YMAA recently provided me with a review copy of their two DVD set entitled “Shaolin Long Fist Advanced Kung Fu”, presented by Nicholas Yang. The review copy does not require a positive review…just honest impressions.
Here’s the interesting thing about this particular review – I am not an advanced Kung Fu practitioner. In fact, I’m not a beginner Kung Fu practitioner. That’s why I decided to take a different approach than usual. I’ll be assessing the basic value of the DVDs (production quality, amount of information, cost value, etc), then I’ll be handing it off to a friend of mine, Gary Choi, who is indeed a long time Kung Fu practitioner. He will provide more detailed analysis on the quality of the content.
With that being said, let’s jump right in!
Overview of Shaolin Long Fist Advanced Kung Fu
The first and most important question when dealing with a product like this is…what do you get out of it? As two separate DVD sets, this product provides a wide breadth of information designed to give insight to advanced practitioners. Some of the drills and methods included in the DVDs are as follows:
Part 1 (2 DVD Set)
* History of San Lu Pao
* Basic Training of San Lu Pao (stepping, kicking, hand forms, training routines)
* San Lu Pao Form Sequence (sectional, slow speed, high speed, applications)
* History of Taizu Changquan
* Basic Training of Taizu Changquan (stepping, kicking, hand forms, training routines)
* Taizu Changquan Form Sequence (sectional, slow speed, high speed, applications)
Part 2 (2 DVD Set)
* History of Si Lu Cha Quan
* Basic Training of Si Lu Cha Quan (stepping, kicking, hand forms, training routines)
* Si Lu Cha Quan Form Sequence (sectional, slow speed, high speed, applications)
* History of Si Lu Ben Za
* Basic Training of Si Lu Ben Za (stepping, kicking, hand forms, training routines)
* Si Lu Ben Za Form Sequence (sectional, slow speed, high speed, applications)
DVD Quality Analysis
As I mentioned earlier, I am not qualified to comment on the content of these DVDs. However, I have seen quite a few training resources in my day so I can do a comparative quality analysis of it’s production.
First of all, YMAA simply does not skimp on content. I have paid upwards of $30-40 for DVDs which contain little more than an hour of footage. These DVD sets, while in that same price range, provide 8 hours of content. Eight hours is a lot. If you are a details-oriented person, you will not be disappointed by the depth of investigation provided in this resource.
As for quality of production, I have to say that I did not find myself distracted at all from the material at hand. That’s a notable achievement as low budget symptoms have hampered many resources in the past (and still today). The camera work was well done, the training environment was stark but appropriately so, and the instructors seemed prepared with their material.
The primary instructor, Nicholas Yang, is the son of well-known Kung Fu practitioner and author Yang Jwing-Ming. From an outsiders perspective, Nicholas Yang’s execution of technique seemed very well done (but we’ll dive more into that in a bit). As an instructor, I would describe him as the informative type. He did not seem overly concerned about joke telling, entertainment, or things of that nature. He stuck to the material and described it quite competently. Some people prefer this straight-up presentation style while others enjoy a highly charismatic speaker. That’s simple matter of taste.
Let’s move on to the main course – the content analysis.
DVD Content Analysis
This portion of the review is provided by Gary Choi who carries on his family Kung Fu style near Denver, CO.
Intro and History
The video starts off very fast paced and goes straight into explanations and a brief history lesson on the form that they are doing. This is very much appreciated but I would have to say that the speed they talk at is very fast and at times almost overwhelming in terms of on how much info they are throwing at you. The history lesson is spoken in English but all the text is in Chinese and it’s a bit confusing if you don’t understand Chinese.
The beginning techniques the DVD shows us is the simple steps. It’s still very fast paced but at the same time shows good instruction. Nicholas Yang provides a very good explanation on taking care of the body and how to use it in a practical sense and where to build from. The stepping is very much designed for intermediate and advanced practitioners mainly due to the speed and integration of different stepping and foot techniques. There are also a lot of references to past teachings, but very little on what the actual practice consisted of.
The adjoined partner drill is very good in both showing and explaining on what and how it can work, though there are some areas where he could use either better angles for the camera or explanation. The stepping drills are also based very much in sparring and fighting verse traditional form and how to merge different hand techniques. As the video goes on it becomes more and more complex in both technique and in actual speed.
There is very little review and takes again a very fast pace teaching. All the kicks are used in conjunction with the previous steps used. Throughout the kicking portion basic safety is not addressed, assuming that you will already know what to do. An example of this would be on how to jump or on how to shift the hips during the actual kick.
