Come train with me

This is a shout-out to all martial artists and would-be martial artists in the western Philadelphia exurbs, especially: Phoenixville, Spring City, Collegeville, Mont Clare, Upper Providence, Lower Schuylkill, Valley Forge, Charlestown/Malvern, Kimberton, Audubon, and Lower Perkiomen.

I train under Sifu Dale Yeager at the Kuntao Martial Arts Club in Phoenxville, and my school has a weird problem. It’s having trouble keeping students, and near as I can figure the trouble is that the school is too good!

Seriously. We have lots of people wander in, expecting the kind of near-useless pablum that’s peddled at endless numbers of interchangeable strip-mall karate emporia. Too many spend a couple weeks finding out how rigorously we train and bail. It’s not even that our style is physically that difficult; it’s way less strenuous than, say, kickboxing or hard-style karate. But it does demand concentration, mental flexibility, a willingness to learn challenging movement sequences, and the intelligence to integrate individual moves into an entire tactical system.

We teach a blend of traditional wing chun kung fu and Philippine weapons arts, with early emphasis on short blades (higher levels go to swords). It’s a close infighting style, and Sifu thinks a major reason we don’t pull in more newbies is that we look as scary as hell when we do it. I can’t disagree. There’s a quiet, ferocious intensity to the training that drew me in immediately but might turn off anybody who was just looking for exercise.

I’m posting because I’m worried about the school. We only have about twelve to fifteen people showing up regularly; sifu just told his instructors we need to get up to around thirty because the expenses for rent and equipment aren’t going anywhere but up. He doesn’t want to jack up fees because he doesn’t really run the school for money – he’s got a pretty well-paying day job, he’s interested in passing on what he knows to the best students he can find.

And we are good students. In more than twenty years of martial arts training at more than half a dozen schools I’ve found a style this interesting and a student group this impressive maybe twice. The level of commitment and mutual help is high. (It’s a mainly mixed adult group with a wide age range and one or two older children.)

If this sounds attractive to you, come train with me. You don’t have to be a twenty-year student like my wife and I, nor a natural athlete, but you do have to be ready to train with intensity and focus. Your mind will be exercised harder than your body.

I can especially recommend the training to the sorts of people most likely to be reading this. That is programmers, engineers, techies, and geeks of all description who already get it about mental discipline and flow states. Kuntao will engage you better than the strip-mall crap ever could.

Chase the link above or call 610-237-3902 ext 803

39 thoughts on “Come train with me

  1. >If I didn’t live 8+ hours away, I would be so on this.
    Ditto for me, I’m 6.5 hours away. The style does sound interesting. I’m probably going to resume Kenpo locally.

  2. Hmm… The transporter pad mentioned in Acts 8:39 might not be serviceable at the moment.

  3. If I wasn’t old, fat, out of shape, and a thousand miles away, in addition to being a klutz, and a peaceful, contemplative type, … I’d be all over it too.

  4. Which lineage of Wing Chun do you practice? My Dad has been teaching me Moy Yat Wing Chun since I was fairly young. I just moved to the D.C. Metro area and am looking for a place to practice. Unfortunately Phoenxville would be quite a commute.

  5. >Which lineage of Wing Chun do you practice?

    Traditional, from Yip Man through William Cheung. His senior student, Keith Mazza, taught my sifu, Dale Yeager.

  6. >Traditional, from Yip Man through William Cheung. His senior student, Keith Mazza, taught my sifu, Dale Yeager.

    Ah ok. If I remember correctly, Moy Yat was taught by Yip Man before moving to the U.S. (My Dad went over the full Wing Chun lineage for me at one point when I was young). Kind of cool to learn that someone that I sort of look up to in the open source world practices the same style of martial arts as I do. :)

  7. >Ah ok. If I remember correctly, Moy Yat was taught by Yip Man before moving to the U.S.

    Yes. There’s since been a lot of wrangling and petty politics among lineages descended from Yip Man’s senior students over who he intended to pass the tradition to. However, if the Wikipedia article on Moy Yat is to be believed, he and William Cheung remained on good terms. Which I guess means you and I aren’t expected to beat each other up. :-)

  8. I’ve often wondered how Wing Chun compares to San Soo (which I took, for a long while).

    San Soo is based on control, and known responses to various strikes, with either an offensive or defensive style (being 5’7″, 190 lbs, with a low center-of-gravity, I’ve always adopted a purely defensive style, with few kicks and close-in take-downs… I’ll do leg-strikes and kicks to the hips, but that’s it).

    One basic premise of San Soo is that the ground hits harder than I can. You can be completely fluent in San Soo without ever striking an opponent, for instance.

