Go back to www.tylerkungfuandfitness.com

Archive for the ‘*Sifu Brandon Jones’ Category

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.

Become the Principles: Part I in the series

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

The young monk slowly picked himself up off the hard brick floor. He tried to ignore his kung fu brothers’ whispers but Grandmaster’s disapproving stare hit him harder than his opponent’s tiger claw just did. He stifled a groan when he stood straight. Every joint in his body ached, even among his toes. The puffy knot above his left eye throbbed as a hundred of tiny beads of sweat, mixed with rivulets of blood, rolled off his bruised, bald head.

Ashamed, the young monk stared at the floor. “Grandmaster, I’ve studied and memorized the combat principles, yet I can never defeat my brothers.”

From the raised platform, Grandmaster rose from his seat. His traditional orange robe rippled in the afternoon breeze as he walked to the edge of the stage and looked at the wounded young man slumped beneath him. He smiled, stroking his long white beard as he remembered saying those exact words to his grandmaster so long ago. He nodded, agreeing with his thoughts. Time is the answer. He spoke to the monk.

“Memorized the principles, yes, but you have not become them.” The wise master bowed and left training hall.

I remember memorizing the twelve soft principles of 7-Star Mantis years ago. I was so proud of myself. I could speak of the principles as if I were a kung fu scholar. But like the young monk learned, knowledge of something (mental) and becoming something (physical) is two different worlds. I can read and go to school for years to learn how to play the piano—and I bet I could even pass a written test on the subject—but if I never once sat down and played, then I would fail my final recital miserably. Totally the same with kung fu. To learn any art you must first understand the principles that make that art what it is, and then become it.

Sifu Fogg always says, “Believe, conceive, achieve.”

First, believe in your art, believe it WILL work, only then can you move on to the conceive part. Once you begin to understand (conceive) how it works then you can achieve it—in this case, achieving the ability to fight like the most feared predator in the insect community!

So, here is the HOW. (Let’s cover one each visit)

Principle #1: Evade full force. In Fu Slang, Don’t get hit!

Let nothing make contact with your body, a punch, palm, elbow, knee, kick, head-butt, a tackle or takedown, a baseball bat, nothing.

  1. Face-off with your partner. One of you will throw only straight punches (painstakingly slow at first) while the other simply moves away, whether this means to duck, step back, spin, fall, flip, whatever, don’t get hit and DON’T touch your partner. This is all about evading. No contact. Do this for 60 seconds then next person punches. Do 3 sets, increasing speed each time. Then go to avoiding hooks, uppercuts, elbows—make your way down the punch list.
  2. Move on to evading all manner of kicks. Talk with each other; ask “what ifs” as you kick this way or that. Be real. Help each other. Later you can strike with long padded weapons, fast and hard, while the unarmed student evades.
  3. Evade tackles. Have partner charge you and tackle you if you don’t move.

Do these everyday, if able. Maybe pick punches one day, kicks the next. Remember, your goal is to become the, evade full force principle, not just memorize it. This is how you do it.

Begin with these drills. Next time we’ll discuss Redirecting with a dil sao.

Oh, please let me know about your own evasion drills. We all can learn.

Ready For Some Football – Part One

Monday, May 17th, 2010

To say that high school football in East Texas is a big deal, is an understatement. However, quitting football is even a bigger deal.

During our eighth-grade year, John Cheng and I juggled kung fu training with playing football. After practices, we’d head home drenched in sweat with our entire muscular and skeletal systems shot. Yet, we’d still roll out of John’s car and put in some kung fu time.

One afternoon, we looked at each other, and said, “Why are we doing this?” We agreed that football was not in our future but KF definitely was.

Feeling confident with our decision, the next morning we strolled to the coaches’ office to tell them we were quitting so we could devote more time to the Fu.

The season was over, and John and I were on the second team. I played maybe two games. I figured us quitting would be no big deal.

We got to school early because there was a particular coach we hoped to talk to, Coach Smith. He was in Sifu Fogg’s fraternity and he was pretty cool to us. Hoping Coach Smith was the only one there, we knocked. I was very disappointed to hear four “Come ins” from the other side of the office door.

