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From A Platform Judge’s Point of View: An Interview with Mark Lorenzo About Sanda

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Photo by Melanie Law.

FROM A PLATFORM JUDGE’S POINT OF VIEW: AN INTERVIEW WITH MARK LORENZO ABOUT SANDA

By: Matthew Lee

Written October 29th, 2017

“The interview talks about the nuances of Sanda competition, and clarifies some misconceptions about it.” —Quote taken directly from the write-up

Abstract: The following is an interview with a nationally (US) certified platform judge, Mark Lorenzo, for Sanshou/Sanda, under USAWKF (United States of America Wushu Kungfu Federation) modern Wushu competitions.  It is sad to see that there are still various misconceptions and misunderstandings about Sanda as a competition event under the modern Wushu umbrella.  The interview also goes into Mark Lorenzo’s personal experiences in full-contact fighting to shed some light on the practice of Sanda.  The goal of this interview is to help promote better understanding of Sanda.

Siheng (师兄; shīxiōng, senior male student of a Chinese martial arts school) Mark Lorenzo started out with Taekwondo, before coming to Goh’s Kung Fu, the headquarters of the USAWKF (United States of America Wushu Kungfu Federation) the national governing organizational body for national level US Wushu competition, to learn from Sifu Anthony Goh, what is called Northern Shaolin (北少林; běishàolín), which traces its curriculum back to the Nanjing Central Guoshu Institute (南京中央国术馆;Nánjīngzhōngyāngguóshùguǎn) established in the Republican era of China.  He has also trained in boxing under Coach Robert Crawford of Crawford Training and Fitness, who has coached Olympic boxers, and has in turn trained in Jeet Kune Do (截拳道; jiéquándào, the Way of the Intercepting Fist) under Bruce Lee’s first student Jesse Glover, and BJJ (Brazilian jujutsu) from Rickson Gracie before it was popular.  Siheng Mark was a champion in his weight division at the 2015 US International Kuo Shu Championship Tournament lei tai (擂台; lèitái, traditional Chinese martial arts full-contact fighting, literally “raised platform”) fights, and went on to represent the US Kuo Shu Team in lei tai at the 5th World Kuo Shu Championship Tournament that same year.  Most recently, he is also a gold medalist in Sanda this year at the ICMAC (International Chinese Martial Arts Championship) circuit, which has various tournaments throughout the US.  In his free time, he is also the vocalist for the local metal band Serpents of Secrecy in Baltimore, Maryland.  But more relevantly, he is a nationally certified judge in (散手; sànshǒu, free hand), also known as Sanda (散打; sàndǎ, free fighting) under the USAWKF.

From the words of my college’s Wushu club’s traditional Chen Style Taijiquan instructor Mac Colestock of Wulin Institute, Mark is someone “who can tear your arm off and still be genuine about it at the same time.”  Indeed, I saw for myself at the 2015 US International Kuo Shu Championship Tournament, that Siheng Mark carried himself as someone who was polite and cordial, yet at the same time fought with such an aggressiveness and ferocity that was scary to watch.  Much like Coach Ian (Yiyuan) Lee, coach of the national US Wushu Sanshou Team, he is a staunch supporter of practicality and directness, with no tolerance for the esotericism, mysticism and “magic” demonstrations that have so pervaded the practice of traditional Chinese martial arts.  On October 22nd, 2016, I was invited to participate in one of Goh’s Kung Fu’s publicly hosted events at its school, called Goh’s Kung Fu Fall Fun Day, where Siheng Mark hosted a friendly sparring session between traditional kung fu schools, and gave a walkthrough of the refereeing of Sanda, clarifying some misconceptions about the competition event.  Since that day, I had played with the idea of doing an interview with Siheng Mark with these explanations in my head, as I felt they helped to promote better understanding of Sanda competition under the modern Wushu umbrella.  After over a year, I finally got a chance to do it on October 26th, 2017, where I sat down with Siheng Mark at Goh’s Kung Fu to ask him some questions about Sanda.  For those that have the “tl;dr” (too long; didn’t read) reaction, you can just go ahead and watch my video interview here, as it covers the following transcript I have of this interview (though this may be useful both for the hard of hearing, as well as clarifying any words said due to audio issues in the video):

Previously, I wrote about Sanda in multiple write-ups on Jiayoowushu.com, stating that takedowns are the biggest point gainers, making the other skill sets secondary in the game, resulting in a serious lack of solid boxing and kickboxing skills, turning Chinese Sanda athletes into sloppy wrestlers with added gloves, flicking kicks and wild haymakers.  However, after having first made those observations, Sanda competition has since changed with notable differences in the last couple years, and Siheng Mark’s explanations have in a way both addressed these, as well the criticisms I previously posed towards Sanda in my older write-ups.  The interview talks about the nuances of Sanda competition, and clarifies some misconceptions about it.  So without further ado, here is the interview!

Interview

Q: Siheng Mark, thank you again so much for doing this!

A: Thanks for having me!

Q: So, let’s get started with the first and most basic question for those that don’t know.  What is Sanshou/Sanda?

A: Sanda, is something that I didn’t know what it was when I first started.  I was into kickboxing, early UFCs (Ultimate Fighting Championship), I started at Goh’s Kung Fu in 1998, and that was kind of my first introduction.  Cung Le was a big star pre-UFC era and Strikeforce, and it was just very exciting.  I had done Taekwondo sparring, but the limitations of no leg kicks, punches to the head, throws—these things, once I saw that Sanda/Sanshou had that, I was so excited.  So basically, it’s taken from a lot of the movements and techniques throughout kung fu systems and finding things that are practical, that we can use in a competition level.  Of course, there’s a risk of injury, but we’re not doing things like eye gouges and breaking arms and stuff like that, so we can compete, but it is very applicable, generally simple, direct striking and throwing.  Nothing too complex or flowery.  So that’s what it is.  Chinese kickboxing is what you’ll hear it called by many people who just don’t know anything better, you know, I think that’s a fine name for it too.

Q: So, you just pointed that it’s been defined as Chinese kickboxing with throws and takedowns and sweeps.  Now, the traditional Chinese wrestling (摔角; shuāijiǎo, Shuai Jiao, traditional Chinese folk wrestling) culture, which Sanda very much emulates, is very, very unique, in that it’s not like your Greco-Roman wrestling or your jujutsu or judo.  You can’t really touch your knees or your hands to the ground, it’s very much stand-up-oriented.  So, my next question is, why can’t you touch your hands and knees to the ground?  Could you explain the scoring criteria for takedowns?

A: Absolutely.  So, with Sanda, I think one of the simplest ways to think about doing a takedown—you’re driving with your knee, a lot of people that are familiar with wrestling, when they shoot in for single or double leg, drop their knee.  And they say, “Why can’t I do that?”  In Sanda, there had to be a definitive line of when an opponent is down.  Because we don’t engage in striking once an opponent is down, we let them stand back up.  So, when someone shoots in, if they touch their knee, and then I sprawl, and they’re stuck there—well, how long is that allowed to happen?  Can I hit him while his knee is on the ground as a counter?  Because he’s trying to attack me.  So, I think the basic way of doing it was that we’re standing, we have 2 points of contact, our 2 feet—if anything else touches, our hand as we lose balance, that’s a sign of losing balance.  So, it’s a sign that you didn’t have control of yourself if it’s caused by that.  And then the fact of the more wrestling technique of shooting in, I think it’s too keep fighters safe and to make a very clear distinction of when action starts, and when it stops.

Q: So, it’s very much about drawing a clear line of when you should start and stop the bout.  It’s very much its own sport, aside from MMA (mixed martial arts), Shooto (修斗; called Shoot Boxing in the West)

A: Absolutely.  Absolutely.  And what I would say too is, and I’ve heard different people say they like it, they don’t like it, it should be this, it should be that—anytime we apply a rule in competition, when it’s not a street fight, or “everything’s legal”, eye gouges, weapons, weight differences, when we say “Okay, here’s our ruleset”, it is always gonna be perceived as taking something away from someone or giving an advantage to someone else.  You know, you could look at UFC, where you can’t soccer kick people in UFC.  People talk about Pride and say it was so much better.  So, a striker might say, “Hey, these guys can lay on the ground and try to entice me to come to them and grappled, and that’s not what I would do in a street fight.”  So, realistic, and we would all probably agree that the UFC is pretty brutal, pretty close to the edge, and we probably don’t want to see too much more thrown into it.  So, any rule you apply to something, breaking clinches—Muay Thai is allowed to clinch and strike, but if they get pinned up against the ropes, they separate—in reality, no one’s there to do that for you.  So, any competition is gonna have rules that slightly tweak the way the action goes.

