All n00bies read: A guide to looking for Kung Fu Schools

Discussion in 'Kung Fu' started by sliver, Dec 24, 2007.

  1. sliver

    sliver Work In Progress

    Unfortunetly, there is no one absoloute litmus test for a good kung fu school. The best we can do is offer you some guidelines of what to look for and what to beware of. Most of these are in fact universal to all martial arts, a few are slightly more specific to kung fu. Use this as a check-list as you check out schools you're interested in; it will help you objectively gauge how schools stack up to one another.

    Things your future kung fu schoold should have:

    1. Progressive resistance training.

    Explaination: All kung fu is going to involve forms and some drilling. The question is what place those forms and drills occupy in the training spectrum. If the form is used as a basic textbook to teach methods and techniques, then those techniques are broken down and drilled individually this is good. If there is any semblance of the idea that just learning the form well enough will teach you how to defend yourself or even vaugely use the technique, this is a very bad sign.

    Further, just pulling out individual moves and combos is not nearly enough. They should be working these individual techniques and ideas into pad work, bag work and drills that come progressively closer to sparring. There should be a fairly clear line of progression from the text book of the form to the open aplication format of sparring. This leads us to requirement number two:

    2. The school must spar, full or heavy contact on a REGULAR basis.

    Explaination: There's just no way around it. If you want to learn to fight, you must do what most closely approaches fighting, and that would be sparring. You don't need to jump into the deep end first class (that would likely be counter productive), but within six weeks, you should be sparring. Ask the instructor about this directly. How often does the class spar (once a week is a bare minimum. Every class is better)? What are the rules of sparring (the more open-format the rules, the better. Obviously, there have to be limits, like no eye gouging, but less is more in this case)? How long can you expect before you start sparring yourself (if the answer is more than six weeks, be concerned)? Is sparring required for advancement in the class (it should be)?

    3. The instructor should spar with his students

    Explaination: If he doesn't it's because of one of two reasons. One, he's injured, and this is a temporary situation. Or, more likely, two, he's afraid he will loose, and has serious doubts about his own ability level. If he does, so should you. My instructor sparrs with every student, every class. He's not worried about loosing (frankly, it's just not likely to happen, the guy is good at what he does. Some of us can give him a run for his money, but he's a craft (not to mention rediculously strong) old coot), instead he's worried about loosing his edge and knows he needs to be pushed whenever possible to keep his own growth going. This is the attitude you should be looking for, leading into the next requirement:

    4. The attitude of the instructor should be "pro-fighting".

    Explaination: That doesn't neccessarily mean he is a pro fighter, it means he should basicly work from the stand point that this "art" is to teach you how to fight effectively. If he talks about every other benefit under the sun (all of them likely legitimate but secondary), except learning how to fight, well it's quite possible his priorities are in the wrong place if you're looking for someone who can teach you to fight neh? Schools that enter full contact competitions are a bonus though they're frankly hard to find.

    5. When students spar, they should look like they're applying what they learn in class rather than completely changing styles to bad kickboxing.

    Explainaiton: If you're taught to use swing punches and forearm strikes, while using a rapid, solid-base footwork, but when sparring starts, everyone bounces around and throws boxing combos, avoid the school. There's nothing wrong with boxing combos and footwork, the problem is this isn't a boxing coach. Clearly this instructors students can't apply the mateiral at all so they're reverting to something more natural that, though they likely have little knowledge of, at least feel can be made to work. You train the way you fight, you fight the way you train. If things are any other way, the training is ineffective. Move on to somewhere that does not have such problems.

    6. The techniques must be workable, and should fit into an overall, coheasive strategy of fighting.

    Explaination: This tends to be a problem with the psudo fu crowd. These are the people who aren't teaching a legitimate style of kung fu, they've just grabbed some things from here, a bit from there, given it a chinese sounding name, and dubbed themselves grand-master. This is a bit hard to discern if you have no experience in the martial arts, but it becomes more apparent as you move along. At least this criteria may let you know if you've been succered sooner rather than later. A legitimate kung fu style will have a basic fighting strategy, and the techniques and strategies of the style will tend to support that basic fighting strategy. The teacher should be able to explain this strategy clearly to you and it should be apparent how the methods of the system support it. There are some things you can watch out for that are dead giveaways of psudo fu. For one, a style trying to cover too many bases. Chinese kung fu, even the styles that are enormous in content still tend to do a few things well rather than all things poorly. For example, Choi Li Fut has (in some lineages) in the neighborhood of a hundred forms. However, in prety much all of them the ten seeds of CLF are prevelent, and the forms are basicly providing context for using what the style is based on and good at rather than trying to add material ad-infinidum. Other of the more obvious giveaways include claims that all arts are contianed within this one art, or moves or even entire forms that are completely incongrous with the rest of the style.

