Friday, April 07, 2056

Seminar note links

Image by Bluefluke

John Will

11 Nov 2017 - Pirate Grip, Russian Tie
15 Oct 2017 - Half Guard, the Seed
5 Mar 2017 - Ashi Garami 2.0, Honey Hole and Heel Hook
9 Oct 2016 - Ashi Garami, straight footlock
John Will Seminar 16 April 2016- Legbars
21 Feb 2016 - collar grip guard, single leg X guard
30 Aug 2015 - post clinch takedown strategy, Z guard, kneeride
22 Feb 2015 - Snatch Single, Vale Tudo Guard, Darce/Anaconda
24 August 2014 - a Spider Guard Plan
23 Feb 2014 - Advanced Spider Guard
29th September 2013 - Crucifix Control
24 March 2013 - X Guard
21 Oct 2012 - ankle picks, Z guard
21 April 2012 - Z guard
25 Mar 2012 - Guard Passing
2 Oct 2011 - takedown strategy, 2 on 1
20 Aug 2011 - D'arce choke, Deep Half Guard
3 July 2011 Side control escapes and counters
John Will Seminar 16 Apr 2011 - attacking from the turtle
20 Mar 2011 - Hooks and hooking sweeps
24 Oct 2010 - Anaconda, D'arce, Peruvian Necktie, Shackle
15 Aug 2010 - Back Control
14 Mar 2010 - Kata Gatame
18 Oct 2009 - Getting the back, back attacks
1 August 2009 breaking out of the clinch, roundhouse kicks and takedowns
4th April 2009 - hooking sweeps, S Mount armbar
1 Nov 2008 - open guard, side control escapes
5 April 2008 - Shell, Omoplata
20 Oct 2007 - X guard
Jul 28, 2007 - MMA defence from bottom, darce
31 MAR 2007 Shell in depth and takedowns
29 October 2006 - Triangles,knees in guard. passing half guard, visor
29 July 2006 - handstand sweep, side back escapes
8 Apr 2006 - turtle escapes, pillow escape
9 Jul 2005 - half guard bottom
9 Apr 2005 - better choke and armbar from mount
23 Oct 2004 - hooks-in and side back techs
10 Jul 2004 armdrag from guard, crossface
6 Mar 2004 - sweeps, legbar against open guard, passing
18 Oct 2003 - basic takedowns, legbars

Interested in going to a seminar with John Will? Check his seminar schedule and sign up.

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell's Jiu Jitsu for a Lifetime seminar - 3 Feb 2018
Steve Maxwell's Jiu Jitsu for a Lifetime Seminar 4 Feb 2017
Steve Maxwell's Integrated Breathing Seminar 11th February 2017
Steve Maxwell - Gracie Jiu Jitsu Core Concepts - 11 Feb 2017
Steve Maxwell's Jiu Jitsu for a lifetime /Mobility Conditioning for Jiu Jitsu and MMA seminar 6th February 2016
Steve Maxwell's Jiu Jitsu for Life seminar - 14 March 2015

Carlos Machado

Carlos Machado Seminar - 7th May 2015
Carlos Machado seminar - 8th May 2014
Carlos Machado seminar 16 May 2013
Carlos Machado seminar 10 May 2012

Rigan Machado

The Gathering 2017
Rigan Machado 17 Sep 2016
Rigan Machado Seminar 15 Sep 2007
Rigan Machado Seminar 21 Aug 2004

Jean Jacques Machado

Jean Jacques Machado seminar 28 July 2012

Richard Norton

Richard Norton seminar 21 November 2015

Gui Mendes

"Secret Session" at Langes MMA with Gui Mendes

Dave Camarillo

Dave Camarillo 16 Sep 2017 - offside grip, King's chair, SAP
Dave Camarillo seminar 3 Sep 2016 - Kimura grip, armbar

Pedro Sauer

Pedro Sauer 24 Oct 2016

Stanley Tam

Stanley Tam Qigong Seminar 25 Feb 2017

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Machado NSW Brown and Black Belt Open Mat 11 Feb 2018

The gathering was hosted by Anthony and Nikki Lange at Langes MMA, North Manly.

Leg attacks were the theme of the day.

Notes from techniques shown by Luke Martin and Andre Powell.

Luke Martin

Outside Ashi to Outside Heelhook

Outside Ashi Garami, not quite the way we did it

You have his R leg trapped. You should be deep on his thigh, well above the knee. Sitting on your L hip, R heel hidden, L foot crossed over R. Your L elbow controls his R foot. Rather than lie on your shoulder and dig under for the heel, instead expose the heel by lifting your knees toward vertical. Tap the toes in the armpit and trap the heel with the ulna bone, where your wristwatch goes. Gable grip is OK but Luke advocates a wrist to wrist grip.

