Join 3,434 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Chen Taijiquan, "Body, As Fist" - A Masterful Martial Art
September 30, 2011 10:16 PM   Subscribe

Taijiquan's (tai chi chuan) roots are in the martial arts There are many pretenders, and few masters. Taijiquan employs a very unique, counter-intuitive style of body movement that delivers great power, at great speed, with great effectiveness, if practiced properly. Everything can be explained via the simple laws of physics, but must be practiced in a way that defies mechanics; there are no "secret" powers, as pretenders would have the naive believe (and pay dearly for).

Little known is that Taijiquan, especially Chen Taijiquan has its roots in a fierce tradition of exhaustive training and martial application; it is one of the most powerful and effective forms of martial art, when trained properly. Sadly, most in the Western world, and even China, don't often see the real thing.

Here in America, Taijiquan is usually thought of primarily as a 'New Age' health and meditation exercise, masquerading as a martial art. In fact, regular practice in Taijiquan (also known as "tai chi", or "taiji", or "tai chi chuan") can help to keep one in shape, improve balance, reduce stress, and other benefits - even if some of the essential core principles are missing from one's practice. With correct practice, health benefits are enhanced; more about that, below. Most of the Taiji we see practiced in the West, and even in China, is largely framed as means to better health. That's OK, as far as it goes.

In 1983, martial artists from Chen village received full government support to promote Chen Taijiquan (also spelled as "tai chi chuan") abroad. Some of the best Chen stylists from Chen village became international "roaming ambassadors" known as the "Four Buddha Warrior Attendants". Those four Chen stylists including Chen Xiaowang; Chen Fake's direct grandson), Chen Zhenglei(turn down the sound track!), Wang Xian (in red), and Zhu Tiancai traveled relentlessly to give global workshop and created an international group of Chen practitioners.

Two of these authentic masters of Chen Taijiquan, Chen Xiaowang and Chen Ziqiang, show how it can be otherwise..However there is a little known "other side" to Taijiquan; this "other side" is Chen Taijiquan's martial roots specifically, started in Chenjiagou, China during the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries.

Chen Taijiquan is the style that all other styles of Taijiquan (Yang, Wu, Sun, and Woo) originated from. Watching two of the greatest living masters of Chen Taijiqian, Chen Xiaowang and Chen Ziqiang, showing Taijiquan's martial power, and applications, puts Taijiquan in a class with some of the most fierce martial arts on earth.

In fact, there is a special quality of movement, controlled by the center of the body that is almost impossible to explain in words, but can be very clearly shown by someone who "has the goods" - someone who has learned at the feet of a true master, over years, and willing to to put in the work, or "eat bitter" as the Chinese say. There is no "New Age" here, just hard won counter-intuitive body mechanics and long, hard training and sparring - just like any other martial art

The absolute beauty and beautiful body logic of martial application in Chen Taijiquan has almost been lost, but the few true masters that that have kept its roots alive show otherwise - fierce joint locks, throws, strikes from anywhere on the body, etc. Taijiquan translates roughly to "body as fist", meaning a skilled practitioner can land fierce, bone-crushing blows from almost any part of the practitioner's body, or take control in a grappling match with uncanny speed and efficiency.

Watching a true master do one of the many forms is truly a thing of beauty; it looks like a serene dance that's full of grace and delicacy. The forms are meant to be practiced very slowly, with great attention paid to the proper body mechanics that operate inside of each movement. All movement is driven from the "center", by "opening and closing" the torso. Every movement having several martial applications when accelerated to real-time-defense.

The thing to be aware of when watching a real, bona-fide master do the forms (not pretenders who can simply mimic movement) is that *every* movement is controlled by the aforementioned subtle, but powerful "center", or "dan tien". Again, it's hard to put the essential nature of Taijiquan into words, but with a good teacher, and lots of practice, the essentials become obvious.

Sadly, due to the cultural penchant for "keeping things secret", the best Taijiquan has not been seen until very recently. The last 10-15 years have brought a number of bona fide masters to American shores, for workshops and extended training. There are also exchange programs in place that are exposing dedicated Westerners to the power and beauty of Chen Taijiquan, and the Chinese Internal Martial Arts, in general.

We're going to see more of the Chinese Internal Martial Arts as Chinese culture continues to spread; they are both healthy exercise, and effective martial art (if learned from someone who reall knows how to deploy the martial applications in an authentic way).
posted by Vibrissae (84 comments total) 88 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nice post.

I was talking with a guy who practices Tai Chi Chuan and he told me that he was visiting relatives in the Midwest and decided to go out on the front lawn to do some Tai Chi. One of the neighbors saw him and called the police: "I want to report some suspicious activity. There's a person across the street, moving very very slowly...". True story.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:49 PM on September 30, 2011 [31 favorites]


Great post.
posted by rodgerd at 10:52 PM on September 30, 2011


For what it's worth, one of the best players in my capoeira angola group is a Tai Chi exponent as well. There's some surprising cross-over, and I've become very interested. Thanks for this post.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:53 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a person across the street, moving very very slowly...
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:05 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't sorted through all the link, but do any of them have footage of tai chi in a real martial situation. I believe you that it could be great and all that, but it would be nice to actually see it used the way you keep describing and see it contrasted with a different fighting style.

I know its supposed to be slow, but where's the fast?
posted by Chekhovian at 11:05 PM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cheng Man Ching Sword form
Dr. Yang Jwing Ming - grappling, take downs, locks
Ho Nan Jie - More active drills

Folks like Cheng Man Ching were teaching in the US throughout the 80's, so I don't think it's necessarily a new phenomenon of good tai chi practitioners, as much as "keeping things secret" meant, "teaching the people who are actually learning from me rather than making a mass production video".
posted by yeloson at 11:12 PM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Any recommended self-study resources?
posted by joshwa at 11:23 PM on September 30, 2011


I took a certification crash-course taught by a guy from Phillie who was very much into this (and boxing, this is Philadelphia.) It was surprising to learn the
"little old lady exercise" martial art was actually a real fighting art, and American-style boxers took to it pretty readily.

Also, I aced the cert exam, so he was a pretty good educator, too.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:30 PM on September 30, 2011


There's a top notch Chen style teacher in my city. The way he teaches the basic movements almost has a Mr. Miyagi vibe. First you're doing these slow graceful and intricate hand and foot patterns with turns, and then soon you realize your hands have a new life of their own and can effectively ward off others. I should revisit this. Thanks for the post.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 11:34 PM on September 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


For as diverse as we are in the U.S. it's very hard to get cultural notions across to some people.
No one knew what "karate" was in the U.S. in the 50s. In the 70s, everyone was Bruce Lee. Five years later they were all ninja. Tell someone in the 80s that you studied JuJutsu in South America and you'd get laughed at.
Tell someone a guy can make someone fall by barely touching them using qi, it's bullshido. Show them this, the lights go on.
It's strange. People know your legs and torso are stronger. Yet if your arms aren't huge, you don't look like you can hit.
The hold up, as far as I've seen, is the other way too though. If it's not within the culturally proscribed spectrum of the art, it's wrong.
There seems to be an emphasis on purity in many Asian martial arts and perhaps this is emphasis on tradition was to standardize the terms and prevent dilution of practical with spectacular technique.

So there's a lot to be said about how people in the west take this stuff (if it's not "real" it's useless. Well WTF is Taebo? You get confidence, body awareness and good workout and learn how to maybe throw a punch and kick and if it doesn't go well you're in shape so you can run fast. Why would anyone hang in a fight they don't have to hang in anyway? Plus, odds are you'll be happier with your knees in the long run than a dedicated hard form fighter. And why do some fighters take ballet? Sure, it's about balance. But you're also holding a 90 lb petite ballerina over your head up and down through 2 hours and 10 minutes. While dancing.)

But on the other hand, yeah, it does seem to work both ways what with the emphasis on authenticity and lineage.
Might have been valuable a while ago. Today, everyone does branding and advertising whether it's true or not.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:40 PM on September 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Re: taiji in a more combative format: This is Chen Ziqiang, one of the young masters from the village that invented taiji, Chen village. In the video I linked he's fighting in a somewhat more restrictive than full out kickboxing ruleset, but you can see the throwing technique.
posted by wuwei at 12:12 AM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Show them this, the lights go on.

That's a really great example. I don't want to derail the thread by talking about Michael Jordan too much, but I just have to bring up Jordan's last shot (I mean the last shot he made before he retired. I mean the first time he retired. Let's not mention the Wizards.).

Look at that last shot and explain why Jordan's defender slipped, right before the championship-winning buzzer-beating shot. The first time I saw that shot, I thought "well, everybody knows that Michael is about to retire, and that other guy basically took a dive." But, the more I think about it, the more I think that the sheer power of Jordan's charisma in that moment was enough to knock his opponent to the ground.

A former girlfriend talked me into briefly studying Qigong, which is similar to Tai Chi in some ways. Qigong puts even more focus on developing and directing life energy. They say Qigong masters can generate immense body heat and move things at a distance without touching them, just using their life energy.

I thought whole thing was silly and I stopped practicing pretty quickly. But my ex-girlfriend kept studying it and has now been doing it for many years. She's told me about meeting a Qigong master who walked down a line of students, gently touching each one on the arm. Many of the students collapsed to the floor. She herself felt a burst of energy going up her arm and into her body. I know her to be a remarkably sane person, so I think maybe there's something to it after all.

We don't take this stuff seriously enough in the West. Unless it can win NBA championships.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:13 AM on October 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


A former girlfriend talked me into briefly studying Qigong, which is similar to Tai Chi in some ways. Qigong puts even more focus on developing and directing life energy. They say Qigong masters can generate immense body heat and move things at a distance without touching them , just using their life energy.

