Martial Arts

Where Kung Fu Falls Short

Kung fu is a fighting art.

Of course, there are peripheral benefits such as improved focus, physical fitness, mental fortitude and discipline — all things that you can also acquire in a ballet class The difference is – kung fu is a fighting art.  A martial art.  A ‘warlike’ art.
The ability to move your hands and feet around in fancy positions does not make you a martial artist.  Far too many kung fu practitioners today; both sifu and student have lost sight of this.  They get stuck on forms.  Only forms.  Over and over.  Forms certainly have their benefits.  I’m a huge advocate of practicing them as part of your regular routine.  But they should only be one component of the larger picture.

If you’re not incorporating a well balanced array of all fighting elements into your training, then you’re not practicing a fighting art.
1. Speed Work
2. Strength and Conditioning Work
3. Technique Applications
4. Sparring
5. Improvement of Stamina
6. Improvement of Overall Fitness

And if your instructor doesn’t promote these skill sets, go somewhere else.

Speed Work.
I don’t care what physiological explanation someone throws at you;  if you train slow, you will fight slow.  You will react slow. Your muscle memory will plateau at that sustained slow pace.  Fast twitch muscle fibers that are not utilized and non-existent in practice will not magically appear in combat.
Slow kung fu:  Beneficial in other ways? Yes.  A fighting art?  No.

Strength & Conditioning Work.
Your body is a machine.  Optimize it.  You may be 300lbs and able to generate massive power. But how long until you gas out?  Keeping your cardio at its highest level will be extremely advantageous to you when you face off with someone of similar ability, but zero stamina.
Power lifting? No. But you should incorporate some type of weight training into your routine. Just be sure it fits within the specificity of training for your art. Example: hip abduction and adduction is very beneficial to Wing Chun practitioners and those of the 3 main Hakka arts: Pak Mei, Lung Ying & Southern Praying Mantis. It strengthens the inner and outer thighs, which aids in maintaining a firm stance while the upper body moves at high speeds.

Technique Applications.
This is the academic part of training. Learn the function of each movement and extremity. Learn the angles involved in offense and defense. Get a sense of the distance involved to land or block a strike effectively.
Self analysis is equally as important as formal instruction. Learn how these techniques work for your body type and skill sets.
It’s OK to do the old’ “if I do this, you do this” on occasion.  Just don’t let it be the pinnacle of your comprehension of your system.  That lies in sparring.

Sparring.

Apply everything mentioned above into real time. Real speed.  Real power.  Real reaction time.  You’ll soon get to know yourself; your strengths and weaknesses.  You’ll learn others’ strengths and weaknesses as well.
You’ll learn which techniques work for you and which don’t. My Sifu always emphasized that no one will master the application of all techniques. It is smart and efficient to find your strengths and cultivate them as sharply as possible.

  • Don’t be that guy who claims to be able to break bricks with a mean glare.
  • Don’t be the guy who claims he can flick his finger and knock 10 people across the room.
  • Additionally, and somewhat off topic; don’t be the internet sifu posting nasty and pretentious comments on Youtube telling people that their “footwork is off by 1 millimeter” (said in Arnold Horshack’s voice) during their form.

All of the above are an embarrassment to kung fu – and are key players in “Where Kung Fu Falls Short”.

  • Be the guy who can apply his system’s techniques during sparring.
  • Be the guy who examines and hones all aspects of training and is constantly out to improve his skill and understanding.

Be honest to yourself:  are you a martial artist or not?

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The “Fair-Weather Coach” Quandary

I’ve rarely seen this happen with a coach or a head instructor.  The main perpetrators tend to be fellow students with seniority over you.
These “fair-weather-coaches”, as I call them…haven’t been following your training for some time; either due to other priorities or absence.  Well, they’ve returned to the school and immediately start barking instructions at you.  No knowledge of your progression.  No familiarity with your recent or current injuries.  No sense of what you’ve been focusing on and the direction your training has been going.

But they’re your senior, so you respectfully comply – reluctantly in some cases.

This has happened somewhat frequently in my training history.  It’s especially difficult in the Asian arts where hierarchy, rank and seniority are written in stone; regardless of ability and intelligence.  Some pretentious seniors pull rank far too frequently.

In many cases, seniors have disappeared for years.  Then out of no where – no announcement – there’s the novelty cameo appearance that’s unfortunately too frequent.  People who do nothing for the school.  Don’t help.  Don’t contribute. Put no effort into growing the school and student base… come through the door as if a triumphant parade was in order.
Any implemented structure goes out the window. People stop what they’re doing to greet them. Other times, they interrupt the training session and start talking to students.  *You can see the awkward reluctance in the students’ expressions, as they want to continue training instead of stopping cold to talk.  But again – they’re respectful to their own detriment.
This is the disruptive aspect.