Double Wrist (Butterfly) Grip

Double wrist grip demo'ed by Dean Lister

To break, move the R foot against the thigh, pressing hard inward on the thigh and down toward the knee. L foot presses parallel on the R foot. Flare the knees outward. Put your weight on the L elbow and raise your hips off the mat. The knee flare and hip lift should bend the knee, essential for the submission - it is unlikely to work if the leg is straight. Do not twist, but take the L shoulder away and look over your shoulder to complete the submission.

This is not a position in which I have much experience, so any problems with the above description are mine, not Luke's.

Escape Outside Ashi

He has your R leg trapped in outside ashi. His L foot should be crossed over his R to prevent you attacking his heel. If not, it just means you can leave out the step of removing his L foot, as it won't be part of the problem.

Lie back on the mat and grab the bottom of his L foot in a C grip with your R hand. Push his L foot out to your R. Keep hold of his foot.

Grab the inside of his R foot with your L hand and pull it across your body to your L. Come up on your R elbows and trap his R foot using your L armpit or elbow so he cant take it back.

Your hip and knee should be free now, and he should be unable to lock your foot with any authority. Move your hips away, free your foot by dragging it from his grip, and look at disengaging, or countering with a leg control of your own

Andre Powell

Leg drag to Inside Sankaku / 411 and Inside heelhook

You are facing his open guard. Grab his L ankle with your L hand and R knee with your R hand. Step to your R and drag his leg to your L hip. Drop to the leg drag position. Should be fairly shallow, your L shin going over the top of his R knee or even the top of his shin. Use your hands on the mat to control his legs as you step over his legs with your R foot. Keep the R foot close to help control his legs. Sit back to the 411 / inside sankaku, hooking your R foot under your L knee as you complete the position. Probably a good idea to control his R leg with your L hand.

Go to submission from here would be the inside heel hook.

Butterfly grip yet again

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Steve Maxwell's Jiu Jitsu for a Lifetime - 3 Feb 2018

Steve has our full attention. Note the handsome dude with the chrome dome at extreme lower right

The seminar was held at Higher Jiu Jitsu, in the City of Sydney PCYC. Hosted by John Smallios.


The three sides of the Jiu Jitsu for a Lifetime triangle are:
  • Skills
  • Conditioning
  • Health

Conditioning is mainly about increasing strength and mobility.

Health is about diet, breathing and recovery.

Steve is not a fan of learning strength and conditioning from younger people. If you are over 40, 50, 60, and they are not, they just don't know how older people operate and what they can take. Steve's tyraining gurus are or were older than him. Richard Wynette, Clarence Bass, Jack LaLanne.

Skill Training

For most hobbyists, people with jobs, families, etc., working on Jiu Jitsu skills 3-4 times a week is ideal.

With less than three times a week, you will not progress as quickly.

With five or more times a week, you run the risk of overtraining and injury.

If you are young and have excellent recovery ability, you may be able to train more often. If you are older, any extra sessions should be light drilling and light rolling.

In Steve's opinion, if you are out of breath, you are going too hard. He gets students to roll with a sip of water held in their mouths to ensure they breathe evenly through their noses. There are methods of breathing while rolling, and breathing exercises, which can increase your ability to perform well with less oxygen and avoiding getting out of breath which Steve discussed in earlier seminars (links at the bottom of this post).

The aim is to learn to wrestle using a minimum of tension. Steve mentioned how Royler Gracie in particular was so relaxed and so unused to tensing up his body that Steve had great difficulty teaching him the Turkish Getup with a kettlebell, a movement which requires the judicious use of muscular tension to complete well. Royler remarked that what Steve was trying to teach him was completely the opposite of what Rickson and his father Helio were trying to teach him to do.

You absolutely want to be as strong as possible. If two people are of equal skill level, the stronger of the two will have the advantage.

However, Steve quoted Helio Gracie as saying that the two hardest types of people to teach Jiu Jitsu to were the really strong guys, and people that are really smart.

The strong guys overpower everyone rather than learning to use efficient technique and leverage. Which works until they meet someone as strong or stronger than they are, or they get fatigued.

Smart people tend to fall victim to overthinking and analysis-paralysis. Too many "what if?"s.

Bigger and stronger guys should generally play from the bottom when rolling with smaller or weaker people. That way both can get something out of the exchange. A big guy that can roll light with smaller people is good to have around. Darko Zaric and Stuart Morton fall into this category and have helped my Jiu Jitsu a great deal.

For longevity in the sport, you need to do most of your rolling non-competitively. Some people really enjoy competition but no one says it is good for you long term. Do not allow people to stack you. Give up the submission or let them pass your guard instead. Do not fight unreasonably hard to avoid getting caught. If you are rolling with skilled partners you should expect to get caught. Allow yourself to take risks (not with your body!) and try new things, get caught now and then, and tap. Tapping is learning. Your training environment should be such that taking risks and trying unfamiliar things is encouraged, not punished.

Strength Training

As mentioned above, you absolutely want to become and remain as strong as you can. Most people will reach their peak level of strength after 3-4 years of regular, sensible strength training. Significant improvements after that are highly unlikely. However, people who have never strength trained before can make rapid and significant gains. Steve had one client in his eighties with significant mobility issues, whose strength he was able to pretty much quadruple, and was able to play golf again after about six months of strength work.