We stepped inside the huge office to see all four coaches sitting at their desks. The place reeked of burnt coffee and cheap cologne. Each coach looked up from his newspaper and stared at John and me as if we were a pair of water bugs they considered squashing. Plastered to the wall above their heads, was a banner that read A Football Team is not just a team. It’s a Family.

My backpack suddenly felt a thousand pounds.

“What do you want?” Coach Martino, the head coach asked, as he searched for something on his desk. It was a mess. Stacks of folders, World History textbooks, copies of sports magazines, papers, and a Big Chief yellow pad scribbled on with Xs and Os covered his desk. I kept waiting for something to fall, but it never did. Coach bobbed and weaved around the assorted piles smoother than Ali dodges punches.

When I tried to speak, some kind of shrill squawk burst forth from my voice box, a toxic mixture of puberty and fear. Thankfully, John was there to take over.

“We want to quit football,” he said, “to spend more time doing kung fu.”

So there it was, out there. As quick as a blink we had stepped off the cliff.

Silence filled the room except for the ticking of the coaches’ Coors Light wall clock. It sounded like a bomb in my ears.

As if on cue, the three other coaches slowly folded their newspapers, laced their fingers behind their heads, and then leaned back in their chairs. They stared at us. The rusted springs from their swivel chairs grinded and set my already frayed nerves even more on edge.

Martino found what he was looking for, read it, scrawled something on it, then added it to another pile. He rested his elbows on top of a coffee-stained playbook then squinted at us over his round glasses the way Clint Eastwood does before he blows somebody away with his .44.

As always, John stood there with no emotion. I, on the other hand, was fighting off a stroke.

Hoping for an ally, I glanced at Coach Smith. He just scowled at me, chewing his toothpick. I quickly looked away and tried to focus on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar. It hung crooked on the dingy paneled wall above the coffee pot. Looking at hot bikini babes is usually a cure-all for a fourteen-year-old boy, but this particular morning it just made me feel stupid. It’s like she was laughing at me, saying, You just signed your death warrant, kid.

After sixty seconds of tortuous silence, Coach Martino pulls out a pouch of Redman chewing tobacco and stuffs a huge brown wad into his mouth. “Alright,” he says, as he rolls up the package of chew. “Finish class. Then clean out your lockers and tell the office you want a schedule change.” He spit in a yellow plastic cup and wiped his thick black mustache. “Now get outta here.”

The other coaches went back to their papers and Martino started writing something in a black folder.

John and I ran to the gym and didn’t look back. We couldn’t believe it had gone so smooth.

With a huge weight off our shoulders, we ascended the old wooden bleachers for the last time and found our spot midway up. Athletics was our first period. All we had to do now was get through this class. We sat and waited for the coaches.

Coaches came in, blew their whistles, and said they had some news before we started our morning run.

“Cheng, Jones,” Coach Martino shouted. “Get down here.”

Oh crap!

***

At What Lengths?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Josh Davis, three-time U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist in Swimming, said as he stared down his lane at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the thought crossed his mind that 4 hours of swimming each day for 10 years—a total 25,000 miles—now came down to one moment in time. That’s unbelievable!

I love studying the championship habits of Olympic Athletes—well, really, the habits of any successful person in their field. What is their secret? At what lengths did they go to reach their goal?

As you know, from my earlier blog, “Committed or Interested”, (if you haven’t read it, stop now, scroll back, and read) I don’t believe there is a “secret” to success. The secret is busting your tail with hard work and putting in long hours.

Sifu Fogg always told us there’s nothing secret about mastering mantis kung fu. He said, “You just train hard, then do it again and again.” I’m doing that, but I’m still holding out for the kung fu download that Neo got in Matrix.

I remember before a tournament, I often trained 3-7 hours per day. John Cheng did more than that!

So, at what lengths will we go to achieve our goals? Here is a (very) few of the successful people I studied.

