Archive for April, 2015

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 and we’ll make sure he gets it.  Now,… for our Special World Taiji Day Interview!


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. 


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. 







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.


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.


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.




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)

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