A New Partnership

I’m pleased to announce that I have entered into a partnership with Dream Yoga of McLean, Virginia. I am teaching 4 classes a week, Monday and Wednesday evening ( 5:45pm-6:45pm), Tuesday morning (9:30am-10:30am), and Saturday morning (8:45am-9:45am). Each of these classes are specific to Nei Chi ( Inner Form ) and Qigong practice for health and wellness. I am not instructing the martial aspects of the forms in these classes. However, I also am conducting a class in traditional combat Kung Fu on Saturday mornings at 7:15am at Langley Fork Park in Langley, Virginia for those desiring to learn real hand to hand combat. Weapons training will be a part of this class.


A Union

Hello, all. I am pleased to announce a union between TTT Performance Martial Arts and the local Arlington, Va.  branch of the YMCA. Beginning in January, I will be using areas and a facility provided to me by the YMCA to begin teaching both Ba Men Tai Chi and traditional Wu Gong Kung Fu. The Ba Men Tai Chi course will be held at 11:00am on Monday’s and will consist of traditional Qi Gong breathing and stretching exercises. This program is geared towards adults, particularly the seniors of the local community. The Kung Fu program will be geared toward the type of instruction that I conduct in the ” Mixed Martial Arts and Beyond ” class. This class will cover all aspects of traditional Kung Fu, but will have more of the focus be  hands on training in actual fighting techniques and drills designed to create and train a world class martial artist / fighter.  Qi Gong and Meditation will be included, but at a basic level. These classes will be held on Tuesday and Thursday from 6:00pm – 7:30pm and on Saturday morning from 10:00am – 11:30am.  I am pleased with this union and believe that it will be mutually beneficial to me and to the YMCA as the Wellness Program Director has a great interest in promoting the martial arts and in bringing her branch of the YMCA to a position of preeminence in the local community.


Coming January 2013 to Arlington, Virginia

Hello, all. I am pleased to announce that I will begin teaching both a Tai Chi and Qi Gong class and classes in Kung Fu at the Arlington, Virginia branch of the YMCA, located in the Clarendon section of Arlington. The Tai Chi class will be held on Monday mornings at 11:00am. The Kung Fu classes will be held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6:00pm – 7:30pm and Saturday morning from 10:00am – 11:30am. I have not taught a class since 20 Sept. at the Wickham Park Senior Center in Melbourne, Florida. How both ironic and fitting that the very first  class I taught in Florida would be, 3 1/2 years later, the last class I taught in Florida. I miss that group as I miss all my students from Florida. I have taken advantage of the time off from teaching to work on getting the business established in the Greater Washington, D.C. area. I have to admit that with being here, one of the best things has been my own training. While in Florida, I did my personal training at my school. Here, I have no brick and mortar building – I am freelancing. I found a park not far from my new home, a lovely wooded place – I even shared some time with a young spiker buck who came wandering through one morning a week ago. It is here in this setting that I engage in my QiGong and perform my  ” TaoLu ” ( Mandarin term for forms ). I go there in the morning after doing a good physical routine at home and perform what I call ” The World According to Everything “; that is, everything I know. It has been very nice to re-connect with nature and be breathing cold air again, feeling the dead leaves crunch beneath my feet as they move along the uneven ground. Such a pleasant change from being indoors running forms on the mat surrounded by four walls. It has been good, and will continue to be. I will be teaching at the YMCA, yes, and some other health club facilities as well, but I am committed to engaging in my own workout outside, year round. I am also looking for some hardy souls that are willing to join me so that I can resurrect the hard core class I taught while in Rhode Island. So, steps are being taken forward. I will keep you updated as I begin this new chapter in my journey across time as a ShiFu. Peace and good days always to all.


