Tai Chi Marmite man: Scott Phillips on Taijiquan as dramatic storytelling

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He’s the ‘Marmite‘ of the Tai Chi world (well, one of the Marmites anyway, you could argue the Tai Chi world is made up of Marmite personalities all the way down ūüôā ), but this free article is a nice neat summation of Scott Phillips’s theory of Taijiquan as dramatic storytelling.

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It’s easy to dismiss Scott as “he’s just a dancer”, but to me those Chen style movements he’s talking about look so stylistic and deliberate that they’re clearly not just martial movements. If you’re arguing that Tai Chi is just a martial art and nothing else then I think you’ve got a lot of explaining to do. It’s pretty easy to see what fighting looks like these days, since sport fighting is on TV every weekend.

I think the idea that ‘Ok, this might be true, but does this matter?’ has much more validity. If Scott is right and he’s tracked down the origins of Tai Chi, then it clearly been forgotten over time, and Tai Chi these days has become something else.

In fact, it had become something else over a¬† hundred years ago. China has gone through several major political and cultural shifts over that time that changed their society completely (often resulting in the deaths of millions of people and associated trauma). The Boxer Rebellion, the 1912 Chinese Revolution, the Communist rise to power, the Cultural revolution and the current rise of nationalism under the guise of Communism, etc…

Anyway, the article is in-depth and it’s worth a read if you have an interest in the possible origins of Tai Chi:

“The Zhang Sanfeng Conundrum Taijiquan and Ritual Theater”— from The Journal of Daoist Studies at Academia.edu.

You can still buy the paper version from Three Pines Press.

The article is on page 98.

Want more? Scott writes books

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…and makes videos too.

 

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Chen Ziming’s general comments on Taijiquan

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Delving deeper into Chen Ziming’s book.

I posted yesterday about a translation of Chen Ziming‚Äôs book ‚ÄúThe inherited Chen family Taiji boxing art‚ÄĚ that is available on the Brennan translations website. I‚Äôve just started reading it and noticed a couple of interesting things I thought I’d post about.

(It should be noted that I often read critiques of the translations by P. Brennan, saying there is too much of the author’s own interpretation in there, rather than a literal translation, so take that into consideration.)

Firstly, who was Chen Ziming?

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Chen Ziming was the same generation of Chen family boxing as Chen Fake, who moved to Beijing and made Chen style famous in the capital. Chen Ziming really rose to fame as being the student of Chen Xin, who (unusually for the time) was literate and wrote the first book on Chen style Taijiquan Taijiquan Illustrated, which contained several drawings of silk reeling energy which are still used today. The book was published after the death of Chen Xin by the historian Tang Hao and others. Chen Xin died in 1929. Some extracts of Chen Xin’s book are available on Jarek’s China from Inside.

There are various subdivisions of styles within Chen style. There is a big frame, small frame, old frame and new frame. As a student of Chen Xin, Ziming promoted what is known as the ‚Äúsmall frame‚ÄĚ of Chen Taijiquan. This sub style was born in the Chen village and uses smaller circles as a feature of its practice (it uses the same forms other Chen styles use).

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While the small frame is often said to be the more ‚Äėtraditional‚Äô method because it stayed in the village longer, all Chen substyles share the same principles, so they‚Äôre not really separate styles, just each has a different emphasis, reflecting the person who passed them on.

From Wikipedia:

‚ÄúThe increased interest in Chen-style t’ai chi ch’uan led¬†Tang Hao¬†(ŚĒźŤĪ™; 1887‚Äď1959), one of the first modern Chinese martial art historians, to visit and document the martial lineage in Chen Village in 1930 with Chen Ziming.[10]¬†During the course of his research, he consulted with a manuscript written by 16th generation family member Chen Xin (ťô≥ťĎę; Ch’en Hsin; 1849‚Äď1929) detailing Chen Xin’s understanding of the Chen Village heritage. Chen Xin’s nephew, Chen Chunyuan, together with Chen Panling (president of Henan Province Martial Arts Academy), Han Zibu (president of Henan Archives Bureau), Wang Zemin, Bai Yusheng of Kaiming Publishing House, Guan Baiyi (director of Henan Provincial Museum) and Zhang Jiamou helped publish Chen Xin’s work posthumously. The book entitled¬†Taijiquan Illustrated¬†(Ś§™ś•Ķśč≥ŚúĖŤ™™ see¬†classic book) was published in 1933 with the first print run of thousand copies.[11]‚ÄĚ