I can attest to the heat part. The first time I experienced this was while performing an exercise, but the two teachers I was with (George Xu and Chen Xioahong, who was visiting the US) didn't mention what it's purpose was after teaching it to me. So I'm standing there doing these repeats, when suddenly my hands feel like they're on fire, which is a pretty startling feeling. My eyes get all big and I'm asking 'hey, what's going on with my hands, no seriously wtf' and they're standing around laughing their asses off at me.

Chen Xiaohong just has astounding control of his body. It's like he has a prehensile abdomen or something, he can move it around in a circle and it's so strong that he does this trick where he gets people to punch him in the stomach and throws them off in different directions while keeping his hands folded behind his back. He's also an excellent physical comedian. It's kind of like getting beaten up by a giggling Marcel Marceau.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:45 AM on October 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


and move things at a distance without touching them, just using their life energy.

Uh, yeah, that's bullshit.
posted by Chekhovian at 12:50 AM on October 1, 2011 [25 favorites]


Yeah the distance stuff is not legit but the heating up and weird abdomen skills that's legit. Have seen both of the later demonstrated. Can do the heating up thing with breathing myself, that's not too hard to learn how to do.
posted by wuwei at 12:59 AM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


A man that claims he can move objects using only the powers of his mind....meets the Amazing Randi
posted by Chekhovian at 1:08 AM on October 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


I know its supposed to be slow, but where's the fast?

To this day by far the best *place* to see good Taiji is Chen Jia Gou village in Henan Province (Northern China). Here, in this video, you see Chen Xiaowang (he's in his late 50's, in the video) demonstrating some applications at speed. Some of the other videos pointed to in the main post also have "at speed" applications. Wuwei has pointed to one of the links I put in the original post, to give an idea of Chen Taiji in action, in a full speed contest that has more of a grappling flavor. Many, many other applications are possible. Like most skilled martial artists, the best do not deploy everything; they have favorite techniques and strengths.

Here are some contests where you see grappling, but the grappling is performed using the internal body dynamics of Taijiquan - it's not at all what it "looks" like. There's more going on than meets the eye. Again, you have to feel this and be shown by a master. More Westerners are now getting exposed to, and learning, the real thing, so it's going to get easier.

A few things:
An experienced external stylist (Karate, Wing-Chun, etc.) who knows nothing about the internal (not mysterious) body mechanics involved in Taijiquan (or the Internal Martial Arts, generally) can perform most of these applications (except for the multi-person joint lock escapes), but cannot deliver them with the same power an an internal stylist. This is why

I emphasized that you really have to get with someone who understands correct posture, training methods and body mechanics to get this stuff right. Why? Because someone who really understands and has practiced the correct body mechanics, posture, etc. is able to deliver a blow that includes the *entire weight of the body* - - accelerated by the dan tien (lower abdomen muscles)" - through a connected structure (the body, no wet noodle here, just "supple") - delivered by a hand, elbow, shoulder, hip, etc.. It's VERY hard to describe this in writing, but once you see how it works, you kind of understand it, and then practice, practice, practice, practice and more practice, and at some point (not years, but several months) you begin to get it - then you practice some more, and have fun! One thing, one is NOT using isolated movements in strikes, etc. The *whole body* is connected; it's *trained* that way. Sounds weird, I know, but trust me, it's not that complex in motion, just in words. [[someone asked about online lessons: one could learn to mimic external movement online, but it would be exceedingly difficult to learn correct technique that way. I recommend the DVD's of Chen Xiaowang, but be forewarned the real-time translation is not the best, and again, you are not able to "feel" CXW doing his art]].

Some years ago, I practiced a few external styles; I have also boxed. Never have I been struck with the kind of power, delivered with blinding speed, that I experienced when I had the honor to work out a little with Chen Xiaowang, or get joint-locked so gracefully as I was by Chen Qingzhou (although Chen Xioawang's joint locks were way more powerful, as Qingzhou was advanced in years).

Fierce joint locking is part of the skill set. Combine the natural "twining" or coiling supply relaxed muscle with speed deployed on a locked joint, and *SNAP*. Wicked! The sheer power generated by a skilled practitioner, via hand/fist, shoulder, elbow, hip, leg/foot, is very impressive; again, personally, I've never experienced anything like it - nor have I ever experienced such an elegant logic to deploying the body in so many multifarious ways. It's an amazing art form.

Keep in mind that these old masters, when they were young, would do deep stances and at the same time learn how to properly relax the muscles around the spinal column. When done correctly, and everything is properly relaxed, down to the "qua" (the bottom of your crotch), just standing in a mildly deep stance will make your quads burn hot, because your legs are carrying ALL the weight. Again, I'm trying to describe body mechanics, and counter-intuitive body mechanics at that.

What I would recommend, if you can find your way, would be to go to a workshop conducted by one of the four masters mentioned in my main post, or someone specifically recommended by them. Another, more "Westernized" way to get a grip on the body mechanics, from the point of a very skilled practitioner, would be to attend a Mike Sigman seminar. I recommend Mike's learning materials; they're straightforward - but again, it's JUST about the mechanics, and his explanations don't give the whole picture. You have to work with someone who REALLY understands this stuff as a trained practitioner. Mike is not a Taijiquan master (and he has no illusions) but he explains and shows the basics of this stuff - minus the really, really, important nuanced training you would get from a master - in a very understandable way. He also brings the lessons he's learned from the Internal Martial Arts to Aikido workshops, because Aikido was created as a derivative of the Internal Arts. Practiced correctly, it has very similar mechanics, although completely different fighting tactics. (btw, I have no commercial or other connection with any of the people I've named - I'm just an enthusiast).

Last, check out Hsing-i, and BaquaZhang. Here's an older master doing Baqua, where the approach to attack/defense is circular. Realize that *everything* he does, literally every movement, is driven via the center, through a connected body, and delivering the full force and weight if his body in application. Fierce. Here's Hsing-i; it's primarily a straight-line attack/defense mode; I've heard that the Hong Kong police use Hsing-i. All three of these arts deploy the same body mechanics. I especially like my first Hsing-i link - notice sometimes at the end of his strikes his body seems to oscillate a little; this is because the entire spine is trained to be relaxed, but "connected" and all strikes are driven by the center (dan tien) and "finish" by dropping the weight of the supply-relaxed, connected body, into the ground, as the strike, or joint lock, or kick makes contact. So, the recipient of a strike deployed by a skilled Internal martial Arts practitioner has the "whole" weight of the body behind it, not just isolated limbs. It's absolutely the most impressive and fun martial art style I've come across. All martial styles have their proponents, and their strengths. The Internal Martial Arts are up there with the best of them. Have fun!
posted by Vibrissae at 1:08 AM on October 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


For a while I was doing this 16th century fencing stuff. It was so great, pure western reductionism in action eg do this for this reason. No life forces or other vodoo, just stab the other guy without getting stabbed.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:26 AM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's kind of funny how tricks that were originally taught as tricks so that members of a lineage could perform are now treated as real stuff. Back in the 19th Century, street performance was commonly mixed with martial arts. That's why martial artists know so many old-timey magic and strongman tricks. It is a traditional part of the arts. Sometimes this stuff would draw students in, but they wouldn't get past the "closed door" that separates casual students from serious disciples, and the teacher would get all vague (in Chinese martial arts the tradition was often to benignly ignore folks who weren't a fit with the school, rather than dismiss them) and you'd get broken telephone traditions.

Plus, there are always hucksters and cheats.

Sometimes, these tricks intersect with a real skill. For instance, the hard version of extinguishing candles from a distance is actually a handy exercise for relaxing antagonist muscles for certain movements, and some escape artist stuff uses the same body dynamics as actual wrestling. And of course, there's breaking. I learned all this stuff (and the heat stuff, which can be purely pragmatic -- it gets cold!) to a low level as a break from punching and throwing and such.

One of my teachers described Taijiquan as "information-dense." We're talking about a tradition where people had limited time and uneven access to medical care, so the forms and poems comprise a huge amount of information which is not always neatly divided into exercise versus fighting versus performance. Aesthetic and pragmatic values merge, and of course, nobody wants to fuck up their joints or take injuries they can't easily recover from. I think this stuff may churn in people's heads sometimes, and they swap justifications for things.

These days I thing the practical aspects of "internal power" can be found in many, many athletes who just don't use that cultural category. A boxer with a really wicked shovel hook has it, and so does a wrestler who has a wicked head snap. These guys will not have the same look in the context of a performance, but the linkage, the relaxation of antagonists to the movement, and the understanding of balance and weight are there. At the same time, I'm not dissing these other things; old Taiji guys seem to be healthier than a lot of old boxers. There's a point where a lifelong practice needs to support you as your body changes, and not just by softening the practice. You need other ways to keep learning, and maybe some performance goals that aren't straightforward asskicking -- but maybe not magic tricks, either.
posted by mobunited at 1:29 AM on October 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


Just popped in to give some love to Jet Li's best movie, Tai Chi Master.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:29 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


She's told me about meeting a Qigong master who walked down a line of students, gently touching each one on the arm. Many of the students collapsed to the floor.

I think I have an idea of how that might work. Social conditioning is powerful stuff.
posted by ignignokt at 1:34 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's some nice Chen Taijiquan in a bit more of a freestyle context.
posted by mobunited at 1:40 AM on October 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


The best quote I ever read about studying martial arts of any stripe went something like, "The world is full of people who will take the elevator to the fourth floor but wouldn't dream of taking the stairs to the tenth."

Tai chi is just like that only without the elevator.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:59 AM on October 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah the dantian driven body mechanics are pretty cool and a lot of people enjoy it. It's just a part of what fighting is about though, knowledge of engagement parameters and fundamental physical conditioning is also important....it's not always clear to me what the right balance is between the various parts.
posted by wuwei at 2:01 AM on October 1, 2011


This thread has been a fantastic and really educational read, but I confess that I started reading it only because I mistook "roots" for "robots" in the FPP, and had a brief moment of panic.
posted by jake at 2:04 AM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Fierce joint locking is part of the skill set.

