Good to see the Doctor’s Tai Chi is on point.
My friend Cavan Scott writes Dr Who comics for a living. Great to see that his latest Doctor Who: Supremacy of the Cyberman has a nice bit of Tai Chi on the cover!
Chen Xiao Wang approves.
My friend Cavan Scott writes Dr Who comics for a living. Great to see that his latest Doctor Who: Supremacy of the Cyberman has a nice bit of Tai Chi on the cover!
Chen Xiao Wang approves.
My old XingYi teacher, Damon Smith, is notoriously reclusive, doesn’t use the public parts of the Internet much and seems to live in hiding, in fact, I still feel weird seeing his name written down on a web page, knowing how much he’d hate it! I’m also pretty sure there was a time when mentioning his name online booked you in for a swift Beng Chuan to the guts in the next class! But it looks like somebody has done the impossible and dragged him out of his cave to talk about his favourite subject – Shamanism.
Back when I was training with him on a weekly basis we used to get into these sorts of discussions all the time, and he used Shamanism constantly in his teaching in reference to XingYi. In fact, I don’t think the two could be separated in the way he taught it.
There was much about it that I could understand and find immediately useful, but much that I couldn’t and seemed beyond my ken. Well, it looks like I may get a second chance thanks to another of his students, Josef Sykora, who has somehow cajoled Damon into spilling the beans on a new Podcast series called Woven Energy.
Joe describes Damon and his teaching as follows:
So who is Damon? Well, he has studied shamanism academically as well as practicing it for over 30 years.
He has an extremely pragmatic view of shamanism and animism so if you’re looking for your normal “simply bang a drum… dance around a bit… have a chat with an animal… imagine going down a hole and now i’m happy” kind of stuff that means nothing, then turn around now… this podcast ain’t for you.
If you accept shamanism as a discipline. A lifelong journey full of ups and downs and a tremendous amount of confusion and hard work, then great… because once pandora’s box is opened, there is no shutting it. You are now at the mercy of the divine.
You can find out a lot more about Damon by simply listening to the podcast. He has some fantastic stories and knowledge to share.
Here’s a few things you can look forward to in future episodes
A deep and thorough look at Shamanism from the inside out
A clear starting point for beginning Shamanic technique
The tools, mindset and knowledge you need to apply Shamanism to all areas of your life
To get episode 1 you need to jump through a couple of sign-up hoops (well, nobody ever said Shamanism was easy, did they), but after providing your email address you will be given access to episode 1 here.
Now it’s time to see how deep the rabbit hole goes…
Adam Frank is concerned with “identity” and how it relates to martial arts. He wrote the book Taijiquan and the Search for the Little Old Chinese Man.
Here’s his recent keynote address to the 2016 Martial Arts Conference.
Been feeling a bit still in my hips lately, so I’m giving this simple movement flow a go for 10 minutes each morning. Try it yourself and let’s see what difference it makes.
Now that I’ve got to brown belt in BJJ I find myself wanting to refocus on the basics and get them really tight. By basics, I mean the fundamental moves that you use most of the time, rather than the spectacular spinning back takes or flying triangles that get all the attention. I mean the boring stuff. The bread and butter of BJJ, if you will.
The first thing I’d like to focus on is defending the guard pass. I’ve noticed that when I get my guard passed it’s always because I didn’t do something quite basic correctly. Everybody knows that when somebody’s weight is bearing down on you, you are meant to make space and hip escape to get your guard back. And that’s ok against a white belt who hasn’t learned how to put a lot of pressure on you through their structure yet, but against an higher belt, simply making space and hip escaping can become next to impossible… unless you do it absolutely correctly.
When you feel the weight and pressure of a higher belt coming down on you, you tend to freeze up and try and hold them off. Well, I do anyway. Inevitably that leads to you getting your guard passed because gravity is on their side and you have stopped moving. The problem is that to do the correct response you often have to give up the perceived safety of your position and open up, and all your instincts are telling you not to do that.
The guard pass defence we’re going to look at today is a particularly fundamental skill in Jiujitsu because it uses the most basic of all movement, the hip escape, but because its so fundamental, I find that there is rarely time spent on teaching it in detail. Here I want to looking at exactly how and when to use a hip escape to defend the guard pass, because there are some details you need to know which can make all the difference – like which way to face, how to use your hand as a frame against your opponent’s ‘leading edge’. Against high level opposition all these little details matter.
