News and Blog
Kung Fu Concentrations:
Thoughts, deliberations, mussings and even meditations on the practice of this ancient art.
News on events at Mountain Path Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy, Shen Kung Fu International Association and on developments within the Kung Fu world.
|Posted by [email protected] on January 29, 2016 at 2:00 AM|
Part 1 of a 3 Part Series.
I am often asked whether or not I teach “Self-Defense.” The answer is a tangled mess of “yes, I teach Kung Fu,” and “No, because I teach Kung Fu.” Is it a complex and confusing answer? Yes. Because it is a complex and confusing question.
To understand the answer we must first understand four issues at the heart of the question. Foremost among these issues is what “self-defense” is. The second issue is what the term “self-defense” has come to mean within the martial arts industry. Third, we must understand why you not only have a Right to defend yourself but an obligation to defend life. Finally, we need to understand what a martial art is and why if it truly is a martial art, its principles will mirror precisely the principles of warfare. (depending on your art those principles will specifically mirror the principles of either maneuver or attrition warfare. These principles are well defined and not especially the subject of much debate among warfighting experts.)
A Primer for Understanding the Four Items Cited Above:
There is a tremendous amount of criticism towards the “traditional arts” as being outdated or lacking utility in our modern world. Others will claim that the values base offers a wonderful rooting from which to address the issues of day to day living but that beyond an exercise practice, traditional styles aren’t of much value in “actually defending yourself.” These are the claims of someone who does not understand what the traditional martial arts are, their history, or the values base from which they stem. Frankly, these claims are not that much different than the idea that the First Amendment to our Constitution is outdated because some people could get their feelings hurt by words and so we should limit some speech or that the Founders could never have envisioned how quickly news could travel via social media so the freedom of the press ought to be limited. It’s Absurd! (by the way, those are actual arguments I recently heard… seriously.) Just as claims about traditional arts being ineffective, outdated, not applicable in modern times etc. are made by people who don’t truly understand the martial arts as a specific, microcosmic representation of warfighting theory; people making claims about Rights being outdated do not understand what a Right is and why it has value.
Interestingly, Rights and the martial arts as a representation of warfighting theory are intrinsically linked; at least to the ethical Scholar Warrior and in the mind of the Professional Soldier. I read an article yesterday while scrolling thru my Facebook feed (and I’d really like to find it again) in which the author asserted that virtually no one is teaching “self-defense” any more. I am inclined to agree with him for a variety of reasons save one which he based the fundamental stance of his argument on. He asserted that in order to learn self-defense, we must understand violence and that doing so was next to impossible save for one demographic group – violent offenders, the predators. He asserted, quite accurately I might add, that a majority of instructors only have anecdotal experience with violence and that a preponderance of their systems are based on dogmatic methods that have little use today or even worse “because my teacher said so.” He accurately asserted that in order to be able to defend oneself, they must be inoculated to violence and learn to overcome extreme pain. He was dead on about that. That author was right on virtually every issue save one. There are groups of people who understand violence. The professional warfighter more than certainly, understands violence. It is literally his profession to understand violence and then to apply violence the way a surgeon applies the scalpel. I’d challenge you to meet a veteran of the Battle of Sangin in Afghanistan or the Second Battle of Fallujah in Iraq and not draw the silent conclusion “that man knows violence.” The men and women, who created the traditional arts, did so because they were taking those skills to war. The traditional arts are based in violence and in medicine – we’ll talk medicine in a future post. The reason they also happen to have sincere codes of honor and a powerful values base, is because they are just as good at inoculating the practitioner against the psychological post combat trauma effects as they are to inoculating the practitioner to the actual violence. That is to say, a rock solid values base that provides you with clear cut guidelines on when to apply violence, safeguards you from later wondering, if you went too far during a conflict. (if anyone knows the piece I am referring to let me know, I’d like to cite the author, I really think he wrote a great piece.)
I teach “Traditional Kung Fu and Traditional Values” and so in a strict sense yes I teach “self-defense.” In the colloquial term “self-defense” that has come to be common place within the martial arts industry… No. No, I don’t teach that.
