6 Things to control in any fight

Not that you will control all of them all the time, but the more of them you do control, the better off you are.  Here I am, having one of my occasional bouts with insomnia.  I have learned that when my mind attacks a topic when I am trying to sleep, it is better for me to just let it go, write it down and move on.  So here we go!

A number of years ago, and by a number I mean over 10, I realized that controlling distance in my sparring matches seemed to make a big difference in my outcomes.  I didn’t fully understand all that that entailed but it put me on the road to thinking through what I labeled in my head as the fundamentals of fighting.  Basic concepts, strategies, or principles that would guide successful fighting that transcended any style or body of technique.  My list is by no means comprehensive, but tonight I want to talk about 6 of them.  Specifically the 6 controls.

I divide them into the 3 internal controls and the 3 external controls because that just makes sense in my brain.

First I will list them, then I will describe what I mean by them.  Keep in mind, that I don’t have these mastered, I am still exploring how to accomplish controlling each one of these.  I am sure there are hundreds of unique ways, but each fighter has to discover how THEY will control them.

Internal:

  1. Distance
  2. Position
  3. Timing

External:

  1. Tools
  2. Balance
  3. Psyche

I divide them internal vs external because it makes sense to me, but maybe it doesn’t make sense to others.  I will explain my thinking.  By internal I am talking about things I control directly myself.  I am looking at them by looking at myself in comparison to my opponent.  They are me focused… more or less.  By external I am talking about things outside of myself, my opponent centered.  Many of these things are related to each other and one will often lead into the other.  Controlling distance will often times influence timing/tempo of the fight.  Controlling tools often enables you to control your opponent by controlling position.

Distance:

When you control distance, you force your opponent to fight by your rules.  You might want your opponent to stay away from you to slow down his offensive and rob him of options.  Or you might keep him in a range that favors you and your skill sets.  Kick a puncher, punch a kicker, grapple a striker, strike a grappler.  All of those things are largely controlled by controlling distance.  When you want to control your opponent by keeping them at bay, how do you prevent them from rushing in?  How do you prevent them from grabbing you?  How do you prevent them from creeping in close?  When you want to be close, how do you overcome their attempts to stay away?

Position:

In grappling, controlling your opponent through position is more clear cut than in striking.  Often the position is constantly changing while you are in stand up.  The goal is not to maintain a single position, but to maintain a level of control over the position.  To keep your opponent fighting for the position change then change it in a way they don’t want… so you maintain the advantage.  This may be accomplished by using control over distance, or balance, or tools, or psyche, or just through timing your moves well.  You might choose to maintain control through position by using attacking strategies to keep them on the defensive then switching to a different advantageous position.  Or you may recognize they are countering your positioning, so you may abandon the position prematurely to stay ahead of their attempt to gain the advantage through their own position changes.

Timing:

Timing refers to both the timing of your movements to your opponents and also the pace of the fight.  If conditioning is on your side, you may win the fight solely by keeping the tempo so intense they can’t maintain their defense long enough to win.  Or it could simply mean that you are timing your maneuvers so well that you are always capitalizing on the windows of opportunity that present naturally in every confrontation.  Not moving too soon or too late.  When they are always responding to your changes and tempo and never seem to be able to get the upper hand, you may be controlling the timing/tempo and that might be what is giving you the advantage over them.

Tools:

Controlling your opponent via their tools means that through physical contact you are preventing them from getting their body into play the way they want or need to be able to do.  This may be accomplished by clinching with them, or controlling their head with a headlock, or grabbing their arm, or by checking their hips, or stepping on their toes, or applying pressure on their elbows to move their body and jam up their arms.  This might enable you to gain control over the position or their distance or their balance.  Often it is a good window into their psyche as well.

Balance:

When your balance is off, it is very difficult to mount or continue an attack.  Sometimes the defensive strategy is to simply unbalance them in the middle of their attack.  While they are fighting to stay balanced they cannot mount effective attacks.  The trick is to not be unbalanced with them when they accept the loss and invest in it.  This is often how throws and takedowns start, or how grappling sweeps and escapes are accomplished.

Psyche:

This can mean many things.  It can cover getting your bluff in early.  Faking out your opponent by leading them to believe one thing but doing another.  Influencing their emotions in order to control the tempo of the fight and exhaust them too quickly.  “Reading” their mind.  Intimidating them.  Inflating their ego then baiting them into a trap. You want to control how they feel or what they think so you can undermine the effectiveness of their actions.