Q: Now you mentioned earlier about Cung Le.  When I first started hearing about Sanda/Sanshou, it was the same for me.   I heard about guys like Liu Hailong, considered the first true Chinese idol for many Chinese Sanda fighters, and the other person was Cung Le here in the US.  Now, when I first started seeing Cung Le, it was on YouTube videos of his old ESPN fights under the IKF (International Kickboxing Federation), and I remember reading the rules for those matches, the time [limit for the] clinch was a couple seconds, so that’s what I thought it was the whole time.  But then again, I read the Rules of Sanshou under the IWuF (International Wushu Federation), and the time limit for the clinch is only 2 seconds.  So, my next question is, why is the time limit for the clinch so short?

A: Basically, I think that with the Chinese fast wrestling techniques, which is what you’re using for your throwing—and like you said, different than Greco-Roman, different than dropping my knees down, holding on your ankle, leveraging you down that way, I have to keep my base—the focus is on very fast takedowns.  Very clean, precise takedowns.  And transitions.  If you don’t that takedown, you go to the next one, you go to the next one.  You could argue that judo has a lot of that too.  You generally aren’t supposed to be muscling.  We all know that there’s times and occasions where it’s gonna happen, but ideally it should be, “bang!”  We rotate, they’re on the ground, you know, that’s the idea.  And so, again, the sport doesn’t want to just get stuck with these people holding forever.  So, it’s, get it [the takedown]; if you’ve got it, you got it, and then break.  We go again.  Something about that aspect though, it’s very exhausting.  Because closing that distance can be pretty tough.  Getting in that combat is tough, and then when they say “Separate, and now go again” right away, you have to be ready for punches at a distance instantly.  So, not that’s it’s not tiring to keep swimming and working in the clinch either, but it is an interesting thing, and it’s definitely not simple.

Q: So it’s very much like that Kuai Jiao (快跤; kuàijiāo, fast wrestling) of China, that fast wrestling, it’s the philosophy is kind of like, “one touch, one throw”, get it instantaneously, and as efficiently as possible.

A: Absolutely.  When you see the high-level people doing kick catches and the way they drill on them, it is meant to be “bang”, and they’re out.  And it doesn’t always work that way, sure, run ’em back, run ’em off the lei tai, what have you.  But, it’s almost like a rat trap going off, when you see the high-level people catch kicks, or counter, it’s supposed to be very quick and explosive.  And you either get it, you don’t, you transition, and then, okay, we go onto something else.

Q: So, moving on.  When I first started watching Sanshou/Sanda, after I watched Liu Hailong and Cung Le, I started watching the Chinese national Sanda championships under the CWA (Chinese Wushu Association), and in the 2000s, I noticed that sometimes they [the fighters] would have light exchanges of kicking and punching, and they would frequently enter the clinch to either go for a takedown or avoid being taken down in turn, and the ref would frequently stop [the time for the match] because of the short time limit for the clinch.  And sometimes the action wouldn’t go either way, but sometimes someone would actually get one takedown over the other person, and sometimes that would determine a round, and even the whole fight.  And not only myself, but a lot of other people that watch full-contact combat sports haven noticed that as well.  So, my next question is, what is your response to the criticism that takedowns are the biggest point gainers in Sanda?

A: I feel like a casual observer might see that, and also in the past maybe, when certain fighters weren’t as sharp.  I always love striking, that’s where I started, that’s the hill that I’ll die on I’m sure (laughs), that’s the way I like to go.  But one thing that can cause that perception is your platform judge, and you have five outside/floor judges.  The people on the floor are ticking off the score of strikes landed either way, they are also scoring the takedowns.  They are ONLY scoring takedowns as the platform judge calls them.  That’s why we don’t call ’em a referee, it’s actually a platform judge.  So, you’ll see a lot of those hand signals.  So, someone gets taken down, you’ll either see hands crossing (shows the gesture of “Down First” as designated in the Rules of Sanshou under the IWuF: “Extend one arm towards the competitor who is the first to fall down and…cross the arms in front of the abdomen, palms facing down [Figs 21-22].”), which means, “this person was down first” [hand first extended towards the competitor who was the first to fall down], 1 point.  Or, “this person was taken down completely” (shows the gesture of “Down” as designated in the Rules of Sanshou under the IWuF: “…extend one arm with palm facing up and pointing at the fallen competitor, as the other arm moves to the side of the body, bent at elbow with palm facing down [Fig 20].”), which means I didn’t go down with you, I threw you, 2 points.  The interesting though is as I’ve watched a lot more of the bouts, you start to see that kicks to the body are worth 2 points.  Kicks to the head are worth 2 points.  Kick to the leg is 1, punch to the head or body is 1.  So, in the IWuF ruleset, it is very good to land body kicks, and actually I’ve seen fights turn very quickly, almost faster than they can with the wrestling, if someone has a vicious side kick—side kick, 2 points, side kick, 2 more points—very hard to get 2 takedowns that fast.  The only reason why people feels it goes the other way, is the sideline judges only score what they see well.  And odds are, all five might not perfectly see that kick, so one judge might not see it.  Where if I get a 2-point takedown, the platform judge calls it, all five sideline judges score that 2 points.  So, there’s a sense that it’s worth more, but not necessarily.  Hopefully, with professional judging all the way around, and diverse judging, like we try to do, we always try to mix up so that coaches of that fighter or people from that country are not the sideline judges, we should have the majority of ’em see the proper angle, and see and hear the technique and call it.  So, a kick can be very, very effective for that.  Also, if you throw a kick, and it’s effective, knocks the stomach hard, and then it’s grabbed and taken down, I actually only have a chance of getting even.  So, you throw a roundhouse kick and score 2 points, I catch, if I fall down with you, I get 1 point.  You’ve still come out ahead in that exchange.  If I take you down without falling, then it’s 2 points for me as well.  So, there is a good way to balance it, and I think as the sport has been growing, you’re seeing a lot of focus on some very fast striking that is scoring very well.

Q: So, if theoretically, if someone were to land a body kick from one angle…[the judge over at one side] might see it, but [the judge on the opposite side] might not.  But [all judges around the lei tai are professionals], so you theoretically would hope that it would even out.

A: When you do sideline judging, you can see the lei tai, three judges at any point can generally see the action, very easily.  And then you also have your head judge who’s monitoring those scores, especially at the high-level at the head table, who can one, overrule something if they saw something that the platform judge does too, they can also let the sideline judges know that they need to pay attention, be sharp, if they see them not catching things that they should be seeing.  And I think no scoring system is perfect.  It’s a hard thing, you know, we’ve heard about pro fights that everybody complains and says somebody stole it, and Sanda, those fights tend to be amazingly close all the time.  Many of those World fights, I mean you’re talking 3 to 2, 5-3, I mean it is one kick or one takedown away from changing that round.  So, there’s a lot riding on it, and I understand people’s frustration, but I still think it’s a great system, and nothing’s perfect, but it sure does have some fun fights, and excitement…

Q: Good point.  So, my next question.  At the beginning you talked about the fact that Sanshou/Sanda is very much a full-contact combat sport.  It doesn’t have the same limitations that many other traditional East Asian [martial arts styles] competition sparring formats would have.  It very much emulates that full-contact kickboxing, you can kick the legs, you can punch to the head, you can takedown, do whatever works as long as it scores well within the ruleset.  But it’s also very much still a full-contact sport; the definition that I found for “full-contact” meant that you intentionally are imposing force on somebody, you’re trying to hit them.  So, say like American football, you’re intentionally tackling [somebody], you’re intentionally putting force on [somebody], and that does consequently have some damage and some serious injury sometimes.  And usually when you see that observation, you’ll hear a lot about some parents talking about their kids saying, “Oh, I don’t want my son or my daughter to do that”, I know my dad said that.  So, my next question is, what is your response to the criticism that full-contact combat sports like Sanshou/Sanda are unsafe?

