Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, 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 ~


Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Skill of Strength


At the Art of Manliness, there was an article called "Greasing the Groove," about how building strength is a skill. Below is an except. The full post may be read here.

How to Practice the Skill of Strength: Greasing the Groove

There are two primary ways to get strong. With the first, you lift progressively heavier weights, which causes micro trauma (tiny tears) in the muscle fiber itself. The muscle fibers recover and then adapt to the load, so that they rebuild stronger than before.

The other way to get stronger is by regularly doing strength exercises with lighter reps and weight, but doing them more often than you would a heavy workout. This teaches your muscles to fire more efficiently, or in other words, “greases the groove.”

“Greasing the groove” (GtG) is a phrase Pavel coined to describe what you’re doing when you consistently practice a specific strength skill. The more you practice, the more of a pathway forms between your muscles and your nervous system. Or in other words, the more you practice, the more you “grease the neurological groove.” By regularly doing strength movements, we help the myelination process along, and increase the efficiency of the neuromuscular connections involved in those exercises. The more efficiently you can perform an exercise, the more reps you can do, and the more reps you can do, the stronger you become.

By regularly doing proper pull-ups, for example, you’re “greasing” the neurological groove that allows you to fire the muscles that are involved with performing pull-ups efficiently and effectively. Likewise, continually greasing the groove will make doing perfect push-ups feel more and more natural and easier, allowing you to gradually do more reps and building your strength in that exercise.

If you want to implement the GtG tool into your strength-building arsenal, here are the basics:

Pick an exercise in which you want to become stronger. Bodyweight exercises like pull-ups, push-ups, and dips are best for greasing the groove as they’re easier to do on a regular basis than, say, barbell exercises.

Perform the exercise several times a day at low reps. When you grease the groove, you are NOT exercising to failure. That will only lead to overtraining and would get in the way of your main strength training program and overall progression. In fact, you don’t even want your GtG session to induce fatigue.

Rather, with greasing the groove, the goal is to do lots of reps a day, spread throughout the day. If you’re using a kettlebell, you want to keep the weight relatively low. You want to practice the skill of strength, but not become fatigued by it. You shouldn’t even break a sweat. Some folks recommend doing 40% to 50% of your max weight/reps, while others say 50% to 80%. My recommendation is to start conservatively, and gradually add volume and intensity throughout the weeks and months as your groove gets ever greasier.

There’s no fixed recommendation for how many sets of an exercise you should do a day. Instead, Pavel recommends “training as often as possible while being as fresh as possible.” That sweet spot is going to differ from man to man.

Here’s an example of how a greasing the groove routine could work. Let’s say right now you can do 10 pull-ups. To get going with GtG, you’ll start off doing 40% of that, or 4 reps. You might decide to do 5 sets a day or 20 pull-ups altogether. In a couple weeks, add another rep to your sets. A few weeks later, add another. Now you’re up to 30 pull-ups a day. You’ll know if you’re adding too much too fast if you feel fatigued at the end of your set and/or the end of the day. Because you kept far from failure when you performed the exercise and you had more than adequate rest time between bouts to recover, you shouldn’t feel tired or over-trained. Instead, you should feel stronger.

Decide how to implement your GtG sets. How you decide to break up your reps throughout the day is all a matter of preference. The goal is to make greasing the groove so easy to do that it just becomes part of your daily routine.

You could have something structured like an every-hour-on-the-hour routine in which you perform your reps at the top of every hour.

Or, if you use the “Pomodoro Technique” in which you work intensely for 45 minutes and then take a break for 15, you could do your exercises at the beginning of your break. I did this during law school. When I was down in the library studying, I’d work for 45 minutes and then crank out 5-10 push-ups during my 15-minute break.

If you prefer something a little less structured, just set some conditional rules that will determine when you grease the groove. One could be: “Before I sit down in my office chair, I must perform five push-ups.” If you get up multiple times during a shift, you’ll easily crank out 50-60 push-ups a day.

