Conor McGregor’s #1 Trait

Posted in Martial Arts, Philosophy, Mixed Martial Arts with tags , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2015 by chencenter

“… I have an answer. I have an answer for everything.”

-Conor McGregor

Conor McGregor 1Speaking as a fan, as a martial artist, as an Irishman (albeit long since removed), I’m excited to see someone burst on the scene with such fervor.  Leading up to the fight between Chad Mendes and Conor McGregor in UFC 189, I educated myself on this man.  I honestly wanted to see what all the hype was about.

What I saw, even in just his interviews, was a man destined for greatness.  Some people can talk smack, as Conor often does, but I’ve never seen someone back it up quite like he does.  Plus, he knows it’s for show.  As arrogant as he may seem, it’s clear that he knows the game, knows how to get attention, and with it, how to get inside your opponent’s head.

Some people have been pretty vocal against this guy – Jose Aldo accusing Conor or taking performance enhancing drugs, and lately, famous comedian Bill Burr.  Bill, who admittedly says that he “knows nothing of the sport,” slams Conor on his tactics of intimidation and smack-talking.

The point that I’d like to make is a lot of fighters these days smack-talk- it’s a soundbite; sometimes it’s personal… most of the time it’s business.  If you’re a fight fan, how many times have you seen these athletes belittle and agitate their soon-to-be opponent, only to hug, give kind words and thank/congratulate them for a well-faught event afterwards?  If you’re a fight fan, we know this is true.  As a human being of the modern age; at this point at least, we should know what grabs people’s attention – drama, controversy and rivalry.

“Knowing the game” and “Talking the talk” may be good enough to bring in the numbers, but you have to be able to back it up… and back it up time-and-time again.  Conor has certainly done just that.

Conor McGregor 2It is undoubtable that Conor has an excellent training regiment, focusing on becoming not necessarily the best fighter, but the most adaptable fighter.  He does what it takes to win.

I am fairly sure that he’ll get beaten (at some point), as all fighters typically do – but as long as he listens to his body, keeps up with his training and continues to exude this extremely deep self-belief, he’ll continue to reign for as long as he wants.

While seated at the Bar & Grill with my fellow CombativeCorner crew member Brandon, I speculated on what the upcoming fight between Chad Mendes and Conor McGregor would be like and why I thought that (even with Chad’s tremendous wrestling skills) Conor would continue his glorious unbeaten streak (in the UFC).  “It’s about self-belief.  There is almost an inhuman amount of self-confidence in this guy. While most people might get hit and wonder this and that, Conor remains a confident, beast-of-a-fighter, that in most circumstances becomes even stronger against more stout opposition.  When you strike such a balance between your level of arousal and motivations for a fight, and you couple it with superb training and a monstrous amount of confidence…how can you lose?”

In his own words…

“Doubt is only removed by action.  If you’re not working then that’s where doubt comes in.”

Now I know that smack-talking isn’t everyone’s cup-of-tea… and it certainly isn’t mine either.  Fighters like GSP, Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida are amazing sportsman, martial artists and gentlemen of the sport.  But everyone is different. Everyone has their path.  One thing is true; you have to respect the talent of this guy. You have to recognize that it’s because of this brashness, wit and his sharp tongue that he’s been able to turn people’s heads in so short of a time.  Would I like Conor more if he just shut up and towed the line? Nope, because it just wouldn’t be him… and to a certain extent, we all have to agree that personalities make fights.

What are you thoughts on Conor McGregor, and the fight from UFC189? 

Michael Joyce

ChenCenter.Com

3 Essential Tai Chi Reads

Posted in Martial Arts, Products, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2015 by chencenter

Just the other day, I had a student come up to me and ask if there is “Anything I can do or read to help me improve” [in Tai Chi].  Immediately, three books shot to mind (out of several dozen that I’ve read over the years).  The first book that I think anyone with an interest in the art of Taijiquan should acquire and read (and definitely if you’re an instructor of Taijiquan) is Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain by Chungliang, Al-Huang. [click on the image for Amazon.Com link]
Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain

Embrace Tiger Chungliang

Published in November of 1973, it is probably safe to say that North American hadn’t had its influx of Taijiquan influence, however it was this author and masterful teacher, Chungliang, Al-Huang that helped me to form my vision of what I wanted (my personal) Taijiquan to become.  There are many parts to Taijiquan and although everyone will see them differently, Master Al beautifully illustrates what they can grow into, and how you can use the power of Taijiquan to create boundless energy and freedom.

Pros: This book is highly under-rated. Because of this, people are selling used copies for only pennies.

Cons: Many people are interested only in the combative potential of martial arts (even Taijiquan) and will thus will get very little joy from this movement/energy/spirit-based book.

Taijiquan: The Art of Nurturing, The Science of Power

Taijiquan Book Yang YangPublished in 2008 by one of my early teachers, Master Yang Yang, this book is  more detailed on the science and study of Taijiquan as a martial art and system of mind-body therapy.  If you are looking for a clear explanation how and why Taijiquan practice can benefit you, look no further! Very thorough and well-written, Master Yang Yang gives you the foundation for not only Taijiquan practice but gives you principles that can benefit all martial artists.

Pros: This book encompasses everything that is great in a martial art book. Very easy-to-read, and explains what is (for some) a difficult, and deep subject to breech.  As an indoor disciple to the late Grandmaster Feng Zhiqiang, and someone who stands strong to his Master’s teachings, you can feel and can’t help but to get swept up in the feeling that this could have easily been written by the founder of Hunyuan Taijiquan (GM Feng) himself.

Cons: Available only in Hardback, this book comes with a higher price tag of approximately $30-40

Chen Style Taijiquan Practical Method, vol. 1: Theory

Chen Style Practical Method BookThis book, written by Hong Junsheng was translated and published by his disciple, and my primary teacher, Master Chen Zhonghua.  Hong Junsheng, as many of us know, was the most senior disciple of Chen Fake; one of the true legends of all Taijiquan.  Hong spent his lifetime dedicated to the cultivation and perfection of his master’s art, faithfully practicing and passing on his master’s teaching.  If any book can be called a “Masterpiece,” this one should!

