Photo by Patricia Wong
Magazine page courtesy of Rainbow Publications
JOW GA ANCESTORS: How revelant?
Just how relevant and important is one’s style lineage, to a martial artist? I suppose that depends on one’s relationship—or lack of it—with one’s teacher. It is one’s teacher, that is the immediate link to all of the rest of the style’s line. For example, I left my Jow Ga teacher, Sifu Richard Chin in 1984, and the departure was neither amicable or traditional in any sense. Like so many sifu/disciple relationships that went south, there were insurmountable hurdles that could not be overcome, that would’ve allowed us to continue our relationship as it was, unabated. Mike Willner had a similar break with Sifu, even though the details of the problems we each had with Sifu were quite different.
The philosophical question that arose with me after I made my break with Sifu was, did this break my line with Sigung Chan Man Cheung (Sifu’s sifu), and Chan Man Cheung’s teacher, who happened to be one of the Jow Ga founders, Jow Biu? In my mind, perhaps in the view of some, but it didn’t matter. Others’ viewpoints didn’t concern me. It didn’t matter to me, because I had possession of what I considered paramount to my Jow Ga lineage: My skill and technique, and my ability to pass the art on to another generation, which I have done. Now, I occasionally run across students of my disciple, Eddie Garcia, who now call me “Sigung.”
Do these students of my disciple, have a “legitimately” continuous line all the way back to our founder and ultimate ancestor, Jow Biu? In my view, yes. Yes, because they practice the art that Jow Bui helped to create, the art that Jow Biu taught to Chan Man Cheung, the art that Chan Man Cheung taught to Richard Chin, the very art that my teacher taught to me. Politically-obsessed people may deny the reality of that, but Sifu’s teaching me this wonderful art of Jow Ga, did occur, and did not merely exist in an abstract vacuum. Blood, sweat and tears were shed during the teaching of, and the learning of this art. That cannot be denied. To deny this for political reasons, would constitute an act of psychosis. What this means is, that two generations downstream from me, are younger Jow Ga practitioners that can trace their true lineage all the way back to Jow Ga’s founders.
It is the art of Jow Ga, taught to me the way that Richard Chin viewed it—that informs how I view the art—-and has influenced the way that I’ve taught it. Do I ever bother with worrying about how I or my Jow Ga brother, Mike Willner, are perceived? Do I wonder if they see me as “legitimate” or not? Sorry, it’s not even a issue worth thinking about, which I don’t, or ever did. It is the art that lives on, untouchable by political concerns, that gives meaning to who’s legitimate. Legitimacy is shown in the power of one’s form, and the speed and acceleration in one’s reverse punch. Period. In the end, philosophical questions regarding “legitimacy” are really political questions—and politics within the martial arts, concerns me not at all.
Allow me to qualify, how lineage is of importance—but from an historical point of view. I believe that one should respect what came before, to appreciate how my art developed over the decades, and to see the combat philosophy that may (or may not have) been passed on from generation to generation. This doesn’t necessitate a personal relationship with one’s martial ancestors, however immedaite or distant. What it does require, is a sense of history and tradition on one’s part. This, I can do, without a direct line to Sifu’s or Sigung’s cell phone. Or a seance’s communicative power to reach Jow Biu. Ultimately though, what’s really important is the here and now of how one sees one’s own art, for that will differ vastly, even within the same style in name. Later.