A: I think there’s always a limited amount of risk, you know.  We try to keep it to a minimum.  In amateur level, you’re wearing headgear, chest protectors, boxing gloves are a heavier weight, so that you’re not generating as much speed and impact with knuckles.  The other thing that I found that I was actually really amazed about recently was watching the Juniors.  The junior competitors blew my mind because I actually kind of that belief too, because in America actually, Sanda/Sanshou used to be only 18 and over, obviously.  You had to be an adult.  You couldn’t be 15 or 16 to fight, you definitely couldn’t be 10.  Now, seeing the Juniors, the way they gear up, they allow them to wear the shin pads, they don’t have head contact at all, they’re in a chest protector.  I’ve seen it be safer than some of those more traditional style tournaments that they’re doing on a gymnasium floor with chops, and you know, dipped foam pads that don’t really do much, because the accidents that happen in those situations are much worse, and also the referees tend to not be as skillful.  If you go to Juniors, you have nationally certified judges who are watching you.  Number one priority for the platform judge—we’re all told when we train—first thing you’re watching out for, is fighters’ safety.  So that’s above all else.  If anything’s wrong with the ring, if anything, you know, there’s something wrong, if a fighter looks like they’ve been struck in a way that they’re not with it, we are supposed to protect them.  We don’t wanna let anything go beyond a point…You know, once you get into the adult level, sure, there is the ability for a knockout, you know, and we all wanna avoid that as much as we can.  You tend to see the most damage done in a mismatch, and another beautiful thing about Sanda/Sanshou and the IWuF rules is, one, the head judge always retains the right to stop the fight at any time and declare a mismatch, if they see something—“this person obviously has no skill” versus somebody who looks almost pro—also, the point gap system that we’ve seen in the most recent Worlds.  So, if I get 12 points or more ahead of you on the majority of the judges’ scorecards, the fight is over.  Because you obviously cannot stop me from scoring on you at will, so rather than let it continue, where you’re obviously not going to be able to beat me, it ends.  And some people might complain, “Oh, I didn’t get a chance to come back”, what have you.  But I would say, more often than not, that’s going to put good top-tier fighters together, and people who are at an imbalance, they should quickly lose, safely, and get to go train again and try again next time.

Q: Yeah, I noticed that.  At this year’s World Wushu Championships in Kazan, Russia, I saw a couple [ruled mismatches], especially the [56 kg weight category] fight with Li Kang against the Georgian fighter [Manuchar Kvashilava], the abbreviation under the official tournament results was “WGP” (Winner by Gap Point), and I had to see that on video to figure out, “Oh, that’s what ‘WGP’ means.”  My friend showed the results to me, and I was like, “What does WGP mean?”  I’m up on the Internet, trying to look up, “WGP combat sports”, “Sanda WGP”, still nothing—“IWuF Sanda WGP.”

A: They didn’t list that, and that’s one thing that I do have a complaint, I just did national certification, and I was seeing these results coming in, and I was like, “What is that?”  And I knew that there’s a 12-point gap rule but…none of the books that I had, had that abbreviation, so that was something that we knew, but I had never seen it done that way.  And sometimes I think that that can be a problem with the sport, is just getting that information out there, as a spectator, or somebody trying to follow-up on the results of your fighters, you know, you’re looking at the website, and you see these things, and you’re like, “Does that mean that they didn’t show up, or were disqualified, or what is it?”  And they couldn’t find it…that’s a little frustrating, but I think that the sport is adapting and we’re getting things together, and I think also seeing how much it’s grown when I first came in, I mean I remember I used to read the pretty poorly translated ruleset, it was very confusing, it was very confusing to know, and I think that put some people off back in the late ’90s, early 2000s, if you didn’t have an actual Sanshou instructor, Sanda instructor that knows, “This is what we do”, like we have Coach Lee here in the States, you know, if you have someone with that knowledge, they’re going, “No, don’t worry…this is what it means, this is how you score.”  But if you’re just at a kung fu gym thinking, “Maybe I’ll go to this tournament”, and you try to read the rules, and they don’t make any sense, that’s tough, you know.  You don’t wanna go and not know what you’re competing in.  So, it’s gotten much better, and I think we can probably go take it a little further, and I think conversations like this help too, because they kinda dispel some of the myths and let people feel comfortable with what the sport is.

Q: Yeah, I hope.  And I guess the idea [of] declaring a mismatch, I noticed that after 2010, when I started seeing Chinese Sanshou championships as early as 2012, sometimes I would see somebody get taken down, and then of course coming off the impression of just watching the 2000s matches, I was just like, “Oh well, that guy got the takedown, he’s gonna win the round.”  Then suddenly the other guy gets up, comes back, starts kicking and punching, the [first] guy has no defense for it, and then someone blows the whistle—it’s the head judge—and then the platform/lei tai judge raises up the hand of the [latter] fighter with the 12-point lead.  At that point I didn’t understand, I was like, “Wait.  What just happened?  Did they just declare a mismatch?  I’ve never seen that happen before!”

A: And that definitely goes into the realm of being a well-rounded fighter, you know.  I think that you’re gonna get a 12-point lead, when you see somebody get that, it’s not just takedowns.  They’re landing a leg kick, cross, leg kick, shoot, takedown, sure, a counter, takedown and kick catch.  But generally, they have got the full package, you know.  And they are just usually [getting points from pushing the opponent] off the lei tai once, you know, you’re getting your 2 points there.  I’ve seen especially for China, the striking, you know, China has that great side kick, great kicks, their hands have gotten much better.  I feel like the boxing has been coming up in that sport more, where there definitely was a sense where maybe people were a little more just focused on outside kick, takedown.  Some guys still play a little bit of that game, but you still see when they throw a punch, it’s mean, you know.  And when you have people like Iran and Russia, Georgia, all those guys, you know they’re gonna be punching.  And also, I think we’ve gotta give time to a sport, just like there was a long time in UFC where we saw, you know, two guys in Speedos that didn’t really punch or kick well that knew how wrestle, and they would do the “lay and pray”, is whatever everybody called in and complained, and they would just [come together] and go down, and it was said that striking’s dead.  You just grappled.  And then all of a sudden, some strikers started coming in and knocking out those guys.  And then some of those guys lost to a grappler again.  So, it’s like an arms race, you know, and I think you could be more of a striker, more of a grappler, but you gotta know both in that sport, and in this sport, because otherwise you’re gonna lose.  You can’t possibly just go out and wrestle.

Q: So, it does seem like it promotes safety when there’s a clear mismatch and it seems like the striking nowadays does even out much more of the scoring with the takedowns, cause usually when I do the math, if I understand correctly, going down doesn’t necessarily mean that you are taken down, you can also be knocked down.  So, for example, if someone punches and [the other] person gets knocked down, that’s 1 point for the punch, and 2 for the guy being down, so that’s 3 points total, that’s more than one takedown where one person’s standing and the other person’s down.

A: Also, standing eight count, they call “forcible counting” [in the Rules of Sanshou under the IWuF], you know, we would call it “standing eight” in boxing and kickboxing, so if we count you, that’s points as well.  So, you’re scoring 2 points on that.  So, you tend to get those—of course we have seen takedowns where somebody gets the wind knocked out and maybe stays down—but generally it’s a head kick, it’s an overhand, you know, a right hook, a cross or a left hook or something that puts people down, and you’re stacking your score on with that.  So again, to discount striking, I think it really does a disservice to the sport, and as we see it progress, the striking is definitely a big part of it.

Q: Yeah, in all fairness, I think I’m starting to see that even out more and more, especially in these past few years, where in the international level of Sanda has definitely started to catch up with the way that it’s being judged in China nowadays.  I definitely think that Sanda, whether you see it back then or you see it now, it’s definitely evolving, it’s definitely improving and being more clear.  And another thing you brought up about safety and being clear and transparent about the rules, and explaining any confusion, I remember reading in the Rules of Sanshou from the IWuF that [“intentionally smashing or pressing (the opponent) down” is prohibited], and I was like, “Well what does that mean?”  Because I would see guys in China lift up, double leg uproot [their opponent] and just slam, and I didn’t understand that.  But you explained to me a while back that [it means no continued pressing or slamming the opponent onto the lei tai AFTER the action has gone to the ground].

