Great little video clip on good posture and how it relates to martial arts from my friend Matt Hill who runs the Systema Academy in Wiltshire, UK. I like the point he makes about animals in nature, and how they are always in good posture.
I’ve blogged about my friend Byron Jacobs before – he’s a Westerner deeply immersed in Chinese culture and martial arts and living in China at an interesting time.
We’re currently in the era where Chinese martial arts are opening up to the West in a way they’ve been prevented for doing for a long time. MMA and Jiujitsu (BJJ) is finally making an impact and people are starting to realise that modern training methods offer something that traditional methods are lacking. It will be interesting to see how the future plays out for Chinese martial arts, and what happens to traditional arts and skills.
Byron has just recorded an episode of the Real Fake Swords podcast where he addresses these issue and tells you what it’s actually like in China when it comes to martial arts. It’s fascinating (and probably different to the way you think it is) and well worth a listen. (If you are pushed for time start listening at around 15 minutes in.)
I hadn’t heard of Real Fake Swords before, but it looks like a good podcast series. I notice they’ve got episodes with other interesting martial arts personalities.
Here’s the last episode of my 8-week course in mindful Tai Chi movements. This week we bring things full circle back to the first exercise we did in week 1 and take a closer look at the back bow.
There’s a thoughtful piece on addiction, wellness and martial arts over at our good friends Kung Fu Tea that’s worth a read.
Although I never met him, as a fellow practitioner of “old man Jiujitsu” the loss of Anthony Bourdain hit me hard. It felt like we lost a warrior, an inspiration and friend all at the same time.
Rest in Power Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018), Renzo Gracie Blue Belt.
Photo Credit: Helen Cho
Mike Sigman posted a video on how to use the power of the ground in your movements recently and it’s one of the best explanations I’ve seen. I’ve shared it below. It’s a simple concept to understand (but hard to do under pressure) so I think this can be applied to any martial art.
I like videos like this because they take a lot of the mystery out of Asian martial arts. Quite often you’d need to be training in a system for a number of years before you were taught these concepts, mainly due to a traditional culture of secrecy. In contrast, Mike’s approach is to start with these concepts right at the beginning of your training, so you don’t go off on the wrong track. Take a look:
Born in 1990, Wang Yan became head coach of Cheng village training centre in 2013 and is as a Taiji fighter as well as a coach, not to mention an expert in forms. He was one of the “nine tigers” – the best nine students of Chen ZiQiang. There’s an interview with him in English on Chen Taijiquan blog, with some great pictures from his private collection. The interview is pretty long, but there are lots of really interesting insights into his daily training, San Da competitions training and how exhausting it all was!
I’ve cherry-picked a few quotes below:
On his own training:
“Our daily routine started in the morning with running and warming-up excercises. In the first morning class we studied forms, in the second class we did strength excercices, in the third class we did push hands exercises, kicks, punches and other self defense techniques, and during the last evening class we were again doing push hands exercises, and sometimes weight lifting.”
“When a student grows a little older, reaching his late teens and early twenties, then the school starts putting much more attention to learning taolu (forms).”
“When I was a young student, the training was more strenous then now. The approach has changed nowadays towards a somewhat softer way. Students now come from more comfortable backgrounds and are, generally speaking, often more interested in computer games than in serious training.”
“Some of us developed more in the direction of Taiji fighting, while the others became the very best in various Taiji forms.”
“To develop stamina we would practice frog jumps, running in a crouched position, running while carrying someone on our shoulders etc., until the point where I would be absolutely exhausted.
One method of practicing tuishou was, for example, being in a circle of about twenty students, who would challenge you one after another. When I knock the first one down, the next one would attack, and so on till the last one, after which the circle repeats itself. I also practiced the same circle exercise blindfolded in order to sharpen body sensations. Sometimes during wintertime, shifu would take us outside, dressed just in trousers, to train in the snow. One of exercises was to hold each other by the legs while ‘hand walking’ on the cold or frozen ground.
Before tuishou competitions I always have to control my weight, so during preparation time I would eat less and avoid spicy and very greasy food. Finally, after hard training, it is also important to have a proper rest.”
“There is a saying: “By missing one day of practice, your skill regresses for three days”. So, I make sure that I practice every day.That means that I go at least through forms. And when I have some more time, I do also some fitness exercises like running and weight lifting.”
It really does sounds beyond what most people could have physically and mentally endured at a young age, and more extreme than the training is in Chen Village these days.
There’s a lot of controversy in Tai Chi circles about the role of weight training in internal arts. It’s often dismissed as either unnecessary or worse, damaging to progress. It sounds like the antithesis of the frequently heard advice to relax more. Yang Cheng Fu’s “10 important points” essay is often read as a warning of the dangers of following an “external” path. (I think people often miss the meaning of that text though, so I’ll return to it at a later date.)
