As I became familiar with martial artists, the way they think, and the way they train, more and more I’ve come to the conclusion that there are certain deficiencies in the training doctrine and methodologies used by most or all martial artists. Typically it boils down to a few subjects of concern.
1. The focus on progressing a student from the most advanced and complicated material to the most basic. An example would be learning how to use non lethal force in a lethal force environment, and then only later would one even begin to learn how to use lethal force.
2. Too much emphasis on monkey see, monkey do teaching methods.
3. An over emphasis on lineage and authority as the method to correct inadequate theory and application amongst the greater student/instructor body.
“The constant state of war that occurred between the Zhou Dynasty and the Warring States period did much to promote wu shu and reinforce its applicability to the conditions of the times. With the heavy use of infantry and weapons fighting, wu shu matured quickly and many ideas for offensive and defensive action came and went. Only the most practical moves survived the test of time, as the leaders of losing armies were often wiped out, as was the memory of their military tactics. Because so many non-nobility people served in the military, military martial art techniques began to be disseminated into the general population. People were able to perfect fighting techniques and become wu shu masters, exchanging ideas with each other as they defended themselves in these turbulent times against all manner of robbers and assailants. By 221 BC, warring became so intense that not only did the emperors and their ministers keep wu shu masters but also the dukes and marquises of the different states did the same.
Legends say that a noted ancient military advisor by the name of Gui Gu Zi (who wrote his own military tactics book along the lines of Sun Tzu), which translates as Master (zi) Ghost Valley. Gui was not his surname, it was the epithet given him. He was supposed to have been the founder of the Zongheng jia (diplomatic school), one of the “hundred schools” philosophies of the Warring States era. He was said to have taught wu shu techniques to such luminaries as Sun Bin and Bai Yuan, among others. His techniques were based on simultaneous offense and defense using evasive tactics to overcome the opponent. The moves of the Tong Bei style are said to have emerged from his teachings, although the term was not used it, it was often called Bian or whip style instead. Whether Tong Bei came from Gui’s teachings or it came from another source, oral transmissions claim Tong Bei’s methods and techniques to reach far back to Warring States time period, since they exhibit all the concepts that martial arts developed during this time (see Part 2).
Tong Bei means “through the back”. Tong Bei teaches that the source of internal strength is the ground, and this ground jing is maneuvered or manipulated via the waist, and is connected to the whole body. The ground jing is moved by the waist from the ground through the back, through the shoulders, through the arms, and out the hands. When the whole body is connected, sudden power release comes from the waist, the Dan Tien area, with primary storage being from the back’s contraction. Tong Bei is based on using the previously mentioned Core Principles and Core Techniques with a whipping arm action to either takedown or strike the opponent. It is a collection of loose techniques rather than forms. Efficient and Effective body mechanics are very important to the system, which was used heavily by the military in China for some centuries. Tong Bei itself is a style and, at the same time, a principle – one of the chief principles of traditional Chinese Martial Arts. Tong Bei stresses that all movements should unify and compound the power of the limbs through integration. It has its own qigong mehtods and also conditioning methods that are similar to those of Shaui Jiao. It has many takedown techniques that it shares with Shuai Jiao as well. The techniques of Tong Bei were called different things at different times, just like Shuai Jiao techniques were called different things at different times. Both terms “Tong Bei” and “Shuai Jiao” are relatively new compared to how old the techniques are “considered” to be according to oral transmissions. Tong Bei has the idea of touch and go; hands attack like a whip; many very fast combinations of arms and leg movements, mostly based on large circles and snapping strikes. Engage the opponent and enter an open door before laying down a strike with open palm, while using the concepts of Yin and Yang in its hand movements: the idea of “one hand clear and one hidden” with both hands changing one after the other and straight mixed with round. All these methods and techniques, which are now called “Tong Bei” for the style that exists today, are consistant with the martial art concepts developed by the Warring States time period.
The fighting arts began to split into Military Wu Shu, which was highly selective and developed for killing on contact, and Civil Wu Shu , which was more merciful and evasive as it developed among the common people. Civil Wu Shu kept some of the powerful aspects of Military Wu Shu but also was used for fitness, competition, and entertaining performance. Over the centuries, people added their own ideas to the existing wu shu techniques to develop their own brand or styles. Thus, the ancient family styles of martial arts came into being and soon were passed down from generation to generation in a secret manner. Only a very few such ancient styles have survived into modern times (such as the Wu Jia Quan Shu – Wu family Dragon/Phoenix style) and most of the techniques from such ancient times have been absorbed into the various wu shu styles that developed between the Tang and Sung dynasties (as did the Chang Shou Men style of Kuo I). Other ancient styles were lost due to the many millions of deaths that occurred during the many wars and resultant migrations of people that China endured. Thus, over the centuries, Civil Wu Shu styles would appear and disappear and reappear again, even Military Wu Shu would disappear occasionally for a number of years before people would reintroduce it, always different than the previous version. Such social dynamics made wu shu techniques and styles develop rapidly over the ages and evolve to be ever more efficient and effective. By the end of the second century BC, equal attention began to be paid to the practice and theory of wu shu and not just isolated skills and techniques, as more and more people wrote books on wu shu and incorporated the different tenets of various Chinese philosophies. Many philosophy books of the times (Zhuang Zi – Book of Master Zhuang being one of the earliest) featured chapters of Sword play and examined how wu shu theory fit into other philosophical ideas.”
