You better Belize it!
Martial Arts and The Police
by Dan Docherty (Combat July 1992)
Islington Police Station, would not be my first choice as a venue for a fun filled Friday evening, nor would its fine officers necessarily be my first choice as boon companions for the aforesaid fun filled Friday evening. I was there to identify one of my students whom they had arrested. The name hadn't rung a bell with me over the phone so I said that I would go to identify him. The alternative was that he would be charged, though it wasn't clear what with.
John had been practicing his Tai Chi sabre form with a metal sabre on an open green beside the block of flats where he lived. Acting on information, from frightened children according to what I was told, from an old lady according to what John was told, 4 squad cars screeched to a halt; the uniformed occupants jumped out , told John to drop the sabre, lie face down and place his hands behind his back. This he did.
John was handcuffed, searched, thrown into the back of one of the vehicles and driven to Islington Police Station, where he was questioned at length, kept in a cell, identified by me as being one of my students and released about six hours after the original arrest with much gay badinage about Bruce Lee, the ninja etc.
Having spent 9 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police Force and having taught a number of police officers, I believe that most police officers are thoroughly decent human beings. After more than twenty years practicing martial arts, I have the same opinion about martial artists.
Most police officers do not practice martial arts and have little or no knowledge of them apart from a few self defence routines learned at training school. Most martial artists are not police officers and have little contact with that world. As a result there is mutual ignorance. Many police officers and martial artists are young and can be overly keen either in enforcing the letter of the law or in practicing martial arts skills at an inappropriate time or place. Also the nature of police work is that you see people at their worst and this can lead to a jaundiced view of society. Through the actions of certain police officers and certain martial artists, there is therefore a degree of mutual suspicion and animosity.
This has historical roots in both Chinese and Japanese martial arts, where in the distant past and, certainly in the case of Chinese martial arts, also in the present governments have attempted to enforce draconian measures to prevent the use of martial arts as a focus for rebellion against state terror.
On the other hand, it is well known that certain martial arts clubs are little more than recruiting offices for criminal gangs such as the Chinese triads. Nor is this activity restricted to the Far East as is shown by the recent arrest in Sweden of a martial arts instructor and a number of his students for armed robbery.
We have only to look at other scandals nearer to home, such as the Kateda affair or the recent attack in London by one Chinese martial arts group against another which occupied the same sports centre, to see that it is not entirely surprising that the police and the media sometimes view us in a less than favourable light. As far as martial arts are concerned at least, the police and the general public do not like it when life starts to imitate art as depicted in kung fu movies. Even behaviour which would be acceptable in a park in Taiwan or Singapore could find you the object of a 999 call from a terrified member of the public.
One of the other problems we have to face as martial artists is the effect of the rise in crime, especially in crimes of violence, in the last decade. This has put pressure on politicians of all political parties to do something. They have made certain cosmetic changes in the law which have had little or no appreciable effect on the crime level, but which have had a profound effect on martial artists practicing certain weapon skills. The police have the unenviable task of trying to enforce yet more laws while the level of violent crime remains much as before. The only positive aspect of a rise in crime is that it does also tend to increase the number of people wishing to learn martial arts.
In the short term I don't see much prospect for improvement on either side, except that I don't think that John will get arrested again for practicing with his sabre in that part of Islington. In the long term, I'd like to see martial artists displaying more common sense and self control in their conduct both inside and outside of martial arts classes , and attempting to portray themselves in a more positive light. I'd like to see more police officers practicing martial arts and adopting a manner towards members of the public, whether martial artists or otherwise, more like that of Dixon of Dock Green than Robocop.
No Substitute For Skill?
by Dan Docherty (Combat October 1992)
A lot of modern martial artists would consider technical skill to be the most important quality. In America some tournaments have now done away entirely with objective assessment of skill such as awarding points for successful strikes or throws and instead require the judges to rate each competitor as belonging to one of five levels. For example someone rated as very advanced would receive an "AA" rating of between 9.00 and 10.00 points, while someone rated a beginner would receive a "C" rating of between 6.00 and 6.99 points.
I don't agree with this method of assessment. I have seen many fights both in and outside the competition arena where the less technically skilled fighter has won. This can be done by using superior tactics, or by having greater endurance, or by possessing greater power or spirit. I don't wish to discuss tactics much in this article. Instead let me repeat an old saying about Chinese martial arts:- "Learning chuan (i.e. any martial system) without learning Kung, even if you train until you are old it is useless."
In other words it is quite possible to learn all the forms and fighting techniques of a system and yet still be unable to defend yourself effectively. So what is Kung?
Most experienced martial artists would agree that office workers attending a 10 week self defence course are hardly capable thereby of taking on bodyguard duties yet many police officers are patrolling the streets and attending violent incidents with little more training than this. And people wonder why there are so many assaults on police.
