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  1. #91
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    Hell yeah! Hell no!
    I've modified Leung Kwan's Iron Thread Fist to align with Pee Wee Herman's biker bar rendition of "Tequila".

    This is the true way to internal kung fu power.


  2. #92

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    Hell yeah! Hell no!
    OK, I was idly browsing teh interwebz re. MA and came across this interesting and informative thread, so I've registered to contribute. FWIW, this is going to be a big brain dump of what I think I know about CMA, from historical and technical points of view. I hope it's of interest and clarifies some things. I may well be wrong in some minor details here and there, but I think I've got a reasonable, reliable and reality-based grasp of the big picture.

    When I say "picture", there won't be any pictures or videos, just words, but, again, I hope the words are interesting enough to read.

    Full disclosure, I'm an older chap, and a lifelong dilettante in martial arts, as a result of which (the dilettanteism and lack of continuous application) I can't fight to any great degree. But I've tried a few TCMA (as well as TJMA and a bit of BJJ) as a hobbyist, read a **** of a lot about this in popular, hobbyist and academic literature, and talked to a fair number of people from various backgrounds about MA in general and TCMA in particular. Why? Because it's a fascinating phenomenon to me, not only in and of itself, for its own sake in a scholarly sense, but in the way it relates to modern world, and through that to MMA in particular.

    So off we go!

    China was and is a huge empire comprised of various related cultures (imagine if Europe were still the Greek, or Roman empire, or if Napoleon had conquered Europe), and bar a few scrapes and bruises from various quarters now and then, even a few periods when it was totally messed up, split up, in a state of civil war, and even ruled by different foreigners for a hundred odd years or so here and there, this empire was collectively the top dog in the Far East for a long, looooong time, several thousands of years, with a huge fund of fairly coherent and continous shared cultural traditions, laid over a variety of specific cultural traditions from its Western to its Eastern borders, and from its far North to its deep South. Religiously, China has been a home to foreign imports such as Islam and Buddhism, as well as its own indigenous Daoism and Confucianism, plus a few other less well-known systems (some of them, like the 5-element school, verging on a sort of proto-science, as we understand science in the West). Over the centuries, these religions found an accomodation with each other, to the extent that many Chinese feel bound not just to one, but to several (except Islam, which of course always claims exclusiviness).

    Work with me and let's grant that it's reasonable to assume that you don't get to be top dog for such a long time in such a vast region if you've got **** military traditions. Let's grant that the Chinese were for most of their history pretty good at war, at least as good as other major cultures, and had pretty effective military training, etc.

    OK, so for most of China's history that training is mainly concerned with melee weapons - swords, spears, axes, what have you, a huge armory - and ranged weapons like bows and arrows, seige weaponry, etc. The main point of most military training is going to be to train fit young men to whack other fit young men, and kill them, with big bits of cutlery (amusingly, the Chinese equivalent of the Halberd is often called "The Big Knife" :) ). But part of that training is also usually going to involve a bit of hand-to-hand combat, partly as a grounding for weapons skills, partly as conditioning and fitness training, partly as fallback (in case you're stuck without a weapon) and partly for morale and discipline.

    The Chinese learned about gunpowder a fair bit before the West, but as with many scientific advances, while the Chinese had guns and cannons earlier, and often used them as part of their doctrine, the West seems to have been slightly better at perfecting them, mass producing them, integrating them and making effective military use of them. So the West developed guns to a high level, starting roundabout the 15th century, and ended up running around the world shooting people and taking over their cultures for a while, in the 18th-19th centuries. Through the 18th-19th centuries, the Chinese, impressed (and also somewhat cowed) by the West's superior firepower started following suit, and started changing military doctrine to guns and cannons (and eventually projectile-weaponry-based ships, automotive transport, tanks, etc.) in a big way, just like every other culture in the world.

    Now note carefully this discrepancy in the time when the West changed over to guns relative to the period it happened in China. In China, circa 18th-19th centuries, in the West, circa 15th-16th centuries.

    As has recently become evident due to closer investigation of everything from ancient Greek literature to Mediaeval and Renaissance manuals, the West had had, up to that point, a long history of pretty sophisticated melee and hand-to-hand martial arts (proper martial arts, for killing people) of its own. But those traditions had already been lost by the 18th-19th centuries (and while recent attempts to reconstruct them, often by triangulation with analogous but still barely-extant Eastern arts, are laudable and interesting, nobody really knows to what degree such attempted reconstructions are likely to be accurate - there's a lot of room to misinterpret an etching).

    By the 18th and 19th centuries, all that remained of indigenous Western martial arts were: posh boy civilian defence forms (rapiers and the like); the fag end of military melee weaponry use in the form of swords for cavalry and little knives stuck on the ends of guns.

    And what became of the hand-to-hand component of those ancient Western martial arts?

    Here's a just-so story to illustrate: returning warriors in the 14th century might train their sons, and maybe local people, in some of the arts they'd learned. Over time, with the properly martial significance of those arts fading by, say, the 17th century, the descendants, and descendants of descendants of those arts became a variety of localized/family traditions of wrestling, bareknuckle fighting and the like - things young bucks participated in for the sake of tradition, friendly competition, and competition-as-entertainment (with financial reward often being the hoped-for concomitant of participation therein). (Of course to some extent local young buck stuff would have always been there all along - e.g the ancient Icelandic wrestling - but the point is to illustrate the changeover of functionality: from young mens' village preparation for and grounding in the arts of war, to something else.)

