Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Kungfu in our Karate

Hi, everyone.

Last week marked the end of a discussion that I have really enjoyed. Taijiquan has- just like much of China's other martial arts, really awesome forms to watch.

Having studied Jeet Kune Do- I am well aware that a lot of modern fighters don't care much for forms. Bruce Lee was quite frank about it. He did not like them. Whether he liked them or not, however, forms were used from as early as the 17th century to transmit the martial arts techniques we know today from one source to another.

Karate as we know it today is the result of Okinawan martial arts having been introduced to 20th Century Japan. Since that time Karate has changed and developed a lot. New schools have even emerged in this century.

Here in South Africa I have become aware of more than one school of Shotokan that has absolutely no affiliation with Japan. I currently attend classes at one of these schools.

These schools often show a neglect of traditional teachings that I find lamentable to say the least. I have witnessed a period in which Karate's popularity was declining because the public felt that other martial arts were a lot more effective for health, spiritual development and of course- self defense.

The efforts of teachers like Jesse Enkamp and Iain Abernethy have in the recent years proven most valuable in showing Karate's true nature to the world. I know that I for one became interested in Karate all over again as a result of that.

The largest part of these efforts consisted of explaining the applications of kata movements. These applications are often referred to as bunkai, but- as Sensei Jesse will tell you- bunkai actually means breakdown. So- I prefer the word "application". My first Sensei used it instead of bunkai anyway.

In spite of Sensei Iain and Jesse's spreading of the word a large number of Karate schools do kata that they do not understand. The very fact that a student learns a new kata without its application or purpose is actually a sign that something is very wrong in this day and age.

My project for the next couple of weeks is not going to be explaining bunkai, though. I might discuss bunkai in the course of what I am doing, but I am actually going to be taking a closer look at those techniques of Karate that are evidence of the influence Chinese martial arts had on the early development of Karate.

One of our Martial Arts Forums community members can tell you that Karate is not the only Japanese martial art that has Chinese roots. Shorinji Kenpo is the result of a Japanese General called Doshin So who learnt Shaolin Kungfu in China and developed a uniquely Japanese martial practice from it.

It is interesting to note that while Karate teachers on the internet have been at time ascribing up to 12 different applications to one given movement in a Karate form Shaolin practitioners have been practicing the same way they had for years without the need to debate or question the applications of the movements in their forms.

I trust that the posts for the next couple of weeks shall explain to us why...

I hope to see you all here again next week. Stay well, everyone!


Saturday, 17 June 2017

Taiji Movement #6- Brush Knee and Push (and other related movements

Hello again!

This is acutally one of the simplest of movements that appear in every Taiji form that I have seen.

I was planning to do a post on its application as a simultaneous lower parry and push and show how other similar techniques get used in the Wudang arts, but must admit that Sifu Iain has a much cooler application for this movement- as is shown in the Youtube videos that I have linked below...

Image result for brush knee and push

In Shaolin Kungfu we have a move called the "Green Dragon" and to put it very simply it is a downward block that is accompanied by a tiger palm strike.

The value of attacking while defending cannot be overemphasised since a lot of seasoned fighters only provide you with an opening when they are actually attacking. Fighters who are too focused on evading or blocking at the cost of their own counterattack miss that opportunity to attack.

The ability to defend and attack at the same time of course also stops your opponent from letting his attack escalate into something that is impossible to control.

In the video below I first do the classical "Brush Knee and Push" as if I am passing a front kick from my side and pushing my opponent over. After that I parry an imaginary opponent's mid-level punch to the side and push and lastly I redirect a face punch upwards and away while pushing into my opponent.


Sifu Iain's Taiji is actually the best that I have seen on Youtube for years now. His videos also give the best explanations- much like another Iain to whom I look up a lot.

Sifu Iain is not showing lower parry and push, though.

He actually shows how you can shake off a grappling opponent like a dog shakes water off its body by maintaining that ever-important rooting and using that hip rotation.

The two videos are here:

This concludes my posts on Taiji movements. These posts are my response to that video that seems to have destroyed people's faith in Taijiquan. 