But let's not take the easiest case scenario. There are many myths in the martial arts which people buy into when they join a martial arts club. For example in karate there is the concept of "one block, one punch" in response to an attack. Yet this is an ideal that most black belt exponents would be hard put to aspire to. I fully accept that a 10 stone bank clerk with a karate black belt from a reputable school could usually beat other 10 stone bank clerks who have no training. It is a big step from there to assume that our bank clerk could usually beat a much larger and rougher gentleman who also was without formal training.
When I first did Chinese full contact fighting, I was neither 10 stone nor a bank clerk, although I did have a karate black belt. I quickly learned that Kung or the acquisition of abilities through effort was of the utmost importance.
Technique takes time to refine and improve, but power, endurance and spirit can be built up in a much shorter period. This is evident from my own experience. In 1976 when I represented Hong Kong in the 4th South East Asian Chinese Full Contact Championships, in my first fight, I received two black eyes, a bleeding nose, a cut lip and severe bruising from the left hip down to the foot from Thai Boxing kicks and stamps. When I won the open weight divivion in 1980 at the 5th South East Asian Championships, I didn't have a mark on me. On the first occasion I relied more on my kung training, while on the second occasion although I did at least the same amount of kung training, the crucial difference was in increased skill and tactical knowledge.
In Tai Chi Chuan we train Nei Kung or internal strength. This is a set of 12 yin and 12 yang exercises. The yin exercises train the body to withstand blows help to develop focused power and refine technique; the yang exercises are more dynamic and are designed to increase muscular strength. Apart from this we have other types of training which help to condition the body and improve strength or stamina; we can call these kung also in that they are also methods of acquiring ability through effort.
So is it just a matter of going along to your local kung fu school to learn their kung method? Unfortunately life is a little bit more complicated than that. In Chinese martial arts there are two types of students and two corresponding methods of teaching. In open classes all students train together in most of the forms and techniques of the particular system. However, there are also closed door classes for those students who have gone through a formal ceremony to pay their respects to the memory of the system's founder, to their teacher and to more senior members of the school.
In Tai Chi Chuan Nei Kung is only taught to closed door students. When my teacher first started teaching Tai Chi Chuan in the Hong Kong of the 1940s, he was 19 years of age. At that time there were many famous old teachers resident in Hong Kong. He became successful not just because of his knowledge and ability, but also because unlike the old masters, he did not require students to wait six years before starting to show them Nei Kung. I have adopted the same policy in the belief that although advertising in Combat is essential (the cheque's in the post), the best advertisement for any teacher is his students; for them to be an effective advertisement it is necessary to give them kung training from an early stage.
Some time ago some of my students were doing full contact training with students from other Chinese styles. One young man who attended was hit by a hand technique to the body by a Choi Li Fat stylist. He went down and stayed down for a while. The young man took some time out to recover. He then resumed sparring with a Tiger Crane stylist. He was kicked to the body. He went down again. He took more time out. The young man had a lot of guts, what he didn't have was kung. I hope he has acquired some now.
Students of Choi Li Fat Sifu Edmund Ng from Newcastle attended the same training session. I have never met Sifu Ng, but I was impressed by the attitude and spirit of these young men. They were a credit to their teacher. They could hit and they didn't complain when they were hit. They had kung.
Rather than helping Chinese martial arts to prosper and survive, many teachers, sometimes with the best of motives are emasculating them in the same way that many teachers of Japanese and Korean martial arts have emasculated their systems. In traditional karate schools in Okinawa, training aids such as makiwara and chi'ishi are routine, yet there are many "traditional" karateka who have never seen either let alone used either.
I think it is important for martial artists to learn technique, but many become mere technicians, knowing and teaching many different concepts, able to talk intelligently about fighting, and showing techniques which are effective in seminars only. Many technicians affect to despise full contact fighting and make derogatory remarks while claiming that they train "street-fighting techniques". Yet they do not consider whether it would preferable to fight a highly skilled and fit opponent in open competition or a beer-bellied lout in a back alley. In either scenario my money would not be on the technician.
The fact is that kung training is tough, tiring and time consuming. It's a lot easier to teach forms and techniques and let the students think that they are doing real martial arts. A lot of martial arts teachers don't know kung training, some know it but don't want to teach it, either because it might cost them students or their students might be a danger to them.
So ask yourself why you are training in the martial arts. Are you a technician? Do you do enough kung training? Remember it is the best substitute there is for skill.
What's in a Name ?
by Dan Docherty (Combat November 1992)
Two years ago in a karaoke bar in Taipei, Nigel Sutton and Vincent Jones led the members of the British Tai Chi team in a chorus of "there's only one Dan Docherty". Although I appreciated the sentiments expressed, I had however, to inform them that I knew of at least three other Dan Docherty's; one of them being my father, that one of the others also practiced Tai Chi Chuan, while the third DD (whom I have never met) also advertises in Combat. This has resulted in the past in my father cashing my winning premium bond vouchers and in my being presented with bills and invoices about which I know nothing.
I was reminded of this recently when I went to Leicester to be assessed by a panel from the British Council of Chinese Martial Arts. The assessment was held at Derek Frearson's Wu Guan, which brought back nostalgic memories of gym's in Hong Kong.