Joint locks are one of the few advanced martial arts techniques that I'm willing to teach to small children.

Blows and blocks shouldn't be taught to little kids, because that kind of fast coordination usually isn't available to them, so they end up punching you in the nuts by mistake. But crude locks - arm locks, leg locks, thumb locks - are pretty easy to learn and not so easy to screw up. You have to leverage force over a continuum, over a a continuous stretch of time, to actually hurt somebody with a lock, whereas an ill-aimed blow can do permanent damage in a fraction of a second. Toddlers everywhere should be taught head-locks in kindergarten.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:32 AM on October 1, 2011


If it the techniques don't perform well in MMA then it is a sport but not a martial art.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 2:44 AM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Disappointed at the lack of fighting in these videos. Please provide evidence of fierceness.
posted by the cuban at 3:03 AM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


If it the techniques don't perform well in MMA then it is a sport but not a martial art.

Uh, no. And I say this as someone who practices Muay Thai with a side of sub grappling. Nobody owns the term "martial art." Furthermore, some stuff that may be effective for training combat sports athletes will fail with other groups for a variety of reasons. Not everybody can withstand the stress of something like BJJ training, for example. Some things work brilliantly in certain contexts, and not in others -- a policeman won't rock the Muay Thai plum so much because it exposes both sides of his belt, where all the shooty-spray-zappy stuff is. Takedowns are counterproductive in many situations where the goal is to move someone somewhere *else*, but come-alongs would never work in MMA.

I would say that when the target group for training is able to train with minimal injury to succeed against a resisting partner, it works.

Joint locks are one of the few advanced martial arts techniques that I'm willing to teach to small children.

Well, chokeholds can kill humans of all ages, small joints are easy to traumatize and impossible to submit with, and knees will blow *before* the leglock-er feels special resistance, or the victim feels pain. BJJ schools often have excellent guidelines about restricting certain holds based on age and experience. Beyond that, kids differ wildly in size, and it is possible for accidents to happen in situations where the face is covered and/or the torso is compressed. (I got lectured on this one in detail when I learned crisis intervention skills for institutions with at-risk groups, as kids have been accidentally been killed by adults this way.) That said, I think everyone should learn falling, sprawling, protecting one's neck, getting out of grips, and escaping from the bottom position. These are the things that help you get away. Plus of course, people should never, ever be taught that size and strength don't matter.
posted by mobunited at 3:06 AM on October 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


Meh. You can see it used in sanshou/sanda and Chinese wrestling competitions with plenty of fierceness. Taijiquan is a poor fit for MMA because it's wrestling with the goal of remaining standing, with some hitting chucked in that isn't wxactly Golden Gloves. It can't replace wrestling in the MMA triad because it doesn't do the non-standing positions wrestling does.

But there are plenty of people in the market for ways to remain standing. Yeah, a wrestler or judoka will toss you on your ass, but if everything short of succeeding against a dedicated athlete was failure, we could just scale it up and we'd all just worry that Buakaw could kick us to death and stop training.
posted by mobunited at 3:37 AM on October 1, 2011


These days I thing the practical aspects of "internal power" can be found in many, many athletes who just don't use that cultural category. A boxer with a really wicked shovel hook has it, and so does a wrestler who has a wicked head snap. These guys will not have the same look in the context of a performance, but the linkage, the relaxation of antagonists to the movement, and the understanding of balance and weight are there.

There is some truth to this, in that partial implementation of what is called a "ground path" can deliver power (like a George Forman "right", or someone with "heavy hands"). That said, these things don't contain mastery the "whole enchilada" of the internal dynamics of that are part and parcel of the Internal Martial Arts. Again, it's really hard to put this into words; you have to see it/feel it to know what I'm trying to get at. It's easy for some to make someone who has not seen high quality Internal Martial Arts think they're seeing the real thing, because the external movements of the body can be mirrored exactly by someone with good body control. But those movements in no way have the power and effectiveness they would otherwise have if driven by correct internal dynamics (again, not a mystery).

Along with Mike Sigman, here's Ken Gullette (a former student of Sigman) who holds workshops and shows people the difference between "external" and internal". I have been to a number of these workshops; they were very good and helped me experience the difference.

to the cuban: mobunited has a nice freestyle example up, with Chen Bing (from Chen Jia Guo village, and part of the Chen lineage). Notice the size and weight differential between Chen and his opponent. Those throws are not patty cake throws; Chen is generating a lot of power as well as using what he's learned to find and manipulate his opponent's center. There are other good examples; the problem is you have to know what you're looking for. We need more exposure of these arts in America, so that the good stuff can spread.

Last, for incidental proof of fierceness, without mentioning names or styles, I and a few others were told first-hand by a martial artist who is the best-known practitioner of one of the best known "hard" (external) styles...he's known worldwide, and is a fierce fighter) that following a private no-holds-barred sparring session with one of the best-known contemporary masters in Taiji, the hard stylist freely admitted (publicly) that he had never faced another martial artist with such power and sheer dominance of technique. fwiw... if that doesn't convince you, try to attend a workshop with one or more of the people I've mentioned, and experience the real thing.

One only has to be asked to apply a full-blown joint lock on a highly-skilled Taiji practitioner and the next mini-second feel like someone has just hit you in the chest with a sledgehammer while at the same time escaping the joint lock and turning it on you. If you ever meet one of these guys in a workshop, you will never forget it, no matter your level of martial skill. Again, there are many great martial arts; Chen Taijiquan and the other Internals rank up there with the best of them.
posted by Vibrissae at 3:48 AM on October 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Taijiquan is a poor fit for MMA because it's wrestling with the goal of remaining standing, with some hitting chucked in that isn't exactly Golden Gloves. It can't replace wrestling in the MMA triad because it doesn't do the non-standing positions wrestling does.

Full force strikes properly delivered (fajing) are easily as or more powerful than their external counterparts. For instance, I have seen the best throw "kao' (shoulder strikes) and alternate hand punches **driven by their center** with stunning power, as fast as an experienced boxer can throw a 6-9 punch combination, with more impact. (I have felt some of this stuff, personally; it just hard ass striking that knocks you off your feet; the power generated is uncanny). Also, ground grappling, I've been told, is part of the Taiji curriculum, but I've never seen it. Again, for emphsis, I'm not arguing for superiority over any other martial form. This is not about "my art is better than yours"; it's about getting accurate information out where a relative paucity exists.

I think I'm done. Have fun!
posted by Vibrissae at 4:03 AM on October 1, 2011


Who was the best known practitioner of the hard style? And why the mystery if he's admitted it freely and publicly?

Again, there are many great martial arts; Chen Taijiquan and the other Internals rank up there with the best of them.

Again, please offer some evidence.
posted by the cuban at 4:04 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a former Yang style, Xingyi and Mizongluohan practitioner (about 2 years) and I've seen stuff labelled-as-internal, and I still don't think it's terribly different outside of aesthetics and some tactical goals. Conversely, I'd say a lot of martial artists really underestimate how much power a combat sports athlete can issue, and that it isn't "external," either. Mizong's goal is using internal methods in the external "frame," and I guess a boxer who's willing to move his feet but can hit very hard, with relaxation, at short distances, fits the same model pretty well. There are a lot of similarities between internal arts and some early boxing, especially the type described in Dempsey's Championship Fighting. Take a look yourself -- and note that this comes from a Chen Taijiquan site.
posted by mobunited at 4:04 AM on October 1, 2011


Who was the best known practitioner of the hard style? And why the mystery if he's admitted it freely and publicly?

Because I don't want to be the one of 10-12 people that heard it to bring it up, with names involved. It's something that isn't done. And, it would be embarrassing to the Taiji practitioner, who doesn't actively seek that kind of adulation - in fact, he eschews it. You may see that as a cop out - so be it. My apology. For proof, go meet and work out with someone that's good (see above); experience it for yourself. Or, take a trip to Chen Jia Gou village and get in the ring with some mid-level trainees and/or some senior village experts, and test it for yourself. Don't forget to bring Tiger Balm - you may need it. :)
posted by Vibrissae at 4:18 AM on October 1, 2011


Vibrasse, I assure you that boxers punch very, very, very hard. Much harder than you might think. MMA guys are not always great strikers, so you don't see it in that venue as often. And going from what I've seen in players on the sanda circuit, taijiquan, as awesome as it is, is not something I have ever seen on a comparable level.

As for the ground, there's a world of difference between arrest/control and getting out from under a dude. I have looked far and wide, and I know of no TCMA with a comparable ground curriculum. Supposedly there used to be a style in Fujian, but it's extinct.

This doesn't make taijiquan invalid. The ability to repel and dump folks, and maybe smack 'em around, all while keeping your footing, is a very good thing.
posted by mobunited at 4:20 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Again, please offer some evidence.

Chinese martial arts practitioners who go for hard contact, freestyle fighting typically do it in sanda/sanshou competition. "Internal" guys have often done well here. Sanda uses punching, kicking and throwing, but no ground grappling. It should also be noted that this is almost entirely amateur, and practiced by hobbyists. These guys would beat UFC contenders even if they practiced MMA for the same amount of time as they do for their stuff.

By the way, here's Tim Cartmell's school. He practices internal martial arts with BJJ.
posted by mobunited at 4:28 AM on October 1, 2011


I have belts in four martial arts. If someone attacks me, I try to wrap one of the belts around their neck and choke them until they realize how skilled I am.

My favorite martial art was described in Secret Fighting Arts of the World, by John Gilbey, which is a wonderful compendium of largely made-up fighting techniques. The technique I like requires a training regimen that involves endless hours of running backwards. You go to the beach, or a park, or some other open space, and run as fast as you can backwards. It's not that easy, because you have to look over your shoulder occasionally to make sure you aren't going run your back into a tree at full speed.

