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Kung Fu Holidays

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

During the Thanksgiving and Christmas season it’s easy to become preoccupied with all of the holiday frills that we often let our guards down, especially when it comes to our children.

I have many parents ask for some simple ways to make sure their child is safe during the countless shopping trips. So here are a few tips on safety for your loved ones this season.

Malls are unavoidable for us shoppers and the bad-guys know this. My suggestion is for children under 12 to remain with parents or adult during shopping trips. This is a drag for kids around the 10-11 age range but it’s much safer. For teens, shopping with friends is the rule, preferably with groups of four to six.

You must view the child-abductor as a cowardly predator. He is looking for that lone child to attack. Stay with the groups and remain in public areas of the mall. Avoid going to restrooms alone or walking out to their cars alone. Of course, cell phones are the ideal way for you to stay in touch with your child.

And always run! Hopefully your child never has to deal with being assaulted but tell them to run. Get out of there and go to a security guard. Inform them to report any suspicious incidents to the proper authorities.

The holidays are fun and exciting and for the most part are very safe, but it’s always better to be prepared and to have a plan. Have a happy Thanksgiving and a merry Christmas.

Martial Arts: The Ultimate Cross-Training

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Looking for a way to supplement your workout? Martial arts is the answer.

What started in the 90’s with Billy Blanks’ Tae Bo program, and now with the explosively popular MMA or mixed martial arts craze, fitness experts and exercise enthusiasts have taken note of adding martial arts to their training regimen.

What people are discovering, is that martial arts is the complete package in fitness training.  This is so because traditional martial arts training such as Karate, Judo, and Kung Fu utilize the entire body, equally developing the four components of health: Balance, Flexibility, Strength, and Cardio.  Whether you’re a weight lifter, runner, biker, or dancer, you need those four areas sharp as possible to push you to the next fitness level.

Balance

Improved balance is the first benefit you will notice in martial arts (MA) training. With the numerous kicks; i.e. standing on one leg, your body is in a perpetual state of balance training.  Though wobbly at first, in as little as three weeks, most MA practitioners notice a significant boost to their balance. MA also has a variety of fighting stances such as front stance, back stance, and horse stance.  Holding these positions while punching and kicking conditions the body to find and then to maintain its balance throughout the exercise.

Bottom line: That improved balance then carries over to your primary form of fitness training.

Flexibility

Stretching is a major emphasis of MA training. Tight legs, tight lower back, and stiff shoulders mean your mobility and range of motion is limited, thus impairing your fitness advancement. Most MA classes, particularly Kung Fu, the Chinese form of self-defense, spends from 15- 25% of class time stretching.  A flexible body reduces muscle cramps, muscle and joint injuries, increased range of motion for back, neck, shoulders, and hips. Improved flexibility promotes healthy circulation as well.

Bottom line: Improved flexibility improves your game.

Strength
Strength training is divided into three categories: Concentric, Eccentric, and Static.
Concentric is the shortening of the muscle. Weight lifters understand this when they do dumbbell curls, constricting the bicep with the pulling motion.

Eccentric is lengthening the muscles, such as holding heavy weight and resisting that weight from pushing your arms down. 

Static is the strength developed from holding a position for long periods of time, such as a gymnast holding themselves in the “crucifix position” on the double rings.

Obviously developing each of these strength types should be our goal. MA training delivers.

With each executed punch, block, and kick the pulling and retracting of the arms and legs, the concentric and eccentric strength are being developed. The static comes in to play with the holding of the fighting stances, which martial artists call “iron-body” conditioning. And the great aspect of MA training is that power is derived from the waist. For proper form, every technique must originate from the waist, stomach, and hips, thus developing incredible core strength.

Bottom line: MA training develops all levels of strength.

Cardio
Cardio is all about increasing the heart rate and then maintaining your performance in that elevated state. In MA, practitioners run through a series of movements called sets or forms. These forms are a series of self-defense techniques linked together such as a block followed by a punch then a kick. Forms can have as little as ten moves up to five-hundred moves depending on the level of the artist.  These forms done rapidly greatly increase the heart rate and can burn up to 1000 calories per workout. The average MA workout is one hour.

Bottom line: MA training is a great way to rapidly boost your cardio.

Along with developing the four components of health, MA training also equips you with self-defense skills, a major benefit no other form of fitness training provides. Having the ability to defend yourself is very empowering.  It creates a strong sense of self-confidence and self-esteem.

The Ninja

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

One year into opening Tyler Kung Fu, I had the privilege of meeting a ninja-well, sort of.

