The sword takes us out from ourselves.
The sword make us unlearn all we have learnt.
And for all that, we must be thankful.
The sword takes us out from ourselves.
The sword make us unlearn all we have learnt.
And for all that, we must be thankful.
I once told the story of Bodhidharma to a certain girl who had little if any knowledge of eastern philosphies. I told her that he meditated for nine years in front of a wall. (Wall-gazing would probably be a more precise term. It is not clear what exactly wall-gazing meant but it likely is some form of meditaiton)
Well, her answer was “such a moron! it’s like being dead for nine years of your life!”.
Meditating means not thinking. According to the centuries old cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am, if any of you wasn’t attending latin classes), not thinking means not being. Therefore, meditating is being dead – or very much like it.
This is Aristotelian logic. And yeah, this stament has some truth in it, I can tell. This matter unsettled me for a long time, like a woodworm that slowly eats a wooden table.
However, meditation is much more than not thinking. Actually, there are so many kinds of meditation I could not even list them all. There is focus point meditation, and the one where you think about a concept (such as empathy) and many others, which involve thinking of a different kind.
It is always language-free thinking. Words and sentences are not part of any type of meditation I know of – and let me know if there are any! The only thing that all styles have in common is the lack of language. Meditation then, brings us back to our early childhood, before we learnt the written or spoken language. From my petty experiences with meditation, I found out that thinking out of the rails of language produces less organized but much quicker thoughts.
And the increased speed of mind makes the difference in friendly sparring, let alone real fighting.
Which, my friends, brings us back to martial arts.
Had I not understood the internal teachings of gong-fu (but only the external ones), these past two weeks would have been a nightmare.
As I mentioned earlier, I injured my left foot during Sanda sparring. I spent a week limping between bed and kitchen, with the only help of a makeshift crutch. In other occasions, other frames of mind, one could have been totally pissed off. I was happy as never before: instead of practicing, I translated books by Doc Fai Wong, read a lot, and written a bit of my own stuff. Being a man of ‘each and every art‘, I had plenty of projects to work on.
Then I started limping without crutch, an incredible improvement. Walking, even in such a pitiful way, felt wonderful, after one week spent on one leg. I was happy as seldom before. Slowly, I resumed farming.
Then, finally, yesteday I tried to attend a tai chi chuan class. The result? Horrible.
Although forms and principles were clear in my mind, my body was not the same. I was stiff, my legs ached (and they haven’t since my fourth tai chi lesson), and I had no balance at all (balance was my most developed skill in this field), no coordination. Long story short, my body has completely forgotten the martial artist in me.
The stubborn yet fragile lad I was years ago would have been shaken by this. He’d be tempted to drop MA completely.
What I really learnt from gong-fu+Tai chi, however, is not forms, nor how to fight. I learnt determination.
And there is no problem that cannot be overcome, given enough perseverance.
Except, of course, the lack of perseverance.
Many traditional MA have those: most shaolin derived kung-fu styles, Karate, Tai Chi Chuan, and I believe others as well. On the contrary, boxing doesn’t have it, nor it is widely used in Sanda/Sanshou or kickboxing – except for Sanshou fighters who have a traditional background.
The main critiques moved to the backfist are these:
1 – The sportsman is usually fine enough with three punches and 2-3 kicks. Having more would mean having a too wide arsenal,which requires more time to train. Cung Le, for example, didn’t use anything else but jabs, crosses, uppercuts and hooks, yet he was a top fighter. Besides, backfists are not extremely powerful: they aren’t likely to cause KO, so why would you need them?
2 – The brawler/streetfigher points out that hitting a hard target (such as somebody’s forehead! Those things are tough!) with the back of you fist will cause harm to your own hand. Which is, I believe, true.
Now, why should you actually use backfists instead?
