Martial Development

Martial arts for personal development

If It Doesn’t Look Fake, Then It Isn’t Real Taiji

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The position of refinement of consciousness in the theory and practice of martial arts is utterly critical. It pervades the fundamentals of training in martial arts as well as the most advanced contents of their highest level. This is the technical and theoretical core and quintessence of martial arts.

To abandon this is tantamount to throwing away the living soul and fundamental work of the techniques and theories of martial arts, leaving only low level “external exercises” with their peculiarities of outward form…

Consciousness as we use it here does not mean consciousness in the ordinary sense, abstract logical thought, or abstract ideation; neither is it formal thinking in the ordinary sense…it is always a result of combined refinement of body and mind.

from Mind Over Matter: Higher Martial Arts by Shi Ming


Master Shi Ming, from Bill Moyers’ Healing and the Mind

Shi Ming’s demonstration, and similar performances by other Taiji masters always draw criticism from the incredulous.

The most common objection is at the appearance of cooperation between teacher and student: the disciples appear to be throwing themselves. In many cases, that is exactly what they are doing. This fact alone does not, however, prove that the master is a fake.

Cooperation is the most efficient way to accomplish any goal, and high-level martial arts are (among other things) a study of cooperation. It is not the polite reciprocity that you normally associate with the term; martial cooperation is involuntary.

Isn’t involuntary cooperation an oxymoron? In an imaginary world of completely rational actors, maybe; but in the real world, attackers are consistently incoherent. On the physical level, their bones, tendons and muscles frustrate each other; intellectually, they are dissonant and indecisive.

Involuntary cooperation exploits this confusion, by simultaneously granting the would-be attacker their immediate request, and denying them what they actually want. Without this force multiplier, truly effective Aikido or Taiji would be impossible.

Although the strategy of involuntary cooperation is often mediated by physical contact, it is controlled by the force of will (yi). If we have any hope of understanding no-touch throws and other demonstrations of “empty force”, we must first appreciate the difference between willpower and meat.

Categories: Aikido · Qigong · Tai Chi · Video

18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Patrick Parker // Dec 10, 2007

    Ok, you’ve lost me with this one. Maybe you could expand and explain and throw in an example or two, because your premise sounds interesting (I think).

    ;-)

  • 2 Rick Matz // Dec 10, 2007

    Tag, you’re it. I’ve selected you and your blog for the junvenile purpose of passing on a meme. You’ll have to check back to see what’s cooking in the kitchen to see what I’m talking about. There you’ll find your assignment if you choose to accept it. Good luck to you.

    Best Regards,

    Rick

  • 3 Thomas // Dec 11, 2007

    I know we’ve gone over this before, but it seems to come up a lot. If it’s not applicable outside this kind of controlled setting, outside the “teacher-student” relationship, isn’t it, for all intents and purposes, useless as a self-defense or fighting art? We’ve seen all too often the Dillman’s of the world try to demonstrate their abilities on skeptics and non-believers, and it seems that the result is always the same.

    Do you remember the video of the old Kiai-jutsu master who challenged the mixed martial artist to a fight? His techniques looked very similar to what is shown in this video, and yet when put up against a hard-style fighter, he ended up very hurt. What is the difference between that old man and this one?

  • 4 Chris // Dec 11, 2007

    Patrick,
    My next post on no-touch throws may clarify things a bit.

    Rick,
    Charles Ponzi would be proud–but I only know 4 interesting things about myself. If I ever make it to 7, I promise to participate.

    Thomas,
    I see the average martial artist taking a very narrow view of conflict and self-defense, one designed primarily to flatter themselves, and not to increase their wisdom or overall effectiveness.

    Let’s talk about the real world for a minute. Is it possible attain and hold any position of real power with chokes and joint locks? No, of course not, because these techniques only work in controlled settings.

    Can you govern a country with kicks and punches? What a joke. These are truly the martial arts of the common man, whereas the skills that Shi Ming wrote about are applicable at all places and times.

