Monday
Jan202014

The problem with Chinese martial arts history

A scan of a hung moon document detailing the names of the five elders of Shaolin. One of the more frustrating aspects of teaching Chinese martial arts has to be the mysticism surrounding the origins of most kung fu styles.  Not only are most origin stories nothing more than pure legend, but even attempts at more a truthful history are often buried deep in tribal politics.  As lineage to the most authentic source is the main aim, so the histories passed down often contain more than a few embelishments.  As Chinese martial arts researcher Brian Kennedy said in his book Jingwu: "When the person or group that is making a historical claim is likely to benefit - financially or otherwise - from the claim, there is a clear conflict of interest.  These conflicts of interest can occur on a large scale (say the Shaolin Temple) or a smaller scale (individual teachers).

It doesn't help either that most of the so-called Chinese martial arts history that is passed on these days has its origins in Chinese pulp-fiction novels.  The line between storybook fiction and real history has been so distorted that much of what we know of Wong Fei Hung for example, can be flushed down the toilet.  

Add to this the Chinese government trying to promote the tourist juggernaut that is the "Shaolin Temple".  Suddenly many historical revelations and 'proof' are found to promote its authenticity.  Now even with the popularity of the "Ip Man" films, suddenly mainland China has produced heretofore never seen photos of Leung Jan and Leung Bik.  Close inspection can reveal them easily to be fakes - but not before they are shared to thousands on Facebook as the real deal.

One of the most commonly held beliefs in Chinese martial arts is that the Ching government burned down the Shaolin Temple.  Only five Shaolin elders escaped this fire miraculously.   These five elders are also the founders of various streams of martial arts.  Most respected researchers indicate that this was nothing more than a propaganda trick of the hung moon society trying to get the public riled up against the Ching.  According to kung fu books and oral history the five elders of Shaolin are:

 

  1. Chi Sim
  2. Bak Mei
  3. Ng Mui
  4. Fung Dou Dak
  5. Miu Hin

 

However, the book Thian ti hwui. The Hung-league or Heaven-earth-league by Gustav Schlegel printed in 1866 has an original hung moon manuscript in it.  The hung moon is widely attributed with founding a number of martial arts as well as being the root of modern Chinese Triads or organized crime.   This manuscript lists the ng jou or five elders of Shaolin.  They said these elders created the five lodges or departments of the hung society, not of martial arts.  This historical document lists the five elders under the following names:

 

  1. Wu Dak Dai
  2. Fong Dai Hung
  3. Choy Dak Chung
  4. Ma Chiu Hing
  5. Lee Sik Hoi

 

Looks like those who promote the old five elder myth need a brush up on history.  When the Chi Sim five elder group is commonly accepted as fact despite documentary evidence to the contrary, what else has been a mere fish tale?

Monday
Jan132014

The 'other' Leung brothers are finally Sifu!

I'm very proud to announce that after our very successful Winter Intensive workshop, two of my most senior students are now qualified as 'sifu of wing tsun'.  Wai and Ryan Leung have been with me since around 2003 along with their brother Elliot Leung.  Elliot passed the test for 2nd Level and Sifu in 2012 and now finally(!) the two other Leung brothers have both the 2nd level and the title of sifu.  I'm very proud of all of them for their hard work and dedication.  It wasn't an easy road but they stuck to it and showed perseverance and heart.  Their test for 2nd level back this past Thursday was no easy feat.  They can both be very proud as I am.

Wai assists his brother Elliot at Club Kung Fu in Stamford (www.ctwingtsun.com)

Ryan teaches in Charlotte, NC (www.ncwingtsun.com)

Wednesday
Nov202013

A new CWT head instructor & updates to the network

City Wing Tsun is growing and improving at a record pace!  Here are a couple of the new changes in effect:

FIRST NYC HEAD INSTRUCTOR: I'm very proud to announce that my student, Sifu Craig Savino is the new head instructor for City Wing Tsun in NYC.  For myself, I will be in charge of teaching the instructors both in my NYC location and in my network of schools.  Craig will be in charge of teaching the students that join our NYC school.  We will be working very closely together to insure that all students at CWT are progressing they way they should and achieving the goals they have set out to accomplish.

