Saturday, 9 October 2021

Martial Arts Progression

Sources: Yiquan Chinese Martial Arts and Shizentai Position - You Tube

In traditional martial arts, we tend not to fly into the phantasmatic, physically daunting techniques as you might see in the movies. Such as performing a double flying scissors kick to knock two mounted knights off their donkeys. None of that. At least not right away. And at least not under a foundational type of instructor.

In TMA (Traditional Martial Arts), we’re expected to toe the line of progression…bow before you stand; stand before you move; move in a straight line before you head into the angles; and so on, both mentally and physically. Like learning a language from the ground up. I refer to the basics and the Kata/forms as the grammar and the vocabulary of a fighting art; the combative element is when you speak the language. When we speak French, English, Hindi, Arabic, however we may push the limits of song and poetry, we are still communicating. English in extremis: James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. But the Wake still manages to communicate with readers. In a way, combat does communicate. Traditional combat is based on the grammar and a vocabulary of unarmed and armed fighting skills. Fighting is the language.

What might a traditional approach be? Fair question, I ask myself as I write this. How about if we look at the martial arts of I Chuan (also called Yiquan), fighting Tai Chi, Hsing I Kung Fu and traditional Karate to find out.

1.   There are three basic parts in martial arts progression – solo work, the bridge between the practitioner and another person, and finally, full training with another person.

2.   Depending on the art, solo work involves both standing and moving. Some examples of standing –

a.  The standing postures of I Chuan, Hsing I, Tai Chi, etc.

b.  The prolonged horse stance training as might be seen in Hung Gar or Choy Li Fut.

The idea is to develop a “root”, like the root of a tree. Another analogy is the development of a strong foundation upon which a practitioner can build. The stronger and bigger the building we intend to build, the stronger and bigger the foundation.

However, even when standing still, some arts, such as I Chuan, actually practice pushing the air around them from the inside out. In I Chuan this is referred to as “testing”. You can imagine the air all around you, or you may imagine that you’re standing in water. The effect is the same –

The art of stillness is at the same time the art of moving.

(In personal training, I found a similar experience when standing still at the beginning of a Karate Kata, which might take some time in a tournament…)

Tournament Kata Judge #1 to Judge#2: “Hey Sophie, what the heck here…how long is he gonna take doing his Kanku-Dai. I gotta get home to feed the horses!”

Tournament Judge #2:  Shhh, Mikey. You can see he’s old school. He’s doing his Kata like a fight system. It might take an hour or two.”

Like a fight system?

There are two parts to the beginning of many old school forms or Kata – the standing still and the bow. Let’s start with the process of bowing…

Bowing in: this action, as much as the standing before and after a typical bow, is the point where everything in our lives comes together. You can bow standing or kneeling, the process remains the same. We present ourselves to the lineage, to those who have shared the treasures of martial arts with us, who have guided us, who have given us their support. We present ourselves to the lineage as a mind/body unified practitioner, as one who is also unified with the space that surrounds us. At that precise moment, all of our martial arts training and capabilities are at our fingertips. We present ourselves as one who has a deep foundation, built upon the lineage and our efforts to unify ourselves with our minds and bodies and with our surroundings, in fact to have unified ourselves with life itself through the physical, mental and spiritual training we have gone through thus far. The deep act of bowing is an act of humbleness, of strength, of loyalty, of lived experience…it represents everything in martial arts. Whether you practice Aikido, Taekwondo, Judo…the act of bowing represents who you are in the martial scheme of things.

Let’s walk the bowing back to when we enter the training hall itself. We don’t just leave or daily lives outside, cleaning our slate so to speak. We carry exactly who we are into the training hall, because if we don’t walk Karate through the day, or speak Tai Chi to people we know and work with, or comfort a child with the strength and gentleness of Ba Gua Kung Fu, then what is the point of training in an old school system to begin with? We bring our day into the lineage training hall, and then we build upon that day.

To reiterate: at the point of standing, everything we are and everything we have become in the martial arts is unified and ready.

Combat wise, we stand ready. The combat effectiveness of our system is at our fingertips: a fight capability against single or multiple opponents, unarmed or armed; the ability to adapt our martial arts system to any terrain; and all that our martial arts system contains – strikes, kicks, locks, takedowns, throws, etc. – at a level of fluid adaptability.

Those are the bowing, and the standing parts, before we even do the forms or Kata!

And why do the Kata/forms follow the bow/standing? Because they are the fight systems we delve into as martial artists. We don’t perform Kata/forms, we explore, and by exploring further develop the lineage treasures. We don’t change the forms/Kata. No one wants to change the actual movements; we want to bring out the deep fighting capabilities…within each movement. We honour the past by living the martial system into the future.

“Wait a minute here,” a Jiu Jitsu-ka says. “What’s this hankering for Kata and forms?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” her uke agrees in immaculate Queen's English. ”We ain’t got no forms nohow!”

Yes, you do.

An osoto gari outer reaping throw is a form as is a wrist throw as is a hip throw. Before practising with a live uke, practitioners may often run through the movement by themselves, over and over. Then they practise straight on with an uke. In the combative mode, things change: an osoto gari becomes a weapon that drives in from any direction, any angle and under a variety of circumstances.

For example, you might find yourself at the opponent’s side. Grabbing hold of whatever part of his shoulder that you can (remember, he’s moving…and he’s trying to hurt you), you drive a knee kick into his left hip, then osoto the inner part of his left leg.

There’s a particularly nasty type of combat osoto where you approach from the back, sweeping the front of his knee backwards while slapping the back of his head forward with your open palm.

Back to standing, or bowing: the osoto gari, along with hundreds of other techniques, must be at your fingertips when you’re standing or bowing.

Fully realized combat Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Karate, also contain osoto gari methods…and locks and tons of throws. And these are also at your fingertips as you bow or stand, at least if you’ve studied the Kata/forms in depth.

Quite the journey. And the journey never ends.

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