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O Yiquan i nie tylko

26 lipca, 2013 autor dacheng
Poniżej znajdują się moje wypowiedzi z dyskusji, która miała miejsce na jednej z grup na Facebooku. Planowałem przekształcić je w artykuł, jednak ponieważ wymagałoby to wiele pracy, zdecydowałem się opublikować je w pierwotnej, luźnej formie, w języku angielskim.
taniecsanshougenerally anyone can improve his level of fighting abilities, by using basic methods, tui shou, san shou in various proportions. Some basic methods might be more useful than others, so they can help with the goal of developing fighting abilities more than other methods. However we don’t believe in ultimate method. There are many factors which summed up make some level of fighting skill. If for some reason you leave some of them out, you need to understand that your percentage chances of winning a fight will be lower. Maybe enough with some opponent, but not enough with another. Unified whole body strength might be good against some big muscles guy, but another big muscles guy might also possess quite unified strength. „Using soft against hard”, „leading opponent into emptiness”, „using opponent’s force against him” are not some ultimate methods. Their efficiency is relative. When your opponent is big and strong, but not skilled, using „one directional”, „flat” strength, you can be smaller, weaker, and use such skill. But when opponent uses „round” balanced strength, being able to balance his strength affected even by high frequency changes, then you start understanding limitations of „soft against hard”. So while in yiquan we also have „leading into emptiness” and „using opponent’s force”, we don’t attribute to them the same kind of meaning as those who play touching hands, and don’t relly test thestuff in more demanding conditio

Poniżej znajdują się moje wypowiedzi z dyskusji, która miała miejsce na jednej z grup na Facebooku. Planowałem przekształcić je w artykuł, jednak ponieważ wymagałoby to wiele pracy, zdecydowałem się opublikować je w pierwotnej, luźnej formie, w języku angielskim.

(1)

You can practice yiquan or taijiquan or other art for various reasons, not necessarily the fighting efficiency. But as the question is about this aspect, I will focus on this. As in many discussions I hear various people expressing oppinions which come from looking at this subject from various perspectives, I will try to talk at least about a few aspects.

Some people have kind of very idealistic and unrealistic view of asian martial arts. Actually the popularity of traditional asian martial arts in the west is in very big part due to this unrealistic ideas about them. There wouldn’t be that big boom in 1960s-1980s if people were not nurturing unrealistic dreams… But later quite many became disillusioned and disappointed, in time of growing popularity of mma, muay thai, k-1 etc, where „traditionalists” got beating.

In the internal art cirles, and especially taijiquan, quite many people developed even higher level os illusion than in other arts. Less reality testing, and still thinking that what they do is the supreme fighting art.
Now, from point of view of yiquan, or point of view of Wang Xiangzhai, which in my opinion is quite realistic point of view, anything is evolving and can be further developed, and there is no end or limit to this process. At the same time this proces is not linear, there are ups and downs and thre is also moving in circles.

According to Wang Xiangzhai himself the period of developing of the chinese martial arts styles which we know presently was actually period mainly of actual degradation of martial art in China, the process going wrong way. He started yiquan in reaction to what he perceived as being not the right way.

On one hand he saw this as going back to the roots, removing wrong and unnecessary, revealing the essence again. On the other hand this was a start for process of further development.
Even now you can still see the same problems which Wang Xiangzhai noticed back then at beginning of 20th century. People doing forms and other methods, learning applications, but it’s turning out quite useless when it comes to actual fighting test.

Now in my personal opinion, meeting many people who are proficient in various chinese martial arts, I see tons of valuable stuff inside them. But it seems to mee that maybe for too long periods those arts were quite deprived of reality tests regular enough to maintain the thorough understanding between using those training methods and actual fighting. Even in times of Manchurian dynasty, during uprisings, when many martial arts masters and creators of well known styles were fighting, they were actually fighting with WEAPONS. But in what we have now, weapons are taught almost exclusively as forms, without fighting, while stress is on empty hand fighting, which traditionally was something not so much stressed as less useful.

