Friday, May 28, 2010

Martial; Where "Art" Thou?

The last couple of posts (Is Western Boxing An Art? and Western Boxing Influence In Asian Martial Arts) has sparked a lively debate in the age-old question of "what makes an art?" in general.
Let's take a further look; first of all, the reality of my past Karate, especially Tae Kwon Do, sucked until I took up boxing hand drills. My friend Tom brought his past boxing experience to our Dojo, and it improved our fighting skills by huge leaps and bounds. Western boxing is undoubtedly the easiest learned and fastest path to fighting skills that I have practiced.
Now, let's examine the historical development of the so-called "Asian Martial Arts".
Not long ago I was at a training session with Tim Cartmell. People familiar with Tim recognize him as a very capable authority on traditional Chinese martial arts as well as a champion Brazilian Jujitsu competitor.
I asked Tim what he thought about the trigrams in the Bagua symbol and how they related to the practice of Baguazhang.
Tim pretty much shrugged it off. He told me that the interjection of Taoist symbology in the fighting art was a relatively modern phenomenon, supported by Chinese intellectuals in a time of relative peace. This helped spread the practice of "internal" arts and the element of mysticism appealed to the upper middle-class.
Tim's student (and my Xingyi instructor) Jake Burroughs added these comments in the previous post:

"JAB said...
LOL! Got news for you brother, the Chinese fit their fighting arts to their philosophies. Originally there were three fists in Xing Yi, but that did not fit the five elements so two more were added.
Traditionally there were three palm changes, single, double, smooth body palm... did not fit the philosophies of the I Ching, so they added 5 more to make eight.
Qi is a Chinese word for energy. Energy is in every living thing regardless of that things awareness, nor how any of us define it. Trust me... boxers have PLENTY of qi when they hit!
Meditation is a religious, personal endeavor. To link it to "art" is not contextual.
Of course this is all subjective. Is boxing dangerous... of course it is! Does not negate the art does it? All MARTIAL arts are inherently dangerous if practiced properly. We minimize risks, but they still exist.
To watch the greats like Ali, Fraser, Louis, Foreman, Mayweather, pacman..... to watch them move, strike, slip, step is simply beautiful IMO! The athleticism and ability to perform a skill with such intent and focus is not an art form? By your definition no Olympic sport is an art, BJJ is not an art, pretty much everything that does not have an asian-mystic-metaphysic-religious slant on it is not an art according to your definition. Hell even art is not art in most cases according to your definition!

Jake makes some good points. But if I stay true to my position, I will say that when I was our high school's all-around gymnast and on the wrestling team, I was practicing a sport, not an art.

Additionally, I think what we understand about the Chinese internal arts in particular, is that they have evolved from pure pugilism to a holistic practice combining all the elements of physical and mental health, self-defense applications (even though they may not be the most cutting-edge in effectiveness), and lineage to an ancient historical perspective. Think about how ritual dance in tribal times reflected the success of the hunt or victory in combat.

As I wrote in the last post, I'm reading Brian Kennedy and Elizabeth Gou's book "Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals; A Historical Perspective". The author's speak directly to this subject:

From "Religion, Morality, and Martial Arts", page 85
"The idea that martial arts were linked to either Taoist or Buddhist philosophy came about when martial arts stopped being a practical trade and started to be a form of recreation for the upper and middle classes. This process began in the late 1800's and accelerated at the start of the Republican era (1912).
To enhance the image of their arts, teachers started connecting up Chinese philosophy with the study and practice of their styles. Doing so brought an intellectual element to what had previously been a physical trade or skill".

So we see that the intellectual, philosophical element in Chinese martial arts has been included in their training for over one hundred-years!

That's a pretty good track record for me. I consider it evidence of the evolution of Chinese martial arts in a time of increasing industrialization. A connection to something greater than life prattled away in a factory job and the hustle of modern society.

