The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Hard and Soft Martial Arts

At Plum Publications, Ted Mancuso wrote an article comparing hard and soft martial arts, specifically Taijiquan and Hung Gar. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

It’s important to start this right. We have to distinguish between soft and hard, and internal or external. Let’s be honest, all styles of Kung Fu start as ”External styles”. But styles may be hard or soft and still be external or internal. Another way to say this is that all kung fu aims at occupying the center of the map. If you start in the north you will move southward. If you start in east you will traverse to the west. The point is that we often call this or that style external or hard or soft without understanding that even in the most extreme cases, a proper style covers all four of these corners.

I want to compare two styles that most people might consider to be extremely opposed to one another. But Tai Chi and Hung Gar kung fu are not really that antithetical. In fact, as we will see, they share a great deal in common though that might not be as obvious as we would like.

Of course people who study Tai Chi assume it is a soft, slow and internal style as if these things were all the same. But as we said earlier, all training starts externally because that is the only way you can start. However, in some cases the training starts with the hard external and in some cases with the soft external. At which point the training starts to reverse its direction and go toward the opposite direction is very dependent not only on the style, but on efforts of the student and intelligence of the instructor.

There is also the issue of completeness. For instance, in Tai Chi, few practitioners wish to master the entire system. Therefore those aspects of Tai Chi in which you develop strength, create power, or condition the body are rarely seen by the majority of students. It may be a shock to say, but Tai Chi has body conditioning and other means of strengthening it to withstand blows. Though it rarely engages in exercise like iron palm training, there are equivalent exercises to develop strength and power in the limbs. Most people who study Tai Chi for at least a few years know that there are times when power and force issuance are clearly shown. Sometimes they may only see this when their instructor’s demonstrate, or give a private lesson; but it is there.

Let’s compare Tai Chi with Hung Gar. The first clue that the so-called “external style” of hung gar is really something a little more sophisticated that it first appears, comes with the one thing which Hung shares with Tai Chi; something so obvious it is overlooked. Both of these styles have sections at least, of very slow motion action. Many parts of the Hung style move very slowly, relative to the speed possible by a reputable martial artist. Why, you should ask yourself, are the Hung Gar styles moving so slowly? Surely it cannot be for combat purposes. There are a number of aspects to the answer but at least some of these are because Hung players are focusing their attention and their actions internally, that is to say, at the appropriate pace and amount of strength linked with their intent. By the same token, Hung uses its famous Shaolin Temple five animals—especially the Dragon and the snake—to practice a more relaxed and fluid motion. The percentage of this type of motion increases as does the skill level of the Hung practitioner. You can actually see, If you’re exposed to enough of the Hung style, the transformation from early sets, such as Gong Chi Fuk Fu, to the Advanced sets such as iron wire, a very clear progression from hard towards soft and external toward internal. This does not even count such internal but hard training as the golden Bell or iron body.

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