Fu Zhong Wen, Yang Chen Fu, Yang Shao Hao, Sun Lu Tang, Wu Chien Quan, Ma Yueh Liang, Tung Ji Yieh, Chen Wei Ming (below Sun Lu Tang)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Sparring to hone your fighting skills, why are "Internal boxers" so afraid?

Sparring: The only way to get good at internal martial arts combat.

   From the start of training in martial arts in late 80's sparring has been an integral part of training. From the early days of sparring with friends who did Boxing, Isshinryu Karate, Chuck Norris Karate, and Judo in the front lawn sessions, you learned that to be good, you really need to take classes and learn some basic strategy.

   In the following blog, you will see videos of me sparring. While the goal is often to "hit and not get hit", the reality of fighting does not dictate this and you will see me get hit and take punishment. Even the "best of the best" gets hit, they recover, and keep going. Do not let anyone tell you they are so awesome at sparring they do not get hit. This is a straight up lie. If a Tai chi instructor talks to you about "one punch knock outs" walk away quickly! ( It is not that we do not believe in one-punch KO's, it is Tai chi instructors with no fight experience banking that their Tai chi training and students WILL ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY produce a one punch KO's every time they get into a fight or self defense situation. At best these instructor as someone said is just "anecdotal evidence". The one punch KO's people are talking about are at beginning of a fight, I throw one punch, one time, and you are knocked out.)

(Schools mentioned in this blog have links provided, just click on the school name)

   It wasn't until college in 1990, I found my first martial art teacher where I started to go to classes. Having been told there was a guy teaching martial arts in the park, it happened to be Tai Chi Chuan a "Internal Martial art" whereas the training was not using strength development that most "External Martial Arts" cultivated, but the internals used the approach of "relaxing tension in the body" and cultivating "chi". This teacher also taught other arts called Hsingyi Chuan, Pakua Chang, and felt to be a good fighter: train in the cardio and hard hitting power of western boxing.

Tai Chi Chuan has a special auxiliary training called "Tui Shou" or "push hands", that helps develop principles, sensitivity, and develops a type of internal awareness/force. There are two types of push hands, first is "fixed-step" where two players do not move feet and try to unbalance each other. This is probably the MOST ERRONEOUS of the push hands where someone who is good at 'Fixed step' thinks they have real fighting skills. The second is "Moving step push hands" where players can take steps forward, back, left, and right, and it a bit more closer to the pummeling, tie-ups, clinch, and grappling seen in other martial arts.

Sport Push Hands: I do believe sport push hands serves a purpose. Serious Tai Chi players should do this or at least go to many push hands gatherings and push hands with as many people as possible to help develop skills. These skills will help you in sparring in many unusual ways especially in tie-up and clinches. Having real resistance, remaining calm under pressure, and feeling the opponents intent and power will only help your skill experience.
author in a Moving Step push hands competition

Tai Chi Chuan also has its combat training called "San Shou" or "free fighting". However most Tai Chi folks do not practice the San Shou. In this day and age of Youtube and online videos, we have a thousand "Tai Chi Masters" with skeptical push hands videos, but nobody wants to show "San Shou sparring" videos. Why? LOSS OF FACE!
In a nutshell, many neither had instructors that were great fighters or sparred, and they themselves have not fought. Often times these "Sifus" who do put out videos of themselves will only show them looking good anyways.
That is the reason why most martial videos out in the world wide web are false crap to begin with. I don't buy into them.

 Here is where my gripes begin when I am on forums. "Sifu this and sifu that" have ability to push every student around, but they will not show sparring videos. They might show videos of applications, hitting, or smacking a much lower level student around, but can they do this outside their school? Absolutely NOT!!

  While people like myself been enrolled at sparring schools others go to "Open Sparring nights" and have "Sparring Camps" we test our self against other styles and people trying to hit you. Yes there are a set of standard rules, nobody is out to kill each other, but it is to test skills and show progress. People like fighters, the hunters, the do-ers, we know bullshit videos on the web when we see them. Don't try to 'pull the wool' over my eyes.

Video taping sparring and training. From the start I have always been taught to video your training. The camera does not lie, and it helps you. It is helping you to be a better fighter, improve your form, and train your eye for seeing bad mistakes and correct movement or execution. Seeing what works and what doesn't is the goal. While some schools have to keep "secrets" hidden and do not allow video taping. I do appreciate places that have allowed me to video tape my san shou sparring to re-evaluate my techniques.