I've really appreciated all the comments in the past few posts, everyone had great perspectives.
As promised, I will soon have a review of Kennedy and Gou's "Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals", I want to give it a solid read first.

For more thoughts on this subject, see "Why Do I Train In Ancient, Obscure Arts?"


samuel.x.killer said...

"From "Religion, Morality, and Martial Arts", page 85
'The idea that martial arts were linked to either Taoist or Buddhist philosophy came about when martial arts stopped being a practical trade and started to be a form of recreation for the upper and middle classes."'

So... the practice of Asian fighting styles didn't become a martial art until practiced for "recreation" aka sport? Hmmm... ;D

This has been a phenomenal and inspiring discussion. Thank you to everyone, especially DR for providing a forum where artists may freely join to debate the spirit of our practice. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading everyone's words, learning new history, and thinking from other perspectives.

Sean C. Ledig said...

Testify Brother Samuel!

And to everyone else who took part in this discussion, whether pro or con, I want to say a big "Thanks" and "Congratulations."

Never before in all my years on the 'net have I seen a more civil exchange of views on a controversial subject.

Martial Development said...

"My combat sport is scientific and pragmatic. Other people's martial arts are culturally and philosophically entangled."

"I don't speak with an accent. Everyone else in the world does!"

nemovic said...

DJ you are writing related to the comment from "Religion, Morality, and Martial Arts":

"So we see that the intellectual, philosophical element in Chinese martial arts has been included in their training for over one hundred-years!
"That's a pretty good track record for me. I consider it evidence of the evolution of Chinese martial arts in a time of increasing industrialization"

I wonder if the quote can be read the other way around, since the martial arts stopped to be practical for every day life they became upper class that was forming itself from the benefits of industrialization started contemplanting (just as we do now) about the "deeper" meanings of the martial opinion is that at that point martial arts lost the touch with reality and became dead, a playground for intellectuals.

Maybe the brutal working class boxing is the real "art"??

I myself practise ving tsun, that is considered an semi-internal art, but I see the danger to become "intelectual" and involve to much in the details of technique rather to stick to the target........

keep posting m8....

Scott said...

A history of Chinese martial arts has yet to be written. What was produced in China during the Republican Era and the Communist Era is political ideology infused with the massive humiliation of 9 Nations conquering China and looting the Imperial Palace during the Boxer Uprising.
The Boxers were martial artists who dressed up in Opera costumes with real swords while being possessed by their favorite Opera hero-gods. The monkey king was the most popular deity to possess these fighters. They all used magic chanting and talisman while they burned cities to the ground and slaughtered Chinese Christians by the 1000's. They believed they were invincible and that bullets could not harm them. They were wrong.
The Chinese martial arts were always combined with religion and theater. All of your informants here have the story backwards.
Marnix Wells and Douglas Wile each wrote interesting books about old texts they found, but neither of them wrote histories. Brian Kennedy had an awesome idea for a book it's beautiful and I must admit I enjoyed it, but it provided no history or context of any significance.

The only two histories of martial arts that I have seen are:
Meir Shahar's-- Shaolin Temple (came out last year) and,
Morris's --Marrow of the Nation (came out two year ago).
Shahar stops before the 20th century starts and keeps it narrowly about Shaolin Temple.
Morris only discusses Martial Arts in chapter 7, and only the Republican Era.
It is my sincere hope that others will read these books. But I maintain a history of Chinese martial arts has yet to be written.

I might further add that a great deal has been said about the non-influence of Daoism on the martial arts by people who know next to nothing about Daoist practice or history.

Just my opinion.

Dojo Rat said...

Thank you very much Scott, I respect your opinion and grasp of history, but
more to follow,

Yes, you are correct.
Martial combat skills became "art" after it became a
"recreation", Which is what I practice.

Dude, you are right on. I will have more to say. You see clearly.


Zacky Chan said...

