Thursday, July 12, 2012

Not a mystery to be good at martial applications

Dear Master Hwa,

"I have become impatient with the slowness of the learning curve regarding Classical Tai Chi for this reason alone: the forms playing does not seem to be leading to martial application, and there does not seem to be any partners out this way who know Classical Tai that I can practice.

So, I am enrolling in a Wing Chun class through a park district close to where I live. My first class was this past Wednesday, and I asked for an opportunity to use what I have learned in the Forms playing with the Sifu that is teaching the class. Here is the scenario. He asked me to use a boxing jab to try to attack him. He became aggressive immediately by using a barrage of strikes, blocks, and forward motion. I used circular defensive arm moves while playing Repulse Monkey. I could feel my internal energy in my Dan Tien and quarter body moves. However, Sifu was able to tag me in the face. In blocking his punches, I received a large bruise on the top of my left hand. We did not have padded gloves.  OK, so here is the question. How did he get inside me so quickly?  It was all a blur. Now, given I was not as aggressive as I could have been. I did pull back. But still, he got close to me very quickly, and stuck to me. It was like I was pulling him round trying to free up some space between us. He had the advantage. He was fighting on the inside before I could do anything effective."

When I used Fair Lady Works the Shuttle as he squared off with me, my ward off was good using the turning of the waist and arms connected to the upper body while lower body stayed rooted. But he grabbed my T-Shirt as he went in the other direction and used the power I used to move away from him after the ward off as a way of sticking to me. He could have hit me in the temple, or in the back of the head. But it was a demonstration I had asked for and so he did not.  I did knock him off balance because he was double waited at the time. That felt good.

In another demonstration, Sifu wanted to prove a point that he could finger jab me in the sternum before I could do anything about it. He was lightening fast. I was not fast enough to block his incoming force. Probably because my reflexes are not as highly developed as his. Thinking back, I could have turned my upper body quadrant away from his incoming force, but didn't because he wanted to square of with him. I simply followed instructions.

Here is where you come in Master Hwa. I need your concerted effort in analyzing what happened. I know that you where not there and did not have an opportunity to observe my form and delivery. But you have observed my playing the Forms both in Florida and Buffalo. you also have your own experience and wisdom in how you might have handle these situations.  

Don't pull any punches :)  The above could be a good subject matter in one of your Forums e.g. how is it that we are employing martial application along with our Form playing.

By the way, how does it take to be a Tai Chi fighter? Have you had sparring experience?

Hope all is well with you and your family.


Hi James: There is no mystery to be good at martial art application. This is discussed in my book and video.
You need to go through three steps:
1. Develop internal energy or power through Form practice, so that one can deliver the power at any angle and position.
2. Practice the form such that the ability of delivery becomes instinctive, no need to think.
3. Practice push hand and sparing to develop sensitivity and finesse.
As I recall when you visited me in Florida, you were not close to master step 1. You were able to use internal at several moves but not all angles. From your description of your sparing experience, you still need to think when you move. No wonder you were always one step behind, and being controlled by the opponent.
Step 3 needs partner to practice. There is no short cut to that.
I hope I have answered your questions.

Stephen Hwa

"There are no winning moves, only winning execution of moves"...Stephen Hwa

Hi James,

I studied at Wu's Tai Chi Academy in Toronto for some time, then I met Stephen Hwa and my Tai Chi got better.  I was doing Tae Kwon Do at the time  at Wu's and my skills were not great, nor were my Tai Chi fighting skills in the studio.  On the street however, I was able to defend myself quite adequately as I had the misfortune of being attacked/mugged on several occasions. I found in Tae Kwon Do some different experiences than I found at Wu's.  For instance, with Tai Chi I found  myself in situations where I ended up grappling but in Tae Kwon Do   I did not. 

I had quite a number of occasions to spar in both arts and even to use Tae Kwon Do against Tai Chi people. I find myself thinking here of Grandmaster Young Wabu and his expression of the difficulty he had in forgetting the external arts he learned.  In other words, I think he felt it did not help his Tai Chi. I found that there were some Tai Chi people that could not deal with my kicks and there were some who could.  I found that there were some people who could deal with my punches and there were some who could not. I submit the following: To use Tai Chi against Tai Chi, Tae Kwon Do, Wing Chun, etc., etc. is not a matter of proving which art is "better".  It is a matter of which opponent is "better" at the art they are using. I believe there is an adage that says: “It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.” 
― Mark Twain

Why not get some Wing Chun people to spar against you while you do Tai Chi, why "throw out the baby with the bath water"? In Tai Chi one does not use "boxing jab to attack him", it is a pure defensive art, why not an agreeable "sparring" situation, where he uses a boxing jab to attack you?  Anyway, all this proves is he is better at Wing Chun than you are at Tai Chi, not Wing Chun is better than Tai Chi. I don't wish to analyze your synopsis any more because it reads the same throughout.