It is important to understand that we want to become stronger, but not to become strength athletes, with Olympic lifting, powerlifting, crossfit, etc. There is nothing inherently wrong with playing such sports, and we will definitely get stronger doing them, but if our focus is on becoming better at Jiu Jitsu such methods are too technical and with too high a risk of injury for us.

If we are training 3-4 times a week, Jiu Jitsu itself is a form of strength training. More than two strength sessions a week as well will probably be too much from which to recover properly. Two sessions a week may be too much for some people. You can still make gains with a single session per week.

When Steve was training Xande Ribeiro to fight Roger Gracie, Xande only did one strength session per week.

We are looking for the "minimum effective dose" to achieve the results we want. Unless we really enjoy exercise. But for most people, there is a difference between recreation (Jiu Jitsu) and exercise (strength training). WE should never get injured during exercise. WE might expect the occasionaal injury in our recreation (Jiu Jitsu). 

Adaptation (strength gains) are directly related to the intensity of the exercise. 

Intensity is related to time under load (also referred to as time under tension). We need to subject the muscles to load for between 30 to 90 seconds, with most people getting best results between 40 and 70 seconds. This is dependent on your muscle fibre type.

Form is very important. It is still possible to get strength gains with bad form, but the risk of injury is greatly increased.

Recent sport science theory has it that there is little difference in results between low reps with heavy weights, and higher reps with lighter weights. It is intensity and time under tension that produce the desired results. One set  of an exercise to momentary muscular failure will give you nearly all of your possible gains.

If you perform sets to momentary muscular failure, there is little difference in gains from performing multiple sets. The difference percentage in gains between one set and five comes down to very low single digits.

You can obtain excellent results with low volume.

Exercise Selection

You should select exercises which work what Steve calls The Five Pillars:
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Hinge
  • Squat
  • Rotate

Pushing should include both horizontal and vertical pushes (e.g. pushup, overhead press).

Pulling also should work through horizontal and vertical directions (e.g. rows, pullups).

Ancillary exercises are required for the neck, hands, abs, feet, and calves.

It is arguably more important to work the muscles *not* used in Jiu Jitsu as those we use constantly, to avoid muscular imbalances, shortening etc. which leave us vulnerable to injury.

In particular, we should work the expansion of the hands and fingers to balance all the gripping Jiu Jitsu involves. A rubber band looped around the fingers and thumb, or more specific equipment like the Hand-X-Band, can be used for this. Stever recommends doing such exercise after every Jiu Jitsu session.

Many people who have office jobs and sit all day can develop "gluteal amnesia" where their nervous system forgets how to properly activate the glutes during daily tasks, placing undue stress on their knees and lower back. For such people, specific glute activation exercises will be beneficial.

Hingeing are movements bending from the waist, like a deadlift or straight legged deadlift. These engage the glutes and hamstrings more than the quadriceps, whereas squatting movements engage the quadriceps more than the glutes.

Strength gains can come from using machines and isometrics as much as from so called "functional" training. Functional training only makes you good at the specific lifts you do. Steve related a story about how he and another wrestler type were able to lift a two hundred pound sandbag and place it over their shoulders, whereas two lifters (including Pavel Tsatsouline) who were also there, both of whom had 500 pound plus deadlifts, were unable to do it. Neither Steve or the wrestler could deadlift close to 500 pounds, but they could clean the sandbag. NFL gyms are full of machines. 

Isolation exercises and isometrics are particularly good for working around and preventing injuries.

Strength increases are generated, not during the workout, but during the recovery period afterwards. To allow supercompensation (strength gains), most people require a recovery period of 48-72 hours. If you are training hard every day, you do not get that opportunity to recover and this to supercompensate.

Arnold Schwartzenegger was rumoured to spend around 24 hours a week in the gym when he was training at his peak. Around four hours a day, six days a week. Mike Mentzer was a worthy rival for Arnold, and was able to achieve similar results with only ninety minutes a week in the gym due to smarter training protocols. Dorian Yates is another legendary bodybuilder who was able to achieve stellar results with reduced training volume. Minimum effective dose. Us the rest of the time for skill training on the mat. Or enjoying the full richness of life.

As Steve demonstrated, it is possible to achieve a high intensity, full body workout in 25-30 minutes using only a chin up bar and a Jiu Jitsu belt, and mostly isometrics with some calisthenics.


It is not difficult to overtrain if one is doing both Jiu Jitsu and strength training regularly. The best way to determine if you are overtrained is to use your resting heart rate.

To determine your normal resting heart rate, when you wake up, stay in bed and take your pulse rate for one minute. There are plenty of mobile device apps that can do this for you. If you have to get up to take a whizz or whatever, lie back in bed and stay there for ten minutes before measuring your heart rate.

Do this for seven days, and calculate your average resting heart rate from that.