    As the 19th century drew to a close in the West, these last functions of those faded indigenous, localized, family-based remnants of old martial forms, competition and entertainment, melded with a relatively new phenomenon of various forms of physical culture being pursued for mass entertainment, known as "sport". The revival of the Olympics was a late development in that movement.

    So: those dim remnants of a once extraordinarily sophisticated tradition of killing people in ingenious and effective ways using mostly melee weapons, but with some deadly hand-to-hand stuff mixed in, survived into the 20th century by dint of becoming pale ghosts of their former selves, devoted mostly to "sport" (in this new, mass entertainment sense, not just the older "sportive", young buck sense).

    What's the relevance of this digression into Western arts to the Chinese arts, you may well ask? Well, the point is to show how what we have of Chinese martial arts is ANALOGOUS to what we HAD with Western martial arts in a period maybe a couple of centuries after the mass adoption of guns. What we have in TCMA is ancient Chinese martial arts in transition to physical culture, sport and entertainment, but still with some of their older martial (i.e. murderous) significance attached.

    In effect, we are extraordinarly lucky to be able to catch Eastern martial arts in the act, so to speak, straddling the line (long since crossed in the West) between older killing arts, to more modern physical culture/sportive/entertainment arts. It's like, we have, trapped in amber, the Chinese equivalent of what we lost in the West, what's long been forgotten.

    IOW, what we have in China now is things like the equivalent of original Lankashire wrestling as a living form, or George Silver's art of the True Fight, or the stuff Silver hated, the newfangled Italian fencing styles - civilian defence forms retaining something of the toughness and deathly nature of the older strictly martial forms, but in transition to something more for show, status, romance, entertainment, etc.

    And this stuff is trapped in amber in China partly because of antiquarian interest. See, when a similar transition (and loss) occurred in the West nobody cared, because the transition and loss were gradual and insensible. But since the analogous transition has been occurring more recently in a China that's more self-conscious of its own traditions, and more eager to retain elements of its own cultural identity that distinguish it from the West, there have been (throughout the 18th-19th centuries) several drives, several attempts and phases, to utilize those transitional martial arts forms as badges of what's uniquely Chinese.

    For example, it was a common sociological format for local "literati", governors and bigwigs (e.g. people who had passed Chinese civil service exams and were in charge of local areas) to be well-versed not only in literary arts and the arts of government, but also suffiently schooled in the arts of war to be able to rustle up local defence leagues against bandit plagues and the like. (It's a lamentable and recurring feature of Chinese history that the animus against having female children has time and again resulted in hordes of sexually frustrated young men banding together for sundry purposes cultish, nefarious, downright crazy - or even sometimes perfectly good and righteous - and bothering the common folk up and down the country; often fomenting mass rebellions resulting in a horrific accumulation of deaths, either directly as a result of their activities, or via reprisals from the State, such reprisals often having the functionally salutary side-effect of culling said hordes of generally useless and troublesome youths. You can see remnants of the stories of such monomaniacal youth gangs in those bizarrely-named cults like "The Red Spears" or whatever, that you get in historical Kung Fu flicks.)

    In the 19th century, one cluster of literati, leaders of a local community in Henan province (actually some brothers), became enamoured of a martial art that was taught to them by a young man who had been privileged to be the first "outsider" to learn the clan art of a village elsewhere in Henan province, and kindly granted the right to teach a somewhat simplified version of it to support himself and his family. The art he had been taught had been the treasure of that village for centuries, its best practitioners among the scions of the clan had often gone on to gain fame (the equivalent almost of a state-wide fame - bearing in mind China's vastness and its composition into something like many separate states, united by the empire) as caravan bodyguards (a necessity in those often still-wild days) - IOW their skills were mainly cutlery-based - remember, guns were becoming more prevalent, but they were still relatively rare, and many people out in the boondocks would still be using melee weaponry. But the weapon skills were grounded in foundational hand-to-hand forms, taught to youngsters in the village from a very early age, comprised of striking, kicking, wrestling, throwing, joint-breaking, etc., and generally a very close-in style notable for extremely hard non-telegraphed short strikes. However, due to a peculiarity of the method of power generation in this style, it was taught from the beginning in a very slow way, to condition the body to a different way of moving and expressing power from the way we normally move and express power. But more of that later.

    Now these aforementioned literati brothers found this art (especially its slow, dreamlike preliminary training and conditioning form) beautiful and its developed combative form effective and deeply expressive of something they felt was uniquely Chinese. They wrote about it, and their writings, while not immediately published, were later published, and became more widely known, at a time, near the beginning of the 20th century, when China was undergoing a nationalistic fervour, and looking to re-establish a sense of national cultural identity after a period of European colonialism that had come hot on the heels of an earlier usurpation (as many Han felt) of the empire by a non-Han-Chinese cultural group.

    The reader will probably have guessed by now that the martial art I'm referring to is "Tai Chi (Chuan)", or Taijiquan (Taiji Fist) as its properly called in Pinyin transliteration. The literati brothers were the Wu brothers (co-founders, along with their nephew Li Yiyu, and another chap, Hao Shaoru, of the Wu(Hao) style, the earliest offshoot of the Yang); the young man was Yang Luchan (founder of the Yang style), the village was Chenjiagou, home of the honourable Chen clan, honest farmers who happened to have retained a family martial art that could trace its origins back to the 16th century, when the clan had been transported, en masse, from its original home in Shanxi province. And the writings referred to are the "Tai Chi Classics".