In a serious conflict situation, the ability to run backwards is very powerful. Aggressors might pursue you if you're trying to escape the conflict, but it's hard for them to hit you if you're escaping the situation but still facing it, hitting them in the face while they chase you. The ability to Retreat Powerfully isn't taught in many martial arts schools, but it's one of the best techniques I know and I'm willing to run away from anyone who thinks otherwise.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:38 AM on October 1, 2011 [14 favorites]


Retreating Powerfully.
posted by Drexen at 5:01 AM on October 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Look at that last shot and explain why Jordan's defender slipped, right before the championship-winning buzzer-beating shot. The first time I saw that shot, I thought "well, everybody knows that Michael is about to retire, and that other guy basically took a dive." But, the more I think about it, the more I think that the sheer power of Jordan's charisma in that moment was enough to knock his opponent to the ground."

I can explain it. Watch the defender's body positioning. He takes a bad angle on Jordan and runs faster than Jordan. When MJ stops to shoot, the defender's momentum takes him past the guy. Unfortunately for the defender, he now has his back to Jordan and is moving quickly. The defender tries to stop and turn around. He kicks out his legs in front of him and turns around. Look at the position of his feet. His center of gravity is unsupported. He falls down.

This is as mystical as tripping over a stool. Jordan made the guy fall down, yes, absolutely. He did it not by "tapping into his qi" or "the sheer power of charisma" but by taking a good angle and knowing the other guy was moving too fast to stop.

If you look at the other MJ clip cited in the thread, it's the same thing. The other guy is at a bad angle and moving too fast, MJ stops cold, and the other guy falls down trying to change direction too fast.

Look, taijiquan is a fascinating and kickass martial art. I spent a year scratching its surface and came away admiring it and knowing damn well I was missing every subtlety. Its history of effectiveness in Taking Out Fools is undisputed.

BUT...let's not ascribe mystical hoo-har to what can be explained by basic f'n physics and anatomy, and don't believe all of the claims you hear. The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists thought their martial arts skills made them invulnerable to bullets.
History tells us how true that was. We should remain skeptical of amazing claims until the claims can be proven. "There's this guy I saw once, whose name I cannot share, who totally did it" is not proof, nor should it convince me. Many fantastic claims have been proven to be true, yes. Many more have been proven to be codswallop. So I remain skeptical.

Also to consider this video of a qi master versus a fighter who isn't socially conditioned to fear him. Ahem.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 5:24 AM on October 1, 2011 [16 favorites]


A lot of people miss the point of that MJ video. He wasn't using some mystical force to knock over his opponent, He was using his knowledge of balance, center of gravity, and basketball to force his opponent to overcompensate to the point of falling over. Knowing when and where to jump is every inch as important as the actual jump itself - Michael Jordan is, if not the best basketball player of all time, in the top five. He will have studied game film, he will know how his opponent moves and reacts, and he will make an opening for himself with feint, counterfeint, careful timing and surprise.

It's not magic - it's practice and study and opportunity.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:50 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Any recommended self-study resources?
Tricia Yu has a video on Yang style that I have heard is good. I haven't seen it, but I her video and book on Tai Chi Fundamentals ( a form based on the Yang style form but shorter and easier, designed for people who can't do the regular form due to physical limitations such as pain, balance problems or age) are excellent. This is the form only, not the martial arts indication. Here is another excellent book on the Yang form. The Y
Ang form is similar to the Chen form, but no explosive movements. All that being said, to learn you really need to find to a good teacher. Watching or reading is one thing, but the feedback on whether or not you are doing it right is essential.
posted by Lost at 6:52 AM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


These guys would beat UFC contenders even if they practiced MMA for the same amount of time as they do for their stuff.

I don't know much about martial arts, MMA or the UFC, but it was my understanding that one of the appealing aspects of UFC was that it had the potential to answer these "Batman can kick Superman's ass" arguments. And after some of the wilder early days, most of the time a fighter that uses a combination of styles wins.

Now I'm sure there are practitioners of [your favorite martial art here] that would point out UFC stops short of being the closest thing to a scientific method for fighting because the fighters use gloves, can't pull hair, and can't gouge each others eyes out. They might say that real fights happen outside of bars, not in a fenced-in octagon with a list of fouls.

But then the knife fighters would say all of those fancy kicks are useless as soon as you get shanked a few times in the neck. And the gun people would say knives are useless when faced with a 9mm pistol. And the tank people (I'm sure they're out there) would say Rommel would roll on all of them. ect. ect.

The point is, Heat Death of the Universe could kick a Type IIn Supernova's ass any day of the week.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 6:58 AM on October 1, 2011 [11 favorites]


That kind of judgment is partly a failure to understand that the people you are talking about are not thinking in the categories that you've assigned to them.

The Boxers were a militia armed with modern weapons. They didn't fight the Western powers with kung fu. The idea that they believed themselves to be bulletproof is similar to the misconceptions about ghost shirts, and fits the same pattern of a vanishingly small superstition exaggerated into an addled value for the sake of Westerners look good.

Secondly, qi means a whole bunch of things, including a holistic model that encompasses many normal things. I know a lot of you figure that between Wikipedia and Skepdic (whose definition of qi is terrible) they know everything about other people's Regrettable Primitive Beliefs, but you don't. Most conversations about qi in martial arts either refers directly to breathing, or provides a quick, intuitive way to describe concepts that is still used because it's simpler than explaining a whole bunch of physical factors. It takes far, far longer to describe a good peng with it than without it, and nothing about peng (a way of holding your arm) is magical. This is not to say there isn't rampant crackpottery, and the legacy of premodern ideas, but in most cases you've done the same using an idiom you probably employed unconsciously.

In fact, you can say that Michael Jordan used "qi" without it being superstitious at all. Some things that are described with qi *are* used to justify crazy magic stuff, but there isn't a clear line.
posted by mobunited at 6:59 AM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]



Also to consider this video of a qi master versus a fighter who isn't socially conditioned to fear him. yt Ahem.


That video defines Fremdschämen for me. So, so painful to watch.
posted by Forktine at 7:01 AM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


SouthCNorthNY, that's actually a typo on my part. I meant:

These guys wouldn't beat UFC contenders even if they practiced MMA for the same amount of time as they do for their stuff.

Meaning that even if they went to an MMA gym for the same amount of time they study Chinese martial arts, they'd still get their asses kicked because they are not professional athletes.
posted by mobunited at 7:03 AM on October 1, 2011


SouthCNorthNY, that's actually a typo on my part.

Whoops, nevermind then. Heat Death is still better than Taijiquan in any CQC situation though.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 7:13 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


In fact, you can say that Michael Jordan used "qi" without it being superstitious at all.

Do you have proof that he said he used it? Otherwise we're trending toward religion territory there e.g. "Anytime anyone did something physically impressive he was using Chi, even if he didn't know it". Its like that catholic dogma that good people who aren't catholic can still go to heaven because in their heart they've accepted jesus, without being aware of it.
posted by Chekhovian at 8:37 AM on October 1, 2011


Harvey Jerkwater: "Also to consider this video of a qi master versus a fighter who isn't socially conditioned to fear him. Ahem."

I could swear metafilter introduced me to that video a couple years ago. My love for it is multifaceted. The looney tunes demonstration of the qi "powers" at the beginning still makes me giggle every time I think about it. The double reactions after first contact is just painful and vicariously-embarrassing and funny all the same time--the utter bafflement of the master (you can just see the "he hit me! That's not right!" incomprehension), and the immediate "should I stop? I'm fighting a guy who's clearly not at all prepared for actual contact, and I'm already feeling kind of bad but...keep going? Okay..." concern from the MMA guy. And the "what did I just do?" oh-crap concern escalation as he runs over after the very brief fight and dude's not getting up. And the final twist that you just know the qi master fellow most likely built up some absurd rationalization afterwards for why he "really" lost.
posted by Drastic at 8:44 AM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yes, thanks for posting that. My previous Tai Chi teacher encouraged us to look at a number of pretty suspicious master vs student contests and I wondered at the time what would happen if the master had to fight someone outside their tradition. I now have a different teacher with less woo.
posted by crocomancer at 8:51 AM on October 1, 2011


ignignokt: "I think I have an idea of how that might work. Social conditioning is powerful stuff."

It's like the preacher I saw who "slayed me in the spirit" when I was a teenager. Barely touched me, I was already in skeptical mode by that point (not completely, but still, cynical enough) and I was still surprised by how barely he had to touch me to make me go down. Maybe it was subconscious social expectation (I "have" to go down in front of everyone or I break my social role, even if I don't (fully) believe int his) maybe it's a remnant of belief, I dunno. But yeah.

Definitely powerful. And it works across cultures.
posted by symbioid at 9:05 AM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Slight derail, but...
Also to consider this video of a qi master versus a fighter who isn't socially conditioned to fear him. yt Ahem.

That video defines Fremdschämen for me. So, so painful to watch.
posted by Forktine


I knew that Spanish, specifically Puerto Rican Spanish, had a phrase for that, but I had no idea that German did as well, though I should have expected it.

For those interested, it's vergüenza ajena, literally foreign shame.
posted by lizarrd at 9:37 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


this video of a qi master versus a fighter who isn't socially conditioned to fear him

Makes me curious about the dynamic in the faux Master's dojo. He would have had to screen out all the skeptics and only keep the credulous ones as students. He would have had to do this subconsciously because of his own self-delusion. Talk about a reality-distortion zone. Thanks for sharing that.
posted by storybored at 9:46 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some random thoughts, from someone with a fair amount of martial arts experience, but only casual exposure to Tai Chi:

The masters in the linked videos clearly have excellent balance, sensitivity, and relaxed power.

Those attributes, while important, are not sufficient by themselves to make someone a great fighter.

Some of the specific technical applications are dependent on the opponent either being unskilled or else skilled in a specific, stylized method of fighting.

