May 13, 2009

Training at Three Harmonies

I have had a lot of friends, students, and mentors give me a hard time lately about not having much about the Chinese martial arts (CMA) on my blog. It is true, there has been little. The reasoning is simple.... there has not been much in general to talk about, and what little there is, is not positive in my humble opinion.

So I decided to change all of that by offering a glimpse at what makes training at Three Harmonies different than what other CMA schools may offer. This is certainly not an attempt to say we are the sole _________, nor did we create anything. Unfortunately there seems to be a general lacking of skill and realistic based training within the greater CMA community, as the student base seems to be attracting individuals who are not so interested in the 'martial' aspects of the martial arts. This is discerning on a number of different levels, but the one pet peeve that really irks me to no end is the lack of responsibility many instructors take in regards to their students well being and abilities (or lack thereof) to defend themselves. I have literally heard instructors tell their students to execute the techniques from the form if they are ever in a real fight and they will sufficiently ward off any aggressive attacks! JESUS!! ARE YOU F@#KING KIDDING ME!?!?!?!?

Here are just a couple things that I feel set us apart from the general CMA kung fu community both here in Seattle, WA. and generally around the world.


This is not to say you need to throw on pads and kill each other, which is actually counterproductive, but uncooperative drills such as grappling, sparring, etc. with resisting opponents is absolute key to martial skill retention and development. In general I have seen two models within the CMA community:
  1. Over aggressive "kill 'em all" type attitudes which are both intimidating to newbies, and dangerous to everyone including the"killer."
  2. Complete lack of any type of resistance training. And though push hands is better than nothing, the silly restrictions many schools put on their practice of push hands pretty much nullifies anything productive coming from it.
Every class I teach we are doing some sort of resistance training, testing what I just taught out on some one giving at least 60-75% resistance. This does not mean we spar every class, (sometimes yes, sometimes no) but their is practice and drills where our partners gradually give more and more resistance.

Many of the techniques in traditional CMA have become antiquated, yet some schools have no interest in improving and updating their fighting repertoire and stick strictly to outdated dogma that is often rooted in Asian culture. Sports science and sports medicine have developed so much in the last 20 years, let alone the last 150, there is really no reason not to incorporate some of it into ones teachings! Some traditional exercises such as iron palm training, hard conditioning, and esoteric energy practice have proven to be quite harmful and detrimental to ones body. To cling to ancient beliefs is not always the best nor healthiest ideas.

Actual techniques need to evolve too. CMA are still very dependent on blocking which will get you hit with someone that has any fighting experience. We teach to cover and slip, much in the same way boxers move and defend themselves. This has proven (for me) to be much more effective in combat. It also nullifies my opponents attack since we keep our arms in tighter and do not allow many techniques to be used simply by not allowing our arms to leave our body.

The anti-grappling attitude needs to be addressed as well. The CMA NEVER have had an organized ground combat curriculum. EVER! With the popularity of MMA and BJJ in the 21st century one needs to be prepared for any and all scenarios, and threat includes the ground. If I hear one more CMA practitioner / teacher tell me "I cannot be taken down." I am going to choke a fool! ANYONE at ANYTIME can potentially find themselves on the ground be it from a fall, a hit, a trip, a throw, a slip etc. So a base knowledge of how to defend oneself and get back to their feet safely is fundamental in my opinion. All students at Three Harmonies are taught Tim Cartmells Ground Proofing curriculum and I incorporate certain aspects of ground fighting into my teachings as well. Not much, but enough to provide a sound base knowledge on survival and escape.

I guess now that I think about it this is pretty much a continuation of what I wrote above, and honestly is the CMA biggest problem. Whether we are speaking of sparring, ground grappling, or using modern methods and equipment, the CMA in general are very opposed, almost xenophobic, to incorporating aspects from other martial styles into their training regime. A couple years ago I was berated on some CMA forums because of my use of boxing defense and focus mitt work, as well as using the clinch and Thai pads from Muay Thai. Now I see those very same people who criticized me are using the same methods and equipment! It's funny!

I had a girl stop in to watch my class a year or two ago, and her comment was; "It does not look like kung fu. It looks like kickboxing." To which I replied "Thanks!" I would rather be compared to the kickboxing gyms I have seen, than the majority of CMA schools I have seen! We use pads. I bring to my class any and all advancements I have made on my own, or were taught by my teachers to me. I harbor no secrets! Secrets are bullshit! The only secret you ever have to remember is this.... train hard! I have been on the receiving end of this crap and it usually means the teacher is either: 1. milking you of all your money, or 2. does not know that much so draws out the training by leading on that the student needs to practice to get the "secrets." Of course the secrets never come, or worse yet the student is left to figure them out for themselves which can be very frustrating.

Being as immersed in the Chinese culture as I have been for the past 10 years or more, I can honestly say I believe a lot of this xenophobic attitude stems from seriously deep racist roots amongst the Chinese. And keep in mind it is not exclusively Chinese, most Asian cultures are known to be extremely racist especially to other Asian ethnicity's! It is a shame because one of the most beautiful aspects of Chinese culture are ruined by one of the ugliest aspects of any culture; racism!

Training at Three Harmonies is not like any experience you have had at any other CMA school. I maintain the tradition of the arts I have learned, but I also approach those traditions with a questioning persona and a modern mind in an effort to provide the very best I can offer to my students. For if they ever get in an altercation on the street, I am the one responsible for their preparation in terms of knowledge base and skill acquisition (whether or not they do what I tell them is a whole other story!). I take that responsibility very seriously and continue to learn and grow myself as a martial artist in hopes of passing on those new skills and knowledge to those who want to learn.

Train Hard,

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