way through the list, because this goes on all the time, every single day. And the guys that do it attract a following, and make a lot of money in many cases. I am not really suggesting anyone should do this, especially the drill or the sun thing. I am writing this as a parody of what some of these people do on a daily basis. If you are dumb enough to do the drill or sun thing…I must legally disclaim any responsibility for the results. Neither one is good for your health.

                Anyway, here it is – “How to become a Fake Martial Arts Master”.

                The first thing you will need to do is read. A lot. You need to devour any book you can find on Eastern thought, philosophy and religion, as well as martial arts. Don’t just read the books once, read them over and over. Memorize certain sections, and be able to regurgitate odd sounding lines that are intentionally vague (this allows you to apply them in many different social contexts, thus adding to your image as a master of all areas of life).

                While you are going about acquiring this extended knowledge of all things eastern, develop the habit of talking very little. Even when you want to expound on your knowledge, refrain. When asked a question, never answer immediately or directly. Pause, close your eyes, and when you open your eyes, give a slight smile, as if the questioner has just come closerthanthis to enlightenment. Then turn the question inside out and ask it back to the questioner.

                You will, of course, need to develop a story of how and from whom you got your super special martial art. Avoid telling people about the award you received for showing up for your first taekwondo class. People love stories about planes crashing in the mountains of Tibet, or lost wanderings in a wooded hill in China, and so on. The more outlandish it is, the more likely it will be believed by the neophyte. If it sounds like something that came out of a movie, it will be believed because that is what people want to believe. This story will need to have some drama, some freak accident or amazing twist of fate which brought you to the secret location of one of the last masters of Shambala (or some such). The master accepts you only grudgingly, and is often openly attempting to make you quit. But oh no, not you! You would never quit.

                The master must have super powers. The ability to read your mind, break unbreakable objects, and so on. Here too, the stranger the better. In the Chinese martial arts there are tales of masters who could do such amazing things as stroke your armpit and cause an electric shock or make you start bouncing! You would be unable to stop bouncing until the master reversed whatever it was he did to you. (I am not joking, unfortunately…). Go wild! Claim that he was able to produce a steady flow of blood from your nose by stroking your left buttock, and make it stop by gently squeezing the right. Tales of masters in China who could tiger claw at the sky and cause birds to fall are common and well worn, so take it a step further – your master could tiger claw the sky and make planes fall (maybe you were in one of them, and that is how you met him…)! Invariably a student will end up asking if you were taught these amazing tricks. Here you have a choice, you could play it humble and tell the student, “He taught me the how, but my skill is not so great as his…yet.” Or you could claim the bird killing ability. “I could kill birds in the sky if I wished…but I cannot wish to kill them…”  For added drama, make the tiger claw with your hand and look to the sky, then look sad and shake your head “no”.

                You will need stories about your training. Avoid humor and make it seem as if your master was harsh, bordering on abusive. Very few people will question why your master was a humble, quiet, nice, violent, abusive, anonymous magician. The purpose of the abuse in your stories is to bring the students to a state of mind where they do not question your methods. They know you went through much worse, and will therefore be ashamed to speak out against your strange training methodology.

                Your training stories should be eccentric, but almost doable.  Do not claim that you had to walk on water, but there is nothing wrong with claiming to have had to run on the surface of a lake for a few yards. It has to be just beyond the realm of possibility. Claim imperviousness to fire. Walking on coals is a parlor trick that has been used for centuries, so feel free to include it. If you are really going to do it, just be sure your feet are wet, and that you don’t stop and stand anywhere on the coals. Holding a horse stance for four or five hours is not possible, but martial artists around the world believe it is. Claim that you were forced to develop the ability.

                People love to think that their master knows some forms or kata that are lost or secret. Use this to your advantage. Claim knowledge of a secret style that no one knew existed. “Tiger striped Polar Bear kung fu”. Keep the secret stuff secret though. You must remember the line, “You are almost ready to learn it.” Never teach it, but mention it from time to time. Whenever a student is going to quit, look sad, and say, “I had thought you were the one I could pass on the secrets to…” They may leave initially, but they will be back.