A: The platform judge always [yells] “Ting! (停; tíng, stop)”  That’s always your first thing; off the lei tai, “Ting!” means “Stop!”  So you don’t keep fighting off the lei tai, or you know, I’m holding onto your arm and you’re off the lei tai, “Stop!”  We want you to stop the action.  So, the idea is “first down”—we both down, first down, “Ting!”  I’ve seen you touched [the ground].  Well what you’re not allowed to do…pound into the ground, do something like that, try and push their face as you stand up, things like that…and I had that same question when I first was going into judging.  Because like you said, I saw people going for the biggest possible drop they could get, I mean they could just scooch ’em, and they take ’em all the way up and then slam ’em.

Q: Yeah, and it was perfectly legal, and they got the 2 points!

A: So, you are absolutely allowed to do a takedown [like that].  The only thing you’re not allowed to do is driving them onto their head, so like a piledriver, if you shot, got between my legs [and I pick you up with your head upside down], I’m not supposed to sit and slam you headfirst.  But as far as your body dropping, a lot of times you actually see those guys that are able to pop you up high, they how to kind of lay you flat and just slam you on your side.  And they’re definitely doing that one, for the show, and the intimidation factor, definitely get that score, but they’re tryin’ to wear that opponent down and get their head as well.  So even if you exhale and it doesn’t hurt you too bad, you’re still thinking, “Boy, I was just 4, 5 feet off the ground getting dropped”, you know, you’ve gotta have some heart to come back.

Q: So, going back to the idea of that efficient stand-up wrestling in Sanda, it’s definitely very spectacular to see someone getting lift up, it’s not just like driving someone to the ground, which is also very efficient.  But, you know, when you see someone get lifted up, it definitely contributes to the spectator aspect of watching Sanda.  People love that.  I see people cheer for that all the time.  And also at the same time, you just mentioned, it’s hitting the body, not the head.  I remember seeing one Chinese match in the amateur rules for IWuF, which we’re talking about, one guy got lifted up and got hit on the top of his head onto the top of the lei tai, and they stopped the match.  So that was very much considered a violation of the regulations, so it’s very safety-oriented.

A: Because we’re gonna tell you that you can’t strike the top of the head, you can’t kick to the back of the head, you know, and all that kinda stuff.  So, if you duck in, I’m not hitting you on the top of the head or dropping my forearm, so how can we say that’s illegal, but then I can pick you up 5 feet in the air and then drop your own bodyweight, you know, that’s gonna cause a lot of injury.  And you know, not that you can’t get some injuries the other way, sure, you watch the World [Wushu] Championships, those guys after five days, they’ve got their shin taped up, you know, their knee wraps on, you can tell, it’s tough.  There’s some tough fighting.  BUT, we want you to come back.  You know, we want you to go through those flights, and then you go recover, and you can do it.  And that is the ultimate test of the multiple day tournament, that’s really when it all comes together.  But we don’t want any kind of ridiculous stuff, you know, there’s always freak accidents in any sport, but we want to keep it to where people get a chance, “Hey, you lose, you lost, it’s fine, go train, try again.”

Q: Yeah, now that I think about it, the way you’re talking about the emphasis of safety in amateur Sanda rules, it’s almost kind of like the comparison between amateur and professional boxing, back then (recently they removed the headgear for amateur and Olympic boxing), although knockouts were very common, it’s still full-contact, it was still very point-based, which a lot of people might look down on, but it still accurately reflects who’s more proactive, who’s more aggressive, and who theoretically could’ve won that scrap.

A: And in reality, let’s look at some of the guys that came away from that.  You know, Muhammad Ali, who’s an Olympic champion boxer, no one would say, “Oh, but he only knew how to play a game.”  You know, he definitely went into pro and was able to translate that.  And when you have a positive point system like we have, so we’re not doing 10-9, we’re adding points, there’s only positive points, meaning even if you commit a foul against me, it’s my points.  It’s not deduction [to you], it’s 2 points to me.

Q: Oh, so if I were to commit a foul against somebody, I don’t lose the points, but if I did commit some sort of a violation of the regulations, the other person would get the points.

A: I gain the points.  So, it’s always positive-based, so meaning I take you down, you don’t lose points cause you fell, I gain points I gain points cause I got the takedown.  And that makes sense when people think about striking in a striking art, BUT when you think about a lot of scoring, if you’re familiar with the 10-9 system in a lot of UFC, a lot of boxing, kickboxing, 10-9 means the “9” [fighter] was outstruck.  I was 10, I was the better fighter, so aggression, ring control, points, however the scoring criteria is in that sport, 10-8 means I got a knockdown and a standing count, 10-7 means I got two knockdowns in that round, generally.  UFC, it gets weird because knockdowns aren’t really the same thing, you know, could score a 10-8 just cause you got wrestled a lot maybe, and ground and pound.  With us, when you’re getting that forcible counting, you’re just getting positive points.  I’m getting positive points for making you have abnormal consciousness and that eight count, it’s not a 10-8 round now unless you knock me down.  You could still come back.  So, it is a little different, but I think it does fall in line with a lot of amateur, we’re trying to get you to be able to replicate those techniques repeatedly, show that you can score on this person.  Show ’em what you can do, you know.  And still, there’s definitely a chance for knockout, things like that.  But, you know, again, back to scoring and everything, everybody’s gonna have complaint with any system, nothing’s ever perfect for everyone, so you have to choose a way and be consistent, and I think that’s one of the biggest important things is just be consistent so that everybody knows…

Q: That’s true.  Usually when I see some decisions go in a lot of other full-contact combat sports, even in MMA and the UFC, when I see someone go to a decision, I hear some complaints like, some ridiculous ones in my opinion, where it’s like, “Oh well, nobody got knocked out!  He didn’t knock the other guy out!”  Well, I didn’t actually see him actually lose either, he was pretty dominant, he was showing superior technique, theoretically most of the time, that happens.

A: Absolutely.  Most of your fights are gonna be scored, you know.  It’s gonna go to the scorecards.  And especially in amateur, and especially with the tournament setting, where it’s the first two rounds, you know, you don’t [usually] do a third round.  So, when you get a title fight, that’s five rounds or whatever, you get a pro fight that’s three rounds, and everybody’s paying to see that.  So, if you can walk out, you’re gonna fight for three rounds even if you lose the first two and a half rounds, they’re always gonna give you that chance to maybe land that knockout punch, maybe put on a show.  Or maybe get beaten up.   In amateur, you tend to see the first two rounds.  One, when you’re doing this huge tournament over multiple days, we need to get to it.  You know, you need to show that you control it.  If you watch early Glory tournaments, it was the same idea, was the idea of, “I’ve already beaten you for two rounds, I don’t need to bust my shins up on you, I gotta go ice ’em to get ready for the next one.”

Q: We know where this is gonna go.

A: Yeah.  We kinda know where it’s gonna go.  Also, it’s amateur, so you know, why are we gonna give you just that Hail Mary chance for one knockout or something like that?  We’re seeing who’s dominating, they get there, they get the round one, round two, that’s it.  Let’s go onto the next one.  And anyone who gets high-level in this and can compete in Worlds can probably have a pro career…

Q: I heard some breaking news that Muslim Salikhov, the Russian World Champion multiple times over at the World Wushu Championships, he just signed with the UFC.  So, I’m interested to see how he does, cause he hasn’t just won by points under Sanda under the World Wushu Championships rules, but he also knocked people out in MMA too, especially with his spinning back kick.

A: He’s knocked people out in MMA, he’s knocked people out in Sanda, you know, so Australia was first fight, he landed his cross, I think that was it.  So, he is definitely a dangerous fighter.  A lot of MMA seem to know Sanda/Sanshou now, and, you know, it’s great, because you used to hear, “Do Muay Thai and Brazilian jujutsu.”  And Muay Thai is a great martial art, Brazilian jujutsu’s a great martial art.  But I think seeing that, “Hey, you wanna apply your ability to uproot and take people down”, something that’s not in Muay Thai; you can go down and grab both the legs and lift, you can catch and then, you know, dump them, those kind of things.  Headlock, full throws, hip throws.  You know, some people might just go in one lane and go, “I’m a Chinese martial artist, it’s got my heritage…”, what have you, but I think you’re gonna see a lot people that, if you’re a good Sanda fighter, maybe you do some international rules kickboxing.  Glory and those style[s of] kickboxing, you’re probably gonna do pretty well with that too, just a little tweak.  Maybe you can’t do your throws, but if you can punch and kick, good.  Muay Thai, you learn the clinch and knees, go for it.