Check it every morning. If you resting heart rate is more than five beats per minute over your average, you are overtrained. Avoid strenuous activity that day. Relax, walk don't run, do some light drilling or very light rolling if you go to the gym. Wait until your heart rate settles down to normal before doing another hard workout or hard rolling.

The BOLT (Body Oxygen Level Test) is another method to establish whether you are overtrained. From rest, breathe normally, exhale and cover your mouth and pinch your nose. Hold the exhale until you feel a strong urge to breathe. A string urge to breathe, not until you are about to pass out. Average the interval that you can hold the exhale over seven days.

Test yourself in the morning. If you get a low BOLT duration, you are overtrained. Take it easy that day.

Some people are genetically gifted in various dimensions, be it strength, endurance, physiology, body type, etc. It is a huge mistake to try to emulate the training methods of your genetic superiors.

Large amounts of "cardio" training are not necessary. Endurance is highly activity specific. A seasoned marathon runner unskilled in Jiu Jitsu will not fare any better than any other beginner. Your cardio will come from Jiu Jitsu. And proper high intensity strength training will elevate your heart rate and breathing as much as any other activity. Long sessions of running, swimming and the like only stress your joints unnecessarily. Spend that time rolling if you want ot work your Jiu Jitsu endurance.

Steve runs some, but only to keep up the skill of running into advanced age. And he runs at a pace which does not outstrip his breathing. Mostly he walks.

One of the benefits of Jiu Jitsu is that it can be adapted to almost any body type.

You should breath smoothly, inhaling through the nose, while exercising (and while doing Jiu Jitsu). Grunting, gasping, groaning are all indications of poor breathing patterns, emulating the Valsalva sync. Such breathing, particularly in the upper chest, emulates panic and dumps cortisol into the system. Work with weight and at a level which does not require you to breathe in such a fashion.

Keep a happy face, do not grimace. Smile. If you need more oxygen, do burst breathing, short breaths into the diaphragm.

A protocol and exercises for a short but intense predominantly isometric workout appears below.

Diet and Health

(Diet is a highly contentious subject. Steve's opinions occasionally conflict with various governmental guidelines and other dietary philosophies. Don't take any exception you take to any of this up with the writer, please)

Steve follows dietary principles detailed in a book called Toxemia Explained, by Dr John Tilden.

Dental health is important for overall health. Gum disease is an indication of dietary problems.

Briefly, it consists of food combining principles not dissimilar to the Gracie Diet. You should have fruit based meals, protein based meals, and starched based meals, not combining the food groups, especially not combining starches and protein in the same meal. Fruit and veg can be combined with most things. you can eat LOTS of fruit.

Weight control is largely a matter of calories. Caloric restriction is king for weight loss, burning fat through exercise does not work nearly as well and tires you out. Steve often cuts the starch down or out of his diet if he feels he is getting a little pudgy.

Indications of a good diet include:
  • You are trim and not fat
  • You do not get sick often
  • Teeth and gums are in good condition
  • You do not fart a lot, and when you do they are not obscenely stinky
  • No diarrhoea
  • No constipation
  • Clear skin
  • High energy levels
  • No bad breath
  • Healthy libido

If this isn't working, you may need to fast and/or experiment by eliminating certain foods from your diet for a while.

Steve fasts regularly. Just water. Do not train hard, and preferably do not work or travel, while fasting.

An overly acidic diet can lead to sore muscles and joints. It is possible to test your urine with litmus paper to check acidity.

Protein and other supplements, including multivitamins, are generally unnecessary. Human metabolism is not well enough understood to fully understand how the many various micronutrients in natural occurring foods work with the main vitamins and minerals appearing in various pills.

There is nothing wrong with moderate doses of tea or coffee. Steve prefers Yerba Mate to coffee.

A small amount of baking soda taken in water can decrease your sensitivity to carbon dioxide, and increase your ability to utilise oxygen and hold your breath.

Steve also advocates the occasional colonic irrigation.

Steve has some great information on breath and breathing drills, most of which he covered in early Sydney seminars - links below.

Example Strength Training Workout

Only equipment required is a chin up bar or similar, and a Jiu Jitsu belt. Exercises are mostly isometrics, with some calisthenics.

For isometric exercises, find a position around the midpoint of the movement you are trying to emulate. You will be exerting force for 90 seconds, as follows:

  • The first 30 seconds at 50% intensity
  • The next thirty seconds at 70% intensity
  • The final 30 seconds at 100% intensity. If you are working against the belt, try to break the belt. For the final 10 seconds of that last 30, give it everything you have left

For calisthenics like pushups or pull ups, You want to try to keep the muscular contraction going throughout the exercise, including the turnaround (changing from raising to lowering, and vice versa).  This means you do the exercise SLOWLY, maybe a four count down and a four count back up. Do not go to a dead hang for your pull ups or a lockout for pushups, keep tension on the muscle all the time.  No bouncing or ballistic movements. If you cannot do another rep, try to stop in the flexed position for as long as possible, and then lower yourself slowly. If you have not reached muscular failure after ninety seconds of sustained slow movements, find a way to make the exercise more difficult next time.


