The first time I met Jim he was teaching at Woo Ching White Crane. I reached out to him because I am developing a Chinese Grappling course which I am going to offer in the Summer at Josiah Quincy which will focus primarily on the 10 animals as concepts, games like push hands and wrestling, some situation drills for self defense, meditative poses and techniques.
I knew that teaching this course, I would inevitably be asked about Brazilian Jujitsu and/or MMA, and I had seen on Facebook that not only had Six-Tiger been doing Jujitsu for a while, but he had also put up some instructional videos (which I can't find on You tube at the moment) that showed real world application with his work as a paramedic. The idea that you or your students can "roll" full force without the participants getting hurt of injured really appeals to me, but I really dislike when Kung Fu is denigrated so I wanted to see if the perhaps you could take some concepts from Jujitsu and put it into Kung Fu. After all, the techniques of Jujitsu themselves, according to stuff you read online, originated in China. This is why I first wanted to approach a jujitsu practitioner who also had done Kung Fu and had real world experience implementing those techniques, and who knew where I would be coming from.
At the end of it I realized that a) rolling and doing Jujitsu like things is pretty fun but that b) It's a complicated art form. So although I picked up a few things, my class over the summer will definitely be relying on push hands, positioning, and indicating strikes, rather than submissions. But I may take up Jujitsu or MMA or other Martial Arts or combat sports in the future. I think rather than detracting from what I have already learned, they will inspire more understanding and creativity.
Since this is the Chinatown blog I also wanted to share Jim's Chinatown story, part of which I already knew but not in great detail.
Jim was born in North Carolina and when he moved up North to live in West Roxbury, in the projects he had a difficult time. Essentially Jim had been fighting from early childhood all the way to adulthood. As a child he was taught to turn the other cheek which in many ways contributed to him being a victim.
When he moved up North he decided he would no longer be a victim and began fighting back. He was a target because he was not from the city, an outsider. At some point he started winning his fights and became more interested in martial arts. (He had been forced to take Karate as a child but does not count that as part of his training.) He learned Taekwondo at Roslindale scale but having seen so many Kung Fu movies he really wanted to get into that martial Art. But as a tall African American male he also knew that he could look threatening and might not be accepted. He did not feel welcomed at many schools and also had some prejudices of his own.
"I'll put it down to being young and being ignorant. "Jim said, "I thought that in order to learn Chinese Kung Fu, you had to learn from a Chinese man." He had spoken with a white Sifu and felt welcomed at that school, but wanted to check out one more school before accepting. He said that because of that, he always felt a little guilty when he saw the white Sifu later on because in a way, he had judged him by his race.
In the end he joined Woo Ching White Crane (where I also joined and studied and even lived)
"I thought that there was no way that Sifu was going to accept me anyway so when asked through translation why I wanted to learn I thought.. should I lie? Should I say I am seeking enlightenment? But I thought.. no I'll just tell the truth. Tell him that I want to look better while kicking someone's ass."
Sifu laughed at that.
There was a tea ceremony that came next.
"I was like "oooo I've seen this in the movies." I figured they thought I was going to do the wrong thing. But when I poured tea for Sifu, the looked at me surprised. Yeah! Kung Fu Movies helped!"
At some point Jim had a falling out with the school which we talked about awkwardly because well, as Jim said, "I know.. you were there."
I am a blogger, but I am also, full disclosure, more or less Woo Ching's disciple. And even though I had my own growing apart with my Kung Fu family and even had to make a public statement on the blog to clarify this...spiritually Woo Ching and I are very much one family. I will not say cut from the same cloth because unlike my Sifu, I am not a true fighter. Whether that is from environment or something you just have to be born with... I'm not sure. But also being from the projects I feel it is important not to "front" and pretend to be someone I am not. Yes, when it comes down to it, I can fight. That doesn't make me a fighter.
To get back to the post, I will gloss over this section.
Jim left the school and later joined up with Lee Sifu, who at one point had also shared a space at the Tai Tung school. Later there was also a falling out here as well. Much of which from my perspective seems to be from a language and cultural barrier. But there are examples of these "Game Of Thrones" as Jim put it, in all sorts of organizations even when everyone is of the same culture and speaking the same language.
For Jim the whole time he was in Chinatown, from the beginning, he wanted to be accepted. And to be accepted he said that he would try his best to act Chinese and even identified himself as Chinese in the way he thought and did things, and sometimes "to the denigration of my own soul." Jim said.
Inevitably while showing me the rear naked choke, I asked Jim what he thought about Eric Garner. I am the one that brought up race. Some Martial Artists online think that race has no place in Martial Arts. Not only do I beg to differ, but if you look at the history of Kung Fu, a lot of the movements surrounding martial arts, from the Tai Ping Rebellion, to the Boxer Rebellion, and even the more successful Republic of China and arguably the Communist Revolution (which suppressed some forms of Kung Fu but came to embrace and promote others) involved at least cultural identity if not racial and nationalist or political identity.
Even without looking at China and instead looking at Chinatown, you can see a strong relationship between Kung Fu and the Chinese Americans need to band together and get stronger so as not to be bullied by white people.
We went out to eat and continued our conversation at Spicy World.
I asked him what he thought about the changes in Chinatown that he has seen.
"Well some things are good but there are bad things that are caused by gentrification. Basically Downtown is swallowing Chinatown up and you have the South End swallowing it up on the other side. I don't think that Chinatown will be around in 50 years."
But as we talked more about broader issues of racial tensions in the country and the upcoming election I brought up that in many ways, Chinatown is the dream that a lot of leaders like Malcom X and the Black Panthers were searching for. I then recanted a bit and said that, of course now that the land has become valuable it can be taken back.
"But they still have that money" Jim argued, "and they can take that down to New Chinatown" Six-Tiger was talking about Quincy. Essentially Jim was saying that as long as the Chinese worked together, even if Chinatown disappeared some form of it always pops up again somehow. Through our conversation he argued that if the African American community, the African Americans that have been here for 400 years, could learn to do what the Chinese or what the Afro-Caribbean Americans are able to do with community and business, that could make a huge difference. But the reason why the newcomers are able to do this is because they have not been beaten down by a victim mentality. They come over here ready to go with none of that baggage holding them back.
Jim's Kung Fu and perspective helped me a lot for the plans I have with the community both in Chinatown and out. I hope to continue to learn from and gain support Six-Tiger and other Kung Fu and Martial Arts to help bring my own dreams to fruition.