Yang shows excellent motion and goes at a much slower pace for people to see. I would say that he doesn’t give a good explanation on how to use the power or body but rather on how it should look. This is still very much for advanced or intermediate students due to complexity and speed. You would also need much prior knowledge of other DVDs or training to understand some of the terminology and concepts. If you do understand or have that experience from the DVDs it provides a very good level of progression.
His explanation on the form is very good, clear and concise. It shows a very good use of everything that was covered earlier on throughout the DVD. It shows different people doing the same form to show how it operates and also ranges in different speeds.
As the instructions go on Yang begins to show the way the form is used for attack and defense and the purpose of the movements. From how to use combination of punches and kicks to different joint locks and throws, he even shows the ways it can be used as defense against weapons and different attacks.
Overall the DVDs are very good but they draw heavily on previous knowledge of the system. They are very fast paced but they do show good examples and drills of the different techniques and how they can be used in conjunction with each other. This particular style is a very northern based kung fu so many of the theories they explain and show are based for more mobile style of fighting. The applications they use are very much based on traditional ideas and theories that are from form. Nicholas Yang does an amazing job of bridging the content over to practical fighting application.
Acquiring the DVDs
If you think these DVDs may benefit your training, you can acquire them via the following links:
|Price: $39.95||Price: $44.95|
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This is a continuation of the interview with Ann Marie Heilman. Part 1 of the interview can be found here. In this segment, Heilman Sensei discusses what it was like meeting Odo Seikichi of Okinawa Kenpo and how it changed the direction of her martial arts career. She also contemplates the meaning of being a Hanshi in karate and her growing responsibilities as a role model for women in the martial arts. Please enjoy.
MA: Could you discuss how you met Odo Seikichi Sensei of Okinawa Kenpo? What were your early impressions of him that made you decide to train under him full time?
AMH: The first time I met him was during a banquet we attended with Trias Sensei over in Okinawa. When they announced us and our style as “Okinawa Kenpo” a very small Okinawan man jumped up and yelled “yay! Okinawa Kenpo!” with his arms in the air. That of course was Odo Sensei.
That’s the thing – he was always happy and joyful. Even when he was quite ill, he was always a happy funny man and it was easy to grow to love him. He was also an excellent teacher. We brought him over to the United States the following year and continued to train with him as much as we could until his passing.
We established a routine of going to Okinawa or bringing Odo Sensei to the United States every year. We would be able to spend weeks and sometimes months with him in focused training. It was a great relationship and we were blessed to have him here in our home so frequently.
MA: What did you find similar/different studying with Odo Sensei vs some of your previous instructors?
AMH: It was different in that he was very laid back. I’m not sure if my previous experiences were flavored with American military or Japanese martial art style, which is very very different in the dojo and very serious. While we were training and doing kata with Odo Sensei, although the training was rigorous and focused he always taught with a smile and laughter. That was different and good for me.
Odo Sensei’s training was exacting and he had a huge emphasis on kata. That worked well for us because we could receive the kata and bunkai from Odo Sensei, but then also receive high level application, theory, fighting, etc. from Trias Sensei.
I remember early on in our studies with Odo there was no particular structure for the material. He would teach you what you were interested in or what he thought you should know. I remember attending a meeting in 1984 with a number of other senior students of his and establishing an actual hierarchy of material that students would have to learn. Once we had that scaffolding set up, everyone could then test standardized material. It was in this way that I tested up to 7th Dan directly under Odo Sensei.
MA: Odo Sensei was known for teaching in the old Okinawan manner of suiting material to the student, tweaking it as needed to make it more functional for the individual. Were there any particular ways in which Odo Sensei molded your learning to make it work better for you personally?
AMH: I think the most unique thing about my relationship with Odo Sensei was how frequently he used me as his bunkai partner. Bunkai became a very live experience for me. Before Odo Sensei I trained with a lot of tall, strong men. It was really great to learn from Odo Sensei who was much closer to me in size. That being said, Odo Sensei was very muscular and had huge hands. He was a powerful individual. I remember when we put our hands together his fingers could fold over my fingers.
If I watched him very carefully I could learn how a smaller individual could move, especially with the weapons.
MA: Your husband Bruce Heilman is also a senior in Okinawa Kenpo. This would inevitably lead people to wonder if you were perhaps riding his coattails or getting free rank simply by association. Am I right in assuming this sort of thing came up, and how did you go about handling it?
