Monday, March 28, 2011

A Student's Thoughts on the Late Great Min Pai

I studied with Min Pai for five years (after three years of training, first a year in Shotokan and then two years in the old Moo Duk Kwan Tae Kwon Do). When I found Min Pai's school I was looking for something different, something that wasn't commercial and had something serious at its core (though I didn't quite know what it was I was seeking).

After viewing schools all over the NYC area, from Joe Lopez' New York Gojukai to Mori's Shotokan school uptown, to Kyokushin at the B.A.M. (Tadashi Nakamura was then head instructor) to Tae Kwon Do (I viewed Richard Chun's downtown school and S. Henry Cho's uptown school) and what was then accessible in the Kung Fu arena, I found Min Pai's school and was impressed by the intensity of the workout (though I wasn't impressed by the lack of sharpness in the students' technique -- looked almost sloppy to me). Nevertheless, I decided to join there after Min Pai gave me a demonstration (which I later realized was tai chi pushing hands). It was different than anything I'd encountered in the martial arts before and, combined with the intensity of the training, I was sold.

Min Pai's style was then evolving though and, when I joined, it wasn't so different than what I was used to. It had simpler, more direct movements than the hip snapping and twisting I had been practicing but somewhat more flowery hand movements.

His style had apparently been a generic Korean karate -- this was the time when Taekwondo was still forming through the unification of the various Korean styles -- and he billed his school as the Yun Mu Kwan Karate Institute (which I later learned translated roughly as the Institute for Martial Studies Karate Institute). In fact, Yun Mu Kwan as a distinct style had long since faded away in Korea. (It Had been the generic Shotokan type karate initially brought back from Japan and taught at the Choson Yun Mu Kwan which was eventually renamed as the Ji Do Kwan style, meaning the Institute for Wisdom's Way.)

As near as I can tell, Min Pai had come to the U.S. as a young man with a black belt from the old Yun Mu Kwan and had decided to use that name when teaching karate (appropriate, since it would have been the style he earned his rank in). "Karate" of course was still the generic English term for kicking and striking arts with their roots in Japan and Okinawa.

In the late sixties and early seventies, when the newly unified Taekwondo representatives from Korea began coming to the U.S. and setting up schools for Taekwondo, eclipsing the more established Japanese styles for a while (in the days before Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Marial Arts), Min Pai apparently chose to remain oustide their fold. No doubt, he would have had to subordinate himself to the Korean organization, if he hadn't made that choice, and adopt their standards and rules, generally losing his autonomy. Something of a loner, he went his own way instead.

During this time he was very much involved with the kung fu community in New York's Chinatown (not far from where he had set up his New York school) and, by the time I joined in 1971, he had already begun replacing various of the generic Shotokan karate moves with kung fu movements, making small changes to the six basic forms on a piecemeal basis, and also changing some of the techniques and methods we used in class workouts. But what had attracted me to the school, the tai chi power he had demonstrated, was already present in his teaching.

He had begun, some time earlier, studying tai chi under the Taiwanese master Cheng Man-Ching who had opened a school in Chinatown and accepted non-Chinese. As Min Pai was of Korean derivation, his involvement with the kung fu community up to that point had apparently been at the margins, working out with and sparring with kung fu practitioners (many of whom still used to come up to his school to test themselves against him and his students while I was there). But he had, as far as I can tell, no formal training with any kung fu teachers until Cheng Man-Ching. His involvement with Cheng Man-Ching radically changed his approach to practicing and teaching martial arts.

Within the first year of my joining, he abruptly dropped the old Shotokan-based forms he had been teaching, wholesale, and replaced them with six new ones which had a more kung fu look to them (this was before we in America began to see the overhauled Taekwondo forms, the poomse). He never told us about the genesis of these new forms but I assumed he had developed them himself. The reason would eventually become clear as I learned them (rapidly, since I was already a brown belt and had to assimilate the lower rank forms at a faster-than-normal pace). What he was after was a system that was harmonious with the tai chi he had learned.