The focus should be on figuring out how to gain control of the fight by controlling your opponent through one of these 6 pathways, or more than one.  But remember, it can be a rapidly changing environment, don’t fight to hold on to one if it looks like you are going to lose it, simply switch to another.  I might control the distance to get position, then control tools and balance to keep it, only to switch to a tempo/timing strategy to gain control of them via their psyche then back to distance.  The important thing is that you not be afraid of change and that you control the scenario by controlling one or more of these at all times.

Train smart so you can fight easy!

 

 

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Why do we slow the sparring down?

When new people come to class and they participate in sparring for the first time, they’re often surprised at the fact that I won’t let them spar at full speed initially. I almost always have to explain that if they go to full speed before they really develop any technique, all they end up doing is fighting without technique. Slowing things down gives the brain and the body a chance to figure out how to do what they do in the proper way while still giving you the opportunity to struggle against an opponent who is not letting you do what you do.

 

It gives you the opportunity to develop timing, distance management, position control, control over your opponents tools, balance, and psyche while still figuring out proper use of technique at speeds that your brain can actually engage in consciously.

 

The first question people ask me is, “people don’t fight at this speed, so why are we training at this speed?” That’s a valid question, because they’re right. People don’t fight at that speed. And if I stalled them at that speed forever, they would never really learn how to fight under pressure. But it doesn’t stop there, it’s a progression. For people who are brand new with no body structure, stepping methods, body of technique, and you are afraid of getting hurt this is where you start… Super slow. But then you progress to a little faster, then a little faster and a little harder, and a little faster and a little harder. The secret is not at the speed, but in the progression of intensity.

 

I firmly believe that starting people out at full power and full speed without establishing a foundation first is going to lead to a much longer skill development process in the long run. You have to train the technique under pressure, but if the pressure surpasses your ability to perform the technique, then you don’t end up training the technique under pressure, you just end up being under pressure. While there is some benefit to practicing under pressure, it is not in technique development.

 

At my school we go through five levels of progression in sparring, each with their own goals. Most of those we do without significant padding, because we’re training for self-defense primarily. On the street you’re not going to have headgear and chest protectors and gloves. Also, the techniques that we are training cannot all be done with a pair of gloves on. Since we hit with a lot of palm strikes, gloves don’t really add any protection anyway.

 

Our first level of sparring is what we call the Slow, because it is super slow. I make people move so slow, that it is almost impossible to actually win because the other person can think through your attack with more than enough time to mount an effective defense. The primary reason for this is that the primary goal of super slow sparring is to teach people how to defend. The first goal of fighting should always be defense. The ability to shut down your opponent’s attacks should be first and foremost in your goals. From a foundation of good defense, comes the ability to launch effective attacks. In addition to this, there is very little fear so people can begin to move in smart ways without the fear that would hinder them. They develop good motor pathways and good habits that they can rely on as things start to get more intense later.

 

The next level we call the Flow. This is still slow, but fast enough that you can begin flowing into actual techniques and strategies that will allow you to successfully win, i.e. score a hit or whatever you’re attempting. It’s a very natural progression from the super slow as most people have trouble staying at super slow, which is good. Once they can show good technique, timing, footwork, and control at super slow speeds then it’s time for them to progress to a harder pace. Just like at super slow sparring, flow sparring is a set tempo. That means we’re not allowed to change our pace suddenly. Also there’s no power. The goals for flow sparring are a progression from slow sparring. We’re beginning now to get into the offensive side of things, while maintaining our strong defense that we developed in slow sparring and our continuous flow of motion.

 

At level three, we call it the Low Sparring, we introduce changes of tempo, faster speeds, and light power. This is where we introduce intensity. And things definitely change, things you could do at slow and flow speeds, you cannot do as effectively at low speeds. Once we progress people to the point where they can effectively train at this level, this is where they stay for a while. I won’t let them progress faster than this until they can demonstrate that they’ve met the goals associated with this level. Which is a progression of the continuous flow of motion, the maintenance of the strong defense, and the effective utilization of offensive strategies. When a person is fighting well at this level of intensity and speed, then we finally start putting on pads for the next level.

 

At level 4, we call it Go level, we up the power, up the speed, and up the intention. We are now working at full speed, medium power, and the intention of actually hitting or controlling our opponent effectively. The only difference between this and full contacts sparring is the intent. I’m not actually trying to hurt them or neutralize them, but at this speed and power if I hit them there will be soreness and bruising. This is why we generally wear body pads such as shin guards, head protection, and sometimes chest protectors. Gloves are optional, as they don’t actually help much.

 

The secret to growth is multi faceted, it requires the absence of ego, consistent and frequent practice, but also the right set of progressions.

 

Train smart so you can fight easy!