Pull ups - very slowly up and down. No dead hang at the bottom, keep tension on the muscles the whole time, Concentrate on maximum tension on the muscles of the upper back.

Stanley Tam, black belt from China and Steve's Qigong teacher, showing considerable strength in the pullups

Pushups - very slow, no lockout at the top, constant muscular contraction throughout the set.

Stan doing pushups

Wall squats - face the wall, as close as possible. Palms facing the wall. Try to go straight down and back up, slowly. Not lockout at the top, no rest at the bottom. Continuous muscular tension. Go to 90 seconds or failure.

Stan's wife Lulu (Tianmo Zhu) showing excellent form in the wall squat

Isometric Squat - Squat leaning against a wall so the thighs are approximately horizontal. Belt is wrapped around your waist, the ends placed under your feet so you cannot move upwards. Try to straighten up against the resistance of the belt - 30 seconds at 50% effort, another 30 seconds at 70% effort, the last 30 seconds 100% effort, try to break the belt. Last ten seconds, give it whatever you have left in the tank. Keep your head up, happy face regular breathing. Use the burst breathing if necessary in the final stages. This is a killer. Be careful standing up out of this position as your quads should be fried.

Isometric Squat by Stan

Isometric Zercher Deadlift - Tie the ends of the belt together so you have a big loop. Stand inside the belt with both feet on it. you are bent over, knees bent, raise your forearms and hold the belt in the crooks of your elbows. Take your feet further apart or close together to riase or lower the top of the belt loop. Back should be approximately horizontal. Try to raise up against the resistance of the belt, keep the back straight, head up, happy face, controlled breathing. The same 30-30-30 second protocol as for the Isometric Squat. This is a hingeing movement targeting the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. Be careful with your posture.

Isometric Zercher Deadlift. Apologies for photo quality. Stan is holding the belt in the crooks of his elbows.

Isometric Glute Raise - wrap the belt once around your waist from the back. Lie on your back and place the ends of the belt under your heels. The length of the belt should be short enough to stop you doing a complete bridge. Flex your toes toward your shins (dorsiflexion) so you are on your heels. Drive your heels into the mat and bridge up against the belt, clenching the glutes, with the same 30-30-30 protocol. Works well to correct gluteal amnesia and to develop a killer bridge and hip movement.

Lulu demonstrates the Isometric Glute Raise

Isometric Lateral Raise - belt under the feet, hands holding the belt so the arms point down about 45 degrees (though you could try other angles as well). Loop the belt around the hands so the grip is not the limiting factor. 30-30-30 protocol, happy face, control the breath.

Isometric Lateral Raise - could do front or rear as well

Isometric Guard Situp -  Lie on the floor with your butt up against the wall. Allow your legs to fall outwards. Sit up so your shoulders are off the floor and lift your torso, pushing with your palms against the wall. 30-30-30, happy face, breathe.

Other exercises are demonstrated below, each using the same 30-30-30 protocol, happy face, breathe.

Isometric Neck Extension on Sphinx posture. Stan is lying on his stomachwith his legs stretched out behind. You should try and push your elbows into the ground as well. If you don't have a partner, tie the belt around a suitable immovable object.

Isometric guard situp variation demonstrated by Tetsu. Elbows and knees together, try and lift hips and shoulders off the floor. Do not pull too hard on the neck and try and keep a good distance between chin and chest.

Isometric chin up hang. Go for time. Steve is keeping Lulu honest. If you can't hold it up any longer try to lower as slowly as possible. Good for the grip as well as the arms and back.

Isometric pushup

Another Isometric Guard Situp variation. Try to touch the wall, keep distance between chin and chest.

Isometric Seated Row

Isometric Overhead Press

Note that these are example exercises. you can make up your own. You can use door jambs, walls, or other immovable objects to provide isometric resistance. Steve has a video and ebook on his website ( if you need more exercise suggestions or more detailed info.

You do not have to and should not do all these exercise in one session. Choose one exercise using each of the five pillars mentioned above (push, pull, hinge, squat, rotate) and ancillary exercises. Include a horizontal and vertical push, and a horizontal and vertical pull. If you take each exercise to failure or use the 30-30-30 protocol, you should not need multiple exercises per body part, nor should you need multiple sets.

Your muscles should be exhausted and you should be breathing fairly hard if you put in the maximum effort here. This and Jiu Jitsu should be enough cardio for you. You should be able to complete quite a comprehensive and taxing workout in less than 30 minutes.

The 30-30-30 protocol for isometrics makes it almost impossible to injure yourself.

The only real issue with isometrics and partial movement is that they may shorten the muscle over time unless countermeasures are taken, so make sure you are doing a good amount of mobility work to off set this. Good joint health demands that you do that anyway.