The hard, snapping, crisp-looking approach of traditional karate didn't fit with his understanding of Yang style tai chi which emphasizes natural movement, fluidity, softness, no visible force or strain in the movements. So his new forms, using kung fu movements grafted onto karate kata base patterns and executed in a way that was consistent with tai chi allowed the development of a sensitivity to movement, which he had come to feel was the real basis for effective combat.

In those years he never encouraged us to use any kind of armor or protection, arguing that real fights didn't happen with protection so you had to learn to operate without it. (I had many injuries as a result, including almost losing my manhood on a number of occasions and sustaining five black eyes over the years, leaving me, to this day, with vitreous floaters that obscure my vision when I get tired. On the other hand, I learned to fight without getting hurt in the end, even against very serious and dangerous opponents. Sometimes, looking back, I think I must have been an idiot as I could have lost my sight or worse, given some of the injuries.)

Min Pai also did not teach pre-planned combinations (at least by the time I got there) and no takedowns were evident in his repertoire (executed against an attacker who moves on you and then stands there as iffrozen in time). He dropped one-point (or one step) that first year I was there, too, along with push-ups and breaking (though I still had to break four boards for my first degree black belt test -- by the second, though, board breaking was gone, too).

He taught that you don't train by practicing combinations because every instant in a fight is unique and you have to learn to "respond", as he used to put it, not merely to "react". When dealing with an attacker what you did had to come from your deep physical understanding of what the other guy was doing, not from any set of patterned moves you had trained your body to execute in pre-planned scenarios.

Instead of the old karate drills, he introduced sticking hands (taken from Wing Chun but done more like they do it in Southern Mantis) at the brown belt level and tai chi pushing hands at black belt. Once you got your first degree black belt he introduced you to tai chi and that became the focus of the training. At lower levels you basically learned the moves and strengthened your body to perform each of them smoothly and in a connected way (this last was very important because everything that followed depended on feeling the connections in the moves).

Min Pai's style, which he continued to call Yun Mu Kwan in the five years I studied with him, became, in essence, a tai chi karate whose emphasis was on feeling the opponent's moves and, thus, controlling them through sensitive power. Like the various founders of the Kempo style(s), who essentially aimed to take traditional karate back to its kung fu roots (in their case by adopting various kung fu forms in whole or part and by emphasizing speedy kung fu-like combinations), Min Pai was looking for the root of empty hand combat. He believed he had found it in tai chi which he came to think superior to the hard karate of his youth.

He remained a loner and a sui generis martial artist to his dying day (in 2004) although in later years he dropped the old nomenclature of "karate" in favor of calling what he was teaching "kung fu". From my perspective it's not kung fu because it isn't a traditional kung fu system (though I suppose if you can call Bruce Lee's Jee Kune Do kung fu you can call his system that, as well).

As I left his school well before his openly "kung fu" period, I have always considered what I learned under him karate. It certainly isn't taekwondo since he never joined the other Korean karate teachers in creating that system. But I've seen pictures of his school from the sixties and from talking to students of his from before my time I gathered that his generic karate of that earlier period looked very much like taekwondo because, in those days, he was also emphasizing the higher and more extended kicking methods that have come to be the hallmark of the Korean stylists.

In my time, though, Min Pai's Yun Mu Kwan karate was a unique system of empty hand fighting that focused on natural movement, sensitivity to one's opponent, and spatial and internal control of the energy flow between the fighters at the instant of contact. From what little I have seen of his successors though, the ones teaching his system's later incarnation ("nabi su"), much has been lost.

In my day we fought all comers who entered the school, from any style and, when he thought we were ready, he sent us out to test ourselves in other schools. It looks like, in the later days, he and the group of students around him became increasingly insulated (I'm guessing it was intentional) and thus lost what had once been a real martial arts edge which had made his system of Yun Mu Kwan a real competitor with other more established styles.

Anyway, thanks for your references to Min Pai on the ITF list. It brought back a few memories and got me thinking about the variations in the martial arts again.