Change is the only constant

Been a very long time. I titled this blog entry ” Change is the only constant .” There are some in this world that disagree with this statement, but I find them to be among those who claim to be philosophers but are really just folks who will argue most anything for the sake of argument alone or because their narcissism ( as it always does !) gets the better of them. Whether it is at the micro of the sub-atomic quantum level or that of the macro of the physical universe, change is alway occuring. The universe is not static in any way. We as humans may go along in our daily routines mostly untouched by change for sometimes long periods. And, yet, change does present itself to us, unfortunately in a sometimes sudden and violent manner. So, change has arrived to me. My wife and I chose a couple of months ago to leave the economically challenged area of Melbourne, Florida for what we hope will be more personally fruitful ground here in Arlington, Virginia. This was not an easy decision. There are a great many positive things about living in an area like Melbourne. The climate is lovely and my wife and I both dislike winter. The area is very easy to get around ; traffic is almost non-existant to people like us who grew up and/ or lived in places like NYC or Washington D.C. or Boston. It was wonderful to be able to stand in our backyard and watch the Space Shuttles take off from Kennedy. We were close enough to be able with the aid of binoculars to read the writing on the side of the ships as they arced up into the sky. They would be growing small by the time the roar came bringing with it the trembling of the ground that would shake the house. There were very cool little places that my wife and I would go to – a particular restaurant or place to hear music. Some of these places I played my guitar in ; I have some great memories of tearing it up with friends in some of the clubs in Cocoa Beach. We also knew some truly wonderful people, for me some as both friends and as students…I miss them all. Having access to the beautiful beaches was a thing we never took for granted. Taking a few hours on a Sunday to sit with the ocean while reading was an activity my wife and I both enjoyed tremendously. Yet, there is the other side of living there. The economy is as depressed as any of the worst areas in the nation. Many shopping plazas have for lease signs hanging in the windows. Those signs have been there in many cases for years. One could drive down any road and see house after house for sale or forclosed, houses both like cottages and others like McMansions. I lost many students due to one parent or a spouse or themselves recieving the dreaded layoff notice..dreaded because if you lost your job, there was near a zero chance of finding another in the area. It became a real struggle to survive in that environment. I have a few credo’s that I live by…words of what I believe to be wisdom accrued over my years. One of these I describe as ” The Supreme Law Of Nature “. It is a simple Law, but ruthlessly unforgiving. ” Adapt, Migrate, Die “. Ultimately, these three words are the only choices we have in life. We adapt to our environment, finding our niche and exploiting it the best we can. If we fail at this, we are left with then with the other two choices. We must migrate and attempt as best we can to adapt to a new niche to exploit. If we fail at this, we are left with the final choice, and final it is. Another of my axioms is ” Reality is as it is as it is, not how we hope, want, or wish it to be.”  Reality revealed itself to my wife and me…it was time to migrate. And so, we came to Arlington, Virginia. We chose this place for a few reasons. My wife’s eldest daughter lives here with her husband and our 2 year old grandson. Primarily, we chose this place as it has about the most active and dynamic economy in the country at this time. Now it is time to establish our niche so that we can begin to exploit it.  For me, this means re-establishing Traditional Temple Training, now known as TTT Performance Martial Arts, here. I know that this will take some time, but I choose to believe based on things like demographics that I will come to know success. I believe that what I teach, how I teach, what I have to offer the community as an instructor, be it my health based instruction in Tai Chi and Qi Gong or my instruction in absolute get it done hand to hand combat, is unlike anything any other instructor does offer. I believe that once I connect with one student, it will not take long for the word to spread. I believe in what I teach and how I teach ; I believe totally in the KungFu I learned through my ShiFu’s. And I believe that over time, my reputation will be solidly established. I have a long road ahead of me with lots of work to be done to build TTT Performance Martial Arts into the premier school of martial arts in the area for those who desire to know ancient and true Chinese Kung Fu, Tai Chi Chuan and Qi Gong. I have managed to create a successful niche wherever I have found myself to be and I will do so here. To all of my students from across my past, my thanks to you for your dedication. To those of you whom I have not yet met, welcome.


