I know my views and beliefs may ruffle some feathers in the traditional world, but they are simply my own. It is not my intention to attack any art or methodology of teaching. I am simply voicing my observations and experiences.
First off, I do believe that tai chi is a very valuable art for fighting. However, I have noticed that tai chi for fighting is rarely taught, and the furthest most schools go into application is in push hands or very low energy applications. That's fine, I have no problems with people only doing it for health reasons as it is an excellent way to satisfy those needs. I also don't mind those who exclusively play push hands, that's great, it's a great way to understand balance, force, and energy (in scientific terms, not mystical energy).
But here it is: Exclusive tai chi forms training will not make you a fighter. Being a push hands champion will not make you a fighter. Tai chi for health, will not make you a fighter....
What I personally believe is that for any tai chi practitioner who wants to learn the art for fighting, must first learn the basics of fighting. Yes, punches and kicks, fast punches and kicks. Then, not only will the practitioner have a better understanding of movements in combat applications, they will value the aspects of training and have more substance when moving slow. It really doesn't matter what style is done before hand, whether it is a kung fu style, kickboxing, karate, wrestling, or any other combat based art, but the basics of combat should be learned and understood. Only then can the student actually elevate their skills with tai chi training. Even the push hands experience will be more beneficial if they understand the fundamentals of fighting.
That will lead a lot of people to deny the fighter of their tai chi training and say that they only use their base fighting art in the ring. And it's true that they will throw exponentially more jabs than full tai chi techniques like Grasp Bird's Tail. However, the moment that there is an opening, the tai chi fighter can use a text book movement, and effectively if they train it properly. The rest of the fight will be punches and kicks, no matter how you label it, because punches and kicks are the fundamentals of combat. Tai chi for fighting is a secondary pursuit, like choosing a grad program after fulfilling undergrad requirements.
So don't expect to see slow movements in the ring to prove it is tai chi, or fancy hand positions after completing a technique unless the opponent is completely knocked out because posing wastes valuable ring time. Lastly, don't write off tai chi as a fighting art... as long as it is properly trained. And if you are looking to use tai chi more effectively, start with some combat basics. Go find a trainer, hit some mitts, work the heavy bag, drill fundamentals and yes spar. You don't have to go as far as sanctioned fighting but you should put in some good hours of sparring. And even when you do put your efforts into tai chi training to elevate your skill, you will need to occasionally spar to put your new lessons into practice. For instructors that want to teach the combative side of tai chi, make your students punch and kick things, pair them up and have them do mittwork or technique drills, have them spar regularly. Do your research too, not every technique application you were shown is the only way of doing it. Explore for yourself and see if you can apply the technique in a striking/standing grappling/wrestling/counter attacking context.
Good luck, and train smarter!
長橋櫈 - Kung Fu Bench
Over the years, many people have asked for kung fu bench measurements and plans. Though I did have measurements, I did not have exact measurements for the mortise and tenon joinery. About 15 years ago I built over a dozen benches using metal construction brackets to secure the legs, and although they held pretty well, it was a very low grade version of the bench in comparison to the benches at Doc-Fai Wong Center that were built by a cabinet maker.
So finally, I decided to take the time and practice mortise and tenon joinery and build a bench right. Here's the YouTube video of my process (failures included).
In the end you can always modify it to meet your needs. My next bench will be about 10-20cm longer for easier rolling and I will adjust the leg holes on the bench plank according to the new length.
Materials and Cut List
I used pine, and it actually held up surprisingly well! However, I'd suggest an using a hardwood like maple, bass, or oak.
Bench Plank Detail
Leg Tenon Detail
This was the most difficult part of the process, so I suggest first using a spare piece to test your measurements and angles, and I also recommend cutting your legs to length after you cut the tenon and test it in the mortise.
