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More observations on “internal” and Chinese martial arts in general

26 Sep

Please note: Unless I explicitly state otherwise, the opinions presented here are my own.

It probably isn’t much of a secret that I have been interested in Hsing Yi / Xing Yi for a long time. My interest has been both technical and historical, and I discuss it at some length in my book “Chinese martial arts: A historical outline”. It is not only the oldest of the so called “internal arts” it raises a lot of questions about that very term. It links back to a demobilized Ming military man who was disarmed (they took away his spear) who adopted his battlefield methods to a personal method. Even its legendary history is full of references to generals and Shaolin, not much about Daoists and such. Hsing Yi / Xing Yi was well represented in the fighting events of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, while the famous Taiji Quan players were just “honored quests” sitting in the stands.

I first became aware of Luo Dexiu (羅德修) from Mike Patterson. The Chinese martial arts community being what it is, it then took me some time to find an opportunity to train with him. I was impressed with his attitudes; power was already in the body and “standing work” only made you more aware of your body and that power, the “Qi” in martial arts was NOT the “Qi” in Daoism and Chinese medicine, the ideas and concepts are more important than the initial outward appearances, etc.

I was even more impressed with Luo’s skills. The first time I trained with him we did applications of the first three of the five fists and then the “Tai bird”. Honestly, it went over the heads of a lot of the participants, sadly so. It would have also blown the minds of many “Mixed Martial Arts” MMA types.

This year, we worked material from the “linear Bagua” of the Gao school. Shihfu Luo was quick to buck the idea that Bagua is “just” walking in a circle, and instead stressed angles and ways to “cut in half” the opponent. Among the many things we worked (training with Shihfu Luo is always a day FULL of variations and follow ups!) was the Bagua punch no one seems to talk about; Beng Quan. It was remarkably like the Lama Pai approach I learned from Chan Tai-San. And Luo commented on how it was utilizing the “seven star stepping” which is the same thing Lama Pai says.

Another observation I made was how inter-related the techniques were to the Xing Yi Quan we had done the previous year. Shihfu Luo responded that no matter what martial art you do, humans only have two arms and two legs. My own thoughts, related to Shihfu Luo and inter-related were how Bagua had long already been associated with Xing Yi and how at heart, all the Chinese martial arts that were effective seemed to all be built upon very similar bases. I saw things that were not only similar to Lama Pai but also to the Bak Mei or “white eyebrow” I had also learned from Chan Tai San. Once again I came away convinced that much of the marketing and mysticism of the Chinese martial arts has done it a great disservice and made learning how to really use them even harder.

MORE TO COME

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NSFW: mountains and other sh-t

14 Sep

老僧三十年前未參禪時、見山是山、見水是水、及至後夾親見知識、有箇入處、見山不是山、見水不是水、而今得箇體歇處、依然見山秪是山、見水秪是水

Or, in other words

Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.

This famous Buddhist teaching, often called “Mountains are Mountains” comes from Ch’ing-yüan Wei-hsin. Yet most martial artists know the teaching from a paraphrasing that Bruce Lee used. Forgive me, really, but people seem to love Bruce Lee without ever understanding that most of his “deep thoughts” were from his many philosophy classes in college and without ever really embracing the ideas behind them.

In my “initial phase” of life I spent my time learning staff, sword and spear, learning many hand sets and in the world of “traditional martial arts”. That’s the world of the so-called Northern and Southern styles, the so-called “internal” and “external” styles. They will tell you that there is “Daoist breathing” and “Buddhist breathing”. They will tell you there is Qi Gong and Nei Gong.

In what to many may seem like another life, I spent many years doing “mixed martial arts” or “progressive training”; my friends were Muay Thai fighters, wrestlers, Jiujitsu people, MMA fighters. I have said often my evolutionary path was based a lot upon Japanese shooto. The “mixed” or “progressive” world is one in which people doing boxing, Muay Thai, Judo, Jiujitsu, wrestling, Catch wrestling, Sambo, etc.