Q: My next question.  As I mentioned at the beginning of the interview, you’ve fought both Sanda/Sanshou and Guoshu (国术; guóshù, traditional Chinese martial arts, literally “national art”) lei tai rules.  Could you explain some of the similarities and differences between the two rulesets and your personal experiences in both?

A: Sure.  Absolutely.  With the Guoshu tournament, you wear a face cage.  Which I’m not a big fan of, I feel like the vision is a little weird, and it also changes the dynamic.  While people tend to think, “Oh, we wear light MMA gloves” during the fight, so you think more damage, but interestingly enough, things like jabs don’t seem quite as effective, where when you pop a jab in somebody’s nose and or bash ’em in the lower jaw and the lip, it’s very visceral, very sharp, hits you right in the eye, makes your eye close.  It feels like it encourages a little bit more slugging with the punches, you know, maybe to a degree.  And then the damage to the hands can be a little bit more brutal too, cause if you hit into that cage with small gloves you get some damage.  They tend to wear pants and shoes, and no chest protectors or anything which I think is alright.  The only thing I didn’t like so much, I experienced in the Worlds, was people grabbing the pants even though they’re not supposed to for takedowns, so you know, driving in and holding your pant leg and then you’re almost tearing your pants.  So, it’s something with that ruleset that I’m not a big fan of, cause when you’re wearing the shirt, the pants, open-fingered gloves, I don’t even think it’s people’s cheating, it’s natural tendency, if you’re getting pushed off a lei tai, you’re gonna grab, and you see ’em shred the shirts, and I think we saw last year, there was a guy who had a shirt shredded, another shirt shredded…

Q: Oh, a bunch of shirts were shredded even back in 2012.

A: And for me, I’m like, “Eh, I would try to adjust that setup then, so that we’re not stopping the action because of ‘wardrobe malfunctions’”, is what I would call that, you know.  I know that they’re kind of wanting it to have that traditional look, I think, a little more of the era of the kung fu fighter, you know, Bruce Lee, what have you.  So, I accept that, but I think it does lead into some problems.  Let ’em wear shorts, and nobody’s grabbing your pant leg down here [by the calf], OR allow grabs on the pant leg get kind of a jujutsu thing, where you’re doing full gi (衣) fighting, because that has its ups and downs too.  As far as the scoring, Guoshu scores less for strikes, they score one point for any strike that’s not in the clinch to a legal target, so head, body, punch, kick, outer thigh.  They don’t allow inner thigh.  And that’s what I’m confused about.  I think they just wanna avoid the groin kicks probably from people who aren’t as experienced.  I would say at a national tournament, encourage people to have the level of being able to kick [the inner thigh].  Also, they’re a little bit more hesitant about anything around the knee area, where Sanda, you just can’t do oppositional kicks, in other words, you’re stomping, knee kick, oblique kick that would hyperextend the knee backward.

Q: Like that Jon Jones style kind of kick.  Even some Chinese martial arts styles have that kick have that too.

A: Absolutely, our first form that we learned had the stomp kick.  But they just don’t want you opposing the joint where I’ve seen Guoshu get pretty upset if kicks are even getting kind of near that.  Guoshu allows the kick down below the knee, but it’s not scoring, for sweeps and kicking, as does Sanda/Sanshou, it’s just not scoring, but it’s not illegal.  And so that can be a strategy.  I mean hey, if you’re banging up somebody’s thigh and you can clip their calf and you’ve knocked them off-balance, or do damage down there, it all adds up.  Both styles allow punches in the clinch, and kicks to the legs in the clinch, but none of those strikes score.  So, you can do ’em, and you’ll see some of those guys ripping the uppercuts in the Sanda fights in Worlds, you know, just trying to do some damage, or muscle, and some guys don’t bother with it too much, they kind of post up and try to wait for that break and then go again.  With the Guoshu though, you’re allowed to throw knees and elbows.  I found the knees to be pretty effective when I fought, elbows not as much, because they tend to be more for cutting unless you really plant one on someone, and with the face cage again, short shot, kind of clipping elbows, don’t seem to do as much, but it’s also not my specialty at all, so I’m sure some high-level Muay Thai guy could make it work.  They value the off-the-lei tai push at 3 points, not 2.  And I believe you win the match by off the lei tai three times in a round, where Sanda, our international rules, is 2 times off the lei tai in a round wins the round, immediately ends the round, but then you get that same minute break you would have, so that gives the fighter a chance to maybe get coached…some people, you know, may be backing up or make a mistake, and again, the lei tai, I’ve heard complaints about that from the outside world of, “Why is this platform [there]?”  And, “You can just push people.”  What I would say to that though is, you know, if you look at someone who could strike like Mike Tyson, I don’t think you could just push him off a platform.  You have to have a game, you have to do things.  Generally, when you see people going off the platform, they’ve made a mistake.  They’ve gotten a kick caught, and they get run, or they’ve not had ring awareness and they’ve backed up too far.

Q: Oh yeah, you can talk about that situational awareness, know where you are at all times, especially when you’re defending yourself.

A: Absolutely.  So that’s where I think Sanda—lei tai fighting in general has that applicable sense—all these things we talked about—self-defense.  It is a sport, but we also wanna apply self-defense, you gotta have that ring awareness, very much so.  And you do in a boxing ring too, let’s be honest.  I don’t wanna get stuck in a corner, or against the ropes, unless I know that’s my plan, I’m gonna rope-a-dope or something.  You know, but I should have a sense of what’s behind me by using my peripheral vision, and able to see, and so the lei tai just kinda ups that ante.  And the other is it does go back to safety instinct too, is that the lei tai does allow people to again [lose safely], the scores are stacked and stacked against them, rather than the idea of putting you in the corner and knocking you out, beating you until you fall down.  And when you look at pro Sanda, they take away the lei tai, they do it in a ring, for that reason.  The spectators pay their money, they wanna see these people go at it until the end of the fight, so they close it off, and I think that’s a good reason.

Q: Yeah, and just to add to that, at the risk of sounding condescending, I wrote an article for Jiayoowushu.com, a website dedicated to promoting Wushu worldwide, titled, “Sanshou vs. Lei Tai: A Comparison of Full-Contact Chinese Martial Arts Fighting”, and one thing that I missed when I wrote that was that, as I was watching the lei tai fights, I noticed that you can push the opponent off the lei tai three times and what wins you the match, but you cannot touch hand your knee on the ground.  But in Sanda, you can push them off twice [to win the round], and in any other situation when you’re on the lei tai in Sanda, as we established, your hands and knees can’t touch the ground, unless you’re doing a sacrifice throw off the lei tai.

A: And you can even get away with it even if it’s a forward [push], that is the one time that they’ll allow it.  BUT, the thing that I really like with the international rules that we have, and with USAWKF, there has to be clear separation.  All you have to do is hang onto my arm.  If you step off, and you hold onto my arm, I don’t need to come off with you.  You just need to hold onto me, we need to still be in contact, so that’s something that I haven’t seen the Guoshu group do.  So, meaning, if you step one foot down off that lei tai, you’re out.  I feel like the clean separation makes it more of an intentional technique, an intentional drive; my intention was to knock you out and stay.  Where, if I’m allowed to just kind of hold onto you and you step out first, and I can kind of [mosey away]—it wasn’t really a technique.  We kind of walked each other there.  So, I do like that difference honestly.

Q: So next question.  You mentioned earlier about training Sanda and comparing it to, and even incorporating it, into other kickboxing circuits, tournaments, styles, even MMA rulesets.  What do you feel are some unique fighting benefits to Sanda?

