|Posted by englishshenyi on January 13, 2011 at 6:40 PM|
written by Johan Duquet
The very first POUND THE MORTAR blog entry is quite a long one but bear with me because there's a little story at the end (do not skip forward or you'll ruin it!!!)
Putting up “Intelligent training in Chinese Martial Arts” in big letters is likely to come across as a bit pretentious and I can understand if images of overintellectualised freaks who would rather discuss the ins and outs of profound daoist theories behind a simple punch than actually breaking a sweat come to mind.
To understand how “Intelligent” characterises the way I want to train and teach we should look at Clearness, Honesty, Respect, Positivity, Health and Efficiency.
A good thing about being honest is that it is the first step to correct otherwise ignored errors such as postural imbalances or sloppy technique and did I mention inflated egos already?
Try to be honest and ask yourself what Chinese Martial Arts exactly is?
Is it just hardcore fighting and self defense, or is it a sport, maybe an art, or a way to get fit and healthy, could it be described as aplayground for adult people, perhaps a cultural roleplay where you get to toy around with weapons, a form of meditation to find mental balance and express yourself, or is it postural treatment, or... . Perhaps it is this multifaceted nature what makes CMA practice so interesting.
Taking this into account students can be divided into kungfu aficionados, kungfu practitioners and kungfu people (for lack of a better word) with the first being by far the biggest group, the second a smaller one and the last a very tiny fraction. So maybe I should not try to turn the ones who attend class to get some excercise and meet people to have a beer with after class into lean and mean killing machines. And why should I bother someone whose main interest is selfdefense and sparring with poetical chinese names of the moves he uses?
Just be honest about the category you fall into and cultivate the aspect of CMA you are interested in. This lets you evaluate if your practice is giving you what you are looking for and discover that over time your interests can shift and you should adapt your training approach. After all CMA are all about changing and evolving, arent they?
It might be fun to think of yourself as an invincible warrior after reading the classics and doing some cooperative pushhands and go tell everyone you practice the “Real Martial Taiji” but reality bites when you put on sparring gloves and get kicked and punched in the nose. Finding out after years of dedicated practice that you will never shoot lightsabers out of your fingers is not exactly fun either.
Plenty of egos get bruised (pun intended) when not being able to hold their own against a decently trained younger or, god forbid, female sparring partner because they believed their 12 theoretical variations of wrist locks were a fail proof selfdefense system.
If your motivation is selfdefense you'd better have an honest view on your skills and about the effort and work you will need to put in. Honest and respectful sparring (even if it still isn't the same as a real selfdefense situation) is a very good antidote against inflated egos and unrealistic views of martial prowess. Testing theories in a controlled setting by honest trial and error instead of accepting “I would have/could have killed, broken, picked his eyeball out,...etc.“ weeds out the bullshit and develops skills.
Being realistic about what you can and cannot do prevents shattered illusions and broken noses. It increases your chances of surviving a dangerous situation even if it is by running away because you kow that in class you did get stabbed with a plastic knife. Honesty on the effectiveness of your martial art, its techniques and strategies might some day prevent you from getting yourself killed.
But let's face it, in our modern society how many times will you really have to fight for your life? It is perfectly fine to accept that you will never be a warrior and are not really into learning 52 ways to kill a fellow human being. If you like getting together with your friends to talk about martial arts, do some forms and wield blunt medieval battle weapons because it makes you feel good, then by all means go ahead and enjoy it. Just be honest about your motivations and skills.
When I started out in CMA I read about practitioners of mysterious arts with intriging names such as Taijiquan and Baguazhang, who fought Russian wrestlers and I wondered what kind of mystical features these superhumans must have posessed. Mysterious theories of energy pathways and other internal concepts seemed appealing even if I didn't quite understand half of it.
Though over time I found that clearness of movement, terminology and methodology makes learning a whole lot easier. To free yourself of bullshit, mysticism and fairy tales to start expressing what you do in understandable terminology makes learning for selfdefense and/or for health reasons more efficient as it will spare time invested in learning useless and confusing stuff.
Does a punch really have extra “ooomph” if called “green dragon emerges from the sea” in Chinese? Will it be easier to enter for a throw using “cha bu” instead of “crossing step”? To learn to do an armbar should I understand the “Dao De Jing” or the physics of levers applied to the tecnique? I agree that when a technique is called “Monkey steals peach” there is something irresistible about mimicking certain facial expressions while having your hands under your armpits. But speaking of physics, levers, momentum and angles in a language students understand usually is the best way to get practical results.
Clearness of intention will help you train the mental aspects of selfdefense and will reflect in better concentration and mental focus.
Clearness of ideas lets you compare and look past the initial differences you might see between different styles and makes it easier to crosstrain and see how different CMA arts basically are the same, which again makes it easier to grow and improve.
Respect & Positivity
10+ years ago I entered a Boxing Gym and was looked up and down, then laughed at for being “too skinny to box”. Needless to say this negative and downright disrespectful attitude motivated me to show them wrong but I decided to spent my money to sign up at a kungfu school with a more positive atmosphere.
Seeing later how some of my CMA teachers are capable of seeing potential in about anyone who wants to learn, taught me to be unbiased towards potential students and sometimes the most clumsy ones have turned out to be the most dedicated and best students.
Respect and positivity also means to focus on your own practice in order to find your own good and weak points so you can work on them with likeminded positive people who give positive yet honest feedback. After all, what good will it do to criticise other people's practices? If you look well enough you will find something valuable anyway.