These days, I am to many an even more unusual animal; you are equally likely to find me in Muay Thai shorts teaching what I call (for convenience sake) a “kickboxing class” OR teaching students the first foundation set of Lama Pai kung fu called “Siu Lo Han” 小羅漢拳 with its “traditional” applications.

Clearly some people will wonder how (maybe “why”?) I can do these things? How do I “compartmentalize” it all? The answer is simple, but probably uncomfortable to many, I DO NOT. I do not compartmentalize them in any way because to me they are all the same. If you ask me, once you learn them correctly and dismiss the “marketing” (and bullshit) they you learn that the human body only moves so many ways and there are only things that work and things that do not.

People may want them to be different, they may in fact believe them to be different. Many are certainly emotionally invested in them being different. But, to quote an old friend, “all the shit is the same”. Your shit, their shit, my shit, all the same……

Remembering the late Chan Tai San

1 Sep

Remembering the late Chan Tai-San (July 12, 1920 – September 1, 2004) today.
Authentic Lama Pai, the teachings of the late Chan Tai San

The first time I saw Chan Tai San, I didn’t even know who he was, much less that I’d spend a good part of my life with him.

To borrow a phrase, often imitated but never duplicated.

To remember him, save 25% on “Authenitc Lama Pai” with discount code LNJQEYED only at https://www.createspace.com/4891253

Authentic Lama Pai, the teachings of the late Chan Tai San

The kung fu hobbyist…

16 Aug

Another NSFW blog from Sifu Ross…

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of video footage of the late Chan Tai-San. It just wasn’t a time when video cameras were something we all walked around with in our pockets. Much of the footage of Chan Tai-San is from demonstrations, but one particularly good film involves him teaching some Bak Mei (白眉) to Michael Parrella.

The footage is on the internet, so it is inevitable it will inspire various reactions. However, the reaction I want to focus upon today is this one; people ask why Chan Tai-San performs so differently than so much of the other footage that is available.

It has often been said that Chan Tai-San was one of those links to a lost past. But more importantly, he was indicative of a major change in the evolution of Chinese martial arts. Chan Tai-San was born in 1920. It was a time when we first began to see the kung fu hobbyist. Chan Tai-San was more indicative of an earlier period, he was not a hobbyist. He had occupational necessity for practical kung fu. He was in the military most of his life.

As my book Chinese martial arts: a historical outline details, prior to the 1920’s almost everyone doing kung fu had occupational necessity for practical kung fu. It was something almost exclusively practiced by military men or police (or, the other side of that equation).

Other great kung fu men, such as Chang Tung Sheng, continued to follow in this tradition. Chang was both a military officer and a member of the CID in Taiwan. He taught his brand of Shuai Jiao in the police training college.

As my book details, the “break” was not immediate, nor was it complete. In the 1920’s organizations like the Jing Wu still offered BOTH military related training (bayonet training for example) and public kung fu classes focused on physical education, ie for the”hobbyist”. None the less, more and more people who were not necessarily dependent upon practical application became involved in martial arts practice.

Sifu Ross NSFW blog continued

14 Aug

Pretty much every morning I wake up and remember what it was like to be that little kid that walked into the late Pong Ki Kim’s Dojang. I was positive my instructor was some wise old sage (he was younger at the time than I am now). I was positive he had learned some ancient secrets. I wanted to learn to fly through the air like Bruce Lee had done in that movie I had just seen.

I had been diagnosed with Leukemia at age 6. I spent almost two years in the hospital. I had been home schooled. I wasn’t necessarily supposed to live, I was definitely supposed to be a cripple. I didn’t know how to play any of the sports my peers were engaged in. If I hadn’t found martial arts, where would I be today?

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that I took to martial arts. It didn’t just provide me “health”, everyone I knew, everyTHING I knew was related to it. But there is always one thing that I am quick to point out; somehow, by sheer luck (?), I started off my path with an awesome and pretty unique martial arts teacher, and I continued on that path literally stumbling into great opportunity after great opportunity.