AMH: Testing and receiving rank directly from Odo Sensei and NOT my husband was critical. In fact Bruce was of the same mind and made sure that it was not him who tested or promoted me. Over the years I noticed a few women who did receive high rank simply because of who they were married to. My testing was always public and I was always sure to keep my training as transparent as possible. This is another reason I did tournaments for a while. I wanted people to see what I could do and prove that I was not just a figurine following my husband.
MA: While studying under Odo Sensei you and Mr. Heilman were also busy building the IKKF (International Karate Kobudo Federation), which Odo Sensei approved and sat on the board for. Could you discuss the challenges of starting something of that nature?
AMH: The organization came about because we wanted to establish a personal identity while being a branch of Odo Sensei’s Shudokan. Bruce Heilman had a talent for organization and was experienced in setting up this kind of structure. He knew about getting accountants, and lawyers, etc etc. We had met a number of excellent martial artists over the years that we wanted to associate with, and we also wanted to help other styles learn things like Okinawan weapons that their style may not have had.
The growth of the federation allowed us to share our art, especially the kobudo, with many people both in the USA and internationally. I never would have thought it possible when I was growing up.
One of the challenges of the IKKF is the desire to maintain high standards throughout the entire organization. Sometimes our style is not ideal for individuals that want to join us, or perhaps our standards are not reasonable for a commercial school. We try to be fair while maintaining what we think is right.
MA: While you’ve spent many years developing your martial arts you’ve also studied and acquired degrees in special needs education. How have you found those two worlds fitting and interacting with each other?
AMH: They fit together like a glove! I’m a people watcher to begin with, but the study of psychology is extremely applicable, especially when it comes to teaching self-defense. For example, how do you take a woman who has been victimized and traumatized and make a fighter out of her? She cannot become capable of defending herself without addressing the psychological factors.
We have had many special needs students throughout the years. I recall one individual in a wheel chair who we developed material for. We’ve had individuals with cerebral palsy, kids with autism, etc. At times I’ve had specialty classes, and other times have had individuals in a regular class with proper assistance.
I believe even limited individuals can benefit from martial arts training as long as the teacher knows how to work with the limitations.
MA: Recently you received the rare honor of being promoted to 9th Dan, Hanshi. I’m sure this was something impactful for you. Could you talk a bit about your feelings and reflections of the promotion?
AMH: I remember my husband brought up the possibility two years ago but I was staunchly opposed to it. I wanted no parts of it and that kind of responsibility. As far as this time around, I feel right about it because I’ve had two years to reflect on the possibility and the things that I’ve done, and the amount of study I’ve done and still want to do. I knew that if I received it this year it would be coming in a legitimate way from teachers outside of the IKKF who are respected in their own right.
(Note: Heilman Sensei’s promotion was made by Hanshi’s Larry Isaac, 10th Dan; C. Bruce Heilman, 10th Dan; and Jody Paul, 9th Dan; with the approval and authorization from Okinawa from Hanshi’s Shihan Toma (ratified before his passing), 10th Dan; Shigemitsu Tamae, 9th Dan; and Kyoshi Satoshi Yamauchi, 9th Dan, representing both the Seidokan and Motoburyu lineages. Additionally Heilman Sensei received recognition from the IKKF (her home federation) and the United States Association of Martial Artists (an organization connected to the original USKA under Master Robert Trias). These ratifications were important as they connected Heilman Sensei to her roots in training (Odo Seikichi and Robert Trias), as well as continuing the historical connection between Okinawa Kenpo, Seidokan, and Motobu Udundi.)
To be honest, I was so much more involved and excited with Mr. Hayes getting his promotion that I was not thinking too much about my own. It felt good that I was more concerned with him than myself – I felt it was a moment of personal growth.
As for the promotion night itself – I do not remember a moment of it! I don’t remember standing in front of everyone…things were a dull roar.
MA: As you mentioned, the title of Hanshi bears a certain amount of weight and responsibility. How do you see yourself using it for the betterment of the IKKF and the martial arts in general?
AMH: It certainly has imposed a sense of obligation on me…in a good way. I believe I need to take a step up in the amount of teaching and seminar instruction that I am doing. I need to be more of a “Bobbi Snyder” for the young women coming up through now, as she was for me. I need to represent the martial arts in a more visible fashion.
In the coming years I’ll be taking a more active role in traveling, especially overseas. I would also like to increase the amount of writing I do. I need to find a way to balance all that with my current job of working with special needs children.
MA: When you think about your overall legacy on the arts, what do you hope your lasting impact will be?
AMH: I’d like to be remembered as a good and fair karate woman, teacher, and judge. If I can do that, and combine it with the IKKF learning materials we have already created, I would be happy. We have set up the scaffold so that people will have what we created for a long time to come.
