Sunday, November 14, 2010

Martial Metanoia

My old San Ti stance, pre-correction


: a transformative change of heart; especially : a spiritual conversion.
Greek, from metanoiein to change one's mind, repent, from meta- + noein to think, from nous mind
First Known Use: 1577 (Merriam-Webster)

Every now-and-then we experience something in our training that shakes our core beliefs. This is a natural process, and we are smart to learn and grow from it.
Ever since I attended the Tim Cartmell seminar on MMA concepts adapted to street use, I've had to really re-think where my training is going and what I would like to change.
First of all, let me say that nothing in Tim's presentation was new to me. With the exception of Tim's subtle ways of using angles and leverage, I had seen most of the techniques in past programs. There was a lot that took me back to wrestling techniques, knee strikes, basic chokes and focus-pad boxing strikes. These were done with the open palm, which Tim recommends for any strike to the hard head surface of an opponent on the street.
All these things are techniques I have practiced, the technical rise - returning to your feet safely MMA-style was the only really new addition and I had practiced that with Jake Burroughs a couple of weeks before.
So why did this cause me so much consternation that I would seek reflection and change?

Let's use another couple of big words to answer that: Cognitive Dissonance

: psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously

Despite the fact that I've been in many, many real fights in the past - and know what that takes - I was falling into the traditional martial arts trap.
I was conflicted because I knew deep inside that half the stuff we teach in traditional martial arts will get the crap beat out of you on the street.
None-the-less, rosy-cheeked Tai Chi Chuan students begged to be taught two-person fighting sets, stuff that they thought would help them survive a home invasion or mugging at the ATM.
In teaching traditional arts, there is pattern, practice and method. Nearly all of us, especially if you have experienced multiple styles, see the building blocks that are supposed to stack together and eventually form an impenetrable castle.
So much of that is deeply flawed, yet we continue to teach it textbook fashion.
Tim's MMA for the street presentation was nothing new, but truthfully, a beginning student would get more out of that five hours than in five, maybe ten months of traditional training.

So here's my dilemma; traditional or practical?

I think I have a solution.
Our Monday-Wednesday club practice has always had sparring, self-defense and form work, all in a very non-structured way.
The grand experiment is with "The Barbarian Brothers". These guys are huge football player types that have an interest in MMA. They can easily pick my 200-pound ass up and toss me. But they know nothing about real technique. They come on Wednesdays from the mainland to practice with us and are very consistent. But when they first came, it was because another Tai Chi Chuan instructor brought them up to learn more advanced Tai Chi with us. We got stuck in the routine of introducing internal concepts to guys that have trouble with basic stances. Furthermore, they like to mix it up and follow MMA.
So we set another program for them. They come in and start with Tom, our boxing coach on basic western boxing drills. From there, Corey takes them for Small-Circle Jujitsu and related grappling and self-defense. But they still need the structure of form work so they can get familiar with their bodies, so I started them on the first of the short but effective Xingyi Five-Element Forms. They really need stance and root training.
This proved to be a well-rounded scenario, everybody participates and we get a great workout. I'm sure this program will grow and change with time and experience.

Now to the matter of My Thursday Tai Chi Chuan class.
This class is populated with a core group of people ten years older than me and the occasional young people. Seeking the balance is more difficult. Since these students all know the Yang Taiji form, I think I am going to dispense with it for a while. They need to work on basic defensive structure for when people push or grab them. They need to get out of the locked-in-your-stance immobile position and start doing some freestyle movement with a partner. Where is your defensive bubble? What angle do you choose? What gross motor skills are most effective in a simple confrontation?
Gone for now are the inner journey of internal adjustments. These oldsters will never really mix it up with anybody, they just need a little practical protection.

I'm sure other instructors have had to work through these issues, we'll see how it goes...


B said...

Traditional or practical? Why not both? Seems like you already chose both!

Even when I was in traditional kung fu and chin na I practiced a core dozen of techniques (minus the ground) at home. Even better if you have people to practice with which you do.

Honestly, I love the practical but I suspect that well-aged martial artists like us will get more out of the traditional -- goes beyond practical and heads into spiritual, philosophical, and a mental/physical challenge. Besides, some of that which traditional teaches does apply to the street. The catch is you have to be smart enough to bridge the gap.

One day (if I ever move!) I hope to get back into a traditional art.

Dojo Rat said...

Yes, I love the traditional forms for meditation, philosophy and just getting centered.
But I don't want to give traditional students unreal expectations about ancient arts. I also don't want to give powerful fighting techniques to guys without giving them an outlet for grounding and centering, which traditional forms do.
Gotta find that middle ground.

Scott said...

Have you actually practiced being attacked using one attack, one response, stop action back and forth? Try it and just do the form. The forms work great for actual self-defense. Break the defensive bubble and just get inside and hit. Old people are not going to monkey dance. Make the attacks real like being grabbed from behind or slammed into a wall, or hit with a brick.
The traditional forms work.

daniele.perkele said...

Probably one of the most interesting (and, often, heated) debates in this field.
IMHO, the greatest enemies of a martial artist are prejudice and misunderstanding.
"Modern" styles (say,BJJ, MMA and so on) do work. On a ring. Cage fighters and the like have fighting experience, which is very important both on a phisically and mentally, but, they are trained to fight for 5 rounds. In real life you want to end a fight in 5 seconds. You might have to strike to the groin, pressure points, eyes.

I cannot speak for all traditional styles, but at least Choy Li Fut kung fu has all that and much more: it is probably one of the most complete styles in the world, having Fut Gar, Hung Gar, Choy Gar and Shaolin in it. It has striking, grappling, pressure points, takedowns etc. It takes time to learn, yes, much more than western boxing, but it is not a waste of time. Yet, doing the forms is not nearly enough. Forms have to be interpreted, "translated", their applications practiced.
We have to make ancient arts "modern", in a sense. said...
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