Archived entries for Nature of Internal Martial Arts

The decline of martial arts

Long ago there was a state called Chu, that existed during the 4th century BC, and in this state lived a man named Zhuang Zhao, more commonly known as Zhuangzi. Zhuangzi called our perception of reality into question. His teachings were of nature and the nature of man. In nature things are created and sometimes rise to great heights but eventually diminish. Success breeds failure. Martial arts were created thousands of years ago, seeking to find ways to better destroy other people. As such, the methods that became effective thrived while those which lost were abandoned. No one has use for a knife that does not cut. Over the centuries each of these knives, which were once sharp seemed to lose their edge, but in reality it was the fault of those who wielded the knives who lost the understanding of those who first forged it. Just as the knife is crafted to cut, martial arts were crafted to fight. They were successful, they developed a following and eventually the quality diminished and it died out, to be replaced with something else, which in turn, is eventually replaced.
Today too many people look at history with a modern bias, as if we are sitting atop the pinnacle of development of all things, but in truth there is nothing new. Grappling arts, kicking arts, striking arts, have all been around for thousands of years, using the same human body, the same laws of physics and were developed and used during some of the most violent periods of history.
In 1958, Chuck Norris began studying Tang Soo Do, and he wrote his wife, who casually mentioned this to a local policeman in town who implored her to convince him to stop, for fear of Carlos becoming and uncontrollable killer. This was the mystique karate held in the sixties. It was difficult to find a school, difficult to achieve a high rank and the people that did so succeeded due to deep personal commitment, sacrifice and determination. The fights in those early days were hard and intense and the winners earned their titles. As the popularity grew, so did the number of schools and the quality diminished. Bruce Lee came along and the martial arts exploded in popularity. According to authors in 1986, the number of martial arts schools in the US went from 150 in 1972 to over 1.5 million in just a few years. Today, despite the presence of so many schools martial arts are looked at as ineffective and dismissed. Maybe something to keep the kids occupied, teach them some discipline. The 60’s had karate, the 70’s “kung fu”, the 80’s had the ninjas, the 90’s showcased Gracie Jui Jitsu, and now we have MMA. Every school in each shopping plaza seems to be offering some kind of grappling program. Already we see practitioners performing techniques and the experts will look at it and say where they are deviating from principles. This will follow the same model as the others and start to decline.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves why something doesn’t work today, yet worked hundreds of years ago. Shuai jiao (grappling) has existed in China since at least the Zhao Dynasty. Japan was exposed to Chin na around 900 AD and became the basis for Aikijutsu, which led to Juijitsu which led to Brazilian Juijitsu. Are we to assume the other arts that gained prominence were never exposed to grappling? Something changed, and since our bodies are the same, physics are the same, violence is the same, clearly we are not doing what the originators did. Yang Lu Chan was given the nickname “Yang the invincible” because he defeated so many opponents of so many different styles, which led to him being invited to teach the Emperor himself, yet tai chi practitioners are not taken seriously as martial artists. Why did it work for Yang but not today?
The ego leads us to seek fame and victory, it makes us seek tool that we can use to elevate ourselves. We proudly wield a copy of the knife yet do not spend the time to hone the edge like the original and wonder why ours doesn’t cut. For centuries, masters of every discipline have told us it is the individual, not the style. Rediscover the principles on which a style was founded, verify that they are sound, and adhere to them. Styles come and go, just as the State of Chu ended long ago, so will the latest “ultimate style” diminish but the principle will remain. History contains these lessons about ego, underestimating opponents, demonstrating the endless cycle of invention, prominence and decline, you can learn from them or suffer from repeating them.

Back to page one

Tai chi practice consists of always going back to page one because there is only one page to correct practice. It just takes a novel to explain the one page. A long novel.

How much must you yield?

Whether it is a leaf or a branch that falls upon the surface of a lake, the water yields. The water does not ask if the leaf is too insignificant to yield to, it just yields. Whether the leaf or the branch, it yields neither too much nor too little, only that which is required.

How to use a wrench

A carpenter uses tools to build a house. Not all carpenters are equal, not all hammers are equal. Many craftsmen use tools differently, to different results, some superbly, some less efficiently.
Martial arts are tools to be wielded by craftsmen. Do not judge the quality of a wrench that someone is using as a hammer.

