Archive for Wushu

10 Questions with Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming

Posted in 10 Questions, Kungfu, Taijiquan with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2012 by Combative Corner

The Combative Corner is proud to present the highly-anticipated interview of Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming.  Dr. Yang is a name that, if you are into the martial arts (in any capacity) you’ve either heard the name, seen his books, or both.  He has been involved in Chinese Wushu (Kungfu/Gongfu) since 1961 and teaches everything from Shaolin White Crane and Shaolin Longfist to Qigong and Taijiquan.  Dr. Yang owns and operates Yang’s Martial Arts Association (YMAA) in Boston, Mass.(Headquarters), and has branch schools in Italy, Poland, Portugal (to name a few). 

For more info on Dr. Yang / YMAA, please click the image above.

What originally brought you to the martial arts?

I became interested in martial arts partly because I grew up in a traditional Chinese society. I was born right after World War II in Yang’s Village, which consisted of more than 600 relatives and family members living together. Back then, it was not uncommon to see many people around you training Kung Fu. Serious martial arts practitioners and highly-skilled masters were much more prevalent than they are today. Training Kung Fu was as common as learning to play an instrument, or playing sports. Martial arts movies and martial arts street performers were also very popular. Whenever I saw martial artists performing in the movies or on the street, it made me very excited and increased my desire to learn it. Because training martial arts was so popular, my parents were not surprised that I wanted to train Kung Fu and did not oppose it. Also, because Chiang, Kai-Shek’s party was aggressively preparing for war against the Chinese Communists, there were many people who were searching for ways to condition themselves both physically and psychologically. Training martial arts proved to be one of the best ways of reaching this goal.

Currently, what is your favorite form or exercise to practice and why?

I am 65 years old. Physically, I have lost my potential and capability to perform external styles to a physically strong level. Whenever I get injured now, I recover very slowly. This has made me turn my focus to training softer styles and doing more internal exercises, particularly in Taijiquan and Qigong. After many years of practice, research, and experience, I often like saying that Taijiquan is just like classical music. It is very deep, profound, and endless in knowledge, feeling, and creativity. The internal arts disciplines the mind and body. They also train sensitivity to Qi and the ability to control and generate Qi. The feeling of internal arts is much deeper and harder to achieve than just about all external styles. It is a very unique and rewarding feeling because the only way to experience it is through diligent practice, and it keeps evolving into something much more the deeper you get. I enjoy the depth of this feeling very much. Internal arts is definitely my favorite form of exercise.

I still enjoy teaching external styles because it helps me maintain some level of my physical strength. I believe regular physical movements are the key to slowing down the aging process, staying healthy, and keeping away from sicknesses. However, as my body continues to age, I will gradually be concentrating more and more on developing a deeper and more refined practice in internal styles only.

What has been the hardest obstacle in teaching?

The hardest obstacle today is finding committed students. It is not easy to find a student who is able and willing to sacrifice or compromise things such as their job, families, or social lives to sincerely dedicate to training. Kung Fu has been downgraded to a hobby or sport. Some might even view it as a luxury in today’s society. Additionally, it is not easy to find a student who has the will, patience, endurance, perseverance, and morality required to train to a meaningful level. Due to the exaggeration of martial arts in the media today, just about all students have fantasies about how good of a martial artist they can be in a short period of time. However, any deep art takes a lot of time and patience (Gongfu) to reach an accomplished or exceptional level. Fantasy and reality have been mixed in today’s world. The “McDonald’s” culture of getting what you want fast, cheap, and at a low standard has influenced all of the young generation. So many young kids only want a quick result and do not train as seriously as the generations before them. The idea of diligently training to enjoy the rewards of working hard is virtually nonexistent. Many young kids do not want to train hard but still want and expect the rewards. From what I can observe, the feeling, understanding, and depth of traditional martial arts today is missing in a majority of practitioners. Many students do not stay with their training for a long period of time, especially when they get new jobs, go to college, move away, get a girlfriend or boyfriend, get married, or have kids. Sometimes students lose interest or make excuses because the training is much harder than they originally expected or wanted. Kung Fu is a passing interest to most people. Generally speaking, if anyone is looking for fast results, no teacher is required. There is very little instruction or guidance needed for learning quantity. I have seen a lot of teachers only in their 20s who practice more than 10 styles, often mixing several of them together. It is not difficult to do this with a strong interest and persistence, especially when there are so many instructional DVDs available today. To learn even just one style to a true level of mastery, however, will take much more than just DVDs and much more than just a few years of training with a master. For example, there are perhaps thousands of people who know how to play the piano very well, but there are much fewer Beethovens and Mozarts in the world. I believe in achieving a high quality of mastery like Beethoven, and not just achieving a level that is only above average.