For anyone seriously concerned about his debate, you need to check ott Daniele Perkele's post, "Arts vs. Sports pt.2" at I think that anyone posting on this belongs to a class of people with enough luxury and free time to think of such ideas, which is different than many ideas of warriors of the past. We live in a different world. If your aim in martial arts is tangible and specific, such as wanting to get more points in a sparring or boxing competition, physically dominate anybody in any situation, or avoid confrontation at any cost, or be able to kill someone with some weapon from antiquity, then your means and answers to this question will be clear. If your aim is some ideal of "art", then we'll have to find something different.

This is very interesting. I think "great martial artists" will have a fun time trying to solve this riddle.

daniele.perkele said...

Thanks for linking my blo Zackye! This is a much controversial subject, and indeed is a grand thing that the opinions have been this polite so far.
However, I agree with Scott on some points. I'm not a scholar in this field, but I believe that talking of 19th century china as an industrialized country is a mistake. All right, there might have been big cities on the coast, with trading posts and western influence, but colonies of an industrialized country are never, themselves, industrial. 60 or 70 years ago, in many corners of our "civilzed" Europe (such as Romania, Greece, Italy, Finland, Sweden) you could still find "sorcerers", semi-maigcal rites, traditional medicine and "archaic" lore, at least in the countryside. 19th century China was probably more concerned with Qi and Taoism than with science.
IMHO of course.

And then, where is the line between self-defence and using your two years of kickboxing to hurt random people?
This subject is very much a martial Koan.

Mighty said...

Loving it. Everybody seems to be bringing it to the table. Plus (as has been said before) in a well-mannered and personalable fashion.

Great job instigating this John.

Keep up the good work.

Tianshanwarrior said...

Dojo friends,
Addressing Art:
noun 1 the expression of creative skill through a visual medium such as painting or sculpture. 2 the product of such a process; paintings, drawings, and sculpture collectively. 3 (the arts) the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, and drama. 4 (arts) subjects of study primarily concerned with human culture (as contrasted with scientific or technical subjects). 5 a skill: the art of conversation.
In that sense any endeavour that requires skill/mastery is an art so yes western boxing is an art.
As for art in Martial Arts. There is a reason Martial is written before art (Wu Shu). Even in ancient times were the practice of martial dances (Wu Wu) was part of military training, the main goal of this was to prepare soldiers for war. Ma Mingda points out that as far as the Han dynasty, the earlier mentions of fighting skills (shoubo) stressed the need to practice these skills for real.
Henning reveals that Ge Hong a scholar, daoist and military expert during the Jin Dynasty did not identify his training in martial arts with his daoist pursuits. Kang Gewu also points out that as far as the Song dynasty, there was a clear distinction between “flowery” methods (hua fa ) vs. military methods. In the Ming, general Qi Jiguang criticised the practice of flowery styles, useless in warfare and instead sought only practical skills from a variety of fighting methods. Qi quotes an old adage” if you lack good posture, you will be defeated in one move, if mistakes are made, you will be ineffective within ten moves”, bu zhao jia, zhi shi yi xia, fan le zhao jia, jiu you shi xia., 不招架 只是一下 犯了招架 就有十下 . A similar opinion was expressed by Ming Military expert Tang Shunzhi. Stanley E. Hening has written excellent papers on the subject that paint a very different picture based on ancient texts.
Taoism and later on Buddhism lend the theoretical framework that martial artists used to described their skills. To say as someone has suggested that theatre and religion have always been a part of the practice of martial skills is nonsense, but the other way around. Martial arts were included in artistic practises like Chinese opera and novels . Martial arts were a past time for all levels of society, a very important one, at a time when invasions form the northern tribes as well s bandits were an ongoing reality for the people living during those turbulent times. Even members of religious sects practiced them to protect their lives and property, however this task was only performed by a few. There is no evidence of armies of monks as many want to believe. Professor Shahar tell us that the biggest contingent of monastic troops during the campaigns against the wokou pirates, was 120; comparing this number with Madam Wang’s civilian militia during the same period that counted thousands of members ;or the involvement of a group of 13 monks in support of the raising Tang dynasty that mobilized approximately 50K warriors against the Sui who number 100K, put things in perspective.