If one wants to get better at Tai Chi,  it requires sensitivity to opponents movement, ability to ting jin, stick to opponent and to have  intelligence under pressure.   I see no reason why any of that cannot be maintained into old age.  Even Western Boxing's clinch (before it became the disgraceful stalling tactic it is now) could be said to have once relied on some semblance of sensitivity. Even with that the bout between Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes went to grappling and trapping range 10 times in the first three minutes...once every 18 seconds. This means "practicing push hands and sparring to develop sensitivity and finesse" with a variety of opponents. 

 How can anyone expect to develop sticking from just practicing the form?   I see no place where Master Hwa promises a "flowering" of self defense ability. Additionally, no one ever promised folks "Pie in the Sky" in Classical Tai Chi and on the contrary the limitations of what we do have been spelled out even more than I got at Wu's.  Learning to stick to opponent in close quarters   This step requires willing and trusted partner and ones own willing participation. How to learn to spar with Tai Chi, particularly  if one can find a Wing Chun partner , particularly one who is physically stronger then they will find the guy will just ram down your centerline and smash you out of the what you describe. Then you have  to stick with his smashing, not run away.

As one gets older, they are no longer going to be the fastest or strongest so they have to rely on feeling out the opponent.  If one can't beat with speed then you  have to stick.  This does not mean you are not going to get hit.  In his fight with a Hard Style opponent, Wu Gong Yi was limited by rules not to stick, if he could then I think things would be much different and perhaps not "called a draw". 

If one is moving from Tai Chi to Wing Chun having some idea of the difference between Wing Chun and Tai Chi comes with research before starting.  My student Anh Le does Wing Chun and also spars with people who do mixed Martial Arts.  He also admits there are things that he personally can do and cannot do and although he is defeated, he does not blame either Tai Chi or Wing Chun, he has enough reasoning ability to put the onus squarely on his own shoulders. He states that Chi Sao in Wing Chun is done with arms that move independently of the torso in straight line fashion and yin yang junctions are at the shoulder in contrast to that of Tai Chi. 

It is interesting that chi sao in Wing Chun which to the uninitiated "looks" like Tai Chi push hands emphasizes economy of movement and decrease in circular action by centering the elbow in straight line arm movements. On the contrary, we  see  centering of elbow in tight compact form with a subsequent increase in circular action.  If one does not posess number 1 where internal power can be delivered at any angle, much less from one's own center how on earth can one expect to attack an opponent when one cannot even protect oneself by sticking, which comes from push hands which have  never even done?

You wish me to be honest, not pull punches, I would say get a  "grip", so to speak.  How can one  with  reasoning that Tai Chi is not good enough, also expect to reconcile the attitude "I'm here to learn to kick him in the *&%$" that I heard at the workshop.  How does that reconcile   with "He who knows much is learned; he who knows himself is wise. He who rules others has the power of muscles; he who rules himself has strength?"  Once again, who is attacking you?  Do you get mugged just walking out the door, simplest martial art would be the art of "getting out of Dodge"...move your belongings to another section of town, I see no one else but you, where are the muggers?   Wishful thinking and an   "I wannabe" attitude , to learn to "kill 10 people at one fell swoop" from any martial art...ain't going to happen. If 10 guys jump you, then hope they have mercy.

What do you think about my adding a Wing Chung Traditional Wooden Dummy along with my learning the 108 Classical Tai Chi Forms?
What do you think my about adding a Free Standing Makiwara Board to my regimen?

The impetus for my questions has to do with my desire to move into martial application. I do not know that mastering the Forms is going to be enough for me at this point. I liked what I observed at the training in Buffalo last summer between you and a student regarding "Carrying the Tiger to the Mountain."

I have been practicing Classical Tai Chi for 7 plus years, and am on the 98th Form, and anticipate finishing sometime in 2012. I feel alive, and competent when practicing Wudang Tiger Tail Short Staff, and powerful when palm striking and kicking a 4 x 4 free standing piece of wood outdoors. I have an appreciation for my adequate self defense skills in what I have learned in all these disciplines.
Your feedback will be greatly appreciated.

OK, you ask for "feedback" and I am not going to pull my punches, which by the way Tai Chi does not do anyway:

How do you figure a striking post will help?  If one cannot muster internal power for application, isn't this a weakness that is a priori to any "striking post"?  Want to get better?  Then develop internal power for application.  Other than that you are relegated to using external force which gives you no advantage over a more accomplished external martial artist, as you clearly illustrated.  Master Hwa tells me even some retired old ladies that he teaches seem to enjoy using their newly acquired semi-internal power to push people around.

To paraphrase Master Hwa's statement about "winning moves":  "There are no winning martial arts, only winning execution of martial arts" , in other words it is the size of the fight in the dog, not the dog that is in the fight.  

James R.


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