The Shadow Boxer
The Title Sequence of the Shaw Brother’s Movie – The Shadow Boxer featuring Cheng Tin Hung demonstrating the meaning of Intent and explaining the fundamental precepts of Taijiquan.
Many people find it difficult to reconcile the apparent gentleness of the Taijiquan Empty Hand Form with the fierce brutality of real fighting. They imagine that they might effortlessly overcome their opponents without breaking a sweat and without actually having to practice real fighting against opponents that mean them harm.
The problem has been that the fighting art of Taijiquan which was originally transmitted by word of mouth and hard practice by illiterates was transcribed into the written word by intellectuals who abhored violence and hard exercise. The philosophical theory underpinning the art appealed to the intelligentsia and so they underplayed the physical aspects that actually related to fighting and concentrated on the philosophical aspects and then added the spiritual aspects of Taoism which are quite irrelevant to the fighting art.
The art appealed to the weak in mind and body as it held the promise of the weak overcoming the strong. However again the true meaning was corrupted by the intellectuals. The true meaning is that the less physically strong person can overcome a stronger opponent, but that person will not be weak. That person will be highly trained and strong of will. People will believe what is convenient to them and will conveniently ignore all evidence that contradicts their beliefs.
Cheng Ting Hung was a Tai Chi Master who knew how to fight. He was a champion fighter who taught champion fighters. He also taught many people who could not fight their way out of a paper bag but he made no bones about the fact that he was also a businessman who needed to look after his family. Softness is meant for defence but when you counterattack you are not soft at all as Cheng Ting Hung demonstrates in the video above.
February 7, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Musings | No comment
A lot of people contact me with the express desire to learn how to become a Taichi Teacher. They often have the delusion that they can do a couple of courses, get a certificate and be on their way. I on the other hand never wanted to be a teacher I just wanted to learn the art.
However my teacher would always make us teach our younger Taichi siblings (in Taichi experiential terms – as they were often much older than we were) as he knew that the teaching was the best way to learn as long as you had an experienced guide who could help you out when you were unable to explain something or get through a particular learning barrier that the person you were trying to teach was experiencing.
The hardest thing to teach is the thing that came easiest to you, as you have no understanding as to how it is so difficult for others. It is easy to dismiss these people as inept, idiots who have no business wasting your time but the reality is that this is the greatest opportunity for learning that you will receive. It enables you to move from the state of unconscious competence to conscious competence which is the true understanding of what you are actually doing.
It is often the case that the very best practitioners cannot teach because they have never needed to examine what they are doing and how they do it. It is only when they lose or their abilities are on the wane that it becomes necessary for them to understand so that they can adapt what they do. Others who struggle and work hard to attain high ability are much better at teaching others because they have a better understanding of the issues that many people face in trying to learn.
I am still constantly surprised by the challenges of teaching some people techniques that I considered the most basic and have been been rewarded by having to re-evaluate the technique and understand a finer essence, a more fundamental formulation of the technique that they could eventually get to grips with.
Teaching has taught me many things and has improved my understanding and ability no end.
February 2, 2010 at 10:49 pm | Musings | No comment
Many people believe that there is a fighting art that is the best and that they are doing it. They believe that their art contains elements that are superior to what other people practice and hence they will inevitable prevail.
What they fail to understand is that it is the combination of the person and the fighting art that is the important factor. Having said that it is possible for people to have their fighting style ruined by poor instruction , terrible training methods and an over-emphasis on competition fighting with rules that protect them from dangerous errors in technique.
It is very difficult for the novice to know what is good and what is bad so they tend to pick what is available to them based upon the level of marketing that teachers provide. Unfortunately the marketing spend is often inversely proportional to the utility of the art and the ability of the teacher. Traditionally a teacher had to prove their credentials by fighting other stylists in open competition – now they only have to earn black belts/sashes/certificates etc and do not have to actually fight at all or only within the limited arena of their own organisational structure.
The problem of only fighting within your own style is that the fighters know all the moves of their opponents, both having learnt the same techniques, tactics and strategy. In this situation the stronger, faster, fitter person will always win. Trained techniques become self-defeating. To win it is necessary to move beyond technique and change tactics and strategy.
Most martial arts taught today are a pale imitation of what they once were. It is no longer a life or death matter to become the best. Traditional small group teaching has given way to the large class, financially beneficial to the teacher but poor value for the student. Large class teaching is not conducive to proper teaching. It is necessary to dumb down the class and create syllabuses for all to follow, individuality is not taken into account. All must learn the same thing in the same way irrespective of differences in physique, flexibility, strength and intellect.
Ultimately if the art has sufficient defensive techniques to be able to defend against all the basic attacks then the superior fighter will succeed using that art, irrespective as to what it is. It is the attributes of the fighter that determine whether he can make the art successful. The art itself is neither good nor bad. Learning a particular martial art does not guarantee success but learning the most appropriate one for your physical and mental attributes is more likely to have a successful outcome.
