Another article of mine has appeared on Jetli.com – this one was fun to write as I’m a big fan of The Notorious’ fighting style:
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Another article of mine has appeared on Jetli.com – this one was fun to write as I’m a big fan of The Notorious’ fighting style:
If you liked this article you might also like:
Mike posted his thoughts on push hands recently on the 6H forum. I really liked what he wrote, so I’ve received permission from him to post it here as a guest blog post. Enjoy!
Thoughts on Push Hands
Push Hands is designed as a way to practice using jin with and against a partner. The four jin directions are Up, Toward the Body, Away from the Body, and Down …. or Peng, Lu, Ji, An, respectively. You first learn to use jin in your own movements by learning forms, traditionally in Chen Village, before you begin learning to use that jin with a partner. Since most people claiming to do Taijiquan can’t really use jin skills while simply moving themselves, it is obvious that most “push hands” is usually more about some vague competition than it is about continuous jin skills. The closest most people get to jin skills is usually a sudden, impulsive tossing away of their opponent.
Beginning push hands involves the persistent use of push-hands patterns so that people can practice long periods of attempting to move while maintaining jin in the four directions of Peng, Lu, Ji, An. That’s why it’s such an eye-roller to hear some tournament rowdy say something like, “Oh, I don’t do patterns … I just do free-style”.
So basically, push hands is about Peng, Lu, Ji, An more than anything. It’s about practicing jin and imbuing jin in your body’s movements at all times. Arm/hand techniques, dramatic uprootings, etc., are nice, but they miss the point of what push-hands is really about.
I asked a teacher of mine (a student of Feng Zhiqiang’s) once “what is the philosophy of Taijiquan as a martial-art?”. Stupid question, but I asked it anyway. He responded to me: “The philosophy of Taijiquan is to crash through to the opponent’s center and kill him”. Of course he meant that half in jest, but it’s still true and it’s also the general philosophy of almost any martial-art. In much of the push-hands we see there is a lot of maneuvering at arms’ distance from the opponent, looking for a way to effect a technique or push on the opponent … you seldom see someone simply slip through the arms and apply a massive Kao to the opponent. That’s considered a “no-no” by many people, but since I see so many people do so many “no-no’s” already, I just get confused. If my partner is not doing good push-hands, adhering to the technical aspects, why should I waste time accommodating his not-so-good push hands? I think more people should think more about “what is push hands really about?”.
There are many things you can focus on while doing push hands: throws, joint-locks, “winning”, and so on. I tend to focus foremost on jin and using jin through all of my movements. I am not fully successful yet, but I keep working on it.
If you are moving your arms, you want to look for areas where you slipped into muscle and try and correct that area back toward good jin. You want to check your movement in terms of Open and Close and whether you are using the dantian to move or whether you suddenly went into an arms-only mode for a second. Moving with the dantian is what reeling-silk is about and that’s why reeling-silk movement is the core/basic of Taijiquan.
You want to not provide any resistance for your partner to push against, if possible … but that’s not always possible, so while I focus on that avoidance of resistance, I also enjoy practicing letting my partner push me. As I’ve said in the past, I often/usually will maintain a peng-jin direction that is upward and in a direction that will off-balance my partner if he pushes me. I don’t necessarily do the up-jin thing all the time, but I do it enough that it is an easily-accessed tool that is sort of second-nature.
Most of all I enjoy a casual interplay (win-some, lose-some is best for everyone, I think) where I make it a game to see if I can apply an effective jin response against any push my partner can manage to slip in. I don’t care if I lose some … the idea is to get better and better, so I “invest in loss”.
It’s a fun game to allow an opponent to push you and see if your jin skills are good enough to turn the tables simply by making his own push defeat himself. I would recommend and suggest that this strategy will get people away from always trying to win while at the same time giving them a true skill-set of actual Taijiquan.
I remember a comment from a Chinese friend of mine who was challenged in a nasty way to do some push hands. He looked at the guy and said, “No, let’s fight. Push-hands is just for exercise”.
