Not “the” Best…

I would like to share with you my observation about the phrase “strive to be the best”.

When a martial artist says that he is striving to be “the best”, he is actually working for a goal he could never achieve. To be better than all other martial artists and fighters is an impossible endeavor, and one he would never be able to prove that he has achieved. No matter who you beat, and who you think has not beaten you yet, the man who will defeat you is always out there. I remember a saying that the moment a man says he cannot be beaten, he will soon meet the man who can and will. So in that case, the fighter should be humble but confident, lest he hasten the wait to finally meet him.

This is not to say that the martial artist shouldn’t try to beat opponents, however. Opponents, to the fighter, are not the test of whether you have perfected your art–but the tools that you use to determine if you have perfected your art. We try to find better and better opponents to cross sticks and cross hands with, and regardless of the outcome we should take that experience back into the gym to refine and retool our arts. Win or lose, we can get better and improve, we can become more efficient and more perfect. We can become stronger and faster. We can califbrate our timing to near-perfection (it can always get better). We can come up with better ways to use our techniques, or create new techniques, or find more efficient ways to apply them. Opponents, not training partners or friends, are the surprise quizzes we take to find out what progress we have made. Every criticism I have ever had of the FMA man stems from the fact that most FMA men prefer to surround himself with training partners and friends, rather than opponents. In such case, they will never approach any place close to perfection with their art. And they also happen to be the first men to strap on the title of “Grand master” or whatever.

Perfection, my friends, is a level that the best martial artists and fighters NEVER see. And those who are in constant pursuit of perfection are the ones that most of his peers believe have achieved that level.

Perfection will never be grasped by adding to one’s repertoire also. You cannot perfect a mish-mash of arts. This is why the men we know who are the best we have seen usually only have had a few masters, if more than one. Rarely, we will see a man who has studied many arts and actually form the opinion that this guy is one of the best we have seen. The men with the most arts under their belts, in my experience, have had the worst skills. Likewise, the men I have met that have the highest levels of Black belt, the loftiest titles, have also been the lousiest fighters (or not a fighter at all) I have seen. Few people you will meet will be as honest as I am being with you right now.

Perfection is an ever-evasive plateau the martial artist will spend his life in pursuit of, and only what one stops chasing, will he have time to self-promote and Faceturbate with all these degrees and fan clubs and martial groupies. Trust me on this one. The best fighters you will find don’t have time to do PR.

So when you hear of being “the best”, what the real martial artist is really trying to say is “being MY best”; we are in competition with ourselves, with our old achievements, with the memories of what we once were. And this is why you find men like Bernard Hopkins trying to stay in the ring too long, and why some fighters seem to keep at it way past their prime. They are not afraid of losing. They are not afraid of poverty. They are not afraid of failure because they understand that in order to elevate to the next level of their pursuit of perfection, the martial artist must exhaust his last breath to find out more about his art. The martial artist who pursues perfection is always struggling to develop his art further, he trains until his body won’t allow more progress, and then he fights to find students who can continue to train and test the art when he can no longer do it himself. This is a never ending process you will never retire from. The goal is not to get more students, but to get better students. Not to add more arts to one’s knowledge base, but to know the arts in one’s knowledge base more.  I hope you understand what I mean.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Ten Rules of Fighting

I have a list of “to-dos” that seem to never get done. Right now, I am heading to the school to work on a Mook Jong (wooden dummy) I started on in October. There are sets of techniques for the Mook Jong I learned from three different masters I had been wanting to consolidate since the 80s, but never really started working on until last summer–and that isn’t even done yet. Then there are the books I have half-written throughout my house, a few old instructor-friends who are waiting for me to organize a periodic “fight-night” just for us. Oh, then the guys at the gym are asking when the next “Fight Night” for them will be…

Last night, I recalled something Boggs Lao once told me, “Practice every day, you will be one step more to Mastery. Miss a practice, and you lose ten steps.”

Those who know me, know that I teach by maxim–and I either demonstrate on the student to make the point clear or I point to actual instances those rules are broken or upheld. All of this helps cement understanding in the student, and no teacher should teach something he is incapable of doing or pulling off in real time. (That’s a saying too, by the way)

Hey, what can I say? I hang out with old Masters!