 

 

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School Updates

Laoshi Justin (first degree) tested his first white sash student this summer.  This makes my 5th grand student.  The other 4 are not active, they have moved on in life to other things.  He also started his first class at his church.  Very exciting.

Richard Cameron tested for his black sash, my first student to do so with the 10 degree system.

Tonight, Brent Emanuel will be testing for his white sash in the bagua system, the first student of mine to do so.

Another black sash of mine, Andrew Colson, graduated HS, college with his AS, and got married… it’s been a busy year for him.

My shifu was promoted to 6th degree.

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How do I get calm?

Recently I was able to visit some kung fu family on the other side of the country.  While we were all sitting around and visiting, a question from a younger belt was raised.  “How do I get calm?”  Such a great question, and he got some really good advice from more experienced students.

I personally identify with the sentiment behind the question.  And I have reflected on the answers given over that last week.  Staying calm and focused in the middle of an intense experience is very difficult, yet vital to the leveling up of the individuals abilities.  I feel like this is one of the goals I have spent more energy on attaining than almost any other in my training thus far.  I am not sure I have really attained it yet either.

It is so much more than just “not panicking” … although that is a good first step.  It’s about being able to reach a state where you are free from the restraints of fear, frustration, self judgement, and insecurity.  Each one of those elements require addressing individually in order to reach the goal.

Insecurity is the feeling of not being confident that you are good enough. Confidence from practice helps with the insecurity a little. Progression is key to this kind of practice based confidence.  Solo practice can only bring so much confidence, at some point you have to progress to more difficult circumstances, someone has to challenge you more. Something even deeper that helps even more is the removal of expectations.  The enemy here is pride.  This is a personal journey.  I find that when I can enter a competitive scenario with no expectations of myself to win then I am free of the distraction of the little voice in my head that is berating me about my performance and placing pressure on me to “not lose”.  This allows me to focus and relax even more.  But I also notice that my mind likes to focus on my failures instead of my successes.  Redefining my expectation of what I think I should be capable of is very important.  It’s ok.  It’s ok that you are where you are in your training.  The color of the belt around your waist doesn’t matter.  The number of degrees on it doesn’t matter either.  Neither does how many years you have been training.  Just be what you are and accept it.  It is what it is, and you are what you are.  Acceptance of yourself as you are without expectation or judgement is a vital part of maturity both martially and individually.

Freeing yourself of the enemy of fear is almost impossible, but freeing yourself of the restraints of fear is doable.  This is called stress inoculation, but in order to do it successfully you need a family who you can trust to challenge you to the point that you can begin to acclimate to the pressure of high intensity training.  As is so often true, trust is needed to combat fear.  It starts with determining that you are going to trust the person you are training with to not hurt you, even though it feels like they could.  This means you have to have people you can trust with this.  If they are not trustworthy in this regard, then don’t.  I find that it is helpful sometimes to ask myself the question, “what am I afraid of?”  More times than not, I am not really afraid of hurting myself, but instead I am afraid of failing, or looking foolish.  These things need to be recognized.  Surround yourself with people who encourage you.  Who make you feel safe.  If you don’t try you won’t ever succeed, and no success comes without failure and looking foolish sometimes. Just keep working at it.

Frustration often comes from failure.  It’s ok to fail in training… it’s expected and necessary.  A few things you need to keep in mind.  Everyone is different, they learn at different rates and have different backgrounds and skill sets to build on.  They might pass you up.  Less experienced people may outperform you.  It’s ok.  You just do you.  Perseverance and acceptance are the keys to overcoming frustration.  If you don’t quit, then you will get it eventually.  If this was easy they wouldn’t call it kung fu.  If it was easy it would likely not give fulfillment and satisfaction in the accomplishment of it.

Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath, accept you will fail, understand that it’s ok – at any level of skill or experience.  Embrace your training family, instead of expecting something unrealistic of yourself, let them help you.  Trust them and trust yourself.  Silence that ego and self-judging voice in your head.

Train hard, so you can fight easy.

 

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Teaching Titles in Chinese Kung Fu