    7. The instructor should be able to state a clear lineage and the style should be recognized.

    If you're teaching a legitimate art, you should be able to clearly state (and prove) whom you learned it from. Further that person should be able to prove they legitimately learned the art and are qualified to teach it. What's more the style sould be recognizable, and there should be other, researchable and recognizable schools elsewhere in the world. If the instructor you're considering is teaching Hung Gar for example, that would be a well recognized style. There are plenty of other hung gar schools out there. The style is legit, now you just have to check that the instructor is legit and up to snuff.

    However, if you're checking out a school that teaches "Bob Gar" and the instructor Bob, is the grand master, and further, there are no other bob gar schools anywhere except for his disciple who teaches on the other end of town, well, this is probably a bogus style. Even with styles that are very small, closed and rare it's not too hard to verify the style actually exists. I study Lung Ying, of which there's only a half dozen teachers in the US, probably one of the more rare styles out there, yet you can still google the style and find other schools, and even histories of the style. The other style I train is Mok Gar, of which I think there are two or three teachers in North America as a whole, and it is still researchable. This being the case, if you google bob gar and the only hit that comes up is a link to the school you checked out, cavet emptor. Somewhat more subtly, if a style simply can't be verifiably traced backward past a single, living individual, this style is probably fraudulent.

    8. The attitude of the students should be pro-fighting.

    Expination: The students of a serious, legitimate kung fu teacher will be there to learn to fight. They will tend to be in good shape (particularly at the more advanced levels), they will want to train hard, and want to spar and even enter fighting competitions of some form. If the students are generally of the attitude "kung fu isn't about fighting" or "fighting is for thugs" you're certianly not going to find many useful training partners there. Further, it's likely that the attitude was learned from the instructor so listen carefully to what the students say, it may expose an instrucors half truths.

    9. The instructor should answer your questions clearly and directly.

    Explaination: If you feel the instructor is dodging the question, or dancing around it, or if you just generally get the impression that he's not being completely honest with you, go somewhere else. It's probably not even worth taking the free class. A legitimate instructor is going to be straight and to the point, and not make bones or qualifications about what he does or how he does it.

    10. The style should be free of the trappings of Japanese arts.

    Explaination: Legitimate chinese styles shouldn't wear japanese gi. Nor should they call their instructor "sensi." The moves should not have japanese names and the class should not teach japanese weapons. These are dead giveaways of a bogus style. Some legitimate chinese styles have adopeted colored belts or sashes in the last few decades, but even this is not universal. Belts alone aren't a big red flag, but combind with other things, watch out. If you want to learn a japanese art, go study a japanese art, not something half japanese masquerading as a chinese style.

    That's all the basics, though there are other things that can be added to the list. Not all schools will meet all these guidelines, but the better, legitimate, more fighting oriented ones will. If you have specific questions beyond this or on a particular school, post them on this thread, and I'm sure the folks around here will be happy to help out where we can. Good luck in your search.
  2. Su lin

    Su lin Gone away

    I thought this should be made into a sticky apart from a previous thread.

    If any of you guys have hints,tips or experiences for people coming to kung fu please post them here. :)

    Nice work btw Sliver. :)
  3. 19thlohan

    19thlohan Beast and the Broadsword


    Sparring is a must but time frames are absurd. I've known people who were ready to spar after a couple days and I've known people who weren't ready after 6 months. If you start sparring before you have proper mechanics you're just going to ingrain bad habits.

    It's great if your instructor can spar with you but there are plenty of legitimate reasons why he wouldn't in addition to injury. Age is an obvious one. Class size is another, if his class and space are big enough he may have several pairs going at a time and feel the need to supervise rather than participate. It also depends on how many, if any, assistants he has. Size match ups can be another issue. The point being that the instructor sparring isn't that big of a deal. Most boxing and kickboxing coaches don't spar with their students and many martial arts instructors won't either. Also sometimes they may spar with those they feel need the extra challenge but they might only do it outside of regular class time. If the majority of the fighters from a school look good then they must be getting good instruction. I would say it's more important to watch a sparring class and judge the overall quality of the students than it is to worry about weather or not the instructor participates.


