Monday, August 22, 2011

Bad Kung Fu Series #4: The Principles of Effortless Power

Author and teacher Peter Ralston

I seem to have a "respect/bewilderment" relationship with author, fighter and teacher Peter Ralston.
Ralston has varied experience in several martial arts, but has narrowed his "Cheng Hsin" down to a blend of Tai Chi Chuan, Bagua, Aikido and Western Boxing. He flawlessly borrows from any given art in his playful movement. I have one of Ralston's best DVD's. It begins with clips from a sensational tournament fight he won in China in 1978, where he works a Chinese fighter over pretty good, finishing with a nasty body slam to the ground.
Tai Chi purists deride his unorthodox methods, but he has an uncanny ability to control opponents with his boxing-push hands-Aiki-Bagua throwing style.
Ralston, who teaches as a Guru (often wearing a monks robe) clearly has the ability to "feel an opponents intent".

With that said, I would like to present a review I did on his first book "Cheng Hsin: The Principles of Effortless Power" , from a post I did in December of 2007:

Peter Ralston winning the 1978 full-contact tournament in China

Several months back, Dave from “Formosa Neijia” wrote about Peter Ralston, founder of the “Cheng Hsin” martial art system. Cheng Hsin refers to “The true nature of being”. The description was very interesting and I checked out Ralston’s website. Along with Ralston’s description of his martial philosophy, there were several clips of him performing various internal martial arts techniques. Ralston is no slouch, he has a varied background and has successfully competed internationally.
With that in mind, I ordered two of his books: “The Principles Of Effortless Power” and “Cheng Hsin T’ui Shou; The Art Of Effortless Power”.
“The Principles Of Effortless Power” is Ralston’s first book, so I started there. It begins with his martial history, and his journeys in spiritual awakening. These were steeped in the self-realization and encounter-group sessions of the 1970’s. These sessions branded Ralston’s first book with the stigma of new-age thought and explanation.
Ralston seems to be attempting to explain Internal Art principles without using any of the Chinese or Japanese terms and thought patterns. In some cases, he re-labels them. I am no stranger to alternative views and esoteric thinking, but in my opinion, Ralston is trying to re-invent the wheel. While westerners sometimes have difficulty with vague terms such as “Peng” in Tai Chi Chuan for example, there is no real need to eliminate the term or replace it.
I see where he is going with his philosophy, and understand much of it, but I have to say I find him explaining things in a circular fashion at times. For example, I book-marked this paragraph on page 90:
Ralston writes:
“ Since we already give BEING to the perception of what IS (in other words, we acknowledge it’s “beingness”), and to interpretation itself, it is necessary to move our cognition-attention and life force into a position of Being in which this can be recognized as already and actually the case. We can then give being to what is not at present occurring”.

--Whew!… this passage is not an isolated case, and I have to admit that twenty pages later I simply set the book down and moved on to his next one, which I’ve just started. That book, “Cheng Hsin T’iu Shou” shows a greater degree of maturity in his writing. While his sometimes-frustrating philosophy is present in the first part of the book, the second half is all applications that demonstrate what he has been prattling on about philosophically. While I have been on the search for concept books, Ralston’s first attempt is pretzel logic to me. I feel I will get much more out of his application book, which demonstrates many internal art principles. I came away from these books feeling that Ralston may be better as a Guru demonstrating direct transmission of knowledge to students in a Dojo format. His knowledge is deep and he is a skilled martial artist. I’ll be interested if anyone else has read his material, and any comments they have.

Well, that was in 2007.
I would skip "The Principles of Effortless Power". But if you're interested, his second book "Cheng Hsin T'ui Shou: The Art of Effortless Power" presents the same material, along with application techniques in a more sensible, readable way.


Scott said...

Ok, ok, I was wrong! You will give bad book reviews and you have done so in the past. My apologies. Keep it up.

Sean C. Ledig said...

Amen. I agree 100 percent with your assessment of his first two books. The first was a bunch of New Age claptrap! The second one actually had some practical stuff.

Seriously, I studied at Cheng Hsin in Oakland for six months in 1985. I thought his business practices were really sneaky and that the school itself had a cult-like atmosphere.

Indianapolis Jiu Jitsu said...

I was reading about this guy somewhere last month. Heard a similar review about his school Sean. Funny to see him up here too.

Dojo Rat said...

Your original comments about Cheng Hsin are at the 2007 link highlited in the text.
I see your point, I saw it at Korean schools too.

Simon said...

Hey Dojorat,

I read Ralston's more recent book, "Zen Body-Being", last year. I understand that his wife helped edit it, and that it contains a lot of his earlier material (from the books you are currently reviewing) - but using clearer language. I found it quite helpful. You might want to check it out...

Smartelek said...

I have tried to read "Effortless Power", several time and always failed. I am interested in what Ralston has to say but couldn't make sense of most of it. Zen Body Being (Zen Bada Bing)that he wrote with his wife is a pleasure to read. She claims that she left out the "mind stuff". I don't know about that, but this one is readable and helpful. If "Genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to simple", then Laura Ralston is a genius.