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Thread: Are "Grandmasters" helping or hurting the progress of kung fu?

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  1. #1

    Are "Grandmasters" helping or hurting the progress of kung fu?

    Everyone is aware that lately the credibility of TCMA as a practical art is being challenged by MMA.

    I've studied at a kung fu school branch that was part of a system lead by a single, unquestioned, unchallenged "Grandmaster". He was a very talented and respectable one at that.
    His schools were extremely well organized (Chain of command) with excellent communication. The system's Sifus and students were also very talented and well disciplined.
    However, the only problem I saw was that the Grandmaster was nearly worshipped like a god who could do no wrong. Forms, techniques, teaching style, traditions, etc were never challenged, questioned, or altered except only through the grandmaster. Meaning the schools could not progress with the changing times without approval from the grandmaster. The school obviously currently teaches traditional forms that are outdated and no longer applicable to today's society and are merely taught for the sake of tradition.

    On the other hand, I have been to schools that are stand-alones, with no connection or link to any other schools. There were no "Grandmasters" to oversee the quality and discipline of the school. The sifu was more liberal and constantly looking for ways for his school to adapt and progress with the changing times. Unfortunately, these schools were extremely undisciplined, sloppy forms and sloppy techniques, and an unfocused sifu in regards to the future of the school and its style. However, the environment was much more relax, no military drills like the other type, and no real chain of command.

    So it leaves me with a conundrum.
    If a well organized and disciplined school is being stymied by a nearly worshipped "Grandmaster", how can kung fu progress?
    If a much liberal school willing to adapt but is unorganized and sloppy because it does not have to answer to a higher command, how can kung fu progress?

    Back to my original question,
    Do "Grandmasters" help or hurt the progress of kung fu?
    Or is kung fu doomed to collapse on itself?
    Last edited by Wuxia007; 05-15-2014 at 08:26 AM.

  2. #2
    Both linked and stand alone schools exist.

    There is a 7 star mantis school near where I work.

    The teachers or instructors are good. The students are mixed.

    Mostly children after school.

    They are taught a few moves and allowed to spar freely.

    They have wooden sword and staff.

    They also punch and kick with pads or mittens.

    The kids just have some fun.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 1970
    Rottweil, Germany
    Not every "Grandmaster" is going to be blind to change or progress, and not every 'independent' school is going to have an open minded person at the helm all the time.

    In general, I think students' reverence for Grandmaster figures are probably doing more harm than good, but some organisation heads don't necessarily bask in the adulation (of course, others do).

    Believe it or not, there are peope who can think freely for themselves whilst staying respectful of their background and their teacher(s).

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 1970
    CA, USA
    I have found with MA in general and CMA in particular, you must determine the quality of the school individually, as opposed to going by the style. Of course, there are also CMA chain schools which you can decide if the teacher/environment/quality is to your liking or not. Simply put, quality control varies widely among CMA schools, regardless if they have a 'military-like' or 'loose/informal' environment.

    To be honest, the worst cases of 'grandmaster as demi-god to be worshipped' examples I've either witnessed or heard of involved some Korean MA teachers, and even that was sometime ago, back in the 1980s, into the '90s. At one school in particular that I visited, the Korean teacher actually had a personal throne set up in his office, and his students acted like brainwashed zombies. Yet despite the 'military-like' atmosphere, the quality of skill appeared very low among his students, including the black belts. With MMA's (and BJJ's) continued popularity and growth, I've noticed these types of exaggerated-claims teachers/schools seem less and less prevalent than they used to be.

  5. #5
    I also find that the more military style (all doing the same thing, in lines), the more calisthenics are a focus over developing skills. Training the capacity for opposition does not work well in neat lines.

    If the summary of what is being trained is "feats of strength", this is a problem, as well. This includes equating stance work with fighting without actually ever practicing it as such as a school.

    Stance as a feat of strength lacks the fighting attributes of stance trained for fighting. Iron body as a feat of strength lacks the focus of iron body as a complement for fighting. Form as a feat of strength lacks the analysis to make the form useful. Weapons as a feat of strength (or other display) tends to emphasize bad habits and visible actions over solid weapons work.

    That said, kung fu has survived centuries of the dichotomy between good and bad teachers. The good don't seem to just get rid of the old because it was not trained live and so doesn't seem to work, they train it live and judge it off of actually knowing it.
    Last edited by Faux Newbie; 05-16-2014 at 09:18 AM.

