Sunday, January 11, 2009

Why we train


Some of you might be familiar with Freud's theory that humans are subject to the competing instincts of Thanatos (death) and Eros (life). The former makes you want to lie down and do nothing, the latter to get up and achieve something. I have often found this paradigm a useful analysis of the human condition. Rarely a day passes where I don't experience conflict between these instincts.

The relevance of this paradigm to martial arts training is fundamental, since training is the embodiment of the Eros instinct. If you have ever paused to consider why you participate in an activity which is physically and mentally demanding (when you could instead be at home relaxing) you might have come to the conclusion that it is simply because your physical and mental being demands it. Instinct, it seems, is not susceptible to any deeper analysis.

Simultaneously, staying at home and doing nothing is the embodiment of the Thanatos instinct because it is more akin to death. Just like a pulse, you need the down to get an up. You need hardship to feel pleasure. Otherwise you 'flatline'. This is why students invariably say that as reluctant as they might be to go to training on a particular night, they always feel better that they have. You never feel that by staying at home...

That realisation is part of what keeps me training even when I feel the inevitable tug of laziness. My brother is fond of saying: 'If I chained you to a sofa in front of the TV, put a beer in one hand and a tube of condensed milk in the other, you'd soon beg to come back to training...'

Someone once proclaimed to me that he had found 'the meaning of life'. It was, he said, the pursuit of pleasure. I knew immediately that he while he might find occasional pleasure, he would never find happiness. He was, and remains, a hedonist - and hedonism does not appreciate the delicate balance of life: you can't get something for nothing.

But to view your training merely as necessary toil and hardship would be a mistake. Certainly, training should be part of your routine mental and physical exercise plan. You should expect to raise a sweat simply for the sake of raising a sweat, expect to push yourself out of your comfort zone just for the sake of feeling alive. But you shouldn't forget that part of your Eros instinct is about the joy of living. Enjoy your training - find something that stimulates you into creativity and self improvement. Training is a tool for you to use. Don't waste it.

It is part of the Daoist philosophy that no particular moment in time is more important than another, and that it is the journey of life that is important, not any particular goal. This is not to say that goals are not worthwhile: pursue your goals with all the passion that your Eros instinct will allow or even demand. Then, whether you attain a particular goal or not, you will be able to say that every moment spent was spent in the spirit of living.

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A bridge between "external" and "internal" arts

l
The Tang Shou Dao (ie. "karatedo") system of the late Hong Yi Xiang in Taibei, Taiwan was reknowned in its day for producing full-contact fighting champions including such luminaries as Luo De Xiu and Su Dong Chen. Hong himself was a formidable street fighter and friends with the equally legendary Wang Shujin. Hong's school taught the 3 internal arts of xingyiquan, baguazhang and taijiquan; strictly in that order. It taught them as "no-holds barred" fighting methods rather than for health or meditation.

While many people are aware of Hong Yi Xiang's internal arts systems, very few are aware that Hong taught a series of forms that were "half external and half internal". These served as a vital "bridge" to the internal arts, introducing techniques and a form of movement based on an entirely different set of principles in a paradigm that a senior external student could readily understand and apply.

These forms were the creation of Hong Yi Xiang and incorporated elements of Shaolin, xingyi, bagua and taiji. They were passed down to me via my principal instructor Laoshi Bob Davies.

Luo De Xiu1, a former student of Hong has said: "At the T'ang Shou Tao school Hong Laoshi created some forms as a program for beginners... We started at the beginning with what looked like Shaolin forms, but weren't really Shaolin. They were modified Xing Yi and Ba Gua forms, changed into a more Shaolin style. At the higher levels we learned the traditional Xing Yi forms."


Luo de xiu demonstrates the 5 elements of xingyi as taught by Hong Yi Xiang

One of Hong's students, Abi Moriya, has told me that these forms consisited of the following:

1. Shaolin Yi Lu
2. Shaolin Er Lu
3. Bai He Quan: white crane fist
4. Da Peng Zhan Chi: great tai bird spreads its wings
5. Wu Hu Xia Xi Shan: 5 tigers descend the western mountain
6. Ba Bu Da: 8 step striking
7. Ba Lian Shou: 8 linked hands

Luo's designation of these forms as suitable for "beginners" is however a matter of perspective: while they mark the beginning of internal arts, they are highly sophisticated forms in their own right. It would be a mistake to regard these half external / half internal forms as somehow "inferior" to the purely internal arts such as taijiquan, baguazhang and xingyiquan (or, for that matter, purely external arts such as karate).2

As Hong's taiji teacher, the famous martial arts master Chen Pan-Ling, said: "Shaolin goes from hard to soft and wutang [internal]... goes from soft to hard. The final goal for both styles is the same: to train people to use a combination of soft and hard strokes to fight."3

Hong Yi Xiang's "bridging forms" can be viewed as such a combination. It is possible that, as the creator of these forms, he accorded them a lesser status than older forms, partly out of custom (ie. to elevate knowledge that is older) and partly because they marked the beginning of his particular teaching sequence. In the end, the various types of external and internal martial arts are best presented as points in a circle (neither superior nor inferior) rather than points in a linear progression. A "soft" external artist is as effective as a "hard" internal artist.

Of the bridging forms the one that I consider the "jewel in the crown" is one named "Da Peng Zhan Chi" (colloquially called "Shaolin Peng" - demonstrated on the right by one of teacher's most senior students, Nick Nell). A "peng" (also known as tai) is a mythical bird of gargantuan proportions. The name of the form means "great tai bird spreads its wings" and presumably refers to the large "swooping" movements of the arms. While the movements seem to be somewhat grandiose at times, the applications are so subtle, simple and clearly effective that they are as astounding as they are devastating. It is this form that reveals to me Hong's true genius - even if he played it down as "lesser" given that it was his own creation, it contains many of Hong's trademark fighting techniques from Shaolin, xingyiquan, baguazhang and Chen Pan-Ling taijiquan.


Da Peng Zhan Chi as performed by me earlier today - I'm a bit rusty but you get the idea

Some internal artists have speculated that the Shaolin component was inserted purely for the sake of conditioning. This is possibly true; the form might not look it, but it is very exhausting and certainly conditions the body for lunges, turns and other movements used in combat. In fact, the form is vigorous enough to take even a fairly fit athlete beyond his/her VO2 max after just one performance. On the other hand, the Shaolin techniques (eg. the triple punching in gong bu (zenkutsu dachi)) are really quite effective in their own right as stated previously. I don't see them as having a mere "exercise" function; this smacks to me of "internal snobbery" (and I speak as practitioner of the external and internal arts).