January 31, 2010 at 10:27 pm | Musings | No comment
Many people who have no understanding of martial arts or fighting have often asked me the following questions
1) How would you fight a man with a gun ?
The answer to 1 is that I would not. Projectile weapons such as guns, crossbows etc fire projectiles far faster than a human can possibly move. The movies give an unrealistic representation due to the fact that no bullets are actually fired at the hero. Jacky Chan’s disarming techniques only work because the assailant is stupid enough to be within contact range , when the weapon is obviously designed to be used at a distance where it would be impossible to use such techniques.
Martial Arts were not designed to withstand bullets and blades but to train the body and mind in the methods and tactics of armed and unarmed combat. If I knew I had to fight a person armed with a gun then I would obtain the necessary kevlar armour and better weaponry to be able to fight. If however an armed robber wanted my wallet I would give it to him, as I can always get more money if I am still alive and a wise man takes no unnecessary risks when his life is on the line.
The second question makes the assumption that you will fight in the style of the opponent. Would I be able to beat Mike Tyson at boxing – the answer is obviously no. He was the undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion for a very good reason – in his prime he was unbeatable. It was possible not to lose against him if you adopted a defensive strategy and had a reach advantage, and that is a victory of sorts . However being shorter, lighter, less powerful, and not a world class boxer I would stand no chance if I adhered to the rules of boxing. However I am not a boxer I am an exponent of Taijiquan in which we avoid the opponents strengths and attack his weakness. Thus I would not try to box him I would be continually attacking his legs with low kicks to the nerve centres of the thighs, knees and ankles. Boxers do not train to deal with this sort of attack and so would be susceptible.
Some would say that this would be cheating but in a fight all is fair as he can do the same to me. The real question is would this tactic work against Mike Tyson ? It is possible that he is so tough that he could withstand these attacks and come blasting through with his deadly combinations. This can only be proven with a real contest. The wise man picks his fights wisely. Given the choice I would not fight Mike Tyson but If I had to then I would give it my best shot. In the end the better man and better tactics will win on the day.
Skill alone is not enough to win a fight. Strength and resilience can often overcome skill. Martial spirit or the will to win also often overcomes skill. Martial Spirit coupled with strength and resilience is a formidable opponent but when coupled with skill becomes a worthy adversary – and so the outcome is uncertain.
January 24, 2010 at 1:10 am | Musings | No comment
Learning Taijiquan is very difficult because the essence of the action cannot be seen. All techniques have an external appearance and this is what is visible to the the third party observer however any technique may be performed in different ways which will be apparent to the victim of the technique but will look identical to the external third party observer.
Taijiquan is in this sense an internal martial art, because the how a technique is applied is more important than the actual technique itself. It is often said that there are no techniques in Taijiquan, there is just a method. However to learn the method one must learn techniques, and then how to use these techniques to minimise the use of force and maximise the effect of the action by the harmonious interaction with the opponent.
In another sense there is one technique, which encompasses the method. One learns form to be able to move to formlessness. One learns techniques to be able to move beyond technique. However even though the technique is not apparent the form remains , yet it has been transformed into something unrecognisable to the external observer. The form and techniques have been internalised to an extent that the what is seen is not what it is.
To truly understand it is necessary to be able to feel. To understand by touch. To be able to detect and observe motion by sight and feel. To be able to gauge the amount of force and the force vector itself.
How can one learn this? There is only one way – by trial and error. This entails making many mistakes and getting hit a lot. Without this investment in pain there can be no success. No pain no gain. Invest in Loss as the classics say.
January 16, 2010 at 12:09 am | Musings | No comment
Teaching Taijiquan is very difficult because very few people have the dedication and patience required to master its subtleties. It is not possible to train harder to become softer and more sensitive. Learning to relax in the manner required of a true Taijiquan practitioner requires understanding as to what it means to be relaxed. Only someone who has mastered that particular skill can tell you or show you if you have attained this level of understanding.
Other martial arts are much easier to learn you can train harder by yourself to become , stronger, faster , more flexible , more resilient, increase stamina , striking and kicking ability although the same problem stands that it is impossible to learn how to fight without actually fighting.
To be able to fight it is first necessary to have a basic prowess in attack and defence. The majority of people do not possess these basic fighting skills and require instruction. Many think they do not need to learn these things and just want to learn “the good stuff”. However without a firm grounding in the fundamentals “the good stuff” just will not work.
So I teach the fundamentals, how to punch, how to kick , how to move , how to avoid, how to close in, how to defend and how to attack.
I teach the Taijiquan hand form to teach posture, coordination, balance and the basic application movement templates that will be used in the self-defence applications and eventually in free fighting.
January 10, 2010 at 11:27 pm | Musings | No comment