1 – In my little experience with Sanda, backfists (at least the kwa chui, a veritcal, downward backfist) can be useful to block an incoming attack, annoy (other than the usual jab) and begin a combination. Da chui, an horizontal backfist, is always highly unexpected and can be used to hit an opponet trying to circle around you. Sparring with a friend trained in boxing, I found out that being used to spar only with boxeurs, he didn’t expect backfists, so he couldn’t block or evade most of them. A startling, out of the blue, kwa chui on the top of the head is one of my favourite moves.
2 – Hitting a forehead with the back of your hand can be painful. I will not inquire further whether it hurts more to throw or receive such a punch – it is beyond the point. The real point of backfists is, I believe, that they are not backfists at all. In a post at martial developement, the author explained why, in his opinion (and his opinion is much more important than mine!) the vertical backfist of Karate (not too far away from the chinese Kwa chui) was not supposed to hit with the back of the hand, but with the knuckles, in a whip-like manner.
Being whip-like energy (or, as Bruce Lee explained it, the chain with the flail) one of the main concepts in Choy Li Fut as well, it makes sense to me. Moreover, the kwa chui can be also used as a forearm strike, to block incoming punches, or to attack neck, face etc.
So, that’s my say about backfists. Now, suggestions for a “traditional vs. modern pt.2″?
P.S.: I did hone my guitar skills a bit, albeit not for the ladies. I’m quickly recovering from my foot injury, so today I went out for a little archery. Also, I’m spending a lot of time on writing. Who knows if something good might come out of it.
I’m sorry for the very long pause I took from blogging. It was due to summer heat, love, and other mentally straining situations.
All of these have gone, however, and went back training as if there was no tomorrow. I held my first Tai chi chuan classes, and I found it extremely amusing. Explaining to a complete beginner what tai chi is requires time.
I began practicing the much less relaxing disciplines of ground fighting and Sanda/Sanshou, and I found both of them extremely amusing, until I landed a roundhouse kick with the back of my feet…
Man, did it hurt.
Now I’m bound to my own bedroom and kitchen, wandering around with a makeshift crutch.
If this had happened to me years ago, I would have been desperate at the idea of not being able to walk and go out for some time. Today, I find it just a nice excuse to stay home and read. Perhaps, at last, some wisdom has grown on me.
Today, thursday 29th jult 2010, my school of marital arts will make a show, on a stage in the city centre, and lots of people are expected. There will be students performing forms, training routines, Sanda, groundfighting, and all the activities of the Hung Sing academy.
Well, I was supposed to perform a tai chi fan form.
I trained the form for a whole month. I trained the form even with unbearable heat. I cancelled all business to be ready tonight, invited friends. To be brief, I did my best, and yesterday, Sifu told me “you won’t do it”. I’m not in the show.
At first I felt angry and frustrated.
That is a pretty natural reaction, but I immediately realised how long the road to wisdom is.
I don’t study obscure martial arts so as to show them to girls (it is well known that the guitar totally fits that role), or to friends or relatives. Martial arts aren’t about looking cool. Showing my skills in public had to be only for the benefit of the school, and had nothing to do with my own ego. It is foolish to argue about these petty matters. Although, I insist, they could have told me earlier. I’d have practiced more choy li fut instead!
Then, after my own ego was so easily broken, I was put to test, and I earned a green fringe plus the black stripe: I am now a Tai Chi instructor, allowed to teach to all except Sifus and Si-Hings, and officially holding classes on saturday mornings.
Many people don’t know what tai chi chuan is. Most that do know it, are unaware of the fact that it is actually a martial art. Almost all who practice it do it as if it were a meaningless ballet, where the offensive side of the art is completely lost. I don’t mean that you should hurt people with your tai chi chuan – there is plenty of external arts for that – but somehow fighting (imaginary fighting, that is) plays a part in harmony (something I will explore in my next post).
So, “offensive” tai chi is a striking or grappling art?
I figured out it might be the latter. Of the empty handed forms I know, there are only two punching techniques and one (2?) kick. One is “parry and punch”, the other, well I can’t remember the name but it look like a double hook to the head (form 24 Yang).