It is my view that the Shaolin component in the bridging forms is very likely taken from Hong's father's art, a school of Taiwanese white crane, considered by some to be among the "softer" external arts. The white crane heritage is not only identifiable in the techniques and principles of the bridging forms, but also in the names: for example a counterpart to the form Wu Hu Xia San exists in White Crane Silat's Wun Fie Loa (which also means "5 tigers coming down the mountain"). Although this form might look radically different at first glance, a closer observation reveals the same "embusen" (lines of movement) and corresponding techniques, indicating that Hong Yi Xiang may have used an ancestral crane form as a template for the creation of his hybrid.

The bagua and taiji moves reflect Hong's favourite applications of those arts; the elbow smash with the knee from Chen Pan-Ling's taiji and the "kou bu" (hook step) knee twist/breaks from his bagua via Wang Shujin.

The modified xingyi which dominates the forms is however the most intriguing aspect of them. It is possible to extract 5 elementary moves from these forms that correspond generally to the 5 elements of xingyiquan; however while they are clearly related to xingyi I believe they constitute an entirely new art and extremely powerful one at that. In the video below I demonstrate these elements as one would the 5 elements of xingyi. To avoid confusion with xingyi I have called them "wu shou" (5 hands) rather than "wu xing quan" (5 forms of fist - as per xingyi).


I demonstrate the extracted "5 hands" of the bridging forms

Footnotes

1. From Jess O'Brien (2004) Nei Jia Quan, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California

2. Laoshi Bob Davies has told me that the first 3 forms namely Shaolin Yi Lu, Shaolin Er Lu and Bai He Quan were purely external (Shaolin), however the third form manifested the softer form of white crane as taught by Hong's father.

3. Chen Pan-Ling (1963) taiji Chuan Chiao Tsai translated by YW Chang and Ann Curruthers, Blitz, New Orleans Louisiana

Copyright © 2009 Dejan Djurdjevic

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Understanding the internal arts


More about the “soft” arts of China and the nature of “qi”

In my article “Internal vs. external martial arts” I explain that the term “internal” is a reference to neijiaquan ("internal method fist") – a group of martial arts in China comprising taijiquan, baguazhang and xingyiquan, as well as some related arts and offshoots (eg. liu he ba fa and yi quan). These are easily identifiable arts with a very specific set of techniques based on common principles.

The internal arts are commonly distinguished from other arts (named waijiaquan or “external method fist”). Many argue that this distinction arises because the former rely on “qi” (“ki” in Japanese) – a term literally meaning “breath” and often used to describe a metaphysical “energy”.

Accordingly the term “internal” is often mistakenly seen as a reference to the “cultivation of qi internally”. In fact the word is just a reference to “inner family” in much the same way as some schools use the term “inner circle”: so neijia is a reference to “the family of martial arts that are of Daoist origin” (mythologically originating in the Wudang mountains in China). “Waijia” (external methods) are those that are not part of this family (traditionally the term is used to describe arts that are/were of Chan/Zen Buddhist origin, ie. the Shaolin school, but today it commonly refers to related offshoots like karate and taekwondo as well). 1

As I will discuss later in this article, internal arts techniques have a unique function. While many people still cling to qi as an “explanation” or “description” of this function, I don’t consider this to be factual/accurate. It is true that this “explanation” or “description” does have a certain internal logic or consistency: the problem is that it doesn’t have any consistency or logic outside its own sphere. For me qi is clearly just a “pre-scientific” paradigm – a philosophical and theoretical framework developed in the absence of our current knowledge of physics.

So how would modern science distinguish the function of the internal and external martial arts? In my article “Hitting harder: physics made easy” I summarise it as follows:

the external arts prioritise power;

the internal arts prioritise impulse – ie. the transfer of momentum.

I wrote the above article partly:

(a) because I was dissatisfied with the articles I have read up to now on the physics of striking/kicking; and

(b) because it seemed to that the biomechanics of “hitting hard” were common to all martial arts – internal and external.

Accordingly I wanted to conduct an analysis that would account for both an external or internal approach (particularly since I had experienced both and could see them producing equally valid results, albeit in different time-frames).

In undertaking this exercise I feel I have resolved, to my own satisfaction, what people mean by “qi” (to the extent that they are honestly and sincerely using the term to refer to practical techniques). I am fairly certain that, for the most part, “the flow of chi” in a martial context equates to “the flow of momentum”.

While internal martial artists like Tim Cartmell2 have referred to qi as “intent”, I think this view is consistent with my physics analysis: mastering a physical skill (eg. a golf swing) involves giving effect to your intent; and you do so by having efficient momentum transfer.

Charlatans and parlour tricks...

For my purposes, what is a rather simple proposition is obfuscated by the myriad people who now describe what they do as “internal martial arts” even when it has nothing to do with the 3 principal internal arts of China or their offshoots. In many cases “internal” has become a label for supernatural “qi/ki” powers. Consider the ridiculous video below:


A purported “internal” arts school demonstrating “ki powers”

The problem I have with such videos is that they do a huge disservice to the internal arts (and, for that matter, the traditional qi/ki paradigm). Because of the plethora of such material available today, people are inclined to confuse the legitimate, traditional internal arts schools with cheap parlour tricks and fakery of the kind demonstrated above. In short, all things “internal” are being tarred with the same (awful) brush.

As an aside, I wonder how many people are actually fooled by such videos. In the above example I particularly like the part where the students are running backwards across a field for the better part of a minute. It should be sketch comedy – it is far more humorous than a satire of qi-based arts could ever be. And yet, I believe the creators of the video were being (somewhat tragically) earnest...

I don’t think practitioners of real internal arts are entirely blameless for the rise of this “fakery” phenomenon; there are many internal schools that use superficially impressive demonstrations of “pushing” to illustrate the “power” of the internal method. The problem is they are just that; demonstrations for public entertainment that have little to do with the actual techniques of the internal arts (which, as I have said, focus on momentum transfer, not “displacement”, “work” and hence “power” – see also my article “Visible force vs. applied force”).

The function of “pushing” type tests in the internal arts is marginal. It usually has to do with testing balance and stability – as discussed in my article “Grounding”. Seen in this light and practised in the context of sensitivity drills such as “push hands” you can see that there is some legitimate base for what has morphed, in some schools, into pure satire. That many students will be acquiescent/non-resistant in the hands of a senior and highly respected teacher only aids this process. Consider the video below where a 94 year old bagua teacher appears to be demonstrating basic principles of balance: his students are letting themselves be pushed/manipulated by their (obviously much admired) teacher3. That he is also not actually demonstrating any bagua techniques is probably lost on those who know nothing about that art.