                Of course since you made up your instructor, you will need to give a reason why he is never seen. The dead instructor bit is over done, but does open the possibility of making the claim that you still train with him, only now you train in the spirit world. Another possibility would be to claim that the instructor lives in a far away country. Tibet would be a good call. This also opens the door for the next thing you would need to do.

                Disappear for days or weeks at a time. You don’t really have to go anywhere special, just make yourself scarce. Go out of town for a weekend or a week. Interesting things to do are come back with a training injury of some kind. Even if you are not into maiming yourself, you can fake sprains and dislocations fairly easily. If you want to go extreme, you could use a power drill to put a hole in yourself and claim to have been shot. By who? Who cares! Say it was the government, foreign soldiers or spies, aliens or ninjas. Whatever it is, make yourself out to be the good guy, but stay light on the details of the story. Details will trip you up – stay vague.

                You will need to make friends with a little idea called subjective validation. Be on the lookout for little coincidences, such as sun shining through a hole in the clouds on a tiny patch of flowers. Stop and pause, smile knowingly, and nod approval for such things. Make no direct claims, but give just enough leading information so that the student is left with the idea that you somehow made it happen. Let the student connect the dots. But if the student asks directly if you made it happen, again, stay vague. Use lines from the old kung fu TV series, “I do not do it. It is not done. There is just a…happening.”

                Do not follow any recognized or coherent teaching methodology. You will need to frequently use lines like “I teach in accordance with your readiness to learn.” If it looks like there is a method, you will lose some of your credibility as an eccentric.

                Whenever you show some character flaw, be sure to keep aware as to the reaction of the students. If you have a violent outburst of temper, pay close attention. If the students are taken aback by it, regain your composure and explain to the students that you must intentionally exhibit such flaws by choice, not by weakness. Tell them it is how you keep the evil spirits away, as otherwise your aura would shine so bright that the evil would come to take you apart, and tell them that such outbursts allow you to “dim the light”.

                Above all, you will need to keep an air of aloofness about you. Space out regularly. Stare at the sun for disturbingly long periods of time. When the students ask how you didn’t go blind, pretend that you can still see and say, “The sun and I are one. Light cannot blind light.” Remain unaffected by heat or cold. Wear short sleeves in the winter and long in the summer. Anytime that it is raining, and a student is there to see it, walk slowly in the rain. Claim that the weather is beautiful, and ask why you should run to the car instead of walking when you will be wet in either case.

                As students begin to come regularly, you will have a small but loyal following of mental slaves. You can convince them to do odd things without being paid. Start small. Ask them to clean the dojo. Once they are doing this regularly without being asked, take it a step further; ask them to clean your house. There was a master in New York that actually had his house remodeled by his students, free of charge, and he even got them to buy the material! No joke, this means the sky is the limit! Never feel guilty about this; you are, after all, the master. They owe you more for your fake martial arts knowledge than they could ever hope to be able to pay in cash.

                Of course, you will need to teach them something. This can be stalled if you have no martial arts experience. Make them work on stances while you try to memorize some stuff off of video. Youtube is a very valuable resource in this. This also opens the door for you to claim to teach many different styles. Claim you found a way to blend Muay Thai and Tai Chi! That should get some really gullible people in the door. You want the gullible people. Beware of any student who comes in and appears to be in great physical condition. They may have come from an MMA school, or a tough training traditional martial arts school, and they just might beat you up. If a student has prior experience in the martial arts, discourage them from signing on unless they agree to forget everything they learned before. Do not allow them to discuss their previous experiences.

                If you are ever beaten up, don’t worry. Just claim that you were absorbing his bad karma, or that you were intentionally taking the hardest method to fill his body with bad Qi, and that he will be dead in a week. When he doesn’t die, if they find out just say you felt guilty and took the bad Qi back.

                In creating your way of doing things, you need to just be free. Do not follow the standard ranking systems. Instead of black belt at the top of the chart, reverse it and make white belt the highest. Or a nice royal purple. Make your rank system structured in such a way that no one will reach royal purple belt for several years. And make as many ranks as possible between where they start and where they end. And for extra income, each rank should have a different colored uniform. Make the uniform color go well with the belt color. If the uniform/belt ensemble is pleasing to the eye, they may be less embarrassed about being a pink belt. Think about it.