Pros: The one and only book diving right to the source of Practical Method theory, a useful resource for any martial artist (particularly those that study Taijiquan).  Although the book can be costly ($39.99 at PracticalMethod.Com), you can get a digital copy for only $20.

Cons: In order to obtain a copy of this book, you’ll have to spend $39.99, which makes this the most expensive book on the list (and it’s not even hardback). Although you’ll be reading a well-translated volume, the read can be a bit tedious; more cerebral in parts.  There are parts of the book that are quite poetic and without a bit of clarification here and there (most likely from Master Chen’s articles, videos and workshops) you might misunderstand certain concepts. Needless-to-say, this book is certainly for all serious practitioners of Taijiquan (particularly the Practical Method).

Well there are certainly some other books that I could add to the list, but these are my TOP 3.  Do you agree with my list?

WHAT BOOKS WOULD MAKE YOUR LIST?

LET US KNOW!

MICHAEL JOYCE

CHENCENTER.COM

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10 Questions with Ronnie Yee

Posted in 10 Questions, Internal Arts, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2015 by chencenter

Ronnie Yee copy

Ronnie Yee is a martial artist from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada but now lives in Vancouver, BC.  He is a student of Chen Zhonghua and a dedicated Chen Style Practical Method practitioner and teacher.  I (Michael Joyce) first met him at Hunyuan World, a gathering that Master Chen set-up at the end of our extensive training course.  During these few days, I got to meet, speak and get-to-know my taiji brother Ronnie.  One thing was very true – this guy knew his stuff! Those of us training towards our certification were even more impressed with Ronnie’s explanation of complex taijiquan concepts and his willingness to share his knowledge with others.  Nowadays, with social media and advances in communication, it’s even easier to reach out to him.  For anyone interested in learning more about Mr. Yee, please comment on this interview or email us directly at CombativeCorner@gmail.com and we’ll make sure he gets it.  Now,… for our Special World Taiji Day Interview!

10 QUESTIONS

What brought you to the martial arts?

I grew up in the 70-80s in a small prairie Canadian city. At that time, there was very little social media influence and no martial arts schools. My sole exposure were television and movies; the martial arts stars: David Caradine, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan and my favorite, Bruce Lee are what got me hooked from a young age. The city’s first martial arts school, a traditional kung fu school, opened in 1979; I learnt of its existence in 1980 and I joined right away. From that moment on, the practice of kung fu consumed my life. As time went on, more styles of martial arts began to emerge in the city such as: Tae Kwon do, Karate, Judo, Aikido and Muay Thai, to name a few. I became friends with students in the other martial arts and trained with them all. My momentum in the martial arts exceeded many of my classmates and my ego was in full-bloom. I was a case of “big fish, small pond”. In 1986, everything changed, I met Master Chen and was humbled to the core. Master Chen was the embodiment of the true martial artist and as much as I feared him, he became one of my greatest mentors and helped me to become the martial artist that I am today. 

What were the first few years like studying under Master Chen?

I was a juvenile sixteen-year-old when I first met Master Chen. At the time, Master Chen was teaching ESL in my high-school and he decided to start-up a wushu/taiji class after school. I was excited to attend his first class and show-off because, as far as I knew, I was the best! Needless to say, I was quickly proven wrong. The very first demo of the very first class, Master Chen used me in a demo and made an example out of me. My ego collapsed and I became his student. Master Chen had a very strict regime but it didn’t begin with taiji. He wanted all of his students to have a foundation of wushu basics and the discipline that came with it. His training was gruelling. As students we had no structure, no discipline, no natural talent and no maturity. We were never fast enough, never low enough, never flexible enough, and never up to his standards. After roughly 3-months of wushu basics, the classroom size shrunk from 15 students down to only 3. It wasn’t until he knew that we were devoted to the arts that he began teaching taiji. Master Chen always wanted perfection from his students; it was very frustrating for all of us but probably most frustrating for him!

You have a great skill at teaching and expressing your ideas. How did you excel as a teacher in your own right? 

After having studied 2 years intensively under master Chen, he left Regina in pursuit for his career in teaching at a secondary school in Edmonton. I was thrust into the role of instructor to my classmates. I had to validate my theories into practical reality regardless of the skill level I was at for that time. This way of teaching has always been an ongoing, evolving process throughout my life. If one thinks they have found the absolute ultimate truth, then they have stopped learning and stagnate. That is why my philosophy is based on being humble and learning from everyone regardless of their skill level. I put my ego on check, and take all criticisms seriously and try to better myself. Even the most diehard beginner that walks into your class for the first time can teach the instructor something of great value. 

Master Chen’s way of teaching using many concepts and analogies to describe one paticular move definitely had significant influence on me. To look at one thing from numerous angles so that a student can understand. Presently I come to the realization that I am very critical of myself. Watching recent videos I see so many mistakes and weaknesses. I see these same errors in many others. I have become obsessed with finding ways to express the way some particular move or application is being performed. Also I have been to workshops or classes with other instructors in other systems. You watch for ways that work well for people and you borrow teaching methods. It’s important to know how each individual student learns best and suit the teaching to them. 

Out of all that you’ve studied, is there something you enjoy most (form, weapon, etc)? 

 If there is one thing that I enjoy most, it would be the validation when an application is successful. 

What does Taijiquan mean to you?

As a martial art, Taijiquan challenges practitioners both intellectually and physically. For me, Taijiquan is the balance between good body mechanics, physics and health. 

How important is “Qi” or understanding of “Qi” to you

I believe Qi is the energy of all things. I do not understand how Qi relates the the practical application of martial arts but I do recognize Qi’s benefit to the spirit. 

Besides Master Chen, have there been other mentors/influences that have greatly impacted your evolution as a martial artist?

In 91′ I went to China for a summer and trained under Hong’s disciple, Zhang Lian En. He influenced my physical mechanics by improving my grounding and strength. Around this time, Joseph (Master Chen) and I were introduced to Liu Chengde (another one of Hong’s disciples). Liu Chengde taught me the soft side of chen taiji which helped balanced the art. 