Due to the fast development of material science, many people today are also constantly searching first for materialistic pleasures and enjoyment. Cultivation of the spirit has been downgraded significantly since the middle of the last century. Many people are more concerned about having fancy cars, big televisions, large mansions, or expensive jewelry instead of core family values, respect and kindness towards others, and a coherent desire to make the world a better place for humanity. This has made the process of teaching about the internal arts, Qi, mind, spirit, and life much harder than before. For example, it is very hard to teach many people to meditate today. There are so many distractions in the material world, and many people are just too accustomed to looking for shortcuts.

Have you had to deal with personal threats or “challenges” over the years?

One time, there was a drunk guy who came to YMAA Boston to challenge the school. I did not believe he really wanted to fight, and in the end, I was right. He began by talking a lot about how he fought in the Vietnam War, how he had overcome many challenges won many fights against other people. I listened to him and nodded my head. When he realized I was actually listening, he calmed down a little. I told him that I was in the middle of a class and said that if he wanted to fight, he would have to wait until my class was over. He sat down. I gave him a cup of strong coffee. When I finished teaching my class, he was nowhere to be found. All I saw was an empty coffee cup on his chair. From then on, every time he walked past the school, he would always raise up both of his hands and wave to say hello. We became friends. There were a few times where I was able to dissuade others from challenging us simply by inviting them to tea or coffee. Oftentimes, after getting to know each other, there was no fight. I believe that most people are not bad, and sometimes it just takes a little bit of work to get to know somebody’s true intentions. Sometimes people just come across some rough patches in life. I understand that very well from my own experiences.

The worst challenges that I had to deal with were when I was attacked by people who only had the intention to harm or conquer me. In my earlier years of YMAA, sometimes people would just walk into my school and interrupt my classes or seminars to cause trouble. There were multiple times when I was invited to teach a seminar but was instead challenged, once by a long line of people waiting to push hands with me. Many were just interested promoting themselves, and only wanted to be able to say, “I beat Dr. Yang.” There was no chance to show courtesy or establish friendship in these situations. That is why you must be alert when someone approaches you with a hostile attitude. If you have good awareness and alertness, you can easily sense when such a situation is coming and react appropriately. The outcome is always dependent on how good your reaction skills are, your strategy and assessment of the threat (if any real threat is there), and how effective the techniques you use are. In many cases, I was able to just walk away, regardless of how upset the other party was. Sometimes all that is required is a calm mind and a well-strategized approach. I still believe that the best fight is no fight. In today’s modern day times, physical confrontation is usually not necessary, and that is the option I always seek first before all other solutions.

When I first started publishing martial arts books, I also received a number of very upset letters, some from other masters, scolding me for revealing a lot of secrets from ancient Chinese documents. I simply wanted to share the knowledge with the world. After seeing how much knowledge my White Crane master was unable to pass on before he died, I felt a duty to preserve as much martial arts knowledge as  I possibly could. To me, translating these documents and publishing them was the best way to reach the world, and to have a well-documented record of them in the future. In today’s world, I see no need to keep secrets. So when I first started publishing, very conservative masters did not agree with me, and they were in fact, very angry at me. However, several years later, some of those that initially scolded me eventually apologized, saying that what I was doing was actually the right thing to do. After so much time had passed, like me, they realized that the traditional arts were dying. The true essence of the arts is being lost exponentially from generation to generation. Without being open about sharing this knowledge, the essence will be completely lost in just a few more decades. I always wish that I could do more to preserve and develop the art because I have really just barely scratched the surface. There are so many more documents that still have yet to be translated, and unfortunately, so many more that were lost during the Cultural Revolution. Kung Fu is not what it used to be. Students are far less committed and dedicated than they were in my generation, and even then, in my generation there were still some problematic students. It makes me sad to think about how many hundreds of years of knowledge were simply neglected or thrown away because society has devalued Kung Fu and become distracted from knowing the real quality of human life and spirituality. I hope to educate the public about how it has benefited my life and the lives of so many others, and how it can also benefit them.

The “Mixed Martial Arts” are very popular these days. Why do you think that “Kung fu” is not prevalent?