The frustrating and counter-productive aspect of these types is when they start correcting you.  They themselves are visibly out of shape and clearly out of practice.  THEY HAVE THEIR OWN SKILLS TO WORK ON – they should not be worrying about what a ‘junior’ [yet consistent] student is doing; even if what they’re doing is wrong.

This is a very sore spot for me

Please worry about your own training!

The Passing of my Sifu, Master Kwong Man Fong 1945-2015

Roughly sixteen years ago, I became disenchanted with the overly-commercialized kung fu school I was attending. It had all the bells and whistles you’d expect to see in a kung fu school; but the curriculum didn’t offer much beyond a decent workout.

Thus the hunt for real kung fu in New York City began…

I don’t mean to short-change any other schools in the area, but none that I visited seemed to have what I was looking for.
It eventually reached the point to where I’d given up on Chinese martial arts; visited some Aikido schools, some Kendo schools, even Capoeira schools… and made a final decision to begin training in Muay Thai. I’d signed up for my trial class and was set to join.
Then I heard about a White Eyebrow school in lower Manhattan.

I’d read about the style, and didn’t know much about it beyond a few magazine articles and internet posts. I decided to stop by and watch a class.

That was it all it took!

Sparring was intense. Workout was intense. People weren’t dancing around exhibiting superfluous, flowery movements like many other systems. In fact, it was the complete opposite. The style was brutal, fast, blunt and aggressive. No belts or satin sashes. No fancy uniforms. Just real, raw martial arts ——– exactly what I was looking for!

The day of my first [Saturday morning] class, I came home that afternoon, dropped on my couch and slept for about 4 hours. Total exhaustion. My mind was made up. This was the system to which I was ready to devote all of my efforts.

As time progressed, I would come to devote all of my loyalty; and eventually become a trusted member of the organization.
And in 2005, I was accepted as a Todai (disciple) of Sifu Kwong Man Fong.

He was fair. He would teach anyone provided they had a willingness to learn; albeit advanced knowledge was only transmitted to those he trusted. That’s just how it usually is within the Chinese martial arts’ social infrastructure.

We were trained like pit bulls. Sparring sessions would sometimes get out of hand. But each injury would serve as a lesson-learned. We’d always emerge with valuable lessons. Plain and simple – this was to prepare us for reality. Sifu was without a doubt, a realist.  And he knew exactly what was needed to produce an efficient fighter.

Our “full power” was never enough – always pushing us to push ourselves further than our own will would allow. When we would show improvement, we’d hear, “not bad” – the ultimate compliment. When we’d get worse or misunderstand, he would explain a few different ways – and if we still didn’t get it, we’d hear his laugh followed by, “not yet”.

On a very personal note, as a non-Chinese practitioner, after my Baai Si (discipleship ceremony), my Sifu treated me with absolute equality. He taught me the same way as the Chinese Todai. I don’t know if he’d ever known how much that meant to me, but I viewed it as a great blessing – a great honor. He could’ve spoken in Chinese for the whole class, translated nothing – and asked the other students not to translate certain things. But he went out of his way to speak English for my benefit — and what he didn’t know how to say in English, he would wait until my seniors would generously translate it for me.

Knowing and learning from Master Kwong Man Fong has been a profound experience – one that can never be replicated. To think that someone of his skill level, his lineage, and his accomplishments has passed down a system of kung fu to a once discipline-less troublemaker like myself is truly humbling. I will be sure to honor, retain, and pass on his teachings.

He will be sorely missed.

Sifu - Matt 2001-2

Sifu Kwong Man Fong
1945-2015

RIVAL RS2V PRO SPARRING GLOVES

Rival RS2V-Pro Sparring gloves-Velcro

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Click Images for more info.

I’ve been using these for the last 2+ years and LOVE THEM!  [16oz]
Easy to undo the velcro (as long as you have your front teeth), great fit, they breathe fairly well, slick design.  They’ve been well-used since I’ve had them and are still in great condition. Minimal care has been needed too:
– always keep them out of my gym bag
Glove Dogs
Cleaning spray
– always use clean hand-wraps

Once these crap-out, I’ll probably replace them with another set of Rivals.
I’ve used the following in the past: G&S, Hayabusa, Top King. Rivals are easily my favorite. In due time, I’ll throw out a review for all of the above.

* this is all based on personal preference!

“THE IRON AGE” – Bicycling Magazine Article 7/12/2012 -Jens Voight

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This is an article worth reading from Bicycling magazine that targets people in the +/-40 age group.
The article is obviously geared toward cycling, however its wording is easily interchangeable with martial arts; more specifically, its anaerobic demands.

http://www.bicycling.com/blogs/hardlyserious/iron-age

“I have been thinking so much about age this year because I turned 40, and a big crop of young future stars is in the pack now. Getting older makes cycling harder in some ways, but I have also realized there are some surprising benefits. Here’s a little of both for you to think about.