After I had demonstrated some forms, pushing hands and applications, I was asked some questions by the panel. They seemed especially interested in what name I wished to use for my organisation were I to join the BCCMA. For the last several years I have used the name "Practical Tai Chi Chuan". I told them that I intended to call my organisation "Practical Tai Chi Chuan International ".
I explained that I had clubs in a number of countries and that I taught Tai Chi Chuan in a practical way so that people could use it for self defence as well as for improving their health. They then asked me if I would be using the name "Wudang" or "Wutang".
There are two major theories as to the origins of Tai Chi Chuan. One suggests that Tai Chi Chuan originated in Wudang Mountain with the Confucian-Taoist, Chang San-feng. One suggests that it originated in the Chen family village. Furthermore the Chinese internal martial arts are often collectively referred to as "Wudang".
For the last eighty or ninety years, it has been common practice to divide Tai Chi Chuan into styles named after the famous masters of the past: Yang, Wu, Sun Hao, Chen etc.
Chris Thomas, a teacher of Chen and Cheng Man-ching style Tai Chi in Macclesfield once remarked to me that only one person ever practiced Cheng Man-ching style Tai Chi and that was Cheng Man-ching.
Chris is absolutely right. If the gentle reader were say to visit a hundred schools of Yang Style Tai Chi, he would find a hundred variations of Yang style Tai Chi. The same applies to all the other Tai Chi "families". For example about ten years ago, The Wu family published a book entitled "Wu Family Tai Chi Chuan" in Hong Kong. The book featured Wu Jian-quan and his son, Wu Gung-yi., performing techniques from the hand form. The techniques bore the same name but were executed in a quite different way. The father exhibited deep stances and extended movement, while the son exhibited high stances and very little extension. So who is doing true Yang style ? Who is doing true Wu style ?
Most Tai Chi instructors accept the principles elucidated in the Tai Chi Chuan Classics, even if in some cases they are not quite sure what these are. It is then only a question whether they are capable of practicing these principles effectively or not.
The Tai Chi that I teach is Chen style, Yang style, Wang style, Wu style, Ching Yi style, Qi style, Cheng style and Docherty style because people with these different names and others before them have all played a part in its transmission.
The oral transmission that I received from my teacher was that Chang San-feng founded Tai Chi Chuan while living on Wudang Mountain. I also visited Wudang Mountain in 1984 and saw statues and portraits of Chang as well as an inscription in his honour from the Ming Emperor dedicating many of the buildings there in Chang's honour.
This is why I say that my Tai Chi Chuan is from Wudang . It is Wudang Tai Chi Chuan. However, I cannot claim sole rights to this name as many other people hold the same belief about the origins of their Tai Chi Chuan. It is as absurd for someone to lay sole claim to the name Shaolin, or karate or taekwondo as it is for anyone to claim sole use of the name Wudang.
Of course using a certain name does not automatically confer legitimacy. For example there is group which amongst other things practices "Tai Chi Ribbon " and Tai Chi Dance" and which claims to be the oldest style of Tai Chi Chuan with a history of more than 2000 years. Not only this, but they claim to be able to move people without touching them. The interesting question is not whether regular Tai Chi instructors who are members of the Tai Chi Union believe all this (without exception they do not), but whether or not members of this group themselves believe that they are practicing Tai Chi Chuan. I should add that this group once sat on the national governing body for Chinese Kung Fu.
Rampant nationalism can also lead to what at best can be termed misleading information. For example a few years before his death a famous sensei of the JKA gave an interview in which he was asked whether he had trained in styles other than Japanese karate. He denied doing so despite saying that he had trained for a considerable time in China.
It is quite evident that the karate taught today by leading instructors is quite different in nature to that brought to Japan by Gichin Funakoshi and that one of the primary influences has been from Japanese instructors who have trained in Chinese styles. It is greatly to his credit that Sensei Kanazawa of the SKI has been so open about his involvement with Tai Chi Chuan. As in many things he is the exception rather than the rule.
Going back to the claims of the Chen family village to be the source of Tai Chi Chuan. It was only a fairly recent by the famous Chen stylist, Gu Liu-sheng, which revealed that there had been a confusion between a famous official from Manchuria named Cheng Wang-ting and a lowly garrison soldier from the Chen village also named Chen Wang-ting. The only difference being the "ting " character.
This type of error is bad enough, but an article (not in Combat) on Tai Chi history some years ago went one better claiming that Chen Jia-kou was the founder of Tai Chi Chuan. Chen Jia kou is not the name of a person; it is the Chen family village.
So in future, if you don't like Dan Docherty's Tai Chi Column, don't assume that I'm the DD who wrote it. By the way Paul, about those two invoices......
True To Form
by Dan Docherty (Combat March 1994)
They did say that the goodness that results from hardness consists of righteousness, being straight, decisive, severe, firm, determined and resolute; to this I'd add honesty. On the flip side, the evils resulting from hardness include ruthlessness, intolerance, force, and violence; to this I'd add rudeness.