You could also put a pull-up bar or kettlebell somewhere in an area of your office/house that you frequently walk by. Your rule could be: “When I walk under the pull-up bar, I must perform two pull-ups.” Or: “When I walk by the kettlebell, I must perform 10 swings.” Pavel’s 60-year-old father-in-law had a similar system in place. Whenever he went down into the basement, he had to perform 5 chin-ups. He averaged anywhere from 25 to 100 reps a day, depending on how often he went down to the basement. When he tested himself a few weeks later, he was able to perform 20 consecutive reps, something he hadn’t even been able to do as a young Marine.

With the more unstructured greasing the groove routine, the reps you perform each day will vary. Sometimes it will be a lot; sometimes it won’t. That’s completely fine, as long as you’re not doing so many that you get fatigued. Remember, the goal isn’t to go to failure. It’s to practice the skill of strength so that our neurons learn to fire our muscles more efficiently and effectively.

Blast the groove. On the last rep of your greasing the groove sets, Pavel recommends that you “blast the groove” by performing the negative part of the movement (e.g., lowering yourself down on a pull-up) nice and slow. This creates an intense contraction and stimulates “synaptic potentiation.” I talked to my strength coach and buddy Matt Reynolds about this and he recommended limiting how often you blast the groove; the negative, or eccentric, part of a movement creates the most muscle damage and inflammation. This could get in the way of your recovery for your regular training. So just blast the groove on the days you’re not doing other dedicated workouts, or after the primary workouts themselves.

Focus on perfection. Greasing the groove is how we practice the skill of strength, and as we know, practice doesn’t make perfect — perfect practice does. You want to “program” the movement into your neuromuscular system as perfectly as possible, so perform the reps of whatever exercise you’re performing perfectly. If it’s the pull-up, then do a strict, controlled pull-up. If it’s a kettlebell swing, do a perfect, crisp swing. This is yet another reason you don’t go to failure or even let yourself get overly fatigued when you’re greasing the groove — if you did, your form would suffer.

 

Monday, September 26, 2022

92 Insights into Kendo


Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Kenshi 24/7. In the article, the writer describes the history of a vintage book written on Kendo, and the author's "92 bits of wisdom."

I think this list would be of interest  to all martial artists. The full article may be read here.

 

1. Kendo is about striking the opponents heart with yours.


2. In shiai, neither wait nor rush, go with the flow.


3. Kakarigeiko should be short and executed at full throttle. 


4. A good maai is one in which the opponent feels close to you yet they feel it far; you should be able to strike at anytime with ki-ken-tai.


5. Both legs should act in tandem; striking with your whole body from your legs is the basis of good kendo.


6. When initiating a strike, your opponent will telegraph their intention; strike their intention.


7. The eyes are a window to the heart; when your opponent intends to strike their eyes will signal their intention - strike in that instant.


8. True strength lies in good technique, not in strong strikes.


9. Doing keiko every day is like the piling up of daily delivered newspapers.


10. A kodansha who does un-spirited keiko is inferior to a shodan.


11. If you enter tsubazeriai quickly strike and move away; in tsubazeria be careful to relax yet not be careless. 


12. The moment after a mutual-strike (ai-uchi) is decisive.


13. During keiko, always aim to get shodachi.


14. Watch the opponents movement careful and strike when they either enter in or step back.


15. Chudan kamae is the state where your heart is true with no wicked thoughts in mind; be sure you are gripping the shinai correctly.


16. Maai exists in physical space as well as mentally; from there you should be able to strike anytime in ki-ken-tai.


17. When facing an opponent you must first read the opponents mind and strike them first.


18. When facing an opponent if you have no confidence or are unsure whether to strike but do so anyway, your strike will fail.


19. In kendo you should not only think about winning or losing, but seek to understand the spiritual depth found through practice itself.


20. You shouldn’t try to forcibly attain grades, rather, through keiko you will naturally acquire status (respect).

Friday, September 23, 2022

Leopard Kung Fu


Leopard Kung Fu is one of Five Animal Styles of Southern Kung Fu.

Below is a video showing some training, conditioning and techniques of this interesting style.

 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Early 20th Centuy Teahouse Girls in Japan


Below is an excerpt from the Japanese History and Culture blog, regarding early 20th century hotels and tea house girls in Japan. The full post  may be read here.

Pre-war Japanese society and social classes were very different to today.  A distinct class of domestics that were filled predominately with women were in the service industry such as hotels, tea-houses, and restaurants.  Here the hours of labour were very long, from four or five in the morning till midnight, or later.  Rarely do these girls get five hours of rest, frequently there are not more than three hours.  They must open all the amado (sliding wooden shutters which protect the paper “windows”), and get the general cleaning done before the first guest rise, and must continue their service until late into the night, answering the calls of the guests, till the last one has retired.  In addition to the usual cleaning of the rooms, which is really not much of an undertaking, these girls carry all the meals of all the guests from the kitchen on the ground floor to their rooms on the second or third floors, serve them while they eat, and carry away the trays when the meal is completed.  In preparation for the night the girls bring out the heavy futon (quilts) and make the “beds” on the floor and in the morning remove, fold, and lay them all away in closets. The workload in a traditional Japanese hotel is relatively heavy due to the number of guests, but that which is most taxing are the long hours of service and the insufficient time for rest.  As in the poorer homes of Japan reflect the same conditions of the poorer and smaller hotels, the girls have no private rooms, but sleep in entryways and reception-rooms.  Of course they have neither time nor opportunity for personal culture, nor even for recreation and from the nature of their occupation, is it strange if they sometimes yield to the solicitations of guests?

These girls are of course neither professional prostitutes nor geisha. Yet, assured by a provincial chief of police, some years ago when making investigations, that, in the eyes of the police, three fourths or four fifths of the girls in hotels and tea-houses are virtually prostitutes, though of course they have no licenses and are subject to no medical inspection.  Occasionally they are arrested for illegal prostitution, at the instance however of brothel keepers.  Hotels and tea-houses take pains to secure pretty girls for servants, in order to make their service attractive.  It is a dreadful statement to make, but, if I am justified in judging from such facts as have come to my knowledge, it would appear that few traveling men in Japan feel any special hesitation in taking advantage, with financial compensation of course, of such opportunities as are afforded them.  Hotels give the girls their food, perhaps two kimonos yearly, and generally a small payment in cash, but their principal earnings come from tips.  This makes them attentive to the wants of the guests.

There are many first-class hotels throughout the country, but chiefly in the principal cities, to which geisha are not admitted, but in those hotels to which they are admitted the green country girls soon learn from them the brazen ways and licentious talk that are evidently pleasing to many of the guests.  All in all, the life and lot of the hotel and tea-house girl are deplorable indeed.  She does differ from the geisha and licensed prostitute, however, in that she can leave her place and retire to her country home at any time, being held by no contract or debt.  Hotel and tea-house girls are recruited largely from the families of artisans and small tradespeople, living in interior towns and villages, they do not often come from farming families, since they would lack the regular features and light complexion desired by hotels. Their family pedigree explains in part this easy virtue. They are saved from more disaster than they actually meet, because geisha and prostitutes abound and are more attractive.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Putting Martial Arts Teachers on a Pedestal


Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at The Budo Bum. The full post may be read here.

“His technique surpassed human ability.”

“This is exactly how ****** Sensei did it. We want to do it exactly as he did.”

“Nobody can ever equal ******* Sensei.”

“My karate teacher’s teacher was the best ever, that’s why our system is the best!”

“******* was unbeatable.”

“He was a living kami.”

“If he says it works, it must work.”

