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".