Over the years I have sustained my share of injuries and have endured many pains in the body. In the Early 2000s I met a woman named Amelia Itcush who taught me the Mitzvah technique. In simple words, the Mitzvah technique is the base of body alignment through natural movements. Following 3 years of consistent Mitzvah practice, all my pains disipated and I began to incorporated the techniques into my taiji. 

In recent years I have had my eyes opened to real world effectiveness of the Filipino Martial arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I like to study these two arts specifically because it helps me think more critically of taiji applications.

When you train yourself, how do you arrange your session? (Do you add other non-taijiquan exercises, endurance or resistance training, etc)

Presently I mostly focus on single drills, positive and negative circles and specific movements of both yilu and paochui (the 2 main hand forms in the Chen Practical Method). I rarely practice the forms from beginning-to-end as I prefer to isolate each movement within the form and deconstruct its application. I also do modified pole shaking exercises, modified chin-ups, and modified pushups, that simulate taiji mechanics. As stated in the previous question, since the early 2000s the Mitzvah technique has become a part of my everyday motions. 

Do you feel that Taijiquan will sustain your interest/passion forever, or do you wish to supplement your training with other systems of study?

Taiji as a martail art is so beautiful, detailed and complex that it could capture my attention for multiple lifetimes. I love it for the counter-intuitive approach to body mechanics. Although I plan to practice taiji for the rest of my life, it would be unwise to be blind to the strengths of other martial arts. One of my character flaws is procrastination but I do plan to learn more from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the Filipino Martial Arts.

When I first met you, I was amazed at how multi-talented you are (magician, wushu, rope dart, massage therapy). Do you still engage in all of these activities and do you have any other things that take up your day these days? What’s new in the life of Mr. Ronnie Yee?

My girlfriend of 6 years and I recently moved to Vancouver. I still teach taiji, still do massage therapy and am still very passionate about magic. I personally think the study of magic has helped my taiji. Puts me into the mindset of drilling every nuance to perfection. I dabble in many things but those are the main pieces of my life. 

BONUS QUESTION

If you could meet one martial artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

It’s a tie between Hong Junsheng and Rickson Gracie. They have both been or are true legends of their craft. Hong Junsheng obviously because he is my grandmaster and is the one that shaped the art for how my teachers taught and how I practice. I briefly met him in 1991. But unfortunately did not get to experience his ability. So that is why I would like to meet him again. To learn taiji but very importantly to feel his skill. 

Rickson Gracie is undeniably a legend in the world of BJJ. To me high level BJJ appears to have a lot of the same physics as high level taiji. I would love to experience the crossover between taiji and BJJ at this level. 

FIN.

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10 Questions with Jeannette Acosta-Martinez

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , on April 21, 2015 by chencenter

Jeannette Acosta-Martinez FencingMaestro Jeannette Acosta-Martínez is a traditional master of arms, teaching classical and historical fencing. Maestro Acosta-Martínez is on the Board of Directors of the Association for Historical Fencing, was one of the original founding members of the International Masters at Arms Federation and is married to fencing master Ramón Martínez. In 2009 she created a three-volume instructional DVD on the French school of small-sword, L’École Française: A Practical and Combative Guide to the French Small-sword (Palpable Hit Productions).  For more information on the Martinez Academy, please visit their website by clicking on the above image.

10 Questions

How did you get your start in Fencing (& how did you gravitate to the small-sword in particular)?

I moved to New York City to apprentice as an antique restorer in the late seventies. As part of my training I often went to auctions to learn to evaluate the authenticity of antique furniture. In the 1980’s Sotheby’s and Christies often had antique arms and armour auctions. I became interested in all the swords I saw and decided I needed to learn more about them. I gravitated to the small-sword early on because at that time they were frankly less expensive than rapiers. In 1982 I decided I should learn a little fencing to help me understand the usage of these elegant swords. I felt that learning to fence would help me to better understand why they are constructed as they are. I therefore looked in the yellow pages (as one did in those days) and found several schools of fencing. I decided to visit all of them and decide which one I preferred. I made my appointments and went to the Rohdes Academy first as it was by location closer to where I worked. The old world atmosphere of the salle and Maître Rohdes’s demeanor appealed to me and I knew immediately that I did not need to look any further. I liked the traditional approach in the teaching and the strict etiquette of the school.

What are your thoughts regarding sport fencing and do they have any merit when it comes to being considered a “martial art”?

When I began I did not know there was a difference between sport fencing and classical fencing. I just understood that I was learning fencing. In a rare stroke of luck I was able to study for a year and a half with Maître Rohdes before he passed away. He instilled in me the love of classical fencing, but more importantly for me the love of learning about the art and science. The first time I saw sport fencing was in the Los Angles Olympics in 1984 and it was then that I understood I was learning something very different. I don’t have any thoughts regarding sport fencing, as it is a completely different entity. More importantly I don’t like to speak about subjects I know nothing about.

If smallsword fencing is considered “combative,” why are the deep targets of the torso (like that in foil) emphasized? It would seem that L’Ecole Francaise would focus on hits to any open target (i.e. wrist/forearm, knee, etc).

Fencing is the art of defense. The primary consideration in an assault, a duel or street self-defense is to prevent the adversary from hitting you. In order to accomplish that you may have to attack. In the attack you must make choices that prevent the adversary from attacking you at the same time or attacking you at all. As the weapons move with relative ease, the best way to be safe is to control the adversary’s blade with opposition. Hence French small-sword fencing is an opposition system. The foil was the training tool for the small-sword, so practicing targeting the most lethal areas helps to develop the necessary skills required in fencing, for example: knowing your exact lunge distance (determined by the rear foot without sliding in), control of the adversary’s blade in opposition, proper placement of the hand in the thrust to provide cover, sentiment du fer (tactile sensitivity with the blade), yielding parries, etc. Also, one is learning from the beginning that this is a lethal art. Striking someone in the wrist or arm may not stop the adversary; a thrust to the body may not stop them either, but the probability is greater because of shock to the nervous system and its demoralizing effect.