State Of The Art…

Once again, been awhile. My concept of time is somewhat different from most peoples…I have to be reminded of how much time has passed and even still I don’t get around to writing as often as I should. These trying economic times have kept me very busy teaching not only at the school, but at places like senior centers and assisted living facilities ( a curriculum of  Nei Qi { inner forms} and QiGong ) to keep afloat.  This post is going to address a single subject that has nothing to do with my concept of time. This post is going to address what I consider to be the state of the “Martial Arts” as they exist in the United States ( and most of the world.) Over my years of study – well over three decades – I was extremely fortunate to have teachers all of whom were near or at the top of their styles for the entire planet. All of them had been trained to be elite level fighters, rising to levels such as “All China Middleweight Champion” or Six Province Champion of China and all of Taiwan. I was trained by them as they were trained by their teachers. None of us learned ” an empty dance ” or ” flowery punches with embroidery kicks ” as the Chinese call the “arts” one see’s practiced by Opera stars or movie personalities. We learned and trained in ” Wu Gong “, that is ” Martial Work “…the proper name for the real fighting arts. We all suffered – or as the Chinese call it ” eating bitterness ” – in our training. There is a line spoken by Shih Kien in Bruce Lee’s ” Enter The Dragon ” during the welcoming feast hosted by Kien’s character ” Mr.Han “. He speaks to the attendees saying …” we forge ourselves in the fires of our will. ” That forging sometimes exacts a toll. Each of my teachers, me, and all of my old guard students ( you know who you are )  had the days training end in blood and bruises. I well recall practicing ” jishu ” ( technique ) using elbow strikes across the ribs with a fellow student or my Shifu and, arriving home to take a hot shower seeing my rib cage growing a rainbow of color as the bruising set in. I also recall being at class the following day ” eating bitterness ” as I worked through the pain across my upper body. I recall fellow students ( and myself ) suffering loss of wind when a throw planted them in the ground and their fall technique wasn’t quite good enough…we all knew to get up as fast as possible or the next throw would be harder. Shifu would be berating us…” Get up! Do you think your opponent is going to let you lay there???!!! Move!!! ” As I grew older and began to teach, I instructed as I was taught. For many years I taught to subsidize the income I was earning from a real job. I was teaching because I enjoyed teaching and because I also recognized that teaching is also a great learning experience for the instructor that has an open mind…nothing like having to dig deep to answer a students question to reinforce one’s own knowledge. In the circumstances of the time, I was not really concerned with how many students I had. I wanted dedicated, hard working students. We trained outside all year round in New England weather…103 degreees and dripping humidity, minus 15 degrees with the wind chill and 8 inches of snow, near tropical downpours of rain. We did it because the backyard was the only place I had to hold class. We also did it as training in all conditions allowed us to be prepared for any situation we could possibly encounter in a real self defense scenario. Many who train in a nice air conditioned school aided in their falls by a comfy mat and a loose uniform fold like rice paper in a rainstorm when reality intrudes in a violent manner. This leads me to the main point of this missive. As I presently teach full time for a living, I am more distressed than ever as to the state of the arts as they are taught and practiced here in the USA. Back in New England I had many show up at my class only to leave after one class never to be seen again. I could – to some degree – understand it. Practicing hard core contact martial arts is not for everyone. But now as I teach, I have a more difficult time understanding it. I have not ( and can not without putting my rank in severe jeopardy ) ” watered down ” anything I teach. However, as the school is my business and livelihood, I have  tamed down the level of contact what I believe is a substantial degree. I have an indoor facilty, air conditioned, and even have a mat ( only 5/8ths of an inch thick.) I thought that this would be enough to not have prospective students walk out the door – on several occasions in the middle of the class – telling me that the training is way too much. If only this were true! I have a number of students that studied at other schools in the area, some for years, that have told me ” I learned more here about fighting in 2 months than I did in 5 years at my old school .” I think maybe my favorite was the student who said his 12 years at a local school he considered to be ” men’s aerobic’s ” as the students would all line up in neat rows and practice punching and kicking drills for 45 minutes – all leaving at the end of the class thinking that they had really learned something. He left the school after telling his instructor that , if he was confronted by an attacker he would have no idea as to what to do to actually defend himself as the practice of technique was done only every several months and the student being attacked was dressed in a suit like the Michelin Man. I believe that this sort of so called martial art training is a hoax. Yet, as I have started to travel around a bit and clandestinely observe classes at other schools, this sort of thing is exactly what I see. Sure, my students go through the process of learning ” the basics ” and a drill of these basics is performed as part of the warmup for class. But not 45 minutes worth of basics – more like 10 minutes after the QiGong exercises have been completed. I move the students onto ” sticky hand ” practice and technique in their very first class…well supervised by me…and over time as the students develop understanding and