This was the case in Ancient China before 200 BC. We haven’t even gotten to the 2000 year AD history of China’s martial theory and arts yet. Historically people had to learn how to kill first and only then after achieving this core competency, were they then able to develop specific specializations. Yet the most popular modern martial arts on planet Earth doesn’t adequately introduce or teach lethal force in H2H at all. Those that do touch upon the subject, don’t spend much time on it.
The level of maturity and philosophical comprehension becomes increasingly difficult to nurture in students that simply are treated as children and not allowed to know “adult subjects”. You can only keep them in an incubation tube for so long before they have to brave the new world and survive it. Which many martial artists do not do, since they die in their first life and death struggle. Such a “success” rate would never have been tolerated by the Ancients.
To determine a superior training methodology it is useful to look first at the past:
“During the Spring and Autumn period, the Chu discovered the making of steel and soon after longer swords were able to be crafted. These longer swords were widely adopted in warfare. Many people became sword experts, especially in the Wu and Yue kingdoms. King Wu Kwang himself practiced sword fighting and many huge contests were given. He owned a pair of specially forged swords that are legendary to this day: a male sword called the Kan Jian and a female sword called the Muo Xie.
Around 496 BC, one of ancient China`s best sword fighters was a woman named Yue Nu. She practiced developing her idea and methods for years in her land. Her fighting theories and techniques became another major influence on Wu-Shu theory.
For King Gou Jian of Yue, she wrote her theories:
1) Combining position, breathing, and consciousness;
2) Balancing the internal and external states of the body in harmony;
3) Simultaneous offense and defense;
4) Using both static and moving states.
She also wrote much about: being calm and unassuming in appearance, but fighting as vicious as a tiger; reacting fast enough to reach the opponent first with a strike, even though the opponent started first; uniting spirit, form, and intent. She was acclaimed for her skills all over ancient China and much respected by all.
Learned people and military fighters soon saw that the concept of `Wu-Wei` – doing nothing out of harmony with the flow of things was at the heart of many skills. It was found as an idea in common to many ideas that were then currently developing: Taoism, Yue Nu`s sword fighting, the Five Elements battle strategy of Sun Wu, and the Dao Yin qi-gung practitioners. In their explorations on the ways of or the nature of the universe (`The Tao`), Taoists began uniting all these different expressions of Wu-Wei. The circular movements of sword fighting were seen as putting man in tune with the natural cycles of the universe (stars, seasons, water, birth, death, etc.). The effect was seen as even more pronounced if the actions were combined with qi-gung breathing exercises and the mental exercises of military strategy. Taoists of the war-torn time saw warfare as an element of all life, against mortal and immortal enemies both outside and within the human body. People who were learned in all these concepts were soon in high demand in all the Chinese courts of the various kingdoms, as they were sought as advisors to the kings and nobles (princes, lords, etc.).”
As early as 500 BC, humanity had developed superior timing and battle sensing methods. What happened to them in the modern era? Most people consider a stance a static state, never ever told what the moving states were. Most students cannot practice offense or defense, let alone combine them into one. Most students cannot adequately utilize the external aspects of the body, let alone comprehend internal dynamics. People are too busy punching bags and winning tournaments and being promoted to black belts to worry about position, breathing, or mental comprehension.
This is what is allowed now a days, and it’s one of the less ridiculous examples:
You think Yue Nu would ever have allowed such a student of hers to take one step beyond into the real world? She would have killed him first before he made himself into a national embarassment. These are all, essentially, a result of the training methods that prioritize the eyes and the “do as I do” method of teaching. The interpretation of what the sensei is doing is split between 50,000 independent interpretations, which results in 500 different styles cropping up in one generation. Karate, which used to have common principles and goals in Okinawa, split into various sub factions. So did Taekwondo in Korea. Very inefficient when it comes time for a student to be introduced to the field and begin their trip on the way to mastery and artistic license. Without a basic foundation in principles and theory, anyone can interpret the martial techniques anyway they like. Most of them incorrectly.