When working with a partner during a technique or drill, I’ve found that students commonly make it only one sided. One student will attack ridiculously slow and exaggerated, often off angle to the point where the defending student wouldn’t need to do anything and still be able to avoid the attack. This is really bad training for them as they won’t actually learn the important parts of the technique like reaction speed, angle, distance and especially timing. Even more so it is a total waste of time, not just for the one partner working on the defense, but both sides will get nothing out of it…
*Before I go any further, know that safety is important when drilling because you cannot be expected to pull something off at full speed and intention after seeing it only once. A space cushion is usually the best practice and yes slowing down the punch a little in the beginning can help too, however the speed must be increased as the students get the hang of it to help work into real-time application.
**Now this can turn into a really long essay with various tangents, but I’m going to keep the focus of this solely on the attacking side.
Remember, when you are punching (or whatever attack you initiate) you are training too. To throw an empty punch is not only ill-preparing your partner to deal with real-time and aggressive attacks, but you are also wasting your time and energy when you could take advantage and improve your technique. When you initiate your attack, go through the checklist of what your instructor looks for when the fundamental technique is taught. Is the stance correct, did you step, were you supposed to step, are the hips being used, is the waist turning, is your guard up, are you telegraphing your strike, is your chin down, are you too tense, are you too relaxed, are you striking at the best distance/angle????
That’s right, you can improve yourself while training others.
Now, I a not saying you should be a jerk to your partner and change up your attack just to make it successful, I’m asking you to improve the elements of your technique to make it more efficient for when you actually use it. This will benefit both you and your partner so next time you train, train smarter and harder!
*This is a repost from my Tumblr originally posted August 2015
The most effective martial art…
When we run into the age old debate of which martial art is effective or who’s better than who, we often leave out one of the most important components, context.
Context will either place a valid martial art (applicable in combat and more…) as incomplete or ineffective when comparing it generally to another completely different contextual art. Like for example, saying Iaido is useless in the cage. This is not an untrue statement, if you took the sword out of their hands and dropped them into a cage match and rang the bell, I don’t think they can adapt to the guy who has spent hours of training in the cage. However, put the sword back in their hands in the cage and you’ve got a completely different picture, and a morbid one at that.
Simply put, those two are not made to be in competition with each other, not to mention MMA is a mixture of martial arts, selecting what’s best for in the ring, which easily translates over to what is necessary in most other types of fighting. Since there’s no swords in the ring there’s no need for fighters to learn the weapon. With that said, it also doesn’t mean that training with the weapon wouldn’t benefit them either. Whether it is heightened focus, or a more in-depth understanding of distance and angle, with the right mindset and serious training, the martial artist can benefit from all sorts of training.
Another way context is missed is when an art has a specific type of training, like push hands, or chi sau, that can be misunderstood by the general public. It’s usefulness can also be completely misunderstood internally and schools their students will devote their entire training to excel at that particular drill. This again, is really not a bad thing, one learns many lessons on the journey to mastery whether it be of movement or interaction, so a benefit will be there. However, such a hyperfocus removes the big picture of combat. This results in a student believing in techniques that work at a particular speed or forum to be universally effective which can be very dangerous. Take, for example, compliance when drilling joint locks. Compliance keeps both martial artists safe, but the lack of aggressive tension and spontaneous movement from Uke can leave Tori a variety of other available attack variations. Tori can explore, but will most likely find that there are a lot less options when Uke is trying to get out of a lock, fight a throw, or aggressively strike back.
Looking at it that way makes it seem like the training is unrealistic an invalid, but it is not. Compliance training, Uke and Tori, those are important to help a martial artist recognize options in the heat of the moment. Push hands and chi sau allow the martial artist to read an opponent after making contact, to better prepare them for those moments in the scuffle.They each possess a specific piece of combat in them.
All are valid, but at the same time cannot be compared to each other. Each is a piece of the puzzle, some will fit easily into the big picture, some need to ease into place, and others need to be forced or modified to fit, but all go back to the same big picture, and a pretty nice one if you ask me.
So instead of comparing art to art, drill to drill, look at the context and try to connect it to the big picture. You will find we’re all moving in the right direction.