As for our old friend, softness, they said that the goodness that came from it consisted of compliance and docility; to that I would add amiability and civility. The evil resulting from it consists of lack of will, indeciseveness, and sycophancy; to this I'd add pandering, keeping quiet when good men require support and excessive politeness.
The great Taoist philospher, Chuang Tzu, had, if nothing else, a sense of humour. He remarked that when the Great Bird (Peng) migrates to the Southern Ocean, it flies above the water for three thousand miles. Then, travelling on a whirlwind, it ascends to ninety thousand miles for a flight lasting six months. Yet the cicada and the dove laugh at the Peng, saying that when they really try they can fly up to the trees, sometimes when not reaching their targets , they fall to the ground midway. So what is the use of climbing ninety thousand miles in order to start for the South ?
The point is to be true to your own nature. Yet this is something which parents, teachers and society do not always approve of. Maybe that's why there aren't too many Peng around these days. Although for the Peng it's nothing remarkable to travel such vast distances, the cicadas and doves are envious and rather than be content with being true to their own natures, they'd seek to prevent the Peng being true to his.
Not just this. There are cicadas and doves who like to think that they are really Peng and Peng who'd rather deny their birthright and try to be cicadas and doves. Oh yes, and there are many denizens of our particular little world who can't even rise to the level of cicadas and doves.
Recently I was in Amsterdam for a Tai Chi competition in which a number of my students were competing. I didn't see many Peng there, but there were some cicadas and doves and some smaller creatures too.
One of the Dutch instructors gave a long and detailed explanation of the correct use of posture and force with half a dozen tame cicadas and doves. Strangely, in the competition he lost all three of his contests by a wide margin.
When it gets to the stage that my students are being warned by the Dutch referee before they even start their contests, when a strong push (against one of his own students) is classified as a throw, when the same referee treats us all to a demonstration with his own students on how soft Tai Chi is, on how violence does not belong in Tai Chi Chuan; when it gets to this stage I want to start my migration to the South.
All this I have seen before, I have heard before. I don't mind questions; I don't mind criticism, but only if it is informed criticism based on extensive personal experience. I have rarely met with this type of criticism.
After seeing a series of demonstrations of mine in Hong Kong in 1993, a matronly Chinese lady, who was then the Honorary President of the Hong Kong Tai Chi Association, was heard to remark that this wasn't the right way; that in Tai Chi Chuan we always talk about redirecting the opponent's force.
Well of course she's right, partly right. The vast majority of Tai Chi techniques involve redirecting, but not just redirecting. Redirecting is the Yin; there should also be a Yang, this we call discharging and usually involves throwing or striking the opponent. All the techniques which I demonstrated that evening involved precisely this combination. The same lady remarked that more than any of the other demonstrators that evening I was able to use the waist to lead my actions, but couldn't work out the reason for this.
She didn't work out that the waist, no, the body movement was first in one direction then the other, one Yin, one Yang; that if you only train to redirect then you can only redirect. Just like my outraged Dutch friend who thought it was enough to teach his students the soft aspects of Tai Chi Chuan and when things didn't work out for his gentle students, branded my students as violent thugs.
Fortunately the judges in the forms competition gave the lie to this when they judged Godfrey Dornelly, one of my best students, winner of the forms competition against more than 40 competitors from many styles and various countries.
Not everyone is a Rennaissance man like Godfrey. Most Tai Chi people only practice the Yin aspects and many haven't even learned these properly. Some Tai Chi people only practice the Yang aspects and so only possess qualities resulting from this type of training.
For example when I was in Hong Kong in 1991 for their International Pushing Hands Championships, one of the Mainland Chinese coaches told me that his young charges only trained in competition pushing hands and conditioning such as weightlifting and that there was a separate association for forms training.
I try, not always successfully, to make every student something of a Renaissance man by making them train all aspects of Tai Chi Chuan. The Hong Kong Chinese couldn't beat the tough young professionals from the Mainland; my best people, my Renaissance men, could.
I suppose that when you've been around for a while, it's inevitable that you develop some kind of reputation, for better or for worse. It's natural for us to view the words and deeds of people whom we like in a positive light and the words and deeds of those whom we dislike in a negative light.
For example, recently when I was teaching in Dublin I got negative feedback from two different sources. The one source said that I'd closed a lot of martial arts schools. The other said that I was a violent psychopath. As Britain's greatest poet had it ,
"O Wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see ourselves as others see us!"
The reality is that the only other schools that I've visited are ones which have invited me to teach; I don't think any of these have subsequently closed as a result of my visits. As for being a psychopath, well there may be some truth in that, but I'm only violent when violence is required and in any case nobody's perfect.
So let's be soft when it's appropriate; let's be hard when it's appropriate. If we are cicadas and doves, let's behave like cicadas and doves and not criticise Peng for behaving like Peng. If we are Peng, let's not be afraid to migrate to the Southern Ocean when the time comes. Let's be true to our own nature.