When I first started in Chinese Kung Fu, I didn’t really understand the titles used for the teachers.  Like many people, I only knew the Japanese title Sensei (teacher).  This is where the Chinese and the Japanese titles start and end in their commonality.  In Chinese, the equivalent to Sensei is Laoshi ().  They are literally the same word pronounced differently but using the same characters between the languages.  In Chinese kung fu the titles are based on family systems, and thus they take on the family structure.  To my understanding, in Japanese this is not true.  While Laoshi () is a generic title for any instructor in any topic or material set, many of the kung fu titles for teachers and class relationships are not generally used outside of the kung fu context.   Also of note, none of these titles infer rank inherently.  A Shifu could outrank a Shiye, and a Laoshi could outrank them both.  They generally only define your relationship to the specific teacher.  Some times they are awarded and not used until that award is bestowed upon them, and sometimes they are assumed the moment the relationship begins.  Depending on culture and personal preference, some teachers may choose to simplify things and use the title Laoshi exclusively.  Some parts of China view Laoshi to be the more honorable title, while some places use it as a junior title in a series of progressions similar to what’s used in college settings with Instructor, Assoc. Prof., and Prof. titles.  Things can be further complicated by the prevalent use of both Mandarin and Cantonese for the same words as well as the different ways to write them in English alphabet.   Many people choose to use titles that they have claim to outside of the class settings such as Doctor or Professor, and many styles use the title Professor in English over the Chinese terms.

Here is a list of the titles, their characters, and translations per my research thus far: (simplified character sets represented here)

  1. Shifu (pin yin spelling)/Shrfu (Wade Giles spelling)/Sifu (Cantonese): Teacher (class) Father () also Master Teacher (). These words sound identical but can carry with them different nuances.  Master Teacher is more commonly used outside of the martial context (at least this is my understanding)
  2. Shimu/Sumu/Simou: Teacher (class) Mother ().  While in dictionaries this is translated as “honorific title for teachers wife”, I have in a rare scenario seen it used by a female teacher in place of Shifu.  Per my research, most female teachers use the Shifu title despite the male gender meaning.  Possibly the Master Teacher variant.
  3. Shiye/Suye/Sije: Teacher (class) Grandfather (). This is used in one of two ways, either as the teacher of your teacher, thus the same person might be called Shifu by you and Shiye by your student.  Or, as the head of a system, where only that individual uses that title.  Most commonly, it is in the former… again, per my research.
  4. Shigong/Sugong/Sigung: Teacher (class) Grandfather (). This is used the same way as Shiye, as gong is another word for grandfather (maternal vs ye as paternal).  Per my research this is often translated into English as “Honorable Master” and is used as the head of the system more often than Shiye might get used for that title.
  5. Shilao/Sulao/SilouTeacher (class) Grandmother (). Most often used as the wife of a Shiye or Shigong. Lao is a maternal grandmother title in typical Chinese conversation.
  6. Shizhang/Suzhang/Sizoeng: Teacher (class) Husband (). This is used for a husband of a female teacher.
  7. Shibo/Subo/Sibak: Teacher (class) Uncle (). This title is used for a class uncle.  In typical Chinese conversation, Bo is used for your fathers elder brother.  Unsure if this carries over into the class context or if it is universal for all uncles.
  8. Shixiang/Suxiang/Sihing: Teacher (class) Older Brother (师兄). This title would be used for a class brother who is your “elder”.
  9. Shijie/Sujie/Size: Teacher (class) Older Sister (). This title would used for a class sister who is your “elder”.
  10. Shimei/Sumei/Simui: Teacher (class) Younger Sister (). This title is used for a class sister who is your “younger”.
  11. Shidi/Sudi/Sidei: Teacher (class) Younger Brother (). This title is used for a class brother who is your “younger”.

Also “elder” or “younger” is generally used based on when the people started, not always based on rank or skill.  However, these titles can be adapted in each school for individual purposes, and often are, so you should learn how they are used in your school’s context.

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Updates

Jan. 2020 I saw my first student test for 2nd degree black sash, Logan Urbeck.  Then in the summer of 2021 he achieved Shifu title (also my first student to reach this level).

Jan 2020 also saw a first degree test for black, Andrew Wilson (probationary til he turned 16 in June of 20).  In Summer of 2021, Andrew reached Laoshi title.

Christmas of 2020, Justin received his Teachers License.

Richard Cameron is approaching black sash, tentatively in November of 2022

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Evolution of the Tang Shou Dao (Tao)

When I started in the internal arts, I began in the Shen Long TST lineage. I didn’t really know a lot of the unique history of the lineage, and I was curious. I asked my teacher questions, his teacher questions, and searched voraciously to learn as much as I could about the origin of this lineage of which I was now a part.

I found the TST line to be unique, it had clearly gone through an evolution of sorts that set it apart from the typical Xing Yi Quan I was seeing online and represented in books. It was subtle, mostly. A larger emphasis on the rear step to root the power, scaled down movements in terms of size to emphasize shorter power, a tighter fighting guard in the san ti shi, and some unique waist mechanics to create the power. But it also possessed some things that no other line of Xing Yi in the world had… the 8 step forms.