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There’s a new YouTube channel called Jiang Hu that’s just launched containing ‘old’ types of Kung Fu performed by a couple of Western Kung Fu practitioners based in China. The first video clip posted caught my eye. It’s an old Praying Mantis Kung Fu form called Luan Jie performed by ‘Will’ who also runs the Monkey Steals Peach blog.
The description reads: “Luan Jie 乱接 is the oldest form recorded in Praying Mantis Kung Fu. It is made up of 36 Mother Techniques, the core of the system. Here, Will performs the Luan Jie form from the Taiji Mantis lineage of Zhou Zhen Dong.”
I’ve heard of this “Taiji Mantis” name before, but I’m unsure wether that’s Mantis influenced by Taijiquan, or whether just a coincidental naming convention. Either way, it’s a really nice performance, and I like the hooking techniques done with both the arms and legs.
There’s also this informative video about the use of the characteristic Mantis hooking hand (Gou Shou) in application:
Jetli.com asked me to write a story about Geoff Ho, the journalist and martial artist who was caught up in the London terror attacks on June 3rd. Geoff bravely fought back against his attackers, giving other people time to get to safety. Unfortunately, he was stabbed in the neck in the incident and nearly lost his life. He managed to get to hospital where he was treated and has since recovered.
Rather than just write up somebody else’s story I wanted to get a martial artist’s perspective and talk to Geoff about how his martial arts training helped him that day. Luckily I managed to make contact with him through a mutual friend and he granted me an interview from his hospital bed.
Geoff is a true hero and his attitude is an inspiration. It was an honour to talk to him. You can read the whole article here.
You might also like the other articles I’ve written for Jetli.com.
Rick Matz of Cook Ding’s Kitchen blog asked me to write a little thing about my story and how my Tai Chi and BJJ fit together, so I did! Unfortunately, it turned out to be quite a big thing. In fact, it’s a bit of an essay.
You can read the whole article here.
Have I summed up all the ways that Tai Chi and BJJ fit together? Not at all. There’s still much more to tell, but I hoped I’ve shined a light on to a part of it for you.
Here’s a quote:
“Learning Tai Chi is a constant process of having your mistakes pointed out to you, trying to correct them, then moving on to the next thing. The key to getting good at BJJ is similar – you don’t want to focus on winning, since you end up muscling things instead of being technical and correct. But just like in Tai Chi, it’s learning from your mistakes that matters.”
You might also like my previous article on Tai Chi, BJJ and Rickson Gracie.
New footage of Bruce Lee sparring his students Ted Wong and Taky Kimura at the Long Beach Karate Championship in 1967 has recently emerged, and it’s a joy to watch.
The clip was billed on Facebook and even in the national press like the Daily Mail and Mirror as footage of Bruce Lee’s only “real fight caught on camera”, but that’s just nonsense, obviously, as it’s just a sparring session. True, it’s not a choreographed demonstration, but it’s also a long way from being a “fight”. The sparring partner is also frequently, incorrectly, named as Bruce’s other famous student, Dan Inosanto.
I actually trained Jeet Kune Do for a good couple of years, so I can see what Bruce is doing in the clip as it’s pretty much what we trained every class: a strong lead forward fighting stance with the back heel up, the front fist pointing at the opponent, the use of hand trapping, the footwork, the lead leg attacks, but most of all the idea of intercepting the opponent’s attack using superior timing. This is the “Jeet” part of Jeet Kune Do, which translates as the “Way of the intercepting fist”. (Interestingly, I found later on that the Chinese martial art of Xingyiquan is also very big on this idea).
Bruce really was ahead of the game here. His quality of his movement has the same sort of fluidity that you see in modern high level fighters like Connor McGregor, and his timing is excellent. As Connor McGregor says often “Precision beats power, timing beats speed”.
