Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

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 ~

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

How do you look like your martial art?

A question on a martial arts forum asked how do you make the way you fight look like the style you are studying. That’s an interesting question. What does a pure taijiquan guy, or a karate guy, or whatever, really supposed look like in a fight?

A martial art is based on a philosophy, has principles derived from that philosophy, and a training method which is meant to imprint those principles into your body. What we tend to think of as a martial art is really it’s associated training method.

Fighting is fighting. You’ll fight the way you are trained. To the extent that the training method has had an impact on us, how we fight will be influenced by our training method.

In the larger sense of how we live our lives, if we really want to live up to some of the hype of the benefits that taijiquan (or karate or zen; you name it) is suppose to bring to us, we have to open minded and let the training method mold us.

Without any gaps, water fits the container into which it was poured.

I once read an interview with a martial arts master. In the interview he said that before studying the martial art he had mastered, he had trained diligently in something else. When he took up his current martial art, his teacher had him do nothing but the standing exercise for several years, to “erase” the previous martial art from his body, while still doing something that would help him make progress in his new study.

When I was young, I trained very intensely in aikido for a number of years. For the last six months or so, I have been studying taijiquan. If someone were to take a poke at me right now, how I respond would probably be a lot more like aikido (having left a strong imprint on me) than taijiquan.

With my new study with the taijiquan people, I have been scrupulous about doing things “their way.” I have not retained any martial arts practice I’ve learned from any other source, in an effort to allow taijiquan to leave an imprint on me.

In years to come, if I continue to apply myself, my response will gradually resemble aikido less and less; and taijiquan more and more. This is the outcome I am working towards.


andi said...

Hi Rick

At the end of the day, it's not going to be about fighting in a way which looks like your style, or which encompasses it's principles: it's going to be about effectiveness. Somebody at work once asked me if Tai Chi was "about" becoming really relaxed, to which I answered that Tai Chi is "about" hitting the other person so hard they don't get back up again.

To my mind, what you learn in a martial art is a set of principles which form a useful framework for combat. As my teacher often says, when you do the application, don't worry about what comes next in the form :-)

We do a fair amount of application work in our class, where we take various forms and look at how they are applied - and one thing is that frequently the form is only a skeleton on which the application is based. In fact sometimes I rather suspect that the application is the move on which the form is based! I see little doubt that the form is created from an earlier existing fighting system or systems which are codified into the form structure which is a teaching tool for the applications.

To bring this ramble back to the topic - I think that you shouldn't worry about how the application looks when you're doing it for real. Through learning an art you've acquired some techniques of movement and balance which you can then use - my instructor suggests that we pick three or four applications from the form which will cover a range of attacks, and learn to do them quickly and instinctively.

One 'application' story I heard concerns somebody who was coming out of the supermarket with a shopping bag in each hand when he got into an "altercation" with a motorist in the car park. He used the fact that as a Wu style practitioner he was comfortable single-weighted to shift his weight over and then to toe-kick the motorist in the groin! This probably didn't look like Tai Chi as seen in any of the forms, but it embodied the principles of single-weighted balance and the toe kick form which come from that form


Rick Matz said...

I agree with you Andi. I would go so far as to say that "how do I look like the martial art I train in" is a wrong question. The application story you ended your post with hits the nail on it's proverbial head.

Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

Fighting in some particular style is a problem I would love to have. Right now, I am more concerned about making it out in one piece.

Rick Matz said...

Fighting for me, these days, is mostly theory. I don't hang around in bars, I live and work in one of the safest cities in the US, and having grown up in Detroit, I have a very good sense of my surroundings.

andi said...

I don't find myself in a situation in which I get into fights either - I hope to make it to my dotage without ever having moved beyond the theoretical!

I realized today that there is a perfect example of this, and that's the Macau Fight between Wu Kung Yi and Chan Hak Fu of the White Crane System which is on youtube

If you watch Wu Kung Yi you'll see little which resembles the form! But if you watch the video you'll see that his attack style is at times very similar to the first of the four warm-up exercises: you want to watch the value of 'looseness' this is the example!

It also looks nothing like a screen martial arts fight :-)

Rick Matz said...

Something overlooked in the 1953 fight was that the Wu style guy was in his mid 50's while the White Crane guy was in his 20's; about half his age. You have to hand it to the older guy to even step into the ring.

Anonymous said...

Back to the question at hand, "how do I look like the martial art I train in", it's in my opinion the exact opposite to what I've always learn't which is "you need to adapt the fighting style that you train in to your own style". This is what i also see in every single martial artist I've known, even if two people do the same style of martial arts there styles can appear totally different. This is because our persona as well as our training have contributed to the way people fight, not to mention situation.