The Long Game
by Dan Docherty (Combat June 1994)
They call soccer "the beautiful game". Of course there are many types of games, but in many respects martial arts is the most complex of them all. It is a game of violence, of pain and of beauty, but not in equal measure. A volatile game that can trick you, seduce you and even destroy you. It's an old game and it'll still be there after these ramblings of mine are forgotten. I call it the long game.
People usually come into the long game when they are young and fresh. We don't need to go into details as to why they first want to play, those reasons change over the years. In a world that lacks belief in politicians, in religion, in education and even in the future, the long game is something that can offer reality and truth or money and power - sometimes all of these things at the same time. Many players of the long game come to desire these things more than anything else.
By the time this is published, I'll be 40. Yes, truly; maybe Dorian Gray wasn't the only one to have his portrait painted. In the 23 years I've played the long game, my old karate teacher and my Tai Chi master have both retired. They played the long game as best they could and put into it more than they took out. I believe that they both could and should have achieved more than they did, but someone will say the same about me one day.
The people who've played it with me ? Some of my old Glasgow karate classmates of more than 20 years ago are still practicing - Terry Connal, who used to go for a Turkish bath with me every Saturday after training, is a 5th Dan now, but his jokes haven't improved. I kind of envy Terry because many of the people we used to train with are still his friends and have now become his students. I don't have many of those left, old friends I mean. Even my old Tai Chi training partner, Tong Chi-kin has got married and moved to Guatemala.
Sooner or later in the long game most people need to decide whether to become a teacher or to stop playing. I remember Ian Cameron telling me that he had decided to teach Tai Chi in Edinburgh so that he would have people to work with to bring on his own standard. After twenty years I think he's still teaching for the same reasons as when he started. Few can say the same.
I left Hong Kong and moved to London 10 years ago to teach Tai Chi partly for the same reason as Ian, partly because there was nothing I'd rather do than teach and practice Tai Chi Chuan and actually get paid for it.
I thought with my matchless technique and boyish charm that I'd be an overnight success. I was wrong - about the overnight success; it took almost two years before I started to make half decent profits. It takes time to build up a school, to produce good students, to establish branches in other cities and other countries, to put my main competitors out of the long game.
A number of the full time Tai Chi and Kung Fu gyms have had to close, the recent recession being the last straw. Like the dinosaurs with small brains and large lumbering frames they couldn't adapt and so became extinct. So it's not enough just to become a teacher to succeed in the long game. You need marketing skills, financial acumen, political skills. You need to become part mafia don, part entrepreneur.
This is what makes me an admirer of Danny Connor, a man who has changed with the times and has often been the vanguard in introducing new teachers and styles to Britain. Danny told me recently that I had a long and dusty trail ahead of me, but that for him it was the last round-up. Maybe it was his way of saying that at heart we're just a couple of cowboys.
Many times over the years, when things got bad I thought about getting a day job, but each time I kept on because I felt that I could only really become a Tai Chi master if I devoted myself full time to the long game. That's not an easy thing to do.
I remember a couple of years ago talking to Nigel Sutton of ZhongDing Tai Chi Chuan, asking him if he still saw himself as being a full time Tai Chi instructor in ten years time. He told me he hoped not and moved to Malaysia more than a year ago where I hear he's very happy practicing and researching martial arts.
Nigel, who is doing a PH.D., said that telling people that you taught martial arts for a living didn't have a very positive impact. In a way it's strange that this is so. "Respected professionals" such as lawyers and accountants are essentially parasites; doctors often aren't any better, with little tolerance for patients with martial arts injuries, prescribing drugs they know are little better than placebos.
But in teaching Tai Chi Chuan you can improve the health of students, enable them to defend themselves, to have self respect and engender in them an interest in Chinese martial arts and culture that can change their whole lives. And yet few Tai Chi instructors are in the same earnings league as lawyers and accountants.
To play the long game with success, you need an iron constitution, to be able to sleep anywhere and to eat anything and always to be ready; ready for trouble and ready to change. More than anything else survival is the key to success.
For a style to survive in the long game it requires commitment and sacrifice. We don't train just for our own sakes but so that we can develop sufficiently to pass on what the Chinese term "Zhen Chuan", true transmission.
The character "Zhen" has a special connotation and "Zhen Ren" is one who has transformed himself in the eyes of others through Taoistic practice. Only a Zhen Ren is capable of Zhen Chuan. Zhen Chuan is inside the door training and covers many matters not to be found in books and not explained in classes.
The Six Secret Words of Tai Chi Chuan are an example of Zhen Chuan. There are writings such as the so-called Five Word Secret of Li Yi-yu which is not a secret and does not consist of Five Words, but the Six Secret Words are six practical fighting concepts, almost useless to anyone who does not have a foundation in the art. My teacher taught me these many years ago. I don't know if he ever taught them to anyone else, but I've never heard anyone else talk of them.