control both speed and power are increased during technique practice. During this practice no protective gear is worn. This is not because I want my students to get hurt…this is because to wear all sorts of protective gear is unrealistic. The student unconciously relies on the gear…the strike doesn’t hurt, if a block is missed, so what? There is no consequence for the error. I have had so called black belts in my class that fall to the floor the first time I strike them. They fall not because I am hitting them with shuddering force ( I am not, at all )… they fall because it is the first time they have ever really been hit. They never knew what it was to be hit because the Michelin Man suit disallowed the consequence of pain to be felt when they missed the block or blew the technique. They would be destroyed in a real fight, yet they believe because somebody gave them a passing grade on a test that they are a ” black belt.” What utter nonsense. The old masters in China or Japan are rolling in their graves…none of them would recognize a rank given if the person wearing the belt could not actually utilize the knowledge they supposedly have. They would scoff at what pretends to be ” martial arts ” in todays world. I can just imagine the image of dumbfoundedness on the face of a 16th century Shaolin master or Myamoto Mushashi watching a class in the overwhelming majority of martial arts schools in the world today. The arts have become a business, a big business. I received a magazine recently from some Korean organization run by a bunch of supposed ” masters ” ( many are beer gutted fat men in their early 40’s posing in their many patches uniforms ) telling me how to turn my school into a martial arts factory, how I could join their ” millionaires club ” if I followed their advise ( and ,of course, purchased all of their instructional software and manuals.) The magazine was full of articles written by these guys saying that millions could be made teaching what and how they teach…and that anybody who believes that they will ever be ” successful ” teaching real traditional hardcore arts is a fool. I get solicitations for seminars on how to turn my school into a mega profit making machine if I would just be willing to do it their way ( and under their supervision.) The most offensive was a mailer from a guy who created his own style and was offering a special class where a student could achieve  master level ranking  in 5 disciplines in 5 years!!! Yes, become a master of Judo, KungFu, Hapkido, Karate, and Tae Kwan Do in 5 years. As this person had been trained in TKD prior to creating his own system and then electing to sell this 5 year program, neither the Kung Fu World Federation nor the Kodo Kan ( the primary group for Judo ) will ever recognize the certificates issued as being legitimate. As this person is issuing certificates under the auspices of his own system, nothing can be done to stop him from offering or conducting this class. Ahh, as P.T. Barnum ( the circus promoter ) said…” a sucker born every minute.” It sickens me to see this crap. Something that really saddens me is that one of the very few ” martial arts ” these days that does have contact is the UFC / Bellatore type stuff. This stuff is a sport. Period. Anybody who gets suckered into believing that training to fight in a cage will save them in a street fight, particularly a multiple attack situation, will very quickly find out how wrong they were. Just go ahead and take the leader to the ground and attempt to apply a triangle choke hold on him…and begin to feel the repeated merciless kicks of his compatriots breaking your ribs and tearing skin from your face. A sport is a sport, and this type of modern fighting has many rules. There is nothing ” ultimate ” about the UFC. A true ultimate fight has no rules and frequently ends with one opponent beaten either to death or close to it. There is no referee, there are no gloves, there is no cage or ring. There is only the attacker (s) and the person being attacked. Please understand that I am not advocating a return to the Spartan agoge here. But, please don’t insult my intelligence by trying , through marketing, to get me to believe that the UFC type of fighting is truly an ultimate fight or that I can become a real martial arts master in multiple disciplines in 5 years. Do not try to convince me that spending 45 minutes twice a week throwing punches and kicks into the air while watching yourself in a mirrored wall is going to turn a student into a master fighter…it won’t. Only years of rigourous training, years of analysis and guidance given by a competant instructor in the what, why, and how of every movement in every form, of combining basic movements into an infinite number of techniques, of practicing techniques and sparring in truly realistic environments…only after all of this can one hope to begin to achieve true mastery. So, to those of you who ever read this that want to learn real martial arts, learn all you can about the instructors in your area. Stay away from the ” empty dance ” schools that tell you they don’t encourage sparring or they only do ” point sparring “. Stay away from any school that will not let you either observe a class or, better yet, participate in the first class for free. Stay away from the ” fast food ” chain schools that are nothing more than ” blackbelt factories ” that will hit you with all sorts of fees right down to you paying for the stripe on your belt ( see my post concerning ” Rank “.) Find the teacher that has a handful of students that quietly teaches in some not overly fancy school, who keeps it as real as possible. Prepare yourself to ” eat bitterness “. Pay attention, observe, ask questions, and above all, work hard to reach your goal ( understanding that truly the goal is never reached as the journey has no end.)  And know that in the long run you will genuinely have achieved  something that very,very few actually do. It is to us very,very few that falls the responsiblity of  keeping the real ” martial ” in the martial arts, alive and well.