    Most systems are…. what’s the wording I’m looking for?… self-contained, in that they work, but I’ve always liked San Soo for its total flexibility, in that there’re so many ways to apply the concepts that no two people will have anything remotely like the same repertoire.

    Fun times, back in the day. We couldn’t spar, since most moves were killing or maiming attacks. It makes working out dependent on how well your partner knew what responses were appropriate for any (pulled) strike. You obviously can’t do a ridge-hand strike to the throat during training, for instance (killing blow).

  9. I’d be game if I weren’t on the wrong coast for it.

    In that department, anyone know an interesting place to train in San Francisco? I’m now over 40, and really need to stop taking such an, ah, extremely casual approach to such things. I used to know someone who studied Ju Jistu… somewhere, and heartily endorsed that place, but I’ve lost track of him and there seem to be a few places that might be where he went.

  10. In the Bay Area the 10th planet jujitsu is supposed to be pretty good if you’re interested in no-gi. If you’re willing to make a commute then find Dave Camarillo’s school (I trained there while I worked up there and he’s the best instructor I know).

  11. For plan B: Several of the instructors I’ve worked with in the past have just rented time from other dojos, or who rented their space to other instructors who didn’t have sufficient students.

    And yeah, it’s probably two things (1) Rigorous approach that requires work, and (b) not a high profile (BJJ, MMA stuff). The Modern Man, if he doesn’t see results right way, grows bored and moves on.

  12. “Fun times, back in the day. We couldn’t spar, since most moves were killing or maiming attacks.”

    Hmmmm. The only martial arts I’ve any experience with are Amok and European longsword – and only very basic study in either.

    However, both of those systems emphasise sparing / free-play so that you can actually test whether your technique works against an aggressive non-compliant adversary.

    With respect, and again stressing my relative inexperience, how do you know whether what you’re doing is combat effective without sparring?

  13. >If I didn’t live 8+ hours away, I would be so on this.

    So many people (myself included) seem to be in this boat (for variable numbers of hours).

    >One basic premise of San Soo is that the ground hits harder than I can. You can be completely fluent in San Soo without ever striking an opponent, for instance.

    To me, that sounds similar to Aikido, except with different reasoning and objectives. (Example convergent evolution? Or cross pollination?) Though you might be in for a surprise if you try that on anyone who’s practiced Aikido for more than a couple days. (The first lesson is falling. And the second. And a lot of the later ones. When you think you’ve gotten it down and are working through more advanced stuff, surprise refresher on falling!)

    After looking up a video of San Soo, I think it would be rather funny to watch a sparring match between a practitioner of San Soo and an aikidoka. Especially if the San Soo practitioner subscribes to the same “ground hits harder than I can” school of thought.

  14. > anyone know an interesting place to train in San Francisco?

    http://okinawankaratesanfrancisco.com/main/

    The head instructor (Michele) is a contemporary of my teacher, and I have trained with her several times at seminars.

    When we had a seminar in San Francisco a few years ago she brought in an excellent Ju Jitsu instructor who I think was local. I don’t remember the name but she would, if you’d prefer that style.

  15. > (The first lesson is falling. And the second. And a lot of the later ones.
    > When you think you’ve gotten it down and are working through more
    > advanced stuff, surprise refresher on falling!)

    The school I study (bujinkan) emphasizes “ukemi” or “receiving”. This is mostly taught through various rolls and falls (it is supposed to be a lot more than that but sometimes things get lost).

    IMO you might spend the rest of your life and never get in a fight, but you WILL fall down, and falling badly can break things.

  16. >After looking up a video of San Soo, I think it would be rather funny to watch a sparring match between a practitioner of San Soo and an aikidoka.

    Nothing happens.

    Then nothing happens.

    They twitch at each other.

    Nothing happens some more.

    It would be really boring. Or, rather hilarious, if your sense of humor is as warped as mine.

  17. >but you WILL fall down, and falling badly can break things.

    One of the curious side effects of growing up with cerebral palsy is that I learned to fall really well without any training other than … falling down a lot when I was little.

    When I got a bit older, I began to be really puzzled over the the consternation people would exhibit when I fell down. “Ohmygodareyouallright?” Hey, it was just a fall, no big deal.

    Eventually I figured it out. These people were getting ultra-concerned because they were used to seeing people get hurt when they fall down, because most people do get hurt when they fall down, because most people never had to get good at not hurting themselves when they fall down before they were old enough to talk.

    It’s a very minor superpower, but a useful one. I once fell down an entire flight of basement stairs carrying two heavy buckets of cat litter and got up with nothing but a bruise on one hip.