Many people playing the long game harbour great ambitions. I know a fierce Chinese lady who remarked to me in Hong Kong recently that she wondered, after his death, who would sit in our teacher's chair, she said perhaps it would be me. That's what she said, but I don't think it's what she was thinking. I don't want my teacher's chair; I have my own.
I heard recently that a Chinese Tai Chi instructor in Reading was predicting my imminent demise, while another predicted that I would soon retire as I'd already made my fortune teaching Tai Chi Chuan.
Well, I'm worry to disappoint them, only the good die young and I won't retire till I've made my second million. In the meantime I'll continue to play the long game with you all.
by Dan Docherty (Combat August 1994)
They often say, unknowingly misquoting the Good Book, that money is the root of all evil. This is manifestly untrue and what the Good Book really says is that the love of money is the root of all evil, though I don't believe that this is strictly true either.
One week after penning this article I'll be in Taiwan coaching the British pushing hands team at the 2nd Chung Hwa Cup in Tao Yuan. There will be almost twenty British competitors.
No doubt some readers, having read thus far, are already cursing my misuse of funds to give me and the team an all expenses paid trip to the Far East. Would that this were so. The stark reality is rather different.
Groucho Marx once memorably remarked that he didn't want to join any club which would have him as a member and for a while I had the same feeling about martial arts associations. However, firstly through working with other instructors in the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain and then more recently with other instructors in the BCCMA, I've come to change my mind.
Over the last several years I've paid considerable sums of money into both organisations. The Tai Chi Union charges members £15 per year and provides a regular magazine and discounts on courses and events for members. The BCCMA charges £25 per annum registration fee for associations like mine and also provides instructor and member insurance and licensing.
Recently members of both these organisations supported the 6th British Open Tai Chi Championships and BCCMA Tai Chi Team Selection. The event was a great success and helped to raise some much needed funds - which paid for the team T-shirts. Who paid for the flights and other expenses ? The BCCMA donated £1000 while the Tai Chi Union gave £200.
How was the money distributed ? Those who did well in the Team Selection got an average of one hundred pounds each, the others got free T-shirts and a cheap flight to Taiwan at £500. A couple of competitors managed to obtain sponsorship, but the others had to pay on average £650 - £750 each for the privilege of representing their country.
The team members are students, others are unemployed. Being, like team leader Huang Ji-fu, independently wealthy, I took nothing and it will be costing me £750 as well as lost income for the privilege of being team coach, I understand Mr. Huang is in a similar position.
So why do we do it ? Altruism ? I don't think so.
Partly I suppose it's because we all enjoy going abroad meeting people and being entertained; partly it's because we can learn things - not so much techniques, but ideas and methods that we can experiment with on our return, but most of all it's the challenge of vicariously testing our stratagems and tactics as coaches through the skills of our students.
For the students, I suppose they do it for the adventure, for the experience in competing with and hopefully overcoming the best from other nations and finally for that possible brief moment of glory.
All this, all our dreams and hopes couldn't come to anything without money and organisation and there wouldn't be money or organisation without the BCCMA and TCUGB.
A few years ago, when, for the first time, I attended one of the BOMAT events, I heard someone remark about the ticket price and complain about how much money the organiser was likely to make.
I told the young gentleman in question what the reality of running a tournament was. Firstly, hire of premises; for a tournament lasting 10 hours and many take longer than this at say £20 per hour - which for a major tournament is a gross understatement, it would cost £200 for hall hire. For advertising and posters perhaps another £300. For trophies about £300. For postage stationery and equipment another £100. For St John Ambulance and other assistance in running the tournament another £100. For refreshments for tournament officials and guests another £100.
In other words our unscrupulous promoter has to part with well over £1000 to hold a medium sized tournament. If tickets and entry fees are priced at say £5 each, he'd have to have well over 200 entries/ spectators before he could be sure of breaking even, never mind making a profit.
I also told the aforesaid young gentleman that if, instead of organising, training students for, travelling to and from and officiating at tournaments, I spent the same amount of time teaching commercially I 'd make an even vaster fortune than the one I've already acquired.
The fact is that I want my students to be the best they can be. You can call that altruism or pride, ambition or benevolence, anyway it's how I feel.
I once heard another instructor say how he didn't think that professional instructors should be in positions of authority in martial arts as they were too commercial.
Sure we're commercial, but that just makes us more realistic and more efficient with our time, effort and money also it doesn't mean that we don't care. Yes, and I know that's a double negative.
Finally, I'd like to encourage more instructors to join organisations such as the BCCMA and TCUGB. If anyone wants more information on these organisations they can either contact them direct or through me, membership will only cost a little time - oh yeah, and some money.
Not My Style
by Dan Docherty (Combat February 1995)
Recently I've read in the martial arts press a couple of articles on styles of Tai Chi Chuan. I have been told by certain instructors that what certain people were doing was either not Tai Chi Chuan or was bad Tai Chi Chuan.
As readers of my musings are well aware, I rarely believe what I read or am told and only sometimes believe what I see. I have been lied to, misled and deceived by friend and foe alike over the course of many years; so often in fact, that it no longer surprises or even disappoints me. When something is widely believed or published, for many people it then becomes true.