As for barehand fighting, China has very long history, from ancient times, of things like jueli, shoubo, xiangpu, which are now being described mostly as kinds of wrestling, but at those times often included hitting, also in competition. Yes long time history of competing in a way similiar to mma (except for groundwork). In some periods there were army units with members focusing just on training empty hand fighting and competing. Quite similiar to professional mma or k-1 teams nowadays. People could fight, because they had regular fighting practice, they had fighting experience, they could test how things work. Now and again there were periods where training martial arts was forbidden, but usually just relatively short periods at beginning of a new dynasty. Then under Mongolian dynasty this was forbidden completely. Under Manchurian dynasty it was the same for quite long time. Even wrestling competitions for quite long time were only for Manchurians. So while for long centuries from the beginning of China actual empty hand fighting skills could be regularly tested and improved, in the period in which most of presently practiced styles developed it didn’t really continue. Instead there was developing forms, theories, interesting training methods, much of things quite interesting, valuable and useful, but there was lack of regular practical verification. Even situations of assault were mostly with weapons, at least sticks were used, not empty hands. Most of the time lack of possibility of testing your stuff against really top level barehand fighters.

So how could you compare something like this to present day professional fighters, training and actually testing regularly what they do? They verify their methods in actual fighting with other present day top level fighters, adapting and developing them. Now compare this to practicing style, where someone centuries ago maybe had this kind of experience, then through next generations there was very limited amount of practice based on reality testing and more and more focusing on forms and other methods, passing further more and more illusions, gradually more and more detached from reality.

Of course maybe it is a bit of exaggeration, but to some extent something like this was happening. Even if people creating some training methods had a lot of experience and possessed high skills, when those from next generations just repeat practicing those method, without element of practical testing, the knowledge probably will become distored and method will degrade.

Also it is important to realize that those traditional styles were created in some circumstances, where the way of fighting could depend on the local conditions, habits, clothes which they used to wear etc. In the style methods and concepts this could be preserved. But without having the experience of the creators, generations later it could become quite distorted. End even if not, then how could it be efficient nowadays, when confrontation is made under different conditions. So it is quite funny when people from some traditional style go to compete in a ring with some rules created by others, often not even realizing the fact, that methods and tactics of their style were created at different time for different condition. In other words, they don’t actually know what they practice, and how it was supposed to relate to fighting (and what kind of fighting, under what kind of conditions).

(2)

You can touch hands with someone, and be impressed, feeling something unusual. But then, will this person will be able to exhibit what you expect under conditions of actual violent fight?

Now, Wang Xiangzhai’s thinking, especially in later years, when he called himself „Contradictions Old Man”, was based on dialectic philosophy. In situation of contradictions creating some balance, which creates next level of contradictions and so on. Relating it to developing fighting abilities and skills: when you start, any opponnent can destroy your „balance”, hitting you, projecting, throwing etc. You develop some basics, and it turns out that you can deal with some opponents easily, maintaining your „balance”, but still there are some who are able to destroy this „balance”. Then you still develop your skill, and those are not able to destroy your „balance” anymore, but still there are some who can do it. You become really great and can deal easily with almost anyone, but still there might be someone better destroying your „balance” or even someone at the same or lower skill level can destroy your „balance”. The ideal can be maintained only in basic practice, in staged demonstration or friendly exchange or when your advantage over your opponent is very big. Otherwise it doesn’t matter if you are a master of hunyuan li, your hunyuan li (your „balance”) will be destroyed anyway. They say in China: „behind heaven there is next heaven”.

Exactly like a boxer performs beautifully when his opponent is much worse, and it becomes ugly, when there is not such big difference in skill. The same with wrestler – performing incredible skill when there is a big skill difference, but looking rather clumsy when there is not such difference or skill is similiar.

Why people expect that with yiquan or taijiquan it could be different?

Martial arts created for smaller and weaker to be able to defeat bigger and stronger? Well, but what if the bigger and stronger also learn them? Do martial arts include some magic, which gives special bonus only to those smaller and weaker? Training martial arts will increase your fighting abilities, but will not change you miraculously into some invicible deity.

Also hunyuan li is not a magic power. It’s not like you don’t have it, and then suddenly you get it and you can use it. No, hunyuan li is a concept of balance, balanced strength, which is to be developed and gradually improved on higher and higher levels, not something you get at some point and then just use it. Balanced strenght in all directions is some basic definition of hunyuan li in yiquan. People usually talk about developing hunyuan li by practicing zhan zhuang, then testing it through shi li, and then using it. But according to what my teacher teaches, and what is consistent with Wang Xiangzhai’s philosophy, there is some kind of misunderstanding here. You can have balanced strength under easy circumstances, but you are losing it under more demanding conditions.