    This art, in Yang Luchan's format, eventually became famous all over China. One curious thing about this fame is that it was the result of that young man, Yang Luchan, being pretty good at the art (indeed one reason he'd been the first outsider, or only second, if you believe another story, to whom the Chens had taught their art, was his exceptional natural talent), and being able, upon his arrival in Beijing, to beat all comers in Leitai (open platform) challenge competitions, the rules of which were "anything goes" (hmm, that sounds familiar :) ), short of deliberately killing or maiming your opponent - although that sometimes did happen accidentally. Yang Luchan's success in open platform challenge, earning him the nickname "The Invincible", rocketed Taijiquan to fame in Beijing and all of China, a fame that even spread to the Imperial palace itself, which led to Yang's getting the cushy and lucrative number of teaching the art to the palace guards, one of whom was a fellow named Wu Jianqan, founder of the third offshoot of Chen style, the Wu (other Wu) style.

    Hmm, a martial art becoming famous for its effectiveness in beating all comers in "anything goes" competition? Where have we heard that before, I wonder? :)

    At least, this is the most coherent origins story that can be gleaned from an examination of historical, literary evidence. There are other origin stories - more romantic stories, which appealed even more to the nationalistic fervour fomenting at the time in China. Wild tales of a mystical Daoist master way back in the mists of time called Zhang Sanfeng. Some of the stories even bypass or pooh-pooh the Chens altogether and wax lyrical about secretive Daoist masters leaving mysterious manuscripts, and secret styles being taught to Yang Luchan by mysterious itenerant masters who were lineage descendants of Zhang Sanfeng. (Incidentally, Zhang Sanfeng existed, but all tradition had known about him before this mythology developed was that he was a wandering Daoist alchemist.)

    These tales of Daoist origin for Taiji were perhaps a conscious parallel, for Taijiquan, to other Chinese martial arts origin stories relating to the famous Shaolin Temple, that were becoming common currency in a literary genre then (late 19th/early 20th century) growing in popularity, called the "Wuxia" novel: stories of wandering knights errant, who had perhaps been given secret Shaolin training, righting wrongs in their travels, using their martial skills to stick it to the man and stand up for the little guy. Zhang Sanfeng was, perhaps, meant as a Taiji-specific Daoist equivalent to the supposed Buddhist originator of many other Chinese martial arts - with the Zhang Sanfeng being the equivalent to the (again, actually existent - but he was the First Patriarch of Zen!) Indian Buddhist sage, Bodhidharma.

    These alternative fanciful origin stories, and the romanticism of the Wuxia novel (which has left traces right down to today in common tropes in big tent summer blockbusers all the time) are all very cool, and great fodder for kung fu movies - and let's face it, probably at one time or another a great source of inspiration to many of us. But there doesn't seem to be much to support them in the historical or literary record; unlike the rather more prosaic tale I've outlined. That doesn't mean that they can't possibly be true - and indeed some family and localized arts may indeed be able to trace something of their origins to Shaolin Temple, and there may be a grain of truth in it for some arts, because Shaolin Temple, which did exist, did have Buddhist monks who practiced martial arts (mainly - again - a weapon form, the long pole). But the hullaballo about it only came in during this period.

    Actually, ironically, Chengjiagou is fairly close to the Shaolin temple in terms of China's vast landscape, and some people have thought to notice some similarities between known Shaolin forms and Chens' Taiji - although that's more likely to exist for other reasons than direct influence.

    But sadly, fun as it is, we must leave the Daoist stuff to the side. And although there are martial arts taught at Wudang, that's probably a relatively recent phenomenon, subsequent to the mythology I'm talking about arising; although that mythology may have roots going back earlier than the origins of Taijiquan itself, and so contemporaneous with perhaps some of the more recondite and rare of the Wudang MA. But really, the woo-woo aspect to TCMA is mostly just legend and mythopoeia, con artistry and roleplaying. Chinese martial arts are as much Daoist as they are Confucian as they are Buddhist - there are influences from all three great religions, especially in the Wude, the rightous and dignified martial morality that most legitimate Chinese martial arts tend to have as a sine qua non prerequisite of practice (in the sense that unless you follow Wude, your traditional teacher won't teach you - e.g. if a young student were caught whoring in town, or bullying the locals, that would be the end of his training - well, maybe not the whoring bit, but almost certainly the bullying bit, unless of course the teacher was a bit of a bully himself, or even a gangster ;) ).

    And that influence from religions does also enter into the apparent explanation of some of the rationale and effectiveness of the skills taught.

    But here's the thing: fundamentally all TCMA are simply body skills, physical skills, mechanics-based, clever-leverage-based, physiology-based, kinesology-based fighting skills. There's nothing mysterious about them in the Woo-woo sense. They are skills learnt through repetition (the famous 100,000 reps); "gongfu" or "kung fu" means "skill learnt through repetition" (any skill, although the term has come to be synonymous with martial skills to some extent).

    But the situation in China being as it was at this time (turn of the 19th/20th century), with this felt cultural need to connect things back to a singularly Chinese root, when it came time to write books or manuals codifying some traditional or family or clan form, teacher-authors of those books tended to try and couch the functional mechanics of the style in terms that would appeal to the literati tradition - to give the arts a kind of intellectual and spiritual gravitas, in this sense of representing something Chinese.