  18. @ esr

    Traditional, from Yip Man through William Cheung. His senior student, Keith Mazza, taught my sifu, Dale Yeager.

    Great kung fu!

    @ everyone

    I haven’t been a member of the school for many years, but my Sifu was Brian Lewandy. He (my sifu) was level 10 in “modified Wing Chun” (shifting rather than stepping). He then moved to Australia and, full time under William Cheung, did levels one to ten and was made a Master in “Traditional” Wing Chun in a year or so – one of the few (or only) students to be made a master more or less immediately after attaining level 10. He is a natural – extremely talented for this art – and perhaps the gentlest man I have ever met.

    I can say “My master’s master and Bruce Lee had the same master.”

    Tradition has it that, centuries ago, a beautiful young teenager named Wing Chun was being harrassed by a kung fu champ that wanted to marry her, which she didn’t want to do. Wing Chun told the guy to come back in a year and that if he could beat her in a fight, she would marry him. Wing Chun met a Buddhist nun that taught her an art that the nun (or maybe an earlier nun) had developed that did not require the physical strength required for the kung fu taught at the Shao Lin Monastary. After a year, the guy came back, Wing Chun kicked his ass and she never saw him again. This form of kung fu was named after the girl.

    The point is that Wing Chun doesn’t require great strength, that it can be effective for women and old people. I have a theory that, to some extent, Wing Chun doesn’t require extreme speed – you react to what is happening – it isn’t how fast you are, it is how soon you start to move.

  19. > It’s a very minor superpower, but a useful one.

    What’s the trick (other than experience the hard way)?

  20. > because most people never had to get good at not hurting themselves when they fall down
    > before they were old enough to talk

    Interesting. I have observed in my grand-nieces and -nephews as toddlers – they fall and then get right back up. Often without appearing to be hurting at all. (Tellingly, if they are trying to hog attention, they look around to see if anyone noticed them fall, and then start crying.) I think part of this is both having (somewhat) softer bones, and being much closer to the ground (lower CoM).

    So maybe all little kids know how to fall, and the ones of average or better coordination, who are not taking martial arts, gymnastics, or some other fall-prone sport, _just_ _forget_ _how_.

  21. >What’s the trick (other than experience the hard way)?

    I’m not actually sure, because I don’t directly know what other people are doing to cope. But I think a lot of it is not tensing myself into positions where impact shock is going to do me more damage. You want to take impacts on muscle rather than bone whenever possible, and ideally on larger areas of muscle so the force is distributed and will bruise but not break.

  22. As an aside, Jay, is this your car: http://thechive.com/2014/02/18/daily-morning-awesomeness-35-photos-199/dma-10-107/

    ESR:
    > But I think a lot of it is not tensing myself into positions where impact shock is going to
    > do me more damage. You want to take impacts on muscle rather than bone whenever
    > possible, and ideally on larger areas of muscle so the force is distributed and
    > will bruise but not break.

    The important (and hard) parts are not tensing and organizing the body to either roll or land flat.

    Also don’t get the palms out–that breaks the wrist.

    Seriously, it would be worth *everyone’s* time to take 6 or 8 months of Akido or any art that focuses heaving on throws.

  23. William: I wish I could afford that, though I’d get the E63 AMG wagon I mentioned in a mother post.

    And it’s well known among paramedics that drunks do better in car crashes than sober people, probably because they don’t tense up before impact.

  24. @esr:
    >It’s a very minor superpower, but a useful one. I once fell down an entire flight of basement stairs carrying two heavy buckets of cat litter and got up with nothing but a bruise on one hip.

    Experience falling or no experience falling, I’d say as much luck went into that as anything.

    When I was little, I used to slide down a set of carpeted stairs at our church (headfirst) for fun. Despite the fact that I was quite experienced at it (because I was doing it deliberately), as I got older and crossed the 100-pound-or-so-mark, it got to the point that it delivered such a painful pounding to my ribs that I stopped (it may have been 20 or 30 pounds 100 pound mark, I know hit the age where my sense of maturity should have stopped me before I hit the weight where the pain actually did). Knowing what that felt like when subjecting myself to it deliberately at 100 pounds, and now weighing almost 200, I can’t imagine any scenario, even if I had experience with nasty falls, where a fall on a similar flight of stairs (let alone a steeper, uncarpeted flight) could happen without me expecting it and I could walk away without serious injury.