I have applied Taijiquan in fights and sparring matches myself and have found that it provides an edge in grappling situations. It also provides space in a clinch situation and actually simplifies that panicky situation where an opponent has you cornered and pelts you with blows.

My only advice on using Taiji is not to fight like a boxer or a Greco-Roman wrestler. Maintain your posture and maintain your calm. Taiji is not done with a flinching spirit, buts meets attacks and redirects them or absorbs them and attacks with the devastating power of gravity itself.

Much of this forms part of Wenhsiuquan. While it is not really suited for points competition- it is the basis of a good defense.

Stay well, everyone and train hard!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Taijiquan Movement #5: Part Wild Horse Mane

Weekend is finally here and I can finally get to writing this weekend's post! :)

Today's Taijiquan move is also found in almost all forms being taught in the world today. Readers who practice Tai Chi, but who have never bothered to find out about any of its combat applications might find the applications of this move interesting.

If you are a Karate student you are most likely, just like me, used to techniques having simple names. Gyaku Zuki, Mawashi Geri and so forth. The trouble with the names of Kungfu movements, especially Taijiquan's, is that the absence of a visual demonstration would leave the uninitiated at a loss for any idea what the move's function is or even how it is performed.

Fortunately- I have found photos and videos to give non- Tai chi folk an idea of how this movement is performed and what use it has in a fight. 

In Shotokan Karate's kata Enpi we have a similar move that looks like this:

The two claw-hands look really menacing and makes the movement look a lot scarier than its Taijiquan counterpart.

What is agreed by most exponents of Taijiquan is that the body rotation at the start is very important as it is used to evade a frontal attack from your opponent.

It also sets the opponent up to fall over when that rotation unwinds and your arm sweeps outward in the palm-up position, much like Karate's Uchi Uke.

I have found two videos demonstrating this principle:

The best video I have found, however, comes from none other than our community's Dan Djurdevic!

This awesome demonstration conforms with my self imposed rule that a form's application should not merely be a justification for keeping a move around, but should rather give a satisfactory answer to the question: "why would I want to use this move?" Sifu Dan's detailed explanation showing how he maintain's control over his opponent's one hand while putting himself out of the other's reach is simply perfect in that regard. I strongly recommend you watch the video.

The link is here:

Now- since Karate has a similar movement I simply had to hear what Sensei Iain had to say on the subject. He is after all the authority on putting kata to use.

Upward palm strikes may be awkward, but are found in  the Shaolin fighting styles. It is therefore not surprising that Sensei Iain would find an application for the movement that uses an upward palm strike. The angle may look a bit different from that of the kata, but then again- I have seen an upward grab on the jaw being used as well by a Kungfu fighter which uses the same angle of the palm. It is not really of any use to go under your opponent's chin any other way when you are using an open hand...

This video shows how he gets the opponent's head in just the right position for an upward strike that has the striking hand at the same angle as the hand in the kata's movement.

I have also seen applications that use a vertical backhand strike or an outward forearm/ ridge hand strike.

This was now the second last movement that I was going to discuss on this blog.

Next post is actually going to be about more than one movement, but shall be based mostly on "Brush the Knee and Push".

Until then- stay well and train hard!

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Tai Chi Movement #4- The Single Whip

Today's post is about a movement that is as identifiable with Taijiquan as the Age Uke is with Karate.

Nowadays I find a lot of DVD's and literature on Taijiquan that go into detail about movements, but do not bother to give any explanation of the martial application of these movements.

My first book on Taijiquan did just that.

My teacher before then did not want to teach me the fighting applications in the hope of curing my anger issues.

After 5 years or so from learning Taijiquan for the first time I got this book by David Gaffney and Davidine Sim on Chen Style Taijiquan. The book itself is a valuable source of information on Taijiquan technique while it does not do anything to teach a form to beginners.

