(Chinese martial arts) … are in a chaotic state, thus the people cannot know what course to take. Summed up, they have abandoned the quintessence and kept only the scum, nothing more. Although the martial arts of Japan and the boxing of Western Europe are one-sided, they all have their original points. In comparison to an ordinary boxer of our nation, they are countless miles ahead. The people should be very ashamed of this.
Criticism of Chinese martial arts is nothing new. I’d actually say it has become even more prevalent in recent years. Usually, the most common response to these criticisms is to state that the critic has never seen “real” Chinese martial arts. If the critic were to meet a “real master” and experience their skills, they’d realize just how wrong they are! However, the above quote comes from none other than Wang Xiangzhai (王薌齋)
Wang Xiangzhai (王薌齋) was a Chinese xingyiquan master, responsible for founding the martial art of Yiquan. He he went all around China, studying martial arts with many famous masters including monk Heng Lin, Xinyiquan master Xie Tiefu, southern white crane style masters Fang Yizhuang and Jin Shaofeng, Liuhebafa master Wu Yi Hui, etc. He was also quite famous as a fighter and actually claimed “I have traveled across the country in research, engaging over a thousand people in martial combat, there have been only 2 people I could not defeat”.
According to our research during the past few years, many techniques in the traditional systems are not practical. It is important not to be preoccupied with arguments of traditional versus modern techniques. It is also not a good idea to ‘protect’ traditional systems by tailoring the rules to exclude, for example, foreign styles.
Another “ignorant critic”? Another “mixed martial arts muscle head” perhaps? This quote is from Professor Xia Bai-hua, who was president of the Chinese Wushu Association at the time. Professor Xia was also head of the Technical Institute in Beijing, and was sanshou chief referee at the 1993 Second world Wushu Championship in Malaysia.
In recent years, the central government has begun to promote traditional martial arts, and every province has established martial arts training halls. Besides Chinese wrestling, the most popular arts are the Shaolin and Wudang styles of kung fu, both of which have methods of solo practice. Yet the practical applications of these arts is a subject that is never breached. Those who have practiced these arts twenty or thirty years have never defeated anyone who has practiced Western boxing or judo. Why is this? It is because the practitioners of Shaolin and Wudang styles only pay attention to the beauty of their forms — they lack practical methods and spirit and have lost the true transmissions of their ancestors.
By now, I suspect you realize that these quotes are NOT from those who are “ignorant” or lack exposure to real Chinese martial arts. This third quote is from Liu Jinsheng, the author of the 1935 “Chin Na Fa” manual. If you have been very observant, you might also have noticed that all three quotes compared Chinese martial arts to “foreign methods” such as Japanese Judo and western boxing. Despite the fact these foreign methods are supposed to be “primitive”, less effective and beneath the “developed” Chinese martial arts, these concerns seemed rather important to these three men. Were these three masters less informed than the “internet expert” such as the one below?
I suppose for some, ignorance is bliss. Much better to isolate yourself from the rest of the world and pretend that doing your method makes you “special” and better than the whole rest of the world. Certainly, you wouldn’t want to know that Wang Xiangzhai said;
Combat science cannot be divided into schools, and the boxing theory does not have the distinction of Chinese or foreign, and new or old.
But mostly, I confess, I just put that up that facebook quote just for fun. Returning to Liu Jinsheng’s quote, note how he criticizes the misapplication forms and the absence of other practical training methods. In a recent blog, “practical approaches to Chinese martial arts training” I outlined the traditional training curriculum for Chinese martial arts and noted that forms training is only a part, perhaps even a small part, of a proper training program. But compared to Wang Xiangzhai, I almost feel as if I am an apologist;
Studying boxing routines, forms of movements, fixed techniques, and training hits and beats, all fall into the category of superficial, and although the boxing routines and forms of movements have been popular already for a long time, they are, indeed, extremely harmful to the people…. At large, the numerous schools of our society, generally take the approach of forms and techniques to learn boxing. One must know that this kind practice is just forgery conducted by the later generations, it is not the original essence of combat science.
Shihfu Wang didn’t feel the need to mince his words apparently. Perhaps this was because anyone who has spent time in the Chinese martial arts community becomes aware of the dangers of believing in secrets, training only in forms and avoiding the hard work (sweat, and blood) of application drills and training. Perhaps because something (I am not sure what) makes Chinese martial arts prone to these deficiencies, more so than the “foreign methods”. In 1928, Zhao Daoxin was only 20 years old and at the beginning of his martial arts career, yet managed to achieve 13th place in the Lei Tai tournament. Zhao was a disciple of Zhang Zhaodong, and would become famous in Tianjin’s martial arts community. Of the Lei Tai tournament, Zhao noted;
“Those ‘orthodox inheritors’ of traditional martial arts, regardless of whether they were lofty monks or local grandmasters, were either knocked out or scared out of the competition”
Liu Jinsheng establishes in his comments just how pervasive and long standing these issues were in teh Chinese martial arts community;
In the Ming dynasty, men such as Qi Jiguang and Yu Dayou advocated this type of realistic practice and opposed any empty practice done for the sake of appearance. This is why these men have proud reputations in history.
General Qi Jiguang (1528-1587) was the author of two books, “New Book of Effective Discipline” (1561) and “Actual Record of Training” (1571). While the modern martial arts student probably has never heard of General Qi or either of these books, they are pretty important because they reveal that even well before Qi’s time, the martial arts practiced in the villages as part of militia training had gradually evolved into a form of recreation as well, and had become characterized by the “flowery” movements.
“practical is not pretty, pretty is not practical”
Clearly, there are tendencies within Chinese martial arts that lead to inordinate concentration on forms practice and the loss of practical training. Clearly, those who warn against this are not “ignorant” nor failed to have seen the “real stuff”. Quite the contrary, some of the most esteemed men in the Wu Lin saw the dangers. Now ponder that for a bit :)