GUEST ARTICLE BY MIKE WILLNER
Photo by Patricia Wong
Magazine page courtesy of Rainbow Publications
Jow Ga Kung Fu:
Mike Willner and I trained for years together.
You’ve met Mike Willner in “Memoir Part 6” at my Going The Distance Website. Mike and I were fellow disciples of Richard Chin’s at Dr. Chin’s Asian Martial Arts Studio in New York City, where Mike and I trained in and mastered the combat art of Jow Ga kung fu over thirty years ago. At that time, Mike and Sifu Chin worked as bouncers at a nightclub in NYC, and in this guest article, Mike educates us regarding the most useful weaponry and tactics in keeping the nightlife elite in line.
At some point in my martial arts training my teacher said, “Listen, I got you a job as a bouncer at the night club … it will be a good chance for you to learn about real technique.” Visions of fist fights and night club brawls flashed into my mind, with me executing flawless side kicks and tiger palm strikes, laying low attackers left and right. Little did I suspect what I was actually about to learn.
My job at this particular club was to greet patrons, frisk them for weapons, explain the rules of the club, and keep the peace. Since alcohol was served, there was bound to be trouble. Since girls were involved there was definitely going to be trouble. I have plenty of great war stories (a future article for these), but not about devastating Phoenix Eye Fist blows and Dim Mak (“death touch”). I learned restraint, diplomacy and calm. It was much better to stare down a drunk rowdy than to start a fist fight on a crowded dance floor. But I also learned that the reality of combat is swift and brutal, and if you have to strike then strike hard and first. No long, multi-strike exchanges as in the movies … one strike, done.
A frequent question I got was, “What’s your favorite weapon?” My response, “A flight of stairs.” Puzzled look and, “What about nunchucks?” Incidentally, I’ve seen a drunken rowdy take a full nunchuck blow to the head, cracking the stick, and still lurch forward to attack. My response, “I’ve never had anyone get up to attack me after throwing them down a flight of stairs.” I sensed disappointment in the questioner, so I add, “But, slamming them with a heavy door, or shoving them in front of a moving car comes close second.”
What? No shuriken, kama, bo staff, or butterfly knife? No, I don’t usually have those on hand in a crowded night club. No sai or even three section staff? These questions show me that they have no idea about real combat. My Jow Ga training taught me, use what works, what has power, what will do the job of taking down your opponent. In the semi and full contact competitions I fought in, that was a reverse punch. In the Mudd Club when a fight was breaking out, that was a bar stool, or even another opponent grabbed, arm-locked, and forcibly shoved so as to knock down his buddy. So, my favorite weapon for combat is what is readily available, and what will work.
Now, that’s not to say we didn’t study traditional kung fu weapons in our training. If you asked me what my favorite training weapon was, then you’ll get an answer that will be more satisfying for the kung fu tourist. Quan Do, General Quan’s Knife. Think of a six foot staff with a wide three foot curved blade on one end. It’s a cavalry weapon, intended for horseback and riding down enemies. It is also used fighting on foot. There was a hook on the back of the blade for catching opponents ankles, or pulling opponents off their horses. Why do I like it some much of all the weapons I learned?
First, its HEAVY! and moving that thing around is an incredible work out. As with all weapon training, the constant motion, stopping, changing directions, and focused blows demands a lot from your body. You get really strong really fast, or you drop the thing a lot. Next, you learn nimbleness and awareness. As with many Jow Ga weapon forms, the practitioner is in as much danger as the virtual opponent sometimes. (I’m thinking of three section staff ricochet, or chain whip fling back). There are a number of moves in the Quan Do form I learned where the spinning stick and blade are passed behind the back or over the shoulder at full speed. One wrong move and you’ll be out cold on the floor. This potential for real injury adds a sharp edge to the form. You learn to move lightly, quickly, and keep your wits about you. No auto-pilot, no heavy hand.