As a frame of reference for this article I’m going to use this YouTube video, which is produced by Stephan Kesting and Rob Biernacki on the Frame and Hip Escape. The video is taken from a longer DVD, which I own the smartphone version of. I’d really recommend you buy it because the guard maintenance concepts he shows are excellent, containing over 2 hours of essential BJJ information, although I have one minor grumble… Rob deals almost exclusively in ‘conceptual jiujitsu’, which means that he’d rather spend time teaching you concepts and principles than teach you specific techniques. So, in a way you’re often left to you work out the fine details for yourself. That’s all well and good, but my problem with the conceptual approach is that there are some fine technical details that do matter, and these often get brushed over in favour of imparting a higher principle to the audience. I tend to think that in order to get the concept to work you need to have a technique broken down in a technical way so you can understand everything, which is what I’m going to try to do here.
Here’s the full video:
Defending the knee cut pass
Because we don’t start on our feet in rolling most of the time, the knee cut, or knee slide, pass is one of the most common passes in jiujitsu, so it’s important that you have an answer to it, because you’re going to come up against it time and time again.
Usually the way we start rolling in jiujitsu is that we both start on our knees then one person usually sits back and starts playing guard. He’s on the ‘bottom’ and the other person in on the ‘top’. The top player then usually stands to pass because this minimises the number of submissions and sweeps available to the guy on bottom. It also reduces the risk of being pulled into the closed guard. When you are standing and the other person is on their back, the knee cut pass and the x pass/step pass/torreando variations are the two main passes you’ll have to deal with.
There are various videos online showing the knee cut pass, all with slight variations.
Here’s Rob’s defence again, as a GIF:
The frame and hip escape defence is very basic, but it works. Things to note:
But perhaps the biggest thing to note is that he is using the hip escape in conjunction with a frame. You need the frame to stop their weight from landing on you. But Rob always has his other elbow on the mat when he does this. If you frame while you are lying flat then you’re not going to be able to hip escape out of there. So, the main thing is – move! Get up, don’t stay there.
Defending the X pass/step around pass
This one is left to last in the instructional, and Rob doesn’t spend much time on it, so you can easily miss out the fine details because it only gets one run through. That’s a shame as it’s of equal importance to me as the knee cut defence.
The X pass is a common pass in jiujitsu.
X pass by Saulo:
The defence Rob shows also relates to any kind of pass where the attacker steps around your leg and puts a shin in just past your hip, looking for a knee on belly. As I said, I find the standing step pass is just as common as the knee cut, so should be been given equal attention.
Standing step pass, demonstrated by Peter Robson:
Rob’s defence to both would be the same:
Rob is using the same concept of frame and hip escape here, but notice the key detail that he’s facing in an entirely different direction to the way he used it to defend the previous knee cut pass. When that knee comes in towards you, you need to get the habit of blocking it with your hand to frame and then turning away before recovering guard with a hip escape. This is often difficult for BJJ students, since we are usually taught to never turn away from the attacker because you give your back. Here’s there’s no danger of getting your back taken as your frame is between your back and them.
If that knee comes in deep you need to use your elbow as a frame sometimes. Which Rob also shows:
Defending the folding pass
This one is mentioned second in the video, but I don’t think it’s as common, so I’ve mentioned it last here. This time the wrestling collar tie is used as an option to make the frame, then the hip escape happens:
It’s worth practicing both these defences a lot – the knee slide and the step around pass particularly, as they require quite different mind and body responses, even if the concepts are the same. Get somebody to drill it with you, so they repeat the pass and you repeat the frame and hip escape to get your guard back. Try both sides. That’s important too.
There are other guard passes to deal with in Jiujitsu, and different defences, of course, but I feel that if you can get the basics of framing and turning in and framing and turning away to hip escape, and knowing when to use each one, you have the fundamental pattern ingrained to deal with most problems.
I’ll see you next time in BJJ Basics 101 where I’ll be looking at escaping Side Control.
Every martial art seems to come with a bit of nonsense as part of the furniture. One of these that’s attached itself to Tai Chi is that you must learn to fight without using force. However, and to a man (because they are usually men) the people who say this seldom go beyond pushing the opponent away as the final solution to dealing with an attacker.