NEW ASSOCIATION NAME: The organizational structure of my network has now taken a strong shape.  The name of our association is now the City Wing Tsun Athletic Association (CWTAA).  The CWT website will be relaunched in the next few weeks to reflect this new name.  The old CWT website will be solely for our association, separate from the NYC school website which is www.learnkungfunyc.com 

NEW ASSOCIATION STRUCTURE: In the recent past I have been against the word "association" as the former powers-that-be have sullied it senselessly.  Instead of succumbing to the what others have destroyed, I have decided to take that word back and redefine it.  At CWTAA we associate with each other out of choice rather than obligation or fear.  Rather than allowing any WT instructors to join and open a school, I have severly heightened the entrance requirements to our association.  I have stopped accepting new schools into the network as I want to focus on building up the quality of the instructors that are already in it.

For the CWTAA I am the chief-instructor and my senior student Sifu Nicole Daniels is the assistant chief-instructor.  She can teach workshops and grade students in my place should I be traveling.  Sifu Nicole is the highest ranking female instructor and still only female WT sifu in North America.

I will make an announcement when the update to the CWT site is finished.

Tuesday
Oct222013

Another Wing Tsun weekend in Texas!

I will begin with the obligatory apology to my blog readers for not posting in a while.  I've been very busy not only teaching in my school, but also writing my first book on wing tsun.  My upcoming book will be (in my opinion at least) the most exhaustive wing tsun book for beginners.  Needless to say it's a ton of work!

Anyway... this past weekend I taught my second San Antonio seminar for this year.  I decided to take a different approach with my visits.  As it is not ideal to transmit wing tsun through seminars I've constantly tried to come up with ways to improve the quality of the instruction of my branch schools.  We have come up with a number of new protocols such as handouts, to improve the information retention of the attendees.  I have also decided that I will only teach these seminars for another five years.  My energy is best spent on developing my instructor team so that I'm not needed to teach student programs. 

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE teaching WT and traveling for seminars.  However, if the students and branch instructors feel that my visits will be forever in perpetuity they won't set goals for themselves.  One need only take a look at the other guys receiving yearly visits from their grandmaster to see the unbelievably low quality of their instructors.  When instructors rest assured that their lack of skills will be fixed "next year" by their grandmaster what is their incentive to train now?  But I digress...

This time I brought City Wing Tsun's assistant chief trainer Sifu Nicole Daniels with me.  I'm grooming her to take over the seminar gig for me starting in 2018.  Friday began with a series of private lessons for both Sifus Glenn and Ram.  Sifu Glenn took a number of private lessons together with Nicole.  After Nicole, Glenn is the second of my students to learn the entire 10 part chi gerk program.  Ram also took a number of lessons mainly on the teaching curriculum so that he can deliver the highest quality to his students.

The Saturday seminar had a mix of students from all levels as well as visitors from nearby Austin, Texas.  The energy was high and the students trained very hard.  To reward them I killed them all with our NYC style workout at the end :)  Sunday we took a trip to Austin to teach small group semi-private lessons to Colin McClelland and his group.  It was a lot of fun introducing Hong Kong style WT to them all.  I hope to come back again next time!

The vibe of this round of seminars has been the most positive yet.  Super excited to see WT grow more in Texas!

Monday
Aug262013

Two new black shirts at CWT!

Amy & Nicola with their SG9 certs after the tough test. Saying good-bye to the intermediate Inner Circle class.Super proud of the hard work of two of my students, Amy and Nicola who passed the tough test for SG9 this past Thursday.  The SG9 test is a rite of passage from white shirt to black shirt and reviews all the skills from the ground up.  Passing the test gives them both the opportunity to become an Assistant Trainer candidate.  

Amy fought very hard during her test and now can proudly join the ranks of CWT's ever-growing group of senior female students.  Nicola braved not feeling well to push through the difficult test so that he could earn his black shirt before a short trip back to Italy.

To see the transformation in students from when they join to when they achieve advanced levels of skill is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.