So you also use tui shou and then san shou to work on developing and improving hunyuan li – trying again to develop and maintain „balance”/balanced strength/hunyuan li gradually under more and more demanding conditions. You need to test your present abilities under such conditions (be it tui shou and then san shou), to be able to see and understand insufficiencies, so you know on what you need to work. You don’t really realize this without this kind of testing. You might feel satisfied with what you perceive, you might think that if just practice this long enough, it will become ingrained enough to be exhibited during fight, but this is kind of illusion – when it comes to fight you lose it. You might think that it will just need some more basic practice to make it ingrained deeper, but it will not happen, because there is not enough of testing to notice and understand the problems so you could improve your basic training in right way. This is also about understanding basic training better. The progress is not just linear, but it is like spirals, coming back to the same basic things, but with better understanding, due to more advanced practice and testing, then improved basics help you to perform better in tests, where you get new experience and knowledge, which again gives you deeper understanding of basics.

(3)

So with traditional chinese martial arts we have situation that even if they are very good in a way, they were created for fighting in conditions different from present day sports formats, and they are just not good for this. But this means, that basically practicing them you will not have opportunity for regular testing your skill in conditions for which they were designed, so your perception of your skill and your ideas about fighting might be illusions.

Of course people might practice some of such styles, just because they like practicing it, learning it. But if you are serious about seeking the truth, you should not deceive yourself, you should understand things like: you cannot be sure about something, if you are not testing it, you cannot really understand it, until you put it in practice and find the actual meaning. You don’t want to do it? O.K., but then you just need to accept that you will not be able to understand some aspect in depth. This is the situation when people do some traditional style and they go to modern competitions, expecting that what they learned should work there, because „this is such great martial art which I learned”… Probably with this lack of knowledge even if they were shifted back in time, and actually fought in situation in which creator of the style fought, they still wouldn’t do any better than at modern competition, as they don’t have this kind of experience which founder had, and they don’t even realize this.

So what to do?

Practicing those arts not caring too much about practical verification? Why not? Good option for many people who like to have some interesting hobby involving physical activity.
Choosing one of the modern combative sports instead? Why not. Very good option for those more interested in doing something, progress and skill level can be tested directly by fighting.
Now, is there a third way?

Many people practice traditional chinese martial arts, but they compete in some kind of sports sanda, and if they want to be successful, then need to do a lot of training from outside of their traditional style methodology. Actually kind of practicing two styles simultanously.

In yiquan we are going different way. Wang Xiangzhai started it, Yao Zongxun and others took it further. Not switching from traditional martial art to modern sport, but adapting the art to new times. Many people from traditional arts complain, that at competitions they cannot do joint locks, cannot attack vital points, the gloves are restricting them. Wang Xiangzhai made it for us much simpler, not caring too much about dianxue and qinna. Just issue power at the point of contact, hit and also affect opponent balance by any point where contact happens, following changes. Being ready and able to issue power with any part of body at any moment in any direction. Formless, without complex application techniques, just bang,bang, hit or issue power in a way which would affect opponent’s balance.

Now, with such approach it became much easier to start regular sparrings and competing than in most other chinese arts, without need of making sacrifice of part of it.
Of course this will not look like „artificially made by man” moves from traditional forms. Would it look similar to boxing or kick boxing? Maybe in a way, except for pushing, pulling, projecting etc, which are not allowed in boxing and kick-boxing. Although this similarity to boxing would be rather in layman eyes. When yiquan practitioner is doing something which superficially is looking like a punch, quite similiar to boxing punches, actually it is much different – this is not just punch – inside there is multitude of jins (strengths/forces) ready to be used in multitudes of ways. This is hunyan li. Except of aspect of balance, it means multidirectional strength – anywhere, anytime, any direction. Looks like hitting with fist, but when situation changes, it can change into hitting with forearm, with strength being ready, or into pushing, or redirecting opponent’s arm – anything being ready, and used according tosituation. Hunyuan li.