What is “self-defense?” Self-defense is the act of defending oneself, or others from injury or harm. Simple, right? Without the context of values base and examining it strictly as a definition, sure. Let’s then assess why you have not only a right to defend yourself, but an obligation to do so.
We must understand what a Right is. There are two criteria that must be met in order for something to be a Right. First, a right cannot impose a burden on anyone else. That is to say, it can’t compel other people to do something active in order for you to exercise your Right. Secondly, every Right, must have a correlating duty. For example, you have an obligation to stand Jury Duty because you have a Right to a trial by a jury of your peers. Or another, example, you have a Right to freely practice, or to not practice your religion, because you have an obligation to allow other people to freely practice or not practice their religion without interfering, you have a right to your privacy because you have an obligation not to intrude on the privacy of others etc. So you do have a Right (notice the big “R” there!) to your Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness… that is what the Founders meant when they claimed such Rights to be “self-evident.” Such Rights were so very clear that everyone understood them intuitively, I think people still do.
So, now that we understand what a Right is, we can then ask “do you have a Right to live?” quite obviously, the answer is yes of course you do. Your Right to live is the very reason all of your other Rights exist. So you’re Right to defend yourself extends directly from your right to simply exist. The correlating duty is an obligation to defend life, including your own, in the greatest quantity possible should you ever be put in a position to do so.
Self-defense is the logical, appropriate and proportionate measure necessary to defend and preserve life. Our modern military measures these criteria, particularly the “proportionate” aspect, by requiring all of its combatants to strictly adhere to Escalation of Force Measures, Rules of Engagement, the Law of War, various “General Orders” and the Code of Conduct. All traditional martial arts which I have ever been exposed to follow a similar set of constructs as our modern military which regulate or govern the use of force. As many martial arts have become watered down and have moved further and further away from practitioners who did truly understand violence and specifically warfare, these values and use of force measures become relegated to motivational posters and quotes throughout the various schools. An example of this escalation of force model exists within virtually all Shaolin based systems. Within Ng Ga Kuen, and something I teach to all of my students, is the “Shaolin Creed” which states: “It is better to avoid than to check, it is better to check than to hit, it is better to hit than to kill, it is better to kill than to be killed.” Avoidance of conflict being the best possible outcome. A measured response utilizing only the necessary quantity of violence is precisely what the Shaolin Creed dictates. That doesn’t mean it advocates “going easy.” There are times in which extreme sudden violence is necessary and just as the Escalation of Force Measures that my Marines and I were subject to when I was in Iraq governed how much violence we would’ve delivered upon the enemy, so to the Shaolin Creed governs when to deliver more or less violence as the situation then dictates. So that’s what self-defense is. A measured (logical) sometimes violent response appropriate, and proportionate to the threat at hand, in that moment.
(A brief side note: Not all situations are the same, obviously. So there are instances which could be based on a wide array of factors in which a pre-emptive strike may be necessary. This could be as simple as a hostile intent being demonstrated by a physically dominant foe in which one could rationally assume no other outcome but severe injury or death and thus a measured, appropriate and proportionate response would be pre-emptively necessary. So an estimate of the situation is necessary in every confrontation and decisions are made on such assumptions as may be drawn from that estimate. I’ll do a piece shortly on such concepts but if you’re so inclined, do a little research on Just War Theory and Kantian Ethics.)
What “Self-Defense” Has Come to Mean.