If you do not speak any foreign languages, learn to speak gibberish. On occasion, burst into this other language in mid sentence. Explain it away with an off hand comment, “sorry, spending too much time with the Dalai Lama.” Then go right back on topic. If any of the students try to ask about the Dalai Lama admonish them to focus on the lesson now, and then don’t bring it up again for a while.

                Anytime that you are asked a question for which you do not have an answer, there is a catch all term – Qi. When they ask how a technique works, Qi. Why do bad things happen to good people, Qi. How do you get perspiration stains out of a garment, Qi. If a student asks you what is Qi, look around and make a subtle gesture and say, “Qi is…everything.”

                Well, there you have it. All in all, being a fake martial arts master seems like it would be pretty easy. It would have to be a lot easier than training and actually learning a real martial art. I have met many martial artists who were the real thing, and some who were total frauds. Except for the power drill part, everything I listed here comes from people who actually did or said the things I have put into one easy resource.

The three biggest mistakes in kung fu

Kung Fu’s Biggest Mistakes

I read an article by Iain Abernethy titled “Karate’s three biggest mistakes”, and I remember even while I was reading it that I thought I wanted to examine the mistakes made by kung fu and see if there could be some discussion in the kung fu community and even possibly some progress in addressing the problems. There are some issues which can come up in doing this, so let me first say that these problems I list here are being noticed and addressed by some instructors. Also let me be clear, I am giving this as an opinion and an effort to at least begin a discussion. Some of these items are widely seen as a problem, but are not discussed as it can be seen as very bad form to change some ideas which are so widespread.

I have trained in Hung Gar since ’83. I have given myself to the training of this style as my core fighting system, and my basis of knowledge for anything that I have truly internalized in the martial arts. I have trained in other styles, but this has always been my core system. What appealed to me about Hung Gar originally is that it was impressive to watch, and undeniably effective in function. I stayed with Hung Gar for the reason that anyone stays with any martial art, I got along quite well with my instructor. And although I have had training in other Chinese, as well as Okinawan, Japanese, and Korean martial arts, my heart has always been in the Chinese Martial Arts. This is not to say that the Chinese systems are superior, only that they suit me better. Hung Gar is a perfect system for my body and temperament.

Speaking strictly from a Chinese martial arts point of view, I see the following as mistakes which really should be addressed in order to ensure the survival and prosperity of the Chinese martial arts. Here is my list.

1 – The failure to rely on science. While there is much to be said for holding on to some of the traditional aspects of the Chinese Martial Arts, one aspect which we could drop (if we were willing) is the use of pseudoscience.

The reason that so many MMA students turn into aggressive (and sometimes loud) people when a traditional Chinese Martial Arts practitioner is around is simple. There are many, many CMA people who rely on pseudoscience. As MMA students are regularly testing the effectiveness of what they are being taught, they know the subject of practical application well. Much of what is claimed by people who believe some of the mystical martial arts nonsense looks like BS to a student of MMA, and is laughed at because they see it as too ridiculous to hurt anyone. They are not verbally degrading CMA out of fear, but talking down about it as it is seen as absurd to them. Some of these CMA masters make claims well beyond anything possible in the real world. The “masters” will also use facts which cannot be verified, use mythology as a source, ignore anything which may contradict their claims, they make liberal use of subjective validation, and tend to place their faith, as well as the basis for their arguments and claims on ancient ways of thinking. The older the idea, the more reasonable and sound it will be in the eyes of the “master”.

So many times when asking questions, the answer from a “master” is given in vague metaphysical terms. The most common non answer given is “Qi”. And while Qi is the answer, the definition of Qi is always vague. When pressed for a definition the masters tend to get evasive. In the fantastic work “Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals” (Kennedy and Guo), they give three definitions of Qi. As I do not have the book in front of me, I am going to have to go by memory, which tells me the definitions were;

  1. An evasive reply to a question the instructor did not know the answer to (I think the book calls it “don’t ask”)
  2. Efficient biomechanics
  3. Jin (hormones or biochemical reactions within the body)
  4. Life force.