There were 5 forms that were used as introductory forms in the TST line, specifically the Shen Long TST line. Namely:
1. Babuda
2. Balienshou
3. Bashou
4. Batangquan
5. Meihuatui

There were a few others that were unique to this line as well that did not clearly scream that they belonged to the art of Xing Yi Quan specifically. The TST line was unique in a number of ways that I will just list:

1. the addition of forms not found in other XYQ lineages
2. the way it was organized
3. it combined the three big internals (xing yi, ba gua, and tai ji)
4. the use of uniforms and belts (sashes)

While there were other lineages that also taught all three arts, none of them did it the way that the TST line did, or not so I was aware in all my research.

The first question I wanted to know was what happened to bagua and taiji? You see, historically all three had been in my lineage, but now only the one art was. I found out that my teacher’s teacher had never learned the other two from his teacher (Xu HongJi) before he had died. After a while, I realized that in all my research – I had never found a student of Xu HongJi who had learned either Ba Gua or Tai Ji from him. It made me wonder if Xu had even learned those arts from his teacher, Hong Yi Xiang.  Alas, I will probably never know the answer to that question. My gut says, probably not, or not in their entirety.  But either way, I do not believe he chose to incorporate them into his schools curriculum. I was told by one student of Xu that Hong was not given permission to teach the BGZ or TJQ from his teacher, Zhang Jun Feng. I will circle back to this point later.

Let’s go back in time to the early 1900’s. Tian Jian, China was a popular place for the internal stylists to live and teach. We know that Gao Yi Sheng lived there, as did Li Cun Yi. They were the primary source of knowledge for Zhang Jun Feng, who was a merchant that studied privately with these two men. He learned Hebei Xing Yi from Li Cun Yi and what would later be termed Gao style (a Cheng style) Ba Gua from Gao Yi Sheng. Somewhere along the way, he learned Wu-Hao (a Yang derivative) style Tai Ji, but we don’t know from whom. In 1948, he was forced to leave China because of the Communist revolution. He settled in Taiwan with a large number of other Chinese immigrants. He didn’t have much luck with his business, so he fell back on teaching the martial arts, as he had gained some attention for his skills. He opened up the Yi Zong school, a name given to his line of Ba Gua from Gao Yi Sheng.  Doctor Kenneth Fish trained with him some time after that and reports that he taught BaShou and BaShi at that time, so we know that those 2 forms pre-dated the TST formation. From other research it was clear that many lines of Xing Yi taught a form called Bashi so that one was even older than Zhang himself. I have not found any other lineage of Xing Yi or Ba Gua that teaches Bashou, and it is a clear fusion of the Xing Yi animals and the linear Gao forms, so it is likely that it is post Gao Yi Sheng, maybe even a creation of Zhang himself.

Zhang became quite successful at teaching the martial arts, even training the Taiwanese President and some of the military commanders of the time (this becomes relevant in my Ba Gua lineage which I trained in much later). He eventually began training three siblings. Hong Yi Xiang, Hong Yi Mian, and Hong Yi Wen. Each one of them were either given a specialty by Zhang or just grew into them organically. Yi Xiang was the Xing Yi guy, Yi Mian Ba Gua, and Yi Wen Tai Ji. As far as I know, Yi Wen never taught much, if at all. But Yi Mian and Yi Xiang both taught (together and separately, I believe). It is my understanding that they all learned all three arts. At some point in time, Hong Yi Xiang began his own school, Tang Shou Dao (Tao). Literally it means “Chinese hand way”, I find it hard to believe he was not referencing Karate, which originally translated the same way before Funikoshi changed it to “empty hand way”. Hong was known to have a great appreciation for the way the Japanese arts were taught, and supposedly it was a trip to Japan that inspired him to organize his curriculum the way he did. He even borrowed the uniforms and belts as well as many exercises for conditioning.

When Hong created the TST, he was apparently very rigid in the way he progressed people through the material, at least that is what is believed if you watched the BBC documentary on him. I believe he relaxed this significantly later in his life, if not abandoning it completely eventually.

Multiple sources confirm he created several new forms to act as stepping stones for his students into the more abstract material of the internal arts. Listed below are the ones I have been told can be attributed to him:

1. Babuda
2. Balienshou
3. Meihuatui (may have been called Ba Ti, “8 kicks”, at some point)
4. Shaolin yi lu
5. Shaolin er lu
6. Wu Hu Xia Xi Shan
7. Da Peng Zhan Chi
8. Bai He Quan

Remember in the beginning of this article, where I stated there were a bunch of forms that didn’t seem to exist anywhere else but in the TST line? By now, we have seen where most of them came from. There are even some on this list I had never heard of or seen before. Namely, 4,5,7,8. But one of them was conspicuously missing… Batangquan.  We will see it later.