What’s also interesting is the gear they are wearing. When I was training Jeet Kune Do we wore almost identical gear for sparring. I still have it all somewhere in my loft! The lineage of Jeet Kune Do I trained in came down from Tommy Caruthers, who was based in Glasgow, UK, and was influenced by all of Bruce’s students (including Jesse Glover), but at the time I was training it, Ted Wong was a probably the biggest influence.
If you want to get a better idea of what’s going on in the clip then there are videos out there that break down the technique he shows, like this one:
And this one:
Being able to see such good quality clips of Bruce Lee sparring from 1967 is a treat. He was one of the great innovators in martial arts and rightly deserves his place amongst the greats of the art. What would he be doing now if he hadn’t died such an untimely death? We can only wonder.
After 32+ years teaching (and 40+ in the art) my online friend, the always insightful, polite and charming, Michael Babin of Ottawa, Canada, has hung up his double-edge jian and taught his last Tai Chi class.
This is a pic of his last class. Michael is in the centre with the beard. Note: the five students in his class all look in good shape, which is the sign of a good teacher, and sadly in contrast to what you’ll find in many Tai Chi classes(!).
Teaching mainly Yang style barehand and sword (and some Sun style Tai Chi), Michael has trained with a who’s-who of the Tai Chi scene in North America, including notables such as: Sam Masich, Dr. Yang Jwing-ming, Liang Shou-yu, Eric Chew, William C.C. Chen, Carol Mancuso, Erle Montaigue and Tim Cartmell, among others.
When Tai Chi first arrived in the West information about it was scarce – there was no Internet, there were very few teachers and it was hard to tell the real from the fake, because there was literally nothing to compare it against. As it is for any pioneer, times were exciting – you were amongst the first wave of Western people to experience a martial art from a different culture on your own soil – but life was also tough, and only the strong survived. Your main sources of information back then were magazines like Inside Kung Fu and T’ai Chi Magazine, in fact Michael contributed articles to both.
Michael wasn’t one of the ‘New age’ style of Tai Chi teachers, either – always looking to keep his art martially effective. But now it seems that old age has caught up to him and he’s shuttering his Tai Chi classes. In his own words, ‘I don’t want to be one of that legion of sad old farts you see on youtube relying on “tricks” to look as if they are still the “bee’s knees“.’
You have to admire the man’s candour.
I wish Michael good luck as he enters this new stage of his life. (But I bet his old students manage to drag him back to teach a workshop or two!) As we practice this art we all add to it, and his contributions have become part of its history on the American continent.
If you peruse his website you’ll see there are all sorts of Tai Chi-related articles, but one thing caught my eye in particular – his PDF anthology of blog posts from over a decade of writing on the Yang-style and swordsmanship. It’s effectively a great free book on Tai Chi. Here you’ll find informative, funny and down-to-earth accounts of the ups and downs of being a Tai Chi teacher. Enjoy.
I’ll leave Michael with the last word:
“Good luck with your journey. Mine has lasted 40+ years and I am still both delighted and frustrated by the depths of this discipline and art. Studying it seriously is like having children and getting older — rewarding but not for the feint of heart!”
My most recent article for JetLi.com has landed. 10 ways to become a better Kung Fu student.
It says “Kung Fu student”, but I think it applies equally to any martial art. This one was quite fun to write. Hope you like it!
My latest article for Jetli.com on how to apply the Taiji classics to modern MMA is now live! Check it out:
I’ve been meaning to review Scott Phillips’ book on the origins of Chinese Martial Arts for some time now, but there always seemed to be something else for me to read, or to do… Ok, I admit it, I’m just a terribly slow reader. However, the recent uproar over the fight between Tai Chi “Master” Wei Lei and MMA coach Xu Xiaodong that has dominated the Chinese Martial Arts scene has made me pick up Possible Origins, A Cultural History of Chinese Martial Arts, Theatre and Religion, and give it the attention it deserves.