From Wikipedia:

‚ÄúChen Xin initially trained with his father but his father ordered him to study literature rather than the martial arts. It was only later that he decided to use his literature skills to describe his understanding of the secrets of Chen style. In Chen Xin’s generation, his older brother, Chen Yao and his cousin, Chen Yanxi(ťôąŚĽ∂ÁÜô, father of Chen Fake) were considered masters of the Chen style. Chen Xin’s legacy is his book and his student, Chen Ziming (ťôąŚ≠źśėé). Chen Ziming, went on to promote Chen style small frame throughout China and wrote books¬†[32]¬†promoting the art. Chen Ziming was in the same generation as Chen Fake.‚ÄĚ

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At the start of the book Chen lists 9 ‚Äėgeneral comments‚Äô about Taijiquan.

The first 6 are a kind of an orientation to the subject and a guide to what is in the book. From point 7 onwards it gets interesting. He makes some very good observations about Taijiquan that are worth reflecting on.

7. The boxing art called Taiji seeks an appearance of ease. Once you have practiced it to familiarity, you will be able to understand its subtleties and your body‚Äôs actions will never depart from the principles. If in the beginning you overanalyze each technique, you will come up with strained interpretations of them and will only get yourself stuck in your ideas, and this will instead hinder your progress. However, if you are able to abide by the principles, then after practicing for a long time you will naturally enter into a transformation of spirit. Therefore the solo set in this book is presented only as postures and movements, giving guidance in skills without lapsing into contrived profundities. As long as you do not forget that this boxing art is called ‚ÄúTaiji‚ÄĚ, then through gradual practice the art will come to conform to the taiji concept.

He further elucidates on the idea of ‚Äúconforming to the Taiji concept‚ÄĚ in point 8:

8. Learning Taiji Boxing, regardless of beginner or advanced practitioner, never goes beyond the methods of movement and stillness, opening and closing, rising and lowering, turning side to side. As a beginner, you have to clearly distinguish between these opposites. Then after a prolonged period of training you will achieve such skill that at any time you will be able to alternate between them with your whole body all at once, which is the most delightful aspect of the advanced level.

This reiterates an important point in Taiji practice. Your body needs to be going through a process of going from one ‚Äėextreme‚Äô to another to be practicing Tai Chi. (I put extreme in quotes because there are no physically extreme positions in Tai Chi, unlike Yoga, for instance). You do need to arrive at a closed position, then move to an open position and then close and so on. That action is what makes the Chen boxing art ‚ÄúTaijiquan‚ÄĚ. That action can also only really be achieved by doing what Taiji people call “moving from the dantien”.

That’s one of the profundities about Taijiquan. Everything is tightly packed together into the simple concept of “Taiji”. Like Dr Who’s Tardis, it’s bigger on the inside. There’s a lot of stuff in there and you need to unpack it bit by bit to understand the profound simplicity of the whole.

My podcast with Ken Gullette – BJJ, XingYi, Tai Chi and Choy Lee Fut

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I was interviewed for Ken Gullette’s Internal Fighting Arts podcast recently. It was a fun show and Ken is a gracious and generous host and a new friend in martial arts. We had a really wide-ranging discussion about so many different subjects. I’m sure each topic we touched on could have been a podcast in itself, but Ken did a great job editing it to keep it on track.

We start talking about what it’s like starting BJJ later in life, then move on to Chinese martial arts like Tai Chi, Choy Lee Fut and XingYi and if they are still relevant today for self-defence. Hopefully, you find something here of interest.

Thanks to Ken for the opportunity. I’d suggest checking out his other episodes, too.

Here’s the link to mine.

 

Henan Village Chang family Xiao Luohan

I was reading through this excellent interview with Matthew Polly, author of American Shaolin, (a book which has somehow has escaped my bookshelf Рa situation I should rectify promptly), when I came across this video of a man performing Chang family Xiao Luohan in a rural village in Henan.

It’s a great little video for a number of reasons. The first is that this is something old and precious that is in danger of dying out as people lose interest in WuShu in modern life. The second is the authenticity of the presentation – it really does look like a rural villiage where he has lived all his life. The third is – it’s a really good performance!