A Eulogy…

Today I write a eulogy. I have been thnking for several days what I would write here and come to the conclusion that no matter what words I put down, they will be superflous and insufficient. Nonetheless, write I must. I have experienced something I have never experienced before…the untimely death of a student. I chose many, many years ago to never have children so I will never know the unique pain of being a parent who loses a child. But this experience is too itself unique and will never be repeated even if another of my students passes before I do for no other reason than this student is the first ( and I hope the last.) Suddenly, at age 34, my student was feeling pains in his chest. He went to his Dr. who told him that with a cursory examination he could not find anything and, with a history of athsma in the family it was probably that and nothing more. What my student neglected to tell his Dr. was that he had quite seriously whacked a shin of one of his legs about two weeks earlier ( honestly,though, who would think to mention such an incident when one is having pain in the chest?). My student went home, laid down to rest and passed in his sleep from a pulmonary embolus – for the medically uneducated that is a blood clot in a lung. The autopsy had shown what caused the clot was a hairline fracture in his tibia, the bone at the front of the calf. My student had gotten this fracture two weeks before dying from the hitting of his leg. There is no one to blame here – no one to get mad at. It was just one of those freak occurences that happen in life. I can not say that this makes the pain of loss any less. My student was a true individual. I met him when he was much younger and studying JuJitsu and Ou-Der Gun Tao under one of my students. I would drop in from time to time at my student’s school and it was there that I met several young men that would in the future become my students. This group became the core of my hardcore group that practiced outside year round in Rhode Island – minus 15 degrees with the wind chill to 98 degrees and 90 percent humidity to driving spring rains…we experienced it all. This particular student was built like an NFL running back. Although only about 5′ 7″ he weighed in around 220 lbs with a very low body fat ratio. He was the proverbial ” fireplug ” and one would think from looking at him that he would be all about the hard styles. One would be making a misjudgement. True Kung Fu is much like music – the true artist does not spend hours and hours of practice time attempting to sound just like somebody else. Yes, we all have influences, but ultimately what makes a player revered is that he sounds like no one else. His playing is an expression of his inner self coming through his instrument. A practioner of Kung Fu finds over time the style that best reflects his inner self. For my student, his was a journey that brought him closer and closer to the soft side of the arts. When he had learned some of the internal forms of my school, he had found his home. He was intensely curious and had an almost child like wonder when experiencing a moment of enlightenment and growth. He would call me after his moving to New Jersey several years ago and my coming to Florida a year and a half ago and question me for sometimes 60 -90 minutes. He would ask about how a certain movement in Tao Mo’s 18 Muscle Change Classic related to a ceratin movement in a certain form or about how many variations of a given technique could be derived from the technique as presented in a form. Although a devout Christian, he would ask about aspects of ancient Chinese philosophy and how the inter-relationship between philosophy and the martial arts related to life,the universe, and everything. I am going to severely miss those conversations. This is why…a truly good teacher maintains an open mind and understands with abject clarity that if the moment arrives when he believes that he knows all there is to know about his art, it is time to find another hobby for he has fallen off The Path akin to falling off a cliff…a truly good teacher learns as much from his students as he did from his Shifu. A teacher learns from his students by having to satisfactorily answer the student’s questions. Each student learns a bit differently from his peers – some see things in the abstract and can understand the mechanics of a technique merely by describing it, some must literally be taken by the hands and be shown by physically being moved by the teacher in order to see that which the teacher is trying to explain. These obstacles put in the way by students serve to make a teacher more tolerant of his students frustrations and thereby his own frustrations with the students. Overcoming these obstacles by digging deep down into the knowledge one has acquired over the years causes few things to happen, including gaining even more respect for your teacher having had put up with you, along with becoming a better and more well rounded teacher yourself. Being able to explain theory and technique and being able to flawlessly execute any technique the student inquires about leads one to be a better teacher and also leads one to understand even more profoundly than by their own personal study alone just how it is that The Path has no end – there is no ending to the layers of the onion to be peeled back revealing yet another layer of knowledge. I learned a great deal from my student that was laid to rest Saturday the 21st of August. His undying curiosity and probing questioning and his input as to what his thoughts were on a subject being discussed brought me through the mere act of discussion and explanation to a deeper understanding of that which he and I had talked about. I will miss him and his quiet voice saying ” Shifu, what I want to ask is…” and ” Shifu, what do you think about what I think about this…” I was and am proud to have had such a man as this as my student, my friend, and as a man I called Brother. I was always his Shifu, but our relationship, as it has with several of my longest term students, moved to a level beyond just that of “teacher/student”. Today, I am still mourning the loss, but I also have a new perspective on Life…even in death, he is still giving me a lesson and for that I am grateful. Cherish and appreciate that which you have, dedicate yourselves to living and pursuing that which means more to you than anything else. Life is short enough as it is for those of us who live to old age…my student passing at age 34 shows with clarity that it can all be taken away at any moment. He lived his life as a life well lived, always putting one foot in front of the other as he walked The Path. One could do much worse than to emulate this fine example of a Man. Peace and Good Days Always. Cook Shifu


Thoughts on “ji-shu ” ( waza or technique)

Once again -been awhile. I have been very busy with continued development of the school. Yet, as I always am, I have been thinking about the arts. There is a place in my mind that never shuts off when it comes to my arts. I have been ruminating on technique for some time and so want to offer my comments on what the Chinese call ” ji-shu” ( the Japanese call “waza”). Specifically, I want to explore the idea of what in judo is called ” kuzushi ” i.e. ” destroying the opponents balance “. I think that this concept is sometimes misunderstood. What I mean is that many practitioners know only one side of the coin of kuzushi…they know the physical. To ” destroy the opponents balance ” physically is critical when applying a technique, especially in any type of a throwing / take down technique. But the physical destruction of the opponents balance also applies in the execution of techniques such as arm bars ( for instance – stepping into an opponent inside his striking arm and executing a wrap of his arm off of your inside block. If this wrap/lock is done correctly, the opponent will feel great pressure on his arm, and twisting of the shoulder resulting in him raising up his shoulder and even rising up in his toes in order to alleviate the sudden pain he is experiencing. This pain is a part of and cause of the “destruction ” of balance as is the physical reaction of his body trying to separate itself from the pain. The moment of this occurence allows the completion of our technique – say a powerful swinging elbow strike with our free arm across the opponents chest then an outer reap take down.) Even an ” outside cross body ” type block can result in the occurence of kuzushi. If this type of block is timed while stepping into and outside of the opponents jab, such force can be excerted that the opponents arm is flung out way from you, throwing him off balance and exposing his rib cage to a straight in elbow strike made with the blocking arm. Any hooking type block – think Mantis or Crane – or any type of grabbing/wrapping block – think Dragon / Tiger / Snake / Eagle / Pointing Hand – will also result in the occurence of kuzushi if properly executed. But all this is the physical side of the kuzushi coin. The other  is the mental /psychological side of the kuzushi coin. And this has a greater effect than the physical. This is most definitely the case in a ” street ” situation. I describe it to my students like this ; there is a little play going on…in this play there is the character of the Predator and the character if the Prey. Police would label them Assailant and Victim. In this play, the Predator has in his mind a version of the script that he perceives as being pre-determined,especially in the outcome. He sees the Prey as an easy target and confidently ( albeit sneakily in many cases ) closes distance until he is at what he believes is the right place and right moment and engages in his attack. Suddenly, his eyes are watering, his nasal passages are closing, he feels blood pouring from his nose and /or mouth and he is experiencing great pain. He steps back, shakes his head in an attempt to clear his eyes and mind to discover that his Prey is now standing in the crouch of a fighting stance…he takes a tentative step forward to receive a viscious kick to his knee. Kuzushi has been experienced mentally /psychologically. The Predator has had the balance of his mind destroyed…the script he had in his mind did not at all play out the way he had it all conceived. He can now only question his mistake in picking this target that has just countered his assault with devastating results. Nothing in this scenario played out the way he believed it would. This same sort of thing can happen in a formal competition. As early into the match as is possible the opponent should be made to think that his being in this place at this time was an egregious error in judgement. His mental/psychological balance must be ” destroyed ” as quickly as is possible. If this is accomplished, the opponent will react by either becoming angry and losing control or will cacoon into a purely defensive posture. He will be questioning his actions, his abilities, himself. He will be consumed with doubt. From this moment forward, the competition will be very one sided, the outcome determined, and the physical breaking of the opponents balance easily accomplished. In fact, in proper execution of technique – where one is in complete harmony with the opponent and technique from moment of engagement to moment of completion is one seemless movement – both the mental/ psychological destruction of balance and the physical destruction occur simultaneously. Keep these thoughts in mind when analyzing technique. As Musashi stated ” do nothing useless “.