The book had this to say about the Single Whip:

What is described in this poem is a posture akin to Happo Biraki in Japanese martial arts. This posture keeps the stance relaxed, but firmly rooted while the arms are spread wide open. The purpose of this posture is readiness for an attack from any direction and the posture is designed for use in situations where the user has to fight against multiple adversaries.

What might not satisfy many of us from the happo biraki or even kamae application of this movement is that neither happo biraki nor a simple kamae need any one of the hands to form that bird's beak to make them work.

In all the forms I have seen this movement also does not consist of merely raising the arms in anticipation of an imaginary attack, but consist of elaborate arm movement and shifting of weight.
I have found a Youtube link in which a typical execution of this movement is explained.

The execution is usually as follow:

Weight shifts onto the the back leg while the rear hand travels from the front of the body to the back while forming the bird's beak. The lead hand joins the rear hand in this movement. Then, when weight gets shifted onto the leading foot, the leading hand leaves the bird's beak hand behind and pushes out to the front. The arms never fully straighten, so it is hard to tell whether it is meant to be a thrust, a strike or a blocking movement.

This guy shares my view that the bird's beak indicates a grab. I apply Single Whip in a matter similar to the photo below.

Sifu Mantak Chia is a master of the very strange and unusual Wu Style of which I like the internal aspects much more than the technical applications. He does not feel the need to grab the opponent's hand, but uses the bird's beak in a manner similar to Shaolin's Monkey Paw. The Monkey Paw can be used to hook an attacking arm to the side. We see Master Chia in the photo below guiding an attacking arm to the side with the bird's beak while intercepting a punch from the other side with a shuto uke. Yes- there is a lot of similarities with karate if you know where to look...

Thing is: I can guide pushing attacks to my side in more efficient ways that do not involve unnecessarily deforming my hand and I trust that you will say the same.

Another thing is- in Karate we learn that pulling someone is much more effective when you keep the arms close to your body and pull the opponent towards you instead of away from you.

So- why would you need to take someone so far to your side?

To me the answer lies in the lateral weakness all fighting stances have.

This weakness lies across the line between a person's feet. Where an opponent stands in a front stance, for instance, the lateral weakness will be from a 45 degree angle from his front.

Now- taking this opponent's arm and just pulling it towards you is not going to unbalance him. His shoulder may turn, but he will remain standing.

Pull a bit to your side though he will find his footing being challenged, though. Once this imbalance is created it is necessary to exploit it immediately with a slight push with the free hand.

If you successfully applied this move against a lead hand punch you can find the opponent turning his shoulder away from you and landing on his butt. Against a reverse punch the opponent may remain standing, but striking at the right spot can dislocate his shoulder or dislodge his collarbone. For friendly sparring I like to counter a reverse punch with Snake Creeps Down, which is actually a variation of the Single Whip that attacks the lower body and that, as we have seen in an earlier post, can be quite an effective throw.

That concludes today's post.

Next post shall be about a move called "Parting Wild Horse Mane".  


Sunday, 28 May 2017

Tai Chi Movement #3- Wave Hands like Clouds

I have just started searching for examples of this movement on the internet and realised that among all the people doing Tai Chi out there I might just be the only one who would apply Cloud Hands the way I do.

I have found different variations of the movement itself as well. This makes my writing about my version and its application a bit unfair as you will be missing out on some really elaborate applications.

Now- how I always did this movement is starting from a posture like the Lute Playing posture like the picture below-

or the Spread Wings posture like this:

From either one of these ready postures I then rotate my front foot and let my body follow while my leading hand makes contact with an imaginary thrust and I then complete the rotation by passing the attack while I guide its force past me with minimal effort and my free hand follows the blocking hand to wind up for an outward strike.

When the rotation and step is complete I shift weight onto the new leading foot and strike outward with a knife hand to the groin or ribs. The strike could also be with the forearm.

That is how I do the form anyway. In sparring I often use an elbow strike or a straight punch instead of the outward strike.

Another way of applying this movement would be guiding a straight thrust past you with an inward forearm block while the body rotates and the free hand raises to prepare for an inward knife hand. Then, when the body rotates in the opposite direction again, the blocking arm pushes the opponent's arm downward and out while the knife hand flies in to strike the carotid artery.