I think this misconception arrises because, with a little skill, you can get somebody off balance and push them quite a distance away, so long when they are unsteady, using minimal force.
But guess what – if you push somebody away… they come back! (Unless you push them off a cliff of course, but then, there’s never a cliff around when you need one, is there?) A determined attacker is not going to be impressed by how effortlessly you pushed him away. He’s going to come back and probably be even angrier than before!
I’d suggest the best thing to do with somebody you are trying to incapacitate is drop them at your feet, where you can control and restrain them until help arrives. Maybe the best thing to do is run away. But before you have that as your go-to option, consider the situation where you are with a family member and you are both under attack – what are you going to do, run away and leave them? Or maybe there are multiple attackers, in which case getting tied up with one of them on the ground is not a good idea.
Either way, the idea that you shouldn’t use force crumbles in the face of reality.
So where does this idea come from in Tai Chi? (I should note, I’ve heard the idea expressed in Aikido as well). When you’re doing Tai Chi push hands you also get a lot of comments like “too much force!”, “don’t use strength!”, which is all well and good (what they really mean is ‘don’t use brute strength’), but I think it tends to get translated into “never, ever, use force!”
Do no harm
There’s another variation on the theme which involves the notion that you should be able to subdue somebody without hurting them. Again, I’d say this was impossible. The closest I’ve seen to this idea is the sort of skill you get from BJJ where you can take a person down and mount them (sit on them) so that they can’t get up without having to punch them. You can then wait for help to arrive. Alternatively you can put them to sleep with a choke. But while they may not be getting injured, I don’t think the attacker would call it a pleasant experience!
I’m reminded of this video of BJJ noteable Ryan Hall, where he subdued an aggressive male who was trying to start a fight without throwing a single punch:
He might not have injured the guy, but he ended up putting him to sleep so he was not a threat to anybody.
So much for not using force!
Video of Ben Judkin’s Keynote at the 2015 Martial Arts Studies conference. This is a great talk which all martial arts fans should enjoy.
If you rotate a circle then different parts on the circumference will move in different directions relative to each other. This is crucial to the art of Tai Chi Chuan. Let me explain.
This video of rollback from Yang style is very nicely done. Although I don’t speak Chinese, so I have no idea what he’s saying, the application is nicely shown and very clear.
Let’s take a circle.
Notice that the two points in black on the outside that are directly opposite each other.
If you rotate the circle clockwise, or anti clockwise, then the two points will rotate relative to each other. And from the perspective of the centre of the circle, they will be moving in opposite directions.
Now, if you imagine the circle is the view of a Tai Chi practitioner in the video of rollback, but viewed from above, you can see that if they rotate around their centre then the parts of the body on the opposite sides of their circle will be moving in opposite directions.
Now, unless they are spinning constantly, they won’t keep this up for long in the same direction, but it will be happening continually throughout a Tai Chi form, just in different directions and with different parts of the body.
So, while his left hand is rotating backwards to the left, clockwise direction, his right shoulder is moving equally forward to the right, still clockwise. They are the points on opposite sides of the circle. Obviously he then hits the limit of his rotational possibilities (without stepping) and stops.
Obviously Tai Chi is more of a sphere than a flat 2D circle, but hopefully the point stands and shows how circular movement around the centre point can produce power from the whole body.
Scott Park Phillips’s book on Martial arts is now available in paperback/Kindle. (I’m getting the Kindle version, being a cheapskate and all). I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve seen a condensed presentation Scott did based not the material and I therefore expect it to be well written, disruptive, controversial, and at the very least offer some mind-bending new perspectives on what martial arts really are (or rather, were). I also think he’s tapped into something very important with his premise that seems to be on the nail.
The premise is simply that martial arts, theatre and religion were once a single subject.
Click the “look inside” link on Amazon to read more.
Everybody who practices Taiji and has read the Taiji Classics is familiar with the idea of using the legs as primary generators of force, rather than the shoulders and arms.
As it says in the classics:
“The chin [intrinsic strength] should be
rooted in the feet,
generated from the legs,
controlled by the waist, and
manifested through the fingers.”
Reading that, you’d think that it’s talking about simply pushing off the ground with the legs to generate force. But that’s not the whole story. It couldn’t be – I mean, a good boxer punches from his legs in a similar manner, getting the force of the whole body into the shot. Taijiquan is supposed to be ‘internal’ and involve a different way of moving than regular athletic human movements. Isn’t it?