            In English, I think it would be most wise for the instructors to begin to replace the vague word “Qi” with the clear and descriptive words “efficient biomechanics” or “proper body mechanics”. Because in the world where we live, this is the only definition which can be scientifically accepted and tested. The definition of “life force” cannot be measured and charted. You are alive or you are dead. I am not saying there is no such thing as life force, obviously most of us are alive so there MUST be something going on there, but there is no way to study it or observe or test. Remember, it has to be observable, explainable, testable, and repeatable.  

Qi is used most often to create an aura of secret and hidden knowledge. It is intentionally vague because most people who ask the kung fu master a question and are given the answer “Qi” will usually sit in awe of this amazing stuff that makes the technique something supernatural. For much of my early training, I wanted to be near people who had this mysterious stuff, as if though mere proximity, I could get some of my own. Even today, I would give almost anything to see superpowers. After many disappointments where these masters were either unable or unwilling to reproduce the magical effects of their super kung fu on me, I began to see the truth of what my own instructor had told me for so long. The only secret is kung fu. Kung fu means “hard work”. The only secret is hard work. There is more magic in a suspension bridge than in any martial art.

When asked if I believe in Qi, I first have to ask someone to define Qi. If the definition given is this magical nonsense, I have to say a flat no, I do not believe. I cannot prove it does not exist, but the responsibility for proof will lay with those who propose that it does it exists.

When I teach my students, I show them different ways to test, and thereby prove what I am telling them to be true. If it doesn’t work in different situations, and under less than perfect situations, then it is of little value. There was one Qi master who gave a demonstration but was unable to reproduce the effects on a reporter. The excuse he gave was that it didn’t work because the reporter didn’t believe it would work. Really! All it takes to nullify the effects of a Qi attack is to not believe it? Good! I am immune!

Of course we cannot forget this:

Or this:

Or this:

A few years ago I commented honestly from the heart about these and a couple of other videos, and was threatened with a lawsuit by one of the people involved, so I must tread lightly here, but the mystical claims are false. There is nothing here except some people believing in some nonsense.

Real martial arts are brutal, and some of the strikes can result in permanent damage or death, but not because of Qi. It will be based on proper body mechanics and proper targeting of the strike and nothing else. If the instructors of the Chinese Martial Arts could take that leap of faith and let go of the silliness, we could once again be taken seriously in the martial arts community.

This is not to say that there are no Chinese Martial Arts instructors out there teaching the real thing. There are many, but you will need to ask questions and listen to the answers, and not let yourself be swept away by some of the mystical looking skills that you may see.

2 – Not understanding the application of the forms. The Chinese Martial Arts have a pretty bad reputation when it comes to some of the other martial arts. Through time, many of our styles have become very pretty, and often this comes with a loss of functionality. Those few who do try to show the application of the techniques sometimes make some further mistakes that exacerbate the misconceptions of our arts though not understanding the reality of fighting.

We often refuse to admit that there is a lot on useless garbage in our forms. Pretty hand gestures, flips and rolls, and gymnastic like poses are found throughout the Chinese Martial Arts systems. However, when one becomes secure enough to study the applications and stay open minded enough to admit that there are some of the things we do in our forms that serve no purpose in the area of self-protection, then we can open an entirely new field of study. I have gone through one form so far, and am working on the rest in my system, in an effort to identify what parts are useful and which are not. For the parts that are useful, I study with a specific idea – will this application work in a chaotic environment.