The term “self-defense” as a colloquial term within the martial arts industry, has come to be a really ugly animal, or at least it is in my opinion. Often, when I am asked about what I teach, it is more like I am being asked “Do you teach Self-Defense?” as though it were its own discipline, style or method than if I were being asked if I teach self-defense. So the term has taken on a specific marketing essence which through a wide array of misunderstandings and often dubious misrepresentations the public has been convinced that “Self-Defense” is some fancy sequence of punches and kicks that will ward off any attacker. That’s illogical even to the least tactically proficient person. The recognition that all people come in different shapes and sizes and that an attacker is unlikely to choose a victim they can’t logically out match is obvious. However, through marketing savvy, dogmatic belief (“my teacher said so” types) or a duping of the public, a great many schools market themselves as teaching self-defense as a “style” rather than a method of using the skills that your system teaches or focuses on to appropriately and proportionally quell a violent threat. This has compelled a lot of authentic and very skilled traditional stylists to advertise themselves as teaching “self-defense” because basically if you don’t advertise it, you don’t eat…
This is not an indictment of any system or stylist. In my own school I teach certain techniques that are simply titled “Self-Defense Technique 1 – X” There’s lots of them. They are titled that way because it allows the novice student who is trying to learn a vast array of new movements and Cantonese names for those movements a way to grasp simply, efficiently and early the recognition that his Kung Fu has martial value, defense based value. Those techniques fall definitively within the scope of the criteria previously outlined, “measured, appropriate and proportionate.” For those schools teaching self-defense under such criteria, great work, I’m honestly not trying to bad mouth anyone. I do think that the essence the term has taken on within the industry seems virtually predatory though. Almost a sense of “sign up your kids or they’ll get bullied!!!” which is seriously detrimental to the value we add to our communities.
In Part 2 of this series – available second week of February, we will discuss why a traditional Martial Art is based in warfighting theory and what that means. We will also discuss symmetric and asymmetric combat and demonstrate precisely how the principles of warfare and a traditional martial art like Ng Ga Kuen Kung Fu mirror each other.
Next week I’ll discuss some of the Veterans work we’ve been doing here at Mountain Path, within the community and in concert with Andi Miles and Nic Baker of Khoo Wellness.
|Posted by [email protected] on January 19, 2016 at 2:25 AM|
2015 Year in Review
As we at Mountain Path Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy look back on 2015 it is a truly amazing feeling to examine all that was accomplished. Our students have grown both personally and within their Kung Fu. Our school has grown and changed both within the personality and culture of the school and its student body and even in our outward cosmetic appearance. Our sense of community within the Ng Ga Kuen world deepened significantly thanks to our “field trip” to train with some incredible martial artists within our lineage at a seminar hosted by Sigueng Seming Ma and Sifu Steven Perez in Monterey Park, CA. Our sense of community within the Kung Fu scene in Albuquerque also was enriched through our involvement and burgeoning friendships with other local practitioners. To describe these changes in a few words or a phrase it could be said that in 2015, Mountain Path Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy went from rough shod, sparsely equipped, and sparsely populated crew of excited practitioners to a vibrant and exciting family of dedicated students with growing numbers and ever increasing capabilities and skill. The hard work and dedication of each of our students has demonstrably changed the face and culture of Mountain Path and it is their efforts that continue to drive the enrichment of our ancient practice.
We are nearing completion of the facelift to our training facility so check back for the before and after pictures coming soon, and if you haven’t stopped in for a while, come and see what’s been done! It is an exciting time at Mountain Path, we’ve got a great vision laid out for 2016. The incredible training schedule for this year includes, for the first time, seminars that will be open to the public and other local schools! We have new products coming online soon, new ventures with other schools, a local tournament to attend to observe other talented stylists and maybe even showcase some of our material and so much more to look forward to; and as always, we’ve got the same incredible Ng Ga Kuen with our rich history, lineage and incredible training to look forward to as well!
I truly believe that over the course of 2015, we as a school have achieved the vision of creating a true family of Kung Fu students committed to honing their art.
I’d like to extend special thanks to the following persons for helping to make 2015 great for Mountain Path Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy:
First, my wife Tiffany: Thank you for all you do to contribute to this dream. I’ve often said you are 50% of this business but you’re so much more than that, if it weren’t for you, I’m sure I’d have run aground long ago!
Sifu Steven Perez and Sifu Steven Ayala of Southern 5 Chinese Boxing Academy: Thank you for your kindness, generosity and willingness to share with us at Mountain Path your deep knowledge and understanding of our art and our history. Without you, our efforts here and the “mountains path” would certainly feel less certain and more treacherous.
Sifu’s Nic Baker and Andi Miles of Mantis Kung Fu Academy in Albuquerque, NM: I’m looking forward to another great year working with you both to continue to develop the worlds of traditional Chinese Kung Fu and Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Albuquerque area you two are pioneers and I am proud to be assisting in what ways I can to help you forge the trail.
