Saturday, 25 July 2015

Yang and Yin in martial arts stances

Hello, everyone. Today's post is old news to Taijiquan students, but if you study karate at your average Western dojo (Take note: average- I know there are teachers who go the extra mile) this stuff may be news to you.

I don't know about you, but I find a tremendous amount of the classical teachings in the mythologies of Dragonball Z, martial arts films and stories.

I am going to use these stories as examples to show where the forces of Yang and Yin work in our stances.

Now- just so that we start off at the same place: In this context I am not going to talk about good and evil, light and dark and other irrelevant manifestations of this concept. The forces I am going to discuss are gravity as the Yin force and then - as the Yang Force- that force that resists it. The anti-gravity force...

If you have watched Dragonball Z you'd know that Goku flies. This levitation phenomenon was often mentioned in classical tales in the Chinese martial arts world. Having an abundance of Yang Qi is said to make the body light and able to counter the force of gravity.

This myth survived through the centuries and found its way into our movies. In Remo Williams (somewhere in the 80's) we see the master (they pulled a David Carradine move with the character, btw) running on water. Those who watched the movie can also tell you that Remo- the student- had to practice running on the beach without leaving footprints in the sand.

We saw another example of this in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon when Chow Yun Fat and Zhang Ziyi were gliding through the air, balancing on bamboo stems and just lightly touching the water surface with their feet while in flight.

In the real world- Yang stances are found in kickboxing, sports karate and boxing ("fly like a butterfly").

These stances are mostly on the balls of the feet and very mobile. 
 Bruce Lee was famous for his springy, extremely mobile fighting stance. Where kungfu (and karate) was known for their placid, firm stances Bruce broke tradition by adopting the more mobile fighting stance and teaching his students to use more active footwork when fighting.

His speed was legendary. 
Few fighters are as airborne as Taekwondo fighters! Their flying kicks use a lot of Yang Qi, whether they know it or not.

Biokineticians, however, will tell you that it is due to plyometrics and not some mysterious anti-gravity force. They are right. But then again- the ancient teachers did not have a word like that- so we can understand that they would not have written or spoken about it that way.

Bruce Lee had a simple way to activate the Yang force in the body- this:

Boxers can also tell you that a jump rope is an excellent tool with which to develop your footwork.

Now- let's look at Yin Qi...

We know that Taijiquan fighters are not as bouncy as kickboxers, but they are able to send their opponents flying.Their stances are firmly rooted with heels flat to the ground. Instead of being moved by his assailant he stays firm as his assailant is the one flying off or bouncing off him.

My Shukokai Sensei used to go into yoi stance and then ask us to try to pick him up. We never managed to push him over, pull him off balance or lift him. This firm rootedness I would later find to be described in the Chinese martial arts as a Yin skill.

Yin stances are excellent for executing throws and joint locking techniques. This is why a good understanding of Yin force is actually a must for arts like Judo and Aikido. If you do Judo- I strongly recommend that you learn Tai Chi as well. The two arts are distant cousins that are actually very much alike. Some Judo people just don't know it.  

To get an example of having more Yang energy in your stance than your opponent you can watch this video. It is one of my all-time favourite fight scenes. I am sure a lot of you like it as well:

Fighters need to move- and really fast.

Preferring Yang force over Yin is on a permanent basis is not the way to go, however. Movement can come from stillness, but something that is already in motion cannot easily be brought to move differently at short notice.

See the short bout between the Shaolin Monk and Taekwondo Champion here.

In this video the Shaolin monk is not as bouncy and the Taekwondo fighter. He moved when it was needed, but also remained still and rooted when it was necessary.

For ways of developing Yin force you do not have to look further than this particular stance: 

Whether you call it Ma Bu or Kibadachi this stance is a well known part of karate training and one of the best ways to strengthen legs that I know. Shaolin and Wudang students also learn to sink their qi when adopting this stance. The blows and kicks that are delivered from a stance like this are devastating and those who master this stance can shake their opponents about like rag dolls (maybe not that much, but they do have an advantage. ;))

One of the coolest people in the martial arts world today is the JKA's Sensei Naka Tatsuya.

I have found a video on Youtube in which he actually shows how these forces work in our stance and technique. 

See Naka Tatsuya Sensei's video here:

He does not use the words "Yang" and "Yin", but did a great job of showing how these forces work.

David Gaffney and Davidine Sim wrote in their book "Chen Style Taijiquan" about the signs of having and excess of Yin in technique and posture. Sure- Yin force is cool and makes you calm and sturdy, but when you fight you are not meditating! You need to be fast and agile as well.

Finding the balance between these forces in your stances will give you the ability to move like a jungle cat while being able to hit with the force of a speeding car. You will be able to dodge attacks while also being able to throw your opponent with ease.

Train well, everyone! 

Friday, 17 July 2015

Let's talk about martial arts and movies


I have just finished my Saturday morning workout tonight, because I have to work tomorrow.

Now that I am done I feel like relaxing and chatting. 

So- grab a seat, light a smoke (stop being a hypocrite if you smoke. I smoke!), grab a beer(yikes!)and let's talk about how the martial arts in movies have changed over the years.

Well- I was born in 1978. By the time I was old enough to notice what's going on on television I could see that some secret agents (sometimes beautiful ladies) made men collapse with a well placed chop on the shoulder with their bare hands. 

In a society where honourable men did not use kicks when they fought people who used kicks in screen fights stood out.

Little Annie swept a grown man's leg with a low kick in the shin while some boy in a Disney movie threw a thug to the ground using a Judo throw.

Have you seen these movies as a kid?

Back then Karate and Judo grasped the imagination of Western audiences after Bruce Lee's death. If you wanted to see Kungfu you had to find some Shaw Brothers movies. Hollywood, however, liked Judo and karate. :D

Hey! Who knows who Remo Williams was? :D  

Guys like Chuck Norris raised the bar in Hollywood by not just kicking, but showing audiences that they did not just kick, but did spinning kicks, roundhouse kicks and jumping kicks as well...
(Yeah- Bruce Lee was there before them, but he was in a different league altogether. I am talking about the US movies now.)

The 80's moved on and at the start of the 90's Jean Claude van Damme kicked the crap out of villains and- when he was not doing that- did the splits as if to convince us that a martial artist is someone who kicks where others would punch.

Now- I don't know about the rest of you, but the new millenium seemed to favour Kungfu at its dawn... By then Jackie Chan was my second favourite actor. Jet Li is my favourite! Hollywood loved them! Sure- Jet Li had to make his Hollywood debut as a villain in Lethal Weapon 4, but soon he re-emerged as the hero in movies like Kiss of the Dragon and The One. Yeah- kungfu was the way to go if you wanted a fight to look good on screen. By now Bruce Lee's high kicks and punches were not good enough anymore, however. Now was the time for intricate Wing Chun sequences, lightning fast footwork, dazzling hand combinations and of course- mind blowing acrobatics! Little wonder that by the time we got to see the Matrix Neo and his buddies did not even bother with Stephen Seagall-style CQC or Chuck Norris style kickboxing. Nooooo no no- They did KUNGFU!

The Beauty of kungfu had to make way for a beast, though, when the UFC got enough screen time... Now our movie heroes no longer used acrobatics or dazzling kicks. Now some fight scenes look like they are copulating with their on-screen adversaries! Well- tastes vary... 

A fact I had come to accept is that real fighting just does not look as beautiful as a Yuen Wo Ping choreographed action sequence... 

Maybe some of you prefer the realism of actual CQC, MMA and Krav Maga in their movie experience...
I can dig that.   

Now: For fun- comment the martial art you practice and the movie that features it. Now don't overthink is and go like "uhhh I do Tenshinkan karate and I can't find a Hollywood movie that features it..." If you do Judo then Expendables 3 counts! Get it? If you do karate- then Karate Kid (the 80's one with Mr Miyagi) counts. If you do Hsingyiquan- then it counts as "Kungfu" and you can choose Karate Kid (the one with Jackie Chan and Will Smith's kid). If you feel like it you can even say something about what you think of that movie's portrayal of your type of martial art.

I look forward to seeing your comments.  

Saturday, 11 July 2015

My Book on Strikes is done!

This book is the last on Wenhsiuquan technique. There is now a book on grappling, defense and striking.

This is also the last book in which I needed a partner to help me demonstrate techniques. The next book is on physical exercises that form a vital part of each training session. I think I can do that without a partner.

My friends have taught me a valuable lesson with the writing of these 3 books. I was always aware of how many people had involved me in their schemes and hare-brained ideas, but now I realised that I also had people willing to help me realise some hair-brained ideas of my own.

Each one of the 3 books contain a form (taolu or kata) at the end. I have added a video of the kata in the most recent book. At present this style has 7 forms for basic practice. When I am done modifying the 7 katas from karate we shall have 14 forms.

Thank you all for following this blog.

Next year the contents of the first book shall be posted on this very blog for download. Because the blog has no means of posting a PDF file I shall post it page by page along with the post for that week.

Train well and- if you post on Blogger, G+ or Facebook- share it with me as well!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Where does this knife hand fit in?- A look at how your sparring affects your fighting

Go to a karate class nowadays and you will find that free sparring is full contact (here in South Africa anyway). Ask the students why and they will most likely tell you that it is the best way to prepare you for an actual self defence situation.   

If you look at the techniques they use while sparring you will find that they only use the techniques permitted in tournaments. They'd tell you that it's for safety reasons.

The culture of stopping attacks short of contact during sparring can be traced back to Shaolin Kungfu's early days. A large number of these techniques were known to cause permanent damage. I still remember reading in Wong Kiew Kit's book about the risk of the head of an arm bone being broken off with qin na attacks.

I was not satisfied with calling myself a martial artist if all I had to offer was a series of punches and kicks found in any other style- and a way of fighting which is already known and predictable.

We can't deny it, but many assailants out there also know how to punch.

Experimenting with those forbidden blows like the knife hand to the carotid, the phoenix eye fist to the ribs and so forth was easy enough by myself. Perfecting the timing and range with an actual person, though, was another thing entirely. I don't think anyone wants to leave a class with a missing collarbone or so.

The compromise I have made is that free sparring was to be light to full contact on safe areas like the area between the neck and the pelvis. Throws are to be controlled and areas like the neck, eyes, kidneys and collarbone are not to be attacked with full force. The result was that- instead of one-two punches and gyakuzukis combinations like the one shown in the photos above emerged.

The ability to counter a punch with a throw also got developed. 

If you are practicing a martial art style you can do this simple test. Train by yourself and imagine yourself being attacked outside of competition context by somebody who wants to leave you broken and humiliated. Okay- you can imagine him trying to kill you as well. Attack your imaginary opponent as you would in real life. Now- when you are done and can think again- take note of which techniques showed up by themselves. I am sure you know why certain moves just appear by themselves in a fight.

Now ask yourself- what moves would serve you better if they showed up in your time of need?

The next question, naturally, is what you are going to do about it...