    So you'd get simple mechanical principles, or a knack you learn through training, or a function of the conditioned body, being likened to something like the Tai Chi symbol (which, ironically, in its more famous "two fishes" form is Confucian, a Confucian repurposing of an older Daoist idea - the Chens use a different symbol, more like two interlocking spirals). Or you'd get numerical coincidences, or mere positions on a compass, being analogized to the mystical Eight Trigrams. Stuff like that - LOTS of stuff like that.

    But really, most of these symbols in the literary tradition of the TCMA, if they represent anything at all, represent terms of art, and when they aren't dressed-up terms of art, they refer back to terms and tropes that once had concrete (albeit poetically-couched) meaning back in the day when China ruled its world, and its military were the most highly trained, well-equipped, to be found anywhere. One particularly notable example is the famous, "four ounces overcome a thousand pounds". The first instance of that trope can be traced back a couple of thousand years or so, to a victory poem written by the female winner of an "all comers, anything goes" sword-fighting competition in the China of that time (she'd killed her opponents to win that competition - the emperors could be pretty cruel in those days, and heedless of lost lives, so long as they were entertained). It refers to a simple mechanical principle; deflection, it's just a poetic, formalized way of describing it, and its concrete meaning varies with the way a given art generates and utilizes deflection. (There's a deeper meaning for "internal" MA - for which see below - and that may be the original meaning, if all MA at that time were internal, as is quite possible.)

    But all this woo-woo stuff is prime fodder for (say) a hypothetical young Chinese immigrant to the West, who's learnt a bit of the family kung fu and despairs of working in a restaurant like his kin. Why not take advantage of the gullibility of Westerners? It's not much different from the gullibility of many Chinese after all. But all this mysticism and mythology is even useful for a genuine teacher of high skill - because of its romance, it attracts students, some of whom may turn out to be serious after all.

    And here's where "forms" come in. If you think about it, nobody's going to give away the family jewels that easily. People in the 18th and 19th centuries didn't, when these skills (as weapons skills, remember) still just barely had some function and purpose, when an "edge" of surprise could still make the difference between life and death if you were a working martial atist, such as a merchant caravan guard. And even though that dire necessity isn't prevalent nowadays, it's still a tradition to hide a lot of the good stuff from outsiders - PARTICULARLY WESTERNERS, who the Chinese, for a long time, had no good reason to take a particularly favourable view of.

    So, for someone who's trying to earn a living plying their art, forms are useful. They're actually functional and useful in a general sense, as being neat, self-contained compendia and mnemnonics for all the basic tricks in a martial art, and for conditioning. But they're also useful to give students who aren't terribly serious, but are willing to pay for the privilege of feeling they've got a romantic connection to something wise and ancient, something to work on. Give 'em forms, give 'em forms and more forms, and dole out the actual fighting gingerly, to students who prove themselves serious, who aren't mere fly-by-night, gullible roleplayers. First a bit of structured sparring, then bit-by-bit, the good stuff, the actual fighting.

    And yes, dear brothers and sisters, there is actual fighting in the authentic TCMA, actual contact fighting under pressure, used as training. But the casual student even in China, far less in the West, is unlikely to ever encounter it. Why? Because the vast majority of students of the TCMA aren't willing or serious enough to put in the 100,000 reps of the conditioning stuff that's traditionally required as a foundation for it (remember, this is a hangover from long-past serious military training meant to train you to kill people with weapons, and stay alive). The live fighting is kept for serious, "indoor" students, who are quite highly skilled in the basics. And they don't just devolve to basic kick/punch stuff. They do actually use the skills they've trained for so long in. Serious family members who want to carry on the tradition, or serious non-family members, like Yang Luchan. (Side note: San shou and sanda/san da, derive from mid-20th century attempts to create sportive contexts and rules for the TCMA, something less dangerous than the older forms of Leitai competition, but exciting enough for spectators. There's an amusing irony here in that both of them incorporating Western Boxing. The Chinese martial artists in the early 20th century regarded Western Boxing quite highly, partly because it is in some respects similar to native Xingyi, but mostly because of its directness, simplicity, tricksy quality and light footwork.)

    Now, one might say: but hang on, don't you need fairly large "pool" of people with different styles to draw from? What use would even full contact live training be, if you were just keeping it to a few family members? This is absolutely correct, and it may indeed partly be a reason for the decay of some of these TCMA forms (they became inbred). But not all of them are decayed, and not all of them draw their pool of serious fighting opponents from the close family.

    For example, it's a little-known fact that Chen Xiaowang, the dignified head of the Chen style today, was quite fightey in his youth. Although he'd been trained from yea high in the family art, he apparently didn't take it all that seriously till at some point (IIRC in his late teens) he had an epiphany and started training really hard, to eventually become the family's most accomplished and famous exponent, groomed to be head of the family tradition. But he didn't get that position just from doing forms nicely. Oh no. You see, Chenjiagou being the martially famous place it is in China, every now and then, some exponent of another local style, or even some style from far away across the other end of China, would come to the village to challenge the famous Chen style. And Chen Xiaowang, being chief representative in training, was the boy who was pegged to represent the family in these contests. "Anything goes" contests, that might casually occur in the middle of the dirt road that runs through Chenjiagou, or in one of the local training halls.