The reason why we trained sparring, mainly was for various sport fighting events in the area. In particular: USCKF "Koushu Federation" Lei Tai full contact fighting event, USAWKF "United States Wushu Federation" San Shou events, and Khun Kao productions "DC metro Showdown" San Shou and Muay thai fighting events. The excellent bi-products of sparring training: finding truth in what works and what doesn't (realistic view of fighting), increased cardio/stamina/endurance/, confidence builder, strength conditioning builder.

Early Days Richmond VA: (1990-1996)
One Room Schoolhouse- the guy I met in the park was Wilson Pitts. He had a small dojo room in his home he used for training student. It was not until around 2006 we did some sparring to help Jamar, Celeste, and Steve for their fight in Baltimore Lei Tai- some poor sparring clips here in the small room. Richmond Va- 2006 Lei Tai sparring camp filmed by Wilson:
Old School fight camp 1
Old school fight camp 2
Old school fight camp 3

Richmond Wushu parks and Recreation:(1992-2002) Sifu Weiqi Ho and Sifu Zhou Jianhua , Wushu and Tai Chi chuan classes has several advanced students who came from other martial arts in particular Corey Sullivan who did Wah Lum Praying Mantis kung fu, Mike Shea who did Duncan Leung's Wing Chun and Chou's Shaolin Wu Xing Ba Fa. During this time Steve Lipscomb, a Virginia state ranked Wrestler, Kung Fu guy, and Push hands champ held sparring classes. This was one of my first exposures to structures sparring with students of various martial arts. UFC was gaining momentum in early 90's so we were aware we needed to keep up with knowing how to fight and know some "ground fighting" as well, if a fight went to ground. Our preferred strategy was to stay on the feet however, and work within san shou competition standards.

Padded Weapon Sparring: Weiqi was pivotal in the development of the padded weapons sparring at the International Koushu event in Baltimore. The wushu class, we had the padded swords so we often would do the padded weapon sparring based on the rules of the Koushu event. I did not have a camera back then.

Moy Yat Ving Tsun (1 year enrollment): (1993) I spent a brief time at Moy Yat Ving Tsun school. I bought into the advertising with Bruce Lee, learning to defense self quicker than Tai Chi, and college friends at the school.  I sparred a few guys there who had gripes with me studying Tai Chi and Kung fu at "other places". While most of the time we did "Chi Sao" sparring (no gloves), often times I would met up with classmates and spar outside the school. It was political, no gloves sparring but not full contact fighting.
 Yip man and Bruce Lee practice "Chi Sao".

 Park Bok Nam's Pakua Chang school (1 year enrollment) (1996) I went to Park's to get more detail on Pakua Chang. While we did not have "free sparring" in the San Shou sense of putting on sparring gear. we did have Pakua circle sparring and training techniques off the line, angles, and circle called Rou shou. We had a free hand (no gloves)technique sparring drills to train in the Pakua Chang techniques and methods.

Virginia Beach Va.- (1997-1998)
I did not go to any formal schools at this time, but I did go to Madame Gehan's tai chi class, and Xianhao Cheng's park class that had 'push hands'. I also taught a Tai chi class at Virginia Beach parks and recreation. The only sparring I got in at the time was with old friends from high school who were either doing Muay Thai, Silat, Jow Ga Kung Fu, or Brazilian Jujitsu. It was a matter of style vs.style. I held my own in most of these "for fun" scraps.

Washington DC/Northern Virginia- (1998- present)
When I moved to Northern Virginia to train more in Chinese Wushu at Omei Wushu school  (3 year enrollment) with USA team coach Xiaoling Lu, it was to continue my growth in Taolu "forms" competitions. However while going to many of the push hands gatherings and groups at various schools and parks, there was also many opportunities to go to several open sparring places. One of my classmates Harry Carter was a Black belt in Taekwondo and they has a open sparring at Black Belt Academy. Looking back, I really should of stuck around there more and gotten more into sparring, but the Taekwondo sparring and San shou which allows for clinching/takedwons/throws left me limited. It was def a lesson in using striking of punches and kicks. (no elbows/knees).
Omei Wushu school did have its own sparring class, but it was primarily just for kids. We did however have a few San Shou/Sanda coaches from China teach a few seminars at the school.