So one of the book ideas I had is a book of these sayings–which is temporarily scrapped as I realize that most martial artists only like shiny things that adorn uniforms, walls or website bios. Although there are many who enjoy this blog, I am constantly asked for videos and clips they can watch. But you know me; we will do nothing of the sort! I have, however, recorded some DVD but only students and good friends will ever see them.  So, my new book will be a techniques book, complete with pictures for you visual types. That books, which I actually thought would represent some of my best work, is titled “Ten Rules of Fighting for the Serious Martial Artist”. I would like to share the 10 rules with very little explanation. If you want to learn them in detail, well… you know what to do.

Ten Rules of Fighting

  1. Learn to use simultaneous block/check/trap and attack. It’s a little more complicated than what most of you know as simultaneous “__-and-counter”. The main thing here is learn to use, not simultaneous…  The martial artist spends too much time learning to *demonstrate* technique, and not enough time learning to USE their techniques. I can’t count how many martial artists who know these techniques–many Wing Chun and FMA guys come to mind here–but can’t use them when they fight. The simultaneous clear-and-attack technique is a very powerful, difficult to stop technique. But in order to have dominating skill, you must learn to use it.
  2. Feet are the horse, hands are the arrows.  This is a Chinese saying that comes from my Jow Ga master, Chin Yuk Din. Although we kick more in Jow Ga than many other Southern styles, our specialty with the feet is to outrun the opponent; we can catch running opponent and use his lack of stability to finish him. In my school, the first thing we do is develop strong legs and agility in the feet. The job of the hands, however, is to penetrate the opponent’s defenses as sharply, quickly and accurately as a shower of arrows. Hopefully this visual will explain it better than I can.
  3. Steal the breath. This is also a Chinese saying, however, I only stole the title. When I mention “steal the breath” I am referring to the Kuntaw philosophy of striking the throat and the breast bone. This is an advanced technique whereby you observe the breathing pattern of a fatigued opponent and strike him with full force when he has just completed his exhale. I have used this technique in “friendly” sparring with superior opponents who were winded and I needed to level the playing field. It is difficult to accomplish, but when you figure it out, this is a miracle-worker. This is all I will say about this technique.
  4. The best time that is ideal for attack:  When the opponent is not ready and you are.  So self-explanatory I should stop here. But for those of you who can’t picture it, I am referring to having your figure on the trigger. If you or your opponent is at rest and not occupied, you (or he) are ready to attack. When doing anything else:  moving the hands, blocking, striking, kicking, readjusting one’s clothing or stands, repositioning… you are not. Make sure you are always ready and he is never ready. Most of the time you are fighting, you should be searching for this moment.
  5. Strikes at an opponent should be like the links of a chain. Also known as “Tie and Untie” in the FMA. Any gap in your attack is like a broken link in a chain. By keeping your attacks linked together on one rush, your opponent will not have an opportunity to launch his own attack. You should tie him up with his own defense, and by the time he is able to untie himself–you are out of range.
  6. Every technique has a counter. When studying a technique, you should learn what counters are most likely as well as possible. Then along with your practice of that technique, you should practice the counter to the counter of that technique. Doing this will give you the:
  7. Iron Defense, Loud Attack. The fighter must have a set of defenses like an iron wall–not only will the opponent be unable to pierce the wall, it would be injurious to try. Each time he attacks, make him pay for it. The attack should be as easy to escape as one can escape the loudness of thunder. One of my criticisms of “self-defense”-oriented martial arts is the reliance on defense as a means to end combat, rather than building a set of attacking skills that will shut down the opponent. Defense techniques to these folks is almost always practiced softly, and only a few have times when they practice under pressure. If you’re going to develop defense, make it impenetrable.
  8. Hit with the hips and shoulders, not the limbs. We should develop our strength in the arms and legs. However, we do not want to rely on the limbs for power. Learn to use the hips and shoulders when punching and kicking, and you will increase your output threefold. (Note: It is more complicated than shoulders=punching, hips=kicking. Try utilizing the shoulders for kicking and the hips for punching!)
  9. Enter with boldness. This has as much to do with mentality and training as it does with execution. One of the most dangerous mistakes a fighter can make is to hesitate. If you don’t attack or counter with 100% commitment, you give your opponent the opportunity to stop you. Even if you are not utilizing a full-power attack, you must be at 100% with something: power, distance, speed… Now, anything less than a well-trained or experienced and confident fighter will be unable to do this. Cultivate your fighters into the kind of fighter who can enter with boldness; they will never fail.
  10. When the arms touch, you can fight better blind, than the seeing opponent. If you are not familiar with sticky hands, you may not be able to understand this rule. When the arms touch, you should be able to sense the opponents’ next move through the arm or hand that is touching you. Often, fighters make moves–not by intention, but by happenstance–and the aware fighter will know it before the opponent even realizes it. What I mean is that many opponents rarely plan their next move. They hit with whatever feels natural, based on where their hands and feet are placed, where their balance is, where the opponent is as what he is doing, and where the opponent’s hands and feet are. If you have developed the heightened awareness of TRUE sensitivity (not the stuff done on youtube and DVD), your opponent’s intentions will be transmit through his hand/arm–and you will know before he even realizes what’s going on.