Re: the Chen Ziqiang san shou clip. It was presented as a competitive match, but either it was really a demonstration or else Chen's opponent was a newbie with no business fighting in the same division. Getting 6 takedowns in a row with only 2-3 seconds for each point doesn't happen in a real competition. You might see results like that if you put me up against an Olympic judo or wrestling champion. I'm inclined to suspect that it was a demo rather than a real match.

The whole hard/soft, internal/external dichotomy is an artificial concept that breaks down outside of a certain cultural context. Western boxing at its highest levels incorporates aspects of hard and soft, internal and external, but it boxers don't typically describe it in those terms.

"Some years ago, I practiced a few external styles; I have also boxed. Never have I been struck with the kind of power, delivered with blinding speed, that I experienced when I had the honor to work out a little with Chen Xiaowang"

I believe you, but there is a flaw in your comparison. You're comparing a world-class tai chi master to the boxers in your local gym. Have you ever been hit by a world-class boxing champion known for his heavy hands? (Also, in what context were you working with Chen when he struck you? Were you free sparring or was he demonstrating technique? It's a lot easier to deliver devastating power when you're demonstrating technique than when you're fighting and having to watch out for the other guy's strikes.)

"I and a few others were told first-hand by a martial artist who is the best-known practitioner of one of the best known "hard" (external) styles...he's known worldwide, and is a fierce fighter) that following a private no-holds-barred sparring session with one of the best-known contemporary masters in Taiji, the hard stylist freely admitted (publicly) that he had never faced another martial artist with such power and sheer dominance of technique."

Claims like this are a dime a dozen in the martial arts. Without knowing who this fighter is, I can't really count this story as useful.

I liked the clip of Chen Bing that mobunited linked to. It shows some of how this technique can apply in a less stylized grappling context. The guy clearly has serious skills. I'd like to see him in a match with an equally high level judoka or wrestler and watch the flow.
posted by tdismukes at 10:31 AM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


So just an FYI on the Chen village training, this is all hearsay and from watching documentaries so take it with a grain of salt:
1. They lift weights in the village. Basically in the old days, deadlifting rocks. Now, Chen Ziqiang has a weightlifting gym in the village, I believe with an Olympic platform and squat rack. He's shredded. Big surprise.
2. Push hands is an athletic event on the mainland, it's basically stand up grappling where you start while touching the other person. It does not involve striking.
3. The tournament training for push hands athletes in the village involves running, standing meditation (which develops particularized muscoskeletal attributes as well as mental toughness), silk reeling (a type of proprioceptive reconditioning training) and the repetition of a few basic techniques. I infer they also lift weights. Of course, lots of what is essentially freestyle standup grappling training. My sources tell me that you could probably teach all of this without teaching forms at all if you just wanted to create winning push hands athletes.

In the end it's all about rulesets and goals. I recently watched a very experienced Dutch kickboxer (I believe he had fought in a K1 undercard) fight in the heavyweight finals of an amateur sanda tournament against a Brazilian choy lay fut (a Cantonese kung fu style) teacher who also fights in sanda. The Dutchman lost on decision. My opinion was that it was because he could not adapt to the ruleset, which that day disallowed knees and elbows, but did allow throwing. Under another ruleset I suspect it would have been a different outcome.

I also that day, lost my amateur fight from a lack of adaptability on the fly. I'd been sparring a lot under a no-throwing, muay thai ruleset and so this allowed me to ignore certain weaknesses in my game. My opponent was very good at using the rule set to avoid the things that I was doing and he deserved to win that day. It happens.

Some people might say that "well on the street there are no rules" but that's just ignorant. There are always engagement parameters-- working alone or in a group? Weapon(s)? In a vehicle? On foot? Expected adversaries? All of those things are the same as "rules," they are the conditions that should drive training.
posted by wuwei at 11:15 AM on October 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I took traditional martial arts for quite some time. I became convinced that my sensei was, unique among senseis, incredibly talented and that this vein of karate-do was the one true vein of karate-do. Time and again, I saw my sensei defeat incredible attacks, win trophies in sparring matches, and the like. I myself won several sparring and kata trophies on my way to black belt.

Along the way, I tried Aikido once and got told, politely, after class, not to come back -- because in being the demonstration dummy for a master, I had done what I was asked to do, which was throw my best punch; but I had done it 'correctly' (without being a dick about it) rather than throwing a big looping slow overhead strike, and the master was slower than I was, and if I hadn't pulled it correctly, I would have punched him in the face. This strengthened my opinion of my own martial arts skill and helped to strengthen my suspicion of 'chi' based martial arts.

Then I saw the Gracies fight and realized that my martial art was essentially stylized dancing, great when you are trying to fight one person at a time when they are also cooperating under the rules of the game, and that karate is to BJJ practitioners what aikido is to karate.

There are no tai chi practitioners in credible organized cross-disciplinary fights of any type at any level that I've been able to find. This is unusual and a red flag against its likely effectiveness in a real world combat situation. In fact, there are no 'internal energy' / 'chi' practitioners at all -- no aikido, no kung fu. The winning philosophy appears to be strength training, cardio training, speed training, BJJ-style grappling, head strikes and thai leg kicks, as exemplified by e.g. Anderson Silva (highlight reel).

The existence of apparently extraordinary powers (e.g. doing crazy things with your abs) is not meaningful. Rickson Gracie can do incredible things with his abs (see 1:30 and on), but that doesn't mean he's a wizard, it means he has trained his muscles. Similarly, the internet is full of incredible video of niche martial artists showing incredible skill against one-at-a-time slow attackers where the attack pattern is already known (e.g. aikido). And I myself have laid down on a bed of nails and had a sledgehammer to the belly, and have 'made people's hands warm' -- these are trivial magic tricks, not demonstrations of mastery of hidden meridians.

I advise anyone who has a high amount of faith in *any* martial art to go and check out all of the other martial arts, and then watch some recent UFC footage, and draw your own conclusions. UFC-style MMA is not real fighting either (no eye gouging, biting, etc.), but it's asymptotically way closer than 'masters taking on their respectful students'.
posted by felix at 11:19 AM on October 1, 2011 [11 favorites]


Chekhovian: “Do you have proof that he said he used it? Otherwise we're trending toward religion territory there e.g. "Anytime anyone did something physically impressive he was using Chi, even if he didn't know it". Its like that catholic dogma that good people who aren't catholic can still go to heaven because in their heart they've accepted jesus, without being aware of it.”

Look, let me just say – I studied Tai Chi a tiny bit; not a lot, but I can say that I've never heard anyone who knew what they were talking about – a master, a grandmaster, whatever – talk about "qi" as anything mystical or magical. It has to do with balance and center of force. It's completely congruent with physiological and scientific discussions of the body.

Yes, I know a few people have talked here about action at a distance, etc. I really, really don't believe that that stuff is part of what actually constitutes Tai Chi. There are always wackadoodles who want to say that stuff for fun and profit, but as far as the actual practice of Tai Chi goes, it's a perfectly rational exercise that concerns strengthening and meanwhile softening muscles and joints to make them more flexible and therefore more powerful, and focusing that power so that you're balanced and can exert more force.

One can, in that context, say that Michael Jordan was an adept at maintaining his center of balance while in motion; and that that means that he was "using qi" to do what he did in that clip. I don't doubt that lots of people want to snicker and act like he's doing some kind of mental mojo, but I agree with you that that's a bunch of hooey. Still, talking about "qi" can make sense, even if you're skeptical about action at a distance and "moving things with your mind."
posted by koeselitz at 11:55 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


If it the techniques don't perform well in MMA then it is a sport but not a martial art.

Bullshit. Some wonderful techniques are illegal in MMA.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 12:12 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of people mean a lot of different things when they say 'chi'. Every grappler knows that they eventually develop a sense of where their opponent is, right? I mean, at first you have no clue, you're scrambling everywhere, but eventually you start to realize that if their arms are here and their knees are here, this means their hips are there and their legs are over there ... or even if you're turtled up, even without looking, you know that if they're wrapped their arm around you, you know where the rest of their body is, and if you can just move your hips behind theirs ...

Or in Judo, with enough practice you know where people's feet are even when they're walking, so you can footsweep them. This isn't really based on anything mystical, it's based on a lot of training, and how people's bodies shift as they walk.

Like the other day some Judo guy came into BJJ, and he heard that I train Judo, so he asked me very politely if I'd like to do some randori. At some point he breaks my left grip and lets go with his right hand and swings out wide to set up his seio-nage ... but what my mind registered was that there was a 'hole' to my right/his left, and that the next person to fill that hole with their attack would win. So I attacked left o-soto-gari with a seio-nage grip before he could do his attack, and I threw him. And I guess you could kind of describe that feeling that there was a 'hole' as 'chi'. I mean, I'm not really sensing his energy field, but I do know where his body is, because I've done this before ... and somehow it gets translated in my brain.
posted by Comrade_robot at 12:19 PM on October 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Chen Taijiquan vs BJJ.

we are all waiting.
posted by jmegawarne at 12:47 PM on October 1, 2011


I studied Chen taiji for a couple of years with an old retired steelworker who lived in the same bit of Beijing as me at the time. He was about the least mystical character you could care to meet (and claimed, with big scar to prove it, to have been bayoneted by the Imperial Army in the Nanjing massacre as a kid!) and certainly talked plenty about qi without coming over all woo (or Wu, for that matter).
posted by Abiezer at 12:55 PM on October 1, 2011


SouthCNorthNY - "And the tank people (I'm sure they're out there)"

Yeah, one of them won an Ig Nobel Peace prize, too.

posted by porpoise at 1:04 PM on October 1, 2011


mobiunited there are always hucksters and cheats

Yes, yes, and yes again.