Here is a quote that addresses that from: The art of Fencing or, the Use of the Small Sword by Monsieur L’Abbat, 1743, translated from the French by Andrew Mahon:

Many people say that with sword in hand the rules of the school are not observed, and that tis sufficient to have a good heart. It is certain the people who are subject to this error, are not capable of following the rules which are to be acquired only by putting a good theory in practice; which, by frequent use, disposes the eye and the parts of executing so well, that it is almost impossible to act other wise: And as to the practice of schools and of the sword, tis the same; for no one ought to do anything with the foil, but what he knows by experience to be without risk, according to his rules. In some cases, it is true, what is esteemed good in one, is not in the other. For example: thrusts with the foil are good only on the body, and with the sword they are good everywhere; and that in an assault with the foil, the joining is reckoned as nothing, whereas in battle tis the seal of victory: but except in that, it should be alike in everything.

Sport fencing has a parry quinte that defects the blade to the inside and downward, whereas in small-sword fencing it’s a “sweeping” (supinated) parry that deflects the opponent’s blade to the outside (or inside). Why are there such differences in how parries are represented in sport, Italian (referencing Gaugler’s The Science of Fencing) and French Small-sword?

Different schools of fencing (the 19th century French school, the 19th century Italian schools, the 18th century French school of small-sword) view theory differently. Therefore classifications of parries are different and changed over time.

For example:

In the 19th century southern Italian school, the parries are classified by the hand position and correspond with the positions of the grip in the engagement: prima, seconda, terza, quarta, mezzocerchio

In the 19th century northern Italian school, the parries are designated numerically. However not all masters agree on what they are. Some use: prima, seconda, terza, quarta, quinta, sesta, settima, ottava. Other masters use: prima, seconda, terza, quarta, quinta (which is mezzocerchio) and or quarta bassa. These parry positions are not necessarily the same as the Southern school.

In small-sword the parries are designated both by hand position and wrist position (supination and pronation). They are also designated by their relation to the adversaries blade (to the outside, to the inside, above or below) and in the case of demi-circle; the semi-circular movement from high outside to low inside.

In the French school during the 19th century the thrusts, the parries and the engagements all have the same numbering designations. i. e. prime, seconde, tierce, quarte, quinte, sixte, septime and octave.

Follow-up… why is there no parry of sixte, but instead it is called “carte to the outside.”

The parry position of “carte outside” is exactly the same position of the parry of sixte. In the 19th century the term sixte replaces carte outside. The term carte outside was used to designate that the hand is in supination and that it is parrying the blade to the outside.

In Small-sword fencing, opposition is created in carte and tierce. Why is tierce a starting position when a hand position of carte is so much stronger?

(I ask this question because the realities of combat would have an adversary beat and change lines quickly [and often] and tierce doesn’t seem like the strongest of hand positions)

The small-sword is a sidearm and could be used for self-defense against another small-sword, rapier, or against a spadroon or other cutting weapons. Small-swords typically have knuckle bows to protect the hand. As any tool, you want to use it optimally, hence tierce on the outside and quarte on the inside orientates the knuckle bow to offer more protection to the hand.

If by “starting position” you mean the en garde, then tierce was not always the default position. Some masters recommend a middle position where the hand is not in quarte or tierce. From this position they believe you can quickly close either line. Also the fencer can go en garde in quarte. Domenico Angelo states: “The guard in quarte is the most advantageous, and the most elegant position in fencing.”

Also, there should be no difference between how one trains and how one uses the small-sword in earnest. Hence dexterity in the use of both of these positions is a necessity. Fencing masters in the 18th century understood the realities of combat and the French school in the 18th century addresses that.

Why are pronated attacks (such as those from tierce, seconde and quinte) and parries so prevalent in the French Small-sword? As Evangelista once wrote “Pronation will invariably generate muscular parries. That’s why the French style, by and large, avoids pronation in its delivery?

The French small-sword fencer seeks to control the adversary’s blade by proper placement and leverage, not muscular strength. The pronated positions allow for strong beats, froissements, croises as one is using the same edge as one uses for the same techniques in quarte. That said, there are actually more supinated attacks and parries used in French small-sword. The use of sixte instead of tierce did not become common until the second half of the 19th century. Even then, most masters did not discard tierce. Correct training will allow the student to develop proper parries without generating a lot of force. In fact to develop sentiment du fer (tactile sensitivity with the blade) one cannot be heavy handed.

As a masterful fencer yourself, is it hard to contend against a student or challenger (in a bout) using their natural gifts (i.e. athleticism, speed) or even scoring touches in a wild, uncalculating manner?

My obligation as a teacher is to guide the student; not to contend with them. When students are first introduced to the assault in our school, they are only allowed to fence against the master or provost. This is to ensure that the student is given precise responses that he recognizes. These academic assaults have specific rules. The student is the designated attacker. This allows them to use any of the various attacks they have learned. If they are successful, then the master will attack and the fencer cannot step back until he has parried and reposted. As a teacher my job is to give the students tools to overcome their weakness and to build upon their natural attributes. I use the assault as another means by which I polish the skills of my students. As they build their confidence and become more skillful they are allowed to fence with others.

Follow-up… how do you deal with a student like this? (to those that say “Well, it wasn’t pretty, but it worked!”)

Form and function go hand in hand. If a student is just interested in hitting at any cost, they don’t belong in our school. As a traditional school, we also work on cultivating the proper mindset. That is to say, the fencer should have a respect for what the weapon can do; the fencer should strive to defend as if the weapons were sharp.

I’ve noticed that you and your students use a back-weighted en garde “ready” position. Other classical schools, even those that I’ve seen that do small-sword use more of a 50-50 balance. Is this just to be respectful of the time period or does it come down to personal preference? What are your thoughts on this issue.

The balance of the position of the body when en garde is determined by the weapon and school that one is practicing. In our classical French system we use en garde position that is weighted more towards the back leg. In our small-sword system we have our weight supported on the back leg. In our Italian systems we use a 50-50 balance. The balance point affects how we move and is an intrinsic aspect of each system. That said, we also work with each individual and we will modify the stance to suit their particular physique if needed.