Finally, you learn to be fierce! The form emulates General Quan on his charger riding down his enemies. At one point you stand poised in cat stance, weapon at the ready, and scan the battle field, looking for any others who dare oppose you. Done correctly, you feel the fierce energy of the weapon flowing through you. You build killer instinct and fighting spirit. So, now you know. You also know something very important: when you ask a real martial artist about his technique or methods, be very specific … are you talking about combat applications or training applications. There is a real difference. Now, I wonder how my brother Scott would answer the question, “What’s your favorite weapon?”
COMMENT FROM SCOTT “GENGHIS” WONG
I don’t know if Mike was aware of it, but when I had my monthly “Combat Kung Fu” column in Karate-Kung Illustrated magazine, the title of one of my columns was, “Use What Works!” Even without reading the content of this long-gone column, you can extrapolate what it was about. In short, it echoed what Mike and I learned in our particular branch of Jow Ga kung fu. Keep in mind that the overall construct of a given style, Jow Ga included, there is no guarantee that all schools teaching that style, will teach their respective students the same as any other school of that style. Every school within a style, is it’s own separate entity, reflecting the personality and philosophy of the teacher.
I count Mike and myself extremely lucky, because we happened to choose Sifu Richard Chin as our mentor. Sifu Chin’s passing on this philosophy of “use what works” to Mike and me as his disciples, did not necessarily make this pragmatic philosophy, a Jow Ga philosophy. What it amounts to, is a Richard Chin philosophy, which then became a Mike Willner philosophy and a Scott Wong philosophy. Sifu Chin’s way became my way and Mike’s way.
From day one in Richard Chin’s dojo, brutal and realistic sparring was considered the “norm.” This cannot be said of all kung fu schools or even all Jow Ga schools, for the reasons I mentioned. Let me describe to you, the conditions for our sparring. First, full-power hits were not just encouraged, but mandatory. Any student who did not have the killer instinct to deliver full-power hits without conscience, did not last in our school. Targets allowed in Richard Chin’s school were above the waist, but below the neck for obvious practical safety reasons. Broken ribs were acceptable on the occasions they occurred, but neck and head injuries being potentially paralyzing or fatal, so targets above the clavicles was banned. Fists and feet were allowed, elbows and knees were not. When I opened my own dojo in 1984, I modified this protocol slightly. I allowed targets below the knee (but not the knee), and I allowed elbows, knees and shins as striking weapons.
Secondly, we didn’t wear any sort of gloves or hand padding, or body padding in Richard Chin’s school. Mandatory were a mouthpiece and a groin cup for the men, and that was it. The idea wasn’t merely to ignore the possibility of injury, but to toughen students so that they didn’t become hit-shy. A necessity in training was to learn how to take hits, and endure them physically and mentally so that the pain didn’t inhibit your technique. Quitting on any level was unacceptable. Being hit and ignoring pain, were considered normal parts of training. If you didn’t like it man, there was the door. Take up philately, instead.
Sifu Chin also instituted a belt system for his Jow Ga students. He also taught Okinawan karate, and knew the incentive benefits of having a belt ranking system, In many kung fu schools, there is no rank, and therefore a rankless system for people to hide behind. With the ranking system in our Jow Ga kung fu (using “kep” increments similar to the “kyu” Japanese ranks), everyone knew exactly where everyone else stood.
Our rank promotion tests, were brutal. They were physically and mentally punishing, testing the mettle and toughness of the tested. For brown belt rank, one would have to spar with three opponents at once. One was not expected to prevail against three atttackers, but merely to survive, without giving up. This was the keystone of the philosophy in Richard Chin’s school: Realism. It isn’t realistic to expect anyone, regardless of rank, to overcome sheer numbers. This was reality, not the movies. What was expected, was for the brown belt candidate not to stop fighting. This was test of the mind and spirit, as much as the body.
So, getting back to my reply to Mike’s question, my favorite weapon is one’s mind. For it is one’s brain that decides to “use what works,” and to utilize whatever’s available at the time. Two of my favorite weapons, are my Colt Government Model .45 ACP and my Colt Commander .45 ACP, but these aren’t practical for either nightclubs. Later.