Chinese Martial Arts Institute (CMAI)- (2 year enrollment) around 1999 I started going to CMAI for several political reasons... what wushu has politics?!?!? No. ;). CMAI did have sparring and a San shou coach with Coach Lama from Nepal Wushu team. I def spent more time sparring at CMAI since the school was both Tien Shan Pai kung fu and a Tai Chi Chuan school. I eventually got a camera. In 2012-2013 I was able to get some footage sparring at the open sparring nights.

(15 videos online) CMAI

Great River Taoist Center (GRTC)- another school in downtown DC had some sparring. I spoke with teacher Scott Rodell on attending some classes. They did both Yang Short form, Michuan Yangjia Tai Chi, push hands, weapons, and San shou sparring. They were a complete school in that aspect. November is their "Extreme San shou" month where you sparred like 10 minute rounds MMA style, it did not stop on the ground and windows and walls usually ended up smashed and broken. Looking back it was pretty full contact tough. Video taping was not allowed, but I appreciate GRTC and have a lot of respect for what they do. They often had san shou seminars as well. Sparring at GRTC write up. This was around 2006 I believe.

Yizong Baguazhang- George Wood had a class in the park where we often would train many combat throws and sparring. They even helped me out some when I was going to fight in Lei Tai, however that year, I went through some job changes and had to postpone my fight. I guess that was around 2007, video taping was not done, but I probably should of asked cause I do not think he would of minded.

Northern Virginia Mixed Martial Arts- (NOVAMMA) and Pentagon MMA (2006-2013)
There was def no shortage of sparring at both these MMA schools. There was sparring pretty much everyday in one form or another: Judo Randori, Brazilian Juijitsu "rolling", Muay Thai sparring, Boxing sparring, MMA sparring, Wrestling matches, etc. The whole 9 yards so-to-speak. I really improved much at these schools and the sparring was hard and tough. By the time I got into sparring here I was already in my early to mid 30's. As a "part-timer" (someone not full time fighter) I did find myself drifting towards Stand-up sparring classes like the Boxing and Muay thai since I felt the striking only helped to improve my San Shou striking tremendously and there was not shortage of sparring partners like at the Chinese Kung Fu schools. I def took a good beating on "fight team try-outs" and often found myself on the verge of barfing in many of the sparring classes. Video taping was pretty much encouraged. My time there was also as a web admin, youtube producer, kids teacher.
Fight team:
NovaMMA- author Matt sparring-

Muay Thai sparring: there are a few places I have been to in the DC area to spar with other Muay Thai experts but unable to get some video work, one was MASE academy in Sterling VA. to try a class with Matt Neilson (now at Fairfax Jiujitsu), Yamasaki academy with Pro fighter Mark DeLuca, I also traveled to THAILAND 5x and trained at Keawsamrit gym Bangkok and Fairtex in Pattaya. I have put some time in both stand-up and clinch sparring with other foreigners, and local Thai fighters both retired and young "up-and-comers". I would like to add that sparing in Thailand is nothing like sparring in USA. In USA sparring is very hard, in Thailand in is called "technique" training. They will say "go practice your techniques". Also in USA sparring tends to get "out-of-hand" where one guy starts to "ego-out" and go hard, this does not happen in Thailand, there is a sense of respect, however if you do that to a Thai fighter, they will often "put you-in-place".

Mainstreet Crossfit Sparring- 
Often time when part-time fighters get older and want to disassociate with the schools where sparring get to hard, you want to find people you can continue to hone your skills and not feel to injured the next day. We developed a sparring course at Mainstreet Crossfit one year where you go as hard as you want to be hit. We video taped everything so the fighters can watch and see and learn from what they are doing good or bad.

(36 videos) Mainstreet sparring Boxing-

Mainstreet muay thai sparring-
United States Wushu Academy (1.5 year enrollment)(USWA) and First Defense/Northern Va. Shuai Chiao club: (2011-2013) I spent some significant time at both these schools to supplement my San Shou sparring and increase my Shuai Chiao (Chinese wrestling) knowledge of techniques and methods. While both schools did have some excellent sparring and a lot of technique training, I did not stick around. The amount of adults in the sparring was thin. We could not video tape our sparring. Though I did pick up some good training at those schools and CMAI, I felt it was a downgrade in training after having been at MMA and Muay Thai schools. However, I do recommend those schools for people who want to start sparring if you have not learned it before.