*This is a repost of a Blog I wrote on my Tumblr October 2016
There is something interesting I've noticed about weapons forms and training in Choy Li Fut over the years. It has nothing to do with uniqueness or special techniques based on weapon attributes or pairing, and it's not something you see in every weapon form. In fact, there are really just a handful of times you'll find these techniques at all, but a to me they're a real testament to the creator of the form's foresight and engineering.
The first thing I want to point out is context for the weapon, some weapons were used specifically on the battlefield and didn't need versatility as much as development of basics and repetition of common and practical combinations, like a long handled broadsword or a halberd. Then there's the interesting and unique weapons that also add flash and performance value through weapon spinning and even acting. For this, however, I want to look at the common day implements that could be weaponized in a moments notice for everyday self defense (even though most are not as everyday common as they once were). Weapons like cane, shoulder pole, flute and fan, or farming implements like hoe, rake, spade, branch cutting knife, and so on.
When it comes to tools of self defense, I am totally onboard. Why punish your body and put yourself into danger when you could just swing a baton, whip, bag, anything else into the scuffle. It makes perfect sense. Even if you carry to intimidate the potential aggressor, makes sense too right?
However there are a ton of problems that arise when it comes down to weapons/tools for self defense. Number one is a false sense of security and reliance on simply possessing the tool. "I have an extendable baton just in case..." great, so do you actually know how to use it?
This is a great time to google the effectiveness of pepperspray, and the most common reason for failure...
This is a simple fix that requires work on your end so pay attention: Get professionally trained in how to use it, and practice/train routinely. One time in a one hour class is not enough!
The second problem that comes up is that even if the person is trained in using the implement, when it comes down to the situation, did they have enough time to deploy the tool and effectively use it as planned? A clip on pocket knife in a back pocket can easily become inaccessible once the person ends up on their back on the ground. Most times, there is not time to assess the situation and produce the tool in time before the attack.
The fix for this is two-fold. 1) Strategically carry your implement in an easily accessible place. You don't have to carry it in that place 24/7, but plan ahead when you go into an area you might need it and 30 seconds to place it before you go is all you need. 2) Add deployment training to your practice schedule; take time to practice your quick draw from multiple angles and positions.
The last problem I'd like to discuss is when everything goes right and you seamlessly deploy your tool of self defense that you regularly train with... and still get beaten up the moment they catch/disarm your weapon. The problem is a complete reliance on the weapon. This is very common in martial arts weapons training and sparring. Once the weapon is in your hand it becomes your only weapon. This is dangerous thinking as you forget about the rest of your arms, legs, and any other tools available around you. That's why it is important to routinely train your hand-to-hand combat skills and spar! An ideal sparring session would include hand-tohand sparring, weapons only sparring, and finally a freestyle weapons and hand-to-hand session with full gear and range allowing stand up and ground fighting. This is a great way to further explore the use of your weapon of choice as well as make your martial arts complete and well rounded.
These are two very important factors to look at in your self defense training.
Earlier this week I had, by far, the worst tai chi session I've had in a very long time. The strange thing is that I can't attribute it to lack of practice or injury. I practice tai chi daily, and I currently have no injuries, hell I slept very well the night before, but the session ended up being frustrating as I'll get up.
My forms were disconnected, I would skip sections or repeat movements, I got turned in wrong directions, my movements were clunky and my footwork was clumsy at best. Each form I practiced seemed worse than the last, and it seemed like after a while, every mistake became a fight to continue or just skip the rest of the workout and I was at wits end.
I pushed through. I did every form in frustration, but I still pushed through to the end. In the grand scheme of things it was just another day regardless of positive or negative feelings, but as a martial artist it is these types of sessions that forge the spirit to handle the truly difficult circumstances and overwhelming moments in our life. Like weightlifting for our willpower. The next day my session was normal and has been since, no special abilities or increase in skill, it was just a weird random occurrence in my training.
So why am I writing about one bad session, especially since it had no significant effect on my training either way? Because I want to let you know that these days happen, and pushing through a session is not easy, but it is important to do it. It's a mental mountain that you are forced to climb, and rather than skip it the best thing to do is go for it, because in the end you will reach the top of the mountain. And the next day, the entire ordeal will be nothing, non-existent, and in the long run you'll probably forget that specific day. Your training however, will not have a gap and remain consistent and just as the old saying goes "Practice a day, gain a day. Skip a day of practice, lose a week."