Now, I believe, Yi Mian and Yi Xiong taught together for a time, then split to do their own things. If my source is correct about Yi Xiang not being allowed to teach Ba Gua by his teacher, then at some point that changed. Maybe when Zhang died. I don’t know, but at some point in time he began teaching the BGZ curriculum to people. This is well documented.

Many of Hong’s senior students learned all three arts from him. And this is where an interesting wrinkle enters the equation. Zhang practiced Wu Hao Tai Ji, which was a complete system that split off from the Yang style then again from the Wu style. But when the time came for Hong Yi Xiang to learn Tai Ji, Zhang sent him to Chen Pan Ling to learn his system, while he taught the other two Hong brothers the Wu Hao system.  It is even noted that in the Wikipedia article on Hong Yi Xiang, it states he learned Wu – Hao, but he didn’t.  No one knows why. This created some confusion several generations down the lineage as it was believed that Yi Xiang did a Yang style, but he didn’t.

Then comes Xu HongJi. I don’t know for sure, but at some point, Xu broke off from Hong to do his own thing, and he created his own school called Shen Long, then later founded the International Tang Shou Tao Association. I will never know for sure if Xu learned the other two arts, or just decided they were not needed to accomplish his goals, but he basically continued Hong’s way of teaching with just a few changes.

For all I know, Xu might have taught all the forms Hong created, but they didn’t travel down my lineage after him, nor did several other students of Xu remember learning them. It is my personal belief that he did not teach the two Shaolin forms (yi lu and er lu), or the Bai He Quan or Da Peng Zhen Chi. He did continue the Wu Hu Xia Xi Shan, and he introduced 6 other forms into the system:

1. Batangquan (told you it would be revealed)
2. Shaolin 1
3. Shaolin 2
4. Shaolin 3
5. Shaolin 4
6. Bajiquan

Based on the fact that almost all of Batangquan movements are present in a different form taught by the Taiwanese military in the late 60’s, I would have to conclude that Batangquan was a re-imagining of that form.

The 4 Shaolin’s and the Bajiquan are probably either borrowed or re-imaginings of forms from the arts with their names. He also introduced some significant changes to the Tian Gan exercises from the Gao Ba Gua in the system. I have no idea if he changed them permanently or if the way he taught them was part of his own experimentation or maybe a step in a teaching progression but the ones done by people who learned them from him show a significant difference from the ones done by Gao practitioners today, and by students of both Zhang and Hong who are still alive to comment on it.

In the late 90’s, my teacher and many of his generation under his teacher went back to Taiwan to pay their respects to the family of Xu HongJi. While there, they learned a form called Shishequan (10 snake fist) from one of Xu’s class brothers who helped him to run his school. I believe he was known as Black Snake. I have no idea where this form came from originally, as I have not found any reference to it anywhere else. It may very well have been Black Snakes personal creation, I don’t know.

It is fascinating to me to see the evolution of the lineage through the years from generation to generation, and also based on when each person studied with each teacher. It is clear that it was common place to take ownership of what you had been given, to pay respect to it, but also to make it your own.

I am sure that as I continue to learn, I will learn more about my history. It’s a constant process.  Much of this information wasn’t available when I first started looking.  With the popularization of the internet and social media, it became possible to hear from people that otherwise were not an option. I wanted to write this because I realized that I had gathered information that helped me form a narrative that explained where stuff came from, but it was pulled from a vast number of sources and not all in one place. I wanted to put it down in writing while I still could. I would have cited more sources, but some of the discussions over email, or forums, or even interviews that were online at one point in time are gone now.  I don’t know how accurate my narrative is, but it makes sense of things for now.

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Recent Promotions and Upcoming Tests

Not exactly recent, but thought I would post it anyway,

Justin Elliston, passed his 4 hr long black sash test!! (Jan 4, 2017 I know, not recent)

Both Andrew and Daniel Wilson are prepping for their brown sash tests in a few months.

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Self-Defense and Technique Efficacy

An ongoing debate in the martial arts world, that has probably been going on for its entire existence and probably will continue to go on for its continued existence is about technique efficacy.  Does it work?  That is the question, and well it should be because we are often trusting our lives to its answer.  Recently, I have seen this question being bantered around  in the context of self-defense.  This teacher posts a strategy/technique to deal with this scenario and someone else responds with a criticism, then someone else with another criticism of the criticism.  Bravo, this is the line of thinking that keeps us all sharp.  Without it, we may allow ourselves to become ineffective and watered down, and that is when we become truly dangerous – not to our opponents, but to ourselves and to our students.

