Thursday, November 27, 2014

The "woo way" of taijiquan

Okay after I got home after Wednesday's taijiquan training I posted this YouTube video, taken during the class.  It is simply me teaching (as are all my videos): there is nothing rehearsed and nothing contrived.  What you see is what happened spontaneously on the night.



I also posted it on a Facebook page called "The Fajin Project" - an excellent group (created by my friend Stuart Shaw) that is "dedicated to advancing the empirical and practical investigation of Fajin within the Chinese Martial Arts" (Fā Jìn, 發勁, is translated as "launching power").  I did so with the following comment:
"I think my video from last night's class illustrates the need for good basics. And also the need not to deify a teacher. If you look closely you'll see that when my basic technique is off, the application doesn't work. When my basic technique is on, it does work. In other words, my students aren't giving me a free pass."
Chen Man Ching's "fajin". Note his student's jack-knife.*
Of course inevitably The Fajin Project nets at least some "woo woo" internal arts practitioners (a group Martin Watts calls "infernal internals"): people who believe the internal arts give them some sort of "magic power".

One such person - a fellow named Julian - watched the video and commented:
"Beginner intermediate - keep exploring"
I couldn't help but wonder why someone, with no obvious credentials as a master (his own Facebook page shows some rather banal qi gong and forms practise) would be so condescending and negative about a simple and honest training video.

Then it occurred to me: he wasn't commenting on my applications.  He was almost certainly commenting on the "lack of fajin".  Because I know only too well that people like him measure "fajin" by how far people get pushed in demonstrations.

You know the kind: where the master does a push and the student flies away, landing on their feet, then running backwards.  Typically they cover at least 10-15 metres with this "backwards running" (although I've seen it carry on for the length of a sports oval in some cases).

Assuming it is even desirable for "fajin" to manifest as a mere "push" (as opposed to deformative force that doesn't cause displacement), how realistic are these "backwards running" demonstrations?

Most "woo woo" practitioners don't even pause to consider the physics of it all.  If they did, they'd realise it was absolutely impossible.

Imagine for a moment the sort of force and momentum that will project you across a room (never mind a field) and consider its likely effect on your body mass.

I think a good example is someone who comes off a motorcycle.  You see it routinely in races.  What you'll notice is that the rider is flung by the momentum onto the ground.  The idea that someone will be flung straight onto his/her feet and start running is, frankly, absurd.  Yes, it's true that some riders have rolled out of a fall and onto their feet.  But to my knowledge it has never happened the other way around (ie. flung onto their feet, hopping madly, then finally succumbing to a fall).

The same applies to a push: if you've received enough force to push you 10 metres away, then I can tell you now: you're going to be on your backside after one or two metres.  You won't be flung so that you can "hit the ground running".  Especially not if you're going to be running backwards - where you are least able to recover your balance (I suppose it's possible to be flung forwards and stay balanced enough to "hit the ground running" - but even that would be tough).

So what does all this mean?
The demonstrations where someone is pushed, gets "lifted off" and then runs backwards for 10-20 metres are all fake.
You heard me - fake.  It can't happen.

A momentum sufficient to move you that distance backwards will have you on your ass within 1 or 2 metres - maximum.  The master isn't "projecting" the student 10 metres or more.  Rather, the student is jumping, then running backwards - whether by being deliberately complicit in the fakery or by being overly suggestible (susceptible to mentalism).

Don't believe me?  Let's see what real "fajin" - force that is sufficient to push a great distance - actually looks like.



Whatever people think of Bruce Lee as a "real fighter" there is no question that he knew how to apply an incredible amount of force for his (small) bodyweight.  In the above clip Lee demonstrates a side kick that throws his partner across the length of about 4 metres.  This clearly isn't movie fakery; the kick is the real deal. (The only cinematic effect is the old Hong Kong trick of adding talcum powder to the kick shield.)

Note how his body responds - no jack-knife* here!
What you'll notice is that the partner has lost his balance from the get-go: with that sort of force - force sufficient to make him "fly away" - he didn't even have the slightest, and I mean the slightest, chance of landing on his feet and "running backwards".

And it doesn't matter whether the force has some "impact" (like Lee's kick) or is a simple "push".  Because displacement due to force is just that.  Think of being flung by catapult by the same force: no "impact" but same displacement.  Your ability to stay upright in the face of such force (particularly when projected backwards or sideways) is plainly nonsensical.  So all that hopping, backward running "stuff" is pure baloney.

It's as simple as this:
If the "fajin" is strong enough to push you backwards 4 metres or more, it'll knock you over - quickly.
Which brings me to the "short power" demonstrations, where the student typically "hops" away because of a slight "fajin nudge" from his/her teacher.  Here's a particularly egregious example:


Okay, I know some people say this is just a "skit" (despite the humorous element, I think it retains a degree of sincerity and seriousness).  But even if it is a skit, why is this instructor's other "stuff" equally implausible?  Consider this:


Ignore the slippery floor and the supposed "immovability" (I've done it better - without slippery floors - and never claimed it was anything other than solid stances and simple physics).

Rather, let's focus on the occasional "fajin" - at places like 3:09.

As in the jalapeños video, the implication is that the student is "bounced" - ie. projected upwards and backwards by some alleged "short power".  Ostensibly it isn't enough to push the student across the room; it's just enough to lift him into the air - ie. uproot him so that both feet lift off - then come back down again a metre or so away.

So what's happening here?  I'll tell you:
The student is jumping.  
Both feet off the ground but nary a push. Note jack-knife.*
This is the sole reason both the student's feet lift off the ground.  It has nothing to do with some sort of "fajin" or "qi" etc.

