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Photo by Rob Sager
Courtesy of Iron Horse Magazine
MY KWOON IN 1990: Our Jow Ga techniques are karate-informed.
There is a recurring technique in the signature form of our Jow Ga kung fu (Jow family style) system, called “Fook Fu,” where a open-handed block precedes a reverse punch counterattack. When I execute this open-handed block with the palm facing down, I begin the block by crossing my arms in front of me, with both arms meeting at the elbows. The blocking arm’s elbow is beneath the elbow of the other arm. The technique continues, as the forearm of the blocking arm sweeps along the forearm of the opposing arm. The blocking arm then makes the block, as the opposing hand returns to chamber.
This is identical to the way that conventional karate styles, make their outside middle-target blocks, with the arms first meeting at the elbows—with the blocking arm’s elbow underneath—before the block is completed. If you look at the way other Jow Ga schools perform this open-handed block in Fook Fu, you will not see the arms meeting at the elbows before the block is completed. In their form, the opposing arm stays chambered, uninvolved in the technique.
When I begin Fook Fu by bringing my feet together, I do so with my knees bent, so that I can do my best to keep the height of my head at the same level throughout the form. This is typical of karate form, where one endeavors not to “bob up and down” during movement. Other Jow Ga schools do begin Fook Fu, with the feet together, but with their knees straight. They are in fact standing straight up, as opposed to sinking down slightly as I do, when I bend my knees at the same point of the form.
When I complete my Fook Fu form, after I bring my feet together after the “finshing bow,” I then go into what I learned as “natural stance,” which is feet shoulder-width apart, and open hands in knife hand (spear hand) position, held relaxed in front of my body. This “natural stance” is similar to the “yoi” position, found in karate. The only difference is, the yoi position utilizes closed fists instead of knife hands. When other Jow Ga schools end their forms with their finishing bows, with the feet together, that is considered the end of their forms. I don’t finish my Jow Ga forms, until I’ve moved into natural stance. In my Jow Ga forms, the natural stance is not considered an addendum after the forms—it is considered part of the forms.
If you look at how other Jow Ga schools chamber their hands, you will notice that many of them chamber rather high on the sides of the ribcage. I chamber my hands—as I and my Jow Ga brother Mike Willner learned—at belt level. Chambering at belt level is typical for conventional karate systems.
One of the standard drills that I engaged in in my old school, Dr. Richard Chin’s Asian Martial Arts Studio in NYC, was “one-point” sparring, otherwise known as one-step sparring. This is a typical training device found in karate systems, which promotes strong blocking in four basic blocks: The down block, high-rising block, outside middle-target block, and inside middle-target block. This drill, is rare in kung fu schools.
Another drill that I learned and taught as a technique that built strong blocking technique, is step-through basics—a teaching technique that is typical for karate styles, but not seen in Chinese-style schools. Karate styles are in my opinion, more systematic in the way that they train in basic technique. Kung fu schools are more haphazard in this respect.
This is why I’m grateful that my teacher, Sifu Richard Chin, used karate methodology when it came to organizing basic drills. It is simply a better way, than is done in most kung fu schools. I believe that this is cultural, in that Japanese are more pragmatic and ordered than the Chinese, in the way that they approach the breakdown of technique, whether we’re discussing martial arts or playing golf.
You will also not find full-contact, bare-knuckle freesparring in many Chinese style schools. Yet, it was standard operating procedure when I came up. It is the way that I trained, and the way that Mike Willner’s and my students trained. Bare-knuckled freesparring, is the signature difference between our kung fu and other kung fu schools, regardless of the styles of those other schools. In point of fact (not a pun), you will also find many karate schools that only practice tournament point-style sparring, which is totally unrealistic and counterproductive. Can you say, “Playing tag?” But this is more true of kung fu schools than karate schools.
The evidence is clear for all to see. The way that my teacher, Sifu Richard Chin implemented the teaching of Jow Ga kung fu, was heavily influenced by his involvement and understanding of karate—and I have to thank him for this. I have to be grateful to Dr. Chin for this, because this produced a better and stronger brand of Jow Ga kung fu. All martial arts either evolve, devolve or stay static. The evolution of a martial art is a product of human nature, rather than a dogmatic adherence to strict traditionalism. I have reason to believe that the brand of Jow Ga that emerged from Dr. Chin’s Asian Martial Arts Studio, is not only unique, but superior in many ways. Later.