Posted On:7/18/2008 5:53am
INTERVIEW WITH ZHAO DAOXIN
Recorded by Huang Jitao
Translated from chinese by Andrzej Kalisz
Old kung fu fighter tells us how it REALLY was, and how, in his opinion, it really has to be, for Chinese martilal arts.
Zhao Enqing originally was disciple of Zhang Zhankui (Zhang Zhaodong). Later he learned from the founder of yiquan – Wang Xiangzhai and became one of his best students, receiving from Wang a honorary name Daoxin.
The original interview was made by Huang Jitao in 4 sessions over 4 days and is quite long. Here is only a translation of small part.
So also traditional wushu is not efficient in fighting?
People from traditional styles say that the modern wushu from national institutes is just „flowery forms”. But it still doesn't mean that themselves they possess „true gongfu”. The wushu from institutes neglects fighting side, while traditional wushu is talking about fighting. But it doesn't mean that it really got it... Contemporary traditional wushu, just like the wushu from institutes is mainly about training forms. Moreover there is a lot of symbolic or ritual gestures, with no relation to fighting. Looking from point of view of training – they still use old methods of low efficiency. In theory they should help to develop practical skills, but in fact are more like kind of praying, method of developing patience, and just a lot of useless efort. I don't know how many dozens of thousands of people practice traditional wushu in China. But I also don't know about any of them, who could prove their abilities in fighting on international stage.
But in times when foreign fighting experts and strong men kept coming to China, Chinese masters of that generation defeated them many times...
If there are so many examples of Chinese master defeating foreigners, why we can only hear about it from our side, and they don't mention this? Maybe they don't want to talk about being defeated. But on the other side how many Chinese were defeated, but we didn't talk about it, because it would be humiliating. Anyway we don't know what were the proportions between victories and defeats. And if Wu Song had fought not a tiger, but just a cat, there wouldn't be reason to praise him for centuries. And what kind of opponents were those foreigners, who were defeated by our masters? My teacher (Zhang Zhankui) met Russian „strong man”, I met Danish „boxer”. Other friends had similiar situations. But our opponents were defeated after just one action, there was no real fight. But this was only because traditional Chinese wushu didn't meet real tigers. In those times you could easily became famous because of „defeating” some foreigner, but it was only because they were not any real experts.
More challenging was fighting with other Chinese at that time. No foreigners signed up for the leitai tournaments in Hangzhou or Shanghai. And the people from traditional styles, no matter if they were some monks or great masters famous in some place, they either became injured in fights or were not brave enough to fight. And the winners, although they signed up as representatives of some traditional systems, instead of forms and other methods of those systems, they were using completely different methods preparing for fighting.
Could you tell us your opinion and views about chinese martial arts?
There is not much time. So I will only outline some issues. This will not be very systematic disscussion. And because people all the time talk a lot about advantages, I will say rather about problems.
First tell us, what you think about the internal and external division, and division based on territory.
If we want Chinese martial arts develop, we must reject such divisions. It doesn't mean that there is no meaning in them at all. But they only partially describe way of demonstration, and they don't really say anything about way of fighting. Divisions in martial art should be based on effect in fighting, and not the way of practice, and they should not be effect of swindle. They should express human body and developing technique, and not sect-like customs nourished for hundreds and thousands years. The division for Shaolin, Wudang, Emei and Zhongnan arts is only expressing fact, that communication was difficult in old times. But it is past. And the internal-external division was made up by literatti fascinated by the style which they practiced, so they started calling it internal family art – skillfull writers created flowery descriptions. But in fact nobody would talk about himself being representative of external family art. In fact, in real fighting there are no styles.
But the internal-external division is at least representing the real division for soft and hard.
This division is even more muddled. Some just use it to criticize other schools. But when they talk about their own school, they stress that „soft and hard supplement each other”, that „internal and external are trained together”. They maintain that it's only them who keep right balance between soft nad hard, while others tend to much toward softness or hardness.
But the concepts of internal-external, soft-hard, at least led to developing sophisticated theories of internal training – concept „from yi to qi to jin”.
„Yi, qi, li”, „jing, qi, shen” - those concepts related to internal training are hard to express with normal language. We could say that it is about using self-suggestion to induce feeling of comfort and strength. There are new concepts, at least evenly useful, and even more efficient in practical use.
What are the shortcomings of Chinese martial arts if we are talking about way of fighting?
There is a lot of shortcomings and taboos. Apart from those which are common for all Chinese martial arts, there are other, specific for some school. For example everybody fears that his style will resemble some other, so they try hard to make it look different. If you tell some person doing baguazhang, that his movements resemble taijiquan, he will hardly accept such opinion. If you tell some xingyiquan practitioner that you notice some similarities to western boxing he will feel bad about it. But actually the differences between styles are more in ritual gestures than in the way of figthing. But those gestures are usefull only for demonstration or meeting, in fight they are useless and stupid.
