Few people would characterize me as an “optimist” but I have indeed been pleasantly surprised by trends I have seen in recent years. For a while, it had seemed to me that authentic Chinese martial arts were on the verge of extinction, to be replaced by “fantasy fu”, Chi blasts, the Shaolin and Wu Dang circuses and forms fairies. However, a few “old timers” have hung on through all the nonsense and I see a few new comers who are interested in the real deal. This blog is going to make some observations, makes some suggestions and suggest some resources.
When you have a few quiet minutes to yourself (40 to be exact), sit down and watch the above video. The Taiwanese “Tang Shou Tao” organization was a very early influence on me. I never trained directly in it, but it attracted my attention because it did two essential things in my estimation. First, it produced effective fighters, and practical skills was always what I was interested in. Second, it seemed that a part of that success was the fact that its teachings were SO WELL ORGANIZED. Tang Shou Tao is not a “system” unto itself, it is a methodical approach to training the arts of Tai Chi, Hsing Yi and Bagua. While I was training, I saw a lot of good Chinese martial art, but I certainly did not see a lot of methodical organization. To this day, I feel that Tang Shou Tao’s organization was a model more teachers should have taken notice of.
One of the things influencing this blog was seeing Shihfu Mike Patterson, a product of the Tang Shou Tao organization, show up on facebook and start a wonderful group to cut through the nonsense and discuss REAL training. Be advised, the group is not your typical internet free-for-all, it is moderated and tight on topic, but you should still check it out at https://www.facebook.com/groups/HsingIMartialArtsInstitute/
I’ve stated this many times, the Chinese martial arts community I began training in and which I developed within was still very much connected with real fighting. This is not a “lost time”. Many of its participants, such as New York based teacher Frank Allen of http://www.wutangpca.com/ shown fighting above, are still teaching! And they, like myself, have been fighting the good fight against the lies, fairy tales and nonsense that slowly crept into the Chinese martial arts community. If we want a true revival, if we want to see our beloved arts restored, a major part of the movement must be dismissing the false and re-establishing the truth about Chinese martial arts. We must, as I have stressed time and time again, train with truth.
There is a sad truth we must confront; my generation was probably the last generation of crazy people who were willing to drop their lives to train. I count among my friends many “kung fu bums” who did pretty much nothing but follow their teachers around and train. And THAT was the only way you could learn the vast body of material known as Chinese martial arts. Real Chines martial arts is technically diverse; it covers kicking, striking, wrestling and join locking. It covers both fighting art and healing and health methods. Its body methods not only prepare for combat, but can also heal and invigorate. There is “external” and the “internal”, and then the realization that they are both paths that end up in the same place. But this massive body of knowledge, also poorly organized for the most part, could only be acquired though nothing short of total dedication, and who does that anymore?
I maintain that the best way to revive Chinese martial arts is to understand and accept these limitations. We have to realize and accept that today’s student has less time. So we must be more efficient and organized in how we train them. We also have literally no time to waste on some of the nonsense that has become attached to the Chinese martial arts. We can only afford truth, pure truth, at this point. Not necessarily even “just for fighting”, but for every reason people pursue Chinese martial arts. We must separate the wheat from the chafe and offer our students only the “real stuff”. Even if you are just seeking health, there are no “magic bullets” and no short cuts. In the past, those who found the health benefits of Chinese martial arts found them because the training was very hard, it was excellent exercise; i.e. people worked hard, there was much conditioning and sweat. We need to once and for all bury the myths of “no muscle” and “no hard work”.
There is also no time for our infamous “secrecy fetish”. We need to make the real material available to EVERYONE. Certainly the internet has made this easier. I invite you all to join my facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/practicalkungfu/, though be aware that, like Shihfu Patterson’s, it is highly moderated.
The exact place empty hand forms practice has in the Chinese martial arts, especially in the context of modern training, will never be an easy conversation. Nor is there every likely to be a unanimous opinion and agreement. However, all legitimate students of the Chinese martial arts WILL agree that drills, especially with partners is essential for authentic training. Whether you call it push hands, chi sau, rou shou, Shuai Jiao, clinching, wrestling, sparring, etc we must once again put an emphasis upon this type of training as its authentic practice is gradually disappearing! Tai Chi “push hands” has in many places become a poor shadow of its original self. A good place to discuss real push hands, though a bit of the “wild west” at times is Stuart Shaw’s group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/thefajinproject/
The above video on Tai Chi push hands I have preserved on one of my channels, but I did NOT make it. Still, I find it quite a good discussion starter, not matter what opinion you may originally hold.
Perhaps this is enough for now, but feel free to comment.
Sifu David Ross