General Questions on the Practice of Internal Kung fu
Secret Knowledge - forms
Q: Is there "secret knowledge" in Wu style T'ai Chi Ch'uan or Jiang Rong Qiao's Nei Jia kung fu?
There are "indoor" forms. For example, Jiang's T'ai Chi is an indoor form. The Wu style Chi Kung (Qi Gong) and Power forms offered on the chiflow store site are traditionally indoor forms. Yang style T'ai Chi Ch'uan has inner door forms, and some survive to this day. Unfortunately, the longer some styles have been around, the more chances there are for them to suffer from failure in transmission from generation to generation. The Yang fast set is an example of such a loss. The indoor forms are offered here in part to archive them and disperse them so that they will not be lost.
It is less clear that everything private is secret. In the modern world, forms do not stay secret for many generations: Eventually the indoor forms become public or are lost. Cheng Man Ching said, "There are no secrets." This is as true for the substance of Wu style T'ai Chi Ch'uan as it is for Yang style or any other style. The larger problem is not that there are secrets in Nei Jia Kung Fu styles but that they are simply hard to learn. There are no shortcuts. Inner Door forms are vehicles for developing more precision in practice, avoiding long term traps in learning the art, and providing a different "take" on various concepts.
Training, Sparring and Fighting
Q: What is your approach/philosophy to full-contact sparring in the internal arts? How do you ease your students into the combative phases of their training so that they experience the energy & aggrssion of a "real" confrontation?
A: My personal take on full contact sparring in the martial arts is to go with what I was taught then adapt to each and every situation. First of all, I always learned self-defense concepts from the start with Ma Yueh Liang, Cheng Jie Feng, and even Zou Shuxian. Most of the rest didn't teach any application, because they simply didn't know it. With the high-level teachers, I always learned the most direct and efficient way to defuse a situation.
With Ma Yueh Liang, his push hands skill was so elevated, you could tackle him or throw punches and he would constantly send you flying all over the place. You couldn't feel his force until you were completely off balance. With Cheng Jie Feng he desired to attain Ma's skill, but also liked throws and grappling. With Zou Shuxian, being a woman, her take was strictly on poking someone in the eyes, throwing elbows or knees, escape, or shin kicks and stomps. (Webmaster's comment: I have seen Zou Shuxian correct a Ba Gua Zhang form and demonstrate that the correct footwork included options for executing leg breaks and a variety of other applications.)
Fighting is broken down into two main branches: sport and real. Sport fighting follows rules or wears pads and engages on matted floors -- all for the sake of being "real..." But reality has none of those things. Real fighting, instead, is broken down into militaristic and self-defense. Militaristic is employed by soldiers or the like whose job it is to kill. Plain and simple, they need the most direct means to erase their opponent. Self-defense is used by the "average" person or civilian for the purpose of protecting themself. If the defender leaves marks on their attackers, and there are any witnesses that do not support the defender, it can be a legal problem with huge potential consequences. The defender risks an appearance before a judge: the legal system follows rules (in an attempt to judge the unruly) and the defender will likely go to jail or worse - no matter how the altercation started. This is all because the defender lacked the control and the knowledge to use less force to neutralize the situation or -- better -- avoid it entirely from the beginning.
Concerning my approach to fighting -- I spend most of time first of all on the push hands model. In my opinion, you can fight and fight and fight, but if you don't know how to build stamina, use your breath and wherewithal to your advantage, and at the same time expend less energy and force to deal with said aggression then I really believe you're not only spinning your wheels, you're also not using the internal in the internal arts to serve you. Secondly, I focus on the stand-up phase of grappling coming from the push hands model to a sort of "what's next if?" approach. Then I follow through on groundwork, very gently, because I abhor mats and dopey floors of any sort. Once you learn how to fall, if mats are used more than that, they become a crutch and we see so called, "Ultimate" real fighting that's not very real at all. Not when someone's beating you with a baseball bat or kicking the snot out of you with steel toed shoes. Third, I focus on strategies such as those applied in Xingyi where you would use any of the various Five Phases as a strategy in a brawl. However, for me, I'd like to know more of what Ma did as time goes on, and how he was able to incorporate such efficiency into every aspect of what he did -- whether attacking or defending.
As for when do I teach or introduce fighting concepts, I believe it's important to do it as I was taught by those who admire most. The sooner the better. So if I showed standing in the beginning, I would show rooting and neutralizing oncoming force with rooting from the beginning. If I was showing footwork, I would show the usefulness of shin kicks and sweeps. If I was showing hands, I would show a strike, a block, a way of neutralizing, or a way of using the hand to capture the center line from the onset.