  6. #6
    I say just get rid of these Titles ... just have students & Instructors as the by way it should be!

    Ron Goninan
    China Fuzhou Zhenlan Crane Boxing Australia
    White Crane Research Institute Inc
    A seeker of the way

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Faux Newbie View Post
    I also find that the more military style (all doing the same thing, in lines), the more calisthenics are a focus over developing skills. Training the capacity for opposition does not work well in neat lines.
    Martial arts are much better trained in small groups than large ones. Unfortunately, military style training seems to be a necessary adaptation to large classes.
    It presents a problem. Everyone wants high quality training AND large classes...tough to pull off.
    Last edited by Kellen Bassette; 05-17-2014 at 07:26 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by YouKnowWho View Post
    This is 100% TCMA principle. It may be used in non-TCMA also. Since I did learn it from TCMA, I have to say it's TCMA principle.
    Quote Originally Posted by YouKnowWho View Post
    We should not use "TCMA is more than combat" as excuse for not "evolving".

    You can have Kung Fu in cooking, it really has nothing to do with fighting!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 1970
    CA, USA
    Quote Originally Posted by Wuxia007 View Post
    So it leaves me with a conundrum.
    If a well organized and disciplined school is being stymied by a nearly worshipped "Grandmaster", how can kung fu progress?
    If a much liberal school willing to adapt but is unorganized and sloppy because it does not have to answer to a higher command, how can kung fu progress?

    Back to my original question,
    Do "Grandmasters" help or hurt the progress of kung fu?
    Or is kung fu doomed to collapse on itself?
    It's really up to YOU and those you train with to progress in your own art(s). Worrying about how CMA as a whole can progress or not is kind of a waste, as even within the same styles there is often petty bickering, politics, varying quality levels, etc. If you find something that is good and workable for you, then developing in that becomes your responsibility. Nobody can be responsible for what other people/schools/styles/organizations do. CMA, or 'kung fu' will never be as popular, as prolific nor as well-organized (at least in the West) as other MA like TKD, karate, MMA, BJJ, boxing, wrestling, etc. It was that way long before the popularity of MMA, and will always be that way, like it or not.

    That doesn't mean CMA are doomed to collapse. There will always be good to excellent teachers and practitioners; but you won't necessarily find them in every strip mall, gym, or even in every city/town. Sometimes you may luck out and find a quality teacher not very far away. Other times, you may have to really commute for it, if you want to learn badly enough. There's nothing exotic or mysterious about it; it's simply the way it is. But obviously, if someone is setting him/herself up as some kind of cult figure, it's best to run the other way.
    Last edited by Jimbo; 05-16-2014 at 11:35 PM.

  9. #9


    Why everyone is still comparing with MMA, CMA is not sport, so MMA and CMA can't compare one to another, in order to compete CMA have to get rid of the most dangerous techniques, wich MMA have prohibited for the same reason. CMA's are street fight without quarter. If you want to know how a CMA training should be you search Okinawa Karate, they have maintained the CMA tradition as it was, well... almost.

    MMA are not a threath to CMA's, only if you want to win in a sportive ring. So any master who treat CMA as a sport is making some damage, and a lot of damage have been done since MA's are not so needed in the real world as they use to be, and the modern laws, and the modern way of what's good or bad.

    You don't need to get the next step in CMA, you have to get the right path again, then you can think in progress. Kung Fu is self development and self progress.

  10. #10
    Sportive approaches use a lot of the same things as non-sportive, the non-sportive have added things.

    If one accepts push hands and sticky hands type work as valid, which are opportunities to practice things without people generally doing killing moves, then we cannot denigrate sportive training, since it is doing the same thing.

    They are limited formats that have their uses if used correctly. Sportive formats in throwing tend to drive more use of throws and counters (I know, obvious), push hands and sticky hands drive bridging work and other aspects, sparring drills allow developing pre-contact sensitivity that neither push hands or sticky hands allows (watching your opponent, awareness of footwork, etc).

    Any one of those, taken as a goal, is flawed, but some sportive approaches, such as sanshou or mma, are closer to drilling a holistic fighting method than others. This is not to say they are better than others, merely that they have some advantages, integrated striking/bridging/grappling, inclusion of all ranges including outside range, etc.

