This I Believe is an international project engaging people in writing and sharing essays that describe their core values. More than 90,000 of these essays, written by people from all walks of life, are archived on their website.
Naturally, some essayists shared their beliefs on, and experience with martial arts. Here are a few of their stories.
Life Is A Spiritual Struggle
by Joseph Laycock (Brighton, Massachusetts)
Over the din of boxing gloves pounding against leather bags, I struggle to hear this Brazilian explain yet another way to choke someone unconscious. This is a martial arts gym. Most of the regulars are amateur fighters with dreams of going professional. When they’re not here, some of them work as firefighters or bouncers. I’m definitely the only schoolteacher in the room.
My students take interest in my training. Sometimes I’ll enter the classroom with bruises or a slight limp from the gym. In world history, I’ll discuss the cultural significance of the fighting styles I study. In Thai kickboxing, the eight striking weapons — fists, shins, elbows and knees — represent the eight-fold path of the Buddha. Brazilian jujitsu has more improvisation than Japanese martial arts, which reflects different cultural attitudes towards tradition.
Every class asks me the same questions, “Have you ever beat anyone up?” And, “Why are you a teacher instead of a professional fighter?” When I tell them the truth — that I have never been in a fight and have no aspirations to go professional — I get a range of reactions from disappointment to accusations of cowardice.
“So why do you do it,” they always ask.
I believe that life is a spiritual struggle. My battle is not against another fighter but against the unjust and apathetic system that is attacking my students… [continued]
Zeng Nailiang’s Xin style Taiji
Parry and Punch
The positive effects of Tai Chi Chuan training on balance and stability are well known. Clinical studies have shown that, with as little as a few weeks of Tai Chi practice, students are significantly less likely to fall down accidentally, inside or outside of class. From a martial arts perspective, they are also less vulnerable to trips, throws and takedowns.
Not every slow-motion exercise routine is worthy of the name Tai Chi, though. The subtle details of your performance will determine whether your practice is excellent balance training, or just marginally beneficial. Here are three adjustments to enhance your Tai Chi form practice for improved balance:
The easiest way to rob your opponent of their power is to break their connection with the ground. Thus uprooted, Newton’s Third Law compromises their ability to generate penetrating force, and reduces any continued aggression from a potentially deadly threat to a mere nuisance.
The complementary skill—the ability to keep your footing amidst incoming force—is known in Chinese martial arts as rooting.
Typical demonstrations of rooting skill consist of a wushu master in a static posture, with a pack of disciples pushing and pulling to no avail. These shows are impressive, but often fail to highlight the most important characteristic of the skill:
Last week, I attempted to describe one of my favorite lower body warm-up exercises. Online and offline feedback since then indicate that my description wasn’t as clear as I intended.
The particular choreography of this kicking exercise isn’t so important. I recommended it for its general characteristics. To explore those qualities, let’s contrast the exercise with a more common kicking drill:
Chen style Tai Chi Chuan practice
Attaining competency in Tai Chi Chuan requires hundreds of hours of correct form practice, and mastery requires thousands more. One impediment to sustained practice is a lack of interest: Tai Chi forms are too boring to perform daily.
Perseverance in the face of boredom builds character; however, feelings of boredom may be a sign that your learning has stalled. To keep your practice fresh, productive and fun, try performing these variations on your standard Tai Chi forms.
Successfully executed, the foot sweep transforms a dangerous hand-to-hand combat scenario into a more favorable boot-to-head scenario. Wing Chun sweeps can be performed in a few different ways, some easier than others. If you want your partner to fall for you, try this simple method.
The low kick is the most dangerous attack in unarmed martial arts. A single well-placed kick to the knee or ankle can render the opponent unable to stand, and consequently unable to escape or defend against further attacks.
Low kicks are so effective that even seasoned martial artists have difficulty defending against them. Faced with such a challenge, some simply choose to ignore the threat, and concentrate on more glamorous hand techniques instead.
Denial is usually not an effective method of self-defense. However, Wing Chun teaches us how to use denial to our advantage, and thereby protect ourselves. According to Wing Chun principles, we should deny an attacker the position, the balance and the time to succeed with a low kicking attack.
Stability is a critical component of martial application. Without stability, your ability to apply force, or withstand an opponent’s force, is severely compromised.
Stability is a function of strength and balance. And the easiest way to improve your balance is to adjust your posture.
I learned this postural adjustment tip from a Russian martial artist in Portland. I like it because it is simple, effective, and requires very little skill to implement. If you are a student of Chinese or Japanese martial arts, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard this tip before.
Victory in combat does not always belong to the strongest contender. As demonstrated repeatedly throughout history, the weaker fighter can prevail, if they attack efficiently and deny their opponent the opportunity to strike back.
What can you do to increase the efficiency of your attack and defense, and overcome the odds?