Saturday, 29 April 2017

A bit about Taijiquan- The Supreme Ultimate Fist

I learnt Jeet Kune Do as soon as I could. This is after all Bruce Lee's style that held the answer to all attacks and that could beat any style.

After having felt Ms Chen, my Taiji teacher's internal force I have decided to take up Taijiquan in order to see how this kind of force is developed.

In Kungfu this type of internal force is not exclusive to Tai Chi, but for some unexplained reason it got associated more with Tai Chi than with Shaolin.

Tai Chi is usually more the choice of those alternative thinking souls who want to experience inner peace and tranquility, so very few know that it was actually meant to be a fighting art and even fewer know how to use it as such.

So- the purpose of this post is to tell you some things about Tai Chi that you might not have heard yet.

1. The name does not have "Chi" in it:

    I know Mr Fink in our group knows this, but as a youngster I had ideas of channeling waves or bolts of life energy through my limbs if I ever got to learn Tai Chi. I had to wait about 6 years from that time before I got to learn it. Taijiquan's name actually means- "The Supreme Ultimate Fist". This name might sound really boastful, but fits the stories regarding its development and accomplishments.

2. Taijiquan prioritises destruction of the enemy rather than defense:

I think a lot of Tai Chi students might choke on their chai tea when they hear this, but the fact is that Taijiquan's fighting applications are mainly offensive.

Sure- all martial arts have defensive moves and Taijiquan is no exception. It actually has some of the coolest responses to attacks. It is after all said to have been developed as a response to Shaolin's hard techniques.

A Taiji punch, however, is no joke. In fact- while Japanese karate has this principle of "Ikken Hissatsu" (death with one punch) incidents have been documented of Taiji exponents collapsing assailants with a single front kick. I have been practicing those punches and kicks against bags for years and from what I have experienced I do not want to see that type of kick in any tournament.

3. Taijiquan is not slow:

I know- if you see someone in a park doing the Cannon Fist form of Chen Taijiquan you would think it is another style of Kungfu altogether. Fact is, however, Taijiquan was initially developed to incapacitate assailants. No one can do that while moving slowly now, can they? The slow forms you see most of the time is known as the "Silk Reeling" Form. The purpose of this type of form is to gather and energy and channel it through the body and to build internal strength. 

This form has become very popular with doctors and frail people who need to partake in light exercise. A large number of people go through their entire lives knowing only the slow form. I suspect that a large number of teachers know only the slow form as well.

4. Taijiquan has very effective footwork:

The thing is- for Taiji techniques to work the feet need to be flat on the ground to firmly root the body. This means that you will not see a Taiji exponent bouncing on the balls of his feet like modern martial artists. The one legged approach and rapid shifting of weight in many techniques however enable the Taiji exponent to evade attacks and close gaps as well as any other martial artist out there.

What I like about Taiji's attacks in this regard is that you can attack strongly and not lose your balance if you miss.

5. There is not only one style of Taijiquan:

Having so many styles of Kungfu in China makes it difficult to fathom that these styles can also vary into different styles themselves. The whole story of Taijiquan having been invented by Taoist immortal Chan San Feng starts becoming difficult to believe when you research a style's origin and find no link to this Immortal.

From what I can see the Chen style is the most wide spread. The Chinese State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports, however developed the 48 Step Form that was derived from more than one style and this form got taught in schools and public parks throughout China. A large number of Chinese who have gone to High School during the 1960's have gotten exposed to it.

Taijiquan is graceful as it is powerful. I love it and still do it every Sunday morning along with Qigong. 

If you want to see some really good Taijiquan instructional videos- subscribe to Iain Sinclair's channel on Youtube. He is awesome!

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Like brushing teeth

How often do you train? 

What does it do for you? 

I have met some really scary individuals who do not just stick with their martial arts classes, but who also engage in different kinds of sports and exercise.

And then I have met those who train when they are in class and don't when they are away from class.

With the amount of time MMA people spend at the gym I can imagine that they don't really have classes the way us Karate and Kung Fu people do.

Now- If your martial arts class is a way to get out in the evenings and meet people I guess this post will not mean much to you as I tend to identify with those people who take up martial arts to improve themselves in one way or the other, whether it be by learning a new skill or two or whether they want to become stronger and fitter.

Long time ago, when I started this blog- I said that martial arts rest on 3 pillars: Technique, Power and Tactics. Under power we can also include speed (although I regard speed as the result of power and technique combined.) Now the thing is- technique and power does not get developed by going to class twice a week. 