    There's truth in this but keep in mind, as this thread is supposedly aimed at beginners, that you have no idea what the style should look like in the hands of an advanced student. The foot work analogy is the most common complaint and misconception out there. Some styles, like the southern short hand styles for instance, have very specific footwork that looks nothing like kick boxing but most of the the northern systems are based on distance control and footwork. You don't see it at demos. During self defense demonstrations you are seeing one technique at a time with the step or stance that is part of the technique but your not seeing the strategic footwork used for maintaining distance, closing the gap, angling off or side stepping. Likewise in forms you are seeing one technique after the other with out any of the strategies that go with them. In northern styles you use light quick footwork to maintain distance and try and draw your opponent into making a mistake such as reaching/over extending, lunging and rushing in. Then you intercept, absorb, sidestep or pivot to take advantage of their mistake. Northern kung fu has a lot of light bouncy foot work that looks almost exactly like kick boxing. The main difference is that you would be a little wider lower and more square than most kick boxing styles. Basically a light and unweighted horse stance. Northern kung fu foot work should look a lot like proper san shou foot work because, as much as many san shou fighters and traditionalists hate to admit it, that's where it came from. You should be light bouncy and quick but able to sink and root yourself instantly when executing a technique, then just as quickly pull the root and move again.

    Another note. There is a famous northern kung fu saying "all that's small must come from big. " What that means is that you exaggerate the movements to feel and develop the coordination. Then little by little shrink them down into a more practical technique. So as a beginner what you see and practice will not always look like it will in application so judging weather or not an advanced student is using the system they are being taught or not would be a little over your head. Instead of judging for yourself ask somebody to explain which techniques they are using and where they come from in the system. Don't get steered away from a good and very traditional school because it didn't fit some guy on the internets criteria or understanding of Chinese martial arts.

    This is true.

    This is also true but keep in mind not all teacher are famous. I've trained with Yang Jwing Ming and Nelson Chan both of whom are very well known and respected in Chinese martial arts but I've also studied with Huang Shao Dong Who hardly anyone has ever heard of but I would put his teachings and abilities up against anybodies. Don't pass up a great teacher just because you can't find a lot out about his history. Again if the majority of students
    are good they are learning it from their teacher.

    All true
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2007
  4. nready

    nready Verifying DMI pool....

    Well this might go against what you said about the dress Silver.

    I know you might not know this man he is a very famous Hsing Yi instructor as well teaching Pakua, he is famous in China name 'Hung I Hsiang'. They use the karate looking top and bottoms not sure about the rank thing. I say that because the very system he teaches I study, and my teacher studied from him and I never heard of any form of Japanese rank system. I think that uniform comes from the Shau Jiao system just a little different.

    I don't mean to shoot you down, but not all system will use any specific clothing but some like to use something other than street clothes. The person I studied from did not care if you wore street clothes in the class. It was actually my preferred dress. I agree if you are saying the practices of the Japanese system and the Japanese belief systems.

    To that maybe Hsing Yi is not a traditional system, you might be right.

    I do like your post. That is kinda why I did not want to say anything. Please excuse me, for being a ass to you.
  5. Korpy

    Korpy Whatever Works

    EXCELLENT post.

    I used this to compare my new Kung Fu school and I am happy to say, I have chosen correct.

    Thank you. :)
  6. Su lin

    Su lin Gone away

    That's excellent news! :D
  7. sliver

    sliver Work In Progress

    Good points gentelmen, and well taken by myself, I understand where you're coming from. However, as I stated in the original post, this is a checklist, an absoloute guide is impossible. Not all schools will check off all points, some schools will. There of course will be exceptions that can be found to any guideline that's put out there. I just submit these as a good general guide for those who are looking for a traditional kung fu school with a fighting foccus. The fewer the school checks off, the more cause for concern.

    Incidentally, 19th, on your rebuttal to my point about the instructor sparring with the students, the examples you give (instructor sparring with some students but lacking the time for all, or the instructor sparring with students outside regular class time) would still qualify as the instructor sparring with the students so any school where this was the case would quite legitimately check this particular box off. Provable lineage doesn't mean they have to be famous as Dr. Yang by any means. It just means there needs to be a credible, verifiable line of teachers that this instructor is certified and accredited by. No fame or even book publishing required.

    Cheers all, and thanks for the feedback! Anyone care to add some more qualifications that I forgot?

    PS: Su Lin, I'm honored and humbled you thought this actually worth making a sticky out of. I though it was just me being snarky and popping off again!
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2008
  8. Tartovski

    Tartovski Valued Member

    Can I add:

    11. The class should make you WORK

    If you walk into a class halfway through and the room smells like a used jockstrap, everyone is sweating buckets, and everyone is doing *something* you are probably onto a winner. If the workout consists of some light jogging, ten pressups and ten sit-ups, then everyone stands about doing nothing, you are probably onto a loser.