An elderly bagua teacher demonstrating principles of balance with (highly obliging) students

By contrast, if you want to see an accurate example of an elderly man (Xie Pieqi) demonstrating bagua, you should watch this video (featuring a young Tim Cartmell as “uke”):


Xie Pieqi (1923-2003) demonstrating bagua techniques on a young Tim Cartmell

You’ll have to wait until the 1:25m mark for some applications which provide the contrast between this video with the previous “bagua” video above.

Yes, Tim Cartmell is not being resistant. But is there really any doubt that Xie is performing honest martial arts techniques?

You’ll notice an absence of jumping, pointless falling or other histrionics by Mr Cartmell... No magic, no running backwards across fields etc. Just some straightforward bagua techniques. Not impressed? Whoever said internal arts had to look like magic? What is impressive to me is that this old man could still apply some decent, direct and simple fighting skills (particularly suitable when it is clear that a person his age could not rely on “power” – eg. a massive shin kick to a heavy bag).

If arts like karate have suffered dilution over time (as I have previously argued), the internal arts have (especially on and from the Cultural Revolution) suffered an even greater dilution. This (together with its unfortunate nexus with “new age” fads in the West) has led to what I consider a great deal of misunderstanding about the principles of internal arts and their application. People often expect the internal arts to be about something “paranormal” or magical. They are not.

But if the internal martial arts are not “magic”, what are they? How do they develop “efficient momentum transfer”? What does this mean anyway?

External vs. internal training methodology

I’ll start my explanation by analysing the contrasting the training methodologies of the internal and most external arts:

Most external martial arts focus on practical training. External martial artists today will often don gloves and begin sparring the day they first walk into the studio. Emphasis is placed on this “live environment” and on physical conditioning, such as hitting bags or striking posts and strength training. Even if an external martial arts school doesn’t emphasise free sparring (and many traditional external schools do not) it will commonly contain a higher degree of “application-based” training than its internal counterpart.

By contrast, internal techniques are usually grooved in isolation – much as one might groove a golf swing or tennis shots in a “non-live environment” (ie. not in a game).

Let me put it this way: you could train to hit a golf ball further by weight training (ie. increase your strength and your power output), or you could train to do so by perfecting your technique. In golf it is easy to see how the latter is better: many a “senior citizen” can hit the ball right up to the green where a young muscled beginner can only hit the ball a few metres.

Similarly in tennis “power” is seldom useful against even slightly superior technique. Rather, a premium is placed on spending time practising moves in isolation with your coach – even long after you’ve started training in a “live environment”, but particularly before you do so. Consider that my tennis coach trained me for a full 2 months before he reluctantly said I was ready to go to the local club and play some doubles – he said they wouldn’t have even let me join before that (I wasn’t very good, nor I am to this day)!

I believe that it was in the context of such “skilled application of force” that the myth of “magical power” crept into the internal arts folklore. It was observed that internal artists were applying the same force but needing to “work” less, hence use less power and require less muscle, than comparable Shaolin practitioners. In the traditional “qi paradigm” internal arts were said to develop/build something other than muscle – an “internal” strength rather than an “external” or physical strength (another example of misreading the term “neijia”).

Surely qi would account for, say, an old man’s ability to apply successfully a vastly greater force to a little ball than a far stronger man in his prime?

As I’ve said previously, the qi paradigm was developed in the absence of our modern understanding of physics, physiology and biomechanics. The old golfer can apply a greater force because of his momentum transfer is far better. He has this ability thanks to many years of grooving an efficient motion to his technique (obtained by a “staged activation of body parts” – again see my article “Hitting harder: physics made easy”). He has “superior technology” to the young body-builder standing next to him on the driving range. And, as Arthur C Clarke said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” 4

So on one end of the spectrum you can say that some martial artists spend most of their time refining momentum transfer in isolation (whether it be practising forms or walking the circle in bagua etc) before they attempt to apply their techniques.

On the other end of the spectrum, untrained “big hitting” street fighters will spend all their time “applying” techniques, and never isolating them (like a self-taught tennis player might tell you he has no time to practise his backhand and forehand baseline shots because he’s “too busy returning balls”).

These are extremes. Most martial arts schools – external or internal – adopt a methodology well within the spectrum. But the noted extremes do serve to illustrate generally the difference between the “internal” and “external” approach to martial training.

It is also worth noting that in combat (unlike golf or tennis) the “pendulum of usefulness” has always swung more towards the external training methodology. Golf , tennis and other ball sports involve very few variables by comparison to free fighting: you can get into playing games and applying your “ideal shots” far more quickly.

Combat, on the other hand, involves almost infinite angles and possibilities – so the variables are much greater, the level of “chaos” is higher and the chance of applying a “clean” technique is reduced. Simply put, in this environment power counts!

Now I don’t wish to be overly narrow in my description of internal training methodology: it is not as if internal arts practitioners fail to apply techniques. They just spend a long time isolating movements before they apply them in a “live” environment (like most martial systems, the internal arts provide for the application of techniques in limited ways right from the start – in semi-free sparring such as push hands etc.).

So traditionally they say that in xingyi you spend 5 years, in bagua you spend 8-10 years and in taiji you spend 15 years before you can rely on the techniques of those arts.5 I think that’s why most people who do internal arts for fighting (as opposed to health/fitness) do so in conjunction with other arts, or after coming from other arts (ie. as a means of adding to what they already know).

As I’ve said in my article “My quest for the martial holy grail”, my primary karate instructor (and his Chinese teacher Hong Yi Xiang) refused to teach the internal arts until substantial mastery of a practical external art (ie. an art that was not one of the xingyi, bagua or taiji group) had been achieved. Others will teach you the internal arts as soon as you wish, sometimes with the caveat that they might not be readily applicable in civilian defence, but more often without. Why?

Many people the practise of internal martial arts for reasons other than civilian defence. For these people they are physical art forms that deliver health benefits – nothing more. Witness the number of “old folks” doing taijiquan, for example. The efficient flow of momentum, the biomechanically sound movement etc. in that art are all good for health (not in any mystical way, but in the sense of good design). My 70 year old internal arts teacher Chen Yun-Ching is an excellent example of the health benefits of the internal arts. He and his elder brother Chen Yun Chow are healthier and more supple in their bodies now than I am in my 40s.

Going back to the issue of combat, xingyi is the “most external” and most immediately practical of the 3 internal arts. This is where I am focussed now from a civilian defence perspective (importantly, I still practise my standard external arts of karate/arnis/kobudo/qin-na etc. – from a combat perspective I do the internal arts as an adjunct). Bagua is “softer” and taiji is the “softest”. They are progressively more “advanced” in efficiency of movement, but progressively harder to apply and hence more “art-like”.

