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Showing posts from January, 2009

Why we train

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Some of you might be familiar with Freud's theory that humans are subject to the competing instincts of Thanatos (death) and Eros (life). The former makes you want to lie down and do nothing, the latter to get up and achieve something. I have often found this paradigm a useful analysis of the human condition. Rarely a day passes where I don't experience conflict between these instincts.

The relevance of this paradigm to martial arts training is fundamental, since training is the embodiment of the Eros instinct. If you have ever paused to consider why you participate in an activity which is physically and mentally demanding (when you could instead be at home relaxing) you might have come to the conclusion that it is simply because your physical and mental being demands it. Instinct, it seems, is not susceptible to any deeper analysis.

Simultaneously, staying at home and doing nothing is the embodiment of the Thanatos instinct because it is more akin to death. Just like a puls…

A bridge between "external" and "internal" arts

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The Tang Shou Dao (ie. "karatedo") system of the late Hong Yi Xiang in Taibei, Taiwan was reknowned in its day for producing full-contact fighting champions including such luminaries as Luo De Xiu and Su Dong Chen. Hong himself was a formidable street fighter and friends with the equally legendary Wang Shujin. Hong's school taught the 3 internal arts of xingyiquan, baguazhang and taijiquan; strictly in that order. It taught them as "no-holds barred" fighting methods rather than for health or meditation.

While many people are aware of Hong Yi Xiang's internal arts systems, very few are aware that Hong taught a series of forms that were "half external and half internal". These served as a vital "bridge" to the internal arts, introducing techniques and a form of movement based on an entirely different set of principles in a paradigm that a senior external student could readily understand and apply.

These forms were the creation of Hong …

Understanding the internal arts

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More about the “soft” arts of China and the nature of “qi”

In my article “Internal vs. external martial arts” I explain that the term “internal” is a reference to neijiaquan ("internal method fist") – a group of martial arts in China comprising taijiquan, baguazhang and xingyiquan, as well as some related arts and offshoots (eg. liu he ba fa and yi quan). These are easily identifiable arts with a very specific set of techniques based on common principles.

The internal arts are commonly distinguished from other arts (named waijiaquan or “external method fist”). Many argue that this distinction arises because the former rely on “qi” (“ki” in Japanese) – a term literally meaning “breath” and often used to describe a metaphysical “energy”.

Accordingly the term “internal” is often mistakenly seen as a reference to the “cultivation of qi internally”. In fact the word is just a reference to “inner family” in much the same way as some schools use the term “inner circle”: so neiji…

My quest for the martial “holy grail”

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It was as a youngster in the mid-70s that I first considered the feasibility of the “holy grail” of the martial arts: a synthetic form that would combine all the best elements of the disparate styles into one cohesive, all-encompassing and succinct system: in other words the ultimate martial art.

I pored over the various books listing various styles. I pondered the encyclopaedic, sophisticated variations of jujutsu locks and holds, the smooth flow of the myriad Shaolin styles, the brutal efficiency and directness of karate, the effortless efficiency of the internal arts. I wondered about the exotic arts I’d never seen such as pencak silat and bando or legendary arts such as Mongolian “go ti”. Then there were the popular and impressive schools of taekwondo, the no-nonsense effectiveness of Muay Thai, the ubiquitous shadow of the late Bruce Lee and his Jeet Kune Do, the bewildering Filipino arts of kali/escrima/arnis, the elegance and philosophical beauty of aikido, the “sweet science…

Internal vs. external martial arts

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What do I mean by “internal” and “external”?

When I refer to the "internal" arts, I mean a specific set of techniques and methods of movement, the details I cannot go into in a short article. These methods are found (in varying but compatible forms) in the "big 3" internal arts of xingyi, bagua and taiji (liu he ba fa being a combination of the 3 to some extent). These techniques are very specific to these arts: I feel very strongly that they do not appear in the Fujian/Hakka schools (except some modified xingyi in bak mei/mantis). They certainly do not appear in karate (either Naha te or the shorin school). For example there is nothing like a xingyi's "pi quan" or "beng quan" (splitting fist and pounding fist) in karate - there are only "external" equivalents indicating some partial influence. The differences are subtle but substantial. This is not a "bad" or "good" thing: they are just different.

The “big 3”

I co…

More about the melee: how does it fit with other "range" categorizations?

People often query my use of the term "melee range". The counter this concept by saying that range is a simple proposition. A typical response is:"The 3 ranges of stand up combat are kicking range, punching range, and clinch range,"1The fourth is obviously grappling.

I'm told by my good friend Brad that Renzo Gracie considers that there are also 3 ranges of combat, except he expresses it as follows in his "Mastering Jujitsu", namely:(1) the "free movement" phase "because you are both free to move as you wish, and this would apply to armed attacks as well";

(2) the clinch range which "occurs when some sort of fixed contact is made with the opponent...whether it be a literal clinch, or something as simple as a wrist grab" and thus you are no longer both free to move about as you wish, and thus are no longer in the free movement phase"; and

(3) "last but not least...is when you're on the ground".2Both of th…