my "mantra" - not WHAT but HOW!

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my "mantra" - not WHAT but HOW! Empty my "mantra" - not WHAT but HOW!

Post  David A Ross on Wed Nov 30, 2011 9:04 pm

(TCMA = Traditional Chinese Martial Arts)

When discussing how functional and/or practical Chinese martial arts techniques are (or CAN BE) I have on many occassions uttered what has become my mantra of sorts. It is not WHAT you practice as much as HOW you practice it.

To state the obvious, MOST traditional Chinese martial arts techniques were developed for fighting. I say MOST because there are certain aspects of what is today part of the package of TCMA that are intended as conditioning, for internal development and other purposes. Another part of our "problem" is not understanding the larger picture of how systems were created, maintained, practiced and passed along.

But, anyway, MOST TCMA techniques were developed for and used in fighting. That isn't the issue. The issue is HOW those who actually used them PRACTICED THEM. I also feel inherent to this discussion is WHO was using them, and in what context. As a trained historian who has read many accounts related to how martial arts were practiced, who practiced them and where they were used I can say with certainty that many modern practicioners of TCMA live in a fantasy land.

Successful fighters in the past trained VERY HARD. They trained consistently. They were also in most cases what might be best termed "tough guys". They weren't successful because they had the correct scroll, or the secret technique, but rather because they had spend long hours practicing and because by the time we hear about them, they have SURVIVED.

All too much of this has been obscured by political correctness, commercialism, kung fu movies and some outright ignorance.

Today, if you want to "recapture" functional Chinese martial arts, you need to train the way other fighters do. You need to work with resisting partners, you need to condition yourself, you need to hit bags and use equipment, you need to spar. If you engage in competition, all the better. Please don't assume that the lineage you are from or the forms you have learned are what makes the difference.

The more controversial aspect of this is that you will find that no matter how hard you train, some things you have been taught may NEVER WORK. You can then ask (1) was it meant just for conditioning? or (2) for internal development? OR (3) perhaps the worst conclusion that it is something that was "added on" later by those who didn't understand how the system really worked or didn't understand real fighting

Sometimes the truth is harsh, but it is still the truth
David A Ross
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Post  Matt_Stampe on Wed Nov 30, 2011 9:44 pm


People just need to get out of the comfort zone. Try new sparring buddies, mix it up for a few rounds against a boxer, kick boxer, or a san shou guy, even a MMA stylist. Try BJJ rolling, push hands, chi sao, shuai chiao, and other style of non-co-operative play. Dont get complacent in your martial art and be fine with non-partner training.

Learning to fight from someone who hasn't fought was summed up by Matt Serra in the Ultimate fighter- "How can you learn to swim from someone afraid to jump in the pool!!!!!!"

The second most unimpressive personas in martial arts are the "We too Traditional with deadly strikes" who constantly talk and talk and might even have some Youtubes of themselves with taiji ability to push a girl,a fellow student, or a friend, and then act like some superior martial artist. Especially the ones who go as far as to talk down on those who have gone out and competed, when they themselves have not competed against a truly resisting opponent. Rolling Eyes

I'm humble enough to take a hit in the sparring classes I teach. I teach 1 or 2 sparring classes a week with either MMA, San shou, Muay Thai, or Boxing Theme (whichever one we focus on that day) and spar with the students. Class can have anywhere from 3 to 6 guys. I take a humbling strike, but hey- it helps me to be a better training partner.

I consider myself a 'Coach' and not the traditional "Sifu" . I'll give the term Sifu to much more experienced elders who have "been there and done that" in regards to fighting ability and developing gong fu in self and others.


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Post  Mike Patterson on Wed Nov 30, 2011 11:29 pm

What is amazing to me is that things ever deviated so far from the original intention in the first place. I think there are many reasons for this in this country (elsewhere also); students have become lazy, teachers are teachers too soon, schools are forced to cater to a mindset that borders on the "experience" of martial arts as opposed to realistic training. I personally have faced this last running a commercial school and had to come to "peace" with it in my own way.

