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GOING THE DISTANCE
"MEMOIR PART 7"
Photos Doug Church
Magazine cover courtesy of Rainbow Publications
MAY 1992 MARTIAL ARTS TRAINING MAGAZINE:
I had this covered.
SPEAKING TO EDDIE GARCIA IN 1987:
"Someday when I'm older and I'd forgotten "Fook Fu," I'll depend on you to remind me of how this form goes."
Eddie Garcia is like a son to me. Eddie is my most senior martial arts disciple. Among my disciples, Eddie has been with me the longest, for 29 years. Besides Eddie, I had four other disciples. These were Rasul Davis, Jim Windus, Michael Garcia and Ian Blair. It seems like I've known Eddie for a veritable lifetime, certainly longer than the 29 years he's been my disciple. I knew Eddie from around the 'hood from when he was a teenager, hanging out in Corlears Hook Park in the Lower East Side of NYC with his girlfriend. This was before he put in a stint as a US Marine.
After I broke ties with my teacher, Dr. Richard Chin in 1982, I established my own Jow Ga kung fu school. At the time I split from Sifu Chin, I was running Sifu Chin's Asian Martial Arts Studio Downtown at the Third Street Music School in lower Manhattan. Our Asian Martial Arts Studio Uptown, was run by my kung fu brother, another fellow ex-disciple of Richard Chin's, Mike Willner. It was expedient for me to continue using the dance floor space at the Third Street Music School for my new dojo, so I ran my classes there for two more years, before moving my school downtown. When I left the Asian Martial Arts Studio, I handed the reins of the downtown class to another disciple of Sifu Chin's named , Jeff Pascal. If I remember correctly, Jeff was not exactly ecstatic about having this class suddenly being thrown onto his lap. I can't fault him for that, for he inherited an unforseen, ready-made obligation that was labor intensive. During the two year period we continued to use the Third Street Music School for my new school, my student Patty Cicchinelli and I got married, and Patty became truly proficient in Jow Ga. So much so, that I promoted her to black belt. Our new dojo became known as the New York Martial Arts Club. Patty became my partner in teaching the art of Jow Ga to our students, as well as my partner in life. She became Sihing to my disciples. "Sihing" is an honorific title loosely meaning, "most senior student."
I can't exactly recall how it came about, but Eddie Garcia became one of my first new students after I moved the dojo further downtown. I've known Eddie for most of his life, and the demarcation line after he came under my tutelage in the martial arts, was but a fluid segue, that flowed into a continuation of our relationship. It was Eddie's brother Raymond, who helped us to obtain our first temporary training space, before we moved to our permanant dojo at the Educational Alliance at 197 East Bradway in the Lower East Side of New York City. Raymond Garcia, you see, worked in the maintenance department of Vladek Housing near where Patty and I lived. Raymond also became one of my early students. Vladek is a New York City housing project. The temporary dojo Raymond got us, was a basement in the Vladek projects. It was a dark, dank, water-leaking dungeon, but at least we had adequate space for training and sparring. One direction I gave Ray was, to hose down the floor of the basement before each class, so that dust did not fill the air. Beause of the conditions of the basement, we trained in shoes, even though we paid homage to the floor by properly bowing in, as if it were a proper floor, to be respected and revered.
One day while we were training in the Vladek basement dojo, there came the sound of banging on the basement door, accompanied by, "Open up! Police!" Two uniformed NYPD officers came in and wanted to know what we were doing there. Apparently, a tenant noticed a number of black-clad people (our uniforms were black gi.) entering this basement, and wondered if we were terrorists hatching an evil plot. I had Ray explain to the cops, how we obtained permission to use to this city-owned basement through Ray's job, and what we were using it for. The police left without any further qualms about it. I suppose it became fairly obviously to them, after seeing a bunch of people with karate gi and different colored belts on.
It was during this basement period, when Eddie Garcia and Mickey (Michael) Garcia (Mickey is Eddie's brother) became my disciples. It was also here during this basement period, when I formed an even stronger bond with Eddie, and Eddie came to realize what the martial arts really boils down to. The martial arts is not about having an ornate school or setting. It is not even necessarily about the lineage of people who've preceded you, in a style. The true essence of training in the martial art of Jow Ga, is the art that consists of the forms that represent the fighting system of Jow Ga. These are the true vessels of knowledge for a system. The art of Jow Ga is timeless, transcending the teachers who've passed it on from one generation to another. The art stands as its own entity, blithely ignoring the distractions of the politics of traditionalism.
A word of caution though, which I've trumpeted in previous writings. I would add one qualifier to the notion that it is the forms that is all one needs, for proper training. Not all Jow Ga schools are the same in the way they train, even though they may share common foundational forms. It is the combat philosophy of the teacher, that informs how each school trains their respective students. Luckily for Mike Willner (my fellow ex-disciple under Sifu Chin) and me, we trained under Sifu Chin, and therefore trained our students in the same, no-nonsense way. Mike and I have started a blog called "Gung Fu Brothers Speak Out."
It is a difficult and serious road to travel, to becoming a disciple of a martial arts teacher, and an even more serious affair to contemplate leaving that teacher. Insurmountable impasses can arise between teacher and disciple, that are heartbreaking in the most profound way, to both sides. There are emotional ties in the teacher/disciple relationship that remind of a father/son relationship, that are akin to love, and it is harrowing to break that bond. For a disciple, leaving one's teacher may be inevitable, but the only question is, do the two enjoy an amicable relationshp afterward? Fortunately for Eddie and me, we enjoy a strong bond, unlike the non-existent bond between me and my former teacher. Even though I recognize that my break with Sifu Chin was necessary and right, the residual regret will always be there. There will always be a part of me that is loyal, and grateful to Sifu Chin, for what he gave me. Mike Willner feels the same way.