It’s so beautifully simple idea of martial art. And it would so easily make full contact competitions, significantly different from existing formats. Not long rounds, but short fast bouts, as when „on the street” in situation when you want to finish as soons as possible, because otherwise more opponnents could approach. Small fight area. Moving out from it symbolizing falling down from traditional lei tai platform. Combine hitting with unbalancing opponent by any part of body where contact happens, throw him down or out of the fight area.

This is what actually my teacher teaches, training leads to this. Only we need more people interested in it, we need regular testing opportunity – competitions. When there will be more people doing this and seriously interested in it, there will be chance for developing the level of yiquan in combative aspect.
Of course not everybody practicing yiquan must be interested in this (or because of age, health and other limitations being able to do this actively), there might be other reasons for practicing yiquan than developing top level combative skills based on the yiquan principles.

Anyway, presently there are not many people who are practicing yiquan with such thoughts. Only when there will be more of them, you could think about serious testing/competing and some more people training yiquan in a way making it possible to present top level of combative skill.

At the moment I’m happy that at least a few yiquan beginners, and a few people from outside yiquan turned out to be brave enough to participate in our tui shou and light contact san shou competitions. Just first small steps.

(4)

Again about the practical verification, testing of skill, as important part of the learning process.
When talking about regular testing of skill, I don’t mean everyday hard full contact fighting. That would be something crazy.
Even boxing training is not just all the time hard fighting, it is only one part of the whole training, and still it is possible to this extent due to relatively limited scope of possible situations, with keeping tight guard with big gloves, which makes it relatively safe.

And in Muay Thai, training regularly like they compete would create too many injuries. So in fact in Thailand they don’t really do full contact sparrings regularly. Usually they spar light contact, and only with bags and pads they hit full power. Their tests of hard fighting are at competitions, not at training. If they did it at training, they wouldn’t be able to earn money by competing, because too many injuries would make it not possible.
Now, talking about Wang Xiangzhai or Chen Fake. How could they be so great without regular sparring training? But… did their opponents do regular sparring training? Doesn’t seem so. Well, that would explain a lot. Like the famous „fight of century” in Macao in 1950s. The great famous masters of that time, and now on YouTube you can see their level. So this could give us some idea about fighting level at that time… O.K. So let assume that some training methods were really giving big advantage, but… over whom? Other people of those times, who didn’t really spar and didn’t have really much idea about actual fighting of any kind? How would that be against present day mma fighters?

Actually people like Chen Fake and Wang Xiangzhai had advantage over many others, because they at least had serious tui shou training, while others had forms and techniques, while lacking methods which would need adapting to actually resisting opponent. Even though tui shou is quite limited, in this regard I’m sure it would give advantage over opponents who didn’t even do this…
Yes, there were some opponent’s who did sparring. Like with Chen Fake I remember story about „fight” with some shuai jiao wrestler. Still it wasn’t actual fight, but rather what they called „touching hands”.
Or some other who did some tui shou, but focusing too much on soft side, without enough of solid strength.
Or talking about Wang Xiangzhai, those who did some kinds of sparring were mostly Japanese who did judo and kendo. As for barehand fighting with those Japanese guys, it wasn’t really fighting, but usually situations of „what will happen if I grab you?”

So while we believe that Wang and Chen presented something unusual, we need to realize that it was usually tested in maybe not so really demanding situations. Although there are many impressing stories, we almost don’t have relations about actual serious fighting.

As I know the opinions of Yao Zongxun, presented by my teacher and other students of Yao Zongxun, many times expressed also in articles, according to his relations, what they were usually doing in first half of 20th century, was either tests of „touching hands” (like tui shou), or „ending with touch” (light sparring to first touch or demonstrating situation of „I could hit you now”), or „what you will do if I do this – just do it”, and reacting to quite fixed attack. Almost all chalanges they did were something very far from actual fighting.

Some exceptions were Zhao Daoxin fighting in guoshu tournament, Bu Enfu fighting in boxing, then a few of Wang students being prepared for challenges tournee around world in 1930. Then it was Yao Zongxun who in 1940 focused on introducing regular sparring with gloves and protectors. This way transmission of methods could be supplemented with more realistic testing. Also quite important is that in late 1940, after Japanese left, and before establishing PRC, Yao Zongxun and some of his fellow practitioners (at the moment I can remember name of Zhang Zhong) were doing a lot of testing their skill in fights against street gangs in Beijing. Due to this what Yao Zongxun was transmitting was much more based on understanding of actual fighting than in many other cases.