I’ve never considered myself (nor was I in truth) a natural talent at martial arts. Everything I learned was through repetition over and over and over. I would watch others get it much sooner than I could. I’ve had multiple injuries as well that were very debilitating. In total my learning process has been slow, with many ups and downs.
I hope that other “non-naturals” out there can see my struggles and continue to push through too. I would say to them, surround yourself with a good support system and never let “quit” enter your equation. As I was once told in grade school: “Aim for the moon…even if you miss you’ll land amongst the stars”.
MA: Thank you very much Mrs. Heilman for your time and thoughts!
I’m very pleased to present this interview with Ann Marie Heilman, senior practitioner of Okinawa Kenpo Karate and Kobudo. Heilman Sensei has spent over 45 years training and leading the way for women in the martial arts.
In addition to being a skilled martial artist, Heilman Sensei is a formally educated psychology and special needs professional. She has been an important figure in teaching martial arts to at-risk children, abused women, and other individuals in volatile circumstances. She plays an integral leadership role in the International Karate Kobudo Federation and the long operating Heilman Karate Academy.
It was my pleasure to converse with Heilman Sensei about her past training experiences, views on women in the martial arts, and her responsibilities as a senior practitioner. Please enjoy the interview!
MA: Thank you again Heilman Sensei for agreeing to do an interview here. Let’s start at the beginning – when was the first time you set foot in a dojo or training environment?
AMH: I was a freshman at Albright College and Hidy Ochiai was a senior at the time. He was offering Judo Self Defense classes at the local Y. I was really interested in that, and had some personal safety concerns because one of my family members was being released from the state hospital (mental and behavioral problems). I signed up for it, hopped on a bus, and went down to the Y once a week for self defense training. This began in 1966.
The content of the course focused on street awareness and defense techniques (where to hit, how to hit, how to throw, etc). The basis of the class was on Judo methods, which I found challenging as a smaller woman.
It was a very good experience because Ochiai Sensei had endless patience with us. He always encouraged me to continue, even when the program was coming to an end. I was never sure if his encouragement came because he saw a spark of passion in me for the martial arts or if he thought I was so bad I needed lots more extra help, hahaha.
MA: Where did your training go from there?
AMH: As I mentioned Ochiai Sensei was a senior, so after his time was up at the university I had to seek training elsewhere. One day when I was in my dorm room a friend of mine named Rick Ulrich walked in and invited to take me to a local dojo operated by George Dillman.
I had no real knowledge of what karate was, but Rick and a few other friends were involved. I remember my first class there I had to go through something called a kata named “taikyoku one”. I remember thinking – this is kindof…odd. And I had a lot of problems with it. Coming from an inner city school I had almost no experience with gym classes or sports. To do something in a coordinated and physically organized fashion like that was hard.
MA: Were you tempted to quit at first due to the difficulty and unusual nature of the exercise?
AMH: I don’t think I knew at the time how hard it was for me and how bad I must have been. I didn’t know that I was struggling.
MA: Could you talk a bit about the curriculum at the Dillman School?
AMH: At the very beginning I didn’t realize that what we were doing was different from what other people were doing. However, over time I realized that our style of practice was connected to Isshin Ryu Karatedo. In time the name changed to Okinawa Kempo due to influence from Daniel K. Pai, however the content of the class didn’t change. Our training consisted of Isshin Ryu forms and sparring as well as some self defense.
Things were very tournament oriented at that time. I remember going to a national tournament in Indianapolis in 1969, which coincidentally is the first time I met one of the major figures in United States martial arts – Robert Trias.
MA: What was the climate of martial arts training like at that time?
AMH: Truthfully it was a very macho kind of environment. Practitioners were mostly men and the martial arts were still heavily connected to the military (considering the individuals who were bringing karate back from the East). There were so few women that we were a sort of novelty.
All the women I knew in training at that time were white belts. It wasn’t until I attended a tournament that I actually met a black belt woman named Bobbi Snyder. She was competing in the same ring as us because there was only one ring for women (white through black belt and regardless of age). Bobbi took first place in our kata division, and my roommate Linda took second.
Competitor Bobbi Snyder executing a self defense routine and her preferred performance kata, Chinto:
Linda and I were convinced this woman (Bobbi) was going to be standoffish and /or aggressive, but when we all met in the locker room after the competition she immediately joined us in conversation saying how glad she was to meet us. She really encouraged and supported us in our training and said how she was looking forward to watching us gain rank and skill.
She was a student of Glen Premru at the time, a very well known karateka in his own right located in Pittsburgh.