Shuffling through paperwork one Tuesday morning in April I answered the phone, and on the other end of the line was a ninja. The conversation went like this:

“Good morning, Tyler Kung Fu & Fitness.”

“Yes, are you the sifu? I must speak only to him.” The caller spoke with an urgent whisper, as if he wanted no one around him to hear his conversation. I couldn’t resist. I whispered back, even glanced around my empty office to be sure no one was listening to me.

“Yes, I am he.”

“You are the sifu? What is your name?”

I told him.

“Ah, yes,” he seemed to approve.

Unknowingly, I’d passed the first test. He continued.

“I want to share something with you, yet it must go no further than the boundaries of this phone line. Agreed?”

Was this my first obscene kung fu phone call? Curious, I agreed.

“Sifu Jones,” the caller whispered, “I am a ninja.”

A ninja! I was speechless. I love ninjas. Since 1982, I’d studied any material available on the stealthy assassins. I’d read every book and article written by Stephen K. Hayes. Read Eric Van Lustbader’s novel Ninja, twice, and of course, watched the ultimate ninja movie of all-time, Chuck Norris’s The Octagon. I pulled in deep breath to calm my nerves. After fifteen years of study, I was finally able to speak with a ninja. Though I didn’t have his moves, I felt I did possess his intellect. We could speak as one.

“Incredible,” was all I managed to say.

“Indeed.”

“How long have you been a ninja?”

“A lifetime.”

“Wow. Where did you receive your training?”

He laughed, as a wise grandfather does whenever his grandson asked something stupid. “The entire geography of the world has been my training ground. Yet, as you know, Sifu Jones, I cannot reveal specifics.”

“Oh, of course.”

The ninja cleared his throat. “Sifu Jones, for years I have searched for a disciple. I recently arrived here in the States and after much study of you, your school, and your martial ability, I . . . well, we, have chosen you. Your mantis knowledge can greatly enhance our organization.”

Whoa! This was the happiest day of my life. Even better than when I was recruited by the Justice League.

“I’m honored, sir.” I glanced at the caller ID. It said unknown. “So you’re here in Tyler.”

“Again, I cannot answer that.”

Thinking about the we, and our organization, I asked, “Can you tell me your name, sir, and talk about your organization.”

He laughed again. “Sifu Jones, your testing of me is admirable. But no, I cannot.”

“I understand. What may I call you?”

“For now, that is not important. What is important is that we meet.”

“OK. When?” My pulse quickened when he didn’t answer. I quickly scanned the room to make sure he wasn’t already there. Finally, I heard what sounded like the squeaking of a chair and then the clicking of a computer keypad.

Another thirty seconds of silence he said, “Arrangements are being made for my associate to visit your school. You must understand, Sifu, you and I can never meet in public. Once my associate relays to me that you are onboard, we can proceed with a meeting place.”

OK. I knew this guy was nuts but now he’s venturing into psycho-nuts. I reached under my desk and made sure my .45 had a full clip. “Great,” I said. “Class begins tonight at 6:30. Have him stop by.”

“I’m afraid a class setting is unacceptable. He will arrive early; spend a few hours with you. There is much to discuss.”

“I’m in private classes until six,” I lied. “Tell him to be here by then.” No way was going to spend time alone with a psycho-ninja.

He sighed. “You’re an elusive warrior, Sifu Jones. Yet, that is why I chose you.” I heard more typing. “Yes, six will be fine. He will be there.”

I almost hung up when—“And, Sifu Jones . . .”

“Yes.”

“Welcome.”

At 6:25, cloaked in a cloud of smoke, the ninja’s associate arrived. He pulled up in a 1985 Buick. When he opened his door, a plume of cigarette smoke billowed from inside the car. I was disappointed when he climbed out and he wasn’t hooded. He had the rest of the ninja uniform, though.

I was expecting him to flip, or roll his way into the school but this poor guy could barely walk in. He could’ve been mid-forties but looked late sixties. His gray hair was in a tight ponytail and his goatee hung to his chest. Three diamond studs pierced his left ear.

I introduced myself. He nodded and said to call him “Bill”.

Knowing he would decline, I invited him to join class.

“I come only to observe, Sifu Jones.”

I had to back up. His breath reeked of cigarettes, coffee, and corn chips. He motioned to the waiting class. “Please proceed.” Funny, his voice sounded exactly like the ninja caller. I’d told my class that we may have a ninja visit us. So far, no one seemed impressed. With much effort, he eased onto the bench and watched.

A few minutes into our warm up, he waved me over. I had a student takeover.

“Yes,” I asked, sitting next to him.

“The mantis grabs, I don’t see the effectiveness.”