  • Eight-time U.S. Olympic Gold Medalists Michael Phelps swims a minimum of 5 hours per day 6 days per week.
  • Vladimir Horowitz, an acclaimed Russian-American concert pianist practices from 4-8 hours per day. Closer to home, my kung fu student, Shawn Bradley, when practicing for his final concert to graduate, played his piano up to 10 hours per day!
  • John Grisham wrote every day in the predawn hours before he went to work.
  • Stephen King writes a minimum of 3 hours per day 7 days a week. He says doesn’t even take Christmas off.
  • Walt Disney worked tirelessly on achieving his dream of creating the first full-length animated feature, despite all of Hollywood, and even Walt’s family, saying he couldn’t do it.
  • Sylvester Stallone loaded up on caffeine and wrote the Rocky screenplay in just three days.

After studying these people, I did discover their one common secret: persistence.

Psychologists tell us that to develop a habit, you must practice something one hour per day for 40 days.

To master something it takes 10,000 hours of practice to know all about that subject.

That’s 20 hours per week for 10 years!

Who’s up for the challenge?

Please comment and share your success stories with me.

Mrs. Jones

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Junior High for me-as was for many of you-a very interesting time of life. Kung fu definitely helped me get through it. However, I never dreamed I’d have to defend myself against a teacher! Her name was Mrs. Jones. She was a riot! She cared nothing about political correctness, wasn’t afraid of lawyers, and dealt with discipline problems herself. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that Mrs. Jones was Tyler Perry’s role-model for his popular character Medea.

I remember the time well . . .

“Jones, whatcha writin’ boy?”

I closed my eyes and cringed at the sound of Mrs. Jones’ voice. She caught me. I was supposed to be reading pages 104 thru 125 in my eighth-grade History book, something about the War of 1812, but instead of that nonsense, I was writing another Wade Cheng Ninja adventure. I had been writing the series since sixth-grade.

Wade had just killed ten ninjas on top of the Empire State Building. As he repelled down, using his ninja grappling hook and trusty ninja rope, a mafia hit man was shooting at him from the top of the next building. Half American and half Chinese, Wade was the last American ninja, hired as an assassin for the CIA. Bad guys around the world were trying to take him out. Wade was cool, tough, and the ultimate ladies’ man. James Bond envied him.

I sat third from the front, middle row. Without looking up, I told Mrs. Jones I was taking notes on the assignment.

“I didn’t tell nobody to take notes, boy. But since you so smart read whatcha got.”

My classmates started laughing and Michael, sitting behind me, punched my shoulder and said, “Busted!”

“Everybody, shut-up.” Mrs. Jones pounded her fists on her desk. “I got to hear this.” She adjusted her three-inch thick bifocals and fixed her eyes on me like a starved Komodo dragon stares at a wounded jackrabbit. “Go on, boy, read.”

I could feel my ears turning red. There was no way I would actually read from my journal. Earlier in the year, in Social Studies class, a girl named Sherry told me I was weird when I told her I was writing an action novel. Since then, I tried to hide it.

My journal was on top of my open textbook. I slid the journal up a bit, so I could see the bottom page of my book. I begin to read from page 105.

That lasted about ten seconds.

“Stop right there, boy, stop right there. You must think I’m stupid. You readin’ straight from the book.”

The whole class busted out laughing.

“Bring me whatchu writin’ boy.”

Hoping that Myron, sitting in front of me, could block Mrs. Jones’ view, I quickly slid my journal beneath the history book and searched for something to give her. But in my haste, I dropped my latest copy of Inside Kung Fu. The magazine hit the floor with a splat. I may as well have dropped a hundred dollar bill the way Mrs. Jones’s gaze locked on to the fallen magazine.

“Well, what we got here?”

“It’s one of those violent magazines, Mrs. Jones,” said Myron.

At first, I wanted to deliver the iron-palm-explodes-brain-stem technique to the back of Myron’s neck for fronting me out, but then I realized he just stole Mrs. Jones’ attention from my journal.

Mrs. Jones crossed her arms and cocked her head to the side. Her curly wig hung on for dear life. She stared at Myron.

“Forty years of teaching, I ain’t ever seen nobody as stupid as you. I see that’s a magazine, boy.” She sighed. “You the reason I’m retirin’ in sixty days. And that ain’t soon enough!”

Myron mocked being offended. “Mrs. Jones, you hurt my feelings.” Myron always had a grin on his face and it drove Mrs. Jones crazy.