Also, mobiunited's post here raises some good points. I never boxed at a high level, but I have been behind a heavy bag when a real talent was working out. The power someone with good speed and heavy hands can generate is scary. That said, I think it would be fun to somehow scientifically measure the striking force of someone who is highly skilled in Taijiqian. btw, someone (it may have been mobiunited) pointed out that when receiving strikes in a demo, it can hurt more. I never sparred - truly sparred - with any of these high level people; I'm nowhere near their level. However, the power that I have seen two of these guys generate while striking a heavy bag made a lasting impression on me. Again, for me this is not about what art is better, because no matter the martial art, there is always going to be someone who can beat the other guy. My intention with this post was to point out some of the cool things about Taijiquan and the Internal Martial Arts.

felix:There are no tai chi practitioners in credible organized cross-disciplinary fights of any type at any level that I've been able to find. This is unusual and a red flag against its likely effectiveness in a real world combat situation. In fact, there are no 'internal energy' / 'chi' practitioners at all -- no aikido, no kung fu. The winning philosophy appears to be strength training, cardio training, speed training, BJJ-style grappling, head strikes and thai leg kicks, as exemplified by e.g. Anderson Silva

In my experience, Felix is correct about there being "no Taijiquan practitioners in credible organized cross-disciplinary fights". This is a category of fighting exhibition that the Internal Martial Arts have yet to get into. Until that happens there will always be questions about how Taijiquan compares at a technique level with a minimal rule set. It's a fair criticism.

That said, I have seen many different flavors of martial art; many of them are really wonderful means to self defense. They teach personal discipline; some teach counterintuitive moves (like judo); some have en emphasis on pure, limited target striking (Western boxing), and so on. The thing that fascinates me about the Internal Martial Arts is that the body logic involved is just plain unique, period. There are many who understandably claim that "this or that kind of dance, or sport, or martial art movement deploys internal principles". They are correct, up to a point. What is *not* understandable (from my perspective) is that 100% of the people I've met in the flesh who make those claims have never worked with a high level Internal Martial Arts specialist. I've managed to get a few of these people to workshops where they can experience first hand what a high-level Taijiquan expert is capable of, as well as helping them gain some insight into the many, many details and auxiliary exercises (no mysterious "New Age" BS!, like throwing or moving people at a distance...that's crap... - just solid physical details that lead to impressive body strength, martial insight, and control). Nobody can learn this on one take; it takes years, and a ton of personal dedication working with someone who has the goods and knows how to transmit the details of those goods. What I know is that every one of the doubters I have met who have been able to experience what I'm talking about - with a high level Taijiquan expert, has walked away convinced that it's a serious martial art.

One of the frustrating things about a forum like this is that there are always going to be doubters, and those who ask "have you ever done this or that, and how does it compare?". Well, let's turn that around. I can ask the same of "the cuban" and others. Have you ever taken a lesson from a true Taijiquan expert at the highest level, or seen them work out? Have you ever been in a situation where you can see and feel for yourself? Frankly, I'm not at expert; I'm an enthusiast, but I've been around enough to know that making claims like "my martial art is better than yours" is just so much baby talk. So, my challenge to anyone with doubt is go and see for yourself.

When you boil it down to a street fight - no matter the trained level of skill of *any* martial artist - it's usually going to come down to that person using a very small number of his or her favorite techniques to try to deter or dispatch the aggressor. No Taijiquan expert is going to "assume a proper stance" in a fight. That person is going to look like most other martial experts re: approaching the opponent, etc. etc. It's legend, and not subject to verification, but some very serious academic research *appears* to indicate that the people who distilled the Internal Arts were known for only using a few dozen techniques, not the multi-hundreds of joint locks, throws, and training techniques that have evolved since. The art has evolved, and taken on a multi-faceted existence that even shows benefits for those who have no intention to use it in a martial sense.

The reason I wrote the post not to one up any other martial art; that's a hopeless task, and it's an unprovable task. In a no-holds-barred street fight, put Anderson Silva up against someone who is well-conditioned, has serious heart, is conditioned to receive pain, etc. etc.... Maybe someone who knows about this?. There is no "fail safe" martial art. It's not about proving "my art is better than yours", not for me, because there isn't a "best" martial art.

Martial arts are primarily about defense, taken up a notch to a point where one is able to seriously injure or kill an aggressor who intends great bodily harm. Another thing that they are about is teaching restraint, self-control, and how to walk away - using physical technique only as a last resort.

With that said, I'll close with saying that the Internal Martial Arts are very, very cool; they deploy serious self-defense techniques; they maintain a curriculum of body conditioning techniques that not only build serious strength, but also help one's mind to get clear. Even if one never learns to fight with this stuff, it's beneficial. And, the internal movement dynamics are absolutely the one of the most clever and uncanny deployments of the body in martial applications that this writer has ever experienced. I recommend them - assuming good instruction - to any and all.
posted by Vibrissae at 1:38 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you live in a reasonable part of the world, and don't go looking for trouble, martial arts are most useful for defense against heart attacks.
posted by benzenedream at 3:30 PM on October 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Do you have proof that he said he used it? Otherwise we're trending toward religion territory there e.g. "Anytime anyone did something physically impressive he was using Chi, even if he didn't know it".

I'm not talking about anyone making a claim. I am saying that the generic "you" could talk about qi without losing your skeptical creds. It's often used as a shorthand expression or metaphor.

I'm saying is that the definition of "qi" in Chinese culture is not limited to funky magic. This is a polite way of saying that word, it does not mean what you think it means. Basically, saying that any mention of qi refers to supernatural action is like saying that a Hail Mary pass always refers to an athletic action where someone summons and receives the literal intercession of the Virgin Mary.

This is in no way a defense of bullshit like magic rays pushing stuff or no touch knockouts.
posted by mobunited at 4:02 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't sorted through all the link, but do any of them have...

Chekhovian, let me get this straight: You DNRTFA, but want to know if it contains what it says on the labeL?

I'll just leave you in suspense.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:23 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are no tai chi practitioners in credible organized cross-disciplinary fights of any type at any level that I've been able to find.

And you're not going to, in large part because we're talking about an amateur practice whose competitive venues (sanda and tuishou) aren't well known in the English speaking world, and in large part because martial taijiquan practitioners traditionally practice a couple of other styles.

As I said before, you're never going to find someone who fights in rented high school arenas a couple of times a year and trains after work who's going to dominate someone from Team Punishment or anything. The level of dedication isn't the same. I have seen pro sanshou guys in MMA, and they do well enough.

In terms of general kung fu, it took me all of five minutes to find kickboxers with good records and a kung fu base.

Anyway, bullshido.net has a thread about Tai Chi in sanshou at http://www.bullshido.net/forums/showthread.php?t=106587&page=1
posted by mobunited at 4:35 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is also the issue that MMA is designed for highly trained athletes of similar size and weight and training. This means you go for the effective over the elegant, you specialize in hard strikes to the head and knee, grappling and joint locks.

It is possible to use this specialization against a good practitioner who isn't as versed in other forms - Unless you could knock Butterbean off his feet early, he'd charge relentlessly and haymaker you back to the 3rd grade, pure bare-knuckle boxing. Once people figured this out, his career was pretty much at an end, but he had some surprise victories over quality opponents half his age and weight.

The Zombie, Chan Sung, does the same thing, only he's got enough of a ground game to get back on his feet.

So there are opportunities to learn and incorporate other styles into the game. I expect we'll see some innovations along those lines in the future as equally matched opponents start looking for an edge.... the sport is still very young.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:53 PM on October 1, 2011


I have seen pro sanshou guys in MMA, and they do well enough.

There's pro sanda guys at a local gym here. Most of them train pretty much the same as muay Thai guys or MMA guys. (But with side kicks that land!) They're not part of the internal kung fu family any more than a boxer is.


It's not about proving "my art is better than yours", not for me, because there isn't a "best" martial art.

Sure, but isn't it reasonable to ask for proof other than "well, you'd have to fly to this one village in China" or "I've seen these guys hit the bag really hard" when someone makes a claim about their art?
posted by ignignokt at 8:52 PM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
― Mike Tyson

That being said, I think Vibrissae has done an admirable job of keeping the tone positive in a topic which has a history of becoming quite heated.
posted by Telf at 10:26 PM on October 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's pro sanda guys at a local gym here. Most of them train pretty much the same as muay Thai guys or MMA guys. (But with side kicks that land!) They're not part of the internal kung fu family any more than a boxer is.

No, the people at your gym are not. Sanda/sanshou happens to be the rules set that most organized full contact Chinese martial arts use, including many internal schools. Just not your school. Taijiquan also uses a competitive standing wrestling format -- this stuff.
posted by mobunited at 1:51 AM on October 2, 2011


"Sanda/sanshou happens to be the rules set that most organized full contact Chinese martial arts use, including many internal schools ."

mobunited - which guy in that video was the tai chi practitioner? I saw nothing in that match that looked like tai chi or internal power. It looked to me like sloppy amateur kickboxing blended with some decent amateur wrestling takedowns.


Something occurred to me while re-reading this thread. It's fairly common in the martial arts to run across arguments of the form "martial art xyz is really amazing, but you can't really appreciate how wonderful it is until you see what *insert name of master practitioner* can do."

I'm not sure this is really the best way of looking at it. You could start out with the mostly poorly designed martial art imaginable and still a sufficiently talented practitioner who devoted a lifetime to mastering it could probably use it effectively and look impressive while doing so. Whether it's in martial arts or in other fields of study, talented individuals who spend tens of thousands of hours in dedicated practice can do things with their bodies that appear completely magical.

Probably a better measuring stick for a martial art would be to look at what regular practitioners can accomplish with it. How effective is the typical student with five or ten years of part-time practice? That probably tells you a lot more than looking at demonstrations from the grandmaster.
posted by tdismukes at 7:20 PM on October 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


What are people supposed to accomplish with martial arts? There isn't a real answer there. Just assumptions based on what the person studying MA wants it to be used for. Being that there isn't a normative point across the spectrum of martial arts to actually measure "effectiveness" (whatever that is supposed to mean), you end up with useless answers to the pointless question. If you're asking about simplicity or learning curves associated with the art, then that's something totally different.
But if you think you can realize which martial art is good from a contest between two people, all you're going to gather is one of the people is better trained, in better shape, or luckier. Watching a video of some guy doing an "internal soft style" by pointing his finger at a well trained MMA fighter should tell you exactly zero. Except for the part about not being an asshole by pointing your fingers while some guy is punching you in the face.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:18 AM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


mobunited - which guy in that video was the tai chi practitioner? I saw nothing in that match that looked like tai chi or internal power.