No one really loves nature.

When you think of nature, you conjure images of lush green fields, deer and bunnies frolicking by the edge of a clear stream. That’s only the pretty side of nature. The other side of nature contains the fire that burns the fields, the wolves that kill the deer and the drought that dries the stream. As humans, we alone have the ability to navigate nature with conscious will, deciding which elements to embrace and which to bend to our needs. Nature demands that we strive out of necessity, but as we reduce the effort of our needs, we reduce our incentive to strive. Nothing persuades the hunt so much as hunger. Your body doesn’t know it lives in the 21st century. As far as your body is concerned you live in a cave battling saber-toothed cats between exhaustive trips to the forest, foraging and hunting. The primitive part of the brain jealously guards its resources and takes the opportunity to rest whenever possible conserving those resources until the need to exert ourselves arises. Unfortunately in today’s world that leads us to sitting too long on the couch and foraging means walking to the fridge and hunting is a trip to the store.
Just as we must recognize the duality of nature, we must recognize that same dual nature within ourselves, and maintain that balance. Just as the fire is seen as a negative, it destroys and renews the forest, hunger is seen as a negative but forces us to our feet, inspires us to strive and creates the effort which restores the body and the mind.
Accept all of nature.

Who uses Tai Chi? Pretty much everyone.

When you drive past a park and you see people moving in synchronized, slow motion exercises, yes, they are doing Tai Chi. But is that really what Tai Chi is? Central to Tai Chi is a concept, a principle, an undeniable truth, and that is change. According to traditional Chinese mythology, FuXi, the mythical first emperor of “China” received the trigrams from a dragon horse (or sometimes a tortoise). The trigrams contain the ideas of Yin and Yang which are so prevalent in Asian culture. This became the basis for the I Ching, one of the oldest written texts in human history and it is all about the natural cycles of change.
When you are walking and you feel yourself slipping and adjust your body so you don’t fall, you used the concept of tai chi. When you catch a ball, and your hand moves back with the force of the ball, you used tai chi. When you see car coming at you and you move out of the way you used tai chi. So unless you stand still and intentionally let things hit you, you are using tai chi. The question is: to what degree are you using it.

A Story Of Inspiration

Anyone who knows me will attest that one of my flaws is that I do not accept compliments very well. I do not look for attention or praise and it makes me a bit uncomfortable, however I received a review written eloquently by one of our members, and I felt I should share it. She is an inspiration to others in the class, with fearless determination, not satisfied with just practicing the movements of the form, she regularly engages in applications with some strong, and in some cases, intimidating looking men in the class. Hopefully to inspire others in something that may help them achieve a higher quality of life.
I am a senior lady and I want to share my story about Tai Chi.
I took ballroom dancing lessons for over 20 years competing in local, regional, and international competitions. It was a great social opportunity and I met many people. I had to stop due to health reasons and family obligations. I told my instructor I would be back, but that didn’t happen. Dancing was a passion for me; it was a part of my life that was missing.
About 5 years ago I read a fiction novel where one of the main characters, a senior lady, practiced Tai Chi. Then I started hearing more about it. Finally, 2 ½ years ago I googled Tai Chi for my zip code and numerous websites came up. I started reading them all, but one really caught my attention: Andrew Masterson’s school in Westville, NJ. I got the courage to send an email and within a week I found myself attending my first lesson.
Now after 2 ½ years of studying and practicing Tai Chi, I have a new passion that has replaced the passion I had for dancing. When I started, I had limited tolerance for standing and walking, Fibromyalgia, and Arthritis. Within 6 months my walking improved and I could be on my feet for hours. I saw great improvement in my agility and balance.
Then 6 months later when I was taking great enjoyment in Tai Chi, I fractured my foot. Following that, over the next year and a half, I tore tendons in the same foot, sprained ligaments in my knees, and developed an irregular heart rhythm. How does all of this tie in with Tai Chi you may ask?
In both foot injuries the doctor wanted me to have surgery and I kept refusing. Sifu Andy guided me in feeling the healing flow of chi opening my joints and increasing blood flow. I was having physical therapy and shared with my therapist the things I was doing with Tai Chi. Fortunately, she also studied Tai Chi and discharged me in only a few weeks saying there was nothing she could do for me that Tai Chi couldn’t. I fully recovered from both injuries and did not need surgery.
As for my irregular heart rhythm, Tai Chi helps me focus on relaxation and being in harmony with myself. It helps maintain a normal heart beat and my blood pressure can drop 20 points after an hour session.
In addition to all of the health benefits of Tai Chi, and I have only mentioned a few, it has improved my life in so many ways. There is no stress of competition as with dancing, but within myself a deep satisfaction of a sense of wholeness and accomplishment and enjoyment.
Yes, Tai Chi has replaced dancing as my passion. Sifu Andy brings out the best in his students. He is patient and offers gentle guidance in the understanding of movement and form. I look forward to every session whether private or group.
Oh yes, one more thing I must share. I am one of 2 women who study Tai Chi with Sifu Andy, and about 99% of the group sessions I attend, I am the only female. It was very intimidating the first time, but as I got to know the guys I felt accepted and respected. We each come from different walks of life, but one thing we all have in common is our passion for Tai Chi. I recommend Tai Chi for anyone, but most all for seniors where you’ll discover an exhilarating and satisfying new pastime, and as a bonus, better health.
Dorothy Groves
Thank you Dorothy for your very kind words. It is enormously rewarding to be able to offer something that can have such a positive impact.