    12. The instructor(s) should have some basic understanding of sports science/sports medicine.

    I'm not saying they all need Phd's or anything, but they should have enough knowledge around that area to be able to know basic things that anyone instructing in any sport should know: What RICE is, the difference between Aerobic and Anaerobic, what muscles the various exercises they do use, and so on. Most importantly though I think they should know where that knowledge ends and not to give advise they aren't qualified to. ie No sensei-healers please!
  9. 19thlohan

    19thlohan Beast and the Broadsword

    Understood but I'm just pointing out that if an instructor only spars with certain students during private time that the beginner going over your list may not be aware of it. It's hard to check off what you don't see.

    Also understood but again I'm just pointing out that with out the fame a lot of lineages are hard to verify, especially if you don't have any connections back in China or where ever.
  10. Ben Gash CLF

    Ben Gash CLF Valued Member

    I've got some issues with points 2, 3 and 8.
    Point 2. Spar full contact all the time? Why? It's counter productive and dangerous. Full contact sparring means that by it's nature it has to be competitive, which inhibits learning and discourages people from taking risks and trying new things. Not to mention the fact that people will be permanently injured. I train MMA under professional fighters and the sparring is nowhere near full contact. It's rough, you know you've been hit, but you're good for work the next day. A great quote from Erik Paulson goes
    "When I was training Vale Tudo in Japan we trained how we fought, which was stupid!"
    Point 3. There are several very legitimate reasons for the teacher not to spar with his students. The biggest reason is liability. As the instructor you are liable for everything that happens in the class. If somebody has an accident while you're sparring, it's impossible to show that you were adequately supervising the class for the simple reason that you weren't.
    Point 8. People study martial arts for a variety of reasons, and while the fitness crowd are usually scared away by the physicality of my class, people who are interested in the art, or who want to learn weapons etc shouldn't be discouraged. All my students can hold their own, but I wouldn't describe them as all fighters, and I know that some of them would never dream of entering a competition. Some of them don't even relish sparring, but they're all my students, and I respect them nonetheless.
  11. sliver

    sliver Work In Progress

    Actually, the point says full or heavy contact, we've had discussions of the difference on this board several times. Either way is competitive, but there is a difference in the level of contact. With heavy contact you're not trying to knock someone out, but definetly let them know they've been hit. We'll just have to agree to disagree wether that's coutnerproductive or not. I will state plainly that if you can't pull something off against someone in heavy contact sparring, you're not going to pull it off in a fight of any sort. The fact that you describe yourself as doing what would be heavy contact sparring seems this point is more an issue of semantics than an actual difference of opnion.

    And, as mentioned before in this thread an instructor who spars durring off times with his students as opposed to main class time, or does it on a one on one basis is perfectly fine. Either of these situations would eliminate your liability concerns. However, an instructor who never sparrs with his students is a red flag, no two ways about it.

    And that's fine, but this checklist wasn't created for people who didn't want to be fighters. It was created in response to a question on what should someone look for when trying to find an authentic kung fu school that could also teach them to be a highly effective fighter. If all you want is a "chinese flavored" exercise program, than just about anything that gets your heart rate up will do. No need to go through all the trouble to find one of the few that are both authentic and fighting foccused. Be well.
  12. Tartovski

    Tartovski Valued Member

    What about age? My instructor is 48 now, and whilst he still spars at the moment (and competes, come to think of it) after awhile it's going to reach a point where physically he can't keep up.

    Do you accept that instructors can teach a bit like boxing coaches, ie without stepping in the ring?
  13. sliver

    sliver Work In Progress

    Fair enough. I'd have to conceed if an instructor's age is very advanced he might not spar with his students. Then again, my instructor is in his late fifties and still spars with us so I'm not sure where that point is reached. If the instructor isn't sparring with the students due to very advanced age I'd say there needs to be someone of instructor quality and rank, even if it's not the head instructor, who does spar with the students.

    I can't stress enough the value and importance of being able to spar with someone who knows the system intimately and can put all the moves and stratagies into practice. If all you have to sparr with is other students who can't make half the stuff in the sytem work, you're never going to learn to use those things. You need to be able to mix it up with an advanced fighter who can set up the more dificult moves, and put to use the more subtle stratagies of the style. Lacking that it's going to be very dificult to grasp these things. This being the case unless the school can provide an instructor who spars with his students or an assistant instructor of comprable quality the students ability to learn to use a style effectively is going to be compramised.