As an avid follower of yours on Pinterest, I noticed that you pin lots of pictures of historical weapons. Besides the small-sword, what other two swords (if you had to choose) hold a fascination/fondness to you (and why)?

I have a particular fondness for rapiers and falchions. I am fascinated by the variety of styles and the decoration that was applied to these swords. The craftsmanship in combination with their functionality astounds me. As an antique restorer I have the utmost respect for craftsmen/artists of the past.

Finally, are there any difference between smallswords? French, English, Scottish, etc?

Yes. However, this is a highly complex and lengthy question to answer. I highly recommend The Rapier and Small-sword 1460 -1820 by A. V. Norman.

BONUS QUESTION

Besides teaching and fencing, what else is Jeannette Acosta-Martinez passionate about or enjoy doing with her Life?

I suppose I am most passionate about antique restoration. While over the years I have developed allergies that prevent me from doing a lot of the restoration work I used to do, there is still nothing better than bringing a piece of fine furniture back to its former glory. I also enjoy traveling to other countries and visiting museums, churches, castles, etc. I can never get enough of seeing antique arms & armour, furniture, paintings, sculpture, architecture, textiles, etc.

FIN.

We at the CombativeCorner would like to thank Maestro Jeannette for her time and for answering these probing questions.  If you have any further questions for the Martinez Academy, please comment in the section below and we’ll do our best to get an answer.  For others that are intent on learning all they can of the small-sword, visit and request to join the Facebook Group Smallsword Symposium.

Also, don’t forget to re-visit the 10 questions with did with her husband, Maestro Ramón Martínez.

RELATED ARTICLES

10 QUESTIONS WITH MAESTRO RAMON MARTINEZ

A SHORT STUDY OF THE SMALLSWORD

Interviewed by: Coach Michael Joyce

@wsfencers / Winston-Salem Fencing Club

So Real… You just gotta “Play” [repost]

Posted in Jiujitsu, MMA, Philosophy with tags , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2015 by Combative Corner

Ryron Gracie - Gracie JiuJitsuBefore I started saying “Keepitplayful” I would always say “KeepItReal.”  It was something I heard on the radio and liked.  Before long I was saying it on the mat and I noticed that students interpreted that as “go for real” or “go hard.”  When you tell someone to go for real in most cases they will apply themselves at 100% to avoid having their guard passed.

I agree that you should have the confidence that you can keep someone in your guard but I also believe that keeping someone in your guard for over 30 seconds robs you of the side mount survival practice.  Because i know it is so unnatural to only control and attack guard for 30 seconds and then allow space for your opponent to pass I came up with the phrase “KeepItPlayful.”

Only someone with a playful mindset can create the experiences that are necessary for comfort in all positions.

Ryron Gracie

(reposted from Ryron’s post, “It’s so real it requires play.” 3/11/15)

A Short Study of the Smallsword

Posted in Fencing, Styles, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2015 by chencenter

smallSword_AngeloThe small sword (or court sword, l’épée courte) is a weapon that began to spread across Europe as early as the 1630s.  This weapon, effective in both attack and defense and designed for the thrust reached the height of its popularity in the late 17th-early 18th century; particularly in England and France.  Due to the small sword’s practicality, lithe & lethality, it became the weapon used to dissolve disputes*. Because the small sword required fencing kill to handle, and due to its piercing nature, the small sword duel was deemed “more civilized” than weapons concentrated on slashing and hacking.

Goodbye Rapier

The rapier, a popular image of today due to its use in movies (Zorro, The Princess Bride, The Three Muskateers, etc) became less and less popular in the late 17th century.  There were many reasons for this, one being the rapier’s bulkiness/ un-suitability in confined quarters, and changes in men’s fashion.  Richard Cohen, author of By The Sword wrote,

In 1663 the “suit”- the first piece of menswear to fasten in the front – made its appearance.  The rapier, easy enough to carry and draw in the days of the doublet and hose, did not sit well with the brocaded jackets, breeches, and silk stockings.  So popular in the 1640s and 1650s, it had become antisocial, “an infernal nuisance to passers-by.”

Description
Small Sword trainerAlmost essentially a thrusting weapon; although records exist of its occasionally being “sharpened as a razor” for dueling, the major French small sword instruction treatises focus solely on the thrust.  The sword is easily recognized by its shorter blade (29-35in.), Pas d’ane, quillon and knuckle bow.

*The picture to the left is of a small sword trainer made by Triplette Competitive Arms (Elkin, NC)

The small sword gave rise to a new school of fencing, “escrime francaise.”  Author Cohen writes:

In 1653 a book by Charles Besnard of Rennes, a leading master showed conclusively that the French had finally improved on the Italians, whose masters had never allowed for purely defensive movements -every parry had also to be a thrust.  Besnard (alleged to be the first to use the word “fleuret,” the French word for “foil) saw that always trying to do two things at once was a mistake and separated attack from defense… Besnard also introduced the formal salute, a symbol of courtesy and good form.

What’s better?

Are all swords equal? No.  Each of the various weapons of the past and present were/are constructed for specific purposes. What remains true (like all martial arts) is that skill (in this case, wielding the sword) is paramount.  The evolution of weaponry has always been based on the necessities of battle (in other words, what tool is need to overcome a foe(s)), it’s intended use and trial and error.  Fashion and practicality aside, the small sword was designed for the thrust – which as always been the most lethal of blows.  It’s shorter length, gave the fighter more agility and control over the blade.  Even though a dagger was often needed for close-quarters, the small sword carried on strong until the Napoleonic Age.

The Beginning of the end

In 1799 a coup d’état brought General Napoleon Bonaparte to power in France.  A formidable fencer by the time he reached military school, Bonaparte relished fencing, but despised the duel.  His thoughts were that “A good duelist made a bad soldier.”  By the time he had seized power, although there were still no laws banning dueling, Bonaparte had seen too many great fencers die or become disabled due to this reckless pastime.  Being a superb weapon in the battlefield, especially on horseback, the thrust-centric small sword was not.  Through Napoleon’s battles across Europe and into Russia, the only bladed weapon was the cut-centric saber/sabre – which he used to great effect in his heavy calvary charges.  (more on sabre’s in another article!)