That is sad enough. What is sadder is that believers in this "truth " then seek to impose their beliefs on others. The Great Helmsman, Mao Tse-tung, said, "No investigation, no right to speak." and "Seek truth from facts." I have encountered precious few people who follow the Great Helmsman's admirable advice, indeed the Great Helmsman himself was not always noted for following these precepts.
There exists now in both East and West a plethora of what purport to be different styles of Tai Chi Chuan. This raises two fundamental questions; what is a style ? and is the style being practiced Tai Chi Chuan ?
Firstly the Chinese use four main terms to denote a style of martial arts. The first and most obvious one is Chuan which literally means fist as in Tai Chi Chuan. But of course there is more than one type of Tai Chi Chuan.
The next term in common use is Jia or family, as in Sun Jia or Sun family. Those practicing such a system are not always family members, but invariably believe themselves to be learning the secret transmission of the family in question.
The third term is in common use is Shi which literally means work done after a model or pattern. So for example Wu Shi or in the model of Wu - but which Wu ?
Finally the term Pai is used to denote a school or sect - and is often used also in connection with schools of philosophy or religious sects.
To my mind a style can be said to exist where a leading exponent of a particular martial art possesses certain unique features which set apart the art he practices from others. For example people only began referring to Wu family/ style Tai Chi Chuan and Yang family/style Tai Chi Chuan when they noticed technical differences between Wu Jian-quan and Yang Cheng-fu who were contemporaries.
The question of whether a style is or is not Tai Chi Chuan is a thorny one. Two words:- Chee Soo. The old man died recently and possibly with him to his grave went the full story of the origin of his system called Feng Shou (Hand of the Wind), which he claimed to be Li style Tai Chi Chuan.
There is no doubt that Chee Soo had martial arts knowledge and ability. What is in doubt is the origin of his art and the extent to which, if at all, it is connected with the greater Tai Chi Chuan community. As I write, the jury is still out on this one.
For a style to be called Tai Chi Chuan it is not enough that it contains slow and relaxed movements. I could teach Karate or Wing Chun in this way with no difficulty and some people are actually doing this very thing. There must be a lineage; there must be a clear connection between what is being practiced and The Tai Chi Chuan Classics.
Having set out some of the background, I'd like to look at some of the styles of Tai Chi Chuan and their special characteristics.
The Yang style of Tai Chi Chuan is the best known and most widely practiced - or is it?
Pretty well everyone accepts that a gentleman named Yang Lu-chan came to Peking in the middle of the last century with an art called Tai Chi Chuan which he had learned in the Chen Jia Kou Village in Honan Province from Chen Chang-xing. What few people are aware of is that a number of Chinese martial arts historians are of the opinion that in the first three generations of Yang family Tai Chi Chuan exponents there are at least 4 different variations of so-called Yang style Tai Chi Chuan.
OK, so let's go back to the Chen Village. Different family, same problem; at least 4 variations of Chen style in 4 generations.
All right, forget the Village, let's look at some of the techniques. It has been claimed, and with some truth that certain Tai Chi Chuan techniques are to be found in the 32 techniques of the Chuan Jing (Classic of Boxing), which was written by General Qi Ji-guang (1528-1587) of the Ming dynasty, which in turn was supposed to represent a synthesis of 16 different schools of boxing.
Of the 32 techniques of the Chuan Jing, it is true that many bear the same or a similar name to an existing Tai Chi Chuan technique from one of the "recognised styles". For example the second technique of the Chuan Jing is Golden Cockerel stands on one leg, which bears a strong resemblance to the Tai Chi technique of the same name. Likewise, technique three, Pat the Horse is similar to Tai Chi's Pat the Horse High.
Other techniques of the Chuan Jing , however, neither in their names nor in the illustrations or descriptions shown bear a resemblance to any Tai Chi techniques I can think of.
If Tai Chi Chuan techniques did come from the Chuan Jing, then why do only some have a connection with the Chuan Jing while others do not and why are the techniques of Tai Chi Nei Kung, pushing hands and weapon forms not mentioned in the Chuan Jing at all ?
It is possible that someone selected a variety of techniques from a copy of the Chuan Jing and proceeded to build a martial art around them. Possible but unlikely.
It is entirely possible that Tai Chi Chuan or an art from which Tai Chi Chuan was derived was the actual source of those techniques in the Chuan Jing which bear a resemblance to Tai Chi Chuan techniques. This I believe to be the most likely explanation. However, I'd also point out that in the long history of Chinese martial arts and in particular Tai Chi Chuan, perhaps as much has been forgotten or lost as has been remembered.
Many techniques have through problems of incorrect transcription or different dialects lost their original names and either ended up with similar sounding or similarly written names - for example what in most Tai Chi styles is known as Fan Through the Back (Shan Tong Bei) is in Wu Yu-xiang's style known as Three Changes of the Back (San Tong Bei).
