It’s been quite a while since I had a chance to blog. So here we go… The last year has been pretty tumultuous as well as invigorating. I think a lot of you are aware that my team and myself have launched my Instagram and Patreon channel Kung Fu In A Minute. We’ve reached our one-year anniversary, and I just want to extend a giant thank you to all my colleagues, students, friends, family and to my teacher, Grandmaster Tak Wah Eng, for being so supportive of this endeavor. 

I was thinking about it the other day, what it’s all about and what I’m trying to do, and I remembered back many years ago, one of my close disciples had graduated from a prestigious art design school and we were talking about the concept of artwork and how it related to the art of Kung Fu. The idea that we centered around was something that he always called a “happy accident” which was not accidental at all, but rather practiced and planned for over countless repetitions, be it you scribbling on literally hundreds of pieces of loose-leaf paper and ending up chucking them behind you until you got that perfect rendition of what you wanted to display in your artwork, or countless hours of practice of Kung Fu. For that one minute of display of skill and expertise, be it in art or in the art of fighting, one requires endless amounts of hours and dedication just to one technique, let alone the art itself. This was the inspirational genesis for the term I coined, “Kung Fu in a Minute.” We’re displaying one minute of Kung Fu, but you have to understand that beneath that one minute of Kung Fu is decades of work. Even in this one minute of movie that we produce on a weekly basis, you don’t see how much teaching time is put into it. 台上一分钟,台下十年功 !“One minute on stage, ten years of work!”

Unfortunately, a lot of people have the misconception that Kung Fu is unusable in a fighting situation. I don’t know where this misconception came up. I understand that people are bombarded by media with notions of what works and doesn’t work, but I can remember before all the trends, many of the Kung Fu practitioners utilized their movements in competition as well as being tested in the streets. We grew up in an era where Chinatown was basically a war zone and there were encounters and turf wars and gang fights going on continually. I’m not advocating this, but it’s just the plain honest truth. So to say that Kung Fu doesn’t work is an overgeneralization if not a complete myth propagated by those people that want to push their own agenda. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, a punch is a punch, a kick is a kick, an elbow is an elbow, and a throw is a throw. I don’t care what martial art discipline you advocate or train in; the bottom line is the human body is the human body. There’s only so many ways to use it, and it’s up to the individual to make it happen. The essence of the actual physical technique of Kung Fu boils down to being able to utilize your movement. Many people have a hard time conceptualizing, understanding and putting their movement into practical application. 

Through Kung Fu in a Minute, I’m trying my best to display this and show the adaptability of Kung Fu form into function. The best term I could come up with was spontaneous combustion. Almost all the time, I come in on the day we’re going to film Kung Fu in a Minute, and my team will say to me, “What technique are going to do today Sifu?” I shrug my shoulders, throw my hands up and say, “I don’t know.” They always look at me, perplexed, and say “You don’t know?” No, I really don’t know; it’s just going to come out. This is what many people don’t seem to understand; it is spontaneous, combustible and flammable. That is the true application of Kung Fu. You practice the said technique countless times, but it is the live interpretation based upon the individual that makes it come alive. 

It’s up to the individual not only to learn and practice the exercises taught in classical form, but to be able to understand the true intention of the movement and then to go several steps further and understand that the technique being portrayed has multiple interpretations, not just the one that’s most obvious. I always caution the students not to be a master of the obvious as most of us are. We can all blatantly see the outer casing or the shell of the movement just by glancing at it. This is not wrong, it’s the most obvious application that everyone can jump to. But there’s still a lot more meat left on the bone. With that understanding, I can remember a rule set down by my teacher that you need to be able to give a minimum of three possible applications for every technique in the forms that you’ve been taught. That’s a minimum. If you look at an average form that has anywhere from fifty or more moves times the minimum requirement that he had, my math isn’t that good but that’s a whole lot of applications. That’s a whole lot of spontaneous combustion. 