Thought’s…on “rank”

Been thinking on this as a recent article I read was discussing ” BlackBelt Factory ” schools that issue a B.B. in 2.5 years (average time) or sell 3-4 year ” B.B. Programs “. I have certainly known of places like these, but I have been consistantly displeased with the caliber of ” martial artist ” these sort of places turn out. They are also notorious for handing out B.B. rank to 6 year olds that began ” training ” when they were 3 years old. Sorry, but there is not a child alive that has the cognitive ability to truly grasp what is going on conceptually in any so called system of  ” martial arts “.  ( It is for this reason that I accept no student younger than age 7 at my school .)  There are far more adult practitoners walking around dojo’s wearing a B.B. that don’t have a clue as to the what, how, and why of their ” martial art ” than do have a clue, never mind a 6 year old. And, truly, any parent who believes that their 6 year old B.B. can defend themselves against the average full grown adult is kidding themselves. Yes, there are specialized techniques that a small child can use to attempt to escape from a would be abductor, but these are not taught in a typical modern ” martial arts ” school ( I do teach these techniques in my ” Child / Parent ” self-defense seminar – parent (s) must attend this class ). The classes taught at most modern schools are a watered down version of what is taught to the older kids and the adults (  and the adult classes are mostly watered down versions of the original style as it was practiced in the country of origin! I have known of schools that don’t teach such things as elbow strikes because they were considered to be too dangerous! ) The issue I want to address here is toward older teen / adult classes. No true traditional school is going to allow a student to become ( yes, ” become” as the path is a process ) a B.B. or Yellow Sash ( “teacher” level in my school ) in 2.5 years. There is just way too much to learn…not only is it the basics, techniques and forms that one must be adept at, one must be able to perform all these beyond the level of imitation – like a trained chimpanzee. One must really ” know ” both literally and conceptually everything they have learned physically. Beyond this, however, is the idea that “rank”  is just a thing to be achieved for the sake of achieving something – a goal in and of itself.  Back before a Japanese man named Kano first came up with the presently used belt system – later adopted in sash fashion by the Chinese – there was no formal system of rank. Students of a school knew where their place was in the hierarchy, but this place was not advertised on the students waist. In most of the Chinese systems that pre-dated the sashes worn today, there were only three ranks : student, teacher, and master. A practitioner was awarded rank only when the Master  ( DaiShi ) decided that the student had achieved the standard of proficiency and understanding that the Master  required of his students. Always know that ” a student is a reflection of his teacher. ”  Hard core traditionalists such as myself demand a very high standard as I will be judged indirectly through my students by those who witness my students. I tell my adults ( age 16 and older ) not to be concerned with rank at all. If their concern is rank and how quickly they can obtain it, I tell them to leave and go to such and such a school as it is known as a ” B.B. Factory “. They can then go get a B.B. and attempt to impress their friends by stating ” I’m  a Black  Belt “. Their friends will quickly discover the invalidity of that statement if the braggart ever finds himself in a real fight and gets his head handed to him. The path of the Martial Artist should be one of gathering knowledge and never ending exploration. Knowledge is gathered through the instruction of a competant Master. It can also be gathered through one’s own exploration. For instance, the student may purchase a textbook on anatomy. Through study of the book, the student will understand exactly how certain techniques directly effect the human body. This will contribute to the students understanding of ” the how ” a technique such as a wristlock works and better prepare the student to ask meaningful questions of his Master concerning techniques the Master educates the student in using. The student who has chosen the path of the true Martial Artist will never ask his Master when he will be awarded rank. If the Master raises the subject to the student, the student may inquire as to where the Master thinks the student is along the path thereby leaving open to the Master a response. A Master realizes that the student who persists in inquiry as to ” when am I going to be promoted? ” is not yet ready for promotion. This is a thing the student must come to recognize. The Master will percieve in the student that the student has let go of his concern for being awarded an outwardly visible symbol. This is when the student can truly begin to receive the teaching of the Master as the students mind is free of the restraining chains of bondage that are what thoughts of being awarded ” rank ” actually are. Letting go of the consuming cancer of  ” needing to have the outwardly visible symbol to display as proof that I am somebody ”  is one of the most important of a number of  ” letting go of ‘s  ”  in the process of de-cluttering the mind. These ” letting go of  ”  such and such an ” attachment to a thing, material or temporal ”  lead to a state of  ” whole mind ”  allowing the student to progress along the path unfettered someday arriving at a moment when ” Doing ”  such a thing as performing a form becomes ” Being ” the form – the practitoner runs it as it runs the practitioner. If the practioner were to look behind him at a visual representation of the path he has followed, he would see milestones along the way marked by chains of bondage left in the wake of a moment of letting go of an attachment. The chains of bondage at the point of letting go with ones concern as to rank would be a long length of chain indeed.


