Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Teacher's Unique Insight - It's Gold

"When did Sijo DeMile say that? "When did Sijo show you that?" "I've never seen that!
These expressions of incredulity were understandable and easily answered.

Creative people never stop creating. They are always thinking - whether in research groups, one on one with a mentor or student, while shopping during dinner at a restaurant or at a friend's apartment, waiting for phone call from Hong Kong.

Sijo tells many stories about conversing with Bruce, late at night, about the concepts, philosophy and application of martial technique. Such conversations - experienced one on one generated insights unique to those special moments. Here is one such incident that gave me a unique insight.

During my 1997 visit to the Shoreline school in Seattle, there happened a truly priceless occurrence. It was day four of the week long camp. The evening's training session had ended and along with my friend Mark, I was reviewing the day's lesson on a closing the gap technique called gai bo. Sijo was sitting in a chair near the wall and our practice caught his attention. At that moment, he had what I now believe to be a spontaneous realization concerning a subtle modification of the technique. He rose from the chair and came over to where we were working. He said, "Try not stepping so far out." He then demonstrated a narrow angular step and shot a bui jee straight at my head, totally disrupting my base. I tried it a few times and suspected that it would become my personal expression of gai bo. When I returned home, I performed it while training with my fellow Instructors-in-Training, they were confused and a little incredulous, saying that they had never seen Sijo teach the technique in that way.

The point is, triggered by my difficulty performing a technique, Sijo was spontaneously inspired to create a modification tailored personally for me. How lucky to be in that place, at that time, to receive a nugget of true gold. Even better, many of my students have also benefited by my experience. Thank you Sijo!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sijo appearing on Seattle morning show about his seminar in July 2015.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Thanks to Sijo James DeMile - Celebrating the Day

Having trained in Wing Chun Do for two years with Jim Clark, I wore a Blue sash. I was equal to a good orange sash today. I was a motivated student and eager to get to brown sash which was all I could expect, as Sifu Clark had explained that he was not authorized to certify Black Sash. Only Sijo could certify a black sash.

Then, one day Sifu announced that Sijo James W. DeMile was coming to visit. This was the first time that I was given to realize that I could have direct contact with “the man” and further, that I could correspond with him and own his books. Sijo was coming to review the troops and teach a seminar. From the first day of his visit I realized that, under Sifu Clark’s tutelage, it was as if I had been exposed to the wonders of our solar system, whereas, under Sijo DeMile, an entire universe was opened up to me. I knew that if I was to fulfill my ambition to learn the system and become a teacher, there was only one way to do it. I had to study with Sijo DeMile.

The next year, having achieved a brown sash under Sifu Clark, along with ten other upper rank students, I joined the very first formal Wing Chun Do Instructor Training Program and, in a little over three years, nine of us were certified. I immediately began teaching and over the last 27 years, under the tutelage of Sijo DeMile, have honed that craft to a razor’s edge.

Through Sijo I was exposed to and learned from martial art celebrities from around the world. My understanding of his stature was cemented early on when I observed that they treated him as the celebrity. What’s more, because I was part of his organization, I was accorded commensurate respect.

Year after year, whether in the early days at Jim Clark’s club, traveling the country in support of Sijo, during my many visits to his homes in Seattle, Hawaii, and Oregon, or during his many visits to Ambrose Academy I can honestly say that every time I interact with Sijo DeMile I absorb something new, be it a nuance of his physical application, a deeper understanding of a key concept or an innovative way of presenting a technique.

As the years have passed, many of my contemporaries have moved on from the martial arts, or to other disciplines, looking for answers to life’s important questions – each seeking to fulfill his destiny. I’ve found those answers and my destiny in Wing Chun Do.

Sijo DeMile has been called the most intelligent martial art master of our time and I am proud to have earned his trust, respect and friendship.  

Thank you Sijo James W. DeMile and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

Celebrating the day! Rocco

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wing Chun Do and You - Making Your Art Your Own

Wing Chun Do and You

Recently, I tested a student (let’s call him Fred) into his brown sash. During the test, he repeatedly voiced uncertainty about his ability to perform, at a master level, every drill on his requirement list. I chose this time to discuss his Tool Pouch submission.  

It is important, at this point, to talk about the history of Wing Chun Do. Ever since I’ve known Sijo DeMile, he has been conflicted regarding the nature of the system – that being a Martial Art vs. a Self-defense system. On the one hand, there is the science, logic and orderly method of the Wing Chun Do martial art. It contains a large body of drills and exercises designed to inspire and develop self-mastery. Many are intended not for practical application but as attribute builders. On the other hand is the indisputable effectiveness of the core self-defense techniques which, by themselves, provide the individual with solid personal protection.

