Building a martial arts method II

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Building a martial arts method II


Let’s take an example: in order to develop and enhance the power of their fist strikes, people usually train using a punching bag, lifing weights, using elastic strips, etc. Through such training, we mainly exercise the muscles that appear to be directly involved in punching movements, so we think that these are the logical exercises to perform.

But the ancients thought otherwise:
« In order to build great strength in the fist, what must be strengthened is not the part closest to the hand, but the part furthest away from it. ». That is, the power of the hand must be furnished from the spine, harnessing the power arising from the feet, the legs, the buttocks…

The methods of tai chi chuan and zhan zhuang (ritsu-zen) belong to this register.

If we watch a practitioner of these methods standing apparently still and especially not moving his arms, we will see, particularly if he is an expert, that he is capable of deploying astonishing strength. This is because he is capable of marshalling diverse strengths originating in the areas furthest from his hands and arms – i.e., areas such as the back, the legs, etc.

This way of activating the muscles is distinct from what we are used to conceiving according to sports logic.
So it is not because the expert is able to deploy the power of ki (qi), but because he knows how to harness the strength of a series of muscles not often used in normal practice. According to kiko theory, when your ki increases, your muscular strength increases as well, and it is this activation of the muscles that corresponds to an activation of ki.

To achieve this level, how must we train? This will be one of the main themes of this series of essays.



What path, what method to choose?

In my latest book, I wrote the following words:
«The form of tai chi chuan that I now practice has evolved compared to the tai chi that I learned. When I compare the two, I feel no regrets.
For better or worse, so far I have had no reason to alter my basic point of view. However, I am always willing to re-examine it and to modify my practice if I find a better method, which to me would be a pleasure. »

With these statements, I have made clear my position regarding the study and practice of the "method" of tai chi chuan. Accordingly, there is no sense in asking me what school or current I belong to. I practice my own method of tai chi chuan and consider it related to all the forms of practice that I have known.

Nor is it necessary to repeat what I have already written in the aforementioned book. I shall simply develop a few related reflexions to further clarify matters.

In the book, I insisted on the importance of building the strength that is apparently absent in most current forms of tai chi chuan.



What does being "authentic" mean?

Tai chi chuan can be translated as "boxing (chuan) according to the principle of tai chi (dynamic integration of the two complementary elements, yin and yang)".

I feel that this is the best possible definition of tai chi chuan.

If you are concerned about the authenticity of the tai chi chuan that you practice, I think the most logical thing to do would be to refer to this definition rather than to your belonging to a particular school or your links to a master whom you have seen once, twice or even on a regular basis.

For those who seek the true meaning of tai chi, the important thing should be the degree to which they are enabled to fulfil the principle of tai chi, rather than their belonging to a certain group or institution.

What truly matters is what you manage to do with your capacities thanks to the method that you practice. The only thing that really counts is the quality of what you do and your level.

To my way of thinking, the value of a method is expressed through the quality of its practitioners and through the prospects that it opens up to them. Not even an Olympic champion can jump 10 metres in a single leap, but if there is a ladder, each of us can climb to the top, rung by rung. The equivalent of the ladder is the method. And thus the proverb: "Even a road to a thousand places begins with a single step".

If we examine the different modern forms of tai chi, comparing them to the ancient form, we will see that they have all incorporated a large number of modifications. But I feel justified in saying that all the modified techniques and forms become ˝authentic˝ from the moment they are performed according to the principle of tai chi. The different schools of tai chi chuan have developed in this way.

We can compare and examine the different modern forms of tai chi in relation to tai chi Chen or Chen-syle boxing. In doing so, we will see both similarities and differences, since the ancient form has had numerous modifications introduced to it over the years.

So I repeat, all modified forms and techniques are authentic insofar as they are executed according to the principle of tai chi. These modifications are what have given rise to the different schools of tai chi chuan.

Let us look at this a little more closely.


Deformation or creation?

As we saw in my book, Yang Luchan (1799-1872) developed what is known as tai chi Yang based on the Chen boxing that he had learned from Chen Changxing (1771-1853). Yang reorganized Chen boxing according to a principle that would later become the principle of tai chi. The point is that he modified Chen boxing.
In fact, at the time, Chen boxing masters all felt that Yang-style tai chi was nothing more than a deformation of their boxing. What would they think of it today?

All authenticity is created thanks to a deformation, because in this particular case, what we must understand is that the word deformation means "to change the form while maintaining the principle". So according to this logic, aren’t almost all modern so-called "authentic" forms of tai chi chuan the result of such deformations?

Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880), the founder of Wu-style tai chi chuan, was the first disciple of Yang Luchan. Tai chi Yang and tai chi Wu are two different schools that share similarities.

Wu Yuxiang was very close to his master, to such an extent that, as we have seen, it was thanks to him that the tai chi of Yang Luchan became known in Peking and later in the rest of the world. I imagine that the two masters were very close. So why would Wu Yuxiang, once so close to his master, finally distance himself from him? Why would he end up founding his own school instead of continuing that of his master?

If he were alive today, he could declare himself the authentic representative of the Yang school, because he was the founder’s first and closest disciple.
What he did, however, was found his own school. Now then, who today could say that the Wu school is a deformation of Yang?

I think that if Wu Yuxiang felt it necessary to modify what Yang Luchan had taught him, it must be because he had personal reasons for doing so, according to his way of understanding and practicing the principle of tai chi. It can’t have been out of mere caprice that the changes were made, but out of the need to apply this principle in his own way.

Wu Yuxiang might have thought something like this: "I have to do it this way and not that, because this is how I understand the principle." Given their respective ages, Wu must have incorporated his modifications during the lifetime of his master.

Isn’t that freedom in the true sense of the word?

This fact makes me realize to what extent we have become prisoners in a system in the name of "authentic practice".
A precursor is like a lone navigator out on the ocean who must follow only his own rational judgement bolstered by the strength of his courage for as long as he can’t see the horizon. Such strength is far from forming part of people who only follow a path already laid down by an institution. Such people carry on thanks to signposts put up by others, whereas the lone navigator forges ahead charting his own course and establishing his own rules.

I think that there can exist various "authentic" forms of tai chi as long as they apply the true principle of tai chi. In this view, certain technical passages may differ from one "authentic" school of tai chi chuan to another, but such differences should not pose a problem for people practicing the discipline according to its fundamental principle. It will clearly pose major problems, however, for those who practice tai chi strictly according to the norms of an institution.

This seems to be the predominant tendency today in the practice of tai chi chuan, as in all other activities.


Institution or principle – which to follow ?

All institutions tend to use power to impose their criteria.
This is where we can find problems, because their aim is not to develop a principle but merely to see that it is perpetuated.

For example, we can compare certain sequences of tai chi Chen and tai chi Yang.
The jumping kicks of the Chen school are executed by the Yang school as two successive, separate kicks, with both feet back on the ground between each. A circular jumping kick in Chen becomes in Yang two kicks while slowly changing direction and placing the foot back on the ground before the second kick.

But even those who have studied these two forms are not necessarily able to compare them, because if they have studied and practiced them solely according to codes and rules laid down formally and without stepping back to look at them objectively, they cannot examine them with an analytical eye.

To people who have learned to step back and regard them objectively, the change between the first and second schools is quite visible, because it follows a certain "logic" that can be interpreted in one of two ways: "The Yang school is an adaptation made to accommodate people who are less dynamic", or else, "The Yang school is the result of a new technical series".

To people lacking this knowledge and insight, the two forms are simply different.

To people who are able to compare the two forms objectively, it is impossible to claim that the Yang school is false compared to tai chi Chen; the only thing they can say is that tai chi Yang has a different technical value.

To the extent that the principle of tai chi is applied in the change, each new form can become an authentic tai chi. I think this point is polemical due simply to the logic that we normally find – i.e., "if we change an authentic form, it can no longer be authentic and therefore is false".

The fact is that numerous schools and various styles of tai chi chuan seen today have been formed as a result of modifying their original model, and have become authentic to the extent that they apply the principle of tai chi. In a way, I would say that all forms of tai chi are authentic insofar as they have evolved respecting the principle of tai chi.

For the philosophy of tai chi is alive, and therefore mobile and dynamic. Whereas it seems to me that the Western spirit, though claiming to be the paragon of liberty and rationality, is often cloistered within a rigid system of fixed rules.

Many people practice tai chi chuan attaching importance to the standardized form and model or to its technical rules. Very few practice it focusing on the principle that is the very basis of technique. The first are satisfied insofar as they conform to the system of the school they have chosen, while the second are satisfied insofar as they comprehend the multiplicity of technical possibilities arising from a principle.

Those who attach importance to the technical shell are interested in rules, and those who seek what’s esential concern themselves with the principle, which is what gives rise to creation.

To be continued...


Interesting websites

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