That’s a whole lot of variations that you can apply in any one given point in time based upon the situation. Not only does the student have to be astute enough to have a correct interpretation of the intention, he also has to be able to understand all the possible variations on that interpretation and what’s going to trigger them. It boils down to you being able to effectively internalize the understanding of your Kung Fu and having it come out naturally. There’s an action and then a reaction; that’s what Kung Fu is. That’s what many people don’t understand because they get caught up playing a routine for the sake of the routine, rather than for the sake of what the routine is pointing you towards. I was having the same situation just last evening; I was going through a form with my team and they were just going through the motions. A lot of the techniques that we were doing, I had done with my team before and I had actually put a lot of them on film. When we make Kung Fu in a Minute, we don’t do it for the sake of making the one-minute movie, but for the sake of practicing the technique and learning from the experience. Despite what many people think, every week is completely unrehearsed. It’s spontaneous. It is up to the practitioner to connect the dots; to see all the possible variations that you have in any one given technique. 

You have to take time looking over what you’ve learned, deciphering on your own the possibilities that are there within that one given theme and then figure out how to apply it on various opponents of different shapes and sizes and different levels of ability. As carpenters say measure twice cut once – so the measure twice is the practice, the interpretation, the understanding that one has to build through practicing the form, through physical conditioning, through sparring with your partners, through countless errors, misgivings, misstarts, fumbles, pick yourself up and try again, and then you can go and cut once and that becomes the spontaneity. All that work has to be done in order for you to just do it. The art of Kung Fu is the art of instinct. It’s the art of closing the gap without having to think. It’s the art of that combustibility that is sparked by the attack of your opponent. 

The real art of Kung Fu is an art of self-defense. It’s lighting a fuse. Once you’re in engagement it’s like tripping the wire. You’re not looking to defend; you’re actually looking to destroy the other individual; in our art it’s the aggressive nature of the tiger that is the defense. I don’t need to defend because I’m going to destroy. It’s hitting the dominoes and ten thousand dominoes fall succinctly one after the other. It’s a chain link of bombardment, but all the time has been put in by the practitioner of that art. Therefor it comes out fluently. It becomes your language. And if you haven’t spent enough time speaking that language, then it’s not truly yours. That is how Kung Fu has to be applied. That being said, how do you derive that level of skill and sensitivity? Trial and error on a daily basis with copious amounts of hands on experience with your classmates under the guidance of a teacher that has that experience themselves and knows how to guide you. In the end it really boils down to the individual. 

Kung Fu is like turning on a light switch. As soon as you turn on the light switch, the light comes on. The question is, did you pay Coned? Did you put in the time to derive that kind of skill, knowing full well that the other individual is going to retaliate? You must be instinctive, spontaneous and be able to change without having to think, and augment your technique beyond the confines of the display within the form. I don’t know how to express this to you other than you touching the hand of the other guy and feeling the electricity. That’s what I feel every time I let my teacher show me a technique. Many times, it has been my experience where I’ve been shown something by him and then try to counter it and ten different things come out. That onslaught is the spontaneous combustion that we’re talking about. You have to touch hands with your teacher and your classmates to feel that electricity. Once you understand this, then you bring this back into your form. That brings your form to another level so form and function are moving up together at the same time. They feed into each other and each one helps the other to grow in depth and understanding, culminating together, becoming one, then ultimately becoming nothing and then BOOM, spontaneous combustion. A student of mine just came in while I was writing this blog and we decided to experiment, and BOOM, he said to me, “I never saw it coming.”

That’s how Kung Fu is and I tell you, that’s how everything in life is. You don’t see it coming and the reason you didn’t see it coming is because you didn’t do the preparation. Everything comes back down to preparation. Every art that requires Kung Fu is just like our Kung Fu. It only has a handful of techniques. It takes the seemingly limited amount of resources and becomes limitless; it becomes infinite from this finite number of moves. According to what they say, Wong Fei Hong was so good that he could dispatch you with only two or three techniques. If you’re at that level, you shouldn’t have to think about what technique is coming out. If you have to sit there and think about it, then it’s already too late. There isn’t going to be a, ready set go. There’s no one to say, time, go to your corners, illegal technique. You’re not going to know when it’s going to happen; you’re going to walk around the corner and it’s right there. Your instinctive reaction is going to define what happens. That’s what you have to train for. It just comes out, whatever you need. How do you do it? Any way you need it. What do you do? You get the job done. It’s so much in you that you go beyond you and just BOOM spontaneously combust. 

-Sifu Paul Koh 高寶羅