Oh brother. Was he already issuing a challenge? I had a student demonstrate grabs with me then I sat back down.

Mr. Ninja actually shook his head and clicked his tongue. “Still not convinced. The way of the ninja is fast and ferocious. Perhaps we’ve made a mistake choosing you. I must test you myself.”

I knew it. Sifu Fogg had warned me of nuts challenging new school owners. Normally, the sifu has senior students deal with challenges, but being open less than a year, I had no one. Sick of this ninja stuff, I stood and said, “Please demonstrate. He said he could only go half speed due to an injury he received while on mission in Peru.

Of course.

It happened so fast that my students didn’t even notice. Not his punch. Me jerking him to the ground.

When he punched, I plucked his wrist. Stumbling forward, he punched with his other hand. I grabbed it and pulled him to the floor. He smacked his knees on the hard tile. He groaned. Everyone stopped and looked. I told them to keep training.

Grabbing the bench, he stood, but not for long. His legs gave way and he had to sit. Two seconds of combat and he was completely out of breath. I offered him some water. He declined. Said he’d seen enough and would be in touch. He limped back to his car, fired up a cig, and drove away.

It’s been fourteen years and I’ve yet to hear from him – obviously I failed the test. Or maybe, just maybe, the ninja has been watching me all this time. Waiting for my skills to develop. Waiting for me to become worthy.

I too must wait.

Think Like a Super Hero

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Parents often ask if the martial arts will help or hurt their already aggressive-behaving child.

I understand the parents’ concern, particularly in the way Hollywood portrays the martial arts. Often a violent cartoon or “kid’s” program showing bloody martial arts fight scenes is all a mom sees. So when little Taylor asks if he can do karate, Mom has visions of her beloved son flipping through the air with razor-sharp swords killing ninjas.

But in my fifteen years of teaching experience, I’ve yet to have a student whose aggressive behavior escalated after beginning martial arts training. Actually, I’ve noticed—along with the parents—the child’s aggressive behavior diminish and I’ve yet to hear any of my law enforcement students and friends tell me of a crime-spree involving a kid kung fu master.

On the flip side, I’ve seen very introverted children become more confident and outgoing after training in the martial arts.

True martial arts is all about self-discipline and respect for self and others. The physical side of it gives aggressive children a positive physical outlet.

In researching juvenile crime statistics involving the martial arts, all I discovered were positive articles of martial arts reducing aggressive behavior in children and teens.

One was a Texas A & M University study that showed a significant decrease in aggressive behavior of delinquent youths after they trained in the Korean martial art, Tae kwon do, for just six short months. The title of the study was Martial Arts Training: A novel “cure” for juvenile delinquency. The title alone is pretty powerful.

Yes, the martial arts are comprised of punches, kicks, and throws – violent actions, but one of my favorite teaching techniques is telling the students to think like a super hero. I ask them; just because Batman has the skills to beat people up, does he do it to every one? “Only to the bad-guys,” they shout back to me, “like the Joker!” I explain to them that knowing martial arts is exactly like having a super power and they should treat it as such, just like Batman, and only use it in times of danger and self-defense. During class we reinforce this principle with role-play of how and when the student’s kung fu powers should be used.

This example totally clicks with a child’s imagination and empowers them as well. They think, “Wow, I’m kinda like Spiderman or Batgirl. That’s cool!” Many children in my classes even quote Uncle Ben from the movie Spiderman: “With much power comes much responsibility.” That is what martial arts is all about.

600 to 1 Odds

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad. He too saved Israel. Judges 3:31

October 1, 2010 marked the fourteenth anniversary for Tyler Kung Fu & Fitness.

After writing that, I had to stop a moment and let the weight of those words settle in. It’s not just the success of TKFF that humbles me. It’s what the success parallels with that completely blows me away.

In June ‘96, my life was a total mess. Due to ignoramus and arrogant choices, I’d lost my job, my house, my car, and worst— my wife and son. Wallowing in self-pity, on the afternoon of the last day in my house, I sat on the kitchen counter wedged between stacks of dishes ready to be boxed. The house was incredibly quiet. Beneath my dangling feet were piles of swept-up trash and packing paper. Boxes stuffed with memories of better times outlined the kitchen. My couch was sitting upside down halfway out the back door waiting to be loaded into the borrowed truck. I had no idea what I was going to do from here.

I stared through the small kitchen window above the sink. As if to mock my black mood, the sun was bright and the blue sky faultless. A light breeze came in through the opened back door carrying the scent of a water sprinkler raining on freshly cut grass from the neighbor’s next door. Across the street a father and son were playing catch. I buried my face in my hands.