From Pong Ki Kim, I stumbled into Dang Fong (aka Tang Fung) Hung Ga under an herbalist from Malaysia. I wandered around NYC’s Chinatown mostly getting into trouble (that is another blog entirely) until I stumbled in Jeng Hsin Ping’s Shuai Jiao school. Perhaps the world’s best authority on Chang’s method and certainly full of knowledge, it prepared me to appreciated Chan Tai San’s method later. It was also where I met the late Stephen Laurette, who not only introduced me to Chan Tai San, but also exposed me to many of his Praying Mantis classmates under the late Chiu Leun.

Of course, Chan Tai San’s social circle was the stuff of legends and I met and interacted with a lot of them. But I continue to “get lucky”; recently we trained with Taiwan’s Luo Dexiu.

For whatever strange reason, I also got interested in “fighting”. This led me to meeting a whole other sub set of extraordinary people. ME, the little sick kid that wasn’t necessarily supposed to live and was supposed to be a cripple?

Sifu David Ross NSFW blog…

13 Aug

People approach martial arts like religion, perhaps with even more devotion in many cases; so suggesting anything counter to their dearly held beliefs, especially any criticism, frequently causes violent reactions. But just like religion, when you have holy cows you never question there are consequences. There can be SERIOUS consequences.

Yesterday on Facebook I posted a new response to the now infamous “Taiji vs MMA” challenge fight that was not a fight (it lasted about 10 seconds). The response, a video with comments, was actually from a well respected Taiji person with excellent credentials, but the inevitable ensured. It follows a predictable pattern, ALWAYS. First, the unqualified claim that Chinese martial arts is indeed effective in fighting, and to say other wise is ridiculous (i.e. like the five stages of grief, the first response is denial). Second, when confronted with logic and requests to provide evidence of their claim you get ANGER. Gosh darn, it really IS like the five stages of grief, isn’t it?

So, predictably, you get to the third stage; BARGAINING. There are SOME people who “do it right”. Maybe they are mythical monks. Maybe they just don’t feel the need to prove their skills. You (general, to no one in particular) just have not met/encountered a “real master”.

After a few hours of consideration (and a few cups of coffee); I think the problem is more nuanced and more difficult. When I think back to growing up in the martial arts community in New York there were indeed Chinese martial arts schools and there were indeed good teachers. Teachers who understood how their systems worked and who could fight.

The first problem was, you could be aware of these schools and yet they were still very hard to get the training. They were all in NYC’s Chinatown. Unlike the average karate, taekwondo or judo school you didn’t just show up and sign up for classes. There were both language and cultural barriers.

Of course, I should also mention that NYC’s Chinatown is a maze of Tongs, associations and street gangs. This was especially true in the “old days” which were supposed to be the “kung fu age”. And, sad as I am to report it, more than a few of the schools and their teachers were involved in these things.

The point here is simple. The high quality people were probably ALWAYS the minority. They were hard to find, hard to convince to train you and then of course there the nasty fact you’d have to devote your entire life to studying with them.

Make no mistake, there were (are) a number of non-Chinese who also learned these real skills. Some learned them in NYC’s Chinatown. Others learned them in Hong Kong, or Taiwan. Unfortunately, upon consideration, most of them that I know of also seemed to learn from their teachers the same qualities of eccentrism and reclusiveness. Or, another way, a lot of us are simply a–holes….

So, when the real people abandon the community and the discussion, what is left is the charlatans and the snake oil salesman. And unfortunately, Chinese martial arts seems to attract these types in droves. And martial arts students seem eager to buy their bullsh-t. Sad but true.

If you think I’ve helped you, you can help me out

4 Aug

I put a lot of free content on the internet. There is this blog. There is my Youtube channel. There is my public facebook group. I enjoy sharing information with people, I actually sort of see it as a “calling”.

Usually, I don’t ask anything in return. And honestly now I am not expecting anything, BUT IF YOU CAN, please help my gym. Click the link below

https://fundly.com/new-fairtex-heavy-bags?ft_src=twtshare

We recently relocated and renovations were more expensive and took longer than we ever planned. So I’d really like to be able to replace my bags, but I came up a little short.