I don’t advocate the internal arts as practical fighting disciplines for beginners or even intermediate (perhaps even advanced!) martial artists. But for those who have reached a point of diminishing returns in other systems, it is my opinion that the internal arts can breathe (no pun intended) a whole new life into one’s civilian defence method. I feel I am moving better now than I did in my 20s or 30s despite suffering arthritis and other health problems as a result of an immunological condition. I’m moving far “smarter” – ie more efficiently. But I don’t think I would have had any value from internal arts in terms of fighting until recently.

Chen Yun Ching has said to me that the internal arts are not only good for health, they are good for defence at a particular time in one’s training. I respectfully agree with him.

Internal arts vs. aikido and other “soft” arts

Clearly there are many schools of external martial arts that have a similar “technique isolation” training methodology aimed at generating efficiency. Often these arts also adhere strongly to a qi/ki paradigm. For want of a better term, I describe these schools as “soft” arts (although quite clearly hitting or throwing someone is never “soft”).6 A good example of such an art would be aikido.

Leaving historical issues aside, why can’t aikido be classified as “internal”? The answer lies, quite simply, in the “skill set” – ie. the techniques – that make up the internal arts of China. These techniques are specifically geared toward generating impulse rather than power (again, see my article “Hitting harder: physics made easy”).

But, the argument goes, surely all good martial artists should develop more efficient momentum transfer.

Clearly, if you use the term “external” to mean “prioritising power” and “internal” to mean “prioritising impulse / momentum transfer” then every system can be considered a mix of “external” and “internal”. Put it this way – no strike can function without power. And no strike can be effective without impulse.

What makes the internal arts of China very different from other arts is that their techniques not only benefit from better momentum transfer – they are designed around this concept. It is my view that the same cannot be said for other “soft arts”.

Aikido for example has very few technical similarities to taiji, xingyi or bagua (although some try to connect it with the latter).7 In fact, aikido’s technical base is far closer to, say, karate, than it is to the internal arts of China. Yes, some locks etc. are congruent (as is the case with judo, jujutsu or modern BJJ). But how you deflect or engage an attack and enter into the lock is very different – as are the footwork, posture, hand movements – practically everything. The mere fact that in aikido one does not oppose force with force does not make aikido techniques “internal”.

Accordingly, even when I refer to other arts as having “internal” features, I do so as a shorthand way of describing features that are technically “internal-like” (ie. “like taiji etc.”) – not similar in philosophy, goal, motivation or training methodology.

Internal arts techniques

I don’t propose to start a detailed description of each internal art’s techniques in this article. If I were to mention a few examples of how internal arts techniques differ from the external equivalents I could point to:

1. the distinct footwork and “staged activation” used in xingyi’s beng quan (as opposed to karate’s lunging reverse punch or the boxer’s right cross); or

2. the hip use in single whip (as opposed to the “double hip” employed in many karate and white crane schools – see my article “Whole lotta shakin: pre-loading the hip”); or

3. the tripping and unbalancing used in bagua (as opposed to, say, ko and o-soto gari).

In future articles I hope to provide further examples of what I mean.

But in the meantime you might well ask whether I can summarise the essential features of internal arts techniques.

Many argue that these are summed up in certain philosophical maxims contained in classic treatises that have traditionally been linked to the internal arts. An example of such a set of maxims is the “six harmonies” (lieu he). 8 Certainly they appear to have an “internal connection” as is evidenced by the naming of the internal art “lieu he ba fa” (6 harmonies, 8 methods – otherwise known as “water boxing”). However maxims such as the lieu he contain very general “rules” that are subject to widely differing interpretations. In any event, many non-internal schools subscribe to such maxims. 9

If I were to offer one distinct feature of the internal arts it would be a totally relaxed flow (in itself very difficult to achieve), punctuated by sudden outbursts of explosive movement – referred to in the internal arts as “fa jin”.10 Fa jin is readily found in xingyi and bagua. While it occurs in the Chen taiji form, it is only implied in the other taiji forms (eg. Yang, Hao and Wu). This does not mean that it is not part of those taiji styles; rather taiji (being the “softest” of the internal arts) places a premium on moving without muscular resistance – the free flow of your own momentum. Accordingly taiji emphasises the perfection of this concept.

The video below provides an example of fa jin in Cheng bagua (see specifically at 0:45m and 1:07m).


Yang Fuqi demonstrating Cheng bagua

So what is fa jin? In physics terms I would describe it as an explosive transfer of momentum - impulse. It is the relaxed application of force. And so we come back to where we started...

Conclusion

From my perspective the label “internal” is as relevant “karate”. It describes a group of Chinese martial arts styles with a similar historical and philosophical background, training methodology and technical base. That technical base is specifically designed to maximise impulse and rely less on power. By definition these techniques are highly advanced – however attaining skill in these techniques requires inculcation over a long period in an isolated, non-live environment. This makes the internal arts difficult to apply in civilian defence.

The term “internal arts” is not a catch-all for “arts that are less aggressive/confrontation-oriented” etc. And “internal” most certainly does not equal “qi-based”.

Footnotes

1. For further background information see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neijia.

2. Tim Cartmell, “Effortless Combat Throws”, 1998, Unique Publications, ISBN-13: 9780865681767

3. Nothing illustrates the point about students being overly acquiescent to a revered teacher better than the following video of Morihei Ueshiba (taken just before he died). That he had acquired phenomenal physical skill is well documented; just how much he would have been able to muster on the dojo floor at this point in his life would have been considerably less. Perhaps it is no wonder that, whether consciously or subconsciously, the students in the video were literally “falling over” to be obliging to their master:



4. Arthur C. Clarke, “Profiles of The Future”, 1961 (Clarke’s third law)

5. In taijiquan there is a saying: “15 years before you leave the training hall”. It is important to note that not everyone will agree with this saying – eg. I know that Luo De Xiu competed successfully in full contact at quite a young age, as did Tim Cartmell. Perhaps those gentlemen might view things differently...

6. Readers should be aware that the internal arts of China are also referred to as the “soft” arts in colloquial terms.

7. The only “evidence” that Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, might have studied baguazhang is to be found in a speculation by BK Frantzis on page 118 of his book “The Power of the Internal Martial Arts” (1998 ISBN: 978-1-58394-190-4 (1-58394-190-8)) that Ueshiba might have been introduced to, seen, or practiced bagua while he was in China.

8. See http://www.plumpub.com/info/Articles/art_zoryaliuhe.htm.

9. Shaolin styles like liu he men (see http://www.ziranmen.com/liuhemen/liuhemen.php) and preying mantis (see http://www.sixharmoniesmantis.com/) also subscribe to the “6 harmonies”.

