Showing posts from July, 2011

“Check your brain in here

Occasionally folks who come to try out my taijiquan (t'ai chi ch'uan) class will "turn up their noses".

"It's too complicated," they say in an accusing manner, as if I've deliberately tried to make them look stupid by giving them an impossible task or required an "anal" level of detail.

They want to "flow" or "move their spirit" or "be one with their mind and body" or some other vague new-age concept. They identify taijiquan with such concepts and they expect to be "naturally good at it". Experts even. All without having tried it before. After all, they might have gone to some qi gong (breathing exercise) classes, meditation courses or something similar, where all they had to do was sit or stand, “breathe”, chant mantras and maybe do some basic macro body movements like swing their arms loosely. And that was all "natural".

Or maybe they went to a yoga class where their genetic flexibility…

Internal arts fact and fallacy: double weighting


There is a classic principle in the internal arts (specifically taijiquan) commonly referred to as “the rule against double weighting”. To me, this is one of the most misunderstood principles associated with the internal arts.

Many proponents of this principle will insist that the body should never “double-weighted”. In other words, weight is always biased on one leg or the other, not distributed equally over both.

A drill I teach beginners who are learning the Chen Pan Ling "99" taijiquan form

The fallacy: your body inevitably passes through double-weighted points!

In literal terms the “rule against double weighting” is clearly a fallacy. Consider for a moment that you will, sooner or later, have to transfer your body weight from one leg to another. And as you do so your body will have to pass through a point where your weight is, however transiently, evenly distributed over both legs.

In Chen Pan Ling taijiquan we acknowledge this fact. There is even a “50…

Why blocks are not “strikes in disguise”


There is a sentiment that I’ve often come across in the martial arts to the effect that “all blocks are actually strikes”. If they aren’t strikes, then they are “locks, holds, throws” – in fact anything other than “blocks”.

To my mind this is a modern slant brought about by a misunderstanding of how “blocks” actually work. In this article I propose to explain exactly why traditional blocks are actually (mostly) deflections. To the extent that they can be used for other purposes (in particular, strikes), these are secondary, and to interpret them otherwise is to miss out on a vast and important part of the traditional fighting arts arsenal.

Blocks can be strikes – but that doesn’t mean they always are

First, I need to get this out of the way. Yes, you can employ blocks as strikes. There are many situations where I would do so, and I support the general notion of “inclusive” bunkai (kata application) analysis.

But there is a modern trend that goes much further than this…

What I mean by “contextual hip loading”


I have written a number of articles concerning what I call “non-contextual” hip loading or pre-loading (starting with "Whole lotta shakin': pre-loading the hips"), however it occurs to me that people might not realize what I mean by this.

When I refer to loading the hips “contextually” I am not referring to “loading them against an opponent”. I mean loading up naturally and appropriately in the circumstances, rather than artificially.

Artificial hip loading in hip isolation exercises

So what is “artificial hip loading”? Artificial loading of the hips is something one would, and should, do in hip isolation exercises. A good example of such an exercise is where you are punching a makiwara or other striking surface.

In this case, you can load up as much as you like and take all the time you want, because the makiwara “sure ain’t going nowhere”. It is clearly “artificial” loading because a resistant opponent would not give you such an opportunity. But in the c…

Internal arts fact and fallacy: raising the shoulder girdle in the rising block


One of the most commonly heard criticisms of karate that I hear among internal martial artists relates to the humble rising block.

You’d think that such a common, garden-variety technique that is so demonstrably effective would be common to all traditional martial arts. And to some extent it is. However there is a school of thought in some internal arts schools that would suggest otherwise. It is an approach that seems, at first glance, to be highly persuasive. But despite its kernel of truth, I believe the criticism ultimately comprises flawed dogma. Let us examine the criticism in detail:

Criticisms of the karate rising block

In karate the basic age/jodan uke is performed by facing your attack “head-on”. My emphasis on “basic” is important – I shall explain why later. The second thing to note about the karate rising block is that the forearm rises first,followed by the shoulder girdle (I discuss the basic karate technique in this article).

It is this second point t…

Hard blocks


I have made my views very clear on this blog that I believe "blocks" (better termed "deflections") work.

However, now comes the hard question: How should "blocks" be performed?

Many karateka and other martial artists (in fact, some of my most esteemed friends and colleagues) believe that the "hard" block is the "mainstay" of their art. I find this view particularly common in the various shorin ryu karate schools.

However I disagree. I adhere to the view that the majority of blocks - whether from karate or the Chinese arts or whatever - should be "soft". In fact, I believe that "hard" blocks are rarely useful - so rarely useful that this is part of what accounts for the fact that blocks are very seldom even contemplated in combat sports. Yet I see no reason why they should not be used in that arena.

It seems to me that relatively few martial artists today practice "soft" blocks; the majo…