Back to the test – Fred’s tool pouch sheet was sparse. It seemed to me to be lacking many of the techniques and concepts that I knew were integral to making Fred the great fighter I know him to be. I queried, “What about biu jee?” “What about sole kick?” What about the dark side?” etc. He replied, “I’m already good at those things. They’re part of me. I didn’t think I had to put them down on the list. I thought I’d put down the things I’m working toward perfecting.”

Here we must revisit the intended purpose of the tool pouch. The tool pouch is designed to produce maximum results from your valuable training time. The concept is to establish a minimal number of techniques which, when mastered, will be sufficient to handle 99% of the possible self-defense situations in which you may find yourself. Success does not rely merely on the number of techniques in your arsenal. After all, mastering a large number could take a lifetime.  Rather, it is the number of techniques mastered which will save your life on the street. Plus, the more techniques to choose from, the more decisions to be made. On the street this is dangerous. If you have to choose between technique A or B by the time you get to the word or you’re too late.

Back to Fred – with this reminder, together, we reformulated his tool pouch form until we were both satisfied.  I explained that there was a difference between Wing Chun Do and the student. I pointed to the green sash requirement list and said, “This is Wing Chun Do. This is a list of drills, exercises and attribute builders, many of which are not necessarily designed for practical application. Rather, they are designed to enhance one’s ability to defend oneself.” I then pointed to his tool pouch and said, “This is Fred. This is Fred’s personal expression of self-defense. It reflects Fred’s natural abilities.” I explained further that Wing Chun Do doesn’t win the fight. Being proficient at the drills and exercises on the page doesn’t win the fight, though they are definitely instrumental in refining and fine tuning the practitioner. What will win the fight, however, is the ability of the individual to perform, with mastery, the elements contained in his/her tool pouch. Holding up the curriculum I said, “This is Wing Chun Do. This is desirable. Fred is pretty good at this. Then, holding up his Tool Pouch, I said, “This is Fred. This is essential. Fred is excellent at this.”

Fred went on to test admirably and performed masterfully on the applied self-defense portion of his test. He said that our interaction that day significantly changed his paradigm. I believe that it relieved the pressure that many students feel to be perfect at everything. So to all students I say, “Don’t let perfection stand in the way of excellence!”

Friday, May 2, 2014

Wing Chun Do - The Secondary is of Primary Importance

The Secondary is of Primary Importance

In the Wing Chun Do gung fu system we employ a primary – secondary training method.  This means that each participant in the drill has a distinct role to play and that the success of the learning process is dependent upon each one understanding his role and performing his function correctly. The role of the primary is self explanatory – to learn to apply technique correctly in the shortest time possible. The role of the secondary is a bit more complicated, as essentially, he/she takes on the role of personal trainer.

First, the secondary must understand the technique being trained. This means understanding every aspect of the technique, including all of the physical elements as well as the concepts that facilitate effective application. Without this knowledge, the secondary cannot provide the correct physical stimulus or give quality feed regarding the primary’s performance.

Next, the secondary must be fully attentive to the performance of the primary in order to give consistent feedback during the learning/training process. This is essential to the goal of minimizing mistakes during the learning process. The point to practice is to perform perfect repetitions, creating the correct neuro-muscular pathways in the brain, so that the subconscious mind can assume responsibility for performance of technique.  To facilitate this, an effective secondary is dedicated to insuring that the primary performs the fewest incorrect repetitions during training.

The third guideline for a good secondary is to perform at the speed and dynamic appropriate for the primary. In other words, if he/she is working with a white sash student, the secondary should work at a speed and power level which allows the primary to think through the performance of technique so that he may be conscious of the correctness of his application. When working with a more advanced student, his responsibility is to be more challenging.

Finally, in order to prepare the primary for the reality of the street, the secondary needs to understand and develop a level of proficiency at techniques other than those taught within his style, even though they are not specifically applied within the curriculum of his particular martial art. This is especially true if one’s art specializes in a narrow body of technique. In other words, if one is a boxer, specializing in hand technique and never training for the possibility of defending against a kicker, he is apt to have trouble with a proficient kicker. If one trains only in grappling, he may have difficulty against a proficient striker. In other words, one should train to deal with the common/customary techniques of the day. At this time, the common mode of fighting is heavily influenced by MMA, consisting primarily in boxing, muay thai, and shooting to the takedown.

In conclusion, the reality of the situation is, due to their depth of understanding, the best secondaries are the best primaries and by extension, the most popular training partners. Good secondaries strengthen the school and make Sigung very happy.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Loosen Up! Base Mobility in Wing Chun Do

Loosen Up!

“You’re too stiff. If your base was better you wouldn’t be so stiff.” That was Sijo’s response when I asked in frustration, “Why can’t I stop them from hitting me?” Confused, I thought to myself, “What does my base have to do with the fact that I am so stiff?” Now I know what a silly question that was.

It was years ago (around 1987). And I was in Seattle working with my IIT brothers (Instructors In Training). I was getting really frustrated. Every time I engaged my opponent/partner, especially in chi sao, I was getting rocked and knocked off balance. It seemed that everyone around me was bigger and stronger than I was and that it seemed that I just couldn’t compete. Part of the problem was a misconception about ‘natural closed positions’. I thought that a firm enough bridge combined with superior position should be sufficient to shut out any and all strikes. You see, we all (IITs) were still in the process of divesting ourselves of the legacy of Jim Clark, our original instructor. Sifu Clark was a real tool, a hammer to be exact. And you know what they say, “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” He was the kind of guy that could just pound an opponent into the ground by sheer will, power and aggression. His answer to every problem was, “Hit him harder! You’re too weak! You eat too much red meat!” and of course, “Didn’t your mother have any kid’s that lived?” All I gleaned from this was that if a technique wasn’t working, you must not be doing it hard enough. But now I must try to understand Sijo’s approach to the problem. Maybe there was hope for me yet.

The problem was that my stance, while being a great closed bi jong, it was just that – a stance – and standing still is never a good idea. I was attempting to stand toe-to-toe with people more powerful than myself and compete, using force against force. As my base was getting rocked I would panic, becoming kinetic, trying not to get hit. But my rigidity only gave my opponent more access to my base. The worse the base – the more kinetic, the more kinetic – the worse the base, it’s the very definition of a vicious cycle. The end result – I was getting clobbered.

Then in desperation I began to use my brain. After a good deal of reflection and analysis, I had an epiphany. If I wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time I couldn’t be hit. I reasoned that if I could sufficiently develop my intuitive response, I could anticipate the opponent’s attack and just move out of the way. This was the moment I began to develop my concept of “listening” spring load. I determined to make my arms sensitive to the point that I could sense the opponent’s intention to strike, not as the strike began, but rather, at the moment that he made the conscious determination that he was ready to attack. What a concept – if you’re not there, you can’t be hit! With this new sense of mobility added to my tool pouch, the old vicious cycle was broken. As I perceived my opponent’s “readiness”, I simply took a negative close and, voi la, I didn’t get hit. I wasn’t capable of countering but at least I didn’t get hit. “Whew!” I guess counter-attack would have to wait for another day.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sijo James DeMile Coming to Michigan - Celebrating Sibok's 25th Anniversary

My mentor and dear friend is coming to Michigan to help me celebrate a momentous milestone in my life professional and personally.  He does this even though his back is not 100 percent and the trip will be arduous one for someone in his condition.  He honors me.  I feel so grateful that he has chosen to make the trip here.  I am celebrating 25 years in business and as a certified instructor in Wing Chun Do.

Liz and I wanted to celebrate our anniversary and show our thanks to all our students, family, friends that supported us throughout the years. We planned events throughout the month of November as part of the celebrations. We asked Sijo for a letter or video that we could play for our students. Instead of a letter or video, Sijo decided to come in person. The fact that Sijo is coming to celebrate this event makes it so much more special and an exciting turn of events.  I cannot express my gratitude to him enough, knowing that  his last visit to Michigan was supposed to be his last.

He also will honor us by conducting two seminars, although the seminars will be shorten to accommodate his back condition and that he is in Michigan for such a short time. (flying in Friday, flying out Sunday).

Developmental Meditation on Friday night - start time will be 6:30 or 7:00 pm (not yet finalize the start time - stay tuned.) Cost $30.

Saturday Seminar - Wing Chun Do start time 11:30 am to 2:00 pm. Cost $60.
The first ten pre-paid registrations to both seminars are invited to the Potluck Anniversary celebration Saturday evening.  More information call 734-422-4420 or email:

I truly believe this will be the last time he will travel to Michigan.  If we ever want to train with him again it will be on his home turf. So here is an opportunity to say hello to a good friend and mentor, a person that has played a pivotal role in so many lives, for present and  former Ambrose Academy students or Wing Chun Do students to train with him in person one last time, for Bruce Lee enthusiasts to meet one of the originals from the Seattle period while he is here in the Midwest.


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