Creativity, as much as it seems to come in explosive bursts, is for me first precipitated by years of tenured learning, coaching and curiosity. Ultimately, the creative mind achieves a synchronization with the universe and opportunities that demand the genesis of better systems that present themselves. The alignment of passion, open-mindedness, learning and necessity is the impetus for innovation. This is the story of how that process yielded one of my most important discoveries: that of the Slam Set.
I have been training wooden dummy for over 1/3 of a century and I am continually puzzled by its simplicity and intrigued by its complexity. It is a perfect vessel upon which I could explore the potential both within myself and within the movements. I built my first wooden dummy in 1982. It was an archaic and rudimentary tool, but it quickly became the target of my best effort and imagination. I had trained with Sifu John Beall from Greenlake Wing Chung from the early to mid-1980’s, which was significant because he was a student of James DeMile, and James Demille was a student of Bruce Lee. As I continued to accumulate training perspectives and learning experiences, I integrated these all into my Mook Jong practice. In 1986, I attended a week-long seminar from Master Wang Kiu in Whistler Mountain, BC, after seeing an advertisement for the seminar in Inside Kung Fu Magazine. Although the hosts expected 50 students to attend, only 6 enrolled. This enabled each student to have his own instructor, and that provided me with the individualized attention needed to really spark and grow my discovery. From these instructors, I learned the Classical Set, which consisted of 108 Classical Wing Chun movements. I cherished this above all other systems at that time in my life because I actually learned it from a student of Ip Man himself. In 1988, I had the beginnings of the Slam Set, which we call the non-classical Gung Fu set. Ultimately, the Slam Set was borne from a collection of seeds originally planted by Bruce Lee.
Skip forward 4 years, when I moved to Colorado in May of 1992. I had at that point been in martial arts for 20 years and at 38 years old I realized my journey had just begun. That year was a period of explosive growth for me, as I learned several martial arts and combative arts systems. I was training a Dutch Indonesian art called Pentjak Silat Tongkat Serak from Maha Guru Victor DeThouars. I was learning Yang-Style Long Form Tai Chi from Dr. John Candea, and I also received my tutelage in boxing from coach Ed Weichers from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Then, in 1993, I was lucky enough to sit ringside UFC 1, where it dawned on me that I needed to work on my ground game. So I joined up with the Manatou Springs Wrestling Team, whose coach happened to be very open to my thinking and processing. That year, I also became a faculty member of the Denver Business College where I was teaching hand-to-hand combat and working with the criminal justice program. During that time, I went to the North East Martial Arts training camp in Upstate New York. It was Danny Inosanto, Frances Fong from Atlanta, Chai Sirisute from Muay Thai and Larry Hartsell, who was part of the “Cauliflower Ear Club”. Rolling with Larry Hartsell was an excruciatingly painful experience that taught me how to both endure agony and use it as a compliance point against an opponent. This flurry of study was an awakening for me as I culminated multiple systems simultaneously and began to see a pathway to their merging. Embracing the spirit of the white belt enabled me to suck the marrow of learning from the masters. I was also blessed with an open mind and a curious perspective, hungry for creativity and eager to build better systems. However, these endowments were a necessary but not sufficient condition of me generating my first martial arts system. I was awaiting the catalyst of creation, and it took the form of two curious and interesting students who imposed upon me a demand for unique training. One of these men I lovingly referred to as “Big Brown” (use your imagination, he was 6ft 6in and weighed 330lb). The other was a Mexican named Joseph who had the unique characteristic of lush brown hair that cascaded down to his waist. When I put a wooden dummy in my office, they were naturally curious about it so I showed them the first 5 movements that later became the Slam Set. A week later they asked me “what’s next”? Students are, for me, a significant impetus for creation, as ingenuity is borne out of necessity. I showed them a few more movements and unbeknownst to me, I was creating the Slam Set protocol up to about 40 moves.
The formulation of the Slam Set culminated when I was living in Manitou Springs on the banks of the fountain creek at the base of Pike’s Peak. I lived about 1/4 mile from the Garden of the Gods. Back in the 1990’s I used to drink beer, smoke pot and chase this with coffee. The beer made me aggressive and cocky, the pot made me paranoid and cold, and the coffee made me awake and aware. I would do several rounds of this, never blatantly drunk or high, but simply in a state of heightened stimulation. During that time of my life, it was stimulation that I most often sought after. Although stimulation was what I was seeking, my emotional state was that of frustration, agitation and irritation. Now I am in my 60’s and have been sober for several years. I am now Grateful, happy and forever curious. In the dead of Winter, I went out to my wooden dummy in the shed with no insulation, where it was slightly warmer than the balmy 8 degrees outside. Because of the alcohol, pot and coffee, I had multiple epiphanies that, once they started, unleashed a flood of innovation. It was as if I were sprinting down a hallway with doors that kept opening in my path. I would venture into each new direction, my mind leading me places I had never before seen but long had been accumulating. I stumbled upon new perspectives on the Slam Set that I have never encountered until that point. As a result of my training in Pentjak Silat Serak, Yang style Long Form, Boxing, grappling, etc. I was able to finally assemble a construct that was much more than my training.
It was now 3am and I roused my first wife from her slumber. I gave her blankets and put her in an old leather chair, surrounding her with a half-moon of candles burning into the darkness. I gave her a notebook and pen and implored her to write down every word I said. From that point, I proceeded to outline the Slam Set with technical precision, conceptual perspectives and practical outcomes. It incorporated 108 movements, just as Tai Chi and Sil Lum Tao, just as there are 108 wooden dummies in the Shaolin temple, coordinating with their celestial systems. When I got to 108 I stopped. I woke up the next day and read all my wife wrote. It was mind-boggling in its detail, a unique lensing that both expanded and constricted all I had learned. I am still mining it to this day and have built upon it so that now it includes 160 movements. I continue in the process of seeking the vanishing point, and that spirit will follow me into the afterlife.
Creative innovation cannot happen in a vacuum. One must first diligently build a strong foundation of learning and understanding of extant systems. Keeping an open mind that endlessly pursues understanding (for understanding, like truth, is endless), one is then positioned to answer the incumbent call for better systems and more enlightened processes. The creative burst is the result of the synchronization of acumen, mindset and circumstance and like a phoenix rising, new paradigms are birthed.