MMA is very mainstream and heavily promoted. I believe this is because it generates a lot of business and money in the entertainment industry. It is similar to boxing or the gladiator battles in the old days. These types of events draw a big crowd. Many people instinctively like cheering for a team or a celebrity. Unfortunately, in such sports, oftentimes people are interested only because of the violence, name, or competition. Since violent events and media coverage such as MMA influence much more people than traditional training, I feel that the overall feeling of martial arts has become so shallow. We are accustomed to the ideas of wanting to overcome adversity, to push ourselves to become better than others, or to have “good vanquish evil.” But respectable deeds and struggles do not involve unnecessary violence or belittling others for the sake of entertainment, whether in a full-contact activity like MMA, or a no-contact activity like golf. Kung Fu stresses these values much more than MMA. It is unfortunate that fighting sports like MMA encourage and support the ideas of conquering and intimidating others through violence, and it seems to prioritize getting titles. MMA can be trained in a proper way when it is with the right goals and intentions in mind. I truly believe that not all MMA fighters are only interested in violence and glory. Conversely, not all traditional practitioners are always training for righteous reasons. It is the mind of a person that makes the difference; the art being trained is irrelevant. I believe there are some MMA practitioners who will spend their time patiently to truly comprehend the arts and experience its deep feeling. However, it seems that mainstream MMA just focuses on the wrong things about martial arts training.

In traditional training, a Kung Fu master will not teach a student any fighting techniques until they have built enough trust and confidence in the student’s ability, responsibility, judgment, and moral character. Unfortunately, I believe this is why many fighting schools often criticize Kung Fu. There are no immediate results, like winning fights, in traditional martial arts. It is true that many traditional students never reach a stage where they can really apply the techniques they learn. However, fighting has never been the goal of traditional training. Traditional martial arts has always been for self-defense and self-cultivation, never for fame, glory, power, name, or money. Fighting ability in traditional martial arts is related to how much students can develop their mind first, and in addition to that, how much they truly want to be a fighter. I find that just about all traditional teachers and students always promote nonviolence and peaceful ways. In addition, the traditional martial artists that do develop a high level of fighting often do not show it off or publicly display it. The skill set they develop is always just for their own personal goals and development, never for others. In order to get to a high level of martial arts mastery, Kung Fu can be trained in no other way. Kung Fu is a traditional art, and it has persisted over hundreds of years and generations because of the values it promotes. It takes time, patience, endurance, perseverance, and high morality. In most cases, if students have such qualities, they are not looking to win matches, to get a title, or to promote themselves.

Traditional schools often train their students first in fundamentals: basic stances, basic hand forms, basic body mechanics, basic coordination, and very importantly, martial morality and the mind. They are much more demanding in terms of requiring concentration and discipline of the mind. This preliminary training alone can take years. Many beginning students give up or lose patience in traditional training because of this, especially the ones that only want to fight. I believe the mentality of wanting to learn martial arts only to fight is still more popular than learning martial arts for self-cultivation. Even when I began martial arts when I was 15, I had only wanted to learn how to fight. MMA is more popular in this respect because they enter into sparring training much earlier. Externally, the results in MMA are more easily visible and can be trained relatively quickly. It is easy to see when a person is bigger, faster, or stronger and can take somebody else down. I believe MMA is popular because this is what many students want today. These students are only searching to become better than others and getting fast results. Earlier I referred to this as the “McDonald’s” culture, getting things quickly, easily, and just to the point of satisfaction. MMA is well-suited for those who are looking for fashion and quick results.

The good side of MMA is that the body conditioning program is very rigorous and can quickly form a strong foundation for deeper training. Many traditional schools often do not stress enough body conditioning in the beginning, as they are not learning how to fight in just a few months time. In MMA, the highly competitive environment also motivates students to constantly push themselves harder. This helps students make themselves better by always pushing their limits and always striving for improvement. It is only when MMA becomes more focused on winning and besting others that I dislike it. I believe that there are many students that eventually leave MMA to train independently on their own path. After a certain stage in MMA, I believe that winning matches and titles becomes the only goal. To me, succeeding in competitions like those in MMA can be steps in the process of your training, but it definitely should never be the goal. I also do not favor MMA because there are many rules in the ring that do not apply outside on the street. Any complete martial arts system will never be based in sport combat. How effective your practice ultimately is will be up to exactly how much you train, what you train, and for what purposes. I wish that the traditional arts would get some more attention. Otherwise, in a few more generations, we will truly lose its essence and original purpose. It is much more difficult to find people who can appreciate Kung Fu for what it really embodies as a whole.