Tianshanwarrior said...

There is however a good starting point for the transformation of martial arts to a more holistic approach during the transition between the Ming and Qing dynasties that both Shahar and Ma Mingda agree on. The internal classification is, as Tim Cartmell points out, fairly new, starting with the publication of the Epitaph of Wang Zhengnan at the start of the Qing, as was revealed by Hening and Wyle. To say that there is such thing as internal or external only goes against the theory of Ying and Yang. There are examples of the application of both in military texts like the Jianjing written by Ming general Yu Dayou or the tale of the Lady of Yue, were the hard and soft complement each other.
During the republican period martial skills were emphasized in order to prepare against the Japanese; after the opening of the Central National Arts Academy, Zhongyang Guoshu Guan, two national examinations were organized. The examinations, according to professor Ma “placed an equal demand on set-performance and combat training and emphasized the integral relationship between the two, stressing that one should, (Xian Zi Wu, Hou Bi Shi, 先自舞 後比試); first dance on his own, then engage in competitive matches, which included both empty-hand and armed martial arts”. No theatre or religion were never part of the curriculum (unless we want to include the fact that pupils of the academy had to attend a morning Christian service). Several practitioners of the “internal” art of Xingyi Quan placed in the finals of the examinations. Martial arts, specially the so called “internal” martial arts had been hijacked by those who are too afraid to test their skills for real, and instead prefer to live in fairy land. Just my two cents.



Dojo Rat said...

Thanks for the detailed history William, do you have a primary source for this information?
Good stuff, thanks

Tianshanwarrior said...

Here is a sample of the bibliografia I have researched so far:

MAMORU, Tonami (trad. P. Herbert). The Shaolin Monastery Stele on Mount Song. Italian School of East Asian Studies. Kyoto, 1990.

MILLER, Dan. «Jiang Hao-Quan and Ch’uan Shih Pa Kua Chang». Pa Kua Chang Journal, 2(4), 1992, pp. 1, 3-10.

ACEVEDO, William; CHEUNG, Mei y HOOD, Brenda. «A life time dedicated to the martial traditions. An interview with professor Ma Mingda». Kung-fu Taichi Magazine. Nov/Dic 2008, pp. 76-80.

CHEN, Yuen Kuai. «Long wei zhan jiang, Yu Dayou». «Yu Dayou, powerful geenral coragous dragon»]. Taiwan Wu Lin, yi wen chu ban she, 2003-2004, pp.44-48.

GRAFF, A. David. «Dou Jiande’s dilemma: Logistics, strategy, and state formation in seventh-century China». Hans J. Van de Ven (ed.), Warfare in Chinese History (pp. 77-105). BRILL. Boston, 2000.

HENNING, Stanley E. «Academia Encounters the Chinese Martial Arts». China Review
International, 6(2), 1999, pp. 319-332.

HENNING, Stanley E. «Chinese Boxing, The Internal Versus External Schools in the Light of History & Theory». Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 6(3), 1997, pp. 10-19.

HENNING, Stanley E. «Chinese Boxing»s Ironic Odyssey». Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 8(3), 1999, pp. 8-17

HENNING, Stanley E. «El general chino Yue Fei: hechos, relatos y misterios de las artes marciales ». Revista de Artes Marciales Asiáticas, 2(1), 2007, pp. 50-55.

HENNING, Stanley E. «La Doncella de Yue: fuente de la teoría de las artes marciales chinas». Revista de Artes Marciales Asiáticas, 2(4), 2007, pp. 50-53.

HENNING, Stanley E. «La nueva ola china de eruditos de las artes marciales». Revista de Artes Marciales Asiáticas, 1(3), 2006, pp. 8-21.

