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Forms and sparring: dispelling the myths.

As in any walk of life, any field of expertise, I often come across content online, false information, that says that contact is not a necessary part of Kung Fu training. I want to put this right and provide the correct information to those seeking to learn Kung Fu. The term 'martial' in the 'martial arts' should make the point clear to begin with, but I often find that this term is manipulated when less experienced teachers are unable to to truly perform the martial part of the art.

Traditional Kung Fu does not force contact sparring, but it very much does exist. If a student wants to learn purely the 'art' of the art form, that is catered for, but you must learn application as part of that process. Sparring is not forced in any way at Spectrum, and I do have some students who prefer not to spar (although any sparring is done in a completely controlled environment!).

However, if you want to learn to defend yourself or fight in any respect, you have to have contact. Whether ‘light’ controlled, or more intense - and because in real life attackers do hit back - it has to be present. We don’t make contact with vital point strikes for obvious reasons, but there are hundreds of other strikes that don’t involve vital points that have to be practiced with intensity via pad training or sparring if the student wishes to do this further down the line. The Shaolin Temple and extensive history of Chinese Martial Arts (directly translated to 'War Art') has used this method through thousands of years of Classical Kung Fu training and real-life fighting application.

To put this into a real-world/general interest context (if Hollywood is the 'real world'), Bruce Lee himself was openly vocal about Kung Fu forms having to have a purpose and end product to be real. The ‘we must do’ quote above being part of one of his most famous, which I very much agree with. Forms training is a practice method for training alone and developing skill, speed, timing, application, theory and principle, demonstrated by Bruce Lee himself in a 1960’s interview with a Hollywood director explaining the shadow boxing approach of Chinese Kung Fu.

I have seen other clubs declaring ‘The art of fighting without fighting’ spiel as their mantra, which concerns me. Hollywood is not real life. This was a Bruce Lee 'acting' line written for and delivered in a film (Enter The Dragon, FYI), tricking a bully to avoid a confrontation. If you know the film, you'll know it was brilliant. But, it didn’t relate to Kung Fu has no contact or fighting. Clearly demonstrated by Bruce Lee as he then went on an island rampage and fought everyone to the death.

‘Forms practice’ is a form of shadow boxing in simple terms! As any professional Boxing trainer will tell you, it’s important, but pad work and sparring is also incredibly important in the case of actual combat. I think we can all agree Bruce Lee was never one for advocating non contact in respect to his Kung Fu. The Shaolin Temple and extensive history of Chinese Martial Arts, and respected Masters and fighters who had been living through times of war, while Chinese Martial Arts evolved, also never advocated for non-contact. You have to learn all aspects of Kung Fu training to develop the Kung Fu, both physically and mentally. And that involves combat in a controlled environment. If you're just looking to learn stretching exercises and breathing, yoga is a better alternative. Be wary of teachers claiming non-contact and using Bruce Lee quotes in the same breath.

At my Kung Fu school you can see my skills in the room, online in videos and films, pictures and so forth, what you see, you get. Google me, I’m not hiding anywhere. I’m here to teach people that want to learn real Traditional Chinese Kung Fu. If you can’t see the guy at the front of the room ‘do it’ or find any evidence of them performing what they preach online, don’t pay for it. If they tell you ‘no contact’ training, ask yourself if your attacker will afford you that luxury in the real world. To quote Bruce myself, 'the art of fighting without fighting' means to me that you learn to fight so you don’t have to. Enjoy the development of mind body and application. Enjoy the inner peace. But also enjoy the comfort of knowing that, if you do have to defend yourself in real life, you won't be a stranger to contact.

Sifu Lee McGeough

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