The results of Kung Fu training take much longer to see, oftentimes taking 1-2 years minimum to get a feel for the art, 5-10 years to discover it, 10-20 years to explore it, 20-40 years to develop it, and a lifetime to perfect it. Only after the mind has been developed can the techniques be properly learned. Learning a lot of techniques with no foundation and no root is very shallow and void. Developing the art to a truly deep and meaningful level takes a lifetime of dedicated training and a clear mind. It is a journey without an end. However, nowadays much of this generation do not have many of these qualities, and what is worse, is that they do not seek them either. That is the reason I began the 10-year program at the YMAA Retreat Center. I have been training a small group of students at this center full-time since 2008. The students train about 8 hours everyday, 9 months out of the year, and they live independently at the center. I hope that from having this daily, rigorous training routine, they will develop the attitude and characteristics necessary to last until the end of the program, to become good martial artists, and to become good people.

What is your primary teaching message?

Art takes a lot of time and the right mind to truly appreciate and enjoy. Many things we do in our everyday lives and careers can be considered very complex and beautiful forms of art. Whether it is martial arts, music, writing, painting, engineering, speaking a language, healing and helping people, playing sports, playing chess, or whatever we concentrate on and dedicate ourselves to, the development and true feeling of the breadth of each art-form can only be felt when practiced diligently, with discipline, with humility, and with the right intentions. Without these things, the art you practice will always be only on the surface. You should continue searching deeper and deeper into your practice. Keep finding resources and people to learn from and help lead you. Don’t get stuck in the same spot. What you will discover is so rewarding. Keep your cup empty and you will always see the beautiful horizon ahead. If your cup is full, then there will be too many clouds obstructing your view. I began training martial arts because I wanted to fight, but from that time until now, after more than 50 years of practice, it has evolved into something so much more.

How does one develop Qi properly and safely?

Of course, you must first understand the core theory. There are plenty of good books which can provide you with this information, but I do highly recommend learning from a teacher in person at the very beginning, and when you enter the more advanced stages of training. Oftentimes, even after a simple and short session with an experienced practitioner, you can get on the right track. There are many pieces to the puzzle that you will better understand through in-person teachings from an experienced instructor instead of just from publications. This will save time, give you a clearer direction, and prevent you from engaging in any harmful practices. Once you understand the theory, you can learn from many available Qigong publications without danger. Generally speaking, most Qigong practices and exercises deal with External Elixir and are not dangerous to practice if done incorrectly. However, if you wish to learn deeper aspects of Qigong, especially Internal Elixir, then you will need to be very confident in your Qigong knowledge, your control and feeling of Qi in your body, and the discipline of your mind. Otherwise, advanced levels of Qigong can actually be very harmful to your body and health if it is practiced carelessly. At this stage of the training, you will need a qualified and experienced teacher to lead you on the right path. Naturally, you must still be cautious. Take your time and don’t rush if you are not sure.

Is there a difference between practicing Qigong for health & practicing for martial ability?

Yes. Medical Qigong was developed more than 2300 years ago. The goal was to maintain health and promote healing of the body, in yourself and others. Martial Qigong was developed around 500 A.D. when Bodhidharma was in China. Martial Qigong was developed from Bodhidharma’s Muscle/Tendon Changing and Marrow/Brain Washing Qigong classics. The primary goal of Martial Qigong was to enhance the power manifested from the physical body. This was a crucial factor in winning a battle during wartimes. Through Martial Qigong, specific training methods such as Iron Shirt, One-Finger Meditation, and Iron Sand Palm were developed. These methods significantly helped to increase the body’s physical strength and fighting capability.

However, in today’s generation, we no longer need to train such extreme methods of physical conditioning such as Iron Shirt or Iron Sand Palm. In fact, it was discovered that such training can actually be quite damaging to the body, especially as the body ages. Such extreme forms of conditioning can contribute to nerve damage, arthritis, and high blood pressure in older people. I do not believe that Martial Qigong should be trained today for developing power to fight. I believe it has more purpose in simply conditioning the muscles, tendons, and joints to make the body stronger, and to train the mind. In this respect, practicing Qigong for health and for martial ability are more similar, because health is the goal in both.

The goal of all Qigong practice today is really more about longevity, health, and cultivation. Martial ability was the original intent of training Martial Qigong during wartimes, but we cannot expect that any level of Martial Qigong will defend against a bomb, a bullet, or chemical warfare. We expect to live much longer in modern day compared to those people in the past, so we need to age gracefully. Thus, Martial Qigong should be trained with care, and with the goal of health in mind, not with the goal of simply developing brute physical strength.

Briefly inform us on the success of your “Kungfu Retreat.”

We have had many ups and downs in these first four years of the program. I do believe that overall, the program is successful so far. It is on schedule and progressing as expected. The program and the students are stable, and we are now steadily making headway into the curriculum. Of course, it has not always been picture perfect, and I do expect more challenges down the road.