    PS: Thanks for the good debate everyone. I think it's definetly making this doccument more useful.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2008
  14. Yohan

    Yohan In the Spirit of Yohan Supporter

    I think it should also be mentioned that when it comes to your older instructor, there is a difference between CAN'T and DOESN'T.

    If he's old and doesn't feel like mixing it up with young cats thats fine, but he should be able to jump in there and apply what he knows.
  15. Banditshaw

    Banditshaw El Bandido

    My Sifu is turning 68 this year and at 5 foot 2 150 or so pounds has no trouble tossing me around like a rag doll. lol.

    He dons the gloves from time to time to test out the fighters in our club and still has a degree of speed and sharpness thats uncanny for a man his age.

    So saying that I think it's good for a master to test his students. Our Sihings do the bulk of the harder contact sparring and with that you get a good bulk of experience across the board.
  16. nready

    nready Verifying DMI pool....

    My instructor when I started with him was 60s and when left probably in his 70s. We sparred all the time even if it was done lightly you can learn something from a trained practitioner in said system. Than you can use it against the other younger students that are training with you.

    In most Chinese systems there is usually some knowledge of Herbal medicine than can allow for the practice of hard fighting with no gear.

    In Hsing Yi the stance/hand position of santi is used a like block to incoming punch and strike to throat. You can not know what something is used for unless you do it on someone.

    100% Agree on the instructor or someone that knows how it works sparring. Even though he was older he would say I got something that will drop you, than we would spar and he would do as he said.

    The guys I trained with at that school would fight using as I said no gear and when I left to study at other schools they thought mine and other students hit to harshly. We trained that way and it made use fight harder and more aggressive than other schools.
  17. SifuJason

    SifuJason Valued Member

    Great post Sliver. I agree with pretty much everything you said, although I also have an issue with regular heavy/full contact sparring, but I think that's a semantics issue. Sparring should definitely be as close to realistic as possible, but should still allow people to go to work and train the next day. Depending on your rank (and thus skill), the amount of contact that a person can tolerate varies significantly.

    To elaborate, in my mind, full contact sparring is a real fight or competition (like an MMA match) where your goal is to hurt the other person, as badly as possible. Heavy contact is a step down; you want to hurt them, but they are still your sparring partner; this is what I have my upper (brown and black) belt students do with some frequency (but not every class!) and cracked ribs, broken noses, etc aren't uncommon. Medium contact sparring can ring your bell, but things don't usually break, and light contact sparring stings but you can keep going. My lower belts start at light contact and work to medium contact. My upper belts do mostly medium with a bit of heavy, and when us black belts get together when tend to border on medium/hard (we'll take it easier on face shots for instance).

    But overall, great post!
  18. A Practitioner

    A Practitioner Aww shi!

    There is no herbal medicine that can allow for hard sparring with no gear. That's just plain stupid.
  19. roninmaster

    roninmaster be like water

    all very true points i just want to add that though the primary function of martial arts is to be able to defend yourself(fight) you shouldnt say that if a instructor does not just come out and say we train to fight, that he is not a good teacher or does not condone sparring. many sifu's (including my own) understand that martial arts is to defend( as well as discipline, confedence, etc.) but dont come out and say we train to fight, or like training students who's first words in the door are "i want to learn to fight" manely because its usally a giveaway of someone who only cares about hurting people and nothing else the art has to offer. which is usally translated into he will probely end up hurting one of his partners, and or trying to fight instructors if he/she gets to full of themselves. Not saying that teachers shouldnt want there kids to be able to fight well, or not compete in tournaments. I for one love going to tournaments and will sparr whoever is in front of me; Bruce lee, Chuck Norris, sifu, My mom( just kidding love you mom). as well as other students. however we also have one student who is very lazy and never wants to train, only sit own the side. He cant sparr well, do any techniques like he has any skill, break anything and does not even know are code of ethics. yet he and 3 other guys(me included) are going up for black sash this summer. A student like him gives are school a bad name all because he is very full of himself, as well as ignorrent(even though he has been warned of how hard black sash test will be he still wont train, he doesnt even like sparring. He says he is to good to fight us.) are sifu only lets him still come cuz, he is still paying and we are currently kinda low own students and he is trying to keep them till we get more. So its not neccesarily the teacher who is at fault because the student wont listen, He is just very ignorent.
  20. mwanafalsafa

    mwanafalsafa New Member

    Is it just by browser or can no one else access the first page of this thread?

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