A: I think the couple things that you see in Sanda—the kick catches, catching the kick—really, the people that are good at it, and I’m not even gonna say I’m one of ’em, at all—the people that are the best at it and really get it to a high-level, it is the fastest, most precision, kick catches of any style.  You know, it can just hang with anybody.  They’re so fast, so effective, to snatch a leg and drop someone, which can be really great for neutralizing people.  You know, you’ve seen some of the matchups, I mean Thai fighters are so brutal with their power, and if you were to fight them, I would think that any MMA guy out there in the world, the first thing that you would wanna do is when that round kick starts coming out and coming out, is get a hold of it and get them on the ground, any way you can.  So, I think Sanda’s got some great movements for that.  You know, and a lot of it’s very simple, and the thing that’s neat is it’s been like an arms race.  Things that used to work ten years ago don’t work now.  You know, like the takedowns I used to know from like even Cung Le’s day, the way he used to each on those DVDs (digital optical disc) and VHS (video home system) or what have you, you see the they’re teaching ’em now, it’s changing a little bit because a lot of people aren’t just falling down when you do this.  Watch Worlds, I encourage anyone to watch the high-level championships.  Watch how people get their leg caught, and somehow do not go down.  It’s unbelievable how these people can stall and get their leg out of it, even score a takedown while someone’s holding their own leg, and get them down.  So, I think if you take that to an MMA world, where you just throw on smaller gloves and you punch harder from that position, you know, countering somebody holding your leg, and being able to grab somebody’s leg, that really ups the game.  And then, also, Chinese side kick.  The side kick from China is just such a wonderful weapon and you don’t see too many people using it, you know, you’ve seen it creep up with certain people, Cung Le being one, in the MMA world.  but when used right, I think it’s just another awesome weapon to have in your arsenal, I think it’s a good one if you over rotate on a round kick that misses, having that ability to fire something off with the heel, it’s just great, and you know, a body snatcher of a kick, it just hits the bucket and you’re hittin’ the gut, you got a good chance of really sapping someone’s energy, so that’s great as well.  I think those are probably the two top parts of it.

Q: So, moving onto some, sort of harder questions, I would consider.  We pretty much established that Sanda is very much a sport-oriented format; it’s competition-based, it’s got rules for safety.  But ever since Sanda was created by the CWA back in the like the ’80s and it was officially sanctioned, there’s always been complaints about traditional martial artists, they’ll have the common complaints of, “Oh well, you can’t do this”, or “You can’t hit here”, or “I can’t use my dangerous technique”, or the fact that they use boxing gloves, “I can’t open my hand and strike with my palm or fingers”, or “I can’t manipulate the joints or anything like that, or do any secret technique.”  So, my next question is, what is your response to the criticism that Sanshou/Sanda is not “real kung fu?”

A: The first thing I’d say to that is, I think another—not to always get back to it, but [another example]—it has more money maybe invested in it, you know, here at the US, maybe even around the world—the MMA world went through the same moment, you know.  A lot of people saw a guy come in shorts and they were like, “No, this guy in this Karate gi over here, he knows he’s a seventh-degree black belt, he’s gonna beat…” and then we saw, “Oh, the seventh-degree black belt just got knocked out by a bar brawler with punches.”  And it really boiled down to that “Whatever works” kind of moment.  And maybe that Karate guy had some great skill, but he didn’t know what to do once the real action hit, once, you know, you just go.  Full-contact, as you said.  Many styles I think, make the mistake of assuming through very controlled situations, that they’re doing something that would devastate everybody.  For instance, your eye gouge, “Oh, eye gouging.”  It’s like, “Well are you drilling on eye gouging each other every day?”  I mean, because short of maybe putting on goggles on then protecting your eyes, I don’t see know how else you’d do that.  So, we all know, yes, you can put a finger in the eye.  We all know that’s effective!  You see it in MMA, if you get eye poked, but again, I’d say, “Let’s grab like Anderson Silva, or Muslim”, and say, “Okay, ready?  All bets are off, you can do anything, go ahead and poke him in the eye.”  You know, he’s probably gonna knock you out faster because he has replicated that so many times, and if you aim at his eye with a finger poke and you hit his forehead, you did no damage.  If he punches you in the forehead instead of the jaw, you’re still taking a lot.  So, a lot of these were based on the most direct and simple, techniques.  You know, things that didn’t require eight steps to get through and make something happen.  It’s trying to move, and the takedown being probably the most common in the moment, is you’re trying something, and then transitioning, and transitioning.  But as far as striking, keeping it pretty simple, precise, sharp combinations, coordinating your hands and feet.  The other thing I’d say to that definitely proves that it’s just for show or a game, is that many people that are Sanda champions in Asia, end up working for the police and military, training [them]!  So, I don’t think that the police and the military wanna be trained by people that are ineffective.  You know, I think that they want to have people that—we all have seen moments of somebody that isn’t accredited—but China uses that a lot.  And I think that they want effective people.  People who have never fought in a competitive situation, full-contact, I think underestimate.  And you know, I recommend anybody who thinks they can, and is young and healthy, try it.  Because, you wanna go out there and see what it’s like when your nerves are firing, I mean you burn up half your carbs in anxiety and butterflies.  You know, you’re tryna keep calm, all that.  And, it’s really neat to see how things don’t go the way you like to play, and can you just keep working and make it work.  You know, I’ve seen some traditionalists watch a guy post a video that says, “I am a Wing Chun (永春; Yǒngchūn, literally “eternal spring”) fighter, look, I won my first fight.”  And then all the comments section say, “I don’t see Wing Chun”, “I don’t see Wing Chun.”  They insult the person, and say they don’t see Wing Chun.  And I say, “Wow, I saw good punches and kicks.  I saw the guy use the right technique against his opponent, and defeat him.”  So, what’s the problem here?  I mean, everyone can always get better, everyone can always try something else.  So maybe there was wasted motion or, you know, whatever.  We can all critique any fight, pro fight.  BUT, you know, we have to give that person credit for doing what was necessary at the time, and then hopefully going back and learning from it.  So, being a little too obsessed with a style I think can be detrimental.  I do love traditional martial arts though.  I’m not one to badmouth ’em, I think forms are awesome, but I don’t think forms translates to fighting directly, but I did do forms throughout my kung fu time, and then that was my introduction to kung fu.  And the forms and the stance work builds up leg strength, it builds up punching movement, body mechanics, kicking proficiency.  Absolutely wonderful.  But it’s just in the same way that I think that that can be one tool, to train, it’s just like a boxer using a speed bag.  If all you know how to do is use a speed bag and strike like this (does an impression of rhythmic strikes on an imaginary speed bag)—you don’t strike like you normally would in fighting, the speed bag—but, if that’s all you can do, you probably can’t fight very well.  I don’t care that you’re amazing on a speed bag and know tricks and can hit it with your elbow or whatever.  Because do you actually spar?  Do you actually punch?  Do you do drills?  Do you do mitts?  Do you do the whole thing?  And so, I think it’s the same with anything.  If all you do is forms every day, okay.  Then you’re good at forms.  You might be okay, you might be able to defend yourself because you’re physically fit, know how to throw a punch or kick.  But you’re not a fighter.  You know, and I don’t think that’s bad.  I think that’s fine.  I think that contemporary Wushu is absolutely phenomenal, I think that the high-level forms are amazing; those athletes train harder than a lot of the fighters sometimes.  And the skill level is there, and the danger is there for knee injuries and things like that now, with how complicated everything’s gotten.  So, I don’t hold anything against that, and I think the traditionalists a lot of the time attack those people as well.  You know, “That’s not real kung fu”, and that too.  And I think there’s room for all of it.  But let’s just be honest with ourselves, about what we know, about what we are confident we can do, and be humble too.  You know, just because I’ve done some fights, I don’t even wanna fight anybody.  I like sparring in my class, I like training, I don’t wanna get into fights with anyone.  It’s dangerous, you know, it’s crazy.  And I see—you’ve seen some of the more recent things where some of these internal stylists have been challenged and challenged [with] MMA fighters, and these things, and the results are always bad.  And personally, I wouldn’t take a fight like that, I don’t wanna do that.  But, I understand the outrage on the side of, you know, a Tai Chi person being beat up, BUT, I also understand that somebody that trains to fight all the time and fight, fight, fight, and somebody says, “Oh, well I would just use a little, ‘bah’, and I’d do this technique, and you wouldn’t be able to stop me.” (does an impression of esoteric fajin [发劲; fājìn, literally “released power”])  When you’re a tough fighter, and competitive, and rose to the challenge and kind of combative, and someone says something like that, meaning they would kind of call you out, and you say, “Fine, let’s do it”, and they say, “Yes”, and sign the dotted line…Well, you know, I’d rather us be less violent and more humble, but when that happens I kind of understand that side too, of, “You’ve tried to discredit me, and say I don’t do real kung fu, and I’ve got a record of 60 fights or whatever.”  And they tend to prove it.  And that goes to anyone out there, I’d encourage them not to challenge people who are, you know, trained fighters, because it’s just…Why would you wanna do that?  Offer to train with them.  Go work out with them, see if they wanna learn Tai Chi with you, that’d be awesome.  I need to do Tai Chi more.  You know, I think we should all be friends, I think contemporary Wushu, traditional, and Sanda, it’s all under the same blanket, and we’re one big family.