There have been many obstacles already. First of all, I was hoping that we would gain more momentum in financial support by the second year. However, after more than 3 years of being in operation, my seminar income is still the primary means of supporting the center. My hope is that the center can be self-sustaining one day so that it can stay open after the training program finishes in 2018. Our costs to keep the center open average about $80,000 – $100,000 every year. Second, we encountered visa problems for our foreign students. Foreign students were unable to stay for entire semesters until we had approval from the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS approval is required for foreign students to apply for I-20 student visas. It was not until after three years of applying and paying many fees that we were finally approved. Part of the reason it took so long was because the first time we were about to receive approval, the California department handling our case was dissolved and not reestablished until two years later. We had to apply again from scratch. Unfortunately, one of the students from the first group was forced to go back to Portugal because of this. Third, several accepted students were unable to endure the training. This was expected, because as I explained above, it is very difficult nowadays to find sincere, dedicated students who are searching for more than just fashion or quick results. However, I did not expect that the student retention rate would be only 30% after three years. This means that for every six students that I accepted, two of them either abandoned the training or were asked to leave. It is not easy to find committed students in this society. Although I was disappointed when students left, the good side of this is that semester by semester, we have been filtering out students who were not really serious about the training. This has left behind a stronger, core group of students, which is very important because the students ultimately are the foundation to the entire program. Without a dedicated group, the program will not finish successfully. This filtering process has also helped us design our revised application and interview process for potential students in the upcoming 5-year program. I would like to recruit another group of 5 to 6 students to join us for the last 5 years of the current program. We have only 4 students here right now, beginning from about 13. There are already a few applicants with good potential who have expressed their interest for this new program, and many of them will visit the center this year. If anybody is interested in applying, please visit the web: http://ymaa-retreatcenter.org/full-time-program/5-year.

I would not say the program is 100% successful, but of course it is expected that there are bumps on the road. Right now, the current students are behind in terms of following the originally scheduled curriculum. However, the quality of training has actually been satisfactory. For what I expected, the students are at about the right level for having trained full-time here in the mountains for 3 years. I believe that as long as the students have quality, learning more quantity is trivial, just a matter of time and practice. Quality is always much harder to achieve than quantity. The quality of training offers you a deeper feeling, which in turn gives you the capability of creation. I prefer to one day have a student who has the quality to create one deep style instead of ten students who have only quantity and create one hundred shallow styles. Now that the students at the center have established their fundamentals, I want to push them to achieve even more in the second half of the program.

What do you hope to accomplish in the upcoming (5-10) years?

As I mentioned earlier, I hope to find 5-6 more committed students for the upcoming 5-year training program, which will begin in September 2013. Before I retire, I want to teach as many sincerely dedicated and committed students as I can to the highest level possible, through this program and the environment at the center. My goal is to provide as much as I can to these students such that they can continue developing their training and techniques independently on their own after they finish. I believe the current group I have now will reach an acceptable level of quality in their preliminary training after one or two more years. Once they have this quality, they will be able to pick up all of the quantity of what I have learned in the past. Building this foundation of quality at the very beginning is crucial to the success of the students. It is necessary to be able to properly learn the quantity portion to a good level of depth and understanding. If I had taught quantity first, everything the students would have trained up to this point would have been very meaningless, just a bunch of techniques that may look pretty, but have no foundation, root, or practical applications. The foundational training is what is neglected at so many schools today, and that is what I hope to provide and enforce in the full-time training programs at the center. My ultimate goal is to have all graduates of the center become confident, well-educated, and exemplary in the traditional ways of training. I also hope they are able to reach a high level in their fighting skills, fighting strategy, and situational awareness, as I believe that will exhibit their depth and understanding of martial arts overall. My goal is to train a group of masters instead of students. In order to become a master, one must have a deep feeling of the art. This can only be achieved through experience, experience obtained through a rigorous and strict training regimen. The graduates of the center must have knowledge that is beyond the understanding of the average martial arts instructor. Only then, can they be a creator of new skills. Remember, arts are creative, and this creative capability can only come from a deeply rooted feeling, history, and experience with them.


Late 1990s with Dr. Yang

Michael Joyce is the founder/head writer for the Combative Corner.  He had the opportunity to study with Dr. Yang on three separate occasions; twice for Chin Na and once for Taiji Push hands.  The picture to the left was on Coach Joyce’s first visit to YMAA Boston (Headquarters) and was an amazing, and highly educational workshop. 

From myself, the entire Combative Corner Crew and all our readers thank Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming for his long contribution to the martial arts and for this honest and thorough interview. 