Back in the early 2000's after watching Kill Bill, my friends and I decided we would make our own gory/martial/hiphop/western. Our production was cheap and so were our props, but the heart was there, we had a vision. Although we shot 80% of the film, we never finished and nothing came of it, except a very particular lesson that I still bring up to this day.
In one fight scene my character with the Chinese broadsword was pitted up against the lead antagonist with a Japanese katana. My sword was a cheap flimsy wushu pressed steel sword and his a cheap smoke shop katana, so we didn't mind making direct blade to blade contact as they could be easily replaced. We filmed our fight for just over an hour and were satisfied with the shots so we decided to pack up and head home for the day when we looked at the damage.
The katana had many bites, burrs, and serious gaps up to an eighth of an inch deep whereas my flimsy, wiggly wushu sword had only a few scratches. We laughed at how cheap the swords were and went home. But I kept thinking about it. The katana was really not that bad in quality and the blade was much thicker than the pressed wushu steel, so how come the situation wasn't reversed or at least equal?
I realized later that it all comes down to experience and energy. Though my friend was an avid martial arts fan, he had absolutely no experience that some film combat we would do, so he had no fundamental structure. I had already learned and had been working with swords regularly for a couple years at that time. The other, and most important factor was energy. His blade took the damage of each clash even when he was striking, because my movements had weight and the energy I was using was more than what he was putting into it. This is not "energy" like chi, but literal momentum, force, energy. Each impact went back into his weapon and even a simple flimsy wushu blade could cut into a katana.
Just in case you were expecting an opinion of which style is superior to the other... this isn't it. It's just the beautiful lesson that is learned when cheap swords clash 😅
There is a unique side to the Traditional Chinese Martial Arts community, and that is trying to claim ownership to know the most authentic and original style of martial arts ever.... A great example of this is when watching a fight or match and then pointing out every single movement that is a part of their style (especially the ones that win). This is not to say that any one punch is unique to a specific style, humans have been hitting each other for much longer than standardized martial arts, so the same punch can exist in multiple arts. It is not the fact that the fighter knows it from whatever background they have, but more importantly, that they knew when to use it in combat. So in the end, what I'm trying to say is, it is your punch, and it is my punch too, no need to claim it to your art.
The other side of this is when practitioners claim other arts as byproducts of their own, boasting that their art is the original style. I come from a background in a relatively young art, barely over 100 years old. I know it's not the first or original Chinese Martial Art so I already stay out of that competition, but I constantly see people arguing over who existed first. Again, our ancestors have been hitting each other for way longer than any of the martial arts we know existed...combined... there is no reason to call shotgun, to be first, it's not a race...
This has been kind of a rant, but in the end I just want it to serve as a reminder that no one owns Kung Fu, no one owns Martial Arts, we're all on our own journeys along this path so why not focus on improving our skill instead of talking about it.
There's a silly phenomenon among people who share similar interests, like martial arts. It is the feeling that they learned the purest and most correct version ever taught based on their lineage or instructor, but even more so, because they really really believe that they are the most correct exponent and god's gift to martial arts. Now yes, lineage and qualified instructors do better your chances of learning things more efficiently or effectively, but then again how well did you interpret their teachings?
Simply put, every school, every instructor will teach things differently whether they try to or not. Language and body movement facilitate this, how they word their descriptions, where they emphasize their movements, and what speed it is performed. Not to mention, an instructor can place a specific emphasis on a detail pertaining to that particular student, that eventually the student shares and perpetuates to their own students. The cycle continues, the effect becomes much greater, and the further the art deviates from the original teaching.
An evolution of the art is constant, and I try to be optimistic that the evolution is positive, especially since we have better ways to safely test and understand the art and techniques with protective gear and controlled sparring sessions. However, it doesn't change the fact that the art is changing and I would rather embrace the differences than cut each other down because of from whom or when they learned it.
I dunno, that's just how I was taught.