Q: It’s funny you mention that, especially the forms training versus the fighting training, which segways perfectly into my next question…Sanshou/Sanda was made by the CWA, which was also responsible for creating what we call Taolu (套路; tàolù, forms), and encompasses what you just mentioned as contemporary Wushu, [also known as] modern or sport Wushu.  When Sanshou/Sanda was added, now they have Taolu for forms competition, and Sanda for fighting competition, and that’s considered the modern Wushu umbrella, as a sport.  And again, traditional martial artists, including Chinese martial artists, will look at that and say, “Well, they’ve separated forms and fighting.  They’ve made a dichotomy of forms training and fight training.”  So, my next question is, what is your response to the criticism that modern Wushu has separated forms and fighting?

A: Jason Liu.

Q: (Laughs).

A: He did both.  It is possible.  I think he was the first one since way back in the day, right?  But in all honesty, you know…when we’re talking about this, we’re talking about a competition, world competition, that’s at a…Olympic level.  I mean, this is countries putting their five best fighters, their five best female forms [athletes], and five best male [athletes]—this is amazing, these are the best of the best out of every country, it’s investing money in this.  When you talk to people like Coach Lee and find out about the level of training for the fighters in China, and Taiwan, and all that…they’re bringing in a boxing coach from Korea, a Muay Thai coach from Thailand, for kicking, and this and that, a wrestling coach, a judo coach, right?  These people…they’re talking all of that just to win in the fighting.  My point to somebody is, if you actually want to compete at that level, whether or not you’ve done forms, or fighting, if you are going to compete in Worlds or Nationals, you have to focus on one, to be able to do it at the level that you could win.  Because it is so competitive, it is so high-level, one subtle mistake in your form, little bobble, and you’ve just had a deduction that knocked you out of the running for placing at all.  Right?  One little mistake.  You need to be doing those drills.  All the time.  And mentally prepare for that to go get on the Team, or do Nationals.  Fighting, you know, one mistake, one guy that wants it a little more than you, one zig when you should’ve zagged, or freezing up for a moment, or, you know, error in judgment, or distance, or catching, and you can be losing.  You need to be training for that, full-time.  I think that in the past, contemporary Wushu was probably maybe viewed a little more acceptable because the thought was most people would’ve been taking some form of traditional as a child, you know.  And here in the US we don’t necessarily have that benefit.  We all wish we started when we were 5, and instead we’re all older and sore.  But, you know, the thought, I think would be, “Okay, somebody’s done traditional”, which involved traditional forms, and some form of sparring or two-man sets and drills or some sort of interaction, and then when you get a high-level of that, then the next level was, “Well let’s take it to this crazy acrobatic thing.”  Because everybody can throw a reverse punch really hard, so how do you judge that?  “Oh well I can jump in the air and do a tornado kick.”  “Well I can do a tornado kick and do a split.”  “Well I can do a butterfly.”  And you just up the ante to where it’s like everybody should have those fundamentals.  I understand that some people are upset that maybe the martial techniques are a little less valued now, the punches and kicks.  And there’s always a pendulum swing and push or pull with that, you know, and I’m open to hearing people’s grievances and that or what have you.  And there’s always gonna be changes with that, there might be little, slight tweaks to the Sanda rules as well.  But I think to have it at a high-level, you know, I think having traditional forms or any forms in your history, and then getting into this, it’s gonna be common.  I think a lot of people in the United States probably did Karate or Taekwondo where they did some form of forms, before they are fighting competitively…but once you wanna go to Nationals, Junior Nationals, Worlds, I think you have to get laser-focused on that.

Q: You bring up a pretty good point with the fact that modern Wushu, whether it’s Taolu or Sanda, it’s very much a sport.  You hear it in the name, whether it’s modern Wushu, or you call it contemporary Wushu or sport Wushu—the name gives it away, it’s a sport.  And it is what it is.  People can like it, people can hate it, but it’s very much based on competition.  You go to do forms, you’re performing under a certain set of rules, you’re doing fighting, you’re also fighting under a certain set of rules, and scoring criteria as well.  So, if you’re gonna play the game, play the game right.  That makes a lot of sense.

A: Absolutely, and it’s hard because you don’t wanna complain, you know, it’d be like going into a basketball game not understanding what 3-point shot is or dunk, and you go, “Well, I didn’t know that I get 3 points if I shot it from out here.”  Well that’s your fault.  You went to the basketball game.  So, you know, there is a sense of if you wanna do well, and I’d say, “Hey, if you just wanna try it and give it a go, I mean you could do that too.”  BUT, you’ve gotta be ready to maybe just not win on points.  Just like if I don’t know what are the point deductions for doing forms…well if I don’t know how the scoring works at all, how could I go for that?  So, it’s the same with the fighting.  I think you need to know it.  You know, know that you’re getting into, and how to compete for it, if you wanna win.  Also, there’s nothing stopping anyone from signing up from any system, you know.  So even with those restrictions, a Wing Chun guy, or a Hung Gar, or Bagua or anybody can do Sanda.  They can come fight.

Q: And they have.

A: They have, and some have done well.  So, there’s no reason to say no, if you don’t wanna participate or you don’t think it’s for you, it’s okay.  But I encourage people to try it.  Try and see what they can learn.  Nothing is a complete real street fight, but it’s okay to test yourself sometimes in a controlled environment, but it’s still a bit dangerous and it’s definitely exciting and stresses ya out.

Q: Right.  And talking about when you’re training for competition, obviously you wanna train and pay attention to the rules, study them, and train to those specifications, so when you take a lot of time and energy and dedicate it to that, it’s very typical that when you’re talking about modern Wushu athletes, they would typically only specialize in one or the other, either Taolu or just Sanda.  But, of course there are some exceptions like, you know, Jason Liu, and even way back when, Jason Yee—

A: I think it’s the name Jason.  If there’s any Jasons out there, you probably have a chance of getting on the Team for both fighting and forms.

Q: Yeah, who knows?

(Both laugh).

Q: Even Collin Lee who has fought in the Guoshu lei tai championships, he was [also] a US Wushu Team member way back when.

A: He’s done very well in both.

Q: True.  And even back then in China, one of the Hebei Wushu Team members [Li Yanlong], who was a modern Wushu Taolu athlete, and a Sanda champion in the 70-75 kg category, so there are people that exist like that, and of course, many more, who knows who else was there and decided to do it…

A: And let’s be honest.  Do we have any 95 kg Taolu champions?  So, once you hit the 95 kg, 90 kg, I think you gotta just fight.  You know, you gotta have a spot for some people to go for that too, you know.  But yeah, if you’re in that perfect body size where you can do both, good luck, it’s awesome.  Yeah, I think that’s a great point, that there’s people that have done it, and, you know, it’s as simple as–you’re talking about training differently, you’re gonna be training differently for the specific weapon form that you think you’re gonna win with.  Right?  I mean all of us wanna learn a lot of forms—I don’t know, the beginning of kung fu, man I saw all the weapons on the wall, and I was like, “I wanna learn ’em all, I wanna know everything”, you know, wanna be a master, and all that, and I hope everybody still is doing that or many people are, and I believe they are.  BUT, you tend to find, “Oh, I’m great with spear”, or “My form is broadsword/straight sword”, whatever it is.  And so, when you’re in a competition, you’re probably gonna really, really, not just train contemporary Wushu, train the weapon and the bare hand form that you are going to compete with and try to win with.  You know, you’re not necessarily gonna go grab a three-sectional staff and try to have that down too in time.  Right?  Because it’s just not practical.  And so the same thing happens even with the fighting where just the difference between Guoshu and Sanda is, longer clinch, different scoring, knees are okay in the clinch, you know, you train a little differently and you wanna be training a little differently; it’s not to say that I can’t just pop in and maybe fight, but if I really wanna be competitive, I’d like to be practicing that ruleset, so that if I’m doing USAWKF or whatever, I’m not allowed to throw a knee, so I don’t wanna be drilling knees for 20 minutes, you know.  Because it’s not really gonna be beneficial to my game at that next fight.  I might keep ’em in the back or just do ’em as a fitness thing or whatever, just keep loose.  But then if I went into ICMAC allows knees, and [is] inside a boxing ring, so again, strategy is different there.  And I’d still call that Sanda/Sanshou, it’s just a little different.