The links below are to earlier seminars I took with Steve, in which he went onto much more detail about the practical rather than theoretical side of his systems. The breathing drills and philosophy in particular are indispensable. The 2015 seminar writeup is IMO the most informative, but I include the others as they do contain other valuable information.

Steve also has video of footage from the 2015 seminar and related footage available on his website,

Books mentioned by Steve in the seminar:

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Tales of a Grandmaster

An uninvolved person

Who am I? A twenty-eight year student of Sifu Rick Spain, who was for a while Grandmaster Cheung's highest ranked student. I achieved my tenth level / instructor credentials in 1995, while Rick was still aligned with GM Cheung's World Wing Chun Kung Fu Association (WWCKFA). GM Cheung's signature and Chops appear on my instructor certificate.

Rick and his students parted company with the GM Cheung and the WWCKFA in 1996. I was there and know EXACTLY what happened. Recently, Rick and GM Cheung reconciled on a personal level, though the two organisations remain separate.

I also trained with Sifu David Crook, who has taught his own Bac Fu Do (White Tiger) style of Kung Fu in Canberra, Australia for nearly fifty years. David was a student of Grandmaster Cheung in the late 1960s.

I have only met GM Cheung at seminars. My relationship was only that of a grandstudent living in a different city to him.

I hope my background will show that I am not coming at this as a hagiographer or hero worshipper. I have great respect for the man and his Kung Fu. Like all of us, he is an imperfect creation.

These are just stories I've been told. The people telling them to me had no incentive to lie or embellish them.

Why am I writing this? To hopefully clear up some misconceptions about GM Cheung, his fighting skills, and his style of Wing Chun. I try to relate stories exactly as they were told to me, and to avoid judgements or editorialising as far as humanly possible. My intention is to inform, not inflame.

Early Days in Australia

Grandmaster Cheung emigrated to Australia from Hong Kong in 1957. Several accounts, including one by Duncan Leung, have him fighting between four and ten sailors at once on the boat. This was the subject of newspaper articles. I recall seeing a description of the encounter by a Wing Chun stylist who was also a passenger on the fateful trip in a photocopied newspaper article on the web, but am unable to find it again.

I was told that this might not be as miraculous as it sounds as the narrow gangways of the craft made it difficult for anyone to outflank such a person, and that cramped quarters would suit a Wing Chun fighter. Be that as it may, this shows impressive fighting skill.

I started my martial arts career, such as it is, in 1977, with David Crook, who studied with William Cheung in the late 1960s. I remain friends and in contact with David to this day. He was and is right up there with the very best martial arts teachers I have encountered.

David told me on several occasions that in his opinion William Cheung was among the best fighters and martial artists he had ever seen. David witnessed the vanquishing of numerous challengers back in the day.

Upon witnessing a demonstration by a fourth dan karateka, William Cheung told everyone present that, "I could beat that ... blindfolded". He was called on it, a date for the fight was set, and he made good on his prediction. He took a beating on his legs and arms until the gap was closed, but once contact was made, touch reflexes took over, and the karateka meditated horizontally.

He ended up accepting a similar challenge from another karateka after making similar statements. This time GM Cheung did no special training, but the other guy trained like a demon. This time, hard work beat out talent.

David claimed that he had once tricked GM Cheung into throwing a sidekick which he was able to catch, and flipped the GM on his head, knocking him out. David was extremely worried about the ramifications of this but when GM Cheung came to he told David, "Good technique". David told me that he regarded this as nothing but a huge fluke, and that the other 999 times out of a thousand GM Cheung would be all over him like a swarm of fire ants.

He described the usual sparring experience as shaping up to the GM, then finding himself being propelled backwards and chased at high speed with his arms tightly crossed and pinned to his torso while his face and torso were peppered rapid fire with punches and palm strikes.

As an outspoken Asian in those times, GM Cheung found no shortage of big white guys who wanted to have a go at him in bars and other social venues. Not something he exactly shied away from. David recalls following GM Cheung into such a place and having the first challenger being propelled backwards out of the entrance door before David even reached it.

The Grandmaster was by many accounts a difficult man to work for. The list of those who trained with him for long periods and then parted ways, sometimes acrimoniously, presents a conflagration of burned bridges.

David Crook eventually felt the Grandmaster's wrath personally. David was a Nidan in Goju Ryu karate and a shodan in Japanese Jiu Jitsu before he decided to switch to Chinese arts. He felt the softer Kung Fu styles had more to offer, and were better suited to multi-opponent situations. He made no secret of the fact that he was studying with teachers of other Kung Fu styles like Choy Li Fut and Northern Sil Lum, as well as Wing Chun with William Cheung.

My understanding was the lack of exclusivity did not sit well with the Grandmaster. William Cheung showed up while David was performing a public demonstration, and started arguing with David and badmouthing his Kung Fu. That was the end of that association for a long time, though they buried the hatchet in the 1980s.

GM Cheung moved cities and opened his own, very successful, academy. He dispatched many challengers there, including another prominent Chinese Kung Fu instructor from that city who attacked him without warning.