Embarrassed, I wouldn’t even pray. Why would God help me? I deserved every bit of this.

Then the phone rang—twice.

I jumped. I thought it’d already been disconnected.

The first call was from a friend and former boss, said he had a job for me. The second call was from Sifu Fogg. He told me the wheels were already in motion for a kung fu school to be opened in Tyler, Texas. He wanted me to do it.

I hung up with Sifu and hopped off the cabinet, the house still deathly quiet. Me, teach kung fu for a living? I shook my head. Only in dreams. I scanned the kitchen. Evidence of my mistakes surrounded me. I didn’t want to make any more bad decisions. I finally told God I just wanted my family back, make a new life. As clear as the sky was on that June day, I heard Him say, “Then do what you know to do. I’ll be with you.”

Though only four months later and TKFF opened its doors, it was the longest four months of my life. Working full-time for my friend and living with my brother-in-law seventy-five miles from Tyler, I began preparing to open a kung fu school.

Respected business people advised me to have eighteen thousand dollars in capital. I didn’t have eighteen dollars. I lost count of the number of bankers, friends, and family members who said no to a loan. That was the frustrating part—a total 600-to-one odds feeling. I knew in my heart of hearts that TKFF could be successful. I just needed a chance. In August, with six-thousand borrowed from my dad, I hit the Rose City’s streets to find a location. With the help of Godsend real estate agent Jo Dobbs, we found a place (another miracle itself) and opened for business on October 1.

For the next two years, I worked for Brookshires Grocery Company as a night stocker and then as a sacker during the day while running the school in between. I was so tired that I could actually fall asleep while sitting in horse stance. On so many late nights driving home from the school only to be at Brookshires in a few short hours, I’d ask myself why was I doing this. Shouldn’t I just get a real job and stop pursuing a silly dream.

The only answer I had, the answer that kept driving me, was that I had to do this. It wasn’t just about the school. It was about me not giving up, not quitting. Not quitting on Sifu, who believed in me before I did, not quitting on my dad, and not quitting on the students I already had. Mostly, however, it was about not quitting on my family and trusting God to restore that relationship.

Motivational author Napoleon Hill said, “Successful people usually find that great success lies just beyond the point when they’re convinced that their idea is not going to work.”

Perseverance was—is the only answer!

That was fourteen years ago.

Over those years, I’ve studied some amazing people who overcame 600-to-one odds. Because they didn’t give up, life is better for it. No matter their obstacles or their age, the one characteristic they all shared was perseverance.

One is a man named Shamgar. Though only mentioned twice in the Bible, this man with no military training, no commander, no sword and shield, and no combat experience other than acquired survival skills from hunting and living off the land, single-handedly killed six hundred trained Philistines with an ox goad, and freed Israel.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a professor tell him that if he continued using such lofty and flamboyant language he’d never be an effective public speaker. Right. Any one ever heard, “I have a dream . . .

Sir Winston Churchill was sixty-five when he became prime minister of England, and in the face of his own country calling him crazy, saying, Hitler was nothing to worry about, he took on the Nazis.

Ronald Reagan was sixty-nine when he took office, and despite naysayers, he vowed to, and succeeded, in overthrowing communism and reviving America’s economy.

At sixty-six, Michelangelo completed the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; at eighty-eight, he painted the frescoes in the Pauline Chapel.

Benjamin Franklin invented the bifocal lens at age seventy-eight and signed the U.S. Constitution at eighty-one.

It took Tom Monahan twelve years to see his dream come to fruition, to take a mom-and-pop pizza place and turn it into Domino’s Pizza. He didn’t quit.

Texas Ranger Baseball player Josh Hamilton, who disappeared from baseball due to an alcohol problem, faced true 600-to-0ne odds. The media, the fans, other players, all said he was through. Yet a few short years later, he reentered the game a new man, humbled by receiving the MVP during the final playoff game against the Yankees. Josh didn’t quit. He preserved.

And consider the way legendary boxer “Gentleman Jim” Corbett said it after going twenty-one rounds and then knocking out John L. Sullivan:

Fight one more round when your feet are so tired that you have to shuffle back to the center of the ring—fight one more round.

When your arms are so tired you can hardly lift your hands to come on guard—fight one more round.

When your nose is bleeding and your eyes are black and you are so tired you wish your opponent would crack you on the jaw and put you to sleep—fight one more round.

Remembering that the man who always fights one more round is never whipped.

That pretty much sums it up.

Never give up on your dreams.

Resource:

The Three Success Secrets of Shamgar

Pat Williams & Jay Strack

Five Finger Death Touch – Mrs. Jones in Action:

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

***

“Joseph, stand up and tell us about 1812.”