Q: And, you know, even outside of the training for competition, like the examples that I mentioned from modern Wushu just now, there are guys that train both forms and fighting, so just a quick follow-up question, would you encourage that?  Is that something that you think should be done?

A: Absolutely.  Really, especially in the beginning.  You know, I think that you might have to focus on one or the other as you start, getting your coordination, cause it can be a lot to take on, especially if you’re in a high-level gym that has like really high-level Wushu people that are really showing you this stuff or the really high-level fighters, but there’s no reason—our curriculum used to be very traditional and sparring was part of it.  But we’ve actually split them so that people can focus more, but we still encourage people to cross-train.  So, the only difference when you’re doing a forms class or doing forms—traditional forms—and then we also have contemporary classes, and Tai Chi classes—you can do any of the classes, but that way—you know, it’s interesting.  We used to have like an hour, an hour and 15-minute class.  Well, if half the class is like, warm-up and techniques, and then the second half is you forms training, so what are we getting?  30 minutes?  Or sparring and sparring techniques, 30 minutes?  It started being like, “Well, wow, I’d really rather have the whole hour or 2 hours or whatever it is, for that one discipline.”  You know, and let’s focus on that.  And it’s not to say that some of the knowledge—we’ll even use Tai Chi cooldowns and stuff—so it’s not to say there’s not even crossover there.  But, it’s that, “Hey, if we’re gonna go keep doing form rotations, let’s do that for this class.”  Really focus on that.  And stance—front stance, horse stance, front stance, empty stance—all that.  And if we’re gonna spar, let’s get our pads on, and our gloves on, and our Thai pads out or focus mitts.  But, cross-training with both, absolutely.  Cause you might find that you’re better at one.  I’ve seen people surprise themselves at what they can do with forms, or in sparring.  I’ve seen some forms people that go out, and all of a sudden, they’re just kinda natural, and they don’t have a fear, and they’re good, and they start veering like, “Maybe I wanna do this.”  So, it’s definitely great to open it up, and see where it takes you.  And then if it’s time to compete, maybe you have to make a choice.  You know, maybe you have to say, “This competition’s gonna be a forms competition for me.”  “This competition’s gonna be a fighting competition.”  Also, there’s plenty of stuff out there that you can use as far as traditional tournaments, where they have that medium contact or light contact sparring.  So, hey, if you’re not at the level where you wanna go to a full-contact fight, but you are doing some Sanda training and you are doing some forms training, a lot of those tournaments, general open tournaments, offer forms and sparring in the same event, go do that, and get your feet wet.  You know, making contact with other people, competitively, whether forms and fighting, is always gonna help you grow.  So, I encourage all of it.

Q: Yeah, and going back to like cross-training, when you look at the fact that modern Wushu has both forms and fight training, you could look at it as a very much of a holistic kind of approach, you know, if you’re looking at it from a martial arts practice approach.  There’s always that debate and opinions about “Oh well, modern Wushu’s very much a sport.”  Which it is.  And because of that, it’s not on the same level as traditional martial arts.  But you know, then again, there is that holistic aspect where you could bring it all together with a martial arts practice if you wanted to.  Like, my personal Wushu hero, Zhao Changjun, who was Jet Li’s competitive rival back in their competition days, he said that, “If you want be a real Wushu expert (and I’m paraphrasing here maybe), you shall practice both [Taolu and Sanshou]…It is not good if you only [practice] Taolu and [don’t] know anything about the other method, other application or other practice.  That is like walking with one leg, not two legs.”  So, you definitely have a point there about, “Hey, cross-training can definitely make me better at what I’m naturally good at, and also improving as a martial arts practitioner as a whole.”

A: Absolutely.  And not to leave Tai Chi out either, because, you know, I had a back injury, and being able to come to my school and still do an activity, it helped me recover.  And I knew it was difficult, I hadn’t done a lot, and it opened my eyes, especially with my back recovery, it was so difficult.  And it was great, because I was getting a little depressed, I was unable to do a lot of the stuff that I wanna do, you know, I could still teach but not train or demonstrate or anything.  And being able to come in and have something that was low-impact and good for you—like you said, holistic—I think that approach is great.  Having a very well-rounded school, I feel very lucky to have that.  And so many great students, teachers, just able to kinda direct me and just giving me options.  And I also think about, you know, I’m 39.”  Sanda for me is legally over in a year, as far as competition.  And I’ll still spar in here, I’m gonna throw down for as long as I can, but as that slows down and I morph more into teaching people more, than throwin’ on the gloves and hitting, I foresee pickin’ up my spear again, and goin’ in and getting better at Tai Chi again, and not for competition, but just for health and for life.  I wanna do this stuff until I’m gone, you know.  And if people keep that long view, I think [it] can help too.  Remember that, you wanna compete, you wanna do the best you can, if you’re that kinda person and you wanna go for it, awesome.  If it doesn’t go your way, don’t beat yourself up.  Life goes on, you know.  And that will pass, and then have something else.  And then if come into a school and go, “Wow, I don’t think I wanna compete.”  Okay.  That’s fine too.  I have students that just wanna train, they love sparring every day, they love working on the fights, and they wanna be able to defend themselves and love the fitness, and, you know, I love seeing them improve too.  They don’t have to go for Nationals or Worlds and all that, as long as they’re getting what they need out of it.

Q: So, last question.  If you could change one thing about Sanshou/Sanda, what would it be?

A: Mmm…one thing…gosh…I don’t know, here’s what I’ll say.  In the past I would’ve said, “Allow the knees.  Body knees.”  I think I’ve changed a little bit on that though.  And the reason being is, that I think that the ruleset is encouraging a certain direction of fighting.  So, I’d say Muay Thai wants the knees.  They want the kicks, a lot of times they alternate with the kicks, there’s a lot about staying in the center of the ring, not backing away, they kind of reward things in a different way.  Punches aren’t actually super important in a lot of those fights.  So, elbows and knees, clinch work, a lot of times is really important.  And so, the sport goes around that.  I think that by not having the knees, especially at the amateur level—and they tend to allow the knees at the pro level—allows people to get used to shooting in, grabbing, going for the throw, without the fear of that knee maybe hitting you.  Even if we say body knees, well if we’re allowing double leg takedowns and body knees, we’re gonna get some faces hit and disqualifications by knee, and stuff like that.  And I think that when I look at it now, I go, “It is a beautiful system that is trying to encourage these techniques to come out”, and now I think that I would just say, “Practice your knees too and do some of those other Sanda competitions, or Muay Thai, or MMA”, you know, whatever you like.  But don’t just neglect this one, because hey, if you can get those takedowns and throws the way that the top-level athletes do there, you could then manipulate people in other ways.  And have something that maybe somebody that just did some basic Muay Thai and a little bit of Brazilian jujutsu, might not be ready for some of that—your side kick and leg catch and takedowns.  So right now, I’d say I will leave it alone.  We’ll leave it there, and we’ll watch it for a few years, and see how the tournaments go, and how some of the fighting is, we wanna make sure that the fighting still is good, and that there’s no kind of rule manipulation that is making it bad.  And I think as long as those fights are good and high-level and exciting like they were this past Worlds, I think it’s pretty cool.

Q: Alright, well, this has been an interview with Siheng Mark Lorenzo.  Siheng Mark, thank you very much.

A: Thank you.

Siheng Mark is the head Sanda instructor at Goh’s Kung Fu, and welcomes walk-ins to his classes!  The address of the school is 7710 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD 21234 (note: the business next door, Mr. Tire Auto Service Centers, does not like it when students park there, so it is best to park on the other side of the street, on the side of SunTrust Bank directly across the street).  Special thanks to Siheng Mark Lorenzo for his willingness to do the interview, and more importantly his OPENNESS AND HONESTY in his answers, and suggestion on making the interview more of a discussion format to talk more in-depth about Sanda!  For those who are interested in learning more about Sanda, I hope this interview has helped to promote better understanding of the discipline.

Matt began practicing Wushu at the age of 7 under US Wushu Academy, and is a coach of the UMBC Wushu Club. He has held positions in national, international, and local modern Wushu competitions, and is currently training in Sanshou/Sanda and traditional Chen Style Taijiquan. He is a three-time consecutive US Wushu Team member and most recently Pan American Champion, and is continually trying to improve himself both as a competitive athlete and as a real martial artist. If you have any questions you would like to ask Matt, please email him at matthewlee@jiayoowushu.com.