This mention of ‘controlled by the waist’ here is the key. It’s referring to the fundamental idea in Taijiquan that the dantien area of the body (basically, the waist, but inside, not just on the surface) is controlling the actions of the arms and hands, so they don’t move independently of the movements of the body. This should be true of any Taiji movement, regardless of the particular style of Taijiquan being practiced.
This is such an important concept to Taijiquan that in a lot of interviews (like this one) Chen Xiao Wang, the head of the Chen style branch of Taijiquan, calls it his “1 principle”:
CXW: “There is just one principle and three kinds of motion. The one principle is that the whole body moves together following the Dantien. In every movement the whole-body moves together but the Dantien leads the movement and the whole body must be supported in all directions. This is very important. One principle, three kinds of motion: the three kinds of motion are as follows…First, horizontal motion, the Dantien rotates horizontally. The second kind of motion is vertical motion, the Dantien rotates vertically. The third kind of motion is a combination of the first two. Any movement that is doesn’t follow the principle is a deviation. So when we are training every day we are trying to find and reduce our deviations from the Taiji principle.”
You could also sum up this concept using the phrase, “Hands follow body”. (Later on you get ‘body follows hands’ – but let’s not worry about that right now).
It’s important to note that this mode of movement is contrary to the way we normally move in everyday life. It’s very common for people to be able to understand it intellectually, but not be able to physically embody it. It’s also very difficult to do it consistently. In Taijiquan you need to do it all the time, and without cheating! Take your mind of it for a second and you’ll find you revert to using your ‘normal’ movement again; you’ll use your shoulder and upper body to move your arms. Throw in working with a partner who is providing resistance and it becomes even harder to always move from the dantien.
Incidentally, I think one of the reasons for the incredible amount of solo form work found in Taijiquan is that you need to practice this stuff for months and years for it to become ingrained in your body, so that it becomes the default way you move, even under pressure. Hence the need for regular form practice.
So, the dantien moves, and it moves the hands. So far, so good. The next question is ‘how?’ How, exactly, can moving your legs, hips and dantien control the actions of the arms and hands?
The answer lies in the muscle tendon channels that connect the body internally. They (generally) stretch vertically from the hands (fingers) to the feet (toes) either on the front of the body (yin channels) or on the back of the body (yang channels). It’s important to note that the channels themselves don’t really cross over the body from side to side – they generally run vertically. Credit needs to go to Mike Sigman here, for introducing me to this concept of muscle-tendon channels.
The theory is that muscle-tendon channels were the precursor to the acupuncture channels that we’re all familiar with these days, and are a roadmap of the strength flows and forces of the body. If you really want to get into it, there’s a fuller explanation of the theory on Mike’s website, but the TLDNR (too long, did not read) version is basically that if you create a stretch on the muscle tendon channels from end to end, so they are somewhat taught, then you can start to manipulate them via their central nexus – the dantien – so that a movement of the dantien can power a movement of the hand (or foot). Yes, it’s more complicated than that (there is more than one dantien, for example), but that’s the basic idea.
If you remember back at the start of this blog post, I quoted some lines from the classic that says the progression in generating movement in Taijiquan starts from the bottom and goes upwards, yet at the same time we’re being told that all movement starts in the dantien, which is definitely not in the feet. So, we have a contradiction. Or do we?
Here’s the thing: If you use your legs to push upwards off the ground to generate force you get a kind of “muscle jin”, since you’re not using the power of the dantien, as described by Chen Xiao Wang. To really get to the meat of what it means to use Jin (refined force) in Taijiquan you need to learn how to send force downwards from the dantien to the ground, and bounce it back up simultaneously. So, the originator of the upwards force is still the dantien, and the general direction of force is still upwards from the feet.
For example, when you’re loaded onto the rear leg, and ready to push forward you’d actually start by sending force from your dantien area downwards, “sink the qi”, and the bounce back force that comes up from the ground is what you use to push the opponent away. It should be noted that sending forces down to the ground from the dantien and bouncing it back into the opponent is simultaneous – there’s no time delay.
The next time you go swimming dive down to the bottom of the deep end and stand on the bottom then push off the floor and send yourself upwards to the surface. What you’ll notice is that you naturally want to drop your weight down before you push up. This is a crude kind of approximation of what’s going on in a Taiji push.