Joseph sat to my right, two rows over. At the sound of his name, he slumped over as if he had a heart attack. “OOhs” and “uh-ohs” filled the room. As he stood, I could see his hands trembling. His brown hair covered his eyes but I bet he had them closed, praying.

Mrs. Jones clapped her hands three times. “1812, boy, speak up.”

Though he probably knew the answer, Joseph just stared at his feet. Joseph was extremely smart but he had no people skills. He spent all his time reading fantasy books, drawing wizards, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and feeding quarter after quarter into Xelda at the mall arcade. Whenever a girl smiled at him, his entire body turned red and he lost the ability to speak. He was no match for Predator Jones—which is why she attacked him daily.

“Boy, did you drop your tongue out in the hall?”

“Mrs. Jones,” Myron shouted, “I tell you what happened in the war of 1812. A bunch of people died!”

The class went ballistic.

Mrs. Jones was on her feet. “That’s it, boy. That’s it! Get up here. I got somethin’ for you.”

Realizing he was no longer in her sights, Joseph dove back into his seat.

Mrs. Jones started rummaging through her drawers looking for her paddle. It was a long wooden thing with holes punched in it. She had named it Bathsheba. She told us ‘that King David in the Bible made a bad choice when he laid up with Bathsheba, so any time she pulled out the paddle, that meant somebody made a stupid choice.’

After several minutes of slamming drawers and looking under piles of books, Mrs. Jones gave up her search. Myron had hid the paddle the day before. Frustrated, she pounded her fist on the desk. Her yellow hat went lopsided and her left clip-on earring fell off. She’d worked herself into a sweat. Her freshly applied face powder was quickly turning to cake batter. She pointed at Myron. “I said get up here!”

“But, Mrs. Jones, you don’t have your paddle.”

She started cracking her knuckles. “I got somethin’ worse than Bathsheba, boy.” Mrs. Jones then lifted her hands and a made a show of curling each of her thick fingers into a fist. “You about to get the five finger death touch.”

The entire class jumped to their feet. Everyone was shouting and clapping. Since the beginning of junior high, we’d heard the legend of Mrs. Jones’ Five Finger Death Touch. Rumor was that if she couldn’t find her paddle, she would punch you in the butt instead. I had never believed it, but now here she was about to send Myron into orbit.

As he headed to the front, I told Myron, “She’s gonna beat you down.” I should’ve known by the look he gave me that something bad was about to happen.

“Oooh, Mrs. Jones.” Myron brought his hand to his mouth like he’d just heard something shameful. “Brandon said your five finger death touch couldn’t get him because he knows kung fu.”

“Oh he did.” Mrs. Jones eyes flashed like a hungry wolf that had just discovered she could have two kills for the effort of one. “Well, come on up here, boy, and let’s see if your butt knows kon fu.”

“Whoa, whoa,” I lifted my arms in surrender. “I did not say that.”

“Too late now.” With the power and elegance of a sprinting rhino, Mrs. Jones made her way around her desk.

The class was in a frenzy. The laughter and applause was louder than the crowd at an NBA final. Everyone was pumping their arms and shouting, “Go! Go!”

I couldn’t believe this was happening. I tried to reason with her some more but with all the shouting she couldn’t hear me anyway. I thought of running from the room, but honestly, even though it was happening to me, I didn’t want to miss this. I was about to become a part of Marshall Junior High history.

I met Myron at the front, in the isle between the front row and Mrs. Jones’ desk. Instinctively, my right thumb went rigid. For dragging me into this, I wanted to ram it into the soft spot beneath his floating rib to execute the horrible spinal-column-shock-and-instant-bowel-release technique. I decided to let it go.

“Y’all lean over and putcha hands on the desk.” Mrs. Jones circled behind us.

I was laughing so hard that I almost couldn’t stand. Myron moved in beside me and as we lay our hands on her desk, the sounds of laughter increased by a hundred decibels. I looked over my shoulder and Mrs. Jones was actually winding up her arms the way Popeye does just before he knocks out Brutus. Then she started doing a shuffle like Curly on the Three Stooges.

“Watch out cause here it comes!” Both arms swinging, she stepped in. I thought of hopping over her desk but I was paralyzed with laughter.

“BAM!” she shouted as her big old fist hit me in the left butt cheek.

Myron collapsed to the floor and faked a seizure. I dropped to my knees overcome with laughter.

“Everybody sit down and shut the hell up before I tap somebody else.”

The class was over the edge. Papers were flying. Books were scattered across the floor. It was a madhouse. Even the two teachers, whose rooms were on either side of Mrs. Jones’ had rushed in to see what was happening.