These are the sorts of “old school” martial arts skills that are in danger of dying out in China. To quote from the Matthew Polly interview above:

“As I mentioned in American Shaolin, the idea of chńę k«Ē (ŚźÉŤč¶ ), eating bitterness, is central to the Chinese understanding of learning martial arts, and the value of suffering. And the way in which that contrasts with the western idea of trying to avoid pain in any way. We have an entire society built around the idea of alleviation of pain. We have an opioid crisis because we‚Äôre trying to avoid all sorts of pain. I admire progress and evolution in the way mixed martial artists do, but I have a nostalgia and sentimentality for tradition and the way that old man practised the same form for 60 years. There‚Äôs something beautiful about that and a sadness in seeing that wiped away as MMA goes like a bulldozer through the traditional kung fu and karate world.”

Chang family boxing is one of the precursors to Taijiquan, at least in terms of martial arts theory, although there are several similar postures to Chen Taijiquan found in its boxing sets, so the connection may be more literal than just in terms of theory.

I think research into Chang family boxing would reveal more about the origins of Taijiquan than wondering if it was Taoist. Luckily this research has already been done by Marnix Wells in his book ‘Scholar Boxer: Ch√°ng N√Ęizhou’s Theory of Internal Martial Arts and the Evolution of Taijiquan‘. Again, another shocking omission from my bookshelf, but by all accounts, this is a very deep piece of research. According to Jess O’Brian (author of Nei Jia Quan: Internal Martial Arts) – “For those interested in the theory, history and practice of the internal martial arts, this book is going to blow your mind.”

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Is Taijiquan Taoist?

I wrote a blog post the other day in which I mentioned that the Taoist origins of Tai Chi are historically unproven, yet the similarity in ideas is obviously there.

I got an interesting comment back on Facebook from somebody linking to a book I wasn’t aware of:

“Roel Jansen: Your information on the origins of Tai Chi is outdated. Please read ‚ÄėTai Chi – the true history & principles‚Äô by Lars Bo Christiansen to get up to date with the latest findings on the daoist origins of Tai Chi.”

So I looked the book up and it exists – it’s on Amazon.

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You can read a lot of the book on Amazon’s “look inside” feature. It’s about the newly found Li family manuscripts from which the author draws some pretty wild conclusions, one of which is that the Taoist link to Tai Chi has now been proved beyond doubt.

The book author has a website too, which contains his main arguments in the QnA:

I thought something seemed a bit ‘off’ with the whole thing, so I looked around and found the eminent Douglas Wile, who wrote two books on the Tai Chi Classics that are very good, and that classic essay on Chan Sang Feng, had written a massive article on these Li manuscripts, (and Lars’ book) which is here:

https://mas.cardiffuniversitypress.org/ … /download/

It’s a mammoth read, but looks at the whole thing from a more balanced perspective, including all the political leanings.

The TL;DR version is: It’s complicated. The verdict is still out¬†:)

Here’s a pertinent quote:

The question of whether taijiquan is the product of Daoism creating a martial art or a martial art absorbing Daoism is a critical issue in Chinese martial arts historiography. If anything, Daoism is an even more slippery term than taijiquan itself, but the issue has become highly politicized, which is understandable in the context of Chinese history and culture. However, for a Western scholar to stumble into this minefield bespeaks a certain naivet√©. The assertion of Daoist origins has become associated with cultural nationalism and the search for Chinese identity, often called ‚ÄėChineseness‚Äô. Chinese scholars have built entire¬†careers out of championing either Zhang Sanfeng or Chen Wangting, but it is very unseemly for Western scholars to insert themselves in this politicized process of roots-seeking and competing attempts to¬†identify origin, creator, or birthplace as ‚Äėtransient points of stabilization‚Äô
[Laclau 2000: 53].

I think there are other questions that need to be asked about the whole question of “Is Tai Chi Taoist?”

For instance how many of the concepts we associate with Taoism, like the Tai Chi symbol, the I-Ching, Wu Xing and Bagua are actually Taoist in origin? Chinese Folk Religion, is actually the largest religion in China, and makes use of many things that we in the West think are “Taoist”.

As HotSoup on the RSF forum posted recently:

“There is an opinion that asking a CIMA practitioner from the beginning of the nineteenth century whether his art was “Buddhist” or “Taoist” would make as much sense, as asking a medieval fence teacher whether his fencing was “Catholic” or, say, “Juwish”.