    You ask why so many of these empty force video demonstrations end in failure. I have an answer, but I planned to discuss it at length in a separate article. (You need only ask yourself, what are the optimal strategies for a real master and a phony one?)

  • 5 Thomas // Dec 11, 2007

    I must beg to differ. The few scraps that I’ve been in out in the real world (I don’t make a habit of it, so please don’t think me some sort of ruffian!) chokes and submission techniques are incredibly applicable and useful, especially when you don’t want to cause any real harm to your opponent. My law enforcement friends use grappling quite often, and it seems to work well for them “out in the real world.”

    Obviously, on the street and for self-defense purposes, martial disciplines will only take you so far. But I think the view you take is also very narrow. Weapons-based disciplines such as Eskrima, Krav Maga, and Amok all work perfectly well in self-defense situations, and are used almost everyday in their respect birthplaces. In fact, those skills are used to govern countries. They are not used to flatter the practitioners, but to save one’s life. They are based entirely upon their real-world effectiveness.

    Granted, none of these skills will result in attaining some higher level of wisdom, which I know is a wonderful benefit of studying Tai-Ji and internal martial arts. I had the benefit of studying Iaido under a very competent sensei for a short while, and I still look back on it as one of the most spiritually-fulfilling and meditative times in my life. However, as wonderful as these benefits are, I would not bet my life on such skills in a combat situation. I’m not sure about how you feel about self-defense as a whole, but I would much rather have a knife or sidearm with me than enlightenment.

  • 6 Chris // Dec 11, 2007

    Prisons, mental institutions, and even the mean urban streets are all controlled settings. Just like a ring match against a kiai master, they are navigated with the help of simplifying assumptions.

    When all you have is a punch, then every problem looks like a punching bag; this is the fighter’s vanity to which I referred earlier.

    But try using Krav Maga against Ehud Olmert, or Eskrima against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. You won’t get a seat at the table, you’ll get a fast bullet in the head! What a poignant illustration of the difference between real-world and fantasy-world combat, of sober practicality vs. the childish knight-errantry that permeates the martial arts scene.

  • 7 Thomas // Dec 11, 2007

    But with that logic, every situation can be assumed to be a “controlled setting,” you just have to play by different rules. What use would physical combat be against a politician? They aren’t attacking you, and therefore there’s no need for self-defense. On the other hand, both Israel and the Philippines have a history of militant coups, where martial force is used to secure power.

    Sober practicality? I doubt having tales of wisdom and an enlightened mind would get you very far at those table either; what you’d need is money and leverage. Wouldn’t you agree that those are the true driving forces of politics and the ruling of nations?

    It’s not some sort of fantasy that fuels study of self-defense, it’s an insurance policy. There is no doubt that violent conflicts are a rarity when compared to the number of people in the world with the potential to enter into them, but wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry? It’s pure economics: the risk of being in such a conflict is multiplied by the chances that one would actually find oneself in said conflict, and then one expends resources to match that risk with the cost of preventive measures, either in self-defense classes, avoiding high-risk areas, etc. I’m sure you’re familiar with this idea, so I won’t go into it too much. However, I don’t seem to be understanding just what your point is about real-world vs. fantasy-world combat. What are you defining as “combat,” and what do you think is the “real world?” I’m not so childish as to think I’ll really find myself in a troubling situation, but I do believe that it is better to be prepared and not need the skills than find myself in a life-threatening situation and not have them.

  • 8 Chris // Dec 12, 2007

    But with that logic, every situation can be assumed to be a “controlled setting,” you just have to play by different rules.

    Exactly.

    What use would physical combat be against a politician? They aren’t attacking you, and therefore there’s no need for self-defense. On the other hand, both Israel and the Philippines have a history of militant coups, where martial force is used to secure power.

    You keep defining attacks as those situations where gross physical techinques are most directly applicable, then asserting that nothing else will work there. A circular argument.