MA: You met your eventual husband, C. Bruce Heilman, at the Dillman School. Could you talk about that meeting?
AMH: I had been training at that dojo for about a year before Bruce came to town. He was from the Pittsburgh area but was serving an internship near Reading. He was already a Shodan under Hank Talbot when he arrived, which was in a style of Jujitsu developed by Dewey Deavers that featured a healthy mixture of tripping, throwing, and striking methods. The Deavers system was known as a hard knocks style that integrated ideas from other methods, including karate. As such, when Bruce arrived in the Dillman school he was honored as a black belt. Of course, he had to learn the kata before being recertified in our style.
When we first started we were side-by-side students. Of course, he had an unusual natural gift for these sort of things and it didn’t take him long to become one of the instructors there. He was a savant for kata and a very good fighter.
We were married in June of 1971, only about 9 months after meeting.
MA: Could you discuss how you eventually began to train under Robert Trias Sensei?
AMH: We reached out to Mr. Trias who we had known from tournaments for a number of years and expressed our interest in learning from him. He directed us to connect with his regional director, who as it turns out, was Hidy Ochiai. Since Bruce was a Nidan at that time Ochiai Sensei decided to test him, and subsequently made Bruce fight all the black belts in his dojo for hours. Bruce was loving it, and afterward we all went out for dinner and had a great time. Ochiai Sensei was instrumental in helping us with our East Coast training and keeping us connected to Trias Sensei.
Bruce and I established our own school in 1972 in the Reading area. For a few years we were focused on building the school and teaching while still learning from the USKA (Trias Sensei’s organization) members in the area. It was in the late 70s and early 80s that we actually studied with Trias Sensei directly.
It was also at this time that we participated in many seminars and got to meet some of the great American practitioners of the time.
MA: Could you talk about what training was like with Trias Sensei? How was it different/similar to what you did before?
AMH: It was really excellent, he was as good as his reputation suggested. Trias Sensei provided us with fantastic training and helped us understand what made karate work (or not work). He had keen insight into functionality, fighting, and kata interpretation. He was one of the best of his time.
One thing he pointed out to us fairly early was that we were not doing Okinawa Kenpo, even though that is what we were self-labeled through the Dillman School. He suggested that we travel with him to Okinawa in order to meet the headmaster of the style , Odo Seikichi. Of course we were a bit taken aback by this revelation, but Trias Sensei’s honesty and knowledge were part of his value as a teacher. He was rather strict in this regard; he told us that if we wanted to keep calling ourselves Okinawa Kenpo that it was our duty to meet the head of the style and learn his ways.
It took a few years for us to gather the funds and make arrangements, but in 1983 we eventually went with Trias to Okinawa, which turned out to be a huge turning point in our martial arts careers.
MA: You mentioned earlier that you, as a woman, were something of a novelty in the dojo. Could you discuss if that feeling persisted through the 70s and early 80s in the Trias Organization and martial arts world in general?
AMH: Trias Sensei himself was always very giving and open and honest. He would tell you what he thought you needed to do, but not in a hurtful way. Training within that organization was something that I found to be fairly inviting with a productive mindset during training.
MA: What were some of the problems you noticed in general (perhaps not specifically things that happened to you) for women of that era?
AMH: I think one of the biggest hurdles was the mindset of martial arts being “A good ‘ol boys club”. It was a time when women in general were struggling to gain a foothold in the business world. It was very difficult in the martial arts to get respect…you had to prove yourself. The men didn’t want to judge us, and only men judged.
One of the true stories of Bobbi Snyder was that she was very rankled by this idea of women being unable to judge. One day she walked up to a corner judge, tapped him on the shoulder, and informed him that he had an emergency phone call on the line that he needed to attend to. When he left, she promptly took the vacant judging spot. Naturally there was no phone call to be found.
She ended up judging and refused to give the flags back.
Another issue was actually finding space to compete. We only ever had one ring, and often it was pushed to the side away from the regular competition near the bleachers or even under the bleachers. By the time I was nearing black belt we really had to take a firm stand to be respected. I was innately a shy person so this was difficult for me.
It should be said that there were some really good men at this time as well, supportive and fair. I remember Ochiai Sensei was an instructor with a mindset of equality from the first time I met him, and even when I visited his dojo in later years he always had female students.
Another very important matter is that gay men and women of the time had very little protection in society, so they needed to learn how to protect themselves badly. Therefore, since there was a contingent of lesbian women in the martial arts, a stereotype developed amongst men that all women martial artists were lesbian. This developed into hurtful and derogative behavior toward women of both orientations, straight and gay alike.