There is also taboo of falling down. In challenges there was an unwritten rule, that touching ground with part of body different than feet meant defeat. So in the south they stress „ma”, and in the north „zhuang”. In many styles long, low postures and centered torso are stressed. But what is real value of those stable techniques? The principle „when leg is raised, half body is empty” results in loosing opportunity of efficient kicks and hitting with knee. And the force which can be generated from non-balance is not used conciously yet. Constant talking about „not loosing center” disturbs developing agile body work and fast footwork. What is rejected in Chinese martial arts, is exactly what is most valuable on the international martial arts stage. Traditional Chinese martial arts are old men arts. Old is seen as equal to saint, authority, deep knowledge. But for old man it's hard to raise leg for kick, and each falling down can be dangerous. So this hidden weakness of old master, in teaching process becomes taboo of „not loosing balance”. But fighting is not limited to shuaijiao competitions. In many cases loosing balance or even falling down is not big price for getting opportunity of executing efficient action.
Let's now talk about training methods.
Our martial arts teachers like to seek for differences in techniques and to hide „secrets” in techniques. But in fact, where can be real differences, and where could be secrets is training methods. Combat efficiency is decided by way of training. And methods of traditional training have low efficiency. You need a lot of time, and even after long time you are not sure if you will be able to use your skills in fighting. Training is a complex science – on border of many disciplines. Just repeating some exercises for dozens of years is not enough. I will not talk much, I will only mention several discrepancies.
First there is discrepancy between training and use. No matter which style, the problem is lack of actual fighting training. In which traditional school most time is spend on fighting training? Traditional teachers make two funny mistakes. First – they say that fighting training can only be the last part of training process, that only when you have gongli, you can start testing it in fight. Second – they think that when you become proficient in tui shou and other exercises with partner which resemble fighting, it means that you developed fighting skill. Of course it is difficult to introduce hard fighting during training. Martial arts hobbysts don't want to go to work next day with swollen face, and bruised legs. But if you want to achieve high level in martial art, you must make it. From the beginning you should train like you will fight.
Next is discrepancy between fatigue and intensity of training. Traditional teachers talk about practicing many hours a day. This is long time training but with low intensity. Muscles and nervous system are not activated in a way which is necessary for fighting. Those teacher hate using modern training equipment, and will not ask other person to train together. They prefer to hide in dark place, keep repeating some movements and pondering over theory.
Then there is also discrepancy between theory and practice, between technique and physical attributes, between what is practiced in public and behind closed door. These are only some examples.
We were talking about Chinese martial arts in general. Would you care to talk about specific styles?
Let's start from xingyiquan and baguazhang...
...first xingyiquan. In 1920s and 1930s there were many representatives of xingyiquan among winners of leitai tournaments. But today „power” of xingyiquan decreased. The reason is that apart from problems common for all chinese martial arts, this one which stresses harmony-unity has many aspects where there is lack of such harmony.
For example there is lack of harmony between technique and force. In xingyiquan hitting technique is powered by pushing force. Fists or palms mainly push opponent, in small part causing damage. But it also doesn't allow pushing opponent far away in pushing hands. Actually, it seems as if xingyiquan people have not decided whether their technique is for san shou or for tui shou.
And lack of harmony between form and intention. All are talking about form and intention both being important, but actually they are close to one of the extremes... There is also lack of harmony between fighting methods and exercises.
People like comparing xingyiquan to western boxing. But they also fear this comparing. They think that Chinese „thing” should be pure. So when there is even coincidencal similarity, they prefer to get rid of it. But I think, that as for training methods and competition, xingyiquan should learn from boxing.
Was creation of xingyibagua a result of trying to fill shortcomings of xingyiquan by using baguazhang?
Mutual supplementing started from friendly contacts between Dong Haichuang and Guo Yunshen and between their students. Then Zhan Zhankui linked them together into one system. But shortcomings of xingyi cannot be filled by using bagua. Bagua also has a lot of shortcomings, and they cannot be filled by using xingyi. Baguazhang has a thick outside layers through which it is difficult to see anything. If you look from outside, there is only impression of complexness and mystery. Big part of first layer are legends about Dong Haichuan and his students. Second layer is the unnecessary and forced use of the theory of eight trigrams. Baguazhang teachers always talked about „Book of changes”, but nobody could explain at least one necessary link between this martial art and that classic book. Third layer is not distinguishing between basic exercises and fighting. Even teachers think „how to use this change”, „how to move around opponent with tangnibu steps”, „how to move behind opponent and attack his back” - that's just illusory thoughts. And beyond the third layer – practitioners expand their arms and move around, like people starting to learn skating, and sometimes they make some change into extremely twisted position. So this is mix of legends, old saint books and strange techniques.