Byron Jacobs: incovenient truths in “Da Dao Taiji” documentary

My Facebook friend Byron Jacobs is the¬†Technical & Events Manager and Technical Committee Member at¬†International Wushu Federation¬†in China. That’s a pretty high up in Chinese Martial Arts for a guy from South Africa ūüôā

This is a YouTube video about him:

As you can see from the video, he’s fluent in Chinese and lives in China. He trains Xingyiquan under his Sifu, Di Guoyong.

Recently¬†Byron appeared in an episode of the Chinese TV documentary “Da Dao Taiji” in which he was interviewed about traditional Chinese martial arts, its utility in the modern age and the problems it is facing both in the mentality of practitioners and their methods today.¬† I don’t think they were quite expecting such a frank interview!

Unsurprisingly, it was edited quite heavily, and they only kept some of these “inconvenient truths” in the documentary.

The good news is that here on Tai Chi Notebook you can view his whole interview, complete with subtitles. It may have been too hot for Chinese TV, but nothing is too hot for you, my dear readers!

(As an interesting sidenote, the new laws in China were passed last year prohibiting people with tattoos from being shown on TV, so they had to smudge out his tattoo for the aired version of this!)

Enjoy the inconvenient truths video:

 

And here is the entire episode 2, as it appeared on Chinese TV:

Wu Wei – the art of doing without doing

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The connections between Tai Chi and Taoism are at once obvious (the Tai Chi symbol is used extensively in Taoism) and also sketchy at best (there is no historical lineage connection).

You see a lot of Taoist priests (or at least Chinese people wearing Taoist priest robes) on Wudang mountain, which has traditionally been associated with Taoism, teaching people Tai Chi, Xing Yi and Bagua (the internal arts) in the lineage of Chang San Feng, the mythical Taoist who is traditionally associated with the origins of Tai Chi Chuan, but whose historical existence seems difficult to prove.

However, how long these modern days Taoists have been there teaching people martial arts I’m not sure. The fact that their ‘ancient’ martial arts look remarkably similar to the modern “wu shu” versions created in Beijing makes them seem highly suspect to me…

But while a direct connection between Taoism and Tai Chi may be difficult to prove, they clearly employ the similar ideas. Take for instance the idea of Wu Wei – the ever elusive¬†“doing without doing” of Taoism.

If you take a look at the Tai Chi Classics you see that while they don’t mention the phrase “Wu Wei” itself the strategy of the art described fits it like a glove. Take the¬†following quotes from the Treatise¬†on Tai Chi Chuan:

It is not excessive or deficient;
it follows a bending, adheres to an extension.

When the opponent is hard and I am soft,
it is called tsou [yielding].

When I follow the opponent and he becomes backed up,
it is called nian [sticking].

If the opponent’s movement is quick,
then quickly respond;
if his movement is slow,
then follow slowly.

It seems Taoism is having something of a resurgence, as this article reveals, as a philosophy for dealing with the anxiety-inducing modern world. Even the rock star intellectual de jour, Jordan Peterson, is getting in on the act.

 

From Alan Watts back in the¬†’60s to¬†Jordan Peterson in the modern¬†age, the Western intellectual has had a recurring fascination with Taoist thought. Particularly with the concepts¬†of Wu Wei and the¬†Tao¬†Te Ching. In fact, the book that first got me interested in Tai Chi years ago was The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff.

I think all this interest in Taoism again is generally a good thing. Let’s see where it leads.

 

What is the Tai Chi form for?

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There are things you can only work on in your Tai Chi training if you already have a certain amount of practice under your belt. Take for example the concept of continuous movement.

The original¬†Classics¬†say Tai Chi Chuan is “like a great river rolling on unceasingly.

Sure, that’s easy to say, but is it easy to do?

The way Tai Chi Chuan is taught you inevitably learn the form as a series of individual movements linked together, with inevitable stops and starts. Then, after you get better at them, you can start to practice the form as one continuous¬†flowing motion, the same way a piece of Chinese calligraphy is meant to be one continuous brush stroke (disclaimer: I known nothing about calligraphy, I’m just assuming this to be true).

