Anyone familiar with the Chinese Martial Arts should realize that since Inside Kung Fu Magazine was discontinued, there has been no advocate speaking with experience on behalf of pure, classical kung fu taught in the traditional manner. Many feel the decline in historically accurate, authentic kung fu has accelerated largely due to no knowledgable spokesman or forum for presenting views on issues as Sifu Allen did in his columns and feature articles for that publication.
Since losing the resource base of the most balanced magazine in the industry, the only recourse is a few ‘specialty’ magazines primarily dedicated to the promotion of Wu Shu and/or the ‘internal arts’ and, of course, the internet. Coincident with the loss of IKF, Green Dragon has received constant inquiries and/or requests to determine if Sifu Allen is going to write again in some public format. His columns and many feature articles never failed to generate great interest, especially his willingness to tackle the tough issues and directly confront many controversial subject areas.
Now 76 years old and semi-retired, Sifu Allen readily admits that the ‘mixed martial arts’ and Wu Shu elements have seemingly won out in public popularity, a development he’d inveighed against over his long career and one which, in his opinion, has brought over 4,000 years of classical kung fu to an ignominious end. Consequently, he’s increasingly resigned to the purity of the true arts being tarnished by having to associate with the various aberrations passed off as legitimate kung fu–circumstances which he finds reprehensible!
Taking all of these points into consideration, the staff at Green Dragon respectfully requested that Sifu Allen resume writing at periodic intervals for inclusion in this format along with many things that Green Dragon intends to post on the social media circuit. The staff thought a good place to begin would be a detailed analysis of today’s circumstances with reference to classical kung fu. The following article had been commissioned by Inside Kung Fu Magazine shortly before its untimely demise, but hadn’t been finished in time.
IS THERE A FUTURE FOR CLASSICAL KUNG FU?
No one actively involved in the Oriental Martial Arts has failed to witness the growing disinterest in all of the traditional systems in general–especially the striking vs. the grappling styles–and the particular lack of passion for the classical kung fu categories within the broader world of fighting styles. This apathy has been growing, and the trends have gone downward for many years since the spectacular breakout of kung fu in the early 1970’s. Pinpointing the reversal of fortune is nebulous; however, a questionable benchmark frequently cited to indicate the turn to a negative direction was the making and release of the film Big Trouble in Little China in 1986. It was probably given too much credit for its impact, but whatever core of enthusiasm may have been sustaining the Chinese Arts at that point was certainly diminished by the extreme absurdities comprising that film!
The central question on the minds of concerned and dedicated students of legitimate classical kung fu at this point in history is no longer just preoccupation with the familiar issues which have been hotly debated since that so-called ‘high water’ mark of the early 1970’s, but whether in point of fact the actual future of classical kung fu–its very survival–is not imperiled altogether! This is an alarming prospect emphatically reinforced by China’s inability to recruit their own national art into the Olympic Games after multiple attempts (we’ll examine the issue of whether or not Wu Shu should be the art in question subsequently). Generally speaking, the critics predicting kung fu’s outright demise fall into one of five different camps regarding who or what they determine as primarily reponsible for the diminishing interest:
1. Mixed martial arts did it.
2. The growing popularity of Wu Shu did it.
3. The internet did it (it certainly provides impetus).
4. The Olympic disqualification did it.
5. The many yet unresolved problems when viewed collectively (such as the seven areas addressed below).
While your author agrees that all five have certainly had a negative impact, taken all together they are not as culpable as another factor in the equation which we’ll develop shortly. Summarily, the question:
IS THE 4,000 YEAR ILLUSTRIOUS HERITAGE OF A TRULY UNIQUE CREATION THAT GAVE BIRTH TO ALL OTHER SELF-DEFENSE SYSTEMS NOW BECOMING JUST AN OBSOLETE RELIC TO BE IGNOMINIOUSLY CONSIGNED TO THE DUSTBIN OF HISTORY?