Thoughts from GM Cook -Basics

Hello. Once again, it has been awhile…life seems to get in the way not allowing me windows of opportunity to write here. That said…here is this turns topic. Basics. We all learn them ( hopefully correctly !!! ) very early in our martial arts training. But many come to a point in time when the basics are left behind…many choose to believe that once learned and drilled ad nauseum that basics can be substituted and maintained through the running of forms alone.  As someone with decades of study behind me and as a practitioner who also has taught for decades, I believe that this attitude is mistaken. Quite simply, I believe that basics win fights. The fighter with the better basics has a distinctive advantage as his natural reactions/actions honed from years of developing muscle memory will result in superior execution of movement. This is especially true in regards to footwork as properly executed footwork puts us in the most advantageous position in relation to our opponent…if the footwork is correct, the rest of the technique will have to succeed as our position relative to the opponent is perfect – we have him right where we want him to be and he won’t know that until it is too late for him to do anything about it. Basics are often taught as not much more than a series of exercises to teach new students with the aim of moving them along to the point of being ready to learn their first form. It is believed that once somebody knows how to properly execute a front punch or a side-kick that those movements are akin to riding a bicycle, that is never forgotten. True…these movements may never be forgotten, but without constant honing to a high level of proficiency, consistency, and improvment of execution, true expertise and effortless fluidity will never be achieved. Think on this – stripped to their absolute essence, all technique, no matter the degree of complexity, are nothing more than extrapolation of basic movements. The most straightforward blocking motion – say something like a closed fist  ” inside ” block ( rising from across the waist, circling up to stop with the fist facing knuckles in at the face ) can be extrapolated out to many varieties of blocks or strikes with nothing more that a change in the hand position – Open? Closed? Open with palm facing in? Open with palm facing out? Used as a block or as a strike either open or closed hand? Essentially, the ” basic ” movement is all the same. Whether I utilize a hard closed fist block to smash the opponents arm attack or I utilize a ” soft ” open hand ” jou shou ” type block leading to a grab /wrap, the movement of my arm is essentially the same. Only the hand position is different. With my new students, even ones with years of study in other styles, the ” basics” are always visited. I run a ” basics drill ”  in every class stressing as this exercise is being run the importance of these movements and the importance of perfecting them as best we can. I demonstrate to the students how the first 10 movements they learn are the most important they will ever learn. These movements are ” the foundation of the foundation ” that will be layed down when they learn the first 3 forms I teach ( three forms that stress/instruct the student in basic movement, footwork, timing, breathing, rhythm – they are repetitive drill forms that hammer the basics of martial movement into the student ). Forms are a collection of technique in a choreographed arrangement, but technique is a collection of basic movements also arranged, but in a specific order designed to result in a specific outcome. The most complex technique can be broken down to seeing each individual movement at it’s most basic level. This allows us to see how it is possible to ” mix and match ” that which we call ” basics ” in seemingly infinite combinations to create techniques. The key is to first understand  and be able to execute a technique as it is presented in a form, then be able to comprehend the concept being expressed through that technique which will then allow us to extrapolate that concept which lets us perceive the variations of expression in that technique. This allows us to be much more flexible, fluid, and adaptive during an actual fight. There is an old expression in Chinese philosophy first expressed in the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu, the most ancient text of original Taoism. It is stated in that work as an expression of extreme importance and variations of the theme are presented across the work – ” know the root “. This applies to many things and even quite a number of things in the Martial Arts, but most important in relation to the Martial Arts it applies to ” the basics “. Know the root and all else will reveal itself to you with clarity – forsake the root and all else will remain hidden behind a gauzy veil, forever almost seen, almost understood, almost ” I breath it, it breathes me “.