NOTE TO READER (via Michael McQuown)

The ‘dueling sword’ and the smallsword are not the same weapon. The dueling sword consisted of a simple cup or bell guard, a handle, pommel, and a blade, with no quillons. It was never meant to be worn and was often made in pairs and carried in a case solely for the purpose of dueling. It is the direct ancestor of the modern epee and was often called the ‘epee du combat.’

Small Sword vs. Basket-Hilted Backsword

This is one of my favorite choreographed sword fights of all-time [movie fight review: click here]

True Combat

One of the most realistic scenes involving the small sword can be seen in the first fight in the movie, The Duellists.

More Information

For small sword and bladed weapon enthusiasts everywhere, you’ll be happy to hear that the CombativeCorner will be conducting an interview with Jeannette Acosta-Martinez, possibly the foremost expert of the Small Sword and the French School of small sword combat living today.  She is one of the main instructors at the Martinez Academy in New York.  Read our interview with her husband and fencing maestro Ramon Martinez.

OTHER FENCING LINKS

FENCING LANGUAGE IN “THE PRINCESS BRIDE”

FENCING LANGUAGE IN “I LOVE YOU, MAN

10 QUESTIONS WITH MATT EASTON

FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK, TWITTER AND INSTAGRAM

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Do you yield coach joyceCoach Michael Joyce teaches classical foil fencing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Mr. Joyce got his training at both the St. Louis University (1998, 1999) and University of NC-Greensboro (1999-2002) Fencing Clubs.  He has been teaching (fencing) professionally since 2005 and enjoys fencing with the French Smallsword, the Chinese Jian (straight sword) and Shaolin Rope Dart the most.

10 Questions with William Wai-Yin Kwok

Posted in 10 Questions, Kungfu, Wing Chun with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2015 by Combative Corner

CombativeCorner William

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Master William Kwok has been studying martial arts since 1979. He is Practical Wing Chun Kung Fu founder Grandmaster WAN Kam Leung’s first Closed Door Disciple that has both completed the martial art system and taught professionally outside of Hong Kong. He is also the first Regional Director and official instructor of Wan Kam Leung Practical Wing Chun Kung Fu in America”

Master Kwok established his martial arts school, Gotham Martial Arts, in 2007. His goal is to develop better individuals to serve the New York community and provide precise and attainable instruction where more people would benefit from the mind and body integration for which martial arts training is well-respected. Master Kwok’s contributions to Wing Chun Kung Fu and the traditional martial arts culture have been well recognized and respected. He has been profiled in numerous newspapers, periodicals and television networks such as New York Daily News, Sing Tao Daily, Wing Chun Illustrated, Next Magazine, Sinovision, China Central Television, and etc. In September 2014, he was honored by the Martial Arts History Museum in Los Angeles as a recipient of the Museum Honor Award for his excellence in the martial arts and his contributions to the local community. In December 2014, Master Kwok was honored martial arts title “Grand Master in Wing Chun” and rank “7th Dan Menkyo/ Grand Master in Martial Arts” by World Personal Martial Arts Federation, a non-profit and voluntary organization. In January 2015, he received the Silver Lifetime Contribution Award at Action Martial Arts Magazine Hall of Honors in Atlantic City.

Outside of the Wing Chun Kung Fu world, Master Kwok’s experience was quite varied. He is a direct student of traditional Taekwon-Do Grandmaster KIM Suk Jun and has achieved the rank of Master Instructor. Master Kwok has also earned Post Graduate Degrees from Harvard University and St. John’s University. Prior to teaching martial arts professionally, he was an adjunct professor of Managerial Studies at The City University of New York and was a member of The Asian American/Research Institute. He also served as Market Manager for a major telecom provider.

What attracted you to Wing Chun (over other martial arts)?

Kwok WingChunI have been training in martial arts since 1979 when I was seven years old. My father was a Physical Education professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. As a young martial arts fan, my father sent me to the Aikido club at the university, where I trained with college students. When I was 14 years old, my father introduced Wing Chun to the university as an after-school extracurricular. This was my first exposure to Wing Chun. I liked the Wing Chun principles of not using force against force and maintaining good body structure, but I couldn’t get into it because I didn’t see the practicality in that particular system of Wing Chun.

I was a third degree blackbelt candidate in traditional Taekwon-Do in 2000. I remember sparring with a much larger classmate. During one sparring session, he kicked me square in the chest, lifting me into the air and sending me several feet backward. It was then that I realized that, no matter how much I trained, I would not be able to defeat someone bigger or stronger than me. I began to feel that I was missing something in my martial arts training, and I remembered my early introduction to Wing Chun.I tried studying Wing Chun again in many different schools, but was still not satisfied with what I learned.In 2005 I went back to my hometown of Hong Kong to do research for my Master’s thesis project. My research had nothing to do with martial arts, but I knew it was a perfect opportunity to search for answers in Wing Chun. After I met my Sifu, Grandmaster WAN Kam Leung – Founder of Practical Wing Chun, I finally felt I had found the answers that I was looking for in a style of Wing Chun that was more suited for today’s world.

Everyone should find the style that suits them the best. To me, I like Practical Wing Chun because I can do it well and it makes a lot of logical sense. I know I can practice Wing Chun even when I turn 70 because it is not taxing on the body. It is a very scientific and practical martial art that gives me a lot of room to develop and think. All techniques in the forms serve like different building blocks that can be combined in many different ways. It is interesting to find the most effective and efficient techniques in any given situation. Some people like Jujitsu and should focus on Jujitsu. Some people like Karate and should focus on Karate. It is not best to be jack of all trades but to be great at one style or system. I like most martial arts systems but I choose to focus on Practical Wing Chun because it gives me room to think and grow, as well as improve upon the current system based on original Wing Chun principles.


How did you come to start a school in New York City and why is it named Gotham Martial Arts and not something like “Kwok Wing Chun.”