10. See http://www.plumpub.com/info/Articles/art_fajin.htm.

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My quest for the martial “holy grail”


It was as a youngster in the mid-70s that I first considered the feasibility of the “holy grail” of the martial arts: a synthetic form that would combine all the best elements of the disparate styles into one cohesive, all-encompassing and succinct system: in other words the ultimate martial art.

I pored over the various books listing various styles. I pondered the encyclopaedic, sophisticated variations of jujutsu locks and holds, the smooth flow of the myriad Shaolin styles, the brutal efficiency and directness of karate, the effortless efficiency of the internal arts. I wondered about the exotic arts I’d never seen such as pencak silat and bando or legendary arts such as Mongolian “go ti”. Then there were the popular and impressive schools of taekwondo, the no-nonsense effectiveness of Muay Thai, the ubiquitous shadow of the late Bruce Lee and his Jeet Kune Do, the bewildering Filipino arts of kali/escrima/arnis, the elegance and philosophical beauty of aikido, the “sweet science” of Western boxing, the genteel brutality of French savate, the historical weight and impetus of Greco-Roman wrestling...

How much experience would/should one have to attempt the creation of a “synthetic” art that combined the best points of each? Bruce Lee appeared to have attempted such a feat at a fairly young age: However even as a child I had my suspicions that his Jeet Kune Do was less a synthesis of techniques than a loose, highly personal philosophy. The “holy grail” of a coherent and comprehensive synthetic martial art seemed unreachable. I failed to see how one man could combine the disparate arts into a cohesive whole, especially when each art seemed to demand a lifetime’s worth of study.

Fast forward to the mid ’80s and I, as a young black belt, was fortunate to see the television series “The Way of the Warrior” at my instructor’s house in Durban, South Africa. For those that haven’t seen it, this was a brilliant BBC production that explored various traditional martial arts from around the globe in much the same way as “The Human Weapon” has done more recently.


Morio Higaonna in "The Way of the Warrior"

There was an episode on the great Morio Higaonna (then in his prime) demonstrating his devastating Okinawan goju-ryu karate (a school from which my own karate lineage is descended).

I was buoyed by the episode on Filipino arnis/escrima/kali, an art we already did within our syllabus (in those early days, limited to the Rene Latosa system). In fact I got to train with Cacoy Canete (who featured in that series) only a year or 2 later. My instructor subsequently made numerous visits to the Philippines for further study with a variety of Filipino masters (in particular with Remy Presas).

The episode on aikido was relevant to my study since we had frequently cross-trained with senior aikidoka Ken Cottier. In Australia I’d also had the privilege of training with the late, great Shihan Jan de Jong, master of jujutsu, aikido and pencak silat.

Similarly the Shaolin episode had some resonance since my instructor was a friend and student of Wing Chun/Escrima master Bill Newman. So it occurred to me that I had a working knowledge (or at least some exposure) to many of the arts featured in that series.

Of the remaining arts, Shorinji Kempo, while fascinating, seemed somewhat inaccessible due to low profile in the West and its heavy emphasis on religion. I did however study very closely Doshin So’s authoritative text (published by Kodansha press but now out of print) and was impressed by their “embu” methodology – a concept we have since embraced, particularly after witnessing Shorinji Kempo demonstrations first hand.

Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu (featured in the “Way of the Samurai” episode) seemed a tad too esoteric to me, although my instructor has since specialised in that martial art, directly under Shihan Risuke Otake, the head of that school (we also studied some of the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu material before we decided to go our own way in 1996).

The only other art that stood out from “The Way of the Warrior” as warranting serious attention was the taijiquan episode featuring the late, great Hong Yi Xiang, master of the internal arts and one of the most formidable fighters of his age. I have to say that of all the episodes it was this one that intrigued me the most. Little did I know that prior to the series even coming on air my instructor had already been in negotiations with Hong to study with him in Taipei – something he achieved soon after that fateful video night.

In my opinion, Hong’s great contribution to the martial arts was that he managed to create a “holy grail synthesis”, at least of his own native Chinese arts. He did it by combining them – not into one “composite” art as I had originally envisaged, but rather into a sequential system of teaching. He called this system “Tang Shao Dao”, pronounced “karatedo” in Japanese when using the Chinese character “Tang” (“kara” – a reference to China – hence “Chinese hand way”). [The character for “kara” was later replaced in Okinawa and Japan for political reasons with a homonym meaning “empty”.]

Hong’s system involved a relativistic syllabus that moved students from a “hard” or external, Shaolin-based, martial art, through to various “bridging forms” (forms he had himself devised using his father’s white crane partly as a base), then to the “soft” or internal arts of xingyiquan (the “hardest” of the internal arts), baguazhang and finally taijiquan (a unique “combat” version called “Chen Pan-Ling”). The latter was, I recall, spoken of in whispers and taught only to those who had mastered all the arts that had gone before.1

What was particularly appealing about Hong’s system was that it manifested itself so pragmatically. Not only was Hong unbeaten in over 100 street fights, his students were regular champions of the Taiwanese “no rules” fighting competition. These include legendary fighters such as Luo De Xiu and Su Dong Chen. The Way of the Warrior episode certainly left one in no doubt as to the practical application of his fighting system.

My own instructor adopted Hong’s “sequential, relativistic” methodology in his “Wu-Shin Chi-Dao” system (note – like Hong’s Tang Shou Dao this is not an art, but rather a system of teaching various arts in a particular progression). We in turn have kept this methodology in our own school, using the name “Wu-Wei Dao” to describe our own variant on the theme.

Fast forward to the mid-90s and disaster had struck with the death of Hong Yi Xiang. When I went looking in the late 90s I could not find any remnant of Hong’s school (although little did I know that it continued – and persists to the present day, albeit in a different form and with a different emphasis).


Luo De Xiu, a student of the late Hong Yi Xiang

Fast forward to 2005 when I decided to try my hand at searching one more time for an “heir” to Hong’s system. Once again my searches produced nothing (of course I later came across Lui De Xiu and Su Dong Chen, among others, but in 2005 their profiles on the web were considerably smaller). So my mind wandered back to the name “Chen Pan-Ling”. What was this mysterious art? My own teacher had not taught me this form of taiji (and assuming he knew it, he probably would not have taught it to me anyway until I had mastered xingyi and bagua, in line with Hong’s strict sequential teaching programme). Rather, the taiji system he taught to me from early 1990 was a Yang style he’d picked up from a different source in Taiwan and was clearly a primarily “health-based” style.