    They are tools, and if they are invalid because they are not all inclusive, then so is push hands, sticky hands, and most forms work. I don't believe this is the case.

  11. #11
    In sports there is a saying, well at least in my sport that is Table Tennis, "In stress and distress you can not do, with success, what you haven't trained, in stress and distress you can not perform better than you have performed in training" at least not for sure, you always can have a lucky shoot; of course this involves more than training, it's part mental programing.

    So if you train yourself to hit only certain "sportive legal" targets in the body, so the more likely you are going to do that in a distress situation, if you make your mind that the oponent can't hit or grab the ilegal targets, so you are more likely to give away those targets in a distress situation, because you don't expect somebody hit you or grab you in that place.

    If you see when someone practice an Okinawa Karate technique, or a traditional kung fu technique, you do it and stop the hit at the target, but you do the hit, and aim it at the target, so you program your body and mind to instinctively do that, and for training the technique with real force you make use of dummys, or sandbags or whatever.

    Look at brazilian jiujitsu, in a ring, they are great, in the street, you probably will fail, maybe there is two oponents, broken glass in the floor, or who knows, the other one have a hidden knife, that is very common, and that is undestandable because jiujitsu was made for the battlefield, and you where expected to have an armour, and with armours hitting is almost useless, and you can confront weapons or dangerous objects in the ground because you're protected all over the body. Or you can win, if the other follows sporting rules as well as you, but that's a bet I think no one will take.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jan 1970
    When I was introduced to Kung Fu practice there was no such thing as a "grandmaster".
    There were always filial names like teacher/father (sifu) Teachers teacher (si gung) system founder (si jo) and so on like you've probably all seen or heard before.
    There were literally no "grandmasters" whatsoever.

    I think this term came into popular use in the late 90s or so and is now a complete cluster hump meaningless word.
    sadly, some authentic dudes adopted it too, but I think that is so because of a couple of factors of mistranslation and language barrier in general where someone implied the title was same as teachers/teacher. Which is more along the lines of grampa in reality.

    Nowadays you can find dozens of 20 something know nothing disconnected idiots known as "grandmaster""... It's pretty amazing.
    Like a teenager calling himself sigung. equally stupid.

    I personally abandoned titles, honorary or otherwise and deemed them worthless and of no meaning in any way some time ago.
    Here the thing, and some of you have heard it before, "the teacher who is not also a student is neither."

    Meaning, Kung Fu is either practiced and learned with regular advancement or it isn't. Even the oldest most dusty practitioner (especially the old dusty ones) knows this is true.

    This term, grandmaster, is just driven by ego or stroking it on someone else because of misguided kiss ass reflexes that infect almost any hierarchical structure.

    I'd rather be seen as a jerk and keep my skills developing than to be bowed down to and honoured and not have the skills.

    It's the work that matters, not the certificates, not the belts, not the titles.

    Use to maintain discipline in a class and so that students may know who to look to for information. That is the only useful purpose of these titles. Who is the teacher? Si Fu. Who is his teacher? Si Gung. Who founded this system? Si Jo. That's it. the rest is dreck imnsho.
    Kung Fu is good for you.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Shell Beach, CA, USA
    Blog Entries
    Quote Originally Posted by Wuxia007 View Post
    Do "Grandmasters" help or hurt the progress of kung fu?
    When my teacher was still alive, people called him "master". After my teacher passed away, people called him "grandmaster". The term "grandmaster" always mean "dead people" to me.

    In Chinese culture, no matter how much that you

    - love your parents, you just don't hang their pictures on the wall when they are still alive.
    - respect your teacher, you just don't call him "grandmaster" when he is still alive.
    Last edited by YouKnowWho; 06-14-2014 at 12:01 PM.

    More opinion -> more argument
    Less opinion -> less argument
    No opinion -> no argument

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jan 1970
    Tampa, FL
    My Baguazhang teacher taught us that a master is someone who practiced his entire life to perfect their art/system. When they passed there were called Master. If they were the Head of the system, you would call them Grandmaster.

    Similar to what you mentioned above, Wang Shifu.
    Mouth Boxers have not the testicular nor the spinal fortitude to be known.
    Hence they hide rather than be known as adults.

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