“I don’t care about your feelings, boy. Your problem is having feeling to begin with.”

The class went wild. Mrs. Jones and Myron got into it like this everyday.

“And I tell you something else, old smiley-boy. Whenever somebody smiles all the time like you do, that’s the first sign of insanity!”

I was laughing so much that I forgot about my magazine still lying on the floor-until Mrs. Jones focused back on me.

“Jones, bring me that magazine.”

“I’ll bring it to you, Mrs. Jones,” Myron said, just to irritate her.

Mrs. Jones shook her head in disgust. “Boy, you done tipped over the edge. That smilin’ cult you belong to done sent you to the land of crazies. Stand up, Myron. You gonna stand till your feet’s as flat as dimes.”

Standing all period was one of Mrs. Jones’ evil punishments.

Myron stood, still grinning. I took my time walking to Mrs. Jones’ desk.

“Give it here, boy.” She snapped her fingers and held out her hand. I gave her the magazine and stared at her desk while she flipped through the pages, mumbling, “Mmm-hum.”

Stacks of un-graded papers, textbooks, a large round container of beige face powder, and the daily paper opened to the obituary page, covered one-half of Mrs. Jones’s desk. On the other side, sat her Bible.

Mrs. Jones didn’t let anything sit on, or even sit near, her Bible – it was HOLY!

The huge black book weighed as much as a Honda Civic and was as thick as five encyclopedias. I was tempted to touch it to see what she would do but it seemed that my magazine had already stirred her up.

“Boy, you know how to do all this stuff? You think you’re Chinese?”

“He is Chinese, Mrs. Jones!” Myron shouted.

Mrs. Jones leaned around me to see Myron. She lifted her fist. “Uh, Myron, do you want me to come over there and punch your smilin’ mouth? Even though my ankles is swelled up and my feet got the gout, I be on you faster than ugly jumps on your skin, boy. Shut up.” She looked back at me. “Jones, do you know this kon fu stuff?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, trying not to laugh.

“Are you fast?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I wondered why she asked me that as she began rolling up my magazine. Then it hit me. Literally.

“Let’s see how fast you are, then.”

I couldn’t believe it. Mrs. Jones was swinging the magazine at me.

I stepped back and blocked a few of the blows. The class went berserk.

Not satisfied with her hit-miss ratio, Mrs. Jones pushed away from her desk and stood up. Her over-weighted chair let out a hideous shrill as it scrapped against the linoleum floor.

“Boy, not even the Lord Jesus, can help ya now.” She leaned over her Bible and swung like a mad woman. Her watermelon-sized breasts threatened to bust out of her tight blouse and her arms jiggled like platters of Jell-O.

I kept blocking but I was laughing so hard I almost fell. It seemed like she swung forever. The whole class was on their feet, the noise louder than a pep rally.

Finally, the bell rang.

Mrs. Jones tossed the magazine at me and collapsed into her chair. Her gray-speckled wig sat lopsided on her head and rivers of sweat had turned her thick make up to paste. She fanned herself with someone’s term paper.

“Y’all better get outta here before I kill somebody. Whew.” She took a sip of tea from her 64 oz plastic Chevron mug.

“Jones, don’t you bring that magazine back here tomorrow, boy,” she told me as I was leaving.

I didn’t. But on the next day, she attacked Myron with the eraser.

Hell’s Angel

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Growing up in the kung fu world of Sifu Fogg was always adventurous. One lesson he taught me early on was that you have to stand on your own kung fu. Meaning the art must become your own; your skills; your talents. You must have confidence in your own ability.

Well, Sifu Fogg has a knack for drawing this confidence out of you, even when you’d rather he didn’t.

The spring of my senior year in high school, I was training with Master Fogg on the basketball court of an apartment complex. The worn-out ball court was a mixture of crumbling asphalt, grass, dirt, and potholes. The goal posts leaned and rusted chains served as the nets. The backside of the three-story apartment complex completely circled the ball court. Every tenant’s patio or balcony faced the court.

