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What You Need to Do the Next Time You Practice Fighting Applications

Hsing-i-applicationI was sent a YouTube link a few weeks ago showing a Bagua instructor doing fighting applications against a student. The student stepped and punched, and the instructor did all sorts of fancy, twisting movements -- sometimes two or three techniques that included takedowns and joint locks -- all while the student didn't fight back. Usually the student did one punch and basically stood there.

Now, I've done a lot of fighting applications on video. Usually, they're done to instruct, so you slow it down and show how it's done. I'm also a fan of practicing principles of movement.

But most of the fighting applications I practice, and the ones I put on video, are applications that work in a real situation. It's NOT a real situation for an attacker to stand with his arm outstretched in a punch position while you do two or three techniques. I don't care if you're practicing TKD, Shotokan, Aikido, Tai Chi, or Bagua.

My students and I over the years have rejected techniques because -- even though I was taught them (prior to my Chen tai chi training) -- it was clear they were based more on fantasy than reality.

I've been in real fights. Granted, I haven't been in a real fight since I was 18, but I was in enough of them growing up that I know what it's like to be up against someone who doesn't want to cooperate.

It isn't easy.

When the person you are sparring isn't cooperating, it isn't easy to do an armbar, it isn't easy to do a takedown, and it's pretty impossible to do a lot of the applications that are shown the way they are shown in some arts. Bagua is one of those arts, but Aikido is another. I've seen some real B.S. demonstrations where the instructor causes a grown man to fly backwards off his feet using just a couple of fingers. It is not going to happen in real life.

I have a couple of theories about the old-time internal fighters in China -- the ones who lived prior to 1950. You know, the guys who are all dead now.

One theory is that they really weren't that great at fighting -- it's just that they were better trained than most of the fighters they encountered.

Another theory is that they learned many arts and used what worked, then gave it a name that gained fame.

And another theory is that the great fighters used real techniques -- simple techniques -- and all the B.S. elaborate techniques that rely on an opponent standing still came later, after we all softened up.

Perhaps none of these theories is true -- or some of them are -- maybe all of them.

So the next time you're working on applications, tell your partner to stop cooperating and react the way he or she would react in a real self-defense situation.

See how effective the application is then. If it isn't effective, keep trying. Try to misdirect your partner with another technique and then go for the one you want. But don't let them cooperate.

That's when you'll see what your techniques are made of. And if they don't work, you should throw them out.


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Great piece and well said. Thanks for taking the time to cover this topic. I have had the same feelings and thoughts for a long time.

It is so true, many Taiji folks are simply kidding themselves thinking they are being taught useable Taiji, when they are only taught: standing, silk reeling exercises, forms, weapons, and some push hands (or wrestling that we commonly see these days). It simply isn't true. That is not real martial art training, where learning to actually use your art for martial purposes is also stressed.

Most Taiji folks couldn't use the art they study and work so hard at in any sort of real self defense situation, where someone is really trying to do them bodily harm. It is silly to think otherwise, but many folks have SPD (self perception disorder). ;^)

I have a friend that just took a seminar with a visiting fellow from China who teaches Tong Beiquan. He is a Taiji student and was so surprised to see that applications were shown right along with the "how to" of the technique.

His comment to me was, "that is how martial art should be taught!" He also commented on that the seminar cost was 1/3 of what a Taiji seminar would cost him ... and he felt he got more in the way of how to use Tong Beiquan in 5 hours than in the first five years of his Taiji study. Hmmm ...

Evan Yeung

Love the post, Ken!

I think people started mistaking 'practice' for a real fight as being what a real fight is like.

I suppose there's some argument for one steps being the 'first step' to introduce someone to proper distancing and body movement, but then why continue to use something that leads to so many bad habits?

One of the things I hate most is 'team kata', where all of the people on the team do the same kata in unison. It turns a fighting training tool into synchronized swimming...

Dr. Gurjot Singh

Ken I love your posts and hav posted on them. You are correct. Most people do not commit themselves enought to reach any significant level of mastery. Most dont have the time or openness of mind to do the alchemy and take the pain to learn what most wont teach because real knowledg my come from anywhere but it is refined and cultivated in solitude. As a retired Army Ranger all my martial skills were begun by Combative experts. I was told to refine thm later when I learned to master breath, form and function as an integrated system of my own design but kp an open mind... I have been lucky to do this and the cool physical stuff is nothing compared to the mental, physical and emotional health prowess that underscores all combative skill.

All things are relative but my book, "The Art of Western Tai Chi Ch'uan" discusses this path which could be called Illusive Pugilism and the 2nd edition due out in 2013 will be called Internal Pugilism.

I am confident enough to have experienced being able to knock a, uninitiated but combatively trained man, bigger than myself, off his feet with my fingers... lol... but the training that is behind that is daunting to most but not impossible to attain if the purpose of the training is benevolent, the mind set denotological.

The Singh Family Internal Pugilism (Boxing) System can help one reach the skills this article is discussing. Most importantly this family has developed the first Internal Boxing Wooden Dummy called:The Minotaur Rigpa….. you can see videos of this system which falls into the category of Western Tai Chi Ch’uan….
Go to or ://…

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