I obtained the use of training space at the Educational Alliance, by inquiring about the availability of a training floor there. Subsequently, a very nice manager at the Educational Alliance named Sylvia Lefkowitz and I made arrangements for me to rent the training space on a permanent basis. At this time, I was a columnist for Karate-Kung Fu Illustrated magazine, so a fair amount of publicity was generated about our school, which brought some interested readers in to join. The name of "Jow Ga" was virtually unknown in martial arts media, until I wrote extensively about our training. If you Google "Jow Ga" or key in"Jow Ga" in YouTube it, you'll now find tons of Jow Ga material. I'm not contending that my writing about Jow Ga was responsible for the burgeoning interest in the style. I'm merely reporting the obvious, that since I began writing about Jow Ga kung fu, it has become very well-known. Conclude from that, what you will. Bringing in numbers of enrollees to our school was no mean feat, since I made no bones in my magazine columns about our brutally realistic training methods. The turnover rate was quite high, for obvious reasons. Perhaps many didn't believe the veracity of what I was writing, or just considered it hyperbole. Those that came, found out that our training was exactly as I described it. Many came and left because they couldn't or wouldn't stand the gruelling training, but two who stayed were Jim Windus and Rasul Davis. They would eventually become my disciples.
Jim Windus was a gym owner and a former champion bodybuilder. His gym was called New York Body Designers, and Rasul Davis worked for Jim as one of the personal trainers in Jim's gym. Jim eventually hired Eddie Garcia as a personal trainer in his gym, as well. Jim's business did not survive though, and Jim went in other professional directions. Jim had to discontinue his training at the school because of personal reasons, but Rasul made it to black belt level. I'm very happy and proud that Eddie and Rasul made it to black belt. Another student who became a disciple, was Ian Blair, who happened to have been my editor at Martial Arts Training magazine, before he left California (Rainbow Publications, which published Black Belt, Martial arts Training and Karate-Kung Fu Illustrated, was located in California) to move back to his home town of Long Beach on Long Island. It was through my "Combat Reality" column in MA Training magazine, that Ian's interest in training with me was heightened.
The "Educational Alliance period," was a productive and rewarding time that witnessed the promotion of two of my disciples to black belt, of whom I am extremely proud, and those were Eddie Garcia and Rasul Davis. Believe me, the natural course of reaching black belt level in our school was extremely difficult. Making black belt in our school, meant something. This period where the New York Martial Arts Club spawned these two talented and tough martial artists, lasted from 1984 until 1993, until I decided to retire from active teaching. I have a theory about the life cycle of a teacher in a non-commercial school, where the sifu's sole mission is to bring up his disciples, the right way. That theory states that a teacher that gives his all to raising a few students the right way, becomes all but spent, once this mission is accomplished. It takes years of hard work, turmoil, cajoling, encouraging, badgering, and at times, the application of tough love to get the kind of results that brings even one disciple up to black belt level.
I saw it happen wth my teacher, who all but ceased his active teaching of students (he had us disciples teach them), once I reached my black belt level in the Asian Martial Arts Studio. He never voiced this as a reason for his slowing down and then discontinuing his direct teaching, but I intuited this. Also, there comes a point where a teacher has passed on all there is to pass on. One's well of knowledge, isn't a bottomless pit. Teachers, no matter how profound they're perceived to be, aren't infinite sources of information. There is a limit for everybody. Having seen that phenomenon with Sifu Chin, I knew to anticipate it with my disciples. I was at the point in 1993, where I'd given my all in teaching my disciples, and it was time to pass the mantle. One thing I truly believe: There can be no monetary considerations when bringing up competent martial artists. In fact, I never made a penny from my dojo. I only charged students what the monthly rent bill required, and I was proud of that. Once a school is used to generate enough income for the teacher to live on, compromise enters the picture, and then the teacher waters down the curriculum and perserveres with his school, just as a job.
Bringing up disciples to black belt level takes a real commitment that is not measured in money, but in time spent and emotional involvement it seems, with one's disciples' whole lives. A conscientious teacher spends his emotional capital with total commitment. Disciples are to be nurtured as one would his own children. As a teacher, one worries about his disciples' states of mind, as well as the states of their lives outside of the school, for this is the way it should be. I'm very proud of the disciples I've brought up to black belt level, for this required blood, sweat and tears from all involved in this training. Real training is hard. It is not a game, but a rite of life.
As I told all my disciples, "I'm teaching these forms to you now, but one day when I'm older, I'll be asking you to remind me of how they should go." That day has arrived, for I haven't practiced the most important foundation form in the Jow Ga system, called "Fook Fu," in a long time, and I've forgotten some of the sequence. However. next week, my disciple Eddie Garcia, will kindly remind me of how the form goes. He will be my teacher then. The martial arts is like a wheel, and everything that goes around, comes around. I'll tell you what. After a long period of not having done Fook Fu, it feels wonderful to be executing it again. The old velocity, power and fluidity in my Fook Fu, is rapidly returning. It's like riding a bicycle..... Later.