Especially at that very early stage of being white belt with Karate or no belt if you study Kung Fu you get to learn the techniques and exercises that are to make you into the martial artist that you are to become in later years. 

Those forms, exercises and basics? Sure- they might not mean much when you do them twice a week at class, but with regular practice you will notice some really good changes after a while ( how long? well- sometimes six months- sometimes a year...)

The knowledge you get from class is really just part of the thing. What you actually get from class is material for self-study or home-work.

If you regard it as this and treat it as such you will not only find your progress in class going a lot better, but also that your martial arts actually work. If you got handed a couple of katas, basics and you have been allowed to spar you actually have enough to train with- even if your teacher moves out of town. In a lot of cases I have seen students eager enough to learn advanced techniques by themselves when they practice at home as well.

So- going to class is good. Regularly practicing what you learn in class is the way to make martial arts work, though.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Being unpredictable vs just being too fancy

One of Kung Fu's most attractive features is its out of the ordinary movements.

In Shaolin these movements were deliberately unusual to throw off an adversary. From this focus on unpredictability we have seen unusual styles such as the Drunken Fist, Monkey Style and Mantis develop.

Compared to straightforward styles like Wingchunquan and Xingyi these styles and their techniques seem more suited for exhibitions than for actual fighting.

The Drunken style's unusual pattern of movement did not seem to help the guy in this video much, though...

If you practice a style like Karate or any form of Kung Fu you might find that you need something more than just normal punching and kicking to give you an edge or to just look better.

That in itself can't be a bad thing, but concern over how you look while fighting is a weakness of which you should rid yourself immediately if you ever have it.

There may once have been a time when this stance had people confounded, but I am certain that after the movie most people will expect the kick to follow.

Royce and Rickson Gracie also had a good run in the 90's by surprising a lot of mainstream martial artists with their sophisticated grappling techniques. Now- with MMA being a global phenomenon- we find that a lot of fighters actually know how to deal with these techniques as well.


When the Mantis Style first appeared in the Shaolin Temple it had won its developer at least one sparring match that got documented.

Kung Fu forms can be toxic in the sense that they require you in many instances to perform certain movements in a standardised manner to stay true to the style. Karate, that hands you a bunch of kicks, punches and strikes (okay- and grappling techniques) and lets you mix and match them up as you see fit allow for a lot more variation in my book.

Jeet Kune Do's potential for variation, of course is virtually limitless.

Thing is, when people know what style you practice and they know a bit of that style, they already have a good idea of what kind of attacks you will use and how you will respond to attacks. Within your own style you will be able to find new and interesting ways of meeting an attack and to launch unexpected attacks. Trying too hard to preserve the look of your style, however, is not only going to limit your range of techniques, but also keep you from being fully aware of the fight itself.

As a final note- surprising or confusing an opponent has its limits. It does not exempt you from having to maintain situational awareness and attack when it is called for.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful Easter Weekend and has a great week ahead of them.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Live Combinations

If you are studying Karate for longer than a year you shall no doubt have gotten a couple of combinations to practice as part of your syllabus. With Shotokan this progresses to a different combinations using techniques not taught at lower levels.

These combinations are practiced almost exclusively against empty air.

When I took the time to analyze the way I fight I realised that these combinations, although doing a lot to teach your body to move in the various ways needed to fight effectively, do not necessarily follow the responses your opponent give.

The reason for this is simple. People do not all respond to attacks in the same manner. Even within your own discipline different approaches to a presented attack exist.

I get the impression that a lot of karateka don't even bother to look at how their opponents respond and just fly into their preset combo like these Tekken characters.

That is all good if you are fighting a video game character, but the problem with real people is that their body position and position of their arms and legs change, creating openings in one place while closing them off in another.

Still- we cannot fight by just using one technique. So- how do we decide what technique is to follow which one? The answer is that you don't.

Wingchun students at an advanced level will tell you that just as you cannot decide where your hands are going to be during chi sao practice you can also not say what attack you are going to use when the time opening presents itself.

You therefore have to teach your limbs to attack openings by themselves without thought.

Those of you who have been with me for a while on this blog know that I spar a lot against an imaginary opponent. This is because I believe that rather than telling yourself: "now jab then roundhouse kick and then side kick..." you should rather tell yourself: "go in with a high lead roundhouse kick ... hand comes up-now drive in with the mid-level reverse punch... hand's coming down-LEFT HOOK!"

When you spar against an actual opponent you will find that effective use of this method leads to your opponent becoming demoralised as you keep finding ways past his defense and not giving him any chance to attack you.