However, I do want to point out that whether a technique works in real life or not is nearly impossible to answer.  We have all seen examples of things that probably should not have worked, but did.  It doesn’t mean we take a laissez faire approach, we should teach with a critical eye, based out of experience and research.  It instead means that we have to acknowledge all the different factors that contribute to a specific technique’s efficacy.

If the technique will work in a demonstration, then it works… period.  Everything that decides its efficacy after that is more about whether Joe Schmoe can make it work against Harry on Nov. 22, 2017, at 12:32 pm in the alley behind Place X.  And that depends on a lot of different things.  How much has Joe trained that technique, how many people has he practiced it against, did he set it up properly, or was it appropriate for that moment, was he trying to force it, weather, lighting, fatigue level, injury status, footing, terrain, Harry’s level of preparedness and skill level, etc… you get my point.  I talk about this a little in my post on sparring strategies.  The bottom line is that every person is going to have to commit to training to make anything work, no matter how simple or effective, and there will be situations where it won’t work… no matter who is doing it or how good they are at implementing it.

You want to be able to defend yourself, you need a multi-modal approach that looks at multiple different approaches and gives you several different tools to use.  I believe in keeping things simple, but when you simplify it too much you risk making it less effective due to narrowness of scope.  You try to make it too broad and you risk making it unattainable for the masses.  There is no perfect balance for all people.  Each person seeking to improve their self-defense skills needs to have a custom fit approach, and that isn’t always possible for everyone.

My recommendation is to be realistic in your expectations of any technique or strategy, understand its strengths and weaknesses.  Have multiple tools to use, carrying a gun is a great tool… but you can’t always get to it in time and you need to have something else to use in the meantime.  Same thing goes for if you are attacked by someone bigger and stronger than you or if there are multiple attackers.  Be prepared for a lot of different scenarios and learn how to identify them earlier rather than later.  In self defense it is especially true that knowledge is power and an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure.  And train regularly against a variety of different resisting people with different demographics and anthropometrics. Never assume something will or won’t work until you have given it due diligence in training, and that means hundreds of hours of practice.  If you don’t have that, then stick with the easier methods, but don’t be critical of the technique.

I tell all of my students that in real world combat there are only 3 rules:

  1. what you can do, try.
  2. what you can’t do, don’t try.
  3. always consider what you can justify in a court of law.

Happy training folks!!! and keep it real – real life, and real civil.

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Successful Sparring Strategies

This post is going to be somewhat random, so I apologize in advance for jumping all over the place.  I was browsing a discussion online when I ran across a question about sparring strategies from a new student asking for tips from the veteran practitioners.  I thought “that is familiar”, as I often was looking for those golden nuggets when I was a new student myself.  As I have grown as a practitioner, I have come to understand that there is no single linchpin concept that will unlock successful sparring for a new student other than “stay with it”.  Every student is unique, and so are their struggles, so this post isn’t meant to be an answer to that student so much is it is just me blabbing about what I have learned about sparring in my 16+ years.

My teacher used to always tell me that I had two stumbling blocks when it came to sparring, and both of them were psychological.  My first one was that I unconsciously assumed skill levels in others and sparred accordingly.  I would put my fellow classmates through the paces with sparring and suddenly drop down when I faced off against my teacher, because he was supposed to be “so much better than me”.  Unconsciously I would not press him as much because I felt like I had to maintain the “gap”.  Then I would spar one of my classmates and I would ramp it up significantly because I had to be at that level to keep up or stay above them.  I still struggle with these thoughts, but now I can spot them and deal with them appropriately.  You have to approach every sparring match as an opportunity to show that other person your very best, regardless of how good you think you should be or how you think you should compare to them.  As a teacher, I still get hit by my students, and I still fight the urge to degrade myself mentally for allowing it to happen.  The truth is that no one person is going to be able to block everything, or always function at a certain level.  Real life doesn’t work that way, and it’s ok to just let things go and give it your best, regardless of how things line up afterwards.

The second trap my teacher clued me into was not trusting myself to just respond.  I had all these expectations of how I should respond to my partners/opponents in matches/fights and I was constantly trying to micromanage my reactions.  My teacher was always telling me to just relax and let my training take over on a subconscious level – to trust myself.  I feel like I do much better at this now, but I have logged thousands of hours retraining my reactions and my expectations of my responses to come to that point.  Real technique and skill isn’t in the prediction of technique or the regurgitating of it, but in the appropriate responses to real life stimuli.  I used to think I had to block X technique with Y technique and if I didn’t I wasn’t using my art.  If this is what you are being taught, then you need to find a new teacher.  Any true art is expressed through much simpler principles than rehearsed movements and lists of techniques that you learn for tests.  The techniques are there for you to learn the principles, the essence of the art.  That is what needs to be expressed.  It used to be that I would try a whole match to use a specific technique and I would view it as a failure if I didn’t.  That mindset was setting me up for failure because I couldn’t control my opponent, and a true expression of the technique has to be relevant and spontaneous; it has to be creative.  Allow yourself to be judged by whether what you did worked, not by whether you performed X technique in all the right places.

