Monday, March 15, 2010

Peter Ralston: Great Push Hands Session

I have written in the past about my frustration with the writing of Peter Ralston compared to the physical talent the man displays. As I have stated in previous reviews, Ralston's first book "The Principles Of Effortless Power" was a "tough patch to weed". Not so with his second book, "Cheng Hsin T'ui Shou: The Art Of Effortless Power", which has become one of my favorites.
Peter Ralston's Cheng Hsin (defined by Ralston as "the true nature of being") combines many elements of Tai Chi Chuan, Aikido, Bagua, and Western Boxing. Ralston has produced a very detailed "Fight/Play" video, which begins with him slamming the crap out of a Chinese competitor to become the first non-Asian to win the Chinese Full-Contact Martial Arts Tournament in China in 1978.
Ralston went on to develop "Cheng Hsin", and in the video above you see a playful demonstration of his skills.
Tai Chi players; take note of Ralston's mobility, including retreating spiral motions he refers to as "leading roll-backs", which can be seen in Aikido movement also. Many times in push hands, Taiji players get "stuck in their root". This free-style play should be instructive as to a more natural method of play, clearly approaching movement necessary in actual self-defense.
The young guy challenging Ralston in the video begins by testing the master. He then moves on to try and match Ralston's "cat and mouse" movement. Finally, getting a little tired and frustrated, he presses harder and ends up on his ass.
Peter Ralston is indeed an American Master, and likely a genius to boot. To find more information including his highly recommended "Fight/Play" video, go to Ralston's Cheng Hsin website, found here.


Sean C. Ledig said...

No argument that he knows his stuff. But as I've said before, his school has a very cultish atmosphere to it and I have big problems with his business model.

For those who didn't read my previous comments on his business practices, I joined his school in 1985 to learn Tai Chi. I paid $40 a month and a $10 registration fee, which was the going price at the time.

However, it turned out that the $40 a month was not to learn the art of Tai Chi, but a Yang-style short set. If I wanted to learn push hands, the sword set, free sparring, set applications or more advanced hand sets, those were all special courses that cost between $115 and $250, and lasted between four and eight months.

I hope things have changed for his business practices since 1985. But in good conscience, speaking as a former Cheng Hsin student, I cannot recommend it.

Dojo Rat said...

Unfortunately, we see business models like that everywhere. Contracts, hidden fees, McDojo politics.
I agree from what I have seen Ralston is a little bit cultish, but for better or worse, I have seen so,so many others that are possibly worse.
All that aside, I love this push hands session.

Zacky Chan said...

No offense to the other guy in the video, he looks like he has some good basics and is doing the right thing by getting whooped by those better than him and learning...

but boy does Ralston make him look silly. You can the other guy getting warmed up and trying to loosen up, but there's SO much extra movement, and SO little movement by Ralston. I really like this video.

From my small experience in Aikido so far, I can see a lot involved in this video.

Thats unfortunate to hear about his business methods though.

Brown Dragon said...

After watching Ralston in this video I worry that people will see this as great Tai Chi Chuan. Let me be clear. This is NOT great Tai Chi Chuan. Ralston moves with softness and yielding yes, and even does a nice job of applying some basic Chin Na applications in the improvisation of it all, but only because his opponent has literally no clue of how to push, press, or apply any form of push-hands attack.

Ralston's footwork is sloppy. At numerous occasions his feet are crossed while the opponent is in a strong position to push (only his opponent doesn't know how). Ralston also takes double weighted stances at numerous occasions in which he is extremely vulnerable. His postures constantly break down, even the rookie opponent pins Ralston's elbow to his body several times, but never actually pushes him with it.

Final thought. Ralston's movement against a capable push-hands player would find Ralston being thrown time and again clear out of the camera's field of view. What we have here is a superior practitioner showing off with mid level technique against an extremely low level, but willing, participant.

Dojo Rat said...

Well B.D. my friend, I think you are being over critical of Ralston in a Taiji purist sense.
First, Ralston does not claim to be a Taiji purist, his technique and art include Bagua and Aikido-like spiraling.
Second, this is not competition. If it were, I am sure a younger Ralston would dig in with more sophisticated rooting when necessary. This is clearly play.
When Rookie opponent presses Ralston's elbow to him, it's almost as if Ralston is giving it to him, putting himself at a slight disadvantage to see where he can go with it.
Granted, anytime he feels a little "cornered", he puts on a sneaky chin na or choke press or other feint.
My interest in this video is that so often we get stuck in a immoble root in traditional Taiji. That's a dead end, unrealistic and dangerous.
This scene is at a picnic in a park, not the Chinese Leitai.
I appreciate Ralston's movement for what it is; freeplay.

Martial Development said...

I see that one party is more aggressive than the other--yet generally unwilling to take the initiative. One party is more willing to hit than the other. This has nothing to do with superior skill, and everything to do with blurry rules of engagement.

Which is fine for freestyle play.

But I must agree with Brown Dragon, from the standpoint of traditional Tai Chi, this video is full of fundamental mistakes on BOTH sides. And to the extent that it deviates from the standard, from a self-defense perspective, I judge it worse. (Imagine that, less street-ready than Tai Chi! LOL)

I mean, if my partner approached me with both hands behind their back, I would be insulted. And then I would hit them in the head. Wouldn't you? :)

Dojo Rat said...

Well, we can't say this video hasn't developed some controversy!

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Anonymous said...

I looked at the "Effortless Power" video on his website.

This is totally bogus. "It depends on student awe and will not work against an equal or superior."

Seriously, dude? Is he wearing a bathrobe or a magician's cape? Right off the bat, the first two demos are Bruce Lee's one inch punch with a big step through between the student's legs. See DeMille's little book "Bruce Lee's One Inch Punch" laying out the fairly simple mechanics of this "demo". Or just try it for yourself.

Then he scoots the student around the mat while the student does absolutely nothing, which is generally not an effective technique. We are not impressed.

I just pooped in my mouth a little.

Bill Pippel said...

To Sean Ledig and Dojo Rat: I was in his school for five years in the Eighties. Peter posted his fee schedule in a little brochure; I don't know how you missed it. As you said, it was $40 a month for two classes a week to learn the Taiji set or, on different nights, the Hsing I sets. If you wanted to learn boxing or sword or take a class in the principles of his art or the functional aspects of his art, you paid for that. The fees for that were also in the brochure. There were no "contracts, hidden fees, [or] McDojo politics." He was very upfront about pricing. His "ontology" stuff may have had a tinge of cultishness, but you didn't have to participate in that end of things if you didn't want to. (I mostly didn't.)

I believe that Peter Ralston is an unrecognized genius in the internal martial arts. He is very, very good. Check out his website. There are tons of videos. See for yourself.

Brown Dragon, Martial Development, and anonymous: your intellectual attachment to taiji "scripture" blinds you. Go to his website and watch all the clips available there. Hopefully that will open your eyes a bit more.

Anonymous said...

i love all these commenters criticizing his footwork or improper tai chi style...

you all do realize that peter ralston was a world champion full contact fighter right? i'm sure he would put any one of you on the floor in a heartbeat.

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