I think this is what Musashi called "Holding Down a Pillow".

In one of these videos below I am practicing a set combination from my karate syllabus. In the other I am going all-out against an imaginary opponent.  

I refer to preset combinations as "dead" combinations as they do not adapt to circumstances. They may work against those opponents who retreat in a straight line or who are just too slow, but later on you will realise that you have an opponent who can counter the first move.

For my fellow karateka I further have this advice:

Learn your techniques names and don't fuss about what combination should be learnt for the next grading. If the Sensei calls for "Oi zuki, yoko geri keagi, mawashi geri." you should just do it and not try to see whether you have memorised it. In fact- memorising combinations is really unnecessary.

That's it for today. Hope you all have a great week! 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

About those opponents who like to play the passive role

I don't know about you, but I love being the passive one in a fight. All those cool blocks, counters and throws that one can do if your opponent would just come at you...

What really frustrates someone like me is an opponent who has the same idea.

The majority of moves in the forms of Karate and Kungfu are defensive moves in the sense that they are responses to a hypothetical attack. When we find ourselves in the kumite arena- especially in a tournament setting- we find that our opponents do not want to attack first. They'd much rather be the one looking cool by blocking and countering your moves.

We find these type of people in real life as well. Clients who don't give us anything to work with at the start. A customer who does not know what to order.

If you are the type of person who likes to make things happen instead of waiting for them to happen, though, the tactic I give you in today's post will suit you really well...

 For those of you who are NOT gamers- let me tell you a bit about the stealth game:

Games like Metal Gear Solid and Red Ninja- and the more current Assassin's Creed involve a lot of stealth (except for Assassin's Creed Syndicate- that is just all out brawling most of the time).

The feeling of stealth is created by having the guards, that you should either avoid or take out without alerting others, move about. The movement of these characters can have simple patterns, complex ones or appear completely random altogether.

To do a stealth kill the player then has to time the guards' movement and quietly place himself behind his target or strike from the shadows to kill him with the least amount of effort.

Image result for metal gear solid knocking on wall

The first game where I got to know this type of gameplay was Metal Gear Solid.

Image result for metal gear solid knocking on wall

Timing guards' movements are fairly easy and when guards are moving you can, with good timing and a lot of patience, make a lot of stealth kills and move about unseen. A problem area, however, is one where the guard does not move at all, but just stands still facing the direction from where you are coming.

The solution to this problem came in Metal Gear Solid as a sequence in which the player has to knock on a wall to make the guard curious. The curious guard would then leave his position to investigate. In Metal Gear Solid and Assassin's Creed you need to then leave your position for a moment to get out of sight and emerge when the guard returns to his position, with his back to you.

In Red Ninja the player seduced these stationery guards into approaching her position and then lay in wait to dispose of them with a swift and final attack right on the spot.

So- what does that teach us?

In fighting, every move a person makes creates some opportunity or opening for attack. Arms lifting expose the ribs, hands dropping expose the face, arm straightening sets the opponent up for a wrist grab and throw.... You get the idea.

Now- I have already said before that you can't hope to win a fight by just deciding what attack you like to use and then charge in with it. These passive opponents are not vulnerable while they are waiting for your attack. Their vulnerability lies in that moment when they are responding to your first attack. That is- in that moment when they are still backpedalling, when that blocking arm moves or when they duck that first jab.

Correct distance is critical in taking advantage of these moments. If your preparatory attacks start from too far away they will not be perceived as a threat and they will not get any response to work with. The follow-up on the response has to be on time.

Bruce Lee understood this principle really well and his students remember this as one of his core teachings.

Compared to other martial arts movies Bruce Lee's fight scenes more closely resemble the sparring matches we see in real life. These two video clips below are from two of my favourite fight scenes.

Breaking away from tradition Bruce did not confine himself to staying on the defensive or launching only committed attacks when he was on the offensive. You can see how he got his opponents to play into his hand with either their own attacks or their own defensive moves.

In day to day life we can adopt this strategy by giving an undecided customer a suggestion to kickstart his thoughts.

A lawyer's client who does not remember events well enough to give you necessary facts can get induced to remember more by being given a hypothetic version of the events that he is supposed to remember. They shall be quick to correct you when your scenario is not correct!

I now invite you to give examples in this comment section or the one in Martial Arts Forums on G+ of ways you get a passive opponent to move and how you follow up on that movement. You are also welcome to explain how you induce people to act in ways on which you capitalise in a non-martial arts setting. Needless to say- you have to say what your opponent/ mark actually does to have your example make sense.

Next week's post is about live combinations!