Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Re-thinking Cheng Hsin

Ralston demonstrates uprooting power

For the last week, I've been giving a lot of thought to the internal art of Cheng Hsin, created by Peter Ralston.
I have to admit that I struggled with Ralston's first book, "The Principles of Effortless Power", and reviewed it HERE. However, Ralston's second book, "Cheng Hsin T'ui Shou - The Art Of Effortless Power" is going to become my new roadmap to becoming a better martial artist. How did this come to be?
Not long ago, Dave over at Formosa Neijia wrote a great review of Ralston's DVD titled "Fight-Play video", and provided some good insight regarding the concepts of Cheng Hsin, which combines many skills from Aikido, Tai Chi Chuan, Pa Kua and Western Boxing. I consider Formosa Dave a "go-to guy" on questions of internal martial arts. Dave lives and trains in Taiwan, and has seen many Asian masters at work. But in an e-mail to me, Dave said he's never seen anyone so skilled at circling behind an opponent and using what I would call positional superiority. After I had written my review of Ralston's first book, he encouraged me to stick with it. I took his advice and bought a copy of the "Fight-Play video, and boy, was it worth it.
The video begins with 1978 footage of Ralston slamming the crap out of a Chinese competitor to win one of the first Chinese full-contact fighting championships. From there it moves into a demonstration at a martial arts school in Hawaii. Ralston is involved in some "Freeplay" with one of the instructors, and displays his incredible ability to control the movement of his opponent, primarily by using superior positioning, yielding skills and impeccable timing. This is what sold me, and opened up new avenues of thought about blending with an opponent.
I've been feeling for a while that my push-hands is too linear, and in freeplay with a stronger opponent, I am ocassionally driven backward. The solution of course, is to re-introduce the circular stepping patterns I learned in Aikido, and those that I am learning from Bagua now. Ralston and his students have evasive, circular yeilding skills, yet always remain rooted and able to discharge power. Their movement is similar to Aikido, but there is more to it. It employes the cat-like yielding movement of Tai Chi Chuan and Pa Kua as well.
Ralston's students provide a lengthy demonstration of various techniques repeatedly, allowing a knowledgable practitioner to follow their movement and explore the concepts being demonstrated. Much of the technique opens with the defender using a "leading rollback", a sort of extended "Peng" arm position, a whole new way to use "Peng" with evasive stepping.
As far as hitting skills, Cheng Hsin focus is on Western Boxing, perhaps the most effective hitting art available. But rather than stand there hitting toe-to-toe, Cheng Hsin players employ the same kind of evasive stepping that is shown in their grappling skills.
I still stand by my review of Ralston's first book "The Principles Of Effortless Power", which I considered a tough patch to weed. But as of now, I am going to use the second book, "Cheng Hsin T'ui Shou - The Art Of Effortless Power" as a way to build new movement skills. I would suggest getting the "Fight-Play" video with the book, so you can see how this work is performed, and refer to the book for details.
The combination has kick-started new ideas about moving with an opponent for me, and I highly reccomend it to other internal artists. I think that the video may be especially valuable to our Aikido friends out there, showing a somewhat less-formal approach to movement not generally found in conventional Aikido.
As people familiar with Ralston's work know, Cheng Hsin is not necessarily about fighting skills, it is more about introspection and interaction.
Check out The Cheng Hsin website at THIS LINK, and if you are ready to experiance a whole new way to move and improve your martial art, pick up the "Fight-Play" video.


Hand2Hand said...

I'll admit, Ralston and his top people are incredible martial artists.

I've got the t'ui shou book. I enjoyed it and I think I learned more from it than that first piece of New Age rambling.

But I did train at the Cheng Hsin school in Berkeley and I'm not crazy about his business model. And if I have some serious issues with someone's ethics or business practices, I don't tend to recommend them to other people.

Toldain said...

Well I have a bit more respect for the first book than hand2hand. Where I was able to understand his point, it was a good point, and well worth getting.

Furthermore, I think the book is authentic in the sense of recreating Ralston's process that led him to mastery of martial arts, which he definitely has.

That said, I think there are simpler ways to describe the concepts in the first book. I would use different words than he does. That's ok, his words work for him and his students.

Formosa Neijia said...

Yeah, this disc was good stuff. I just wish he'd actually go and make a complete, professionally done set. The students were good but seeing Ralston actually do the material would be so much better.

Tommy said...

Nice article.

Moving in a 'Cheng Hsin way' is certainly fun. Once you start to get it, it just feels natural and sometimes when you're in the flow its effortlessly effective - well that's just my experience of it.

Dojo Rat said...

I like what Toldain said about seeing Ralston's thinking and learning process in the first book. Still a tough read. The second book is better.
And Tommy, I just found your site. could you tell us of your experiance in the system? I would be very interested.

The Triple Cities Martial Arts Academy BLOG said...

2nd book is waay better

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