We had to go to the office and after telling the principal what happened, he laughed, told us to not provoke her again, then dismissed us. I could still hear him laughing as we closed his door and started down the hall.

To this day, I’m certain that it was my kung fu skills that kept the poisonous affects of Mrs. Jones’ Five Finger Death Touch from harming me.

As for Myron, I received word recently that he lived in Colorado teaching band.

He walks with a limp.

Five Finger Death Touch – Mrs. Jones Returns:

Monday, September 13th, 2010

This tale comes with a warning: (To better prepare you for what you’re about to read, please search the archive and read the blog titled, Mrs. Jones, before going any further. For those of you who have . . . well, you’re on your own.)

And yes, all of it is true. There was a time when teachers could get away with this, especially, old ones about to retire.

With the start of each new school year, I can’t help but think about my own school days. The one teacher that still stands out in my memory is my eighth grade history teacher Mrs. Jones. I remember her not because she made a positive impact on my life, but from a skill she possessed—the Five Finger Death Touch.

Mrs. Jones was a very large, very old teacher and she always dressed as if she was going to church. Long floral pattern dress, fat clip-on earrings, and multiple pearl strands dangled around her neck. The big flowers on her dress only accentuated her double-plus size. Sometime she even wore a hat with a flower stabbed through the top. And to accessorize her saintly wardrobe, Mrs. Jones had the largest, thickest Bible I’d ever seen. It sat like a holy shrine on the corner of her desk. Rumor was it weighed fifteen pounds. One day before class, a girl named Pam sprained her wrist trying to pick it up.

My eighth grade year was her final year before retirement, after what she called, “forty-one years of hell”.

And we loved to wind her up.

One of the funniest tricks we played on her was turning our desk around to face the back of the room. We had maybe ten seconds to do this and we had to do it in complete silence in order for it to work.

Mrs. Jones was always hot, constantly fanning herself with a newspaper or one of those handheld fans she brought from church. Most days she even sweated her make-up off. That’s what we were waiting for.

No matter what she was doing, she would stop, sit down, and begin the ritual of re-powdering her face. We knew what was coming. With the stealth of ninjas, we would signal each other. The message was clear. Get ready.

I gripped the top of my desk as I watched Mrs. Jones go through each step.

With lots of grunting, she would bend over, grab her purse and plop it on the desk. The whole desk shook from its weight. She then slid off her bifocals, unsnapped her purse, plunged her hand to its bottom, and pulled out a round container of beige face powder that was as big as an IHOP dinner platter. She sat it on the desk and unscrewed the lid.

I waited, ready to make my move.

She sat the lid aside then ground the massive face pad into the powder. Then with the intensity of a herd of elephants stampeding through a small African village, she repeatedly pounded her face with the pad. Powder dust billowed around her like a brown cloud.

That was our moment to act.

In perfect synchronicity, twenty-three of us clutched the top of our desks, stood up enough to lift the desk’s legs off the floor, spun a one-eighty, and lowered the desks back to the floor. We called it the desk-flip. We had it down to an art.

I sat third from the front, middle row. I could hear her snapping the powder lid shut. The “rule” was that we were to sit there in total silence. I bit my lip and squeezed my eyes shut to keep from laughing. I knew that in three seconds, she’d put her glasses back on.

“Well then,” she said. “I guess I didn’t get the memo. Today must be Comedian Day. An ever body think they funny.”

I opened one eye and peeked left. Michael Wilson was crying from holding his laughter. I peeked right and Rebecca Johnson was doing the same. I could hear Mrs. Jones pushing away from her desk. Her tired chair squealed, pleading for mercy to be set free from the burden it held. She stood.

“Well, let me tell you about the memo I did get. Today, the principal declared this class to be the retarded class. And guess what? Ever body in here gettin’ an A.”

I couldn’t hold it any longer. Neither could the class. Laughter erupted. Next to me, Michael fell out of his desk from laughing so hard.

“Now ever body turn around and shut the hell up.” She collapsed back into her chair. The old wooden thing just moaned from the onslaught of weight.

“Mrs. Jones,” Myron Anderson, the boy in front of me shouted. “You can’t say hell.”

The noise of everyone returning their chairs back to normal went instantly quiet. Myron was Mrs. Jones’ nemesis. They fought constantly and none of us wanted to miss a single moment of what was about to happen.

Mrs. Jones leaned forward, rested her elbows on her desk and started punching her fist into her palm. She stared at Myron. Behind her thick bifocals, her brown eyes narrowed to thin slits. She looked like a cobra ready to strike.