So, this is not just my opinion, but actually I’m trying to express/represent what is just generally accepted in this line of yiquan. It’s about being realistic, testing things, adapting and adopting what useful. Putting theory and practice (including testing) together.

So while some training methods developed in China have their merits, and we should not lose this, at the same time it is important to continue learning, test the methods against present challenges and work on improving them. Wang Xiangzhai started it. Then people like Yao Zongxun or Zhao Daoxin were really going such path.

However it doesn’t mean, what some people practicing yiquan or taikiken imagine, that you are doing some zhan zhuang, shi li and fa li and on top of this just fighting/sparring. Actually our san shou training is much more than just free sparring, including among others gongfang xunlian (attack and defense training), with various level of complexity and freedom (from fixed to partly fixed, to relatively free, to free), also practice of imagery fighting situations, so called free sparrings which actually can be limited in various ways, being relatively free, but focusing on some aspect. Full contact sparring with minimum limitations is kind of test, which should help practitioner to understand how what he learnes works in actual violent situation. This prevents from developing illusions, and helps you to improve your basic training. Actually Yao Zongxun was expressing it this way: „san shou from one point of view is a test of what you developed by training basic methods, and enables improving your basic training”. This is not just learning by fighting. Actually Yao Zongxun said (and wrote in his book) that just fighting would help to increase fighting abilities to some extent, but not really high level. Really important is that without this kind of testing it is easy to develop illusions about fighting, giving too much importance to things which for example work very well in pushing hands, but wouldn’t be so important in san shou, not really understanding how those skills relate to san shou.

Now, of course not everybody needs to do full contact fighting. But if in your school, organization there are such people, it will help also those who don’t do this to better understand fighting and avoid illusory thinking. Also it’s just honest to make it clear that if you don’t do this, your understanding of fighting is not at the level with those who do your training, and additionally test it this way. Honest (not just toward others, but also yourself) attidude, opposite to presenting something as ultimate methods, while not putting it to test.

So some people can do more, some less, some more free, some in more limited way. But if no one will do top level tests, we all be at higher risk of becoming those who only perpetuate some myths…
In present day, by regular testing I mean competitions. This is why as part of YIQUAN.COmpetitions project we plan to include Elite San Shou – full contact fighting with rules which would help to present the skills being at the core of Yao’s yiquan transmission. Short time, limited space (falling out representing falling down from platform, stairs, falling onto some object etc.), promoting „attack and defense being one”, mixing hitting with affecting balance „in the moment of contact”, „at any place contact happens”. While at the same time we want to make it possible for everybody to participate in some way (fixed position tui shou, free step tui shou, light contact san shou). When some people will do full contact they will help those who can’t do this to understand better how those more limited variants are related to more free fighting, and how to do them in a way which would lead toward developing skills working in full contact, instead of leading toward developing skills and methods which only work well in those limited formats.

So generally anyone can improve his level of fighting abilities, by using basic methods, tui shou, san shou in various proportions. Some basic methods might be more useful than others, so they can help with the goal of developing fighting abilities more than other methods. However we don’t believe in ultimate method. There are many factors which summed up make some level of fighting skill. If for some reason you leave some of them out, you need to understand that your percentage chances of winning a fight will be lower. Maybe enough with some opponent, but not enough with another. Unified whole body strength might be good against some big muscles guy, but another big muscles guy might also possess quite unified strength. „Using soft against hard”, „leading opponent into emptiness”, „using opponent’s force against him” are not some ultimate methods. Their efficiency is relative. When your opponent is big and strong, but not skilled, using „one directional”, „flat” strength, you can be smaller, weaker, and use such skill. But when opponent uses „round” balanced strength, being able to balance his strength affected even by high frequency changes, then you start understanding limitations of „soft against hard”. So while in yiquan we also have „leading into emptiness” and „using opponent’s force”, we don’t attribute to them the same kind of meaning as those who play touching hands, and don’t really test their stuff in more demanding conditions.

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