    On the other hand, I’ve never been seriously injured, so I have no experience with what the sort of blunt force trauma that would break a bone (for example) feels like, or how close the sensation of deliberately diving headlong down a flight of stairs at 100 pounds comes to it. So the above paragraph may be me talking out of my rear.

  25. >Experience falling or no experience falling, I’d say as much luck went into that as anything.

    Chance enters into everything, of course. But there really is a trick to it.

    It seems the thing I’ve internalized best from the judo I studied in grade school, is that I’m also one of those people who falls well.

    Once walking back to work from Dunkies on a very icy wintertime MA sidewalk, I slipped and fell. A brief instant later I’m more or less lying on my side on the ground, one arm out and the other arm carefully holding up my coffee. Didn’t spill any. Coworker thought I was weird when he stopped being worried – for most people slipping and falling on ice and concrete is scary.

  26. “I have observed in my grand-nieces and -nephews as toddlers – they fall and then get right back up. Often without appearing to be hurting at all.”

    Yes. It’s that old r^2/r^3 law at work here. Also, their joints are more flexible and softer. An adult simply can’t learn anything useful by watching children fall. It just leads to frustration. One of the worst feelings about this comes over you if you’re an adult, trying to learn how to ski. You’re struggling on them…then you look over and see 8 year olds bombing down the slopes. They are doing everything WRONG, yet they are skiiing fast and hard…and having a ball!

  27. Alas, I am in Iowa.
    Eric, they way you’re describing it, in many ways it sounds like the Aegis/Polaris culture.

  28. >Eric, they way you’re describing it, in many ways it sounds like the Aegis/Polaris culture.

    There are similarities. Many of the sort that will exhibit between any two groups of sufficiently serious martial artists.

    The most important similarity here is that both groups want to be fighters – both are really serious about doing anything that can make them more effective, not just playing with “Look-at-me-I’m-a-martial-artist”. Another important similarity is that both styles teach fighting holistically, not as a disconnected bag of techniques but as a whole combat system in which tactical doctrine is as important an element as physical moves. Intangibly but crucially, both schools attract good people, people I’d trust at my back in a clutch situation.

    Differences: the kuntao crew is neither as geeky nor as capable of fast takeoff on new techniques, on average, and that affects training tempo. Their hand-to-hand is considerably better than the Aegis/Polaris standard. Sword, not so much – they don’t spend as much time on it and their simulants are embarrassingly bad. Also their weapons are short and light by your standards – imagine what your concept of swordplay would be like if you’d never handled anything longer than a shortsword or light sabre. They haven’t even really got the concept of two-beat fencing, there are only faint traces of it in the more Spanish-influenced forms.

    On the other hand, kuntao knife technique is much more sophisticated than Aegis/Polaris, with a far wider range of both offensive and defensive moves. I won’t say the students are better knife fighters, though; they bring a good amount of aggression and willpower but don’t spar enough and don’t stress-inoculate enough. I may be gradually influencing the school towards changing that; sifu and the instructors get that this is a problem and are intrigued by my descriptions of bear-pit fighting for all the right reasons.

    Filipinos are small, light, gracile people who are hellish fierce when they’re pissed off. If you think from first principles about how a blade art evolved by a population like that would look, you’ll imagine kuntao forms about right.

  29. Do you all spar live? If so, I’ll come down some time and see what it’s all about. I’m a BJJ player whose skeptical but interested in traditional arts that are trained hard.

  30. The trick to falling is one hundred percent body awareness and staying loose. Also spreading out the area of impact as much as possible. In martial arts like Judo, practitioners will slam the mat with their arms as they fall to spread the area of impact. But it’s a hard skill to teach after childhood. It really does take a lot of repetition, and it’s easier to get that repetition on a 75 pound frame than it is a 200 pound frame. Less risk.

  31. >Do you all spar live?

    Not sure what constitute “live” for you. We do occasionally spar empty-hand and with practice blades, without padding.

  32. Practicing against each other in competition/fight conditions, 70%+ or so of max effort. Not drilling, fully actively resisting and striking.

  33. >Practicing against each other in competition/fight conditions, 70%+ or so of max effort. Not drilling, fully actively resisting and striking.

    Yeah, we do that. Not often enough; I’ve been quietly pushing sifu and the instructors on this, and getting a respectful hearing.

    When pressed sifu admits that, though he wants to go more in that direction, he’s nervous that it will scare off so many potential students that the rump of the school won’t be viable. I think what that means is that he thinks he needs to grow the school’s hard core, the students like me who are committed to train all the way to black-sash level, before he can train us more hard-core.

    Still, of all the schools I’ve trained at, this one is doing a respectable second best at approximating combat stress, behind our sword school in Michigan.

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