Annandale Boys and Girls Boxing Club (2013-present): here we have boxing only sparring, but it is somewhat hard sparring. We have a few pros and 'up-and-comers' in amateur fighting. We have sparring 5 days a week. The rounds are 4 minute rounds (most schools are typically 2 or 3 minute, unless 5 min. MMA). Cameras are not allowed at the gym.

Sport fighting Finally the real experience comes from actual fighting. I am not saying go out and start bar fights, street fights, those may happen. Yes, I been in a few of those too. Sport fighting against real opposition, against someone training to fight, with a contract to hit, punch, throw, each other will give you real insight to what works and what does not in a set of rules and time. You go into survival mode, under stress, pumped with adrenaline and nerves. Someone once said, a sport fight is worth 6 months of good training. The fight camps leading up to fights are intense as well, the hard sparring, strength and cardio conditioning, fight simulations, and mental training. As a sport competitor I never felt I was top game, but i at least tried it: forms, weapons, push hands, full contact San Shou/Lei Tai. It was fun and worth the experience.

My own fights that got filmed:
fight 1
fight 2

In Conclusion: sparring is one of the most important training methods to improving fighting skill. Video taping is a must, to see your progression through time. Spar with as many people as you can, from different styles, martial arts, try the wrestling, ground fighting, stand-up, and do not get complacent in your training with just your school or your own students. People who go out and fight and spar who are doing the real work and have something to show, these are the guys (and gals) I respect the most. Internal martial artists, the majority of them do not spar for fear or injury, or simply they do not have instructors who themselves spar or have fought. If your going to shell out punches and kicks, you need to know how to take and deal with punches and kicks, this is called conditioning, and there are many drills for this, in Chinese kung fu it is called "Pai Dai Gong" and I have a few vids on my blog and youtube. This will help the dangers of hard sparring which can led to concussions which can be all to common. A good strong defense (evasive techniques like stepping, checking, covering, shielding, head movement) is just as important as your offensive techniques. Most "internal martial arts" non-sparring folks 'cop-out' to the "my art is to deadly" or "we have no rules for fighting" retarded statements. Well sparring, in my counter to those statements, allows you to try your techniques under real pressure, in a safe environment (wearing gloves and safety gear like cup, mouth piece, head gear), for when you do get into real world self defense scenerios, so I encourage you "internal martial artists" to go out and develop your kung fu with sparring. Do you really think your push hands "fajin" push is going to stop someone seriously out to hurt you? Better to be properly prepared than sorry.


  1. This is a very provocative article. But it makes a valid challenge in my view. Internal skill is measured through many standards of observation. First, it is preventive health regimens and combat sport medical practices. Second, it is expressed in external regimen. As this specifically impacts Taiji Boxing, the development of T'ui Shou (Neutralizing) and Da Shou (Striking) skills require classical training methods for foundation and mimetically, contemporary training methods to allow for adaptation. If you are an instructor the only way you can maintain skill and power is through apply scholarship to deepen Kung Fu conditioning, deepen meditation techniques to improve mental, physical and emotional intelligence and to train with other instructors who will challenge and validate skill. At least this is what I do. Arguably, it is hard to find another Sifu, outside of your discipline within the traditional Asian Martial Art world, without it seeming to be a challenge to their ability unless the other Sifu is looking for the same thing. The videos below are evidence of such a situation as Sifu Kofoid wanted to test his and my skills in striking and neutralizing. My ground grappling is terrible even though my first martial sciences were in wrestling and Japanese Jui Jitsu. This is mostly due to my resistance to cut my hair, lol. So I must cultivate skills to defend the takedown while ensuring that I have the strength to stand up if I am surprised. This Sifu tested those skills and I thank him for it. He also helped me see where my cultivation of balancing civility and martial expression of skill as is discussed in the Wu Family Taiji Bible called the Gold Book written by Wu Kung Tsao. These videos are presented to support what the author of the article is saying and invite response and critique:

    1. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=579841722046479&set=vb.351916368172350&type=2&theater
    2. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=594867927210525&set=vb.351916368172350&type=2&theater
    3. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10152146935209962&saved

  2. Thank you for the deep discussion on this. I am glad you brought up "da shou", and integrating with other high level instructors for validation. You are a true Tiger sir!