Well- that is how I have been doing it.

This is what I found on Youtube, however:

I seem to find everyone to have a grappling application to the one movement or the other in forms nowadays. Not that I am really complaining...

What I do need to caution novices about, however, is that it is fine to learn elaborate moves in training, but fighting itself- especially grappling- requires speed and efficiency. Your opponent will not give you a second chance when you fumble on one of the steps to your awesome move and trying to force your body to recall that complex set of movements in the heat of battle is certain defeat.

The key to having your martial arts training more readily available to you in a fight is to keep the principle behind the technique in mind while leaving the execution of specific movements to itself.

The version of Wave Hands like Clouds that I do does not rely on a big evasive movement to step away from an attack, but rather body rotation and minimal involvement from the blocking hand to pass an attack and get yourself inside the opponent's defense. This clinch position in which you then find yourself is then ideal for close range attacks like the forearm strike to the ribs, hammer fist/ knife hand to the groin or the elbow to the solar plexus. If the rotation and passing is done on time the block is not even really necessary, but it does help to clear a bothersome arm out of the way for you to attack the body.

This approach is simple and that is where its effectiveness lies.

Karate also uses this principle in some of its katas.

That wraps it up for this week's post.

Next week's post is going to be about The Single Whip.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Reverse Crescent Kick in Taijiquan

Hi, blog readers.

As suggested by Travelling Lakan in our Martial Arts Forums group on G+ I write this weekend's post about the reverse crescent kick as we find it in Taijiquan. I admit that I have not seen a spinning version of this kick in Tai Chi forms, but using the principles of Taiji technique I have constructed a spinning kick for us to use in this discussion.

I was not able to get examples from the internet of this particular kick off the internet, so I made videos under the strict supervision of Master Patrys. She supervises all of my Saturday workouts and makes sure that I do not slack off when training. :D

I have not seen this kick in Shotokan before. To give you an idea of what a reverse crescent kick is I can use Ryu from the Street Fighter game series as an example. Ryu has a special attack called the "Tatsu Maki Senpuu Kyaku". I have yet to ask my Japanese friends for an accurate translation, but we gamers got to know it as the "Hurricane Kick" or the "Helicopter Kick".

Back in the 90's I thought Ryu's spinning off like that to be impossible, but the videos we find on the internet showing 720 and 1080 spinning kicks being performed show us that martial artists can push their limits when they are really intent on doing so.

Where the normal reverse crescent kick is well known without any aerobatics or acrobatics are the arts of Capoeira and Taekwondo.

I don't know Capoeira, so I won't elaborate on its technique.

In Taekwondo, however, this kick has a non-spinning version that can be used as a parry to sweep attacking arms or legs out of the way by using the kicking leg or an attack that strikes with the outer edge of the kicking foot.

The spinning version in Taekwondo uses a sharp twist of the shoulders- about 270 degrees and pushing beyond that- which in turn pulls the hips into rotation that in turn propels the kicking leg into a devastating whiplash effect. The rotation is sharp enough to sufficiently power the kick even if the supporting foot leaves the ground.

I have seen the reverse crescent kick in only one Taiji form before and it looks something like this:


Kung fu in general, and Taijiquan being no exception, launches a kick only after the supporting foot has been turned into position and planted. Turning the foot outward sets you up for front kicks, roundhouse kicks or just a straightforward lunge. Turning inward prepares you to execute spinning kicks or spinning attacks.

Taijiquan's attacks can be done on a slippery floor without falling because momentum is not allowed to run away with you. Weight is usually shifted to a place only when the foot is already there to receive it. This is a lot different from Karate.

This is why the kick starts with the cross-step placing the supporting foot in position before the kick flies out. The form has the hands slapping the kicking leg like what I am doing in the video. The reason for this is unfortunately not explained by Paul Crompton in his book. I suspect that it has something to do with disarming an attacker that uses a spear or a staff, though.

