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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.

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.

The Hole Inside

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

The Kung Fu that Sifu Jones teaches fills the hole inside me. Wow, what a statement. Let me clarify. I believe that most of us at some point feel incomplete. That we’re missing something in life. But we continue on doing the same old thing. Work, sleep, eat, entertain ourselves, go to church, spend time with family, etc.: all the things that we have found that we need. But what if you still feel that something is missing? Then you read a book, watch a movie or meet someone. And then you think, “What about martial arts?”. Then you start looking at different schools in your area. You go to some classes, maybe you participate or just sit and watch. You have searched online, looking for advice about how to choose a martial art. You have read hundreds of articles about which one is the best. But the problem is that everyone says that theirs is the best. Karate is the best; no, Tae Kwon Do is the best; no, Kung Fu is the best; no Aikido is the best; no, Boxing is the best. You get so confused about which is the best that you think that you’ll just pick the cheapest school because they’re all the same. Then you go to one more school to try it out. You walk up expecting the same old thing. But during you time there, you start to feel good, excited to be learning, and part of the group. At the end of class you go to the instructor and ask about how to join. You don’t wait for anyone to ask you if you are interested, you just know that this is what you want to do. You have found what you were missing.

I think that choosing the right martial art for you is a combination of the right instructor and the right style. It’s not about which style everybody says is the best. It’s not about which school has the nicest instructor and staff. It’s about finding the right place for you.

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.

The Running Man

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Being separated from my kung fu family has been harder than I anticipated. While I’ve always been one to push myself, it’s so much better to have support and motivation from others. I have really started dissecting my training and trying to find new ways to push myself and reach the next level. While most of you might not be as geographically separated form the school as I am, we all have times when we work out alone or individually and that’s good for your kung fu.

We all have plateaus and stages we go through in our training as well. The secret is to not fight them but use them to your advantage. If I am honest I have been through 3 or 4 serious plateaus even close to burnout in my training. We must remind ourselves that this is normal and not the enemy of our training but a tool to help us progress.

When I go through a plateau I try to change my focus and accept some changes in my training. I often use it as a chance to focus on other aspects of training I normally don’t spend much time on. It’s a great time for very slow hands for example. Maybe just do feeling drills and chin na drills for a couple of weeks. Its all about being completely “rounded” (no pun intended). If you tend to dislike really slow drills then use them on your tired days, or during a plateau. If you have been pushing your forms really fast, take it easy and think about each individual move in a form, play them “tai chi” slow and think about your balance in each stance. If you have been playing your forms 25 times each every day, maybe cut that down and use the extra time to write down each move of the form on paper. This gives you another way of thinking about the forms and really gets them in your head and in your body. We often get blinders on but the truth is we have to work on so many things in order to increase our skill; these times can be very useful.

One of the things I’ve done recently is embrace running. I’ve never really been a big fan of long distance running but I was very fortunate to have a group of kung fu brothers that helped and motivated me to run and work hard. Sifu Jones would push us both mentally and physically in our runs. I found myself looking forward fondly to the bonding that happened during those runs and in turn enjoying the physical effects running had on my skill. Still, running was simply a part of training I had to push through, sort of like horse stance. You guys at the school have a great opportunity to motivate each other and help each other reach greater levels of skill than you could alone. Take advantage of it, we never know what life has in store for us and I can honestly say the time I had with my kung fu brothers and sisters was invaluable to my skill in kung fu.

Since moving I found running a quick way to get some cardio in, warm up my body for forms and P90X (another post altogether), and spend time getting my head mentally prepared to push myself in my training time. As time went by I began to look forward to my morning runs as a time to clear my head, enjoy being outside a bit, and think about things in my life such as medical school, and especially kung fu.

Take some time and think about what you can do to use your plateau to increase your skill. Figure out a way to make it work for you and add to the overall journey of increasing your skill!

Since I’ve been running everyday for quite a while now, thought I would share my “relaxed” running play list with you. I go through stages in my music as well but here are some recent favorites I use to try and relax into my run rather than push for speed right now.

In no particular order:

  • Superman’s Dead – Our Lady Peace
  • Salvation – The Cranberries
  • Ignition – Toby Mac
  • Just Like a Pill – Pink
  • Undone (Sweater Song) – Weezer
  • Suddenly I See – KT Tunstall
  • Eye of the Tiger – Survivor (This includes No Easy Way Out, they must be together!)
  • Uprising – Muse
  • I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers
  • Unwritten – Natasha Bedingfield
  • Sugar, We’re Going Down – Fall Out Boy
  • Going the Distance – Cake
  • Are You Gonna Go My Way – Lenny Kravitz

Feel free to comment and add your own favorite running songs. No making fun of my song selection, unless you are going to come visit me and hang through a full workout with me, then you can make fun of them.