His students fought many official kickboxing matches against students from Zen Do Kai karate, an organisation headed by the fine martial artist and actor Richard Norton and Bob Jones, and those of other organisations, including Sifu Jim Fung's students.

Rick Spain had over 100 amateur kickboxing matches and 37 pro fights. He retired from pro kickboxing undefeated after suffering a serious car accident involving significant damage to his ankle.

Rick and Joe Moahengi fought in the World Invitation Kung Fu Championship in Hong Kong, which had competitors from Britain, Europe, the US and all over SE Asia. Both won their respective weight divisions, Rick winning the final with a broken hand he had suffered in the penultimate match.

The matches were full contact with padded jackets and boxing head protection, and had few rules - elbows to the back of the head were just fine. They fought with weird gloves that offered about as much protection as regular bag gloves. The competition was not held again because the number of injuries suffered was the kiss of death for attaining any future sponsorship. This was not competition chi sao or point sparring.

There was plenty of underground interschool challenge fights and a plethora of street encounters as well, which seem to be obligatory. These guys were bouncers, bodyguards and fighters on every level, several of whom lived in the Kwoon 24/7 and trained like maniacs.

The picture I am trying to draw of GM Cheung is a man of proven high level fighting skill, who produced a considerable number of exemplary students whose fighting skills in the ring and on the pavement arena are beyond reproach. It is also fair to say that his outspokenness and uncompromising, confrontational nature resulted in many fights and much bad blood that could and should have been avoided.

And, derision for him and every one of his students and theirs, by some, ever since.

No one fights for real at the top of any fight game and wins all the time. If they are, they aren't facing real opposition. If you're beating up everyone in the Kwoon, find a harder Kwoon.

Cologne Incident 1986

If you do Wing Chun and haven't lived on another planet for over thirty years, you have heard about this. There are videos. I will say nothing more other than this was an incident from which no good came for Wing Chun as a whole.

A while after leaving the WT organisation, probably more than ten years after this incident, Emin Boztepe was interviewed in Blitz Australia magazine on a visit to this country. He claimed in that article that the attack was not his idea but was orchestrated by his seniors in the WT organisation. He was sent. He claimed it was nothing personal and that he did not regard William Cheung as an enemy.

New York Incident 1996

In, I think, 1996, Sifu Andrew Draheim of the WT organisation started posting derogatory statements about TWC and a number of its principals on the old Wing Chun Mailing List. He also set up a WT Kwoon in the same building where Victor Parlati, a TWC instructor aligned with GM Cheung, had already been running his Kwoon for some time. Victor complained that Draheim was also removing Victor's flyers from various notice boards, etc. around the place. Victor invited Draheim for a beer to see if they could come to some agreement without things turning ugly.

The war of words on the WCML, most of which I saw in real time, escalated. Draheim issues a challenge. Victor begged off due to recent surgery but said he would find someone else who could accommodate Draheim. After some toing and froing Draheim and Keith Mazza fought in Victor's gym. There is no video and the result was hotly debated. Draheim claimed victory, but also admitted he went to an ER after the fight, under his own steam, claimed to be due to symptoms of diabetes.

Both were thrown out of their building by the landlord and Victor was caught up in some legal issues as a result. The same may have been true of Andrew Draheim, I don't know.

Andrew Draheim later left the WT organisation and posted on Kung Fu Online, admitting that he, like Emin Boztepe, had been put up to these actions by his WT seniors. I respect him for making those statements.

Third and fourth incidents in the Ten Year Cycle, 2006 and 2016 ...

Did not occur!. The UFC starting in 1993, where skilled martial artists had fair full-contact fights in the cage, made challenges and kwoon-storming look stupid and immature, and most people started to come to their senses about the absurdity of such.


This has been done to death as well.

However, David Crook taught me in 1977 the Sil Lim Tao and part of the Chum Kil he had learned from William Cheung in the 1960s. He used the toes-in, character two stance, used by the preponderance of Yip Man lineages. Also the bon sao with the bent wrist. Chum Kil was like that performed by many other Yip Man lineages.

GM Cheung claimed that he only started to teach the formerly secret, Leung Bik, system in 1973 after the death of Yip Man.

Rick Spain, who started with GM Cheung in 1974, learned Sil Lim Tao with the feet parallel, the bon sao wrist straight, and the TWC-specific Chum Kil and Bil Jee forms pretty much as they are taught today and which he taught me in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Something happened around the early 1970s that caused GM Cheung to change things up. The story is certainly open to challenge, but this part of the timeline certainly fits.


When HFY was made visible to the world after the publication of Complete Wing Chun and the involvement of the Wing Chun Museum, many people remarked at the apparent similarities between the two arts. It was postulated that GM Cheung had perhaps spent time on the mainland having incurred the wrath of the Triads in Hong Kong due to some legally ambivalent activities there ... or perhaps just from being his usual outspoken and confrontational self to the wrong people.