I have said it before and some of you have already heard it, but this is a new forum so I'll say it again for the record here. There is a major disconnect in many, perhaps most, TCMA schools in this country. They do not train realistically in most cases. Many will go only as far as a dumbed down version of point fighting, excluding many targets and technical perspectives in the process. Many IMA schools will only go so far as a super cooperative push hands exercise.

Now I understand that a beginner needs to learn structure first. And that initially some cooperation is necessary to learn a new technique to get the distance, timing and angle of insertion down before stepping it up a notch. But without stepping it up, without resistance, one can never learn whether or not it has really been understood. Even if this is done, at some point it must be honed within a live environment against an unknowing and resistant opponent to become viable. Those that do not, or refuse to acknowledge this fact are only deluding themselves.

True story: I had a point fighting karate champion join my school years ago. All kinds of trophies and very proud of that fact. When he first stepped out on the floor with me, he began doing "his thing" and every techique he threw was being slipped or avoided but he kept apologizing; "I'm sorry" he said a few times. And after about three such instances, I asked him why he kept saying he was sorry. His reply was; "oh, because I've been getting you." To which I replied he most certainly had not and explained to him a bit about distance, mass inertia, etc. Well, he wasn't buying it, so I suggested we go contact for a bit to make the point. After a few minutes of me proving to him first that he did not have the force necessary to really hurt me (letting him kick and punch my body a half dozen times and some "egging on" by some of my seniors) he agreed and commenced. You can imagine his chagrin as a reigning "point champion" when he couldn't land a solid blow on me for the next five minutes and I continuously struck, threw and submitted him at will.

Point sparring is a game. Sparring for points is not full contact fighting. Full contact fighting is not street fighting. There are many echelons of delusion in the martial arts world. And many will hold on to that delusion for eternity rather than test it in the harsh light of day. Sad really. So much is being lost as a result.

Last edited by Mike Patterson on Thu Dec 01, 2011 12:38 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : typographical error)

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Post  David A Ross on Thu Dec 01, 2011 1:06 am

While it is easy to say "it is the training here in the US" I think the problem is more complicated and stretches back to China itself.

Real fighters, often from the undesirable classes in Chinese society, sought acceptance and social advancement. They fostered myth to legitimate themselves

Many saw business opportunities in "dumbing down" the martial arts. Many believe that the Yang version of Taiji was changed to please aristocrats who were interested in something esoteric but not in training hard.

Sun Lu Tang basically created the idea of "internal" and for his own purposes. There was no real tradition of this division before.

I recommend the books of Brian Kennedy such as "Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals" which highlight a long tradition of those who really fought being critical of "fantasy-fu"

One of my favorite quotes comes from "Chin Na Fa" by Liu Jinsheng (1935)

“In recent years, the central government has begun to promote traditional martial arts, and every province has established martial arts training halls. Besides Chinese wrestling, the most popular arts are the Shaolin and Wudang styles of kung fu, both of which have methods of solo practice. Yet the practical applications of these arts is a subject that is never breached. Those who have practiced these arts twenty or thirty years have never defeated anyone who has practiced Western boxing or judo. Why is this? It is because the practitioners of Shaolin and Wudang styles only pay attention to the beauty of their forms -- they lack practical methods and spirit and have lost the true transmissions of their ancestors. Hence, our martial arts are viewed by outsiders merely as rigorous dancing.

When the ancients practiced any type of martial art, sparring and drilling techniques were one and the same.
Once a fight started, techniques flowed in sequence, six or seven at a time, never giving the opponent a chance to win. In the Ming dynasty, men such as Qi Jiguang and Yu Dayou advocated this type of realistic practice and opposed any empty practice done for the sake of appearance. This is why these men have proud reputations in history.

Today the scientific method is employed the world over. All disciplines seek to refine their techniques. Only China fails to improve its traditional martial arts over time, and even our past knowledge is being lost.”

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