    But that's not all. Leitai competitions (with minimal rules), in which exponents of all styles could meet, compare notes and see who was boss, were ubiquitous in China before Communism, and going all the way right back into the dim, distant mists of China's past. In fact, quite apart from Yang Luchan becoming famous becuase he won all his open challenges, a notable member of the Chen clan itself came to Beijing in the 1920s (IIRC) to remind everybody (of something that by this time most of them didn't even know) that Chen style was the original style of Taijiquan. He set up an open platform, beat all comers, and made fast friends with many of Beijing's martial artists on account of his unfailing Wude and kindess and consideration for his opponents (e.g. controlling his power so as to beat, but not to harm). Thus the fame of the Chen style itself spread out of Henan to the rest of China. (Ironic side note: by this time, the confabulated tale of the mystical, mythical origins for Yang's style had set in, and some people even thought Yang's style was the original, and refused to believe the Chen origin story when it was proven by a scholar who had thoroughly researched the matter - some even thought it was just some weird imitation of "real" Taiji!)

    But even through the Cultural Revolution, when many of these arts were outlawed and almost became extinct, people would practice in secret, at great risk to their lives - and they would fight. Competitions were set up in secret, in which exponents of styles met and matched. Even today, in Chenjiagou, kids practice a robust form of push hands that bears little relation to the the kind of push-hands that we see in open competition, either in China generally, or in the West. Kids in Chenjiagou also, as lots of kids in China, generally practice Shouai Jiao, which is the generic wrestling/throwing art of China, from which even Japanese Jiu Jitsu may well be derived - they do it for fun, just the way kids fight everyhwere in the world for fun. The kids who go on to learn Taijiquan as a speciality, perhaps trained by their dads from 4 or 5 years old, in basic conditioning exercises, learn a slightly different form of those skills, which are integrated into Taiji's unique method of power generation. But the Chinese are generally quite fightey folk, they enjoy a good scrap, even the ones who don't become Taiji experts. Even the Muslims in the West have their own styles of sportive combat that young people learn - again, like Taiji, the diachronic analogues of things like Lancashire grappling as was, localized physical civilian fighting skills.

    It's just that they like to keep it to themselves. Again, it's a cultural factor, a hangover of those skills only relatively recently losing their urgent relation to matters of life and death, in the context of which any edge or surprise factor is precious. And while various styles always met in Leitai, it's only relatively recently that the possibility of recording for posterity has arisen. And the traditional attitude is having to adjust to that technological fact.

    Now this is not to say that what's being hidden is some super-duper superpowered punch, or some "technique" that's like a magic IWIN button. Perhaps a bit of an edge relative to something else - but it's all rock/paper/scissors. The surprise factor is relative. Even today we're seeing something of a full circle, with Lyoto Machida using Karate - actually honest-to-goodness Karate, not just some sad generic kick/punch - as part of his arsenal. And the reason it's effective as part of his arsenal is because nobody's seen it for a long time. And anyway, when people saw it in the past, chances are it was just (in a trope) some half-assed "my take on it" form learnt by some coked-out hippy from some ex-soldier, who was enamoured of Japanese culture, and thought he got the goods while stationed in Japan for a couple of years (even though never stopped to think that he was supposedly getting it from a representative of a culture his nation had only recently conquered and shamed). Maybe at best, what we saw was the more serious but ultra-nationalistic - I hesistate to say fascist - format of a style bowdlerized and streamlined to indoctrinate kids with, to get them marching in serried, disciplined ranks, in preparation for them marching in serried, disciplined ranks into the meat grinder of war. Serious training of a sort, but suffering from the lack of live training withal. But Machida is family, his style is his dad's style. One might expect something a bit more authentic from that kind of origin.

    So, were the TCMA (I mean the "external" TCMA, comments re. "internal" to follow) to lean more towards the entertainment/sport side, to stop mulcting the gullible with mystical hogwash (and this might well happen as a result of the growing popularity of MMA in China!), we might well see the beginnings of people trained properly and authentically in those styles, bringing something a bit new and interesting into the mix. Again, no IWIN buttons, but a few cool tricks, and maybe something to potentially give a good fighter a bit of an edge.

    And this may even be the case with regard to the "internal" TCMA. But there's reason to doubt that. Not because there's no there there, but because the there that's there, while genuine, is problematic wrt whether it's easily-incorporatable-enough into MMA.

    Now, a lot of drivel and enough has been written about the internal arts. I'll leave aside the vexed question of "empty force" and all that. There may actually a genuine kernel to that, but if there is, it's not what either its visible Youtube exponents or its Bullshido detractors think. That kernel of truth, if it exist, is a small, subtle thing, a form of misdirection that has very little actual use in combat unless the opponent is also a believer in "etheric qi". It would have absolutely no function in an MMA context, and even at its most genuine, it's a curio, nothing more.

    But that aside, there is something real and genuine, and very functional, about this mysterious thing called "qi" in a physical sense.

    Remember when I said above that teachers who wrote about their art from the 19th/20th century on were wont to dress up terms of art whose concrete references are learnt skills and actual mechanical/leverage/physiological parameters? Qi, the real thing, is like that. It refers to a certain set of (what are from the point of view of Western thinking), distinct mechanical/leverage/physiological/kinesiological principles that function in synchrony, gerrymandered together under a single umbrella term that's derived from the generic ancient Chinese word for "motivating energy" (the sign for which is supposedly antiently derived from a pictograph supposed to represent the pressure of steam pressing up against the lid of a pot of rice). In simple terms, "qi" just means "oomph", the energy that moves stuff, so in a martial context it refers to what's making the body move, and it's also related to pressure in the body; it's just that this essentially physiological (though somewhat recondite) principle was dignified with an ancient Chinese term that has no more scientific relevance than phlogiston.

