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 ~

Friday, December 27, 2019

Traditional Martial Arts and Combat Sports

Traditional martial arts and combat sports doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. The study of each can supplement and enhance the other. 

It's not uncommon for Kendo students to also practice Kenjutsu, for example.

Below is an article that appeared at the Hung Sing Martial Arts Association on how traditional Choy Lay Fut practice and Mixed Martial Arts can go together. The full post may be read here.

Choy Lay Fut Complete Combat Efficiency: The Value of Combat Sports For the Traditional Chinese Martial Artist

Given the popularity of modern combat sports events like the UFC and the history of combat sports like the lei tei , it seems strange to have to make the argument for the value of combat sport training in today’s martial arts community.   However it is still very common to see posts in online communities dedicated to traditional martial arts attempting to make the argument that combat sport fighting is not real fighting. The primary purpose for training the martial arts is as a method of self protection using physical force to counter an immediate threat of violence. Such force can be either armed or unarmed. In either case, the chances of success depend on a large number of parameters as situations where one is forced to use their skills are largely unpredictable. Choy Lay Fut was a system originally employed as a method of fighting for militias and fighting troops during a turbulent period of Chinese’s history. The original purpose of the system has led some opponents of sport combat training to believe that the system is not intended for sport and such practice is deluding the practical nature of the system. While many practitioners can often be resistant to new ideas, modern sports combat training can offer a wealth of benefits to the traditional martial artist.

A combat sport is a competitive contact sport that usually involves one-on-one combat. Typically in a combat sport a combatant wins by scoring more points than the opponent or by disabling the opponent within an established set of rules.  Combatants usually fight one-on-one. Different combat sport formats involve different skill sets and rules. In Ancient China, combat sport appeared in the form of Leitai, a no-holds-barred combat sport that utilized the full spectrum of Chinese martial arts, striking, wrestling and weapons. Lei tai in its present form appeared during the Song dynasty when it was used for striking and Shuai Jiao exhibition matches and private duels. An ancestor of the lei tai was used during the Qin dynasty to hold wrestling competitions between imperial soldiers. The winner would be chosen to act as a bodyguard to the emperor or a martial arts instructor for the Imperial Military.
             A tradition in the Chinese martial arts was for a practitioner whom wanted to establish themselves as a martial arts instructor in a new location, to initiate an open challenge on top of the leitei to established martial art practitioners in the area. A fighter lost the match and his credibility if he fell, was forced off or was knocked to the floor of the stage. The winner of the match remained on the leitei unless he was forced off himself. If there were no more challengers, he became the champion and or established the dominance of his system of combat in that area.  In order to become a champion, a fighter had to defeat countless opponents. For instance, Lama Pai Grandmaster Wong Yan-Lam set up his own lei tai platform in front of Hai Tung Monastery in Guangdong after having worked as a famous bodyguard in Northern China. For 18 days, he fought over 150 other martial artists and was never defeated Shortly afterwards, he was elected as the leader of the Ten Tigers of Canton, who were the top ten martial arts practitioners in Guangdong.
              The irony of the Traditional martial arts versus combat sports debate is that combat sport fighting has always been a vital component of martial arts. Many who practice the traditional martial arts view the practice of combat sports as antagonistic towards their practice. To understand the issue it’s helpful to re-evaluate our terminology.  What is a “traditional martial art”? The term in itself, while conjuring images of Shaolin monks in robes wielding ancient weaponry, doesn’t really mean anything in the context of this debate. Combat sports have existed in China since antiquity, and current combat sports are undeniably linked to traditional martial art and exist as a continuation of those methods. Training for combat sports can help the traditional martial arts practitioner reorganize their training and make it more efficient by focusing in a specific direction.

A Traditional Chinese Martial Art Refocused

            The Choy Lay Fut system was created in 1836, by founder Chan Heung in Guangzhou, a southern province of China. Seeking out the most information he could find on the Chinese martial arts led Chan Heung to seek the tutelage of 3 different teachers during his life time. Like many contemporary mixed martial artists, he sought to consolidate the 3 different methods of his teachers into one method utilizing the strengths of each. Because of this, Choy Lay Fut is a well rounded method combining powerful striking methods with grabs/holds, kicking and solid yet nimble footwork.
 Choy Lay Fut is often thought to be a vast and complex system of martial arts by both the casual observer and even many students of the system. This line of thinking can be attributed to a large quantity of empty hand and weapons forms practiced by the various schools teaching the system. The number of forms practiced by an individual Choy Lay Fut practitioner can range from only a few to well over forty. If you take into account all the variations and unique forms created by and taught by the different lineages of the system the number of empty hand and weapons forms can easily number in the hundreds. If you include the different apparatus training sets and partner drills, the sheer volume of the system can become such that even a diligent practitioner can seem overwhelmed and unsure of how to properly identify those things that should be priorities in training for combat efficiency. The key to making effective use of this vast library of material is through an understanding and proper focus on the systems core concepts.
The Choy Lay Fut method is centered on its key combative concepts such as the 10 elements, asterisk footwork, gate theory etc. These concepts give a practitioner the tools to deal with various vectors of force leading to a better understanding of fighting in general and as such making it easier for the practitioner to fight against an aggressor regardless of that aggressor’s background and training in other systems. Approaching the system as a conceptual method will allow the Choy Lay Fut practitioner to cut through the vast quantity of material and understand how to effectively apply the system in combat. The conceptual method of training a martial art can be compared to learning a new language. Learning only forms and techniques with no understanding of the concepts behind them is similar to attempting to communicate in a foreign language using a phrase book. You may be able to ask specific questions like “where is the bathroom” but you will not be able to express your own ideas and converse fluently. The conceptual method of learning a martial art is similar to learning a foreign language in its entirety. You begin with the core concepts which can be compared to an alphabet then you move on to combining concepts together which is like forming words. 
Finally you can put together combinations and apply these concepts where they are needed and, in essence, converse freely with your opponent. 

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