Sunday, March 18, 2007

Internal Arts as Fighting Arts

Mike Martello demonstrates fighting techniques of the internal arts

There has been a constant debate on forums, in Dojo's and probably in the street about combat effectiveness of the Internal Martial Arts (IMA).
This arises not just from proponents of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), but also old-school WW-2 trench combat systems such as Fairbain/Applegate smash-bash-bayonet ideology. Such schools scoff at systems such as Tai Chi and Aikido. Most have never seen more complex systems like Bagua. A part of this dilema can be attributed to the instructors of those arts and what they chose to present to the public.
When Tai Chi first came to the United States in the 1950's it had already been watered down somewhat. The Communist revolution in China had taken the lives of many masters and others fled to Taiwan and elswhere. Many of the martial schools went underground or were supressed, and there is no doubt that much knowledge was lost.
What remained was the beautiful slow-moving form that is recognized for it's health and meditation benefits. This dovetailed perfectly with a generation of youth experimenting with drugs, alternative healing and deep meditation and Tai Chi became a symbol of the "new age movement".
In a similar way, Master Uyeshiba altered Daito-ryu Aiki Jujitsu by turning it into Aikido, an art of "Do" (Tao) or spiritual way, Tai Chi Chuan had dropped it's "Chuan" or 'fist".
Well, things have come full circle and combat effectiveness is returning to the Internal Martial Arts. I believe some of this can be attributed to cross-training, but the fact is that internal arts such as Tai Chi Chuan were created to defeat hard external linear arts with "soft" blending circular techniques. None the less, the forms seen in Tai Chi, at least the Yang style that I practice clearly show lineage to Shaolin-type arts, therefore they share and may excell in combat effectiveness.
Probably no one has done more to promote the fighting aspects of Tai Chi Chuan than Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming. Yang is a prolific writer and I highly reccomend anyone interested in Tai Chi and Bagua as martial arts to please look at his books on Amazon or elsewhere.
My second point is that many people who practice Tai Chi never strive to learn more than the form, and maybe a little Chi Kung health practice. I know Tai Chi people that have been doing the forms for over ten years yet can't demonstrate push hands, let alone San-shou or Chin-na joint locking. I put the blame for Tai Chi's degraded martial status squarely at their feet. How can they say they really know their art? How can they be complete with only Yin and no Yang? Shame on them for not persuing to further their education and better themselves and the art they represent.
And my last point is that a combat art is also incomplete without a healing aspect. A warrior must be able to still his mind and relax the body. This is why the internal arts will prove to be superior in the long run.
In his book "The Power of The Internal Martial Arts", B.K. Frantzis describes how all the top Karate Black Belts in Tokyo, 5th Dan and above were going to train with the Tai Chi instructor. They had reached their apex in the external arts and were seeking a further path.
Please enjoy this really wonderful demonstration of push hands and fighting techniques by a truly talented Internal Martial Artist, Mike Martello.

1 comment:

Sean C. Ledig said...

Training in an internal system, such as Taiji, Xingyi or Baqua is definitely beneficial for older martial artists.

I'm 42, and I've done Yang Taijiquan since I was 20. I really appreciate that art, and I've supplemented that training with some Chen Taiji, Xingyi and Baqua.

But I think it's a mistake to assume that there's no risk of injury with an internal art. I think any internal instructor needs to make it clear that there is still a risk, especially if you practice your internal system as a martial art, not as a set of pretty movements done for exercise.

There's a lot of good chin na in the internal arts. A misapplied hold or lock with dislocate or sprain joints whether its done by a Gracie Jujitsuka or a Taiji sifu.

There's a lot of good throwing and takedowns in the internal arts. If you don't know how to fall, it'll hurt.

I remember Dan Inosanto once said that the first time he tried to learn Baqua, his sifu had mattresses mounted on all four walls of the room. He thought it was strange until they got into the applications of the form. He found out that if those mattresses weren't there, he and his classmates would have been squashed like bugs on a bumper against the walls.

Done properly, I've found that I can generate a lot of power with less effort using principles I learned in Taiji and Xingyi. Care must be used when practicing those techniques in sanshou or against a heavy bag.

Lastly, never ever practice on concrete. Practice on grass, wood floors or padded floors. You'll wear out your knees a lot quicker on concrete, even practicing a soft art like Taiji.