    Now, in the body, what moves the body is ... muscle. But muscle works against the leverage of bone and ultimately the solidity of the ground.

    But is that all that's relevant to human movement?

    There's another component to the overall structure of the human body, and that is the tough, but somewhat elastic integument that threads all throughout the body, lies under the surface of the skin, and connects the muscles to the skeleton. This is the body's fascia. Western physiology thinks of this as just an inert connective tissue. But Chinese practice suggests that this may actually be an error: the fascia can be conditioned, and can play a part in power generation.

    To open one's mind to the possible relevance of this overlooked, apparently useless stuff we're in large part made of, it perhaps helps to play around a bit with how one thinks of the body as structured. Picture the skeleton as extruding a kind of elastic web out of its own substance. That web is puncutated regularly with "candyfloss bags" of the same substance, covering the body in a a gossamer, beautiful, complex, multi-layered pattern. Those "candyfloss bags" contain an electrical jelly that's stimulated to contract by signals from the brain.

    Because the electrical jelly is held tightly in striations of tiny "cells" in these "candyfloss bags"that are themselves part of the fabric of a holistic webbing that's extruded by the skeleton, that in turn is propped up on the ground, against the pull of gravity, any contraction of that electrical jelly has leverage, has purchase, on the skeleton itself, and is able to either ballistically "throw" part the skeleton (plus whatever's attached to it, including other jelly-filled candyfloss bags), or, by a different sequence of co-ordinations of leveraged contraction, hold it in a position that can be shifted (like changing the shape of a figure made of pipecleaners). In fact, any human movement normally requires a bit of both - it requires some skeleton stabilized against gravity (i.e. held in a shape with a bouncy, semi-rigid but also spring-like property), so that parts of that structure can be sort of ballistically "thrown" from one position to another. This distinction is sometimes made in terms of "stabilizer" or "core" musculature, and "mobilizer" musculature. The muscles that work constantly to hold the frame are comprised of more Type II fibre, which is tireless and constantly at work, and the muscles that work periodically to "throw" a limb, or a sequence of parts of the body, are composed more of Type I fibre, which is powerful in bursts, but tires easily (I might have gotten the Types mixed up there :) one or the other, anyway).

    Now, what "qi" refers to is a functional result of

    a) the conditioning of this fascial web, via postural change, stretching, breathing and manipulation of internal body pressure, to make it more and more pliable and elastic, but also stronger, similarly to the way hide is worked into leather; and

    b) an unusual kind of co-ordination of the musculature that involves re-organization of the total way the body moves, around the natural "lay" of the fascial web itself, which provides a ready-made holistic unity for the body. And just as a spider can sense a fly landing on the other side of its web, so the fascia web provides a sensitive "lighting rod" that pervades the entire body, as well as linking it all up physically. ("Qi" also does double duty in referring to certain subjective feelings you get when you have that conditioning and that control via training. It feels subjectively like a kind of subtle "flow" in the body, that can be directed by the mind - it's quite an unusual, but also pleasurable feeling.)

    It should be noted that for internal arts proper, all roads in the fascial web lead to the Rome of the abdominal region, the dantien, which for the interal martial arts isn't just a tiny spot inside the body below the level of the navel, but rather the whole cross-section of the lower abdominal region, including even to some extent the back, although the back part of it has its own name derived from another acupuncture point, the mingmen. The dantien is a nexus for all the wires that connect to the extremities, and by manipulating the dantien, one pulls on the wires, which shifts the shape of the frame, and in tandem with breathing, which increases pressure, so that the fascial web acts somewhat like a "balloon man" (in Mike Sigman's acute metaphor. Mike Sigman is one of the few people who's spent a good deal of his life trying to figure out the deep, core concepts in all this, and deserves tremendous credit for demystifying and making practical the core principles of this stuff. He has an amazing gift for reverse-engineering.) At first one moves the body only by this fairly weak kind of pull, tug and pressure; eventually, as the fascial web gets conditioned, the qi-driven (fascia-entrained) movement gets stronger, and eventually the entire musculature of the body is "entrained" around an already-extent holistic unity, derived from the fascial web, and power generation trains are built up from the feet on the ground, through the knees, to the inguinal crease, to the hips, to the back and waist, to the chest opening and closing, to the arms opening and closing. Think of a starfish-like figure flexing, opening, closing as one unit.

    That's what the body becomes, a single unit, generating maximum power for minimal effort, and delivering it through clever alignment of the skeleton (for up and out forces), alternating with dropping of the entire bodyweight onto any downward-facing point of contact (for down and inward forces). (Again, this analysis is just my paraphrasing, my understanding of some central themes of Mr Sigman's analysis. The picture is more complex along several dimensions - one major one is that there's also something called "jin" or "jing" involved, and that's a reference to how vector lines of force, which transmit the solidity of the ground through - and even jumping across bits of - the body's frame, out to the point of contact, are manipulated by manipulating the body in this unusual way. The famous saying of the Six Internal an External Harmonies is related to this. It's a virtue of this analysis that many formerly mysterious-sounding sayings in internal MA lore usually have a clear simple sense in terms of this kind of reality-based analysis. For example, the "qi of Heaven and Earth" relates to the union of the aforementioned upward and downward forces, as controlled by the dantien - the qi of Earth being gravity, which is taken advantage of by holistically dropping the entire body's weight on a point of contact, that being achieved by the physical unity of the fascial web; and the qi of Heaven being the "rising", expansive, outward-going force, again made possible by the body's functional unity in this mode of movement. There are several other interrelated aspects to all this, some of which I'm not experienced enough to understand myself yet, but I've said enough to provide food for thought, I think.)