For more info on Dr. Yang, his seminars and products, please click on the picture.

10 Questions with Philip Sahagun

Posted in 10 Questions, Kungfu with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2010 by Combative Corner

7-Time National Champion of the Open Martial Arts Circuit

3-Time International Level Weapons Champion (2003-2005)

Member US Traditional Wushu Team (USAKWF) 2006 & 2008

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1) How did you know that you wanted to become a professional martial artist?

When I was young I didn’t know what I would do as a profession. My father and mother were both in the martial arts and I began training in Kenpo Karate and kickboxing from an early age. However despite the fact I was born into it, I didn’t seem to have any physical talent. If I fought I lost, if I jumped I wasn’t the highest, and if I ran I certainly wasn’t the fastest. Basically I had no prospects for the martial arts until my latter teens. During that time something clicked. It was like I discovered how to use a key that I had carried all along. I started to excel in physical training and eventually my personal life. Twelve years of training had passed and I began to consider martial arts a possible career.

(2) What are some top martial artists/athletes/coaches that made an impression on you?

My family played the largest role in my development, they opened the school South Coast Martial Arts when I was 5 and introduced me to training. Also my current Wushu Coach Wei Jin Lin or (Wei Wei) has helped me greatly with body mechanics and performance, while my martial arts mentor Shi Yan Xu (former teacher to Shaolin Temple’s Warrior Monks) has greatly improved my understanding of traditional arts and the martial mindset. Other than that, various Kick boxers, Wushu players, Monks, Lawyers, and even singers have all helped me in my practice.

(3) Wushu seems to be your “big passion.” Is it, and what set Wushu apart?

Wushu is a big passion of mine, and although I was brought up in other art forms I always found myself fascinated by the world of Chinese Martial Arts and weaponry. For me Wushu is unique in many ways. I feel it places a higher emphasis on physical conditioning and mind body unity. Ankles, Hips Knees, Arms, Back, Quads etc it seems like there’s not one thing Wushu isn’t concerned about stretching, strengthening or making faster and I enjoy that challenge. Another thing that attracts me is the culture aspect of it. I feel the methods of performance art, self cultivation and spirit found within Wushu allows it to transcend a one level practice; and in the words of Jet Li allows it to be “an intricate, purposeful skill.”

(4) How does (Spirituality/Meditation) play a role in what you do? (Or does it)

I love discussing philosophy, religious beliefs and meditation within the martial arts, but unfortunately I feel that topic lacks interest amongst today’s practitioners. I feel that in our youth one can always be faster, stronger, and more flexible, but as time passes and we begin to turn old, how much of these physical skills can stay with us? I am a strong believer that scholarly practices and physical practices are complimentary; you should pursue both with equal respect if you want to be considered a true martial artist and have qualities that are everlasting. A quote often shared by Teijun-Soku Uekata and Gichen Funakoshi; “No matter how high your skills become in art or scholastics, nothing is more important than your behavior and humanity as observed in daily life.” I strongly agree with this.

(5) What are the biggest problems that you confront when you are preparing to compete/demo/fight/or spar?

When I was younger I would be worried about how tough my opponent was or what would happen if I made a mistake in executing certain movements. However right now I really don’t have any problems when sparring or performing. I’ve faced numerous challenges and made numerous mistakes throughout my practice. I am certainly not without loss, yet I still don’t doubt myself or my ability. In practice and competition, we should not detain ourselves with thoughts of wins or loses, nor in advancement or setback. Failure in the past can be redeemed by the present, and successes of the future will be determined by our awareness. In this sense when practicing martial arts we have to maintain a “No Mind” mentality and I follow that pretty seriously.

(6) What goes through your mind before you compete or prepare to demonstrate in front of an audience? (and is it the same routine/thought independent of the audience size?)

For me it doesn’t matter how large the audience, but it is nice to know what the audience is interested in. For instance I’ve performed at Anime Conventions, Basketball Shows, Buddhist Monasteries, Karate Tournaments etc. but despite my experience, I never really have a set idea of what to perform unless I know where I’m going or who I’m going to perform in front of. For instance, I love traditional Martial Arts. But If I were to walk into a basketball stadium and do a performance of Traditional MA I can guarantee that over 90% of people would not find interesting. So generally I think about what would interest my audience and then I plan accordingly.

(7) As a Traditional Martial Artist, what is your opinion of people entering the sport of “Mixed Martial Arts” (or do you even bother watching?)