Tai Chi, health and quality of life.

I started learning Tai Chi in about 1988. My teacher had talked about how relaxing it was, and being 20 years old, with two parents dying from cancer, working full time, and going to college full time I was a little overwhelmed. Needless to say, it worked wonders on my stress levels. For many years we practiced much like most Tai Chi students do, until my Sifu started training with Master Ting, only then did we start to glimpse how much we didn’t know. In 2005 my teacher passed the school onto me, and I started training with Master Ting myself and I was greatly intimidated. Not by him, for you will not meet a more humble, approachable and sincere man. I was awe struck by the depth and complexity of the art. I saw the differences between our practice and that of what we used to do and I asked him, “how do you tell someone they are doing it wrong?” He chuckled and said, “well first of all, you do not say they do wrong, you say we do differently.” It is a very gracious way to phrase it but the Tai Chi Classics go back to about 1200, 1600 and 1800 AD, with specific guidelines in the publications.
When I first started teaching in 1998, I had no idea how much I didn’t know, but I was moved by the stories of people who said how much it had helped them, and how much better they felt. Later I realized that they were experiencing such results and I wasn’t even doing it correctly, so they must feel much better if they did it right.
In the years since I have had many opportunities to help people with various conditions and afflictions. The list goes includes arthritis, fibromyalgia, disk issues, migraines, chronic knee, back and neck pain. Perhaps the most profound effect that practice has is teaching the ability to relax, which does wonders for the nervous system. Secondly is low impact exercise, but more importantly, correctly positioning the body so the joints work according to their design. This surprises people when you show them there is more than one way to bend a joint. It is a difficult process, teaching the body a new way of movement after a lifetime of incorrect use, but in this way the space between joints open instead of closing and grinding against itself. Some of our greatest success stories come from a 70 year old nurse who could not stand more than 20 minutes due to fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis, now she does four hour tai chi workshops and has hiked in New Zealand. We have a 69 year old man who is competing in his first obstacle course race next month. Bob, a 66 year old man scoliosis, and three ruptured disks, yet moves with the grace and power of a man half his age. There are many other examples, but they all go back to the same root, which is understanding the correct way to move, position and unify the body movements. The effects will ripple through your life in all your activities. It is truly a great way to not only stay active, but opens a door to things that seem past us. Just do your homework and make sure where you are learning from is emphasizing the foundation laid out so well in the Tai Chi Classics.