Teachers who can’t be questioned, for whatever reason, are dangerous to their students and themselves. They seem to inexorably fall into the trap of believing their own propaganda. It happens all the time, in all sorts of arts. As soon as students start going along with whatever sensei does because sensei’s technique is the ultimate, the perfect, the divinely inspired (take your pick), teachers are trapped in an ugly downward spiral.

 The problem for the teacher is that since their students always go along with sensei’s technique, the sensei stops getting honest feedback with regard to their training and teaching. As a result, the teacher’s technique inevitably begins to deteriorate. They can’t avoid it. Any time their technique wasn't right they would feel more resistance, which would tell them they need to sharpen fundamental practice and technique. When their students always go with the flow, the sensei never gets that feedback, and therefore never experiences a technique working less than perfectly. As a result, the sensei has no way to know if their skills are sharp or dull.

 The result is the teacher’s technique gradually becomes duller and duller. However, this can’t be blamed entirely on the teacher. The students are lying to themselves and their teacher about the quality of the techniques. Without opportunities to train with people who recognize a teacher’s imperfections, the only possible result is a slow deterioration of the teacher’s skills. 

 This is sad for the teachers and the students.

 There is a phenomenon in martial arts of students deifying teachers. It can happen in any art with superlative practitioners and teachers. In the world of Japanese budo I’ve seen it in both gendai and koryu arts, and it’s a sad phenomenon no matter where it happens. Budo teachers are human, maybe especially human.

 To be a martial arts teacher is to have a high degree of skill.  Being skilled at martial arts means possessing a certain type of power. Those with skill are seen as being able to subdue, control, or just plain beat into the ground anyone who threatens them. A few people with bad attitudes and/or impulse control problems are even seen as being dangerous to just about anyone because they won’t wait to be threatened. They’ll pick the fight just because they are confident they can do it without getting hurt themselves.

 As a kid growing up, the power to physically subdue someone, or pound them into the ground, was a very attractive power. I was a skinny kid with allergies and not a clue how to relate to other people, so I was picked on. A lot. I didn’t realize it then, but later I figured out that I caused a lot of the issues just by being so socially inept. That doesn’t make the schoolyard abuse any better, and while I was going through it I fantasized about having the superpower of being unbeatable. It was a wonderful daydream.

 The temptation to revel in power is strong. I understand that temptation. When I started training Kodokan Judo in college, the realization that I was becoming good at grappling was shocking, and the temptation to abuse this ability was powerful. In my case, my friends and sempai were more than happy to remind me that I was thoroughly human and quite beatable. As I moved through the kyu ranks, it was easy to idolize my teacher and attribute more than normal wisdom to him. He was very human though, and he never implied that anything he did was perfect or that we should blindly copy his technique or his life.

 When I see students of any teacher proclaim that their teacher’s way is absolutely correct and that one should not deviate from the teacher’s example even a little, I worry about those students and that teacher’s legacy. When students start idolizing a teacher and idealizing the teachings, I can only see bad things happening. A teacher who is never questioned and never challenged in any way is trapped. That teacher can’t sharpen their skills by practicing with their students.

 

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Gene LaBell and Donn Draeger


Over at Ellis Amdur's wonderful Kogen Budo blog, there was a guest post by author Mark Jabobs on the relationship between the legendary martial artists Gene LaBell and Donn Draeger. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here. Ellis Amdur's many books may be ordered here.

Some time ago, Ellis Amdur asked me if I’d be interested in contributing a guest post for the site. Knowing of my friendship with the renowned grappling expert, “Judo” Gene LeBell, and aware of Gene’s past relationship with the famed budoka, Donn Draeger, Ellis thought I might be able to offer some of Gene’s recollections to provide a different-than-usual take on Draeger, and the martial arts of a bygone era.

While Gene’s memory for details has faded a bit with time, I’ve had a number of extensive conversations with him in the past for various magazine articles, not to mention an aborted collaboration on his first attempt at an autobiography years ago. So I’m probably as qualified as anyone to share his impressions on these matters.