Whew! 1,360 words! We will stop here, and who knows? Maybe in the future I will actually write the book to fully teach these rules.  If you like this or any other articles, please check out the “Offerings” page off the main page and check out my books! Thanks for visiting my blog.

Skill Dilution

I am in Washington, DC., my old stomping grounds, and visited an old friend who has a successful school in town recently. He started with a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do/Moo Duk Kwon at a well-known local school while we were still teens, and today he boasts of more than 20 belts in various styles. I will refer to this brother as “JC” so that we won’t use his name, as my article won’t be a flattering one.

Among his instructorships is one in Wing Chun Kung Fu, which he received in a week. I am very familiar with the organization that awarded him permission to teach WC because that master is a distant relative of mine. In fact, I often show his advertisement to visitors to my school to illustrate how low the martial arts industry has gotten. I scanned the wall of his dojo, hoping to find a certificate in JKD/Kali or Eskrima so that I could bait him into a conversation about it. As an old friend, I never pass up an opportunity to educate… um, excuse me–rescue–those I truly care about.

Okay, I do it to almost anyone. But seriously, sometimes I really think I would be wasting my time with some folks. With my friends, however, I couldn’t care less about offending them and will speak my mind.

Thank God he does not teach the FMAs, although he did hit me up for a written curriculum that he could “follow along” to start a “sticks and knives” class. Conversation followed. Then he attempted to change the subject by asking me about the difference between Jow Ga’s sticky hands and Wing Chun’s sticky hands. (By the way, did I mention that I have also studied Wing Chun? Yes, one of my favorite cousins is a Wing Chun Sifu too)  We ended up crossing hands, and I had to give my good friend a lesson in Chi Sao. This isn’t fun, and bottom line, he should have beaten me as my total amount of instruction in Chi Sao (most of which came from white eyebrow, not wc) about 7 days of 6 to 8 hours of hands-on instruction. I am no expert in Chi Sao–and apparently neither is my friend. Sadly, my learning in just Chi Sao is more than his total amount of learning from the whole system of Wing Chun. Bottom line again:  He shouldn’t teach Wing Chun.

And he doesn’t. Actually, I believe my friend knows that he is no expert in these arts, so he lumps all of his martial arts offerings into one class appropriately labelled “Martial Arts”. He offers Yoga, After School Karate, tumbling, XMA, Aerobics, cross-fit style exercise, “kickboxing” (my friend is actually a good fighter), and a few other labels. I noticed, however, nowhere does he mention his lineage–and he comes from a very strong, Korean lineage–or his accomplishments. What he does best, he doesn’t teach. When I looked at what he’s pursued, I see that the dates correspond with the latest trends in the martial arts: Ninjitsu in the 80s, Kenpo in the 90s, BJJ in the 90s, Wing Chun in the Y2K, Israeli martial arts most recently, a generic “close quarters defense” certificate lined in camoflauge… I’m sure you’ve seen this before.