“Boy, let me tell you about hell. That’s where you about to go.” She suddenly jumped up and reared her fist back as if she was about to come over her desk. For a large woman, she could move blindingly fast. Emily and Claire, sitting in front squealed and scooted back. Every body else laughed.

“As soon as I knock you out that chair, boy, that’s where you going, straight to hell. Now shut up.”

The class went hysterical. Some students in the back shouted, “Preach on, Sister Jones.”

But Myron couldn’t leave it alone. “Mrs. Jones, how you know I wouldn’t go to heaven?”

Shantal, a girl behind me said, “Oh no, here it comes.”

Mrs. Jones sat back in her chair, crossed her arms, and shook her head in disbelief. “Cause, boy, you so evil, that’s why. You filled with nothing but the devil. Matter fact, I can’t believe the good Lord ain’t done struck you down with a bolt of lightening.” She clasped her hands together in prayer-style and looked to the heavens. “Lord, please overlook this heathen’s evil heart and don’t kill him in my classroom. Kill ‘em outside, Lord, so I ain’t got to be bothered with disposin’ of his dead body. Thank you, Lord. Amen.”

Veronica, a girl sitting in the front said, “Ooh, Mrs. Jones. That’s mean.”

Mrs. Jones sneered at her. “What’s mean, girl, is you talkin’ and killin’ us with your funky breath. Now shut up.” She looked back at the class. “Now everybody open up your books. Last night, I told you to study the War of 1812.” She squinted her eyes as she scanned the room. Her head swayed left and right and up and down, like a badger following the scent of a wounded animal he was about to eat.

Hunters tell you that the basic rule to deter a wild animal from attacking you is to avoid eye contact. After only two months into the school year, my class understood this rule very well. We all kept our heads down pretending to read. And that was fine by me. I could keep writing on my Wade Cheng Ninja Adventure novels.

Hunters also say there is an amendment to the survival rule: Don’t be the weak one. The predators always go for the weak one.

Just as I opened my journal and began writing Ninja CIA Operative Wade Cheng out of a sword fight in the middle of Disney Land, Predator Jones attacked.

***

The Seven Coolest Things Sifu Fogg Has Ever Done:

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

7.   Kung Fu Phony: Back before cell phones, Sifu carried around a big white cordless phone while he taught class at the old Marshall school. It seemed to always ring during Horse Stance time and it was always some student from another country whom he hadn’t talked to in years. I hated those students. One evening, when Sifu was fighting the whole class, the phone rang. He told us to keep attacking. As we did, he mantis hopped over to the phone, answered it, and kept talking while he beat us down with one hand. Two times, he even asked the caller to hold on while he smacked us on the forehead with the phone. He told the caller he had to squash a bug. Oh yeah, he was smoking too.

6.   Bar Hopping: One winter morning at 5 AM, John Cheng and I ganged up on Sifu inside a nightclub. We were fighting on top of the bar. We fell off, repeatedly. He didn’t. (Don’t ask)

5.   The Grim Grappler: A loud-mouthed grappler visited our school once and commented that once he got hold of anyone, it was over. They couldn’t do anything about it; said he’d been studying for years and he was unstoppable. Normally, Sifu just let this kind of foolish talk go, but this guy just kept on and on. Finally, with Sifu’s permission, he let this guy wrap him up in some crazy hold. While lying there in a tight ball of arms and legs, Sifu asked the guy three times if he was ready. I heard the dude say yes, and then I heard him scream. He sprang to his feet and ran out of the school still screaming. He never returned.

4.   Butterfly Stance: In Sifu’s early days of being in Texas, he only had Karate people to fight with. One evening, he fought an entire Karate school while sitting in butterfly stance. (How do you explain being beaten up by a man never stood up?)

3.   Immovable Horse Stance: Following an afternoon training session at his house, Sifu sat in horse stance with his back to the bumper of his Ford Falcon and had a student put the car in reverse and ease down on the gas pedal. Sifu held the car in place for at least 60 seconds while the driver steadily increased pressure on the gas.

2.   Falling Ashes: Often times when fighting with me, Sifu would be smoking. On many occasions, the ashes would grow really long. It was amazing. As fragile as cigarette ashes are, these somehow remained intact. Despite Sifu kicking, jumping, hopping, and beating me to a pulp, these ashes seemed to defy gravity. They simply dangled from the end of his cigarette while my life dangled from the end of his fists. I concentrated on not watching the ashes, but I couldn’t help it. I kept waiting for them to fall. Finally, they did, and without missing a beat, Sifu would hit me, catch the falling ashes with the same hand, and then hit me again. While I tumbled across the hard wood floor, Sifu would just smile and light another cigarette.