    This pernicious idea that self-mastery is an incidental benefit, and boxing technique the most practical benefit of martial arts training must be refuted. You can in fact use the same art against a politician, a mugger, or a stray dog–if you have trained properly (optimally).

    Sober practicality? I doubt having tales of wisdom and an enlightened mind would get you very far at those table either; what you’d need is money and leverage. Wouldn’t you agree that those are the true driving forces of politics and the ruling of nations?

    I am not reciting koans out of some dime-store kung fu comic book here! Knowing the center is leverage.

    It’s not some sort of fantasy that fuels study of self-defense, it’s an insurance policy. There is no doubt that violent conflicts are a rarity when compared to the number of people in the world with the potential to enter into them, but wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry? It’s pure economics: the risk of being in such a conflict is multiplied by the chances that one would actually find oneself in said conflict, and then one expends resources to match that risk with the cost of preventive measures, either in self-defense classes, avoiding high-risk areas, etc. I’m sure you’re familiar with this idea, so I won’t go into it too much. However, I don’t seem to be understanding just what your point is about real-world vs. fantasy-world combat. What are you defining as “combat,” and what do you think is the “real world?” I’m not so childish as to think I’ll really find myself in a troubling situation, but I do believe that it is better to be prepared and not need the skills than find myself in a life-threatening situation and not have them.

    Let me clarify my position. The fantasy is that a fight begins when the first punch is thrown. The reality is that every fight begins in the mind. This is the difference between snatching a pebble, and trying to hold back an avalanche.

    In the real world (everywhere all the time), you are usually not allowed to use your martial arts techniques in a literal fashion: doing so will get you shot, sued or at the very least ostracized. However, you can always apply the wisdom (strategy) gained from studying such technique. What then is the most practical skill?

  • 9 Thomas // Dec 12, 2007

    Thanks for clarifying your position, I know what you’re talking about now.

    I’m not denying that one’s mindset is the beginning and end of all conflicts; Sun Tzu even proclaimed that victory is won before a single strike is made.

    However, we are not all peace-minded monks living apart from the greater society, as idealistic as that would be. In the real world, people are not always reasonable, people are not always nice. And while we should always search for a non-violent end to an encounter, we aren’t always afforded that opportunity, nor are we always level-headed enough to see if that opportunity exists. We are, after all, human and therefore prone to error. I’m sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cases in this country alone where a person has tried to end a conflict peacefully and been rewarded with a bat to the head, a bullet to the brain, or a rope around the neck. Honestly, I doubt boxing skill would have fared them much better, but I believe then they would have had at least a fighting chance.

    But I digress, and I apologize for getting so far off topic. I was trying to understand what your beliefs on the matter were, and I think I’ve grasped a good deal of it. I must confess that I’m not quite as fair-minded as you, and have yet to accumulate as much wisdom.

    Going back to the subject at hand, for what purpose are the techniques of Shi Ming meant for? My biggest problem with it is that it seems to be, for all intents and purposes, fake. His students are simply going along with the wishes of the teacher, and there’s no mystic energy or magic involved. Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly believe qigong works, having witnessed it first-hand in the form of bending bars and spears, walking on eggs and paper, and other typical qigong demonstrations. But what practical purpose do these “no-touch” throws have? Get people to believe in your power and you can get them to throw themselves? The same message can be found in salesman’s manuals. And if he’s selling it as a martial skill that can be applied in combat, then it’s certainly no better than a scam, a con artist using tricks to win over the hearts and minds of his students.

  • 10 Buddy // Dec 13, 2007

    I met Andrew a couple of times. He told me it was all a set up.

  • 11 Chris // Dec 13, 2007

    However, we are not all peace-minded monks living apart from the greater society, as idealistic as that would be. In the real world, people are not always reasonable, people are not always nice. And while we should always search for a non-violent end to an encounter, we aren’t always afforded that opportunity, nor are we always level-headed enough to see if that opportunity exists. We are, after all, human and therefore prone to error. I’m sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cases in this country alone where a person has tried to end a conflict peacefully and been rewarded with a bat to the head, a bullet to the brain, or a rope around the neck. Honestly, I doubt boxing skill would have fared them much better, but I believe then they would have had at least a fighting chance.