Stuart W. Mirsky

Sunday, March 20, 2011

One-Legged Warrior

Anthony Robles is a wrestler at the top of his game. A senior at Arizona State University with a rating of (31-0) you can say he's something like a big deal, especially when you consider he only has one leg. Check out the video below:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Martial Art Quote of the Day

"A black belt is nothing more than a belt that goes around your waist. Being a black belt is a state of mind and attitude." - Rick English

Sanda & Wushu

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Grandmaster Moreland

Every once in a while you come across an instructor that really stands out amongst all the others, and Grandmaster Moreland is one of them. I stumbled across his videos on youtube when I was looking for my brother in law's TKD teacher. I was very impressed by this teacher's teaching method and skills to say the least.

Koga Ryu Ninjutsu

I'm well aware of the ongoing debate on whether Koga-ryu (koka-ryu) ninjutsu is still alive today or not, but I still have to say I'm very impressed with these brothers' combat methods.

ITF TKD Training Clips

Master V.Alexandris, 8th Dan Students. I have to say I've met many ITF TKD instructors and trained with several good instructors but I really like Master Alexandris' approach to training. It's very similar to how I trained.

The 52 Blocks vs Baguazhang Saga part IV

Looks like maybe cooler heads have prevailed. Big ups to brothers having a meeting of the minds, but I got to keep it real Nakmeezy had been saying stuff about the Blacktaoist in previous videos on the sly yet in the following clip he's talking as if he's been innocent the whole time.... Oh well, at least the younger generation sees an example of alternative ways to resolve problems other then unneccesary violence.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The 52 Blocks vs Baguazhang Saga part III

Muay Thai fighter Nakmeezy goes in attack mode full speed on the BlackTaoist. Check out his Youtube comments on the "Real Talk Is Bizzzack....With Lyte Burly52" video below:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The 52 Blocks vs Baguazhang Saga part III

This time Sifu Rudy chimes in about the matter...

The Blacktaost pulls Lyte Burley and Nakmeezy's card and puts money on the table

Saturday, March 5, 2011

8 Year Old Wrestling Sensation

Check out the video to see a legend in the making. 8 year old Stevo Poulin is a young wrestler from Schuylerville, NY that's known for throwing his opponents around effortlessly on the mat. Check him out:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The 52 Blocks vs Baguazhang Saga part II

The 52 Blocks vs Baguazhang saga continues...The Blacktaoist addresses Lyte Burley's sideways comments directly by going straight to his doorstep where Burley is said to train and teach daily. Check out what happens next, in the first video.

The Blacktaoist sets the record straight,and addresses Lyte Burley's comments and speaks on the objective of Man Up Stand Up (MUSU)

Martial Art Quote of the Day

"Pain is the best instructor, but no one wants to go to his class."
- Choi, Hong Hi, Founder of Taekwon-Do

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Martial Art Quote of the Day

"Judo is a study of techniques with which you may kill if you wish to kill, injure if you wish to injure, subdue if you wish to subdue, and, when attacked, defend yourself" - Jigoro Kano

The 52 Blocks vs Baguazhang Saga

It's not even summer yet and things are already heating up in NY! That's because of 52 blocks practitioner Lyte Burley and Baguazhang practitioner the BlackTaoist. In a recently removed video (see a cached version here: Lyte Burley had posted on his 52blocksinfo youtube page entitled, "Nakmeezy Speaks Out" Lyte Burley had fired what seemed like warning shots at the BlackTaoist calling his 'Man Up Stand Up' (MUSU) martial arts competition event "bullshit" also stating "...If you want a free one I have always said just come in fighting no talking..."

The bashing continued as Lyte questions the BlackTaost's proof of fights. The BlackTaoist fired back in a video response (seen below) which can be summed up as 'enough talking, time to show and prove' shortly after, Lyte's video was removed.

The question on everyone's mind is, what is Lyte Burley going to do? Will he backup the statements he made about the BlackTaoist in a sparring match or will he back out? ....Well, while you were waiting, Lyte Burley made a video addressing his statements about the BlackTaoist. Check out the video below

Now the question is will this sparring match take place?