JC is in great shape, by the way. He looks better now in his 40s than we did 20 years ago, when I was hanging out with him. Yet in my opinion, he was probably a better fighter in those days than he is now–not due to age, but because back then, he only knew a few styles. Last I remembed, he had three main arts he did. Moo Duk Kwon (we were classmates) is a hard Korean style similar to Japanese Shotokan. He also dabbled in Judo and too part in a few open mats. And around our early 20s, he was learning “ninjitsu” from a Shorin Ryu expert whose teaching was very similar to our MDK teacher. I say he was better then because he only had a few arts that he was doing.

Many martial artists today are chasing so many different, unrelated arts that they know lots of stuff but they don’t do any of that “stuff” well. I call this “skill dilution”. (Actually I ripped that term off from Striking Thoughts’ page)  The thing about learning everything under the sun is this:  there is nothing wrong with learning a bunch of stuff, as long as you take the time to fully develop that stuff to proficiency. The question is, what do you consider “proficiency”? Well, as a student, proficiency at a minimum is the ability to use it in a fight. For a teacher, however, proficiency at a minimum is expertise–the ability to isolate that skill and use it against many opponents and to be able to dominate with that skill. Martial artists today are just satisfied with being able to demonstrate a skill and consider that ability to demonstrate the skill as “qualified to teach”.

Well, if my homeboy can’t whup me with a skill I had only about 40 hours of instruction in but he is certified to teach… he ain’t qualified to teach that skill. And in case you were wondering, yes, I did tell him. Had he opened his school here in Sacramento, he would have to deal with some very good Wing Chunners who might want to see how good he is at that art. Yes he is my homie. But then, some of these WC experts in town are my homies too. I can help you out with maybe two or three of them, homie… Fortunately there are no WC schools in DC that I know of.

This problem in the art is more widespread than you may know. Take any ten schools out the phone book in any city, I guarantee at least half of the teachers you find over the age of 30 will boast of expertise in at least 4 styles. Now ask around for who the best teachers are, and I am sure they will most likely recommend teachers who only teach one or two styles. This doesn’t mean he has only learned two or three arts; most of us have sowed our oats and picked up a few things or two (or three) along our journeys. The only difference is that we know what we are experts in and will not misrepresent ourselves to be experts in more than what we really know. Some people are in such a race to know and teach the next art, that the dilute their ability in arts they should be focusing on in the effort to skim the surface of a few other arts. Yes, they water down what may be excellent knowledge and skill, by failing to develop their proficiency in favor of stuff they know very little about. In my art of Jow Ga, we offer over 40 forms and weapons. Ask any of my students from my Advanced class, and they will tell you–I only claim full proficiency in five of those forms. And I practice this art full time, and have been teaching, for 21 years. I also happen to have permission to teach the arts of five Masters, but take a look at my website; I only offer the systems of two of them. These are the arts I do best, and the only way I will achieve the higher levels of skill (I am still in pursuit of those levels, by the way) is to focus on just two of them.

My old childhood friend is running a day care center because he has put the art he does best on the shelf while chasing side hustles that have not brought him the results he thought he’d get.

Here’s an afterthought:  Many MMA fighters do the same. Rather than learn to adapt what they do best to the ring, they dabble in a bunch of stuff that they only do halfway decent–and lose to the guys who have learned to maximize their Hedgehog. More on this later…

Thanks for visiting my blog.

thekuntawman, En Espanyol

That’s right.

Look for upcoming articles to be published in Spanish. I have my reason for doing so, but I want to surprise you with it. I have a few articles that will first be translated into spanish, and then eventually we will be publishing our articles simultaneously in English and Spanish.

Hint:  My next book is already done and will be sent to Amazon. But the one after this will be a techniques book. You’ve asked to “see” my method… I resisted the urge to produce videos and books, but my readers win this one. I have a co-writer, a photographer, and we will get started on this one soon. The only catch is, you won’t be able to read it in English…. (more on this later)  And you never know; I’ve been flirting with the idea of producing a DVD. We’ve made a few cheap attempts and perhaps this book will be released with an accompanying DVD. Or perhaps not….

So if you know anyone living south of the border who is interested in the martial arts–any style, not just FMAs–send em on over. The first article will be up within a week.

Thanks for visiting my blog.