Imagine my surprise when one of the first entries in my internet search produced an advertisement that Chen Yun-Ching, the son and heir to Chen Pan-Ling’s martial legacy, would be visiting Australia on what was only his second overseas trip. I immediately booked a ticket to Melbourne and went to James Sumarac’s wonderful Wu-Lin retreat where the course was being hosted. On that (and subsequent visits) I was privileged to train not only with Master Chen Yun-Ching, but also his elder brother Lao Shi Chen Yun-Chow. From then on I have made regular trips to train with Master Chen, studying not only his father’s famed taijiquan, but also the family xingyiquan and baguazhang system (and later weapons forms and his father’s synthetic “mountain boxing” forms).

What I discovered in Master Chen (as well as his elder brother) was a remarkably dignified, incredibly knowledgeable and inexhaustibly generous teacher who was prepared to patiently correct my form all day – even during the breaks and after the evening meal, often till after 11 pm.

On each of my visits I have not taken for granted Master Chen’s generosity in teaching me whatever I wanted to learn. I have generally trained for 10-11 hours per day, often reviewing the days training in my own room until 2.00 am.

So what is it that particularly appeals to me about the Chen Pan-Ling system? Who was this man, and why is his name (and his system) still so revered today? Why would famous “strongmen” such as Hong Yi Xiang (and the better known Wang Shujin) choose to study with a man who was, by all accounts, a scholarly, elderly man of slender build (totally opposite to the much younger, rotund fighters he attracted as students)?

Well via a circuitous route, we come back to my original dream: the holy grail of a comprehensive synthetic system. It was Chen Pan-Ling who achieved just that in respect of the myriad styles of taijquan, (and to a lesser extent in respect of baguazhang and xingyiquan).

In 1941 the Chinese Nationalist government based in Chunking was faced with many crises, one of which was the rapid extinction of Chinese culture in the wake of the Japanese advance into their country. Accordingly the Departments of Education and Military formed a committee to record and preserve the most functional elements of China’s myriad martial arts. Chen Pan-Ling was the leading civil engineer in pre-war China, distinguishing himself as one of the most respected experts in hydraulics in that country. The fact that he was held in such high regard as a scientist and that he also had an impeccable pedigree in terms of his own martial background meant that he was the logical choice to be the Chairman of this committee.

In his article “Chen Pan-Ling T’ai Chi Ch’uan”, Brian Bruning writes:

“Chen Pan-ling, born in 1891, was trained by his father, in the Shaolin arts, when he was young. Later some of the best martial artists of the day trained him in T’ai Chi Ch’uan, Pakua, and Hsing-i. His T’ai Chi Ch’uan teachers were Yang Shao-hou, Wu Chien-chuan, Hsu Yu-sheng, and Chi Tzu-hsiu. He also traveled to the Chen family village to study the Chen style in 1927- 28. He was vice-president (founder of Henan Province school) of the famous Central Martial Arts Academy of Nanking, and later Chung King. Master Chen was also one of the main coaches of the Chinese demonstration team at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin.”

In fact, the respect for Chen Pan-Ling was such that he was granted access to many of the hitherto secretive systems of taijiquan, permitting him to make a thorough analysis of the 5 major systems of that art, namely Yang, Chen, the 2 Wu systems and Hao. Rather than preserve each of these systems separately , Chen Pan-Ling used his scientific and martial knowledge in tandem to deconstruct each form, extract the common and essential elements, reconcile the differences and reconstitute them into a synthetic form which the author Robert W Smith describes in his foreword to the 1998 English version of Chen Pan-ling’s T’ai Chi Ch’uan Textbook as “eclectic [but] grounded in the traditional forms and brimming with the ancient spirit.”

I will let you read Mr Bruning’s article for a description of the style and it’s essential features, including its preservation of the more “combat-oriented” pre-WW2 methodology of taijiquan. For the time being it will suffice for me to say that, from my practical experience of self-defence arts, Chen Pan-Ling’s contribution is nothing short of astounding. As I discussed with James Sumarac, I generally approach eclectic arts with a degree of suspicion and scepticism. However if I were to choose someone whom I feel I could trust to create an effective, logical and comprehensive synthesis, it would have to be Chen Pan-Ling.

So the inevitable question arises: have I found the “holy grail” I was searching for all those years ago? The answer is most assuredly no. I can see that this ideal remains firmly out of reach. What I have found is a methodology that suits my own development; a relativistic syllabus that changes as a student progresses (and ages!). Our system of progressing from an external art (albeit one with “softer" elements) of goju-ryu, through to Hong’s bridging forms, through to the internal arts (as taught in the Chen Pan-Ling system) satisfies me as the closest I can get to this ideal. And in terms of at least a synthesis of the various taijiquan styles, I am highly satisfied that Chen Pan-Ling's is as good as it gets.

As martial arts is a journey it is self-evident that no particular part of that journey is better than another. My karate (with its added elements) is in no sense “inferior” to the internal arts, for example. All feature strikes, blocks, kicks, evasion, grappling etc. in a balance that suits my physique and personality. But each is more useful at a different stage of my life. Most importantly I feel I continue to improve; the arts build on each other, creating greater skill and less reliance on physical strength (an important feature as I age and succumb to auto-immune disease). In this regard it remains a journey – not a stagnation, where one keeps picking at the same bones, long stripped of their meat, looking for bits one might have missed.

Another important feature of my exploration of Chen Pan-Ling’s arts has been the “rub-off” effect on my karate; I have come away with a far greater understanding of my initial art, finding a greater understanding of its common elements and functions. Where before I knew from experience why certain techniques worked (eg. blocks/deflections and evasion) now I can understand and explain how they work (eg. my articles on dominating the melee and karate as “countering” art).

This knowledge has had another unexpected benefit: I have seen many martial artists of my vintage “dropping out” or otherwise becoming disillusioned and “stale”. I have, by contrast, been invigorated at a time when my physical abilities are most compromised by the previously mentioned auto-immune disease (Crohn’s and a related form of arthritis).

This in turn has had a compound effect on my progress. I was heartened when Master Chen recently gave me the compliment that I’d learned in 4 days what it generally took students one year to learn. High praise indeed!

However the biggest compliment I could be paid only arrived in the middle of last year: I received a letter from Master Chen inviting me to be his “inner door” student or bai shi - one of the greatest honours that a master can bestow on his student. It is an honour I have gratefully accepted and I will travel to Taiwan for the ceremony (and some intensive training) in 10 days time!