As far as Draeger goes, Gene always spoke very highly of him. “A great judo man” and “the best with weapons” was how he described Draeger to me on one occasion, opinions which probably won’t surprise anyone familiar with Draeger’s career in the martial arts. A generation older than Gene, Draeger came out of that pre-war school of judo which the early Japanese instructors in the West employed. My sense of that type of judo, both from talking to Gene and my own research, is that it was a somewhat more combative style, one laced with a bit more groundwork than would come to be the norm in the postwar years. That’s the style Gene appreciated, and I think he respected that “hardcore” approach in Draeger’s style.

The admiration was apparently a two-way street as Draeger expressed his respect for LeBell’s skills in letters to his longtime collaborator, Robert W. Smith. On one occasion, when Gene was scheduled to come into Tokyo to referee the infamous boxer vs. wrestler match-up between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki, Draeger wrote to Smith that, while he thought the bout itself would be a farce, he was looking forward to getting a chance to visit with LeBell.

Draeger went so far as to offer the opinion that the best man in the ring that night would be Gene, who could take either of the two headliners in a fight. As an interesting aside, one of Inoki’s cornermen for the match was legendary catch wrestler, Karl Gotch, known in Japanese pro wrestling circles as Kamirasu, “the god of wrestling.” Years earlier, Gotch had been one of Gene’s main grappling coaches and, while Draeger thought Gene could take either Ali or Inoki in a fight, Gene once commented to me that what no one watching the match realized was Inoki’s cornerman, Gotch, could have taken both men at the same time!

 

Thursday, September 08, 2022

Ki Ken Tai Ichi in Budo



Over at The Budo Bum, was a very good article on a key concept in Budo training: Ki Ken Tai Ichi.

Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

気剣体一致

Ki ken tai ichi. A student recently asked me about the relationship of ki ken tai ichi to seitei iai and jo. It’s a fundamental concept in Japanese budo but it’s not difficult to be confused by it. It breaks down as:

  • Ki : Yes, that ki. The one that folks argue about endlessly. In this case it is will, intent and energy.

  • Ken : This ken is read tsurugi when it stands alone. It’s the same ken found in “kendo”, and it traditionally refers to a straight, double-edged sword common in Japan from about 450 to 950 c.e. that was superseded by the curved tachi. In this usage it represents any weapon you might use. 

  • Tai : This character is read karada when it stands alone, and it means body.

  • Ichi 一致: Ichi is the difficult bit in this little 5 character phrase. It means “to agree, to conform, to be congruent, to be in concert, to be united, to cooperate, to be in accord”.

Intent, sword and body as one. Ki ken tai ichi.

Will, sword and body in accord. Ki ken tai ichi.

Intent, sword and body in agreement. Ki ken tai ichi.

Because the English and Japanese words only overlap as very poor Venn diagrams, there are  numerous translations. None of them are 100% right, but each captures some of the spirit of the Japanese. There is no fragmentation;here can be no divisions. Your kokoro (heart/mind), your body and your weapon must be combined into a single unit. 

When you move, do you do it with hesitation or doubt? Is the sword a tool in your hand, or is it an extension of your body? Can you feel what is going on in your partner’s body when you cross swords? Does your body move as a coordinated whole? Does your will and intent express itself instantly in your body and the sword?

My student is quite familiar with ki ken tai ichi from his deep experience with koryu. However the Kendo Federation has ki ken tai ichi broken down almost to a science. There are particular markers to look for when someone does seitei iai or jo that indicate whether or not the will, the body and the sword are in accord. 

Does the whole unit reach the conclusion of the movement together without any separation? This is the central clue. Teaching this concept to students starts with the mechanics of how to swing the sword. From there teachers have to backward engineer the timing from the point where mind, body and sword all arrive at the completion of the movement together and become as one.