1.   Sorry, I’ve been sworn to secrecy on this one.

Kung Fu is in Everything! (Karate Kid 2010)

Monday, July 26th, 2010

“Kung fu is in everything.”

When Jackie Chan said that in the new Karate Kid, I actually jumped to my feet, shouted, “Yes”, and clapped my hands. My daughters tried to bury themselves under the seat and pleaded with me to stop doing that. I couldn’t help it. That one line nailed the entire essence of kung fu!

See, for the last thirty years, kung fu has been in everything in my life. Other than my parents and my Christian walk, nothing else has been this constant in my life. A few years ago, John Cheng reminded me that for the last twenty-plus years we haven’t gone twenty-four hours without thinking about or doing KF.

I knew that watching the new movie was going to be emotional, but I wasn’t expecting it to move me the way it did on so many levels. It was like watching a time line of my own life on the big screen. That sounds hokey, I know, but seriously. With each scene of the movie came a flood of memories.

I remember meeting Sifu Fogg for the first time. Like Dre with Mr. Han in the movie, I didn’t understand what skills Sifu possessed and that what he would teach me would change my life forever. I had no clue that KF would become so ingrained in my being that there would be no distinct separation of kung fu life with no kung fu life. A kid in high school that wanted to fight me and said that I couldn’t use KF. I said OK and did anyway. I remember, for a second, trying to figure out how I could actually do that. I realized very early, that KF wasn’t something I could turn off and on. And what a revelation for a teenager! To have such a passion for something other than girls at that stage in life is huge. It gave me direction and focus even though the rest of my teen life was spinning in complete chaos. If I wouldn’t have had KF to channel my energy into after numerous girlfriend breakups, man, that would’ve been bad.

In the movie The Incredibles, the daughter had the power to create a protective force shield around her and her family whenever the bad guys blasted them with machine guns. The bullets simply bounced off. That’s how KF was and still is for me. Once I threw the first punch of a form, I entered into that bubble of protection. My life’s worry-bullets simply bounced off.

Mr. Han (Chan) demonstrated this in the scene when he was so devastated by the loss of his family that he was paralyzed with grief. Yet, once he and Dre began to train, his pain and anguish began to slip away. It was like the shackles of a prisoner suddenly breaking apart and falling to the ground.

Kung Fu is way more than a hobby or sport. It is in everything.

For Real

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Last Tuesday I learned real kung fu.

A new student who recently moved to the U.S. approached me after the morning class and asked me to watch him practice with the walking stick (short staff). He swung the staff with such intensity and focus that I remember thinking, Wow, he’s doing this as if his life depends on it.

Well, I found out that it did.

With little income, my student lives in a rough apartment complex inside an even rougher neighborhood. In very broken English, he told me that in just the last three days, he’d had to fight his way into his home, and then had to throw people out of his home. He said fighting is never one-on-one. Always three or four. And they are big, with big hands and big arms. They want my money, my food. They no work for nothing, he said, they only want to take. He also told me he had to use a broom as his weapon and that’s why he needed more practice with the short staff.

I stood there, not only dumbfounded, but totally humbled and even ashamed.

For the last fourteen years, I’ve been teaching martial arts professionally. And though the lethalness of the arts is always in the back of my mind whenever I teach a technique, I admit I’ve taken KF for granted. I mean, thank God we live in a society where kung fu is not a necessary skill to have in order to live from one day to the next. But in that, how many punches and kicks—entire forms filled with hundreds of techniques— have I taught just going through the motions on autopilot with little thought of how the student may really need this in order to survive the evening at home.

Weeks prior, I’d shown him a few techniques with the staff. Good stuff, effective, but I showed him the movements more as an exercise, with little focus on the combat uses. The humbling part is that he told me those moves saved his life. He shook my hand and thanked me for it. I felt an inch tall. See, in my mind, from the get-go, I should’ve taught him those techniques with the seriousness of what they’re really used for, not just exercises.

You guys know the definition of martial arts but it lets reexamine it.

The word martial literally means warfare or combat. Placing the word arts behind it implies pooling all aspects of combat, studying them and then seamlessly imbedding the techniques into your being so that it (combative moves) flows out naturally. People who train in the martial arts are students of both science and art. Think of all the physics and biology you learn just from practicing kung fu. And of course it’s the repetitive practice that forms the art.

Spending thirty years with a Sifu who relied on his KF to survive the dangerous streets of DC and New York, and then the perilous jungles of Viet Nam, I can’t help but intimately understand the combat side of martial arts. I just allowed my focus to become lazy. Not again.