Footnote
1. Abi Moriya, a student of Hong Yi Xiang from the '80s until the latter's death in the mid '90s has told me that the system of Tang Shou Dao wasn't as strict as I thought it had been; rather, Hong would teach whatever he felt best suited a student, given the student's age, mental maturity, physical condition, etc. Nonetheless, it seems that a young student entering the Tang Shou Dao school could, all things being equal, expect to learn according to the relativistic structure.

Copyright © 2009 Dejan Djurdjevic

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Internal vs. external martial arts

What do I mean by “internal” and “external”?

When I refer to the "internal" arts, I mean a specific set of techniques and methods of movement, the details I cannot go into in a short article. These methods are found (in varying but compatible forms) in the "big 3" internal arts of xingyi, bagua and taiji (liu he ba fa being a combination of the 3 to some extent). These techniques are very specific to these arts: I feel very strongly that they do not appear in the Fujian/Hakka schools (except some modified xingyi in bak mei/mantis). They certainly do not appear in karate (either Naha te or the shorin school). For example there is nothing like a xingyi's "pi quan" or "beng quan" (splitting fist and pounding fist) in karate - there are only "external" equivalents indicating some partial influence. The differences are subtle but substantial. This is not a "bad" or "good" thing: they are just different.

The “big 3”

I could call the group comprising taiji, bagua and xingyi something else; the "Big 3" perhaps (as I have already done). Or maybe the "Daoist school" (given the philosophical underpinnings of texts such as the Lao Tzu and Yi Xing). But for now I default to neija quan - the internal arts. This is what my instructors have always called them to distinguish them from the Buddhist Shaolin tradition (with which the Fujian schools are commonly associated).

“Soft” vs. Hard”

I deliberately refrain from calling them "soft" because this is misleading: xingyi can, if anything, manifest as quite "hard", especially in comparison to taiji. It can manifest as much harder than some "soft" crane. Hong Yi Xiang was renowned for teaching his own forms that combined the softest crane with the hardest xingyi. I still practice and teach 3 of these forms today as a "bridge" between karate and the "big 3".

Is aikido internal or external?

It may surprise readers that I consider aikido to be an "external art" in my terminology. It is a "soft" external art, for sure. But aikido does things in ways that are diametrically opposed to how they would be done in any of the "Big 3". I studied aikido for a while and I have nothing but respect for aikidoka, so this is not a criticism. It is "soft"- but its inherent architecture remains (surprisingly) more akin to karate than it ever has to, say, the throwing moves in bagua and taiji.

Same goal – different starting points

I have another important reason for calling the Big 3 "internal arts" and the others "external" quite apart from historical/cultural convention (which is disputed by many - Chen Yun Ching for example, calls the remainder "Shaolin" but doesn't seem terribly interested in the "hard/soft" dichotomy). My reason is simply this: the internal arts not only anticipate the use of the kind of efficiency inherent in the “Big 3”; they rely completely on it (to varying extents between the 3). In short, the Shaolin arts (karate among them) can be practised hard from day one with some effect, or (later) softer (ie. more efficiently). On the other hand taiji practised hard from day one is pointless and worthless.

[For a discussion as to the physics applicable to internal arts vs. external arts, and what I mean by "efficiency", see my article "Hitting harder: physics made easy".]

Chen Pan Ling said the that goal of every "external" artist should be to become softer. Correspondingly the goal of every "internal" artist should be to become harder. Karate starts out hard and becomes softer. Taiji starts out soft and gradually ends up harder. The most effective artists meet in the middle somewhere (the "half hard, half soft" of uechi and the "hard/soft" of goju). But the approach of internal and external is from opposite ends, technically as well as philosophically.

It is what makes karate, for example, immediately more usable, while the saying in taiji is "15 years before you leave the training hall" (ie. before you should attempt to test your skills in reality). I doubt most taiji practitioners I know have any real fighting skill, but then again, most of them do it for health reasons only anyway. This doesn't take away the fact that taiji is a devastatingly effective martial art when it is utilised by an experienced practitioner. It doesn't mean "grand ultimate fists" for nothing. But it sure isn't easy to learn and apply.

“Internalising” external arts and vice versa

By way of interest, one interesting project I have undertaken over the last 15 years is to reconcile my aikido and internal arts knowledge - ie. how would aikido look if it were performed like the "big 3". I am quite happy with the result. Curiously I note that I have ended up with something quite similar to Tim Cartmell's methodology (Tim is a bagua man formerly based in Taiwan who is tough as nails and a fantastic full contact fighter/grappler extraordinaire). I cannot claim Tim's ability - merely that I understand his where he is coming from.


My "compliation" of stray "internal" throwing techniques I call "touxing chu" or "nagegata sho", plus applications.


Applications from my second throw form "touxing da" or "nagegata dai".

However mostly I maintain t a distinction between my "soft external" arts (eg. karate) and the internal arts: My karate remains "external". Note that I do not regard this as any form of criticism, but merely a means of categorization.

I have tried to "internalise" seisan, for example, by changing it to match xingyi type movement. It was an interesting exercise, but ultimately all it produced was arguably “second-rate” xingyi. My karate works well enough as it is. (The “xingyi” type seisan is still worth a look-see for those who are interested; I just wouldn’t include it on the syllabus.)

In this respect I think karate is like some of the long fist styles that are clearly distinguishable from the majority of the hard shaolin styles in terms of efficiency of power generation, but they are external nonetheless.

I have also tried performing internal arts like one would karate and all I got was second rate karate.

Conclusion

It is my strongly held view that the Big 3/Daoist school etc. of taiji, bagua and xingyi are clearly distinguishable on a technical level and approach from most of what we generally call the Shaolin based southern and northern Chinese systems and all of the Japanese systems of martial arts. Amongst practitioners of the Big 3 and certain offshoots (yi quan [mind boxing], liu he ba fa [water boxing] etc.) they are described as neija quan - the internal arts. But this is just a label. It doesn't mean that there is no "internal" or "soft" aspect to karate or any other "non-big 3" art. However the direction from which one comes to the "hard/soft ideal" is opposite in each case.

If my karate contained the principles of the big 3 internal schools, I wouldn't bother adding them to my study and practice. Are these principles essential to making an effective martial artist? Probably not. You can get to the same destination via many different routes. I am sure that your and my martial art takes a lifetime to perfect anyway. However I have always been a man with a foot in many doors, and I suspect this will never change.

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic

Friday, January 2, 2009

More about the melee: how does it fit with other "range" categorizations?


People often query my use of the term "melee range". The counter this concept by saying that range is a simple proposition. A typical response is:
    "The 3 ranges of stand up combat are kicking range, punching range, and clinch range,"1
The fourth is obviously grappling.