1. Getting in shape takes longer. When you are 21, you progress quickly. After just one week of hard training you feel improvement. Things don’t happen quite so quickly when you get older, so you need more time preparing for your goals.

2. You have to train specifically to maintain bursts of speed. The older you get, the slower you get. You lose fast-twitch muscle fibers as you age. Do more sprint training! You need short power workouts—painful, highly anaerobic intervals that work on high-end speed. I was never a sprinter, but the ability comes in handy at other times, like when you accelerate sharply to try to get into a breakaway. I like to do a series of six 30-second all-out sprints with a two-minute recovery. Oh, do they rip the hell out of my legs!

3. You must sleep more. The older you get, the more you have little aches and pains, and recovery from them is slower. Good sleep makes a big difference. I’m talking ideally about a full night of sleep without interruption (with a house of six kids I know I am asking for a lot here), but eight hours total works for me. Also: Sleep before midnight is more important than sleep in the morning hours.

4. You have to stretch. Your old body, or at least mine, gets stiff like a piece of wood. The benefits of stretching won’t be immediately apparent (and actually are sometimes≠ quite painful) but over time you will notice you feel better. I am no flexibility maniac like Stuart O’Grady, but I work some simple flexibility routines into my day when I am brushing my teeth or waiting≠ for a bus or cab. My favorite stretches involve the calf and lower back.

5. You really, really are what you eat. When I was younger I could eat anything. And to be honest I had no choice. As part of the East German sports-school system, I lived in a dormitory and always ate cafeteria food full of starches and chemicals. Now I notice a difference in my riding when I’m eating fresh food and buying food from a controlled farm or region where there are no chemicals. The downside is that this food does not last very long at all. The old East German boxed milk would last for three months!

THE BENEFITS

1. You know your body. I used to ignore what my body was trying to tell me—I was sure I could ride through problem times. Now I know that when my body is telling me to stop—day after day, not like in a race when my legs are complaining—it means it. Take a rest.

2. You’ve stopped wasting time looking for the easy way out. With age you realize there is no magic shortcut, no way to make cycling less painful, no way to make an intense interval workout not intense. That’s wisdom! Only pedaling and painful training makes you better.

3. You have developed the best work ethic. If you are still riding when you reach an age like this, it is because you love the sport. You love it enough to not give half an effort. It is like you want to honor the sport with your performance. That’s something kids can’t really understand.

4. You can deal with defeat. Losing never tastes good, but it does become easier to digest. I think this comes from life outside racing. Live long enough and at some point you have to deal with a crisis that is much more serious than what any of us do on a bike. At least I know I have, and such experiences put race results in perspective.

5. You are more cut than the kids. I admit that this is the advantage I love the most. An older rider is leaner and more ripped than those who are still carrying baby fat around their hips!”

Thoughts from a Kung Fu Drummer

KFDrummer

I started martial arts at age 11 – four years before I also took up drumming.

Over the decades my loyalty has rotated between the two, but I never lost sight of one in place of the other. Since studying Pak Mei kung fu in particular, I’ve noticed that the two disciplines hold a mutually beneficial relationship.  Drumming represents a parallel manifestation of Pak Mei principles and has undoubtedly supplemented my understanding of the system’s physical demands as a whole.

I’m not speaking of Tun, Tou, Fau, & Chaam  — but rather the external/internal; hard/soft; yum yeung(aka yin yang) concept of power generation.  No drummer, no matter the music genre can play while completely stiff (yeung).  That stiffness is one of Pak Mei’s biggest obstacles.  In both disciplines, there HAS to be a period of loose transition between strikes.  A stiff arm can’t break a drum stick just by hitting a drum.  A stiff arm can’t execute Pak Mei power.  One needs [among countless other things] finesse and flexibility through the shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers in order to add extra torque and whipping power to each hit.

Ever since I started studying -or rather, began “understanding” Pak Mei and translating its internal power into drumming, I break sticks, heads and cymbals left and right. (I play mostly heavy music)  

 This is why practitioners from purely External systems cannot easily learn Pak Mei.  Subtlety and finesse, followed by crushing short-range power only at the moment of impact is what makes Pak Mei so great.

In addition … there’s also the detached consciousness in drummers that allows all limbs to act independently of one another. Just like in Pak Mei, in almost every technique, each limb has its own job to do.  Back leg roots, front leg charges, waist turns, body rises/sinks, one arm defends, the other attacks, etc etc — all in the same technique.

There are so many other comparisons, not only with drumming/Pak Mei, but music & martial arts as a whole. I remember reading an old Modern Drummer magazine….forgot the drummer in question, but he said how his time spent studying Tai Chi had also improved his drumming.

Just sharing what runs through my head during my commute…