When things go bad, they tend to go bad fast. Adrenalin is wonderful, but some of the side effects are a nightmare when it comes to being able to use your fancy techniques. Fine motor skills can vanish completely. Hands will tremble, hearing and vision can become distorted, you might mess your pants, and the list goes on. I remember a car wreck I was in a couple of years ago, and the Police officer needed me to sign a report, and my hands were shaking and I could not grip the pen. He laughed and said, “don’t worry, your fingers will come back…”

Wave Punch

When training applications you need to be sure that you keep in mind all of this. Will it still work with all of the things going wrong? I taught a poor application for Hung Gar’s “wave punch” for years. Just imagine swinging a kettle bell from lower right to upper left and you will have a pretty close idea of what the wave punch is. I was taught originally that it was an arm breaking technique. I later decided that this was impossible, and taught it as a simple swinging arm strike to the underside of the chin. Then in (of all places) a taekwondo school, I used the wave punch without thought – as a deflection of a front kick! Dumped my surprised opponent right down on his keester and left him wide eyes for a few moments. This was when I came to first really understand that the applications are not really going to be all that complicated.

Anything that you teach, or are taught as an application needs to be field tested. I am not suggesting going out and getting into bar fights. I am saying that once you understand the idea that you are being told and are able to perform it with a willing partner; they need to start becoming a less helpful partner. They need to gradually become more resistant to what you are trying to accomplish with the technique and finally end with being completely uncooperative. If the idea cannot be done with an uncooperative opponent, do you really think it will work when you need it and have adrenalin AND an uncooperative adversary to deal with at the same time as well as a host of other circumstantial and situational issues?

There are other considerations to be made when seeking the proper application of any technique, but the study really needs to be made. When you come across something that has no value, admit it and move on. Our art does have a history of being used for entertainment and other types of performance activities, and a lot of the stuff that has no meaning and no functional use is going to come from this. This does not mean that we need to cut out the parts which have no martial application, only that we need to be aware of what is a pose, and what is fighting.

Take the extra time to study the forms from a viewpoint of practical application and you can be a part of a turn for the better in the Chinese Martial Arts community.

3 – A heavy stress on lineage and politics. In Chinese martial arts, as well as martial arts of some other nations, there is a great amount of pride given to lineage. This is relatable to the way in which people may take tremendous pride in the University they attended, even wearing their team colors years after they graduated. In the Chinese Martial Arts, there is a great deal of pride as well as bickering over who learned what from whom.

I want to take a look at this from two points that I feel very strongly about.

First, skill is not hereditary. Just because So-n-So’s Dad was a great kung fu master does not necessarily mean that the son is going to be a great master as well. My Father was a bricklayer, and a fantastic one at that. He did beautiful work. He taught me and taught me, and taught me, and I was never more than an acceptable bricklayer. There was nothing special to my work, and I never built anything truly remarkable. If skills are not hereditary, what on earth makes people believe that training under a well known master means they are as good?

Second, well known does not = “THE BEST”. It just means well known. In some instances the masters were well known because they were remarkable masters of the art. But in other cases, they were well known because of who they knew. Connections have always been important. This still does not pass on to the next generation though.

The best instructors I ever trained under were those men and women who put their heart and soul into the training, and had that relentless drive toward self improvement. They never rested and said, “I’m there! I’ve arrived!” They always put something out there ahead, and one goal reached only meant it was time to set another goal.

These are the people I like to be around. I understand them. Life is short, so why not do something while we are here? I have two big names in my Hung Gar lineage, but I don’t discuss lineage. It is irrelevant to anything I do. I work hard, and have a group of students who like to work hard to. That, my friends, THAT is kung fu. That is the meaning of the art. There is no end point. As Alan Watts used to say of life, “The aim of dancing is not to get to a certain point in the room! The point of dancing is the dance! In music they don’t make the end of the composition the point of the composition. If that were so then the best conductors would be those who played fastest, and there would be composers who wrote only finales. People would go to concerts to hear one crashing chord, because that’s the end!”

The point of the training is not found in who I learned from or in who you learned from, it is in the training itself.

Well, there you have it! My list of the three things I think are wrong with Chinese Martial Arts. I think if we, as a community of CMA practitioners would try to address these three issues, we could go a long way toward restoring the respectability of our arts.

Abernethy, I. (2011). Karate’s Three Biggest Mistakes (Online), Available iaianabernethy.com

Hartman, R. ( 2011). TKDTutor [Online]. Available: TKDTutor.com [March 31, 2011]

Kennedy and Guo (2009) “Martial Arts Training Manuals An Historical Survey”