Thoughts -New year

Well, and here we are. Another beginning to another New Year. It has been a while since I have written anything here. My apologies. I have been busy with other things in life, much of it related to keeping the school afloat in these difficult economic times. This month of January will be a period of heavy lifting for me as I must devote all the energy I have to marketing and trying to grow the school. I am hopeful that all of you who read this had a wonderful time through the holiday season and a happy ( and safe ) New Year.  So…on to the matter at hand… A few of my youngest students were influenced to start studying Kung Fu  rather than another style by a movie called  ” Kung Fu Panda “. I had not seen the movie, but the kids were always talking about it. An older student purchased a copy for me as a Christmas gift and I finally got around to seeing it on New Year’s Day. There is much I could say about it, but I will stick to only a few things. On it’s surface it is almost a typical ( what was called ) “chop- socky ” movie produced by the likes of the Shaw Brothers back in the 1960’s and ’70’s. I had to laugh at some of the references to those flicks. The fight scene between Po ( the Panda ) and Master Shifu ( a rather humorous play on words there ) utilizing chopsticks has been played out in many of the old movies. The fight scene on the bridge hanging over the gorge between the animals, particularly Tigress, and the character of the villain known as Tai Lung ( kind of odd using that name as it could mean “Great Dragon” in Mandarin and the character was drawn as a big cat ) has been shot several times in a number of the newer movies. Just kind of cool to see the homage done by the director to those who came before him. Incidently, I am not much of a fan of the newer movies. This is mostly for reasons of purety…all the wire action stuff beginning in the 1980’s bothers me. It has its place in a fantasy story like some retelling of  ” The Monkey King ” but that’s it for me. The main reason I prefer the old horribly English dubbed flicks to the new ones are that many of the actors in those movies were real deal fighters before entering film. For instance, the original ” Iron Monkey ” stars a man named Chen Kwan Tai who very recently passed away. He was the all China Middle Weight Champion in 1969 and Light Heavyweight Champion in 1970. He was a Master ranked practitioner of Monkey style. Kuo Shi Hung ( Eddie Ko Hung ) retired undefeated as all China Middleweight Champion in 1969 after winning the title in 1960. He was an Eagle Claw practitioner. He made many movies during the 1970’s, usually playing the bad guy and getting killed by the good guy -often played by an actor with little real Kung Fu backround – at the end of the movie. He is probably best known here in the US for his role in “Lethal Weapon 4 ” where he plays the part of the father whose family is held hostage by Jet Li’s character as he is forced to make engraved plates to counterfit Ren Men Bi ( Chinese currency ). I though it extremely ironic that Jet Li kills Ko Hung’s character with an Eagle Claw strike to the throat as Ko Hung was a Master of that style and would take out Jet Li in a real fight in a matter of seconds ( as Jet by his own addmission learned lots of forms but never even once sparred an opponent ). Anyway – getting back to the Panda. For me -as for many no doubt who have seen it – the most important scene in the movie is when Po realizes the truth revealed by the reflection of his own face in The Dragon Scroll. He awakens to this truth when his father tells him that “there is no secret ingredient ” in the family recipe for noodle soup. And this is one of the highest truths in Kung Fu. There is no secret ingredient…no Holy Grail Style nor Holy Grail Technique. As Kien Shih ( another real deal Master from the old days ) states in his monologue as his character ” Mr. Han ” makes himself known to the attendees of the welcoming dinner in Bruce Lee’s “Enter The Dragon ”  …” We forge ourselves in the fire of our will “.  There are only three ingredients in Kung Fu- our Shifu, the Kung Fu we learn from our Shifu and ourselves. The style in and of itself is not the most important thing ( taking into account the reality of some styles certainly being more ruthless and efficient than others ) as a lesser efficient stlye can defeat a more efficient and ruthless style if the practioner of the lesser style has trained relentlessly and his opponent has trained lacksadaisically. The most important ingredient is ourselves. We only recieve from Kung Fu that which we put into it. Over time with relentless training the “spirit of the thing ” will reveal itself to us. If we practice with only half a heart, the true spirit will never be revealed. The limit we place upon ourselves will be the deciding factor in how far we advance. And advancement is not rank or acquiring of yet another form – that is a subject for another post!!! So- as this New Year begins, train with resoluteness, with knowing that you are your own forge and strive to achieve as close to perfection as can be achieved. Study of Kung Fu is a journey – like our own lives it is a journey across time – and that journey ends in only two ways ; we stop and choose to ( foolishly and ignorantly ) believe that we have it all figured out or with our death. My journey will end with my passing, another step on my journey across time begins today.

September 2021