The other techniques might have double application, often. Open handed strikes? Might be, although I don’t believe so. The open handed strikes of tai chi chuan are always combined with the other hand, so they are more pushes, grabs, and the like (not exactly strikes, if you get my meaning, like in push hands).
Then, the on guard stance. At the top you can see a photo of Yang Cheng-Fu in what seems to be a possible on guard position. To see a full, detailed article about this subject, check this out at Dojo Rat.
From what I understand, it is quite widely accepted that most striking arts have a side combat stance, so as to offer the smallest target, while enabling a good arm reach (if you know boxing, you’ll get it). Grappling arts (wrestling?) instead have a frontal position, in order to use both arms at their full power.
If so, I’d say 80% of Tai Chi Chuan was about grappling (or, using a more appropriate expression, contact) and 20% striking.
In my humble opinion, of course
When training real-life applications of forms and techinques from Choy Li Fut, we mostly train them as counter-techiques to three kind of attacks: punch to the face, wrist grab and, less often, kick to the groin.
Since most people are untrained, these are the kind of attacks we are most likely to receive. However, I feel that many of our traditional techniques were intended to attack in other ways, and parry or counter-attack other techniques. For example, it seems to me that Choy Li Fut emphasizes strikes to the lower belly or solar plexus over the head. High punches often target the neck more than the forehead or nose – a wise choice I believe, since a punch to the head might hurt, put a proper strike to the neck may break the carotid and kill.
Choy Li Fut was made as a system to fight agains medium to highly trained opponents, or so I believe. Tha might explain the different targets and blocks. Doc Fai-Wong once stated that untrained westerners fight like boxeurs, since that’s what we see on TV. Is that true? How did untrained chinese fight then? Are martial arts therefore a cultural issue, and if so, how much? Does this make a martial art more effective to fight against people of a certain nation? Am I just talking bullshit?
Yours sincerely, Padawan.
“In those days [chinese Yuan dinasty], Taoist priests traveled throughout Chinese countryside, using their martial arts for self-defense when necessary. Since Zhang [San-Feng] already was an old man, he realized he wouldn’t stand a chance using conventional martial arts against younger opponents, who are faster and stronger. To equalize his situation, Zhang developed a theory that made him as imposing as any younger enemy. His solution contained four basic principles now an integral part of tai chi chuan. The first principle is to always use calm against action (calm against excitability). The second calls for using soft against hard (relaxed against tense). The third principle is slow against fast (precise against rushed), and the fourth, single against a group (one technique defeat many). Zhang said if fighting does not include these four principles, it is not tai chi combat.”
Tai Chi Chuan’s Internal Secrets, by Doc Fai-Wong and Jane Hallander, page 4.
The whole martial blogging community has been discussing about this video.
There has been a lot of debate about “adequate violence” and the use of joint locks vs. striking. In fact, there has been so much debate, carried on by skilled martial artist, that my opinion has become quite irrelevant. If you’re interested in the subject I suggest you check out one of the blogs above. However, I have a couple of thoughts I’d like to share.
Joint locks aren’t always harmless. They require a lot of experience to perform. And they aren’t the definitive technique – in fact, stricking and grappling are the Yin and Yang of martial arts, if you wish. None is superior to the other. However, grappling is mostly less lethal than striking. In a grappling – only, non lethal conflict, falling to the ground is usually the worst thing that may happen. Unless somebody wants to choke you to death.
Violence. Why did the policemen punch the girl? Why did the girl insult the cop, resist arrest, push him and so on? The whole thing could have been avoided by eschewing violence. There’s way too much Yang (or machism) in our society, that never leads to good, and although I might try to figure out why, I’ll never get used to it.
Mushin, Fudoshin, Zanshin. Three words and concepts, so difficult to achieve, yet so fundamental. These three “shins” can be applied to any situation, and, I believe, can save someone’s life even when other “mind-filling” trainings cannot.