|News & Events
about Helping Traditional Arts
It is now nearly three years since Master
Kai Uwe Pel of Luo Guang Yu’s Seven Star Praying Mantis Kung Fu closed
his public class in Shanghai. It was done in the name of being
traditional, training a small group for free and shunning the world of
medals and belts. But in today’s world of martial arts, what does
traditional even mean?
We often associate traditional with being conservative and reactionary,
especially in the world of politics. Traditionalists ignore the changes
in the world around them and cling to their old ideas. They seem
offended and angry at new ideas, they require structure and discipline
and strict social order within a hierarchy.
We also have the idealists and the dreamers who fall in love with the
romance of kung fu and its philosophies. We think of them as a little
bit naive and lacking a practical understanding of the real world. They
wear the clothes and live the lifestyle and seem to have an air of
pretense about them. They say the mastery of kung fu is never having to
Consider this. You love the art and all the imagery and history that go
with it, but you respect it and know it can be achieved only through
hard training. You value dedication and respect, but your teacher
refuses to be called ‘Sifu’ and
there are no belts or levels. You are an idealist, but your ideals and
principles lead you to question, not to follow. Now we are entering
into practical situations and dilemmas. Now we are moving away from
intellectually redundant stereotypes.
Traditional Chinese Martial Arts should be cherished and spread. All of
our practitioners agree on this point. But why the urgency? Are we
under attack? How do we protect them and are the methods working?
The first thing to realize is that the world has changed. We have
modern guns, we have modern nations. Modern nations are policed. Many
factors are different from the old world of Chinese Kung Fu. Most
people who want regular combat practice and real tests of their skill
are going to find it in two places. They can join the army and go to
war with guns, or they can get involved in ring fighting such as boxing
or MMA. In a pure one to one sports fight with a mat and a ref we have
seen a certain style come through that works. If you like this, if you
train it and if you believe this is the future of all fighting – that’s
fine – you are right. You no longer need to read this article. You
don’t need to train TCMA. You should join a good pro-gym that trains
boxing or MMA. Good luck. Good bye.
Let’s come back to the world of people who are happy with TCMA,
understand it and trust in it and who understand why they do it. The biggest threat comes from ourselves.
A quick think about history coupled with a quick look around the modern
world should tell you that today – right at this minute – there are
more people training kung fu than in the past. Previously, styles have
survived through time despite being practiced only in small closed
groups. The problem is that we ourselves get carried away with three
main areas – Modern Wushu, competition culture and fame/money.
Let’s get the easy one out of the way. Modern Wushu is not a gradual
change in ‘kung fu’, it’s not an evolution and it’s not a different
style to be compared with other styles. A group of people with very
specific political ideas about society and sports sat around a table an
invented it wholesale. They then did their best to replace all the kung
fu that existed at that point with their new product. A Hung Gar
practitioner, for example, who follows the style and line of Wong Fei
Hung does not ever need to concern themselves with Modern Wushu in any
way. In fact, we should not teach it in our schools and we should not
endorse their events. People should be able to clearly differentiate
TCMA and Wushu then make their own choice. We should not help Wushu
with its tactic of confusing the two worlds on purpose. It does this to
continue its policy of replacement.
The next two are more complex. Does teaching more students equal a
greater chance of keeping the art alive? Well that depends. If you are
teaching your students Wushu as basics then teaching a thousand
students won’t help. How is running a school as a business going to
effect the training itself? Are you aware that TCMA didn’t have belt
systems until very recently in its history? Why do we need them now?
Why do you enter competitions?
Having five students who are happy to train their skills for themselves
every day on their own – is more useful to Traditional Chinese Martial
Arts than a thousand students who need belts, certificates and titles
to motivate themselves. With a big school, a belt and competition
culture and fame you can make money and give something to the community
at the same time – but don’t confuse that with our talk of
‘traditional’ and how it can be preserved.
A real asset to TCMA is when someone reaches the level of ‘master’.
It’s very important to know what that means. We must step outside of
the cultural definitions above. Mastering an art means being able to
perform every skill and aspect of it without question. Every aspect.
Here is a hard truth. Most of us can train kung fu, put a lot of time
and effort and achieve a good level over a reasonable time frame. We
have skills, we are able to lead a class we are fit and healthy. But
this does not make us a master.
Maybe we are very strong and flexible. Maybe we can hold our own in a
fight. Maybe we learned a set of forms and can perform them well. Maybe
we can use weapons. Maybe we have even used skills in a real fight.
Sorry – still not a ‘master’. The hard truth is that the old systems
contain enough areas that it is almost impossible to master it all with
our modern lifestyles. Only people who obsessively train daily for many
years can make it. And not all who try can succeed.
One of the ways in which we think we can help the ‘problem’ of TCMA is
by forming associations. This is a good example of not understanding
the situation. What do these associations usually do? They want to
promote TCMA in the world. They usually start with competitions and
events. Already, they are hurting TCMA. Maybe they want to personally
introduce more people to genuinely skilled teachers and even some
‘masters’. That sounds fine. I, Kai Uwe Pel, was once interested
in this idea and I helped to start the association called TKV Deutschland -
www.tkv-deutschland.de in Germany. Perhaps some traditional style demo shows
would help increase awareness, it sounds reasonable. The problem is
that we seem to make these connections for business, to feed our own
schools. As I mentioned before, having a larger school and more
students can help you, but it may not be helping TCMA. That is a
different area of discussion.
In the current culture we always seem to ‘jump the gun’ in this
respect. Students are students. If a student has a certain skill level
we can say ‘that is my student, they are still learning’. But in an
association we are all teachers or masters. We claim to represent
traditional martial arts – a strong boast indeed! In this case, if we
invite a ‘master’ who is simply not up to the standards of the others
it cheapens the whole. It exposes the whole adventure as based on
business only and hurts TCMA, not helps. How can we expect students to
dedicate themselves to higher standards if we can’t even keep them
It is now my belief that most good students find you. Or you meet them
through social situations because you are like-minded. If you have a
small regular class of such people – you have equal chance of producing
future teachers of quality than if you had fifty students attained
through a business model. Of course, we should have open classes and
give everyone a chance. You can make money if you want. The point is
only to understand these principles and keep them at heart. If you
really want to help promote Chinese Traditional Martial Arts then focus
on the non stop improvement of your own skills and those of your
immediate students. Community building and helping others is a natural
good side of human nature that we all should aspire to – but don’t confuse this with fame and