Gotham MAI moved to New York City in 1991 for college education. Although I had a successful career path in the corporate world after I graduated from college, I found the most satisfaction from my martial arts training and teaching. Being a teacher is quite rewarding when you see students’ mind and body improve. With the encouragement from my teachers, I decided to dedicate myself to martial arts education. My goal is to develop better individuals to serve our community. To me, martial arts is education, not just an activity or hobby.

When I first established Gotham Martial Arts in 2007, there were two other master instructors involved. Therefore, it did not make sense to name the school after any individuals. We preferred a name that gave people a “traditional” feeling and represented New York City. That was the reason that we chose the name “Gotham”. Besides Practical Wing Chun, Gotham Martial Arts offers instruction in traditional Taekwon-Do. While the other master instructors are no longer with the school, I have decided to keep the name “Gotham Martial Arts” because the name is well established in New York City. Today, I see Gotham Martial Arts as a channel to introduce and promote excellent martial arts in New York City.


Did you, or do you feel the need to combine other martial arts to your arsenal? Why/why not?

No, I don’t feel the need to combine Practical Wing Chun with other martial arts. Even though I embrace most traditional martial arts, I don’t support the idea of mixing different martial arts styles. Even though my school offers both Practical Wing Chun and traditional Taekwon-Do, we teach them separately. Martial Arts practitioners should not focus on too many styles simultaneously. It will confuse their mind and body. It is very similar to choosing a major when we attend college. We cannot just take numerous introductory courses and claim to be an expert of all. Eventually, we need to choose a major and focus on it. Colleges and universities have such academic structure for a reason. Great doctors and scholars spend years focusing on a few aspects of their specialty. Once we achieve a higher level on one subject, we can then appreciate other subjects more profoundly.

I enjoy studying Wing Chun because it suits me well at this stage of my life. It offers me a lot of room to develop and think. Every practitioner should do a lot of research, find the martial art that suits them best, and stick with it. At a higher level in their martial art journey, they should also have a basic understanding of what other martial arts offer, which will improve their understanding of their own martial art style. All martial art styles have their strengths and weaknesses. No martial art style is perfect and so I encourage my advanced students to keep an open mind.


When you train with someone more experienced, what typically impresses you?

Kwok Chi SauTraining includes developing the body and mind. The theories supporting their training and techniques have to make logical sense. He/she has to be able to prove the effectiveness of the training/techniques by demonstrate it. We need to keep in mind that “more experienced” doesn’t mean “better”. Martial arts training include many techniques. We should view these skills and techniques like technology that is always changing and improving. If a person keeps on practicing the same way for many years without thinking about it, it limits the person’s improvement. To me, one’s attitude and approach toward training matters the most.

When I train with someone more skillful like my Wing Chun teacher, Grandmaster WAN Kam Leung, I am always impressed with his fluidity of movements. A person has to possess an excellent control of hardness and softness in order to move and respond the way he does. Despite his 50+ years of training, he is still learning and improving. I admire and respect that tremendously.


In a market heavy with Karate, Muay Thai and Jiu-jitsu gyms, what obstacles do you face opening a Wing Chun school?

In America, “Wing Chun” is not as popular as names like “Jiu-jitsu”, “Karate” and “Muay Thai”. When most American people think about martial arts, they probably associate the movements with Karate, Muay Thai and Jiu-jitsu, or what they have seen in movies. When my prospective students visit my school, they usually have prejudgments about Wing Chun and some certain expectations about martial arts training. Some of them may have watched the movies about Grandmaster Ip Man and expect to learn how Donnie Yen fights in those movies. Some of them see martial arts training as an alternative of their workout.

It is very important that my prospective students understand that Practical Wing Chun is primarily a self-defense system. It is a system evolved and developed by my teacher, Grandmaster Wan Kam Leung, based on the traditional Wing Chun he studied for many years and the many fights he had. I usually suggest prospective students take a trial lesson before they join the school. It is important for them to choose a martial arts system that suits them the best. After trial lessons, they usually feel surprised by what Practical Wing Chun offers. Most of them choose to commit to the training and others continue to search for the martial arts that satisfy their expectations and needs.

Gotham Class Pic


Growing up, what martial arts/martial artists did you look up to for inspiration?

There were three people that really inspired me as a teenager growing up in Hong Kong. The first person was Bruce Lee. The first movie I ever watched was “Way of the Dragon”. The movie was rerun in 1983 in observance of the 10th anniversary of Bruce Lee’s passing. Bruce Lee’s on-screen martial arts skills were unlike anything I had ever seen. His movements were so fast and his kicking skills were incredible. He definitely inspired me to train harder perfecting my own kicking skills and to research more about his fundamental martial arts, Wing Chun.

The second person was Jackie Chan. Although I really enjoyed Jackie Chan’s movies as a youth, I didn’t consider him as a martial artist but an excellent stunt performer. I admire Jackie Chan not because of his physical abilities, but the vision and approach to making action movies. When everyone wanted to be the second Bruce Lee after Bruce Lee’s death in 1973, Jackie Chan had a very different approach. He didn’t want to be a copycat. He was almost a complete opposite of Bruce Lee. Jackie was one of the first to successfully combine great physical skills with comedic talent. He was such a great performer. Jackie Chan kept changing his approach and improving his style. That made him a pioneer of action movies in Asia for many years.

The last person was late Grandmaster WONG Shun Leung. When I was young, one of my father’s friends knew that I was into martial arts training. He liked to tell me stories about martial arts legends. There were many stories, but one story impressed me the most. He told me that there was a martial artist with amazing skills. He had won countless rooftop martial arts challenges in Hong Kong back in the 50s and 60s. I was very impressed and inspired by the stories. Many years later, I discovered that his name was Wong Shun Leung, a Wing Chun warrior. Therefore, when I later searched for a Wing Chun school, I narrowed down my search to only the WONG Shun Leung lineage.

What are some common misconceptions in the Wing Chun world?