Moving backwards, the student has to consider that the hands are faster than the body, but for a sword cut the hands and sword have further to travel than the body. If the body and the hands begin their movement together, the body will finish its movement and come to rest followed by the sword. If the body and the sword are united, the full power of the body will be transmitted through the sword. If they are not united then the sword has only the power of the hands when it makes contact. For the full power of the body to be transmitted through the sword, the sword tip has to begin moving first and the body begins moving next so they will complete their action together, united in power and timing. 

Breaking down the timing of a sword cut into fine segments makes it a little easier to explain and teach the outer aspects of ki ken tai ichi. A little. Students can start work on training their hands and body to move in accordance with the timing of the sword to transmit the maximum power through the blade. However, just because a student has mastered the timing of their movements doesn’t mean they’ve achieved ki ken tai ichi. This is much harder than simply copying the timing.

 

Monday, September 05, 2022

Shadow Boxing for Fitness


Over at the Art of Manliness was an article on how to shadow box for fitness. Below is an excerpt. The whole post may be read here.

Shadow boxing is a fundamental boxing skill. It provides an opportunity for boxers to fine-tune their technique and mentally prepare for a workout or fight.

For non-boxers, shadow boxing can be an excellent warm-up for a workout or even a workout in and of itself — you’ll be amazed at how quickly it revs up your heart rate. This low-impact cardio can be done pretty much anywhere —the gym, your garage, a hotel room. You can even shadow box in the dark after you’ve rambled in the park. (Only real ones know that reference).

To get the lowdown on how to shadow box like a champ, I talked to boxing coach Aaron Sloan, owner of The Engine Room — a boxing gym here in Tulsa, OK.

How to Shadow Box

To get set for a shadow boxing session, get in a proper boxing stance, with your hands up. You don’t need to wear gloves, but you may want your hands wrapped if you’re going to be moving right from a shadow-boxing warm-up to doing something like hitting the speed bag.

Stay focused.

The biggest mistake Aaron sees boxers make with their shadow-boxing work is that they just go through the motions. “Shadow boxing is an important part of your development as a fighter,” Aaron told me. “It’s the only time you get to really practice your technique perfectly. The boxers who just go through the motions are missing out on becoming a better fighter.”

So the first tip for effective shadow boxing is to stay mentally focused during your entire session.

Only use a mirror if you’re a beginner working on technique.

Despite its name, when you’re shadow boxing, you’re not really going to be sparring with a shadow on a wall. Aaron doesn’t like to use mirrors for shadow-boxing work either. He wants his boxers to feel a correct punch being thrown, not just see it. With that said, he’ll sometimes have his beginning boxers stand in front of a mirror while shadow boxing to help them fine-tune their technique.

Vividly visualize a boxer in front of you.

Even when you’re not using a mirror, you should be sparring with an opponent in your mind. Visualize him: How far is he from you? Where is his body relative to you? At what height is his head? “I have my fighters imagine a boxer in front of them in the middle of the ring, but it has to be vivid. It requires mental focus,” Aaron says. “To make sure my fighters have a vivid imaginary boxer in front of them, I’ll ask them, ‘What color are his shorts?’ If they can’t answer right away, it means they’re not focused on the practice, and they need to get their head back in the game.”

Don’t throw full punches.

You don’t want to throw full punches while you’re shadow boxing. “You’ll just give yourself tennis elbow,” Aaron says. Go hard, but don’t extend your arm all the way when throwing straight punches.

 

 

Friday, September 02, 2022

Heavy Bags and Taijiquan


Below is an excerpt from an article that was posted at Thoughts on Tai Chi. It has to do with practicing actually striking things as part of one's taijiquan practice. Whether you agree or not, it is a thought provoking topic. The full post may be read here.

There are many different opinions about hitting objects in Tai Chi Chuan, and especially about punching heavy bags. Some people absolutely do not believe in them and say that punching a bag goes against Tai Chi principles. Others say that if you are not allowed to punch a bag, how would you be able to punch an opponent? So what should we think about all of the contradicting views?

Why would punching a bag be wrong?

