More than a hundred years ago, Chinese Martial Arts (CMA) was a lot different than the vast majority that we see today. While it was becoming evidently clear that it was going to be less useful on the battlefield at the turn of the 20th century, it was still mostly practiced in a manner useful to its original pursuit, fighting. As things changed circa 1900, with the failure of the Boxer Uprising, and take over by the 8 Allied Nations, CMA teachers and practitioners began looking for another way to utilize CMA for other purposes such as calisthenics and health practices, a physical expression of Chinese philosophy and culture, and performance. Much of this has been already addressed by many authors far more skilled in the historical significance of these events, many of whom I have reblogged to provide those resources to my growing readership. While all of those aspects have always been there to some degree, the emphasis has usually been combat in some fashion with the rest of the benefits of training. Now we are in a different time, with the rise of combat sports, training has changed in many ways.
While many cling to the old ways whether for better or worse, we cannot deny the effectiveness of modern training. Forms training which is so common in CMA, was largely used as a platform for remembering techniques and training certain attributes needed for partner practice (balance, coordination, conditioning, movement training, etc.) was probably roughly 25%-50% of any particular system, while the actual fighting aspects made up the bulk of the actual training. In comparison, modern training usually focuses on technique training which could mean drilling the techniques over and over again while stationery or in lines, or shadowboxing whether they are specific combinations (like set forms) or shadowboxing free-form. Much of this is similar to forms practice in CMA but slightly different in the fact that much of CMA forms are meant to develop a specific body method that can be transferred across the different platforms of striking, kicking, grappling, and wrestling.
With traditional and modern training, we need to look at what contrasts they present however, and how this is stagnating and regressing CMA today. There is a strong distaste in the traditional CMA community for modern training, I have addressed this slightly in another post here. Many practitioners do not want to drill using pads, gloves, and other protective equipment that allows for not just safer training but continued “realistic” training. While I know some of you are reading this thinking that how “realistic” can training be if you are all padded up, but it allows for the necessary pressure to be applied and more so than if you went without. Of course, a lot of people say that they train for the streets, but the fact of the matter is that more often than not, it’s combat sport fighters who are better at handling self-defense situations than those who do not train for a more sportive combat (of course anybody, no matter how good they are, can lose a fight at any time).
Recently, there was a video (seen above) that came up in my Facebook feed from Sinovision, a Chinese Media Group, that showed a Taiji “master” man-handling a “Free Combat Champion” (probably meaning a Sanda Champion) utilizing traditional taijiquan techniques, it was originally filmed in 2013 prior to the MMA vs. Taiji debacle back in May 2017 with Xu Xiaodong vs. Wei Lei (seen below), but the video above was posted with the following description: “Free-Combat Champion Jin Long challenges Tai-Chi Master Xu Shao hua.” Therefore, instead of showing this video as an “applications” video (whether it is a good video on applications is not part of the discussion, but it isn’t a good video on that either) they are billing it as a challenge match that looks like it came from a movie rather than video showing an actual fight.
The fact of the matter is that this egregious distaste for modern training methods is not only leaving CMA in the dust, it’s most likely killing it and the posting of the Sinovision video for propaganda purposes is showing that they don’t care what happens to traditional CMA because if they did stuff like this would no longer be promoted and Xu Xiaodong would be a National Hero for rooting out the fraudulent personas within the CMA community in China that are essentially destroying Chinese culture rather than promoting it. Essentially, nothing was learned, and it’s business as usual.
If you want to see the beauty of Chinese martial arts, of what good gongfu is really about, put in the work to do so. Real training isn’t easy, there’s lots of conditioning and strengthening, injuries can and will happen, but adopting some modern equipment will allow for reduced injuries and harder training. Real training is often bitter, and boring, and you’ll train some days and feel terrible as if nothing you are doing is correct. Sometimes you just question why you decided this path, but it is the moment that you realize that you are training and you know that you’ll be doing this in some capacity for the rest of your life that allows that path to continue on.