    One thing I have to add here: no matter what they say, if someone who professes to be doing internal arts is not utterly relaxed, almost soft as a baby to the touch, they're not doing internal martial arts. Relaxation is an absolute prerequisite to even begin to be able to feel the subtle controls, the subjective feelings, that give one a handle on the manipulation of the web (or the "ballon man" that one is). Again, an apparently meaningless traditional phrase (actually traditional beginning with the Wu brothers' literati production I mentioned above) "needle in cotton" turns out to have a perfectly straightforward meaning: it represents the emergence of sudden spikes of high impulse out of this soft felt background (e.g. the windup-less short strikes I mentioned as characteristic of internal MA). The often-mentioned "unusual feel" of internal MA is related to this - it can be disconcerting to be facing something that's almost invisible to the touch, yet has these sudden spikes of almost inexorable-feeling impulse coming out of it. The slightly scary hardness is actually the solidity of the ground felt through a properly-aligned frame.

    None of this even touches how any of this might be used in combat, and out of respect to these arts, I won't go too much into that (and I don't know that much anyway), except to say that the same sense of unity that one's own body develops, can be extended to include an opponent - i.e. one is supposed to be able to feel an arc of physical connection from the ground at one's feet to the ground at the opponents feet, and thereby feel the opponent's body's internal alignments, so that the couple self/opponent is felt as a single unit, which can be manipulated from one's own dantien - e.g. the opponent may be unbalanced through a "gate" with just the tiniest shift of one's own dantien. This is a somewhat deeper meaning of "four ounces overcome 1000 lbs" than the one given above, specifically pertaining to internal arts, and specifically Taijiquan in this context. This kind of sensitivity is what's supposed to be trained by push hands in Taijiquan. One starts simply with set patterns, moves onto complex set patterns, then free form, then eventually full-on sparring. As one progresses, more and more strikes, body checks, elbow strikes, kicks, throws, locks (which are actually whole-body locks, not just "joint locks" - some of these kinds of moves might be modified as submission moves) etc., are incorporated. What I've said in the paragraphs above re. a) and b) is mostly all just about creating the right body to be able to do these arts properly, and a rough sense of the mechanics involved. All I'm trying to do here is to present a plausible case that there's something real going on that has a reality-based explanation, and has nothing to do with the woo.

    As one might imagine, both a) and b) take a bit of time to get. Because getting them to the extent of having a rough idea isn't enough. It all has to be instinctive. As instinctively as one now feels the "locus of control" of lifting one's arm to be somewhere in the shoulder region, one has to retrain one's entire body so that the "locus of control" for the (externally) apparently identical movement, now driven according to internal principles, is felt in the dantien.

    And that's what the slow forms of Taijiquan (and the analogous types of training in all the other "internal" arts) are for. Over a period of time of regular daily practice, both the conditioning and the new co-ordination gradually emerge. A new way of moving the body is learnt, becomes instinctive, and eventually the student progresses through to combat training as above.

    And the difference of this way of moving the body from the way we've grown accustomed to moving our body from birth (as per the above comment re. "locus of control" being in the shoulder in that example), even on up throught the most complex kinds of physical training (MA, dance, etc.), cannot be emphasized enough. I can guarantee 100% that without the requisite training, you will NEVER felt have anything like this way of controlling your body before in your entire life, EVER, and if you think you have, you are fooling yourself, ginnying up some result out of your imagination, to satisfy your vanity. You can have NO IDEA what's being referred to by "qi" until you've at least gotten a bit of a foot in the door with this through the right kind of relaxed training from a teacher who has these body skills, and more importantly, you have no means of utilizing it in any martial sense, until you've spent a good few years concentrating exclusively on internalizing and making instinctive this new way of moving the body. It's only then that the techniques of arts like Taijiquan, Xingyi or Bagua, have real power. And actually, to some extent, they all make sense once the body foundation is there, the variations in style are relatively easily grasped in terms of their combat rationales, and actually relatively unimportant, IOW training is "plain sailing" after that point, not too dissimilar to, or unusually different from learning combat skills in the normal way. Also, learning a new form in another art becomes trivial if you've got a firm grasp of the principles and internalized/automatized them.

    But without this conditioning and this way of moving, the martial techniques are precisely what they look like to the average MMA-ist - weird, half-arsed versions of stuff all the other arts around the world use. Everything that seems counter-intuitive to a skilled MMA-ist - e.g. say, an emphasis on "rolling" the foot onto the ground from heel to toe, as opposed to the obviously more sensible way of moving bouncily on the balls of the feet in Boxing - none of that makes the slightest bit of sense until this new way of moving has been internalized, and the requisite conditioning acquired. But once it has been internalized, it all clicks.

