Saturday, May 23, 2009

My Introduction to San Soo

I've been a little lax in posting here lately because I've been back and forth between Memphis and Nashville the whole month of May, but I'm back home for good now. While I was in Nashville, I had the pleasure of attending a Kung Fu San Soo class after being invited by an old college friend of mine (Thanks Mason!). I was highly eager to participate in this class because (a) it's something new and (b) many of the techniques and advanced level kata in my style are Kung Fu-influenced.

I've been to many different martial arts schools in many different styles, but this particular school made an outstanding (that's an understatement) impression on me. First off, the class was held in a small room at a downtown Nashville church, which right off let me know that this is far from being a commercial "McDojo." I was greeted by a couple of students, Tony and Gaby (forgive me if I'm misspelling Gaby!), as the instructor hadn't arrived yet. Those two confirm what my friend Mason had already told me about their instructor, which I'll get to later. After shooting the breeze with them and Mason, a few minutes later Master Chuck Cory (or "Master Chuck "as his students called him) showed up along with a young lady (whom I assume was his wife) and Kenneth, one of his assistant instructors. Just like Tony and Gaby, they were very cordial and seemed genuinely pleased that I decided to join them in class. That made a great first impression since I've seen many instances in which I've seen people to prejudice visitors to their class, especially those with a black belt in another style like me. At first glance, Chuck reminded me a lot of my original instructor: not a imposing man (a tad shorter than me, I'm about 5'8"), probably in his late 50's or early 60's, has the obvious physical limitations that a typical man his age would have, and probably one of the most both knowledgeable and humble people I've ever met.

Before we got down to some action, Tony and Mason had a few questions for Master Chuck, and just like Mason told me before, he had a highly detailed answer for each and every question they had...I suppose when you've trained under the man who is credited for inventing San Soo (Grandmaster Jimmy Woo), you're probably going to know what you're talking about...and just like Tony told me, Chuck looks more like a banker than a martial arts instructor. Afterwards, we began class by going over a form. Going through this form quickly dispelled a couple of myths that I've heard since I started training: (a) Kung Fu is a flashy art, mainly because all of the big and circular movements, and (b) in my style, we typically don't get into the kung fu techniques until black belt level; many of the techniques we practiced are seen as early as white belt.

At any rate, we then warmed up a bit more by moving into a self-defense drill that's similar to one-step sparring; a couple of exceptions is that we were in groups of up to 3 or 4 people and one person attack at a time, and the attacking person doesn't assume a stance...they simply come at you with a straight punch toward the face and the defending person basically does whatever they want to them, and believe me, I didn't see a single sport technique. Everything was straight to the point in an attempt to end the confrontation (with control, of course, for safety reasons), and any target on the body was fair game. As you can imagine, there were plenty of eye, throat and groin strikes in addition to the back and the spine. I actually had plenty of fun working this drill, especially working with so many different body types. To give you an idea, I myself am about 5'8" 215 lbs.; Mason's about the same height but about 20-30 lbs lighter and more muscular; Gaby is a somewhat petite young lady; both Tony and Kenneth are some BIG guys (both about 6'3" and well over 260 lbs.) but VERY nimble. The beauty in that is that you find out really quick which techniques can work with different body types. At one point Mason wore a body shield to allow us to deliver full-power strikes to his body (that was fun!).

Later on, we drilled a simple defense technique against a street-style front kick. Before I we even began working on it, I saw some pure genius in this technique because:
(a) As martial artists, we tend to work on defending against other martial arts techniques instead of street techniques. A street brawler is likely not going to throw a perfectly chambered front kick leading with the ball of the foot, so it makes sense to work on defending what you're most likely to see on the street.
(b) The actual defense was plain common sense: if someone is trying to strike you, move the hell out of the way!

Throughout the entire class, Master Chuck sat back and observed everyone. The genius of his teaching is that he allowed us to make mistakes and learn from them instead of trying to correct every little thing. He gave me a few common sense pointers on my stance (since I've been concentrating on point sparring lately, my stance is naturally a little wider than normal) and the importance of pivoting instead of stepping. He showed me things in a way that made it seem natural instead of making seem like I was doing something wrong (which he practically admitted that I wasn't really doing anything wrong, but there just was a more efficient way to do things.) After drilling for a while longer, we ended class with a salute to each other and left.

After class, Mason and I were talking with Master Chuck, and he gave me an outstanding compliment by saying that a good student is simply a reflection of a good instructor, and he was impressed with how I as an outsider was able to come in and work with them like I've done it before. That comment made me immediately think back to my original instructor (Master Bill Miller), my longtime instructor (Master Sarah Hatgas), my weapons instructor (Master Mike Slack), my current instructor (Master Rev. Marcus Relliford), and my chief instructor/creator of the PaSaRyu style (Master Kang Rhee). After talking and working with his students, I can honestly say the same of Master Chuck. Even at the green belt level which is considered a beginning level in many styles, Gaby was very well schooled and refined.

Even though I've made somewhat of an attempt to do so, words can not begin to describe the great respect and admiration I have for Master Chuck and his students that I worked with in this class, and hopefully I will get to work with them more in the future.

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