I can even sweaten the offer a bit, donate $50 or more and I’ll send you an autographed copy of any of my books! Email me at info@nysanda.com if you do

https://fundly.com/new-fairtex-heavy-bags?ft_src=twtshare

Is language a tool or an obstacle to our understanding?

7 Jun

I am addicted to coffee! Maybe not “addicted” but I certainly drink a lot of it. I add secret ingredients such as 奶. Other times I add 우유. If I am really adventurous I add молоко! But, most of the time I just add leche….


우유
молоко
leche

Many of my friends probably picked up on the joke immediately; 奶, 우유, молоко and leche are all words for MILK… Just different languages. So today I ask, is language a tool or an obstacle to our understanding?

While this blog is usually dedicated to Chinese martial arts, lets for a minute consider the Japanese martial art of Judo. It is not only an Olympic sport, it is one of the most popular martial arts in the world. It was originally taught in Japanese; but today it is taught in French, Spanish, English, Russian, etc…. But, no matter where it is taught, in what language it is taught, is it NOT still Judo?

When I first became interested in yoga in the 1980’s, there was a lot of discussion of the “subtle body” that can not be seen; i.e that don’t physically exist. It is the same as in Chinese martial arts when people talk about Qi (氣), Shen (神), Dan Tain (丹田) and Jin (勁). HERE IS THE QUESTION: Are we really supposed to be “looking” for these things, OR should we understand them within context as a method of explaining something that can now be explained in other “language” such as physiology, anatomy and physics?

In the yoga community, a significant part of the community has moved away from “subtle body” discussions to scientific discussions and explanations. Which is to say, we are NOT discarding training such as Qi-Gong, but we explain it with modern science and understanding.

Many “internal” martial artists discuss “post standing” or Zhan Zhuang (站桩). Many insist it is a way to develop or build “energy” or strength. Others, such as respected “internal” teacher Luo Dexiu, note that strength is already in our body, and comes from the proper use of the body; i.e. “post standing” makes us more aware of our body. OR, there are rational, scientific explanations to these things.

Chinese martial arts: a historical outline

22 May

The following is from my most recent book, “Chinese martial arts: A historical outline”

The Buddhist monk Xin Cheng boasted “my whole body has Qi Gong.” Modern martial arts practitioners are certainly familiar with the term, but in this context it probably had a slightly different significance than the modern understanding of Qi Gong practice. A number of scholars agree, Xing Cheng meant he had
“breath efficacy”; the ability to circulate his qi throughout his body. The concept of qi circulation had its origins in Daoist practice, but its application in martial arts circles certainly had a more syncretic approach. Xin Cheng linked his qi circulation ability to possession by “Jin Gang”; potentially a reference to the Buddhist Bodhisattva Vajrapani (who also happens to be the patron saint of Shaolin monastery), or to “Vajra” and/or the “Diamond Body”.

As we have previously discussed, the idea that qi circulation could have martial arts application was a relatively late development from probably the late Ming period. Reference to such practice is notably absent from Qi Jiguang’s New Book on Military Efficiency which was written in 1560. The “Sinew-Transformation Classic” (Yijin Jing), the earliest extant manual that assigns qi circulation or “Daoist gymnastics” (Daoyin) a role in developing martial arts skill, originates, despite its pretenses to the contrary, in 1624. The first text of its kind, it was already highly syncretic in nature. Meir Shahar notes how Buddhist imagery is attached to exercises of clearly Daoist origin. The text falsely attributes the method to the monk Bodhidharma and Shaolin. Martial excellence, in the form of body hardening influenced by Tantric Buddhist concepts of “Diamond Body,” are also linked to religious transcendence articulated in classical Daoist terminology.

By the Qing period, discussions of breathing and qi circulation accompanied most martial arts texts. Although the term Qi Gong can be found in Daoist texts from as early as the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907), it was not a common term in martial arts literature during this period. Martial arts literature during the period instead referred to the practice or cultivation of qi (Lian Qi). We have previously seen civil and martial divisions within martial arts groups, a similar dyadic relationship between “Wai-Gong” and “Nei-Gong” begins to appear more frequently. We see that within the Mei Hua Quan group, “Wai-Gong” referred to the practice of the actual martial arts techniques while “Nei-Gung” referred to study, meditation (Ming Xiang or Zuo Gong), and learning to heal.