Being Positive and Respectful will safe time and energy spent on arguments, badmouthing and apologising afterwards. A positive atmosphere invites you to put in that little extra in training
Last december I went to London to attend a seminar of Chen Taiji and another one of Gao Bagua. I had a lot of fun not only because the quality of the seminars but especially because of finding myself in the company of a “TaijiSister” and “Taiji Brother” with whom I have trained in China, two more friends who live in Paris and some new friends. It might sound corny but it really is beautiful to see how CMA brings different people from all over the world together.
Respect and positivity simply makes everything more fun and has allowed me to make plenty of friends in (and outside) the martial arts world and as a pleasant byproduct I think it's safe to say I'll be welcomed with open arms in Spain, France, Belgium, England, Italy, France, Germany, China, Taiwan, Brazil, United States, Israel,.... and that already has made it worth dedicating myself to martial arts in a respectful and positive manner. Making friends is definately a good selfdefense and I woulds guess making friends probably lowers your stress levels making you healthier.
“Do you kick trees?” I get asked often and most people are quite disappointed to hear I don't. When I then go on about how microfractures in the long run result in broken bones and about kicking heavy bags and pads instead they lose interest. When I return to talking about kicking banana trees which are softer than shin bones their eyes light up. “So you do kick trees!”
Another often heard comment on form practice is “why don't you do any real kicks?” hinting at the straight leg kicks instead of snappy roundhouse kicks. Doing lots of snappy kicks in the air over time hurts your knees while straight leg kicks lets work the needed flexibility and strenght forthe “real kicks” without damaging your joints.
CMA practice has alot of exercises that at first seem useless for a fighter but turn out to be great conditioning while protecting you from damaging yourself. I wholeheartedly hope to be able to keep practicing these “useless” exercises when 80 or 90 years old and without knee replacement surgery. In the end the most important and longest battle in life is the one you fight to keep yourself safe from sickness and injuries.
Efficiency is what the combination of all of the above comes down to.
There is this general assumption that in order to get good at martial arts you need to train 15 hours a day for a minimum of 10 years on end.
Well, it is true that in China some schools have over 8 hours of training per day but usually you will only find children and teenagers with neverending energy practicing there. For most adult people this training is counterproductive at best and dangerous at worst.
If rearranging classes and trainingmethods lets you achieve in 2 or 3 hours the same then that will shorten your learning curve freeing up time for other interesting things in life.
DOING STATIC STRETCHES IS NOT A WARMUP.There, I said it. I'll say it again Static strecthes are not a warmup and can be counterproductive and cause you to get hurt.
DOING 40 MINUTES OF STRENGTH AND ENDURANCE TRAINING IS NOT A WARMUP. Grueling “warm ups” are part of a tough man image of martial arts. Exhausting yourself at the beginning of a class interferes with absorbing new material and “dirties” your already learned technique. However, I don't have any problem with exhausting yourself and suffering in seperate sessions or at the end of a class.
It is perfectly posible to train safely and productively every day if you follow some simple rules.
A good workout organisation should respect the following order: Technique, Strenght and Endurance. Not doing so will be counterproductive and thus will make you train more hours for less return. Doing a training with a little bit of everything without good structure usually just equals wasted time.
As a general rule after a technical workout your body needs 12 hours of rest, after a strength workout 24hours and after an endurance workout 48 hours. Going back to the same kind of training before having recuperated will tire you and lower the efficiency of your training. Working on endurance everyday will lead to overtraining (a serious and not to be underestimated medical problem) and will slow you down and hurt your health eventually. Listening to your own body and taking a rest is as important as other parts of training.
Sparring is great fun and if you want to test more realistically what you practice, a must, but how much intensity is really needed? According to every intensity level appropriate protective gear should be used to assure your safety. If you get beat up in class, crack your ribs and have to limp for two weeks how will that help to defend yourself on “the streets”? And how will you progress if you cannot train due to injuries. Use of protective gear simply equals more efficient and intelligent training.
By now it should be obvious that the need of 10 years of training depends a lot on training methodology.If after 2 or 3 years of practice of any martial art and I really mean any martial arts (yes that includes the so called internal ones too) you still haven't developped any usable skills than either you are not listening to your teacher or your teacher doesn't organise his training in an efficient manner or he doesn't want you to learn.
So now the little true story I wanted to end with will make sense
At the school of a well respected Master in China one day the master-who didn't expect me to understand any chinese- got angry at my instructor and told him to slow me down. Learning too fast would mean I'd leave earlier and he would miss out on my money.
As I had befriended my instructor -through positive and respectful behaviour and teaching him English during breaks- I talked to him about it and at first he was reluctant to speak about the matter but later told me usually new students had to practice wrongly taught moves for a year before actually learning the right way of doing them. (a whole wasted year + minimum another one to unlearn wrong moves) He was not even allowed to practice the correct way if new students were around. Some people had been there for several years and not gotten beyond very basic skills. Some even had clearly developed bad posture through incorrect practice.
Everything I talked about before (Honesty, clearness, positivity, respect and efficiency) were missing from this type of training and so I quit.
After I quit, my instructor felt so bad about the whole thing that he secretly visited me during his breaks to teach me in an honest and clear manner, albeit with locked doors because his Master would kick him out of the school if he would find out. It felt very much like kindergarden politics and I can only hope that these people will some day realise this and look for more respectful, positive, clear, honest, healthy and efficient training because that would be the intelligent thing to do.