Kwok teachingI find that many traditional Wing Chun schools are too focused on traditional teachings that were passed down to them, and are unwilling to adapt to modern times.  While I fully appreciate Chinese tradition, history, and culture, I also think that we live in a different world and environment these days and Wing Chun needs to adapt and evolve in order to remain a high form of martial arts while maintaining the core of the Wing Chun philosophies. We wouldn’t use cell phones from the 1980s the size of our heads to follow tradition, so why practice the obsolete techniques when we can modernize it? When we study martial arts, we should look forward instead of looking backwards. A common misconception is that traditional Wing Chun is still very effective in today’s world. What is wrong with that statement is that many people don’t realize martial arts techniques and teaching methods need evolved and can be improved without losing the core Wing Chun principals. When we watch Olympic events, we see new world records set every four years. It is because sports coaches and athletes always research and discover better ways to perform. Martial arts should be the same. The schools that follow a “traditional” Wing Chun approach stubbornly adhering to the martial art as passed down to them from their teachers. This is a great thing that the martial art system and culture can survive for centuries. However, even those that claim to be teaching traditional Wing Chun, you will find different ways of doing the same forms and techniques. It is natural for any instructor to interpret a detail-oriented and complicated martial art such as this with a different viewpoint from the next, and so the quality of instruction and training, as well as the techniques themselves, can be very different. Every lineage will have its own specific focus. Then there are some like my teacher that have attempted to evolve the art form based on practically and suitability for modern times but keeping the core discipline the same. I am not saying it is definitely better but just more logically in my opinion.

Another misconception is that when many practitioners focus on Chi Sau practice without fully completing Siu Lim Tao (the first Wing Chun form) and intensively practicing San Sau (techniques and partner drills) from the form. Chi Sau should be a partner drill practiced to learn how to change the San Sau techniques, not just to practice sensitivity which is the usual explanation. To me, it does not make sense for students to practice Chi Sau after studying Wing Chun for a short period of time because they have no techniques to practice and respond with. Some even think that the Wing Chun forms have not much to do with Chi Sau. I find it unacceptable. Every single technique in Wing Chun should have a practical application. In my school, students need to learn part one of Siu Lim Tao and then practice extensively before learning part two of the form, and so on. After they learn and practice San Sau, they then learn Chi Sau. Students should practice Siu Lim Tao and San Sau for a few months before they practice Chi Sau. In order to understand Chi Sau, the student must first understand San Sau; to understand San Sau, they must understand the form. When we practice Chi Sau, we should be able to demonstrate what we have learned in the forms and drills, not only about developing better sensitivity.

Speaking of Chi Sau, I would like to remind Wing Chun practitioners that it is NOT appropriate to visit a Wing Chun school,without any serious commitment or intend to learn that school’s system, and request to “touch hands” with someone. In traditional Chinese culture, this approach is considered rude and shows disrespect to the school.

Chi Sau 1


Is there a form, set of exercises, weapons etc, that you enjoy the most and why?

I enjoy practicing the basics. The basics are the core and foundation of any martial arts system. If our foundation is weak, the advanced techniques are less effective. Moreover, even after learning a technique, we should relearn it some point during our training because we will be able to analyze it from a different perspective. And when one graduates to become a teacher, he should relearn it again because again it is viewed from a different perspective. The more we practice the techniques, the more we may discover about them. In Practical Wing Chun, I practice my forms every day. The more I train and perform the form, the more I discover the insights about Practical Wing Chun.


Do you stress competition of any kind? If so, what kind? If not, why not?

Competition is good practice. I occasionally send my traditional Taekwon-Do students to competitions because the experience can benefit their training. Each martial art has its advantages and disadvantages and strengths and weaknesses. If a beginner wants to learn a martial art discipline mainly because he/she is into competition, I would not suggest Wing Chun.

Wing Chun is not meant for competition. It is a martial art created by a woman thus intended for a smaller person in size to finish a fight as quickly as possible. In competitions, there are always weight divisions and rules. Wing Chun does not observe those rules as there are no weight divisions when you are walking on the street and encounter a threatening situation. Therefore, the techniques we practice may not be suitable to use in competitions. In addition, Wing Chun specializes in short distance and is very effective in constrained environments such as elevators and on public transportation. It is extremely difficult to judge fairly in competitions. Although some Wing Chun organizations prefer to promote Wing Chun and create a sport version of it so that more people are interested in the style, I do not believe Wing Chun is well suited for this.

Many teachers find competition a good training experience for some of their students. Although my school does not participate in Wing Chun competitions, some Wing Chun practitioners may find occasionally participating in competition beneficial. Everyone learns differently. Competitions can provide a platform for schools and martial arts friends to exchange ideas and develop friendships. However, participating in competition should not be the primary training aspect for a Wing Chun practitioner.

What do you like to do in your spare time (when you are not teaching or practicing the martial arts)?

I enjoy spending time with my family and disciples. We go to movies, dinner gatherings, tea lunch with dim sum, etc. It is important that we communicate and share the joys and challenges in our lives. I also enjoy reading non-fiction books and thinking about different aspects of my life when I am alone. Like Confucius said, “Knowledge from reading without thinking is soon forgotten; thinking without reading will make you self-righteous.” Reading helps simulate my mind and think more clearly. I am also interested in researching and developing more efficient ways of conducting classes and teaching my students.

BONUS QUESTION

If you could meet one martial artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

Bonus Q Huo YuanjiaIt would be an honor if I could meet with Master Huo YuanJia, a famous martial art master and a co-founder of the Chin Woo Athletic Association in China. He passed away in 1910. Despite of his heroic status in China, Master Huo was one of pioneers that embraced and supported different styles of martial arts. He has been portrayed in many timeperiod martial arts movies include Jet Li’s Fearless. Chin Woo Athletic Association was one of the earliest associations that accepted different martial arts and physical activities other than those taught by the master. I respect Master Huo’s open mind and support towards other martial arts systems. Many people still cannot do it today, but Master Huo did 105 years ago in China.

Master Huo tragically died before he turned 43. I am turning 43 this year. It would be interesting to see how much he had achieved at my age. If I could meet him in person, I would probably ask him the challenges of founding his association and what he would do if he could live a long life.

For more information on Master William Wai-Yin Kwok visit his website at: GothamMA.Com

Gotham Martial Arts

328 East 61st Street, 3rd Floor

New York, NY 10065

(212) 326-9510

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