This brings us to the third issue in the grand scheme of things. It used to be these problems were fixed one on one by the teacher-student relationship and people to this day still rely on it to fix problems with traditional martial arts. Unfortunately, I have to say that this is a failed cause because due to a few key decisions made by Japanese and Okinawan karate teachers, they were somehow able to produce a legion load of students that formed the central cadre in transmitting martial theory and knowledge. Except only about 1-10% of that cadre were told the real deal. So topping in at a max of 90% of the total cadre body, they went to America, Korea, and other countries and started teaching thousands upon thousands of students , “martial arts” that wasn’t an art to begin with, let alone a martial one. A cadre in military speak would be the initial trainers you need to train up in order to setup a training facility to output real military units of any sizable number. The quality of your military units hinges directly on the quality of your cadre and their numbers. Modern martial artists are trying to fix an upside down pyramid by shrinking the body of students with real knowledge into smaller and smaller bits, thinking this will somehow invigorate the rest of the world into figuring out the “real deal”. Not going to happen. Hence a lost cause. Japan exported their martial methods first, generally, and China followed close behind. Japan transmitted the incorrect blueprints for karate whereas China suffered from secrecy, political purges, and martial artists fleeing to the four corners of the world and laying low for generations before even allowing students in. Japanese kenjutsu, iaijutsu, jujutsu, judo, were all original copies of their native arts and that was transmitted well. Unfortunately karate was by far the most influential and popular.
The good news is that now that the Chinese expats are teaching students and holding seminars, a lot of “real martial knowledge” has been transmitted to the world and many martial artists that only learned the false and inaccurate blueprint are fixing up their personal methods. When the Japanese instructors figured out that Okinawans were holding something back, a lot of them took vacations to Okinawan for one reason or another. Not unexpected.
So far I’ve found a few people who either received the true transmission and began to learn martial theory (required for advancement to martial arts and mastery) or figured it out for themselves via personal experience and experimentation. Even using the internet, though, these individuals are too few and far between to challenge or change the total number of martial practitioners on this planet.
To save the day, in comes the internet, something which wasn’t around during the time of the Ancients, yet has been used extensively by modern day masters to teach the true theories of martial arts to so many people. I believe experienced users, using the internet will educate many more students out of ignorance than the current traditional belt ranked dojos or dojangs ever could, given what I’ve described of the training cadres produced a few generations ago. Unfortunately, the very solution rankles many martial users as it challenges tradition and how “it has always been done” people. Thus it is not being very well received. Which, in case you ever wondered why so many people in the West know only a shallow form of karate or martial arts in general, this is my explanation of the problem and of the possible solutions as well. This is an unpopular solution even though it is martial theory, transmitted through stories and lectures, that the internet will be able to compensate for while traditional dojos can still emphasize physical skill.
To be able to use the art in martial arts, one must generate a reality based purely upon one’s desires, imagination, and will. To carve upon the metaphysical universe one’s own vision of the world, and make it real. It’s not about speed, size, strength, or even techniques. Currently in the progression of incompetent, beginner, proficient, and mastery levels, I would estimate that 90% of people in the US are at incompetent to beginner levels, 5-8% are at proficient levels, and 1-2% are at mastery levels. You will often hear on the internet that it’s not realistic for a student in H2H to take on 5-15 people and survive or win. That shows you just how limited the training methods and people’s imagination are these days. A proficient user has better than 50/50 odds of defeating, in a life and death struggle, 1-3 people. A master class user has a good chance of doing so against 10-30 people at once. Irregardless of what weapons are used by the gang of 30. Yes, that means a master level user is one order of magnitude more powerful than someone who is merely proficient, yet most people couldn’t defeat one person in a life and death match. They even lose in anti social bar fights of all things. Things didn’t have to be this way. But they are, mostly because those that had questions didn’t know the answers, and those that had answers didn’t want to answer the questions. The new students, frustrated at the lack of direction, decided to use their own (incorrect) interpretation, whereas the masters with real knowledge wanted the students to figure things out for themselves because that was the only way to achieve mastery.
Chinese family lineages have preserved much of the quality training methods and martial theory generated by the Ancients, especially in the internal arts. This combined with the internet to spread the word, will greatly aid the international standard for H2H skills. But only if people are willing to do the work of actually learning it. In the meantime, we’re stuck with not only a student body of incompetent ignorant individuals, but also an instructor body that thinks they know what’s going on, when they are barely at proficiency to begin with. This then results in another 10-100k students every year being taught the “traditional” yet intensely flawed way. Those taught in the historical way based upon martial theory, might number from 1 to 100 every year. Those numbers will surely work out in a few more generations… or not.
One thing I know. I will never accept government or “organizational” authority to police “martial standards”. That’s a pretty much dead end. Especially if you lived during Mao’s reign of terror. My recommendations for a proper fix to this issue would be.
1. Teach lethal force first, otherwise stop kidding around with people and their money/time. Then teach non lethal self defense methods.
2. Use Chinese training methods which require touch sensitivity to move a student’s body instead.
3. Start working on a skill and technique called “youtube observation” that allows one to pick out the good theory from the bad, and the good applications from the bad.
For what I consider good examples, these links have them.
I was never interested in styles or whose style had superiority over others. Training methodology and only training methodology determines the quality and skill of students for the future.