I watch MMA from time to time and there are a handful of fighters who have good skill and maintain a set of values. Unfortunately I feel the current marketing behind MMA promotes a lot of negative imagery that doesn’t accurately represent its athletes nor the “martial arts” side of MMA, but such is the effects of media and promotion. I understand that most MMA athletes fight to make a living and I can’t criticize them for doing so.

(8) Out of all that you do, what are you most passionate about or what would you most like to accomplish with your skill?

I currently teach about five days a week and I am very passionate about it. It’s rewarding to see children and adults make progress in training and I sincerely hope to have greater opportunities to teach more in the future.

(9) Thinking back on your life, what are a couple of major, martial art highlights?

In 2006 I took part of a Chinese TV show co-sponsored by Shenzhen TV and the Shaolin Temple called Kungfu Star. For its time K-Star was China’s largest scale reality television program and reached an audience of around 300 Million. I am very proud to have participated in that event and I still have many friends and found memories associated with it. Also in 2008 I took a group of students to compete in China’s Third Traditional Wushu Festival near Wudang Mountain. Although I personally didn’t do very well, it was a thrill to see my students compete and earn such high marks. We had four competitors and everyone took home a first, second, or third in their respective events.
(10) Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

In five to ten years I hope to have travelled more of the world studying different traditions and cultures. I also wish to make more friends through the martial arts and create events to promote the benefits of its study to the public. Hmm, what else? Basically I want to continue what I’m doing on a larger scale and regardless of where this life takes me, I know the only way for me to find happiness is to keep moving forward. I’m on a quest for self betterment and I don’t plan on giving that up anytime soon.

For More Information about Philip Sahagun:

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Roundtable Discussion 004: Next Best Style

Posted in Roundtable Discussion, Styles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2010 by Combative Corner

Six martial art instructors were asked,

“If you were given only one style/system of martial art to study (besides your primary discipline), what would it be and why?”

Sensei Robert Lara – For me it would be Wing Chun Kung Fu.  I already train Wing Chun and that is why I picked it. Because it works! No messing around. A very solid and sound fighting art.  It is very much like the Japanese Aiki arts. To control your attackers mind and take away there intent to do harm to you or others.  To stick to an attack once launched is a very sound way to apply control. Be it deflecting blocks, Punches, Elbows, Chops, Low kicks. Sweeps, Throws.  I Love Wing Chun!  I have great love for all the arts but there are those systems that you know are for you.

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Sensei Brad Vaughn – If I could study one martial arts style it would be Kung Fu. It really doesn’t matter what style(though I think Southern Shaolin would fit me nicely) because I find any and all forms of Kung Fu both beautiful and dangerously effective at the same time. I’ve had the opportunity to study a couple of different styles, first in college and now recently and I never cease to be amazed by it. It is my “holy grail” of martial arts. I train hard in the martial arts hoping that one day I will be worthy to become a black belt in Kung Fu as well. I would love to just take off to China for a couple of years and just immerse myself in the culture and study Kung Fu up close and personal and then return to the states a true Kung Fu Masters but I don’t think my wife would go along with that.

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Sifu Freddie Lee – Jeet Kune Do. Because there are no limitations. It is not a style or a system, it gives you the realization to go beyond.

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Coach Johnny Kuo There are so many choices of martial arts that it’s difficult to answer this question. Almost any art would be a viable choice given access to a talented instructor. If I had to choose an art besides I-Liq Chuan, I would pick Arnis. Arnis has several characteristics I find appealing: it emphasizes partner practice, blends offense and defense, doesn’t require a lot of equipment, has a no-nonsense approach, and most importantly, it just looks fun.

I also like the fact the Arnis is not dependent on physical prowess; skill is a much more important factor for proficiency than size and strength. Swinging two sticks to beat the daylights out of your opponent seems so primal and basic, yet there is subtlety and beauty in the art. To me, it seems like Arnis would develop practical martial skills, enhance the mental ability to read the conditions of offense and defense, and have good skill carry over to other arts.

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Coach Michael Joyce – Silat.  But I’m actually going to be very specific with this one.  Over the last few months, I’ve glimpsed numerous martial art video posts (as I enjoy seeing forms progress, applications worked, and maybe pick up on some new training exercises/methods).  One channel really impressed me, as my main draw to the martial arts is the science behind efficient and effective self-defense.  The channel that I came across was Maul565 and the style is Silat Suffian Bela Diri.  Maul Mornie is the instructor and came from Seria, a small town in Brunei Darussalam.  He is currently based in the United Kingdom and does workshops across the country, stressing “Minimum Effort, Maximum Effect.”  My kinda guy!  Can’t wait to learn more about this style through his videos, and perhaps, one day, by him personally.  Check his website out HERE.