I'm told by my good friend Brad that Renzo Gracie considers that there are also 3 ranges of combat, except he expresses it as follows in his "Mastering Jujitsu", namely:
    (1) the "free movement" phase "because you are both free to move as you wish, and this would apply to armed attacks as well";

    (2) the clinch range which "occurs when some sort of fixed contact is made with the opponent...whether it be a literal clinch, or something as simple as a wrist grab" and thus you are no longer both free to move about as you wish, and thus are no longer in the free movement phase"; and

    (3) "last but not least...is when you're on the ground".
    2
Both of the above paradigms seem quite effective and reasonable ways of distinguishing ranges. How, why and where should one fit a "melee" range into any of these constructs?

It is important to note that my construct "melee range" is not intended to be distinct from, say, the ranges described by Renzo Gracie. Rather it is a group of ranges where you are actually in position to strike but before full clinch/grappling (body to body) occurs.

I called it the "melee" because it is, as is pointed out above, so chaotic and hard to "control". It is a place of storm or panic because your maximum power blows can land (where in full clinch/grappling your ability to maximise power is stifled). This would include a full power kick, a full power cross, a full power hook or a full power elbow. People in any of these ranges naturally feel very vulnerable. It is the point of engagement before you can stifle by closing distance alone.

My "melee" construct is useful because it is frequently ignored as an issue. People will talk of moving from "free movement" (which could include just out of range to body to body, provided neither side has grabbed the other) to "clinch". The maelstrom of the panicky punching/kicking/scrabbling that embodies some of the "engaged" aspect of that free movement until the clinch that interests me, because it is here that most civilian defence scenarios begin and end in my experience (as a prosecutor and otherwise).

In both civilian defence and combat sports this maelstrom lasts for a few seconds at most.

In boxing/kickboxing it decides the fight by knockout or TKO, or both sides back off without determining the encounter or the end in a clinch where they "rest" (or bite ears in Mike Tyson's case). Sometimes they do some largely ineffectual jabbing punches to the floating rib etc.

In MMA/UFC etc. it follows a similar path, except that the clinch could go into a grappling match.

In civilian defence it usually decides the fight because the first punch is unexpected and therefore lands (I've even seen boxers "caught out" because their defence tactics are not optimal at this range - see my reasoning below).

Rarely in combat sports does anyone pause to consider how to deal/train optimally for the "melee". They take for granted that it is a maelstrom; chaotic and unpredictable. They focus instead on tactics of entry from "circling" as a means of minimising risk and dictating the following events, like a game of chess where a move can determine the next 15 or perhaps right up to checkmate.

By contrast, in traditional martial arts a great deal of time is spent on techniques applicable in this melee. In arnis they have trapping drills like de cadena which control flurries of blows once you are inside optimal stick striking range. In wing chun they specialise on generating and controlling "flurries" both with trapping drills and chi sau (sticky hands) - sensitivity exercises. Goju karate similarly has its "kakie" sensitivity exercise, while the internal arts have various "push hands" exercises for that purpose.

In karate/shaolin/internal arts there is generally a high emphasis on what people call "blocks" (usually better termed parries/deflections and sometimes strikes) which only work in the melee. The footwork (ashi sabaki) and tenshin (a kind of body evasion used with blocks) deals entirely with this range. Some arts (eg. shorin ryu) specialise at the mid to outer edge of the melee. Some, like goju, wing chun and white crane, deal with the mid to inner edge of the melee.


De cadena trapping drill from arnis

I believe that it is because the time spent in the melee is so transient that it is glossed over in combat sports. Time is often better spent on entry tactics because you have the time and space to train this; you know when the fight commences and there are no surprises in that regard. Accordingly "melee" management in combat sports primarily comprises training to "bridge the gap" (ie. enter the melee) and what you do to get out (clinch/grapple). The in-between is really regarded as having been determined by your entry tactics (ie. how you bridge the gap).

As I've pointed out in many of my articles (see in particular Evasion vs. blocking with evasion), sports-type evasion such as bobbing and weaving works best at the outer edge of the melee; once you are "toe to toe" you simply don't have the time or space to move your body to avoid his punch which is probably only one or 2 feet away at its start. His handspeed will beat your "body speed" when you are close in; the hands are wired for such fine motor skills where the body and head musculature is wired for gross or macro movement). So in sports combat melee training typically comprises hitting things and using combinations, be it "dead" training (shadow boxing, pads, bags) or "live" (a moving pad/target or a sparring opponent). "Blocks" or parries etc. are secondary. As my friend Kampfringen will tell you, the reverse emphasis is true even in the Western world; the more civilian defence oriented traditional arts from the West have movements which correspond to many traditional blocks. Kampfringen just commented on this to me the other day3 that there is nothing special about goju's hiki/kake uke - the "wax on and off" hooking or pulling block; it exists in renaissance and medieval fighting traditions, just as it exists in shorin ryu schools of karate, in the Chinese external and internal arts, and in in practically every oriental fighting art.


The hiki or kake uke applied

Even boxers will use parries that resemble the hiki uke; however they get to this point often by trial and error; combat sport has lost deflection as the primary focus. The primary focus is to win - ie. on your strikes. In civilian defence the primary focus is on not getting hit, and usually in civilian assaults this begins and ends in the melee. Your attacker is usually close enough to hit, but not yet close enough to grapple. He/she usually doesn't scream, then start running at you from across the room, nor is he or she circling you just prior to the conflict (unless you've organised a fight, in which case this falls outside my definition of "civilian defence").

In other words the "melee range" is not an alternative method of categorising distances to, say, the Renzo Gracie method. Rather it is about focussing attention on a particular stage of combat; a transient, but highly determinative point where traditional martial arts techniques focus their attention. The fact that many traditional techniques are never used in sparring/combat is a function of ignorance as to their applicability at this stage of combat resulting from information loss or "dilution". Traditonal teaching methods are largely to blame; the "train, don't question" approach is very limiting to understanding the nuances of, say, the art of deflection. Furthermore the tendency to "hold back knowledge" or "secret techniques" has resulted in many students of different traditional disciplines being perpetually stuck in honing basic skills but never learning how to apply them in a "live" (ie. dynamic) setting. This kind of dilution has led to people attempting (and failing) to use traditional methods in combat sports where other tactics (bridging the gap) are probably more relevant and determinative of the outcome. The traditional martial art practitioners become disillusioned, resort to trying more "combat sports" effective techniques (or poor copies - what I call "faux boxing") leading to further dilution of knowledge.

Footnotes

1. See this post on the Evolve MMA blog.

2. See Brad's post on the Traditional Fighting Arts Forum here.

3. See Kampfringen's comment here.

Copyright © 2009 Dejan Djurdjevic