Are we actually being asked to accept that the ‘mixed martial arts’ scene is really a worthy legacy of those thousands of eminent masters who fought and died to preserve and sustain pure classical kung fu? Further, is it really being stated that all of the people who had any understanding, appreciation and respect for the elegance, intricate sophistication, and technical refinement of classical kung fu are just no longer in any way attracted to these qualities? Are we to agree that the huge segment of fans attracted to the beauty, dignity, and ultimate precision of classical kung fu simply metamorphosed their ideals to favor the blood, brutality, and bawdy mayhem of the cage? Personal tastes and descriptions aside, are we to ignore the fact that most women, small men, seniors, and children won’t ever find the brawling of MMA something with which they’d like to become involved?
Though now no doubt an unreasonable expectation to recapture lost ground, the disintegration of classical kung fu is not just a capitulation to the above five factors (plus the sixth to be discussed momentarily), but rather an aggregate of many long term unresolved problems that have continued to discourage all but the most committed students. The perspective(s) of your author on these has been formulated and conditioned by nearly 60 years of active involvement in the Oriental Martial Arts; and in his capacity of feature writer and columnist for Inside Kung Fu generated considerable and frequent controversy because of his vigorous stand on contentious issues such as:
1. HOW ESSENTIAL ARE CLASSICAL KUNG FU STYLES TAUGHT IN THE TRADITIONAL MANNER AS OPPOSED TO THE WU SHU STANDARDIZED FORMS IMPOSED BY COMMUNIST CHINA IN THE POST-1949 ERA?
2. HOW NECESSARY (INDISPENSABLE?) IS PHYSICAL STRENGTH TO EFFECTIVE AND REALISTIC SELF-DEFENSE, AS OPPOSED TO THE ‘MYSTICAL’ CAPABILITIES ASSOCIATED WITH THE ABSTRACT CONCEPTS SURROUNDING SO-CALLED ‘INTERNAL POWER’ OR ‘CH’I’?
3. WHAT PLACE OR PROPORTION SHOULD BE OCCUPIED BY THE ALLOCATION OF TIME TO TRAIN ON COMBAT FIGHTING FORMS AS OPPOSED TO AN EMPHASIS ON INDIVIDUAL TECHNIQUE AND/OR FREE SPARRING?
4. IS THERE A PURPOSE, SIGNIFICANCE, AND NECESSITY FOR CONCENTRATION ON COMPREHENSIVE WEAPONS TRAINING IN OVERALL PROGRAMS? ADVANTAGES?
5. CAN A SYSTEM FOR EQUITABLE TOURNAMENT JUDGING IN FORMS COMPETITION EVER BE SUCCESFULLY WORKED OUT SO THAT TRULY ACCURATE EVALUATIONS RESULT?
6. WHAT CHARACTERISTICS SHOULD TYPIFY A ‘RIGHT’ RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SIFU AND HIS DISCIPLES IN THE MODERN ERA?
7. WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIAL QUALITIES A STUDENT OF GENUINE CLASSICAL KUNG FU MUST POSSESS IN CONTEMPORARY TIMES TO ENSURE ULTIMATE SUCCESS IN HIS TRAINING, ESPECIALLY DENOTING THE VAST GULF BETWEEN THE ORIENTAL OR ‘EASTERN’ MINDSET WITH ITS CHARACTERISTIC CIRCULARITY AS CONTRASTED WITH THE LINEAR THINKING OF STUDENTS IN THE WESTERN WORLD.
So, why rehash subjects perpetually discussed by school heads, tournament directors, and misc. critics as well as having been topical in the magazines for years? Because every one of these subject areas still constitutes a serious problem which should have been resolved long ago, and which, along with many other related considerations, we’ll touch on in this article, have contributed substantially to the disastrous circumstances in which classical kung fu now finds itself–so they obviously need to be repeatedly exposed, analyzed and critiqued rather than swept under the historical rug!
These and many other related questions and issues will be addressed in Part II of this series.
~Sifu Allen is the Founder and Director of Green Dragon Kung Fu Studio in Northeast Ohio, where he has been actively teaching classical Chinese Martial Arts since 1967. Some of his material is still available via instructional DVDs at www.greendragonkungfu.com.