You know those wooden toys that have cutouts of shapes and a hammer for the kids to bang the right shape into the right hole? Square, circle, star, that sort of thing.
Martial arts techniques are a lot like that. You can have the best technique in the world, but if you’re doing it at the wrong time it’s like trying to hammer the wrong shape into the wrong hole. It ‘ain’t going to work not matter how hard you try…
Throws are a really good example of this. Throws work best when you try and throw the person in the direction they are already going. For example, if a person is basing backwards (moving their weight to their heels and sinking down) then it’s going to be really tough to throw them forward with say, a hip throw. Of course, if you’re a lot heavier and bigger than your opponent then it becomes possible, but we want good technique here. Good technique would be to take them backwards with some sort of inside trip.
In internal martial arts we call that ability to sense where the other person’s weight and direction is going ‘sensitivity’. A lot of times people in wrestling and throwing arts don’t train sensitivity as a separate quality, you just kind of pick it up as you go through drills or live sparring against real resisting people. In martial arts like Tai Chi you can spend a lot of time specifically training sensitivity where it’s called ting jin – to listen. I’m pretty sure I used to think that the more intellectual Tai Chi approach was superior, but now I’m not so sure. If you naturally acquire sensitivity over long periods of time through resistant sparring then you kind of own it in an authentic way. It’s yours. You worked for it and its real. I’m not saying you can’t get that through the push hands approach, but the problem with shortcuts is that they’re exactly that – a shortcut. Something is always missing. You need to put in the hard physical miles in if you want to get something tangible in marital arts. I’m not sure there are really shortcut to some of these things.
My martial arts mentor Damon Smith, who I do the Heretics podcast with, often says there is no such thing as good technique, there is only appropriate technique. He’s talking about banging the right shape into the right hole at the right time.
Our new podcast is out! I talk warriorship with the esteemed Matthew Kreuger of the Walking with the Tengu podcast, as part of the #warriorshipconversing project started by Kung Fu Conversations podcast. We also talk about Shuai Jiao, Iaido, BJJ and professional wrestling. You’ll find us on iTunes and Spotify. Search for The Tai Chi Notebook podcast. Enjoy!
There have not been many updates to the blog recently, but don’t worry, I’ve been busy working hard behind the scenes. I’ve just recorded a great conversation with Matthew Kreuger of the Walking with the Tengu podcast. “A podcast exploring classic writings as they relate to the modern martial artist.” We covered all sorts of topics including warriorship, philosophy and of course, martial arts. Matthew is going to be my guest on the next episode of the Tai Chi Notebook podcast, so look out for that, coming sometime in October.
One of the things we talked about was how Matthew has integrated Shuai Jiao throwing techniques into the standup component of his Brazilian Jiujitsu training. This is a really interesting approach, as you typically see BJJ integrated with wrestling or Judo, but mixing it with the stand up Chinese jacket wrestling style is not something I’ve seen before.
Shuai Jiao contains a lot of solo exercises for conditioning the body, and my ears pricked up when Matthew said that these exercises had really helped him with a back injury that had dogged his training.
Matthew has been a studying from the online school of Sonny Mannon, co-founder & Head Trainer for Guang Wu Shuai Jiao. I looked him up and found this basic introduction to Shuai Jiao warm up exercises video that he did in 2020.
Having just followed along these exercises I can see how they benefit the waist, core and lower back area. But also the flexibility in the legs – my hamstrings and calf muscles were particularly stiff the day after! That video follows on into this one, which is about ‘belt cracking’.
Belt cracking is less about stretching and more about developing that explosive shake that you see in a lot of Chinese martial arts, sometimes called Fa Jin. It’s interesting stuff, but in Shuai Jiao you’re generally not trying to hit with it, you’re using it to disrupt the opponent’s structure to create openings. You can see some applications of it on Sonny’s Instagram account: