Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Western Boxing Influence In Asian Martial Arts



In our recent review of the book "Chin Na Fa", we read that author Liu Jinsheng held Western boxing in great regard:

""Those who have practiced these (edit-Chinese martial) arts twenty or thirty years have never defeated anyone who has practiced Western boxing or Judo. Why is this? It is because the practitioners of Shaolin and Wudang styles only pay attention to the beauty of their forms - they lack practical methods and spirit and have lost the true transmissions of their ancestors. Hence, our martial arts are viewed by outsiders merely as rigorous dancing."

In a discussion in the comments section, I brought up the theory that Western boxing had influenced the development of Wing Chun Kung Fu. This is something I had heard and read about, but never confirmed.
Sean Ledig, who writes from "Tales From The Carport Kwoon",
"DR,

Karl Godwin, a Wing Chun instructor in Altamonte Springs, Fl., wrote an article about that idea for Black Belt in 1986.
I can't remember which issue, but Google books has a complete collection of Black Belt from the first issue to present day.
Karl hypothesized that Wing Chun was a synthesis between Western Boxing and Taijiquan.
I've heard similar things. I'm sure there's some cross-pollination between fighting arts. Good teachers and good fighters, no matter what country they're from or what time they live, are always on the lookout for anything that they can add to their arsenal."

As it happens, I just started reading "Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals - A Historical Survey" by Brian Kennedy and Elizabeth Guo (review to follow).
In a short chapter on Western boxing, the authors write:

"Noted Chinese martial arts researcher and teacher Tim Cartmell wrote, "When the Chinese army was researching and developing their hand-to-hand combat, (which later evolved into the modern San Shou/San Da tournament fighting popular today) they researched all the popular forms of martial arts, including their own. The conclusion was that Western boxing hand techniques, when it came to developing practical striking and defensive abilities in a reasonable amount of time, were superior to all others, including their own".

So it appears that there is no doubt that Western boxing had a great influence on Asian martial arts, especially after 1900.
However, in my opinion, Western boxing is not necessarily in the "Art" category. Western boxing combines exercise, sport and combat skills. It is perhaps the most effective and easily learned fighting method, but it lacks the philosophical grounding that would put it in the "Art" category for me.

Combat brings necessary pain. Art necessarily brings pleasure.

This opens the door to a future discussion, also fueled by Kennedy and Guo's book "Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals" on the integration of religion, morality and the martial arts.
Review to follow soon.

You can read Sean Ledig's training log and martial musings at "Tales From The Carport Kwoon"

75 comments:

samuel.x.killer said...

big fan of the blog, but i humbly disagree that western boxing lacks philosophy. "fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee" may be one of the most zen lines about combat i know. i would be interested if there are other boxing quotes which exemplify universal aspects of martial arts

Brian said...

Good Morning Dojo Rat,
This is an interesting topic. As you pointed out many Chinese martial arts teachers of the Republican Period (1900-end of WW2) were very impressed with western boxing. Another example is the Jingwu Association. It their main training hall in Shanghai they were quite impressed with western boxing. In a kind of irony, they said that western boxing was what traditional Chinese martial arts "should be".

take care,
Brian Kennedy
p.s. Elizabeth and I hope you enjoy our book. Please let me know if you have any questions about it.

Sean C. Ledig said...

Hey DR,

Thanks for the plug.

I just wanted to say that the article on Wing Chun and boxing was published in the June 1986 issue of Black Belt, and is available on Google books.

A couple more comments about boxing and Asian martial arts.

1. Bruce Lee's main Wing Chun teacher, Wong Sheung Lung, was a former boxer. He was also Yip Man's top fighter.

The joke in Yip Man's kwoon was that Wong survived more death touch blows than any man in history. It was a common face-saving move for rival kung fu men to claim that they dim makked Wong and he would die of injuries after their fight.

2. While attending a Joe Lewis seminar in 1996, Lewis said that what Bruce Lee wrote about boxing in "Tao of Jeet Kune Do" came from the U.S. Navy's boxing manual. As a former marine, Lewis ought to know.

3. In my opinion, this is one of the best articles ever written on western boxing and Asian fighting arts.

http://www.loompanics.com/Articles/SportingLife.html

JAB said...

Pu En Fu, Hu Xi Lin's Shuai Chiao coach, studied with professional boxers that were part of an Italian delegation that came over in the 40's or 50's to Beijing. Pu Laoshi stated many a time how good their boxing was, how tough they were, and he became a student and studied boxing with them. Combined with his already legendary throwing skills this made him a often sought out trainer!

As for boxing not being an "art." You have not been exposed to good solid boxing then mi amigo. I look at what influence Cus D'Amato(?) had on Tyson, and what could have been if he had lived longer. He took a punk idiot and made him somebody with hardwork ethic and discipline. That in itself is an art form!

As for Wing Chun being influenced by boxing... I have no historical proof, but the overwhelming majority of WC I have seen lack footwork, body method, technical knowledge, power, realistic covering & protection etc. etc. etc. I am calling BS on this one!

JAB

Dojo Rat said...

Brian;
I want to give your book a detailed read, so the review will be in a bit. Looks great though!

Samuel and Jake;
I guess I've gone over and over this before, but I consider boxing and wrestling combat sports. Don't get me wrong, I have a great appreation for both and have practiced both. I wrestled in High school for four years.
There is technique, self-improvement, conditioning and self-defense in boxing and wrestling.
But there is NO underlying philosophy such as Zen aspects in Japanese arts, Taoist or Buddhist aspects in Chinese arts, caligraphy as practiced by martial masters, etc.
There is also no aspect of health improvement such as Chi development. In fact, boxing can even damage our bodies.
Now, I suppose all those arts can be practiced without any thought to those underlying philosophies. Then I would consider them combat skills like boxing and wrestling.
Combined with philosophy, they become an art.
-Just my opinion.

Sean C. Ledig said...

DR,

The Buddhist and Taoist influences of the Asian martial arts were just part and parcel of the culture from which those arts came.

Personally, I worry about anyone who is looking to satisfy some spiritual or ethical dilemna through the study of martial arts.

Generally, I tell people with those issues to consult their priest, minister or rabbi.

One other comment on Western Boxing's influence on Asian martial arts; Taira Shinken advocated the use of boxing gloves and chest protection for freesparring even in the early 20th Century. There's even a photo of him in the book "Classical Kata of Okinawan Karate" by Patrick McCarthy wearing boxing gloves.

Dojo Rat said...

Sean;
I started a new thread (post) on this one

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Its " float like a butterfly...sting like a bee" sam

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