In Tai Chi, the practice of learning to move so that everything is connected together smoothly at a constant rate, without speeding up or slowing down, is a skill in itself. If you can do it you still aren’t “doing Tai Chi” yet, not by a long shot, but you are learning one of the important pieces to the puzzle. Without having done enough form practice to not have to worry about what comes next, or about forgetting where you are, this skill simply cannot be developed.

Tai Chi forms are usually pretty long, so memorising an entire form, and then being able to perform it at a constant rate, without breaks or imperfections to that movement, is a significant undertaking. Add to that the fact that a lot of the body skills you need for Tai Chi are better worked on as repeated individual exercises (silk reeling exercises for example), and you find the idea of practicing a long, often difficult, form is slowly falling out of favour.

I see this a lot. The modern idea (which I think has a lot to do with influence from the ever-growing field of sports science) is that you really don’t need to practice a form at all. In fact, your time would be better spent on individual conditioning exercises.

So why do we have a Tai Chi form in the first place? That’s a good question to ask.

 

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Chen Fa-Ke performing his Tai Chi form.

 

 

Why do we have a form?

The first thing to notice about the Tai Chi form is that it is designed to be performed. It has a start, a middle, and an end. This has led some people to think that its origins might lie in other performance arts, like ancient Chinese religious rituals, which were used for all sorts of reasons (banishing spirits, pacifying the ancestors, blessing the crops, etc) since these were often done as a type of performance at annual festivals, and also contained movements that were martial in nature, often done by priests carrying swords. In ancient times when war was fought using steel weapons these rituals would be performed before battles, to summon the spirits of ancient warriors to help assure a victory.

 

 

One of the leaders in this particular field of inquiry is Scott Phillips, who has written extensively about these performance aspects of Tai Chi and speculated about its origins in his book Possible Origins. Of course, others reject his theories entirely, I think mainly because none of the famous Tai Chi families, like the Chens or Yangs, share the same ideas on the origins of Tai Chi, and also because I just don’t think that people who are practicing Tai Chi as a martial art like the idea that its origins might lie in something that doesn’t feel very pugilistic¬†in nature. Or maybe they just have an irrational fear of dance¬†ūüôā

 

Perhaps, the reason why we had a form in the first place, doesn’t really matter. The thing is, it’s here now, and it is still thought of as the defining thing that makes Tai Chi, Tai Chi. Just ask the average person “what is Tai Chi?” and they instantly think of “that thing that Chinese people do in the parks” while moving their hands in a mystical way.

As anyone who has learned a Tai Chi form knows, it’s as much a test of memory and determination as anything physical. So why is the form so long? I can only assume that the effort you have to expel to learn the form is part of the training. Also, as we’ve mentioned already, once the movements are under your belt you get the chance to practice something else with them and develop skills that can’t be practiced without them.

The reason why the art has the name “Tai Chi Chuan” is because it is a physical embodiment of the Yin/Yang symbol – as you go through the form your body goes from open to close to open to close and so on – from yang to yin, to yang to yin, and on and on. Rather than just going through the same movement sequence to practice this, knowing a form gives you the chance of practicing all sorts of variations on this open and close sequence. Perhaps, before you can really understand something, you have to know it inside and out and with all sorts of variations.

That’s what the form is for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tao Te Ching, chapters 8 and 61

 

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I was giving the Tao Te Ching the cursory¬†glance I occasionally give it recently. I’ve got the copy shown above. I usually flick to a random chapter, read it three times and ponder it deeply. Well, as deeply as I am able to. I landed on chapter 61, and the next day I landed on chapter 8. These two seemed to be linked in theme, so I thought I’d say something about them.

Incidentally, I really like the Stephen Mitchell translation. I’ve no idea how accurate it is compared to the Chinese, but all translation seems to involve some interpretation, and I like the way he’s done it.

Here’s chapter 61:

61

When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.

 

and chapter 8:

8

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.

 

So, firstly let’s look at the imagery of water, one of the classic symbols of the Yin side of the Taiji diagram. Both chapters use water as a metaphor for the correct way of acting or being in the world.¬† It’s a theme that repeats through the Tao Te Ching, and also throughout the history of Asian martial arts, even in modern times. I’m thinking of Bruce Lee in the infamous interview where he says “Be water,¬†my friend!”