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Roundtable Discussion 001: Knowledge

Posted in Roundtable Discussion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2010 by Combative Corner

In regards to the martial arts –

“What do you know NOW that you wish you knew THEN?”

VAUGHN :  This question had me scratching my head for a couple of hours but I finally came up with an answer. It’s not so much what I wish I knew, but what I wish I had and that’s confidence. I wish I had the confidence in my martial arts abilities. That is the one thing that has grown by leaps and bounds since I was younger. No matter how well I did in class or how often my instructor told me how much I was improving I always had that little seed of doubt in the back of my head. I couldn’t help wondering, “Will this stuff really work?” “What if the bully tries to hit me, could I really defend myself?” I was even hesitant to compete in tournaments when I was younger because I was afraid that I wouldn’t do well. Now after years of participating in what I’m sure have been hundreds of classes, test, sparring matches, and self defense drills I now have a good idea of how I will react in a real confrontation. Like my current instructor says I’ve finally developed that switch that I can turn on when I need to. I’m not saying that I can easily dispatch an army of crazed ninja without a scratch, but I’m pretty sure that I can hold my own.”

KUO :  “Every technique works, and every technique doesn’t work.” One of my buddies and I had this discussion one day when we were reminiscing on our training journeys and discussing the martial arts flame wars we see arise in discussions. We came to the conclusion that there is no such thing as an ultimate move or unbeatable technique. Sometimes person A can use a technique on person B, but fails to use it on person C. Yet, person B can’t do the technique on person A, but has no trouble using it on person C. If the movement were the only factor, then the the technique should work universally.

There are several factors determining whether a technique will actually work: the physical ability to execute the movements, understanding of the interplay of forces, timing, distance, and most importantly, the ability to recognize the conditions (in real-time) that allow the technique to work. The success of the technique depends on conditions and understanding.”

DAVIS :  “I began Brazilian (Gracie) Jiu-Jitsu without much prior knowledge of the style and therefore without my previous Hapkido based goals in mind. I was hooked; Jiu-Jitsu just spoke to me, as they say. Its training required me to be an athlete, a scientist, and an inventor all at the same time. I realized, then, that there are innumerable styles of martial arts and any one of them with proper instruction and dedication will lead the practitioner to be an effective fighter. This left the only variable in the martial arts to be me and my only criteria for choosing a style to be how much I enjoyed the training. In my mind I still wanted to be that same style of fighter I was working towards in Hapkido but with Jiu-Jitsu I saw that I could be just as effective a fighter while enjoying my training more than previously. This newfound attitude positively expressed itself not only in my demeanor while training but also in the rate of my learning because I simply wanted to train more. I found myself going to class four or five days a week in Jiu-Jitsu rather than the two classes a week schedule I previously maintained in Hapkido. Today I consider myself in love with Jiu-Jitsu and, as is the true nature of love, it is something I must work at relentlessly to maintain but do not feel overly burdened by my efforts. This love, based purely on the fun and enjoyment of training, is that which I wish I had known of when I first began the martial arts. Now that all the emotional stuff has been said; drop the ego, the preconceived ideas, and the expectations; find the style that fits you, not that you want to fit you; and go have some fun.”

JOYCE :  “Like many of us, ‘What I knew then’ wasn’t very much.  All I knew was that I was in love with the combative sciences – from shaolin monks breaking walnuts on a student’s head, watching a boxer find the reserves to stagger back to his feet, dig in deep and come up with the victory, to the old shadow boxer performing ‘step back & repulse monkey.’  Therapists sometimes talk of a stifling love – of loving something so intensely that it’s unhealthy, harmful, or deadly.  When I came into the martial arts, I wanted to ‘climb the ladder’ and succeed beyond my instructor’s belief.  The problem came when I’d be standing knee-deep in a waterfall doing one-inch punches against the granite, or purposely falling onto my upper back only to try my hardest to spring back like a ninja.  I had an unbelievable amount of get-up-and-go attitude, but was too ambitious for my own good.  Once I went to college, got my degree in sport science, later became a licensed massage therapists, read stacks of books on proper exercise training, (not-to-mention gotten older & wiser) did I understand where I went wrong and why my body continued to hurt more year-after-year.  Nowadays, I listen closely to professionals and I am in no rush to out-perform anyone.  My happiness comes from my personal expression of what I’ve learned and as a coach, the thought of my students learning to joyfully express themselves.”

Nothing.  Growth in knowledge and wisdom is possible from not knowing.  The beauty of life is in not knowing.

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The Combative Corner Crew


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