HFY is a mainland style, and the timeframes we have allow for him to study HFY there for a considerable period.

So is there a link between HFY and TWC? I strongly doubt it because:

  • If it were so, the time that it was being discussed would have been the perfect time for GM Cheung to drop the Leung Bik story. There would arguably have been considerable advantages to William Cheung admitting the link, and explaining that he had concocted the other story due to legal concerns or family shame due to nefarious activities.
  • I met up with HFY's Alex Oropeza, known to some of you as duende on KFO, when he visited Sydney in about 2011. We had a great chat over coffee and compared forms and some technique. We were both convinced afterwards that there are major differences and the two styles have little more than a few, largely superficial, details in common.

Does it Matter Any More? After Three Decades?

Since parting ways with GM Cheung in 1996, Rick Spain has gone on to become a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Kyokushin karate black belt. The student body, past and present, include IKBF world kickboxing champion and successful pro MMA fighter Nick "Whiplash" Ariel, and successful international pro MMA fighters Ethan Duniam and Rhiannon Thompson, among others.

Earlier successes include Maurice Llewellyn and Jon Church as nationally ranked kickboxers and state champions.

Even I have diversified and hold a black belt first degree in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Even if TWC were utter rubbish (which it isn't), I'm quite happy with that to fall back on in a, um, "real fight".

We've moved on from a single "fight" lost over thirty years ago. Hopefully other people can too.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Wing Chun - Tradition and Innovation

Hoping to meet you on that higher evolutionary plane in 2018

Sometime around 1980:

Rick was sweeping the floor of the Wing Chun Academy hall. He lived in the Academy in the role of what the Japanese call an Uchi-deshi. He trained, ate, slept and lived in and for the Academy and Wing Chun.

Sifu entered the hall. He took up a position where Rick could see him, and began to execute the Sil Lim Tao form. Rick knew better than to stop work and watch, but he certainly kept sweeping and watched.

This version of Sil Lim Tao used different stances. And footwork. Plenty of footwork. Lots of footwork.

Sifu completed his form, and left the hall, not speaking to Rick or even meeting his eyes.

Rick, once he had picked his metaphorical jaw off the floor, kept sweeping but made sure he filed that away in his internal dashcam memory. If he had the facility to upload a backup of the last five minutes of his brain activity to the cloud, had the cloud then existed, he would have done that for sure.

True story.

The danger with adhering too closely with tradition and following exclusively what your Sifu instructs and demonstrates is that your copy of his Wing Chun will necessarily imperfect, as we are all imperfect creations.

Following this path down the generations would be like taking a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of a ... of the Mona Lisa. Before too many generations pass, you've turned a priceless artefact into something only suitable for the trash.

On the other hand, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. You have to understand the rules before you can break them. Where is the right place, where we are surfing right down the dividing line between Yin and Yang?

I move from the Japanese concept of an Uchi-deshi to that of Shu Ha Ri.

From Wikipedia:

Aikido master Endō Seishirō shihan stated:
"It is known that, when we learn or train in something, we pass through the stages of shuha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows. In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws."[1]

In other references, I've seen right duration of each stage as being of around ten years. Around the average time you'll have been teaching Wing Chun for at least a few years, or to reach a black belt level in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

So after about ten years, according to this philosophy, you can and you should start experimenting with the rules, and seeking new sources of learning and information to bring back to you practice.

I always teach students the Wing Chun forms as close as I can to what I have been shown by my own instructor to the best of my ability.

However, that same instructor has always encouraged his more advanced students, including myself, to experiment and become creative with the stances, footwork, movements, sequences, etc. of the forms, generally following some well researched mechanisms for creative problem solving.

He naturally had developed ideas of his own, some based on pivotal past events like that in the introduction, which he shared with us.

I now see the three forms, not only as a manifestation into the physical world of the Wing Chun concepts and principles, and a vocabulary of techniques, but as frameworks on which to experiment with new ideas and make Kung Fu my own.

 (yes, three forms, we used to have four but now only three - the first now includes elements of both the former first and second).

Eventually leading to a fully integrated synthesis of the best the Wing Chun tradition has to offer, with personal insights and those that can only come with changing times and circumstances. Or so I hope - there's still a fair way to go ☺.

Followers of Dr Jordan B Peterson's work will be familiar with the myth of Horus and Osiris.

Osiris (tradition, old, and wilfully blind) is beaten down into fragments and sent to the Underworld by his brother, Set. Isis, Osiris' wife, follows him and finds the reproductive part of him, thus conceiving and giving birth to Horus (Innovation, nature, the Zeitgeist, paying attention).

Horus has a titanic battle with Set, during which he loses and eye. After defeating Set, he ventures into the Underworld to rescue his father, and recover his lost eye. Rather than replace his eye, he gives it to his father and they return to the World, ruling together, Tradition with its sight restored by Innovation.

The Eye of Horus. This is deep.

Tradition and innovation. In my opinion, we and Wing Chun need both and will not survive otherwise.