The upper body remains right on top of the supporting leg. The qi is lowered into the abdominal area to which Taiji snobs refer as the tan tien and doing this creates a feeling of the supporting leg being hard and very heavy while the rest of the body on top of it feels light and empty.

Hitting a bag from this posture with an explosive kick will reveal that the body feels unaffected by the kick and remains firmly in place while the bag buckles with a resounding thud.

 Now- I said that I have made a spinning version for us as well...


Taijiquan is a martial art of Wudang Temple along with Xingyiquan and Baguazhang.

The latter two arts have techniques that involve the body rotating. This rotation starts from the feet. From horse stance the feet rotate to twist the horse stance into a cross-legged stance. In Shaolin a cross legged stance reached by doing this is known as a unicorn step and counterattacks can follow from that position by just unwinding the stance again into a horse stance or bow stance.

The same happens in Wudang's martial arts. 

The tension built by this twsited posture can also be released by simply letting one of the legs shoot into a kick. In this case it is a reverse crescent kick. Unlike Taekwondo students, however, I do not let the momentum lift my body off the ground, though. Even if I do this kick at full speed- I still maintain my stability by keeping my qi lowered. Doing this will also work against a bag the same way as the previous kick, except that this kick is a lot more powerful due to the added momentum from the rotation.

That is it for this weekend's post.   

I hope everyone has a wonderful week ahead. I am starting mine in a court about 350 km from my home town. The joys of work... :)

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Kicking in Taijiquan

Looking at martial arts competitions-particularly fights or sparring matches, it is very easy to get so captivated by the spectacular appearance of kicking techniques that one does not realise that a properly executed kick can land its victim in hospital or cripple him for life.

With Taijiquan, however, I  have not found much in the line of being spectacular when it comes to kicking. In fact- the front kick, which I am going to discuss here- appears in most forms. Circular and crescent kicks are also found in some forms and upward kicks with the instep also occur, but the front kick is basically guaranteed to show up in most forms if not all.

If you have practiced Taiji walking a lot you will feel that each leg carries the body's weight on its own for a long time. This in itself develops the strength needed to effectively execute this kick. Another thing you tend to become aware of is the shifting of weight from one leg to another.

Rooted posture is of paramount importance. This is especially true if the kick is done in a retreating fashion with weight shifted onto the back leg so that the front kick stops a charging opponent dead in his tracks. If the hip is not vertically in line with the supporting foot one would either lose control of the kick or get pushed back by his own kick.

The heel of the supporting foot does not raise at all when the kick is in progress.

When doing the kick in an advancing manner a lot of destructive force can get generated- especially if you start with your weight on the back leg. It is very important, though, to keep the upper body directly on top of the lower body at all times. Leaving the upper body behind while the hips shoot forward will not generate  sufficient power and will make for a troublesome recovery.

Leading with the upper body will actually impede the kick's reach and also rob it of power.

The idea is to put the momentum of walking forward into the kicking foot and to transfer that force into the target. It is very much walking through the target. Instead of the foot landing on the ground, however, it lands on the opponent's body.

I used to practice this kick a lot against a brick wall at an abandoned park or against a tree trunk.

When you kick hard surfaces like these you do not really want to strike with the ball of the foot as is done with Karate.

The same explosive power we create in punches by sharply contracting muscles at the point of impact gets generated with this kick. The body shoots forward, but only to the extent of weight drastically shifting onto the front foot, and the kicking leg shoots out knee first, whips out and then the abs, glutes and thigh muscles contract sharply to harden the body as the sole of the foot or heel shoots into the target.

Receiving this kind of kick is no fun at all and broken ribs, liver or kidney problems or even spinal injuries can occur. It is also not uncommon for the victim to be sent flying backwards when this kick lands.

I  have transferred a lot of the principles behind this front kick into my roundhouse, side, back and reverse roundhouse kicks. A lot of speed gets sacrificed as the supporting foot has to turn first, but believe me- a lot of power gets added.

The first kick that gets mentioned in the comment section here or on G+ will get its Taiji version explained in the next post. 

Stay well and train hard! :)