A bit of background to the current situation: Xu (who had to go into hiding after the fight once the government got involved) had started to make a name for himself as the debunker of Kung Fu masters who he claimed lacked the skills required for actually fighting while charging students large sums of money to learn these (nonexistent) skills. He wasn’t particularly respectful in his debunking either – in fact, his profanity filled rants were uncomfortable to watch and hard to follow, but his point was simple.
Wei, the subject of a documentary on Chinese television about his Tai Chi powers, took umbrage to the implied insult and challenged Xu in an effort to defend the honour of traditional martial arts. It sounds like the plot of every kung fu movie, but it actually happened. Anybody who has seen the fight (which lasts about 10 seconds ending with Wei’s face being ruthlessly pummeled on the ground by Xu) will have realised that Wei was utterly delusional about his fighting abilities. Even after his beating, in his post fight interview, Wei still seemed to be delusional about his fighting ability, proclaiming that he was only hit after he “tripped’ and fell”. In reality he was knocked to the ground by a punch which revealed him to be a bumbling amateur in the realms of pugilism.
You can easily make the argument that Wei was never a proper Tai Chi Master anyway, so his poor performance is irrelevant, but a lot of people obviously did think he was a legit martial artists. What’s interesting to me is how we got here. How did we end up with a generation of Kung Fu (especially Tai Chi) masters who think they can fight, but can’t? If you went to a boxing coach in Glasgow to learn how to box, he’d teach you how to box, and regardless of how good or bad you were, you’ll at least end up with some fighting skills. But if you go to a Tai Chi master in Taiwan, asking to learn to fight, he’ll teach you a lot of fancy arm-waving stuff, mystical qigong and forms, but after several years you might actually be no different from an untrained person in your fighting ability. In fact, you’ll probably be worse.
Nothing ushers in a period of self reflection like a catastrophic failure, so it’s at this point that we should turn to Possible Origins to see how we got here.
Scott’s book at least proposes some answers to this curious situation that Chinese Martial Arts finds itself in – which is to embrace it. His basic premise is that once upon a time in China, martial arts, theatre and religion were all one thing. Over time, and due to various political and cultural shifts they became separated out, but never truly lost their connection to each other, even if the arts lived on as a pale reflection. The book examines how that process happened, why it happened and what we can do about it. In a way it’s a call to arms for the reader to embrace parts of their practice that have hitherto remained untapped and to restore these connections.
I know plenty of people amongst the martial arts that I know who just laugh at Scott’s theories. (“Oh, no, not that guy…”)*. They tend to be practical people who are more interested in how something works than why it is the way it is in the first place. That’s fine, and there’s no reason to go ‘backwards’ in martial arts. I think it’s equally valid to not worry about any of this, and just focus on what you can do with what we’ve had handed down to us. But the book does open a door to a fascinating world of demons, spirits and ancestors that we’ve left behind. You’d also be surprised by how much evidence there is for his interpretations. He can’t be conclusive about anything (hence the title) but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t present a wealth of information to support his case.
Martial arts originated so long ago that almost everything about that time is lost to us, and survives only in fragments. I think the strongest ‘evidence’ Scott has for his theories is the Boxer Rebellion of 1899, which happened relatively recently, and was a kind of a last gasp of the old world where martial arts, religion, theatre and ritual were all tied up together. There are documented cases in the Boxer Rebellion of martial arts practitioners combining martial arts techniques with spirit possession and mediumship to help overthrow foreign powers. Unfortunately it turns out that invoking the spirits of demons to give you fighting ability doesn’t, in fact, stop bullets and the Boxers were wiped out, and many of the ‘old ways’ and knowledge with them. Further cultural, political, and repressive regimes buried them deeper and deeper until today we’ve lost all concept of why we do what we do in Chinese Martial Arts.
Besides all this, Possible Origins is a damn good read, and an entertaining, book in its own right. It’s not an academic tomb, it’s an easy to devour. I’m halfway through and loving it. Even if you don’t agree with Scott’s theories, you’ll learn a lot about things you never even knew existed from Possible Origins.
* In case you were wondering, Scott’s martial arts lineage is actually legit, and explained in the book.