While the modern martial arts practitioner is likely familiar with these terms, Wai-Gong and Nei-Gong, their perception of what they actually describe is probably largely influenced by trends that originated in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Note the description above refers to Mei Hua Quan, where both were practiced simultaneously inside the group, and probably describes how the terminology was applied at least as early as the 1860’s. I would always caution against rushing to judgement; the vigorous practice of martial arts techniques certainly produces an “outward skill” or “outward achievement” visible to the naked eye, while study and meditation produce results which would be more “internal” or not immediately apparent to an outside observer. As with many of the topics we discuss in this volume, the reader cannot simply apply their contemporary understanding or
biases.

(This version does not have the footnotes and Chinese characters that the actual book does)

My most recent book, “Chinese martial arts: A historical outline” is available on Amzon

Are we in a downward spiral? Chinese martial arts in the 21st C

19 May

I woke up this morning to find that a good friend had sent me a link to yet another “master” of Chinese martial arts being knocked unconscious in a challenge match. My friend, with an excellent pedigree in Chinese martial arts, particularly applicable Chinese martial arts, subtitled the message “and yet another embarrassment posted – why?”

I have long noted, both here on this blog and in other conversations, that problems of this sort within the Chinese martial arts world are NOT NEW. A good example is a previous blog of mine entitled “The people should be very ashamed”. There seems to be some sort of structural or cultural problem that lends itself to people overly concentrating on forms work, ignoring practical application work and still thinking they are fighters.

Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling) master Chang Tung Sheng (常東昇 aka Cháng Dōng Shēng) is often remembered for a rather forthright interview he gave to a Taiwan newspaper. Chang had traveled around China, had fought many matches and even won the 1933 heavyweight national Lei Tai tournament. He scoffed at claims of using “Chi” in fights, of “Dim Mak” or “Dian Xue”, and of the many claims of people who proclaimed themselves masters yet never seemed to fight. In a vein similar to the Gracie family, Chang said he’d still take on any comer, and that if he could put his hands on you, he would hurt you! Keep in mind that at a relatively advanced age, Chang engaged in two matches at the behest of a Moroccan royal family member and KO’ed both a Judo black belt and a Kyokushin fighter.

If you’ve read my book, “Chinese martial arts: A historical outline”, you will note how as soon as people began associating martial arts with Daoist practices such as Daoyin, and using that language to explain things, a slippery slope was created. There is certainly nothing wrong with martial arts practice for health, but the same slippery slope resulted in the Boxer Rebellion disaster and probably today’s Chinese martial arts carnival side shows.

NY based Sifu Frank Allen fighting full contact in 1982.

In response to my friend, I’d suggest, as I have just above, that we’ve always had that sort of problem. It’s nothing new. But, perhaps what IS new is that we used to have more “counter balance”. We used to have Chinese martial arts people organizing full contact events and students participating in them.

Even in the old days, not everyone was a fighter. The traditional Chinese martial arts school usually had a lot happening at any given time; some would be practicing lion dancing, some would be practicing sparring drills or actually sparring, some would be do Chi Kung. Everyone did forms back then. But I’d suggest two differences, people spent a LOT MORE TIME at their schools in the past. We were literally “kung fu bums”. And, while not everyone in a school fought, back in the “old days” I’d hazard to say that every school had at least one fighter. There was always that one person who fought and thus was responsible for answering the “challenges”. A lot of my circle happen to have been those kinds of students.

In the past, there also seemed to be a lot more teachers willing to show the sparring drills and the applications, the REAL APPLICATIONS.

Today’s problems seem to be rooted in people spending a lot less time in their schools AND instructors who have consequently let their students spend a lot less time drilling application yet without informing them that in doing so they have lost the essential combat skills. I am even tempted to say that a lot of instructors have BENEFITED from this trend, because many of them also seem to lack real combat skills. Today, it is MUCH EASIER to set up shop as a “master” even if you weren’t that student back in the day who took the challenges.

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