Sifu’s Phil Romero and Frank Rivera: Staples of the traditional Kung Fu scene in Albuquerque, NM, thank you for your guidance, wisdom, counsel and opportunity to grow in our Kung Fu brotherhood over the course of our various lunches, phone conversations and meetings throughout the year.
And finally, thank you to our students. As I said above, Mountain Path would be nothing were it not for your efforts and dedication. As I am sure all Sifu’s do, I feel I have the finest student body and most committed stylists around! Thanks for all you do to train hard and make Mountain Path Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy a leader in offering “Traditional Kung Fu, Traditional Values!”
|Posted by [email protected] on July 20, 2015 at 5:20 PM|
“Don’t forget to breathe.” That is one of my favorite lines from any martial arts movie. Jet Li’s character reminds his young student, the films protagonist, of the importance of this simple activity at a pivotal moment in the film The Forbidden Kingdom. In a desire not to spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, I’ll provide some intentionally vague elaboration on the point. The films main character has befriended two exquisite martial artists and has been training with both simultaneously. One has been taken captive by the films villain and our hero decides to mount a rescue. He’s scared though as he hasn’t seen real violence of the measure he can logically assume is about to occur. A reasonable emotion to be sure, and so, he asks his mentor portrayed by Jet Li: “What if I don’t know what to do?” To which of course he receives the reply: “Don’t forget to breathe.” A simple act, a simple solution, a big result.
We live in a time in which we are at the mercy of convenience. We have so many gadgets and methods for making our lives simpler, that we are in fact living at a faster pace than ever before. We get less sleep, less exercise, less time with our families and we rarely have time to eat a home cooked meal, let alone cook a meal at home. Running at such a fast pace, with such consistency while at the mercy of convenience can cause incredible stress and is of course very toxic. Think of it, when is the last time you allowed yourself to enjoy a drive somewhere while just listening to the radio instead of taking every call that came in? Never taking time to just be still and calm leaves us feeling drained, hollow and lonely.
These fast paced problems and stressors often seem to have no solutions and that is a daunting feeling. I am reminded though of a mantra of sorts of a past mentor of mine. When I was training at the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course in 2006 one of our instructors would frequently remind all of the young Lieutenants in the course that “for every combat problem, there is a relatively simple high explosive solution.” Evaluating that philosophy through the lens of non-warfighting daily routine living, we see that: for every problem in life there is a relatively simple high yield solution. Relatively simple. So, of course, depending on the scope and scale of the problem, achieving that simple solution can be complex. However, embrace this philosophy and you’ll likely find that the reasonably simple solutions are in fact just that – simple. Tired? Take a nap. Not eating well? Stop at the grocery store on the way home instead of the drive-thru. Can’t sleep? Turn of the TV you have in your bedroom – see what that does for your sleep. Pace of life too fast? Stop. Stop everything and just breathe for a minute.
Nearly every single problem we face in this fast paced world can be cured by simply slowing down. We will all make excuses as to why our particular problem/issue/ailment is worse and can’t be cured but often the unknown variable of how much work is involved in doing things simpler precludes us from doing it; and until we acknowledge that change requires action, we are likely to stay exactly where we are. And yet, the simplest of solutions will yield the most powerful of results. So the next time you are struggling to affect change but can’t seem to know what to do or how, “don’t forget to breathe.” It’s a simple action, a simple solution, and yields a powerful result.
|Posted by [email protected] on November 1, 2014 at 12:45 PM|
Please join us in extending a great big congratulations to all of the recent promotees here at Mountain Path Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy. All Students tested, performed in an exemplary manner! I am proud of you all and it is exiciting to see a school that is beginning to sport a few more sashes!. To be specific, we have four brand new White Sashes, and four Advanced White Sash students. (a black fringe affixed to the ends of the students sash). The tests were demanding but each student pulled through and certainly demonstrated that they know their Kung Fu! Excellent work to all, now get ready, theres more material coming and it only gets cooler (and tougher!) from here!