 

I was reading another article about Wing Chun today by Ben Judkins, which also expanded upon this idea of softness overcoming strength, and how this idea has permeated Asian martial arts:

Early reformers in martial arts like Taijiquan (Wile 1996) and Jujitsu sought to shore up their own national identities by asserting that they brought a unique form of power to the table.¬† Rather than relying on strength, they would find victory through flexibility, technique, and cunning (all yin traits), just as the Chinese and Japanese nations would ultimately prevail through these same characteristics.¬† It is no accident that so much of the early Asian martial arts material featured images of women, or small Asian men, overcoming much larger Western opponents with the aid of mysterious ‚Äúoriental‚ÄĚ arts.¬† These gendered characterizations of hand combat systems were fundamentally tied to larger narratives of national competition and resistance (see Wendy Rouse‚Äôs 2015 article ‚ÄúJiu-Jitsuing Uncle Sam‚Ä̬†.

but as the author notes, the situation is often muddied

Shidachi appears to have had little actual familiarity with Western wrestling.  It is clear that his discussion was driven by nationalist considerations rather than detailed ethnographic observation.  And there is something else that is a bit odd about all of this.  While technical skill is certainly an aspect of Western wrestling, gaining physical strength and endurance is also a critical component of Judo training.  Shidachi attempted to define all of this as notbeing a part of Judo. Yet a visit to the local university Judo team will reveal a group of very strong, well developed, athletes.  Nor is that a recent development.  I was recently looking at some photos of Judo players in the Japanese Navy at the start of WWII and any one those guys could have passed as a modern weight lifter.  One suspects that the Japanese Navy noticed this as well.

But while the idea of the soft overcoming the hard has already fallen to the level of a clich√©, especially when it comes to martial arts, and mixed with political ideas, should we ignore it as a way of being in the world?¬† I’d say not. It does point to a truth.

Anyone with any familiarity in martial arts is aware of the feeling of having to ‘muscle’ a technique to make it work, as opposed to executing a clean technique based on good¬†leverage. This points towards what I think these chapters of the Tao Te Ching are talking about.

When it comes to Tai Chi one of the hardest things to grasp about the techniques exemplified in the forms is that they shouldn’t necessarily feel powerful to you as you do them. My teacher often uses this phrase: “…if you feel it then they don’t – you want them to feel it, not you“.

If you can give up the need to control and struggle with a situation, then you can relax and access your own inner power. See what aclich√© that statement sounds like already? It sounds like one to me as I wrote it, but I guess all cliches were probably based on something real, otherwise, they wouldn’t be a¬†clich√©.

In Chinese martial arts that sweet spot between doing and not doing (to bastardize some more Taoist terminology) is called Jin. I’ve written a bit about that before:

The 6 directions and Jin

Rickson Gracie using Jin

Mike Sigman on basic Jin

Jin in Chinese martial arts (and tennis)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labels like ‘internal’ do matter in martial arts

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It’s quite ‘Zen’ and deconstructionist to talk about labels not mattering. But over long years I’ve come to the conclusion that labels (for martial arts) exist in the world because they do matter. If they didn’t matter (to whatever extent) then they wouldn’t exist.

I was reading recently (an idea from Mike Sigman) that the best way to view a martial art with regard to the question of “How internal is this?” is as a sliding scale of 1 through 10 from just using local muscle on the left (0-1), through to external martial arts in the middle (5) that use Jin (ground force) to some extent, on to internal martial arts at the end (10 being the highest) that use full dantien control of movement.

I’d put things like Wing Chun or Karate that go beyond just using basic movement in the middle of the scale. These things often get called the true ‘internal’ versions of the arts, but they don’t really use the dantien. The official version of Yang style Tai Chi that you see done by Yang Jun I don’t think is a full 10 either – it just doesn’t use the datien for full control all the time. I think Chen style Tai Chi would be a 10 – of course, that’s the theory. Most practitioners would be bottom to middle of the scale at best.

There was some talk recently on internal aspects in arts like BJJ. I think BJJ and Judo have the potential for being in the middle of the scale – some Jin usage. Often this is what you see termed as ‘invisible jiujitsu’. I think that’s exactly what you need for groundwork (and for fighting generally) – beyond that it’s a case of returns vs time spent. If you want to make your living as a pianist you don’t need to become a master of the very hardest pieces of classical music. It’s almost irrelevant. Of course, if you want to devote your life to it then, it’s your life and it’s a world of discovery.