Taijiquan is attracting a lot of people, because of theory and health benefits. But many people doubt that such soft and slow method could work against explosive power...
Layman has not developed prejudice, so his first impression can be quite right. Taijiquan has its own form of comparing skill – tui shou. Why not be happy with just this? Not every martial art must be good for real figthing. I remember as in period of Republic of China taijiquan experts explained that the reason for no taijiquan people being able to prove their fighting skill at leitai tournaments is because taijiquan is too profund and it's difficult to master it. Was this some kind of excuse or sincere statement? Taijiquan theory looks great and could be a model for other classical theories of martial art. The main idea is relation between yin and yang. You want to be hard? So start from being as soft as possible, because ultimate softness changes into hardness. You want to be fast? Then start from slowness. This philosophy, that after achieving extreme some attribute changes into its opposite is attracting many people. But did anyone test it? No, if you see what those taijiquan masters, who can demonstrate issuing power are practicing in secret, you will understand what I'm talking about.
So you say that those young people who want to develop fighting skills are in some part misled by taijiquan concepts. If so, then maybe Shaolin is more sincere? They stress hard, fast, fierce, using both hands and legs. People think that Shaolin monks are the last kings of real fighting.
Ming dynasty generals went to Shaolin temple, having such opinion, and they became disappointed. Today many young people leave school and go to Shaolin. With the same effect – their faith in Shaolin becomes ashes. They come with thought of developing incredible fighting skill, not available for normal people. But in fact they just learn some acrobatics tricks. Training methods which they learn are outdated and not useful for developing real fighting skills. Breaking stones, standing upside-down on fingers, taking hits, when you make such demonstrations, with addition of some tricks typical for illusionists – public will be delighted. Ma Liang's new wushu (Ma Liang published book „New Chinese wushu” in 1918) and modern wushu, despised even by representatives of traditional systems, are based on Shaolin. And I remember as in 1920s and 1930s those „last kings of real fighting” kept loosing at leitai tournaments and were going away like rats, one after another.
And what you think about southern systems.
When we look at southern styles, we can see that they have their own, quite different character. But I cannot say much, as I didn't study them. But from what I saw at the tournaments at end of 1920s „southern wind is not making you freeze”.
King of the Impossible
Posted On:8/01/2008 8:40pm
Pretty cool interview. I agree with a lot of the points he made, especially those about offending someone by saying their art looks like something else. God forbid you say Judo/BJJ/Sambo looks like BJJ/Sambo/Judo.
pro nonsense self defense
Posted On:8/01/2008 11:54pm
Style: FMA, dumbek, Indian clubs
That was pretty cool. Like a few kung fu old timers I've met, though, I'd like to hear more about what ARE good training methods and techniques, rather than what isn't.
Posted On:8/02/2008 12:15am
Originally Posted by CodosDePiedra
That was pretty cool. Like a few kung fu old timers I've met, though, I'd like to hear more about what ARE good training methods and techniques, rather than what isn't.
Sanda I'm guessing.
Posted On:8/02/2008 12:22am
While san da is good fight training, I'm sure there was different training gear in his day (I'm not sure if they had headgear, boxing gloves, mouthpieces, shin guards, etc).
Posted On:8/02/2008 9:27am
Zhao was fighting mainly before the second world war, so I don't know about gum shields and what not - he wasn't from the modern san da era - he was already old when that was starting.
It's a much bigger interview, but most of itis still in Chinese. He says a lot of interesting things, like, they ask him if he hates Chinese martial arts, and he says no, actually, he loves Chinese martial arts, but when something is ill, you try and cure it. And he talks a lot about how Chinese people like to think their martial arts stand above all the world when in reality, on the world stage, the opposite is true.
He also says that because time is short, although there are good things in CMA, it's more effective to look at what's wrong and work from there. He recommends tons of fighting practice, and modern training methods that other fighters are using. He also says that money and sponsorship are vital for Chinese fighters to become world-stage capable, because it's only when there's decent money or sponsorship involved that most people can afford to be full time athletes training for world class competition.
He was a cool guy by all accounts - spent time in prison during the Cultural revolution because he was a nationalist with Sun Yat Sen's party -so he'd been through the mill.
Posted On:8/02/2008 9:28am
Find more here if you're interested:
Putting the "ow" back in "flowery technique"
Posted On:8/02/2008 5:19pm
Style: CMA, MT
I had a feeling that any "Russian strongman" who had to travel to early 20th century China to demonstrate amazing skill probably wouldn't be the best of the best.
Posted On:8/03/2008 7:48am
Style: Arnis, BJJ, Judo (noob)
i liked that inteview made some real good points about CMA's.
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