This round of testing has placed us on track to offer a group test every quarter. So study and train hard, if you are ready you will have an opportunity at advancement again in late December just before the Christmas break.
|Posted by [email protected] on August 6, 2014 at 1:50 PM|
We want to extend a great big congratulations to our three newest White Sashes! Wylie, Aiden and Jaxon! The test was held the afternoon of July 29th and all three boys had spent their entire mornings at a soccer camp! I had warned the boys that their test would be extremely difficult and offered to allow them to test on another day, they rose to the occasion and chose to test despite the early and strenous morning activities! Of course this choice on their part impressed me, but it didn't get them any quarter during the test of course!
All three boys performed splendidly and have demonstrated proper Kung Fu values and as you'll see by their pictures in the photo gallery, proper esprite! See the photos here
Well done to Wylie, Aiden and Jaxon, I am sure that with continued practice your Kung Fu will take you far!
|Posted by [email protected] on June 19, 2014 at 2:40 AM|
When learning Kung Fu to pursue peace, balance and harmony one learns to fight. When learning Kung Fu to fight one learns to be peaceful, balanced and harmonious.
A concept which repeatedly reveals itself in all manner and variety of forms to the Kung Fu practitioner is “balance” and we begin to understand that all things have an opposite which balances them… all things.
I have deliberated for some time what to do for my first blog post on behalf of Mountain Path Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy. I considered topic after topic, I debated on what to name the blog, I debated on whether or not to maintain the same manner of naming convention for each entry that I did for my previous blog at The Healing Journey Project (www.healingjourneyproject.com). Earlier today I decided I would simply let the universe bring the topic and those details to me; and so it has.
Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum We’ve all heard it, “He who wants peace prepares for war.” At this point, this ancient Latin phrase has been used in so many B-movies and by so many presumed tough guys that the phrase has lost its luster. Pax per Potens “Peace Through Power.” This phrase too, the motto of the USS Peleliu and an old Reagan throw back, seems to have lost its meaning in a world where so many tough guys are only tough if their prey is weak.
It’s all fine and well to sum up Warrior Virtue in a cliché sound bite, but to presume understanding of a warrior culture through such cliché is simply absurd. Of course, these cliché sounding phrases, in any language, end up begging the question: are these phrases for the warrior, or the monk? That is to say who benefits, which does the phrase target, the warrior, or the man of peace?
I saw recently a meme on facebook (which I will try to find and post to our page at https://www.facebook.com/shenabq ); it was a photo of an elderly but clearly skilled martial arts practitioner, sitting perfectly still. Likely he was meditating of course because some clichés make us feel good! The caption read “The stronger you become, the gentler you will be.” I really like this notion because it strikes at the very core of warrior virtue. It truly represents the idea of benign compassion. Further it demonstrates an effort to be kind in all that you do and that even when required to do harm, do only what is necessary.
After having found my Kung Fu school I’ve faced all manner of questions on how Kung Fu is different than other styles, and what is the purpose of the training. Questions such as:
“Does Kung Fu instill discipline in the same way as other martial arts?”
“Do you teach only forms or is there an exercise component?”
“Will Kung Fu help my child to focus?”
“Can I lose weight doing Kung Fu or is the exercise intense enough for that?”
“I’ve been injured doing other Martial Arts what kind of injuries can I expect here?”
“Do you also teach self-defense?” (By the way that has been the most consistent question)
So as you can see there’s quite a range of questions (maybe I should add a Frequently Asked Questions tab to this site!). I’m finding that being able to concisely answer these questions is a challenge for me for two particular reasons: 1. I love to talk about Kung Fu almost as much as I love doing Kung Fu. Secondly, it’s because a great inadequacy I face is the curse of being a long winded fellow! (If you ever sat through one of my Intelligence briefings you know that’s 100% true… Who am I kidding? If we’ve ever talked you likely know it’s true!)
Given my curse of long winded speech I’ll just sum up the answer to pretty much all of those questions in a phrase: Yes, Kung Fu does all of those things. Except injury, you should not be getting injured doing Kung Fu. Expect that a class may leave you sore or that you will have the occasional bumps and bruising associated with intense training. But there is a BIG difference between hurt and injured. True Kung Fu has a very slow and deliberate progression specifically to prevent injury. Additionally, that slow and deliberate progression has a well-documented track record of aiding in expediting recovery from other injuries. Oh and respective to whether or not I only teach forms: No. There’s a lot more to Kung Fu than mimicking a few motions.