    If you’ve already conceded that fights begin in the mind, then why are you now equating no-contact with non-violence?

    Sun Tzu was no peace-loving monk.

    Going back to the subject at hand, for what purpose are the techniques of Shi Ming meant for? My biggest problem with it is that it seems to be, for all intents and purposes, fake. His students are simply going along with the wishes of the teacher…

    See the post that started this conversation.

    …and there’s no mystic energy or magic involved. Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly believe qigong works, having witnessed it first-hand in the form of bending bars and spears, walking on eggs and paper, and other typical qigong demonstrations. But what practical purpose do these “no-touch” throws have? Get people to believe in your power and you can get them to throw themselves?

    I would shorten that to just “get people to throw themselves”, and if it can be accomplished then its practicality is obvious.

    The same message can be found in salesman’s manuals.

    Which proves it false, or true?

    And if he’s selling it as a martial skill that can be applied in combat, then it’s certainly no better than a scam, a con artist using tricks to win over the hearts and minds of his students.

    I do not want to promote or denigrate Shi Ming in particular, and I see now that his video was not the best way to introduce this broad topic. Time to move on to more concrete issues, I think, keeping in mind the following points:

    1. Every fight begins in the mind.
    2. A stitch in time saves nine!

  • 12 Human to God // Oct 15, 2008

    Mastering the self is the ultimate weapon.
    Because it allows one to adapt to the situation.
    I am sure if a true Qi-Dao or Taoist master(or similar) happened to live in the inner city
    that person would protect themselves much like everyone else. With a gun, burglar alarm, locked doors etc.

    My family are Christian fanatics who beleive prayer will solve anything. However prayer without the requisite action to support it is meaning less from an objective point of view.
    I challenge them by asking why do they purchase insurance, work jobs, pay bills, etc if prayter solves everything? and they usually reply with the general(one has to live). And I say, exactly.

    I have practced, qi-gong, taichi, and am starting on Qi Dao and Kuji-in. However I also practice my own mix of JKD, Kajukenbo, and after I study Shorinji Kempo I will travel to Stepehen Hayes school to learn some ninpo as well.

    I also have a valid gun license and carrying permit.
    I will never seek out a fight, and if possible I will attempt to either avoid it, or defuse it, but if need be I will use deadly force.

    Some says this goes against peaceful teachings. However who questions the destruction of the hurricane and the tsunami.

    They are natural and pure yet destructive at the same time.

    This is my goal.

  • 13 Brent Emery Pieczynski // Apr 15, 2009

    This tactical-level of any endeavor of a martial-nature, will require rapid removal of that other person’s ability to fight. Those specific martial-arts such as tai chi, will apply a perspective of how the world must be, those agreements and needed material do just cling to the structure, of a world-perspective.

    The strategic-perspective will involve groups inside of the government perceiving short-term gain, with their arming the worst possible people. This situation will become an arms race. That question of testing chi on non-living objects, to avoid issues of combat-oriented-applied-hypnosis is needed.

    A belief in something being true can arrange the perception of it being true. How is a person to test for Chi, with out having response to the idea of chi, generating the perception, of chi? This questioning about what does define a validly constructed test, will be a critical-item when researching chi.

  • 14 Chris // Apr 15, 2009

    Brent, how do we know that emotions are real, and that they affect our health? Is it because our emotions have been shown to effect inanimate objects in a “valid scientific test”?

    Do you want to apply a different standard to chi than you have accepted for emotion?

    The hypnosis “problem” is not necessarily a problem with respect to application–where IF it works is more important than HOW it works. Keeping that in mind, this kikou (qigong) video may address some of your concerns.

  • 15 Chris // Jan 7, 2010

    Alan Scheflin:

    Can you take control over somebody’s mind, to the point where they are essentially your robot, and they are not aware that they are so acting? The answer is yes.

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