Whether the student is doing it deliberately or as a result of mentalism, I can't say.  I suspect it is susceptibility to the latter.  But the result is the same: fakery.

How do I know this?

Take a look at the video at the start of this article.  Freeze the frames where both feet are lifted up during an "uprooting".

What you'll notice is that anything that uproots both your feet inevitably makes you fall on your ass.  Sure, you might not fly "far" (ie. more than a metre or two) - but you'll be flat on your back anyway. Why?  Because any force that is sufficient to pick you up is going to be substantial.  In other words:
Uprooting both your opponent's feet will cause him or her to fall to the ground!
The opportunity to "rebalance" and land on your feet is not available with such an explosive burst of uprooting force - ie. "fajin".

Both feet lift - but note the head falling back first
Remember: my students featured here don't give me an inch, nor do they take what I tell them as gospel.  One in this video is a long time practitioner of MMA.  Another is competing in a full-contact tournament soon and is cross-training extensively - including in MMA.  Another recently stood in for one of them at the last minute in a full contact bout - and won against an opponent 15 kg heavier and a foot taller.  Another is a 4th dan with 25 years of hard knocks karate.  Another is a former long-term jujutsu student.

None of them buy into "teacher chi".  I have to make things work properly.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  If you don't believe me, watch the opening video closely: you'll see that a number of times I go to do something and my technique is off, so nothing happens.

After a technique fails in the video I inevitably say something like: "You see - if I don't do it right, this is what happens.  What should I do now?"  But regardless of my nonchalance, the teacher (and performer) in me is frustrated because the truth of the matter is that I was actually trying to throw them - and was off in my timing or distancing by a fraction so it didn't work.  (I never said I was infallible.  Only mentalists imply that.)

Note how my head is falling behind the legs
Anyway, in this video it's mostly not me doing the throwing but my students throwing each other (I just do a lot of talking and a few detailed examinations).

In one case a student is throwing me.  Much to my surprise, I got lifted clean off the ground and landed quite hard on my back (which is still affected by two herniated discs - so I'd rather not be flung around!).

Regardless, watch each case where there is some uprooting of both feet cleanly off the ground.  What's the net effect?  The person being uprooted falls.  Hard.  He might not "fly" very far, but he can't "rebalance" so as to land with both feet using a kind of "hop".  Why would that be the case?  It's simple really:
An "upward" force is almost as detrimental to your balance as a mostly horizontal force (of the kind that pushes you 10 metres away).
This is especially so when you are being uprooted so that you fall slightly backwards (ie. you're not just being pulled up on the spot).  It is arguably only slightly better if you're being uprooted and pulled slightly forwards.  Either way, you can't recover enough to do a little "hop".

Note the "jack-knife" posture of the person being "uprooted"
In other words, any "bouncing" demonstration you see is also fake.  The student is jumping.  It's as simple as that.

If you have any lingering doubts, observe the typical "jack-knife" posture of the jumper's body: this is a dead giveaway.*  People who get uprooted don't "jack-knife" their bodies in this way.  And if they are being compromised that much by force applied to their hips/mid section (ie. a force enough to "bend them in half") then they certainly won't recover to land on their feet!

Okay, so what about the argument that the "hop" is "deliberate": that students who are being pushed "hop" to avoid being "thrown" by the fajin?  All I can say is:
Give me a break!  
I demonstrate the undesirability (indeed, impossibility) of this supposed "tactic" in the video below:



As an addendum, a student of mine, Rob, fought in a contact, modified kyokushin rules competition just last night and used a principle of taiji/sumo/judo that basically totally invalidates the idea of "hopping backwards" as a remotely plausible tactic.

You'll note in the photos below how Rob rushes his (heavier) opponent when he feels his weight is raised.  This lets him pick up his opponent and throw him out of the ring.

Now imagine deliberately setting yourself up for this sort of charge by "hopping" when pushed.  Madness.



In conclusion, I think I can see why the commentator Julian regarded my demonstrations as "beginner to intermediate": no one was being flung great distances by a "fajin" that causes backward running momentum.  No one was "bounced" with just a small shrug of "qi" that uproots both feet, jack-knives the body and causes a double-legged hop.

But then again, this sort of stuff is just fantasy.

Footnote: the "jack-knife"

Cf. Chen Man Ching's student above...
* Basically a "jack-knife" shape in your partner's body is a clear indication of fakery.  I know this because my brother-in-law Trevor and I experimented with this issue back in 2009.  The only way we could reproduce the "jack-knife effect" was when Trevor jumped.
This might be a bit of fun and make for a fancy photograph but it's not real.

We discovered that any kind of honest, "both feet off the ground" projection didn't result in the body "bending" like this at the waist - ie. with the head in line with the knees and the bum sticking out the back.

Rather, this sort of bend results only when the person being "thrown" pushes off the ground with his or her feet (ie. jumps).  The greater the jack-knife effect, the greater the jump.

Real projections cause the head and torso to be thrown back (at least behind the line of the knees) by the time of any "double foot lift off".  That's partly because most projections result from force applied to the upper body (as opposed to a tackle around the legs).  The upper body is going to respond to the force by being pushed away.

So if your partner's bum manages to "lead" both head and legs (ie. do a jack-knife), that's because there was no real force behind your "projection" to begin with: your partner has simply pushed off with their legs, thrusting their bum back.

This also means they are in total control - and can land on their feet.  When you think about it, that's why male ballet dancers "jack-knife" so many leaps - for control (just like in the above picture).

Ah, how obvious it is now eh?

[Read my answers to responses to this article here.]

Addendum

It's not often that an example of everything I've just said comes along so expressly and plainly, but here is a video that is exactly that.


It has it all: hopping, jack-knifing, running backwards... from the word go.



Copyright © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic