In my last blog, I touched upon several trends within Chinese martial arts that have contributed to the decline of its reputation as a fighting art. For far too many, forms practice is a “holy cow” that can not be questioned, even when many do not really understand its actual application and have unrealistic expectations. I have experienced far too many people who think a fight should look like a Shaw brothers kung fu movie. I prefer to refer to Ming dynasty general Qi Jiquang;
“practical is not pretty, pretty is not practical”
The second trend I touched upon, which I will discuss in more detail here, is a frequent reaction Chinese martial artists have when confronted with failure in fighting. There are always exceptions to the rule, and I have been fortunate to have met and trained with many of these exceptions, but in broad terms history has taught us that those in the Chinese martial arts tend to first blame external factors for their failure and then subsequently attempt to isolate themselves from outside influence.
For as long as I have practiced Chinese martial arts, and for even longer as confirmed by many colleagues, Muay Thai has had a presence in the mind of those who do Chinese martial arts. We worked to condition our legs, we worked leg kicking, we worked defenses against people grabbing our neck to knee, etc. This really should not surprise people, there is a long history of interaction between Chinese martial arts and Muay Thai.
Accounts of one of the first matches between Chinese martial artists and Muay Thai fighters (Nak Muay) relate that the Chinese fighters entered the ring to demonstrate hard Qi-Gong; they broke bricks with their open hands and had students kick and punch them to show “iron body”. Unfortunately, of the five matches, the Chinese lost all five by KO in the first round.
It is important to keep in mind that this was not a “format issue”. In much more recent times we have discussions (arguments) about the proper format and rules; scoring in the ring in Thailand is based upon a very definite set of criteria, NOT necessary who is the “best fighter”. Muay Thai in the ring in Thailand makes many throwing and grappling techniques, things that ARE integral to Chinese martial arts, illegal. But in this first case, none of this mattered since all five Chinese fighters were knocked out in the first round.
The immediate Chinese response was to claim that Chinese martial arts are not designed to be executed in gloves (does this argument sound familiar? It should! It is alive and well today!). The Thais were unaffected by this argument, Muay Thai had evolved from bare knuckle fighting and they well understood what was really going on. Matches in which the Chinese were allowed to fight without gloves were arranged. There was no difference in the outcome; all the Chinese were defeated by knockout.
As a coach who has trained fighters for more than twenty years, I tell you that fighting without analysis is pointless. And that analysis must be logical and follow a certain hierarchy; were the opponents simply more experienced? were the opponents simply better? did my fighter not train hard enough (many in the martial arts never seem to understand how important conditioning is to the outcome of a fight, “real” or in the ring)? Or, was it the techniques and training methods that were, simply put, wrong?
People always get angry at me when I post things like this article, but I am NOT saying Chinese martial arts do not work! Quite the opposite! But if we do not apply logic (and science) to our training) and do not train correctly, we will not be able to effectively use our skills. Above is Tan Guancheng, “The Warrior Sage of Penang”, who was one of the first Chinese martial artists to defeat a Muay Thai fighter. Here, we see several issues we must ALWAYS keep in mind; Tan was very tough, Tan was familiar with Thai boxing methods, the format allowed Tan to use throws and he had obviously trained throwing in a very practical manner because he was able to use them consistently to his advantage.
The point I am beginning to make now, as Chinese martial artists train correctly, then increasingly the “format” DOES matter. But all too easily this concept is twisted! I do NOT believe you create a format that excludes those techniques which are “not ours”, or the techniques of the “outsider”. Personally, when I train fighters, I want to prove my fighters and methods are the best, the best PERIOD. An old saying goes “it has to rain on both sides of the football”; do not exclude the tactics I use and which are important to me, and if you do not I will be able to beat you even if you use your best techniques!
If you lose a fight, do not cry. Do not get angry. Ask yourself WHY you lost? And be honest, which means that 99% of the time it is YOU. This approach breeds real fighters. The other approach, just crying breeds babies….