When the Chen Tai Chi masters teach seminars to Westerners they keep the focus on traditional conditioning exercises, like silk reeling, or zhan zhuang and forms, which do not involve weights, and emphasize things like relaxation and internal conditioning. Traditionally of course, training with heavy weapons would have been a form of weight training, and village farmers would have naturally been very strong people from all the physical labour, but there still seems to be a contradiction between the methods espoused to Western students in seminars and the content of the syllabus for training young fighters in Chen village itself.
There are also the ‘internet famous’ pictures of Chen ZiQiang doing weight training, and looking very ‘cut’ that spark off these debates, for example:
So, it’s interesting to read the above interview, where Wang Yan makes clear the role that weight training played in training his generation of Chen village teachers, especially when preparing for San Da competition. It’s also interesting to note that they may be the last generation to be trained like that, as “Students now come from more comfortable backgrounds and are, generally speaking, often more interested in computer games than in serious training.”
That’s an interesting point in itself, that makes me wonder if that generation was a kind of high point for martially trained Tai Chi fighters from Chen village. “May the children of your enemies live in luxury!”, as the famous Cynic philosopher Antisthenes said; a quote that echoes the famous poem/meme:
Of course, it’s all a matter of perspective. The people Wang Yan is training now are probably working a lot harder than most people could tolerate, even if they’re not doing wheelbarrows in the snow in winter wearing only their trousers 🙂
If I was training full time to be a fighter and I had a fight coming up in which somebody was going to try their best (under the rules) to hurt/beat me, then you can bet I’d be weight training too! You can’t fake fitness. And no matter how good your Tai Chi skills, if you get out of breath in a fight and your conditioning fails then you can’t fight back. Also, extra muscle mass doesn’t stop you from doing internal movement, although speaking realistically I don’t think that would have been the focus of training going into a fight.
Wang Yan was training as a full-time athlete. As well as doing all the hard physical training he would have been training in traditional Chen family methods at the same time. One does not preclude the other. While some might look down on all that physical training, it appears that the Chen village plan is to develop physical attributes first in its young people, including fighting skills, and later the more subtle Tai Chi skill is focussed on.
Here’s a video of Wang Yan doing some traditional Chen forms:
And here he is looking pretty good in a San Da match from 2013:
He’s a great inspiration for all Tai Chi practioners everywhere.
Here’s part 4 of the course. This week we focus on breathing. I cover the topics of normal and reverse breathing, then show a couple of different exercises that will get you on the right track for applying the breathing methods to the movement we are working on. Finally, we integrate the breathing into the movement, preserving all the progress we have made so far. Once you get the hang of it those breathing exercises I show are not required anymore, as you should be integrating it into your main exercise.
This week is more subtle than work showed previously. An inner focus will be required. Good luck! I’m happy to answer any questions you have.
It’s all in Chinese, but I believe this video is a Tai Chi guy entering a BJJ competition in China… or maybe it’s a challenge match. From the way everybody is watching this one match, in particular, I get the feeling this is a special challenge.
Here’s the video. The match starts at around 8.30.
I can’t understand what is being said, but based on what I can see the “Tai Chi” guy showing a terrible lack of respect – he keeps hitting the BJJ guy, which is against the rules, then saying sorry to the audience, apologising profusely, then just doing it again. There’s lots of drama. The “Tai Chi” guy tries to walk off at one point when he realises the way things are going. Well done to the BJJ guy for keeping his cool.
When the “Tai Chi” guy inevitably gets submitted the ref separates them and then he tries to attack the BJJ guy after the match has ended, at which point the ref restrains him with a choke hold and chaos ensues.
Only in China 🙂
In a world where you can self-identify as anything, anybody can claim to be a “Tai Chi guy”, but apparently the guy is Zheng Jiakuan, known as the apprentice of Ma Baoguo, and the BJJ guy is a blue-belt player Zhang Long from Alliance.
Ma Baoguo produced this famous video which he claims showed the effectiveness of his techniques… while the MMA fighter claims otherwise.
Anyway, I think that says it all.
I don’t really know what the Tai Chi guy expected to achieve by entering a BJJ tournament, but by behaving so badly he’s ended up looking even worse than you’d expect. All the traditional Chinese values of respect are all displayed by the BJJ guy.
A better video for “Tai Chi vs BJJ” is the video of Marcelo Garcia against a Taiwanese push hands champion. Of course, lots of people don’t think these push hands champions are doing Tai Chi either, but at least respect was shown:
Here’s the second episode of my Tai Chi course on mindful Tai Chi movements. This week we take a look at where you power you movements from in the body. Enjoy!