HENNING, Stanley E. «Martial Arts Myths of Shaolin Monastery. Part I: The Giant with The Flaming Staff». The Chen Journal, 15(1), 1999, pp. 1-2.

HENNING, Stanley E. «Southern Fists & Northern Legs, The Geography of Chinese Boxing». Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 7(3), 1998, pp. 24- 31.

Tianshanwarrior said...

MA, Mingda. «Reconstructing China»s Indigenous Physical Culture». Journal of Chinese Martial Studies, 1(1), 2009, pp. 8-31.

CHENG, Zongyou. Shaolin gunfa chan zong [Exposición del método original de bastón Shaolin]. Kexue ji shu banshe. Shanxi, (c. 1610) 2006
KANG, Gewu. The Spring and autumn of Chinese martial arts, 5000 years. Plum Publications. California, 1995.

MA, Mingda. Shuo jian cong gao [Discursos de la espada: Colección de manuscritos]. Lanzhou da xue chu ban she. Lanzhou, 2000.

MA, Mingda. Wu xue tan zhen [Buscando los hechos en los estudios marciales]. Yi wen chu ban you xian gong si. Taibei Shi, 2003.

QI, Jiguang (edic. de Ma Mingda). Jixiao xinshu [Libro de disciplina efectiva]. Renmin Tiyu Chubanshe. Beijing, (1560) 1988.

WILE, Douglas. T’ai-chi’s ancestors, the making of an internal martial art. Sweet Ch’I Press. New York, 1999.

SHAHAR, Meir. The shaolin monastery history, religion and the chinese martial arts. University of Hawaii Press. Honolulu, 2008.

Tianshanwarrior said...

also see my article:

Part 1 & 2
The History of the Central National Arts Academy, Classical Fighting Arts Magazine

Tianshanwarrior said...

An extract from my article describing the way martial arts were train at the Academy:

"One of the main differences between the way martial arts were practiced in the Academy vs. contemporary wushu was that the martial arts at the Academy were practiced with a strong emphasis on practical techniques and were not focused on performance. The Academy emphasized the fighting ability of its students through local, provincial, and national examinations in which the candidates had to battle others in order to be accepted into the Academy’s programs. These examinations would continue throughout the year. The examination system used at the Academy was based on the ancient imperial Ming and Qing military examinations.

Their purpose was to compete against others (bi wu) in order to find the best candidates capable of advancing and promoting guoshu training. The examination system had three levels: local (xian kao), provincial (sheng shi kao) and national (guo kao). The national examination was held in October, the provincial examination in April, and the local examination in December. Candidates who succeeded at the local examination received the title of Hero (Zhuan Shi), those at the provincial level got the title of Warrior (Wu Shi), those at the national pre-examination, Brave Warrior (Yong Shi) and finally, those at the national level, Military Officer (Xiao Wei)7. "

Dojo Rat said...

Thanks, Wow, you have done the research!
I will post a link to your website.

-and- is this William who I have met at Cartmell or Martello seminars in Seattle?

Hope you confirm, I will include that in linking your Chinese martial arts website.

Thanks for your research, I'd like to have a Beer with you sometime.

Tianshanwarrior said...

Hello John,

yes we met at two of Tim's seminars and were training partners in one of the Bagua sessions. I have been researching quiet about CMA, and have more material including primary sources. My wife and I recently published a survey book in Spanish on CMA history based on English and Chinese material scatter everywhere. We have been also blessed with the frienship of scholars like Stanley Henning, Meir Shahar, Andrew D. Morris, Dennis Rovere, Ma Lianzhen and his father, Brian Kennedy and Elizabeth Guo who have helped us a lot. We are working on publishing a few articles and a book on the Central National Arts Academy in English.
CMA is a very interesting topic that requires thorough research from many sources.
Let's hope we can meet soon to have that beer.


William A

Dojo Rat said...

Very cool!
I'll put you up on Dojo Rat today,


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