What’s old is new again!

10 May

“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“.

This quote is from Professor Xia Bai-hua, who when I met him about 20 years ago was then president of the Chinese Wushu (Martial Arts) Association. Professor Xia had done a lot to introduce and grow Sanshou (fighting) programs in China, beginning with the Beijing Physical Culture Institute.

Professor Xia was a very down to earth man, he talked about guys slugging each other and struggling and wrestling and trying to beat the crap out of each other in the “old days.” He talked about sweat, and injuries and lots of blood and admitted that for political as well as practical reasons why in modern China the fighting had to be a little more cleaner, safer and presentable. Like many men of his generation, who had practical skills and had fought, he saw the Sanshou format with gloves and rules as a reasonable way to keep fighting in the Chinese martial arts alive in the modern world.

You probably already noted that in one small quote Professor Xia addressed (1) the fact that many techniques being taught as “traditional” do not work, (2) that when it comes to fighting no one should be concerned with “traditional versus modern” and finally (3) that the Chinese martial art world should stop living in it’s little box, creating events that exclude “foreign” martial arts.

In a single quote, in a small paragraph, Professor Xia touched upon HUGE issues in the Chinese martial arts community.

These issues seem to have a long history in the Chinese martial arts. I previously cited this comment from Liu Jinsheng, the author of the 1935 “Chin Na Fa” manual (as translated by Tim Cartmell).

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.

Liu continues;

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.

Yes, the term “flowery” appears to date back almost 500 years! Qi condemned these “flowery” martial arts as undisciplined and inappropriate for military use in combat and emphasized that “…in training troops, the pretty is not practical and the practical is not pretty…”

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Also note that General Qi’s training regimen included:
1) Maintaining an overall strong fighting constitution.
2) Strong hands and arms through training with heaver normal weapons.
3) Strong feet and legs through running over 600 yards using ankle weights (bags of sand).
4) Overall bodily strength and endurance by training while weighted down with
heavier than normal armor.
and finally
5) Sparring!

It’s a shame most students today have no idea about this stuff


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