On more than one occasion while speaking to individuals who have never attended my classes I have heard the comment, “Well, your school is known for brawling…”. I am always surprised to hear this because there is no brawling at all in my classes and it is not allowed. I expect respect and friendship between all students and accept nothing less. Nobody wants to go to class to get hurt and I don’t want that either. So where does this idea come from? Well, that I can explain. I am vehement about the practical and real time application of this art. I have no fantasies about how really ugly a true fight is and I don’t want any student of mine to have that illusion. Forms and drills are fine and perhaps fun but they do little to prepare you for a real and violent confrontation. Many schools are more concerned with learning a routine rather than learning a true skill. They want you to believe the technique will work when the time comes rather than proving it before hand.
Whenever I have a new student I tell them how and why I teach. What I do can be summed up in this example: If I teach you a song on guitar you can only play that song. If I teach you one hundred songs you can only play those songs as learned and remembered. You are, in fact, not playing the guitar but reciting songs you learned. They are not yours and you cannot openly and freely express yourself on the instrument. If I just handed you the guitar and said, “Now play” what would you do? Most likely you’d recite a song to me.
I have many friends who are amazing musicians. I was with a friend who had a young daughter that was an skilled classical pianist for her age. Her mom told me she played the piano like my friends do and that she would play for me. I agreed to listen and she sat down to play but I walked over and took the music off the stand. She looked at me and said, “I don’t know how much I can play by memory”. I asked if she could just play the piano, what she felt. She looked at me perplexed and I gave her back the music. Afterwards I pulled her mother aside and said, “she is great at playing those songs but she does not know the piano”. She was great at reciting songs, very impressive, but without the music she was lost. She played the songs, not the piano.
Now on the other hand if you learn the basics of music, chord structure and scales on piano or whatever, you can now play any song that comes to mind because you know the root from which they arise. It makes sense to you, it becomes your native language rather than one you are struggling to articulate. You are now playing and not reciting songs, you can create as you go. When I teach kung fu I teach the foundation behind it, exactly why you are doing it, how it connects to the body and how it is expressed in power. I teach the physics and the body mechanics so when you are away from me you can work on it yourself, test it and correct it. You are not reciting what I taught but putting it into motion, making it real. There is no trust or belief that one day it will blossom and work, you will know from the onset if it will or if you are on the right path. I don’t want students to believe in the art, I want them to know it. The only way to know it is to practice and apply it. You cannot learn to swim standing next to a pool and you can’t learn to swim in the ocean by only swimming in a pool. To each its own nature.
Once another SPM school invited one of my students to work out with them at their place. He was a very nice, well mannered and good man. After warm ups they broke into pairs and were practicing blocking techniques. He lined up with a partner, asked if he were ready and started punching. The fellow he was working out with jumped back in horror and said, “Hey, you’re trying to punch me!” My student was completely perplexed by this statement and replied, “Of course I am, you are practicing blocking punches!” Well, this did not go over well at all because it was too real. He never touched the guy and was a complete gentleman. The teacher in this school called me to complain about the ‘thug’ I sent over there. Really? I find this insane. Imagine a Navy Seal in training saying to his DI “Yo, this water is too cold and rough Sarge, I’m not going in.” That would be his last day in the Seals. The guy on the streets is not doing a routine with you, he is trying to hurt you. You must practice for this onslaught.
Please think about this; can you practice lifting weights without lifting weights? You can do all the form you want but when you get the weight in your hand it takes an entirely different set of skills to move it. Besides what the muscles and bones contribute to lifting there is also the tendons and ligaments. If you do not do this correctly you will not only not be able to lift it but you will hurt yourself. A real punch coming at you is the same thing. It feels different and each puncher has a different way of attacking. There is size and weight difference along with variables of technique or, worse, no technique. When you practice with organized and repetitive straight punches you will have no idea how to handle a crazed puncher who comes at you like an egg beater. These things can be practiced without getting hurt but these things cannot be learned without practice. Why do martial artists think that waving their hands in the air or doing a prescribed routine prepares them for the real? I cannot think of another discipline that does this. Would you get into a car driven by someone who only learned on the computer?
I know that many teachers like to teach dozens of different hands and their subtleties but I have a different view of this. The subtleties of 100 hand technique are not worth the effectiveness of one good hand technique. Better that you do the fundamentals extremely well than have collected a thousand techniques. A sixty story building is only as good as the foundation. This is why I teach the way I do. No one gets hurt here but no one gets fooled into thinking there’s magic techniques and no one is forced to do anything they don’t want to do. If they want just the art form, fine, if not, better.
There is great misunderstanding of kung fu that I often hear. A teacher will say, “A truly great master knows that when the need arises his skill will arise to meet it”. This is total nonsense. If you have not trained and honed this skill it is not going to show up in a sudden flash. None of the Eight Immortals is going to descend upon you to help you but the Eight Thugs will descend upon you to hurt you. It’s about practice not belief. Belief is a problem.
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