Yes, actual application does not look like a demonstration or a Shaw Brothers film. What's your point? Mine is that the idea of "internal power," as something different from what well-trained boxers and wrestlers do is generally mistaken.
posted by mobunited at 6:04 AM on October 3, 2011


"Mine is that the idea of "internal power," as something different from what well-trained boxers and wrestlers do is generally mistaken."

Actually, I would agree with that. I've seen high-level boxers (and other fighters) accessing the same levels of relaxed power through subtle full-body coordination that the Chen Tai Chi masters were demonstrating in the videos that Vibrissae linked to. (The specific details of the technique are different, but the source of the power is the same.)

The guys in the match you linked to weren't demonstrating anything like that, either from a boxing standpoint or a tai chi standpoint. If sloppy kickboxing can be "internal power", than anything can be internal power and the phrase is meaningless.

I suppose that's a legitimate point of view. After all, I'm the person who argued upthread that hard/soft and internal/external are artificial dichotomies based on a specific cultural context. If we are going to use the phrase "internal power", though, it ought to mean something. I'd vote for something like "effortless relaxed power generated by a high level of skill with whole body coordination." Do you have another suggestion?

"Yes, actual application does not look like a demonstration or a Shaw Brothers film."

Interesting point. If you watch a practitioner of boxing, muay thai, MMA or BJJ fight, it looks pretty much like the same techniques and body dynamics they drill daily in the gym. Admittedly, it tends to be a bit sloppier until the fighter gets enough experience to hold their form together under pressure, but the fundamentals are still recognizable as boxing, muay thai, BJJ etc. and not Choy Lee Fut or Aikido. You linked earlier to a video of Chen Bing showing that he can demonstrate a recognizable tai chi flavor in free form grappling. I'd love to see someone do the same in a full-contact striking context.
posted by tdismukes at 7:58 AM on October 3, 2011


"Look at that last shot and explain why Jordan's defender slipped,"

I have to go with some of the other comments (Harvey Jerkwater, et.al) Qui is a term. And kind of a loose one at that.
IMHO, generally used to identify an entire subset of body movement and muscle control.
Jordan threw that guy by misdirection, timing and rhythm.
"effortless relaxed power generated by a high level of skill with whole body coordination." - is a good definition.

I'd add though that you can use presence to capture attention. That's what all the old masters shouting "KI-YA!" was about. Getting your blood up, in some places, yes.

But in a real fight it's essentially saying "Look at me right now because this is dangerous what I'm doing NOW!" and then inducing a broken rhythm into the series.

Which, if you watch, is what Jordan does. Ok, I'm going to charge ... NOW. nope. NOW. nope. NOW! n-(and he goes). So the guy falls over himself trying to anticipate.

This can, and has, been done in fights. It's harder to do to trained fighters because they're much better at reading your body intention. But with disparate enough skill levels it can be done.
Muhammad Ali comes to mind. Not the strongest fighter. Not the biggest. But he mastered this.
And indeed, the mouth, the talk, was all part of the fight. He was fighting and delivering his strategy long before the fight started. Especially with Foreman and Liston who he endlessly pissed off.
So he focused all their attention - before the fight even occurred - where he wanted it. On offense (because you want to shut that loud mouth up), and was able to influence their fight, take them off their game and pick them apart.

And that adds to the mystique. "I'm the greatest."

Jordan did this quite a bit too. He would welcome rookies into the NBA by closing his eyes and shooting. Worth it? Yeah, it's worth missing a few points to dig into someone's head like that. Try to push them off their game and playing your way.
It's the essence of fighting.
I've been in competitions where victory was dictated by who the guy was who walked out.

One time, in the shape of my life, at the peak of my game, one of my uncles - older, weaker, smaller, took me apart like I was a tomato can.

He said my skill was flawless, but I would never be great unless I figured out how he beat me. (Sort of like Rocky 3 - you fight great but you're not a great fighter)
After that I learned how stick to my own strategy without regard to factors outside the fight. He wasn't my uncle, this uber-bad ass. He was a set of targets and mass to have force applied to it.
After that I ate him up. But the aura of confidence remained. I took out five guys in decent shape, maybe not trained fighters but I was at a disadvantage all things considered. Simply because I projected my superiority to such a degree that even I believed I would have no trouble with them.
As a result, I didn't.

That's not magic though. If they had been more committed I would have worn my ass for a hat. But breaking someone's will is part of the fight and given relatively equal skill and fitness, it's the core of the fight.
And all that would be part of chi.
Jordan dropped the guy with physical skills yes, but also because he broke the guy's will.

"hucksters and cheats"

And there's the problem. A lot of people buy into their own bullshit.
Plus they think capturing your opponents mind is just misdirection or illusion.
It's not. You have to work for it and build up to it in a real situation.
It's why you smile or don't show pain. Guy hits you. Your rib is broken. He knows it. You know it. You smile and scoff. And now maybe, shit, didn't I break his rib? Or is he just so bad-ass? I hit him like a freight train and he threw that off like nothing.
Meanwhile he's thinking about that, you're delivering your own punches.
It's hard work building your own mystique within a fight while keeping the other guy from trying to capture your focus as well.

As opposed to "Ooh, lookit how scary bad-ass I am!" Yeah, ok gramps. *POW*

As with any theater, you can't show, you must tell.

And it's not bullshit bullshit. Look at the faith healers. There are people who actually get up on broken legs and walk around with no pain.
Of course they're not really healed. But the guy has done such a good job convincing them that they feel no pain and can walk around for a bit.

Not that this excuses the horrible sham.

But if you notice they take the time to build a foundation and build the elements which lead to the equivalent of a K.O.
They don't just walk out and say "I can heal because of Jeezus! Ala-Kazaam!" and stand some guy up out of a wheelchair.

Although if you do it right you can effect that kind of change in someone's mental focus in extremely short order. It's exactly the quote "everyone has a plan until they get hit."

And yeah. But it's the great fighters who continue to execute their plan and don't let the hits change their focus and make the other guy change his who win.


Aikido is about this a great deal. It's weird when you talk Aikido with people. Same roots as JuJutsu and swordsmanship, but people seem to forget samurai and Steven Segal and think old men in black skirts.
Just depends on what kind of Aikido you're in.
Lot's of storefronts out there.
But it's an internal philosophy. And indeed, the only real difference is the objective is to not seriously injure or kill the person you're fighting (new concept to me). It's internal in that it builds towards that. It focuses the awareness and attention on that.

A word about BJJ as well. JuJutsu is both hard and soft. As far as "internal" goes, I always thought of Jujutsu and BJJ as an "internal" style because there is more focus on awareness than on application.

BJJ fighters - the core style - focuses on building and strategy towards the goal of submission, KO, etc. But it emphasizes awareness. Where many arts are just rote. (e.g. If he comes in like this, do this move. If he comes in like that, do this other move.)
So "internal"
Muscles are nice but they only get you so far without coordination of effort and focus.
If it were only conditioning that won fights then only the best conditioned fighters would win fights and they don't.
(This is not to say it doesn't greatly help)

But the only reason those kinds of discussions aggravate me is that many adherents at as though MMA was created recently as opposed to understanding that people were doing more than just throwing punches randomly before the 90s.

Reminds me of Cosmopolitan "New sex moves!" yeah, uh huh. People knew nothing about sex before the modern age of glossy supermarket checkout line magazines. These new sex moves are more modern, composed of sex moves people have learned from around the world. Not like those hokey traditional sex moves when people didn't know what they were doing.
Sure thing buddy.

This is not to say there isn't a contrast between MMA and other modern forms of fighting - even combatives, that don't train awareness.
Certainly there are many traditional martial arts and even within MMA people who just teach punch/kick/hold without regard to the underlying nature of personal conflict.

But the point being (finally) - that one of the things I think Tai Chi does well is teaching the flow and connectedness by doing the slow moves and keeping the flow constant.

It greatly enhances the span of focus. And that's something not a lot of fighters have. If you watch, say Bas Rutten, he goes to work like he's building a house. Lays the foundation, does the framing, puts up walls, once he's set everything he puts the roof on and the fight is over. Certainly these things can happen in very short order.

But most fights look disjointed, like two guys jousting over and over.

Same thing in sports and the Jordan clip (and pretty much anything he does on the court) illustrates that. He's got an entire game plan that he's involved in executing. A guy who is just playing Jordan and reacting with his muscles is going to get schooled.

A guy who's paid attention and is facing Jordan as though he's a piece in his own strategy is going to stop him. And Jordan has been stopped.

On the other hand, that's where he starts the trash talking and getting into your head about how great he is so he can stop you stopping him.

And so then again it becomes a matter of will.

Which can be built up through exercise and often though exercise like this, not just sparring, et.al.

Changing mindsets is a pretty critical thing.

One of the beefs I used to have with TkChrist was over this. Two equally skilled fighters, one trained to kill, one trained in the ring.
When it comes down to it in combat the one trained to kill will win because he's dealing in finality which, generally, is quicker in part because it puts the other person off their game (adrenaline is a hell of a drug).
There's an argument to be had that one can't practice killing moves, because, y'know, they're killing moves (I disagree, but it's a fair argument).
But the execution of movement aside, you can practice the mindset. And that makes all the difference.

So here too, this is practicing situational awareness or combat sense or zanshin - whatever it's called it's the same thing.

And indeed, abused in much the same way. Look how many videos by former Navy
Seals there are (SEALs intentionally misprinted) or other guys telling you they can teach you whatever combat techniques, hand to hand, how to shoot like a sniper, blah blah.