I’d trained with Sifu here on many occasions, so the fact that it seemed everyone in the complex was watching us on that beautiful sunny day didn’t bother me. <em>(Actually training anywhere didn’t bother me. We’ve trained in some crazy places before…but that’s another blog). </em>

Sifu was pushing me to the max, which I’m sure it was great fun for our audience. Me, in the sun, sweating, bleeding, on the brink of death, begging for a cup of water just to dip my finger into as Sifu laughed, and said, “Play your form again!” all while he sat under a crooked oak tree and sipped lemonade.

We’d trained an hour when this guy started heckling us from his third floor patio. He shouted, “That stuff’s not real. Bet it can’t stop a bullet (he’s never seen Sifu Fogg move) and “I can still kick your ____.” We ignored him. He continued for about ten minutes then went inside.

Five minutes later, Mr. Heckler was on the ball court.

Imagine the biggest, ugliest, motorcycle gang member you can think of and that would be Mr. Heckler, who now towered over me. He looked as if he walked straight off the set of a 1970’s biker-movie starring him as the lead bad-dude. He kicked at a chunk of asphalt and stepped closer to me. I could smell him.

His hair was a black tangled grease pit that tumbled off his fat head. He wore a sleeveless leather vest with a tattered sleeveless Harley Davidson T-shirt underneath. His arms were white hairy tree trunks. A nude woman named Lola, tattooed on his left bicep, danced with each flex. Fingerless riding gloves covered his huge hands and his fingernails had at least an inch of dirt caked underneath. His hairy gut spilled over the top of his grease-stained jeans concealing the origins of three chains that hung from his belt loops and slithered into his back pockets. His cycle boots were worn and scuffed.

He glanced at Sifu then at me and smiled with tobacco-yellowed teeth. He pointed at me, raised his fists, and said, “You wanna go?”

<em>Heck yeah, I wanted to go! </em>Go running like a scared rabbit and hide behind Sifu Fogg, who was still just sitting calmly drinking lemonade.

Biker Monster asked Sifu, “You the teacher?”

Sifu grinned, said yes, and then told him I was his top student and would be happy to fight with him.

<em>Wait, I’m not the top student. John Cheng is! I can call him. He can be here in thirty minutes.</em> I looked at my feet expecting to see all the blood that had just drained from my body to be pooling around my kung fu shoes.

Biker Monster said, “Right on,” and began to circle me, shadow boxing as he stumbled around.

I looked at Fogg. My mouth hung open and my knees were shaking. He waved at me, opened a package of cookies, and crammed a double-stuffed Oreo in his mouth. What is this! I’m about to die and he’s eating.

“Let’s do it, kid,” Biker Monster said.

My arms felt like hundred pound dumbbells and my legs were tubes filled with concrete. My heartbeats were off the charts.

We faced off, two warriors in a Roman coliseum. A million scenarios flashed through my mind like a DVD stuck on fast-forward. One thought was that if he If he connects a punch, I will have no face. I couldn’t believe Sifu was letting this happen.

He moved in, and without thought, I adjusted my stance to defend from the outside gate. That <em>one</em> movement did it for me. I realized my training was overriding the fear. I thought of Bourne. (A sly advertisement to read my blog “Just Like Bourne”)

Monster Biker grunted, shuffled forward, then suddenly stopped. “Hey, man, just joking around.” He dropped his hands and laughed. “I don’t wanna fight with you.” He looked at Sifu. “I’m outta shape, man. I can’t do it like I used to.”

He and Sifu talked while I sat down and encouraged my bodily functions to return to normal. After he left, I asked Sifu Fogg if he would’ve really let the fight happen. He said yes and that of course he had my back, but he knew I’d be alright.

Sifu’s confidence in me at that moment forever changed the way I viewed my own kung fu abilities. No way am I saying I’m great. I agonizingly strive to improve my kung fu everyday. It’s just from that day forward, I was confident enough to put myself out there, via tournaments, demos, etc. And twenty years later, that same confidence was a weapon of encouragement when I was struggling to open a kung fu school.

My goal is to pass that confidence on to my students in whatever they do. I hope during trying times in life, they will look back and say, “If I can pass my kung fu test, or learn a particular form, I can get through this.”