Some other things that I discovered that hindered me along the way were crazy hollywood expectations of fights.  I always thought that if I was really good I would be able to have that perfect fight like you see in the movie, and it took me years to un-program that expectation of perfection from myself.  I had to teach myself what real skill actually looked like, and it is rarely perfect.  Setting realistic expectations of my performance helped me tremendously as a fighter.  Realizing that there were so many more variables than just me that determined if I landed that strike or blocked that strike or pulled off that technique or not.  The important thing was not that I tried and succeeded, but that I tried and learned.

One of the things that helped me a lot also was sparring with really talented people.  The first few times I sparred outside my own school I thought to myself, “these people aren’t that good.”  It wasn’t until later that I realized that I was judging them by my classmates, who were really talented.  I always thought of myself as barely keeping up in class, and suddenly I was wasting people who were supposed to be on my level from other schools, feeling like I was always holding back on them.  I had classmates from a variety of different backgrounds, and each of them challenged me in a different area.  I credit a lot of my skill to training with them and having to learn to deal with them.  If I had not, I would have gotten locked into one way of doing things and ranked myself as pretty good when in fact, the moment I stepped outside of that comfort zone I would have been destroyed.  So don’t get locked in, force yourself to face off against people with different approaches and skills, and learn to handle those.

Spar with intent and differing levels of intensity.  Often I would see a couple of people sparring and they would do very well, then when faced off with me, would fall apart because I would press them harder than they ever allowed themselves to be pressed before.  I am not saying you have to spar at full contact levels, but don’t always practice at the comfortable “circle each other, tag, break, circle…” level either.  You need to know what it feels like to be pressed by an attacker that just keeps coming and nothing you do seems to be able to stop them.  You need to be able to function at the full speed continuous motion level if you have any aspirations of becoming good, let alone great.  So switch it up occasionally.  Train just legs, or just hands, or all attack, or all defense, or only right side or left side.  Train one hit sparring, train continuous flow sparring, train light touch, train medium touch, and occasionally with proper protection and with people you trust… train full contact.  Train short rounds, train long rounds, train with emphasis on certain types of techniques or certain ranges.  Train against different people.

Have no expectation about results of any technique or strategy.  What works beautifully on Joe, may fail miserably on Mary.  Realize that technique efficacy isn’t always a quantifiable variable that you can say with confidence that this strategy will or won’t work.  There are too many variables to determine that in advance.  Lighting, temperature, terrain, background noise, context, height ratios, weight ratios, reach, unique backgrounds and experiences, level of weaponry, builds and body types, muscle bulk and tone, previous injury, CURRENT injury, mood, emotional position, fatigue, etc…

Understand that not all technique is equally applicable.  Simple techniques like punches, backfists, most kicks, and elbows/knees are easily performed and don’t require thousands of hours to do effectively.  Compound techniques are simply linking several simple techniques together in a short series.  They take your fighting level up several notches and bring you to a whole new level.  They are harder to implement and harder to handle defensively.  As a student, you should start off with simple attacks and simple defenses.  Don’t expect yourself to do more until you start to feel slightly less overwhelmed by the process of implementing the simple techniques.  Then you can begin stringing them together in combinations.  Get that down and then you start getting to complex techniques.  Complex technique is more abstract, and requires more refined timing and anticipatory skills.  Placing the expectation of that technique early on in your training is foolish and will lead to ineffective implementation of your art and the belief that the techniques “don’t work” in real life.  The truth is that it wasn’t the technique that failed, it was the practitioner who tried to operate above his/her level.  Even among high level fighters, you will observe a significant percentage of technique utilized is still simple/compound technique.  It will always be your foundation.

Don’t make it about winning or losing.  Make it about learning and improving.  It would be better for you to train with someone who always beats you than to train with someone you know you can dominate.  If you are winning all the time, make sure you are making it helpful for the person you are training with too.  If you are losing all the time, make sure your partner will help you to figure out why.  Realize that true gains are often times in your head first.  They come from overcoming presuppositions,  fears, insecurities, and false assumptions and allowing yourself to just be in the moment and respond to what’s happening right in front of you.

 

That’s it for now.  Happy training!!!!

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