Oh look there’s a new video…

A new video has been making the rounds featuring an MMA fighter beating the crap out of a Tai Chi practitioner. I will not make any excuses, I will not resort to silly arguments like the Tai Chi guy held back, in fact, he lost spectacularly. What I will do is offer some observational analysis. First and foremost, styles do not fight, people do. It is up to the person to apply the principles of their system effectively, and clearly not everyone does this. It is all too common to see “traditional” martial artists being decimated by MMA fighters, and as a result, we tend to lump these examples into categories that seem to define traditional martial arts as outdated and useless. So lets examine this notion.
How does something become a tradition? It must contribute something effectively. When discussing this idea in terms of martial arts, a fighting system had to be effective, during some of the bloodiest periods of human history. Consider the fact that grappling goes back to the 7th century BC in Greece with Pankration and 1,000 BC in China during the Zhao Dynasty where we see examples of Shuai Jiao. China is the oldest, continuous civilization in the world with thousands of years of record keeping and oral traditions, from a culture that has given the world many of its most impressive inventions. To assume these fighting systems did not test themselves against grappling and striking arts seems highly illogical. So why, in this modern age, do they seem so ineffective? It is not the tradition, it is the dogma. It is the allegiance to style, and lineage, or nationality. I have been studying martial arts for over three decades and I have seen the flavor of the month rise and fall like the tides. I am not a champion, I am not in any hall of fame. I am a student; one who studies. In fact, my greatest contribution is that none of this ever came easy to me, I was never the best in the class, the most impressive; the one in the spotlight. So I had to learn why it worked for some but not me. And over the years I have had the opportunity to work with people of many different styles. I have seen boxers get inside and dominate against taekwondo, but lose to wrestlers, I have seen wing chun neutralize boxers but get kicked in the head by a lightning fast TKD roundhouse kick, and I have seen grapplers rocked by a solid right cross as they attempted to shoot in. Most importantly, I saw the need to try and solve the problem within the principles of each system.
I am going to say something very unpopular, but undeniably accurate. Most people who study martial arts will never be very good. It is a combination of the student (lack of effort, lack of study, lack of physical ability, or lack of intelligence.), it could be the instructor, who may be an excellent practitioner but not a good communicator, not good at analysis, or diagnosis, or it may be the system getting too bogged down in dogma, point fighting or self promotion. Regardless, it is the responsibility of the student to oversee their own progress and to do so in a realistic manner. You need to recognize that you do not live in a bubble, where you only work with those doing the same thing. Make connections with people of other styles that are genuinely willing to exchange ideas and not just trying to inflate their own ego. As my master has written, “invest in loss, thank your opponent for showing you a weakness, then correct it”.
Now I would like to specifically address the use of Tai Chi in the video. What are the principles of Tai Chi? To use correct positioning of the body to divert energy and off balance your opponent. To this end we practice “push hands” to increase our awareness and sensitivity. In order to do this you need to make contact with your opponent, and adhere softly. In the video in question, did the Tai Chi practitioner engage in contact? Adhere to his opponent? Maintain correct posture so he could flow better? No, none of these criteria were met. In other words, it was like a boxer not punching, a taekwondo fighter not kicking, or a Brazilian Juijitsu fighter not grappling. Tai Chi is supposed to be the use of small circular movement to generate torque to diffuse and neutralize energy. In short, it is the study of physics within the context of the human body. The principles are sound, but only if one utilizes them.
One last note, yes, Qi, Chi, or Ki is a real thing. It is bio-electrical energy, that when flowing balances the well being. It is the vibe you get from certain people, the feeling that you are being watched across a room before you notice the old friend who has seen you after many years. It is what we experience daily, yet dismiss as coincidence. What it is not, is a force field, a magical, telekinetic power that turns you into Yoda. Martial arts is the scientific study of the body, not magic. Use the Force at Star Wars parties, but not against knuckles.

The Loudest Whisper

When someone yells at you its easy to see them as an adversary. When someone wears the face of a friend, its much harder to recognize the malice. The enemy is inside you, telling you the couch is comfortable, the work can be done tomorrow, the cookies taste delicious. Turn and face that whisper and shout back at it. Refuse to take the easy route. Just treat it like a shout and take that first step. Make that voice cower back in the shadows of your heart, knowing it will surely attack again tomorrow. But now you can focus on today.

RSS Feed. This blog is proudly powered by Wordpress and uses Modern Clix.

Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved.