Criticising solo forms – again

In this post I want to ask a question. I’m going to give an answer too, so the question is slightly rhetorical, but I think it needs to be asked.

“Why do internal martial artists spend so much of their time criticising each other’s solo forms?”

Let’s break this down – firstly, is this statement true?

I’ll give you one recent example to act as a poof of the statement:

As somebody who has been involved in discussing internal martial arts on the Internet since around the year 2000 I can attest that this happens all the time. In fact, I would say that it’s the majority of the discussion is of this nature.

You don’t need to watch the whole video. It’s long, boring, petty and doesn’t display a particularly high level of etiquette or skill.

It’s essentially one Chinese martial artist ciricising another Chinese martial artists for the same thing over and over, which is sticking his elbow out a bit too much. I know! The horror!

Ok, he probably has a point, but you could easily turn this around and criticise all the mistakes that the tall skinny guy is making too.

The question I have is why did he make this? Why must internal arts people spend all their time criticising each other’s solo forms?

Look at other martial arts – especially the ones that have a sporting side. They don’t tend to do this. MMA people do not do this,

With internal arts it’s an endless debate on degree of uprightness, too much or not enough opening of the kua, level of relaxation, sinking enough or not enough, degree of the knee flextion, etc. The list goes on…

But ok, here’s my caveat. Internal arts are obsessed over these details because they matter. The amount of opening and closing of your kua dictates the amount of power you can produce, and the quality of your movements. The position of your elbow has a direct connection to whether you can produce whole body power or not.

But nobody has the same set of rules that these things are being judged by. In theory, there should be a standard set of rules, but in reality, different styles do things in different ways, and always will. I’m more inclined to think that obsessing over details of solo forms is a bit of a trait of internal arts and less valuable than seeing what a practitioner can do in application/sparring.

The language of internal arts is also based on the same ideas. People go to their Tai Chi teacher to get corrected. The language itself is kind of negative. Nobody talks like this is in sports. You spend time with a good boxing coach and get improved.

But, what do you think?

4 thoughts on “Criticising solo forms – again

  1. The picking apeart of his solo form was the justification but Guan mentioned that Hai Yang had avoided a challenge from a kung-fu brother of his, which is I think for him was the cardinal sin.


  2. It’s a refrain that you often hear from good practitioners and teachers “Deep skill is in the details”; BUT, too many modern practitioners in North America, in any case, seem to get bogged down in the details as a theoretical or historical exercise and neglect the physical skills. I think the host of the video you linked seems like an example of that. Personally, I liked Yang Hai’s expression of xingyi much more than what the younger man demonstrated.

    In the end, I like to remember my late mother’s good advice “If you don’t have anything positive to say, stay quiet”. My late father had a slightly more practical version of that: “If you run your mouth needlessly, someone will probably shut it for you.”



  3. Oh golly – I think one of the reasons I like people like you, Damon, Ken Gullette and Dan Djurvejic is you balance an emphasis of martial efficacy with balanced gentlemanly conduct. I am sick of reading somebody who I had hithertoe enjoyed reading (because they seemed to know what they were talking about) slagging of somebody else who I considered to be the same category.

    Guan is slagging Hai Yang (you I don’t know) who has been interview by Byron. He implied that Byron shares his low opinions of Hai Yang, which seemed (to me) to imply a duplicity in Byron which I doubted. Guan and David Ross has slagged each other, with the result that they consider each other to be dicks of the highest magnitude. Mike Sigman (who has probably slagged everybody by this point) slagged Byron which resulted him being counter slagged by David Ross. Mike Sigman and Guan haven’t slagged each other at this point (to my knowledge), but given what Guan thinks of the Chens, if it happened, I would sit down and get the popcorn and watch the drama unfold.

    Just to add, that before all this, I enjoyed reading and watching Guan, David Ross and even Mike Sigman (when he wasn’t slagging other people). I get that there needs to be standards to allow internal arts to be effective martial arts, and I heartily endorse that. Frauds and charlatans should be called out, but it so easily seems to slip into this nit-picking petty political bullshit!

    right – rant over!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It happens in the world of so-called external styles as well. It’s formalised in the whole concept of forms competitions which are by far the most popular platform for competition between Chinese martial artists. I think it’s connected to the culture of CMA which, let’s face it, has for a very long time given importance to performance skills. My belief is that solo forms are a way of demonstrating one’s skill and prowess, without actually fighting. Whether it’s to promote a particular school in the marketplace or as a friendly competition, no one gets hurt and no one really loses face (or the outcome of the competition is easily manipulated to minimise loss of face).

    The flip side of it of course, especially evident if you read YouTube comments, is that armchair criticism of actual fighting is also pretty common. All the people who never even bothered to get in the ring or cage or whatever are full of their own ideas and suggestions and corrections, and I see this as possibly more silly. Thinking further, it seems to be that case with a lot of other popular sport as well, for example football.

    Liked by 1 person

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