As I mentioned the most common question I get is respective to whether or not I “also” teach self-defense. I suspect this is because I have gone to great lengths at the school to outwardly demonstrate that Mountain Path Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy is a place of academic pursuit. I prize scholarly virtue quite highly. Often times warriors are perceived as being knuckle dragging Neanderthals, the truth is, a warrior must also be a scholar. The effort to present the school as more school than gym was done specifically to offer an alternative to the ground and pound menace that seems pervasive in the martial arts industry particularly within the sporting portions of the industry.
Given the emphasis that I place on academic pursuit and on the healing, centering and balancing aspects of the training it is logical then why I continually receive the question regarding self-defense. So I’ll take just a moment to clear that up. No, I don’t “also” teach self-defense. Kung Fu, if it’s true Kung Fu IS self-defense. I don’t offer a “kids self-defense class” or a “women’s self-defense” class because if you’ve got Kung Fu, you can defend yourself plenty and against multiple assailants at that. (I may likely be opening a Ladies Only class because I’ve received several requests to do so and if that makes a more comfortable environment to learn in, I’ll do it.) Ultimately if you began learning Kung Fu to defend yourself, you’ve made a good choice and you’ll gain a calm and confidence in the process you can’t understand until you know it. If, on the other hand, you are seeking a place to attain a new sense of calm that can only be attained through peace, balance and harmony; then seeking that calm through training in Kung Fu is the other side of the coin. Through seeking calm, you’ll learn to fight and defend yourself extraordinarily well; through seeking a fighting capability, you’ll gain that calm.
This notion of balance is absolutely present in all that we do as Kung Fu practitioners. The correlation between academic and warrior, peace and violence, calm and turmoil, injure and heal, are constant and ever pursuing one another seeking to maintain balance in our own lives and in our world.
A final note on limits: I was asked some time back “Rob, can you make me a champion?” Simply put: No. I cannot make anyone a champion. I can give a student the tools and teach a student how to use them, I can try to inspire, but I can’t make a champion. Champions forge themselves through unquenchable will not beneath the will or instruction of others.
|Posted by [email protected] on May 28, 2014 at 12:30 PM|
Please join me in extending our congratulations to Joe Bibeau for earning his Advanced White Sash (White Sash with Black Fringe) last Thursday, May 22, 2014. Joe began his Kung Fu training in July of 2013 and has been training hard ever since. The majority of time Joe has spent training, Mountain Path Kung Fu and Tai Chi Academy didn't even have a building to train in! So Joe and I spent countless hours training in parks, his grandparents backyard and even at my own house. Such commitment used to be quite common place in the martial arts but is less prominent now. The level of dedication Joe has demonstrated makes his achievement all the more significant and I am quite proud of him for how hard he has worked.
|Posted by [email protected] on May 20, 2014 at 2:25 AM|
We want to extend a great big Congratulations to Samantha Brown for earning her White Sash last Thursday, May 15. Sam has been working very hard the past several months and her efforts have paid off. She is progressing well and is loving her Kung Fu!
Again, Congratulations Sam!
|Posted by [email protected] on May 14, 2014 at 10:45 PM|
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to announce that we are operational and teaching classes already so feel free to stop in and observe or participate in a class.
We have two tests coming this week so watch for announcements on some of our students hard work paying off!
|Posted by [email protected] on March 2, 2014 at 1:00 PM|
We are very pleased to announce that Mountain Path finally has a home... or atleast one that isn't in Sifu Rob's courtyard!
Located at the southwest corner of Tramway Blvd. and Paseo Del Norte (7849 Tramway Blvd. NE, Suite A, Albuquerque, NM, 87122) we are in the build phase now so watch for our signs going up soon along with a few Grand Opening enrollment discounts!
We are currently accepting new students so stop by and see us during the build for information on pricing, discounts and please if you know any veterans who are Purple Heart Recipients pass the word. Sifu Rob (himself a combat veteran of the Iraq War and Purple Heart Recipient) will teach any Purple Heart Recipient for free with significant discounts for their children and spouses.