The most common objection is probably that you should not use external strength when you punch, and this is perfectly true, in the sense of that you should not use the type of power, that is common in most so called “external styles”, a type of strength that relies on tensing up the limbs and the body. People who have this kind of objection have never been introduced to the type of strikes we actually use in Tai Chi. And some people don’t even believe that strikes and punching exist in Tai Chi.

Another thing that I have heard Tai Chi stylists speak about, is the common idea that you never attack in Tai Chi. Many believe that you should never initiate an attack and only respond to what the opponent does. Some of those people don’t believe in punching at all as a separate practice, and believe that the mind-set of punching itself is a contradiction to tai chi principles.

Even if they recognise punching as a part of Tai Chi, they mean that a response as a palm strike or punch should happen naturally, and use borrowing energy from the opponent. As an example, imagine if someone punches or pushes at your shoulder. Then the movement of evading or following the opponent’s attack on one side of the body should be enough to power up a punch using the other side of the body. This would work as wind and rewind, or storing energy and releasing it. But you use the opponent’s attack to store and release your own movement – or specifically in this case – a punch.

I can easily dismiss some part of this problem of mind-set by reminding you of what I said in the earlier post about punching without the mind-set of punching. But even if we leave this aside, we still have a problem. That is: you won’t understand how your body reacts when it meets another body until you meet a real punch. Will you be able to respond in such a way, that you can keep your body aligned, and support a fist upon contact? First, in order to gain confidence of your evasion skills, you would need to practice some sparring against people who actually know how to punch, right?

But to return to the original question about punching “dead stuff”, as hitting a punching bag, there’s a whole other issue: If you haven’t practiced punching at some kind of surface, how will you know what it means to meet a target with your fist? Will you understand how to use it to penetrate the target and do enough damage? Or will your fist just bounce off? You always need to do something to know it. To learn something, you need to gain practical experience. “Thinking” that you can punch something is not enough, you need to experience it with your own body in order to know. This is the plain truth.

A realistic and scientific approach

So, regardless type of punch you want to use, or if using any kind of offensive technique, you really need methods to first measure and evaluate what you do, to really know that you can actually do something. When you practice other types of techniques as pushing, throws, takedowns, qinna etc, those techniques and methods are all very easy to practice against a partner. You can throw each other around, and practicing joint-locks without hurting each other.

But this kind of realistic training is much harder with striking as you can’t really do a realistic punch against an unprotected partner. Strikes and punches are meant to break and damage things, right? So if you don’t have any way to measure what happens when your palm or fist meets a target, then how do you know that you could hurt a real opponent? How do you know if you have a method to actually finish someone off?

Yes, on the other hand, I get what some people are saying; that in Tai Chi, you should achieve so much control that you would never need to really hurt someone. Generally, I would agree with this assessment. This is very much the real strength of Tai Chi as a combat method. The control you gain with Tai Chi practice means that you can often find ways to use your methods in fighting so that you don’t really need to hurt someone very much at all. (In fact, I truly believe that the focus on a high level of control in Tai Chi Chuan might be a heritage from the Buddhism idea to never hurt and never kill.) And of course, if you can avoid lawsuits, going to jail or pay fines, by not hurting your opponent, this is obviously the wisest thing to strive for.

But, FFS, this is still a martial art we are practicing! The point of training “how to fight” is not about being able to count how many arms or noses we have broken, but about knowing that we have what we need in every kind of situation. Our practice should lead us to build confidence in what we do. And if we want to have real confidence, we need to know that we have things in our toolbox that actually work. And if we want to know that they work, well, then we really need methods to measure and evaluate what we do.

This is exactly the advantage with practice on heavy bags and similar. We can use them in our training to measure and evaluate what we do. If we know that we can use a strong punch, when it is needed, we can gain confidence by this knowledge, by knowing that we have a finishing strategy that works when it counts. Hopefully we will never need to use this capability against a person, but we can face someone with much greater confidence if we know that our tools really work.