All the same. Sure you can replicate the movements, but that doesn't mean you're actually doing it mentally. You can do the mechanics without letting your body know what you're doing and why.

Tai Chi - when done properly - is about practicing that mind/body relationship. Which makes your training better overall.

So in a sense it's like asking "what weightlifter beat an MMA fighter?" It's besides the point. You can't take a methodology out of context and ask it to compete in another realm.
Do MMA fighters lift weights? Yeah. Do they work out? Sure.
Can one take the discrete techniques and specific motions of weightlifting and apply it in a competitive ring fighting situation?
Well, no not really.
Does this mean weight training is useless and can't help an MMA fighter?
Of course not.
Does it mean some guy who lifts weights couldn't, as a side benefit, defend himself better because of it?
No.

Same deal.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:53 AM on October 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


As with any theater, you can't show, you must tell.

Er, strike that, reverse it.

You have to show, not tell.
(Note: IANAA & IANATM or director)
posted by Smedleyman at 11:57 AM on October 3, 2011


Feints, misdirection, broken rhythm, leading intention? You aren't trying to fill our heads with "woo", are you Smed?
Subtleties that are not only hard to teach, and correctly, but knowing how to use. They end up in an almost nonexistent category that people often dismiss.

You can't take a methodology out of context and ask it to compete in another realm.

Someday I'm going to sit down and write out the top fallacies in martial arts conversations. This would easily be one of the top three.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:46 PM on October 3, 2011


Interesting point. If you watch a practitioner of boxing, muay thai, MMA or BJJ fight, it looks pretty much like the same techniques and body dynamics they drill daily in the gym.

Not really. The Chai Sirsute Muay Thai curriculum includes a *15 technique combination.* If that ever happens in the ring, one of the fighters isn't qualified to be in it. You also have the emphasis on spinning through completely on the round kick in shadowboxing even though this behaviour disappears in a lot of high level fights, where fighters "chamber" their legs all the time (but not the way TKD guys do). A lot of classical judo similarly doesn't look much like match judo. It's close, which is as it should be, since the techniques are adapted to the sport. Similarly, Tai Chi techniques express themselves fully in tuishou matches, where you can see something close to the idealized movement. Plus of course, some people just don't know Tai Chi as well as they think they do, and miss things like the reflexive use of Gold Golden Ball on a tie up, or the bread and butter roll of Repulse Monkey as a takedown.

That said, there is something to be said for knowing a rules set, training for it and being able to transfer practice to application in that rules set faster. But while I *do* think things like MMA performance transfer into real effectiveness, it isn't the only measuring stick. As I said earlier, there are ways of fighting in the ring that translate poorly. By this, I'm not referring to the silly argument that people can bite and gouge "on the street." I'm talking about things like arrest and restraint (where many things that do not work in MMA, like standing armbars, work well) avoidance and escape (where the need to remain engaged and exert pressure isn't in your interest) and a number of other situations where the objectives are different.
posted by mobunited at 8:51 AM on October 6, 2011


"The Chai Sirsute Muay Thai curriculum includes a *15 technique combination.* If that ever happens in the ring, one of the fighters isn't qualified to be in it."

True, but each of the individual techniques in that combination will show up in the ring. For that matter, the smaller sub-combinations within the sequence may also be used in a fight. The sequence as a whole is just something like a kata - a way of practicing a lot of moves together.

"You also have the emphasis on spinning through completely on the round kick in shadowboxing even though this behaviour disappears in a lot of high level fights, where fighters "chamber" their legs all the time (but not the way TKD guys do)."

I've seen both methods of throwing the kick in training and in competition. They're just variations on the technique, not abandonment of fundamental body mechanics.


When I asked for an example of a tai chi practitioner using recognizable tai chi form in a sparring context which includes striking, I didn't mean they had to go through the entire Yang short form or anything like that. I'd just like to see the fundamental body mechanics applied. In that clip you linked to of Chen Bing grappling, I could clearly recognize the tai chi flavor in the takedowns, even though I wouldn't know what the moves are called. If I saw that clip without any introduction or explanation I would have known immediately that Chen was some sort of Chinese internal stylist (probably tai chi) and not a judoka or greco-roman wrestler.

"As I said earlier, there are ways of fighting in the ring that translate poorly. By this, I'm not referring to the silly argument that people can bite and gouge "on the street." I'm talking about things like arrest and restraint (where many things that do not work in MMA, like standing armbars, work well) avoidance and escape (where the need to remain engaged and exert pressure isn't in your interest) and a number of other situations where the objectives are different."

I can't think of anything to argue with in that statement. Do you think that tai chi is better suited for a different set of circumstances than the one-on-one "dueling" context of competition?
posted by tdismukes at 11:20 AM on October 6, 2011


As I said earlier, there are ways of fighting in the ring that translate poorly.

Most of what you've said, mobunited, I don't disagree with. To nitpick though I don't think it is the fighting style that translates poorly, but the training. Just as what Smedlyman was referring to earlier, is the idea that a person trains for a context. Practicing the "silly" things like eye gouging etc., is the same as the difference in practicing for submission or for breaking. We are talking about two different goals that are inherent in the approach to the "fight". The actual idea that I think is silly is to say that if someone trains a certain way for a certain context can, and will, automagically switch up and start doing things different than the way you trained. Basically, it will always come down to you do what you practice because practice makes permanence.
If we were so sociapathic as to somehow set up a no-rules-random-setting-fight between a person who's sole intent is to grapple and submit, while the other's sole intent is to bite and take out the eyes; and not tell each other what the other is going to do (if we're trying to simulate a real fight here) then I think we would get results where people wouldn't be so quick to latch onto some specific ideas about what constitues the best way to fight.
You could say some styles translate better for the ring, but that idea will always revolve around the fact that styles and people train for a certain context.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:10 PM on October 6, 2011


True, but each of the individual techniques in that combination will show up in the ring. For that matter, the smaller sub-combinations within the sequence may also be used in a fight. The sequence as a whole is just something like a kata - a way of practicing a lot of moves together.

It's the same for Tai Chi. In application, the movements are drilled individually, with variations in angle and resistance. And in that sanda video, a lot of the takedowns *were* textbook Tai Chi. You may not see the application, but it's there. Here are videos to provide examples. One, White Crane Spreads Wings, is actually used in the earlier video, and resembles the form about as much as this resembles these.

I've seen both methods of throwing the kick in training and in competition. They're just variations on the technique, not abandonment of fundamental body mechanics.

Meh. You shadowbox with it so that you don't hold back and get the pivot right, but I rarely see Thais actually do it -- they usually train hitting something and pull back into guard. The fact is that something can use "fundamental body mechanics" and still look different, whether it's a competition-focused practice or not. You can see that in the judo examples, above.

When I asked for an example of a tai chi practitioner using recognizable tai chi form in a sparring context which includes striking, I didn't mean they had to go through the entire Yang short form or anything like that. I'd just like to see the fundamental body mechanics applied. In that clip you linked to of Chen Bing grappling, I could clearly recognize the tai chi flavor in the takedowns, even though I wouldn't know what the moves are called. If I saw that clip without any introduction or explanation I would have known immediately that Chen was some sort of Chinese internal stylist (probably tai chi) and not a judoka or greco-roman wrestler.

Why would you expect to find that flavour without becoming familiar with it, first? I can see it immediately in the follow through stopping short, because of the emphasis on maintaining a standing position. The rules make a difference too, in that sanda mandates (IIRC) no more than 8 seconds of clinch time.

Certainly, if I saw ippon seoi nage performed classically, then got tooled with some weird knee drop attack to my 45, I might think I was a fool to learn soei nage, until someone showed me that it was pretty much the same thing.

I can't think of anything to argue with in that statement. Do you think that tai chi is better suited for a different set of circumstances than the one-on-one "dueling" context of competition?

If you train for a sport in a dedicated fashion, you will have better techniques, skills and condition for that sport than someone who applies training to a sport. In the case of Tai Chi, there's lots of stuff that's handy outside of a competition framework. Again, I don't mean "What is the street is on fire and there are 5000 ninjas?" But things like:

1) Pushing someone *hard* and running. This is a lousy tactic in MMA.
2) Getting that guy who's trading mammalian dominance gestures with you to stop with a grip escape and a standing armlock. In competition, this never works -- you need wrestling/judo/BJJ grip fighting instead.
3) Standing arm bars and sweeps do work sometimes, but again, not in a situation where somebody's t-rex arming and going for double-underhooks.

I think there's a bit too much of an obsession with "high-percentage techniques" that are insensitive to the context. If I want someone to leave my home, double-legging them and working to a submission may be reliable, but it's also the opposite of what I actually wanted to accomplish -- dude is still in my home and now he's between my arms and legs, to boot. maybe I need that against some people, but some guys will respect a twist in the arm and a walk.

In Tai Chi's case, there's the benefits of conscious breathing, stable motion and other health effects too -- stuff other than worst case scenario application.

But there's a price. That price is that you will never be as prepared as a dedicated combat sports athlete when you're following the whole mix. Martial artists who choose to pay that price should be honest that they're doing it. That means they find out what works, when, against resisting smart folks. From there, they determine the context in which to apply stuff, when to chuck it, and when to save it for special occasions.
posted by mobunited at 1:23 PM on October 6, 2011


"What i(f) the street is on fire and there are 5000 ninjas?"

Well, if you frequent Insane Clown Posse rallies, then that's a fair question.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:00 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a bit late to the thread, but I had to mention my favorite TaiChi teacher, Su Dong Chen. He's the only TaiChi guy I know of that regularly has BJJ/MMA guys lining up to be taught by him. He's not very traditional, but he knows how to make it work.
posted by ambulocetus at 4:41 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


« Older GlassPipes.org has 217,287 pictures of glass pipes...  |  In Canada, "Head, Shoulders, K... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments