THE FOX'S DEN LEGACY
When people new to martial arts are trying to choose a school to train with, many will look to the school’s legacy. Oftentimes, they are searching for the oldest, “most legitimate” martial art in the area. They want to follow something that has a long tradition of training they can trace back into antiquity. If you clicked on this page, you might be one of those people!
This kind of thinking makes sense to a certain extent: you want to fight like a Shaolin Monk, so you should try to find a Shaolin Monk to train you (or the next closest thing). I get it—there is something magical about learning an ancient martial art passed down for hundreds of generations. It’s definitely a part of what drew me into Kung Fu, myself.
The truth, however, is that there is no way to know if any martial art, even the ones passed down inside modern Shaolin Temples is equivalent to what its predecessors were teaching a thousand years ago. Temples burned down, environments changed, and material passed down via memory is very prone to alteration.
I learned most of what I know about Shaolin Kung Fu from the Chinese Shaolin Center in Norcross. Our Grandmaster, Sin Kwang The (1943-present) was from Indonesia, where it is said he learned from his Grandmaster Ie Chang Ming (1880-1976), who fled from China after learning from Su Kong Tai Djin (1849-1928), who had enthusiastically studied with Shaolin Monks in the Fukien Province. (It’s actually a pretty cool story, but as important as those individuals’ contributions were to my training, they will not be my focus today).
Under the governance of Senior Master Gary Grooms (one of The’s students), three Chinese Shaolin Centers cropped up around Atlanta—one in Intown, one in Marietta, and one in Norcross. I trained primarily in Norcross and helped run the Kung Fu and Tai Chi program there for many years. I also had the opportunity to train with our sister schools in one capacity or another—I taught at Intown and attended many special events in Marietta. Everyone I met who had trained in our program long enough to instruct were fantastic martial artists and fighters (I either watched or fought against most), but every one of them also taught our forms a little differently. These discrepancies were sometimes even present in the same school!
For those of you who are not familiar, forms are one of the primary ways traditional martial arts schools pass down their knowledge. They are sets of fighting techniques that are meant to be utilized in sparring and in actual combat. By drilling them, you train the muscle groups necessary to become efficient at performing those motions, and add them to your arsenal to utilize when the time comes. It’s old-school, and when taught and supplemented correctly, it works very well.
This form divergence at the Chinese Shaolin Center locations was caused by distance in a matter of miles, time in a matter of decades, and with videos to preserve the integrity of our training. Now imagine a distance of thousands of miles, thousands of years, and forms preserved by word-of-mouth, memory, and scrolls (at best), and you can see why I am extremely skeptical about any school that claims it teaches source material that is thousands of years old.
This is a fantasy, and it is my educated opinion that if any school tries to tell you that it has the only and best way of fighting with an ancient, secret fighting style perfectly preserved across the ages, you should walk away. Trust me, there are plenty of fanatics out there that legitimately believe that (or don’t) and will give you that sales pitch with a straight face—I’ve met them.
So how do you judge the quality of a martial arts school, then, if not by the antiquity of its legacy? Through fighting history?
Not necessarily. Just like there are traditional schools who will try to impress you with a clean, perfect lineage, there are modern schools that will try to impress you with title championship wins and beautiful track records in the ring. These claims are equally questionable when it comes to seeking out the right teacher.
First, just because you are great at something, doesn’t mean you can teach it—in fact, I’d argue that the more naturally talented a person is at something, the more likely they are to be worse at teaching it. I’m sure you have experience firsthand, just as I have, that people who are naturally talented at something have a harder time understanding why their peers or students are struggling, because things came easy to them by comparison. Oftentimes—though not always—top-tier ring fighters were suited for what they do before they even started their conditioning.
Second, you may have no interest in ring fighting! Sure, ring fighting will teach you how to defeat an opponent under certain rules in a specific environment, and it may even make you into a significantly better fighter than the average person. But it will not train you to fight against armed attackers, attackers who are bigger than you, or multiple attackers at once. If you want to be competitive at a high level in these sorts of sports, you simply don’t have time for anything else but training your body what it needs to do to win matches.
I do not specialize in ring fighting. I pursued my training with Shaolin Kung Fu because it was created as a war-fighting martial art. There are no rules, and it is not meant for a ring. It is meant to give smaller, weaker opponents advantages against bigger, stronger ones who may have friends, or knives, or sticks, and who want to take your life.
I have no interest in learning how to subdue someone on the ground while my opponent’s friend sneaks up behind to stomp my head in (no offense to wrestlers or jiujitsu practitioners—submissions are awesome, even if I don’t train in them). I also don’t care to learn how to fight someone with big puffy gloves where I’m not allowed to strike them in the groin, the eyes, the knees, or the throat (again, no offense to boxers or kick-boxers—these are great sports). Instead, I want to train how to be as effective as I can be against real people in real fights, and teach others to do the same.
And yeah…for those who are interested, we still have fun sparring—it’s a part of learning how to move effectively against an intelligent, self-aware, and moving target. It’s also a great way to hone your skills.
So what is my legacy?
Shaolin-Tao—I’ve trained in it and taught my own, unique variation of it in one fashion or another for more than fifteen years. After learning from the Chinese Shaolin Center for a decade, I am proficient in a version of Shaolin Kung Fu that is as legitimate as anyone else’s.
The National Strength and Conditioning Association—I am a certified personal trainer with one of the most nationally and internationally respected organizations in the fitness industry. My certification, along with my continuing education in exercise science offers me a deeper understanding of martial arts and training specific to martial arts, which is something that absolutely cannot be overlooked. There are inevitably better martial artists than me out there, but very few will be able to customize training to meet your specific needs and get you where you want to go efficiently and expediently. I understand exactly how to condition my students based on the amount of time they have available and what they want to accomplish.
My passion for teaching and martial arts—I have never been naturally athletic or remotely interested in sports, and Kung Fu is something that I have become good at solely due to my passion and years of training, and not because of any innate talent or skill. This, and my fifteen plus years of experience, makes me an excellent teacher. I am patient, understand personal limitations, and know all the pitfalls of martial arts training and how to overcome them.
Finally, the teachers I owe more than anyone else. Sifu Katherine—who taught me Tai Chi when I was a young, impatient teenager, and who always believed in me. Master Kofi—who taught me Kung Fu and inspired me with his fighting ability (and eventually fought me himself!). And finally, Master David—whose exacting knowledge and understanding of our forms allowed me to perfect each, and every skill I was taught. These aren’t famous Shaolin Monks or ring-fighters, but they are real people, who practiced real martial arts, who were passionate about it everyday for a lifetime, and who gave me a very real skill I can pass onto you.
I hope this gives you an idea about where the Fox’s Den Kung Fu came from and inspires you to try us out. After all, the best way to get to know if any martial art is right for you, is to try it yourself! Your first class is free, and I believe it is my responsibility to inspire you every session, so there is no long-term commitment.
You have nothing to lose.