    Which is why none of this, genuine and interesting as it is, is likely going to be of much use to working MMA-ists any time soon. It might be useful to hobbyists who are fascinated by the problem and have the leisure to work on it (and indeed this is already happening a bit here and there, as people discover the reality of this stuff by meeting people who have begun to understand it, and have some skill in it), but in order for it to be useful to a professional MMA-ist, they would have to entirely ditch everything they've learnt, start completely from scratch, learn the new way of moving, internalize it, then re-learn all technique with this new way of moving, then internalize that, and only then could they start to use it effectively in a live context.

    Obviously the game isn't worth the candle. Not yet. There's actually more probability of it happening the other way round - e.g. there may be some young kid in China right now, who's been trained by his dad from 4 years of age in the internal way of movement and power delivery, who has the relevant conditioning, and has some degree of skill with technique in that manner, who falls in love with MMA, thinks it's cool, conceives a desire to compete at a professional level, and starts to modify commonly-used MMA techniques (which after all intrinsically obey the rules of the sport) into his skillset, and combines them with some of the stuff from his home art.

    But I think that's the only way it might happen, at least for the complete a) and b) together. The hypothetical kid's dad who taught him sure as hell isn't going to be interested - he's too old, and anyway, he's still in the traditional Chinese mindset of not giving too much away, especially in a context where it's filmed and can be analyzed. (And after all, look what happened to the Gracies - what edge do they have nowadays, compared to the edge they had in the first UFCs? They've "given it all away". Well, they probably haven't given absolutely everything away - in fact I wouldn't be surprised if they retain a bit of the a) stuff through breathing practices via the Japanese connection - but you get the picture :) )

    But his son might get into it - his son might have a different, more scientific mindset, in which we progress by sharing and triangulation, to the benefit of all.

    And what, at the end of the day, would be the difference? Not all that much actually. An internal strike is hard, and feels disconcertingly weird, but a Boxer hits fucking hard too. At the end of the day, all that's bought at the cost of all that training is just a bit of a surprise and a bit of a shock that might give a slight edge. That might have made all the difference in a life or death context for a halberd-weilding caravan bodyguard in the 18th century, and might have been worth training the extra few years it takes to learn an internal art versus an external art. But people have got homes to go to, and nowadays when you can be functionally effective to an extraordinary degree without any internal re-conditioning, there's little percentage in it. Maybe just for that kid somewhere in China right now, who already has the conditioning and internal skill :)

    I should add that all the genuine external TCMA (and to some extent the JTMA too) also use some element of "qi" - i.e. they all require some of the a) aspect, the conditioning. But the more they require of the b) aspect, the re-co-ordination, and the more the dantien is understood as the locus of control of the whole bodily system, the more internal they are. The conditioning aspect is what leads to all that stuff about breaking things on the body ("iron shirt"), breaking a spear against the soft spot between the clavicles, driving trucks over the body, etc., etc. Those are all genuine skills that take time to develop, and they're all the result of conditioning the fascia, working on it, working on it, with stretching and pressure from breathing exercises, till it becomes tougher than normal, yet also more pliable. IOW, with a lot of those things, it is literally the case that the fascia under the skin has thickened somewhat, that the fascia inside the body are also thickened and toughened.

    It might be possible to incorporate some elements of a) into MMA more easily and with more profit. That may actually be how the external arts in China came about - looking for a "fast track" to get some of the benefits of qi functionality, without taking the time necessary to learn the entire whole-body re-co-ordination from the dantien. Benefits would be similar to "iron shirt" benefits - a degree of extra toughness, flexibility, etc.

    (Final side note: Yoga itself ought to be a variation of this kind of training, as all Chinese Qigong proper, stuff like "iron shirt" is just qigong devoted to a specifically martial function. But genuine Yoga teaching is probably about as rare in India and the West as genuine TCMA training is in China and the West. At this point it's probably worth mentioning that the "spiritual" aspect of the MA is also real and viable, and related thusly: turning your body into a qi body via qigong, Yoga, etc., so that the way you move is dantient-and-qi controlled normally, in everyday life, is part of the traditional Dao, Do, Way, it's the physical analogue of the calm mind structured by moral virtue, and the two in tandem, mind and body thus clarified, may induce both health, and a sense of unity with the world. But this isn't some fey hippy thing you can waft into, it requires concentrated physical effort, somewhat short of the physical effort required to get the full-blown martial skills - and this is what's meant by Taijiquan being practiced "for health" - but still considerable.)

    However, a more likely scenario is that ancient Chinese martial arts (and maybe even all martial arts throughout the world) originally had the full enchilada, but there's been a rate of decay as people have looked for shortcuts, and insensibly lost the real deal through the disruptions of war, social change and dislocation, etc., etc., and maybe even factors like too much complacency on the part of a teacher about getting a proper successor for his art, so the art dying out.

    tl;dr We are in a transitionary period. TCMAs/TJMAs haven't shown all their cards yet, as they've had no incentive to, and it goes against the traditional grain to do so. But even if they did, as fascinating is all this stuff intrinsically is, it's difficult to see what value these skills would have in a professional MMA context, except for someone who had trained in these skills from an early age, who is also as extraordinarly gifted athlete as MMA-ists generally are, who then brings them to the MMA context and wants to compete in that context. And since the real thing is already incredibly rare, there may well be a statistically good chance that this never happens. Remember where we came in - all these kinds of skills are in the process of decay and transmutation into sport/entertainment, as a result of the rise of the gun. Although, by historical accident, antiquarian interest is now keeping them alive - more alive than indigenous Western MA were ever kept in their analogous historical context - that might not be enough.

    But one lives in hope! :)

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