In other cases techniques have been entirely renamed or have come to have more than one name. For example Tai Chi's famous advanced pushing hands exercise, widely known as Da Lu, has two other names, both of which are much more expressive of the purpose of the exercise than the name "Da Lu", which merely means "big diversion to the side" - hardly poetic.
I concede therefore that it is entirely possible that there are techniques in Tai Chi Chuan which were either copied from the Chuan Jing, or altered to look more like similarly named techniques in the Chuan Jing or which copied names of techniques given in the Chuan Jing. So we have, because of the dearth of reliable written sources from the time of the Chuan Jing to the present - a period of more than 400 years, an insoluble chicken and egg question only there's more than one chicken and even more eggs.
I shall further pursue this theme by looking at the individual Tai Chi families and their variations in some depth in a later article.
My Learned Friends
by Dan Docherty (Combat April 1995)
Each of is is supposed to be unique, but each of us also has certain experiences and characteristics in common with other sentient beings. For example I once lived in the same road as Cardinal Winning of Scotland and some thirteen years ago enjoyed a gin and tonic with him in the red light area of Hong Kong - don't ask, it's a long story.
You may not realize it, but at least three of the columnists in "The World's Greatest Martial Arts Magazine" are ex-police officers. Michael Tse of Qi Gong fame served in the Royal Hong Kong Police Force as I did, while Michael Finn, who for many years has written for Combat about his experiences in Japanese martial arts, served in the Police Force in London.
However, although I share with my esteemed colleagues considerable experience in both martial arts and police work I consider that in other respects I am unique. Firstly, I graduated LL. B from Glasgow University in 1974 and secondly my last job in the police force was as a police prosecutor in North Kowloon Magistracy.
This unique background has given me a rather different insight than the usual (or should that be the normal ?) to some questions relating to self defence and the use of force.
For several years now I've been teaching security guard trainees and hospital personnel in self defence, although these sessions are now being re-titled "Management of Aggression". One of the first things I like to do is to question the trainees as to when they belief they are entitled to use force and as to how much force they are entitled to use. Their ignorance on these matters is similar to that exhibited by most martial artists.
This ignorance is entirely understandable given the absurd posturing of a number of candidates for the male menopause who seem to favour dressing in combat gear and writing articles in which the only answer given to any self defence scenario is the maiming or worse of the adversary.
For example when attacked by a friend or relative at a party the same level of violence that one might use on an armed mugger would not normally be justified. Indeed this was one of the reasons that I gave up karate for Tai Chi Chuan. In Tai Chi Chuan it is much easier to control the amount of force used, and there is the choice of striking and inflicting pain or simply controlling and restraining the opponent.
There are two conflicting questions in all this; not only should we be considering what is legal, but also what is moral.
Some of my learned friends have written that in law you are entitled to use reasonable force to defend yourself and these denizens of what are laughingly referred to as the courts of justice are undoubtedly correct in their exposition of what is written in the weighty tomes which litter their desks. However, the reality is somewhat different.
Let us for example consider the old scenario of the pub fight. Someone accuses you of looking at his girl or even worse spilling his pint. He attacks you. A fight starts. You give him a bleeding nose. You wait for the constabulary to arrive and after listening to your explanation that you were using reasonable force to defend yourself, they charge you with assault occasioning actual bodily harm or, if the fight is still going on when they arrive, they charge everyone with fighting in a public place. It is then a matter for the court to decide whose version of the truth sounds more plausible after being picked at by my learned friends.
Whether as a police witness or as a prosecutor, I found that most prosecutors and most defence counsel were neither particularly good nor particularly bad as they played their essentially parasitical games. It is very easy to make even the most minor details seem incriminating. For example I once secured a conviction for indecent assault largely on the basis that on the fatal morning the defendant testified that he had made his own breakfast while his ever-loving wife said that she had prepared it. On the other hand, despite my best efforts at sabotaging the police case, other individuals of whose innocence I was convinced were convicted.
Indeed what if the person who attacks you is a police officer ? Doesn't happen ? I can think of many incidents in Hong Kong where I had to prevent officers working with me from assaulting arrested persons.
At what point are you allowed to use force ? On the one hand some people believe that it is enough for the other person to shout or swear at them on the other hand others believe that there must be a physical assault. Both are wrong.
It is important to make a distinction here between provocation and self defence. Provocation is never a defence to a charge of assault, but can only be pleaded in mitigation thereby leading to a less severe sentence. An example of provocation would be racist abuse and this is often an offence in itself.
It is obvious from a number of conflicting decisions that neither the police nor my learned friends are always very sure where the line should be drawn. Let me relate to you the cautionary tale of a large rugby playing gentleman from West London who suspected his ever-loving wife of extra curricular activities.
One Saturday he made to drive off to rugby as usual, but instead parked out of sight and waited. His spouse soon emerged in the other car. He followed. She picked up a male passenger. He followed. They drove to some park land and walked off into the trees. When he reached the happy couple it was obvious that picnicking was not the activity uppermost in their minds. A dispute arose. The male passenger who was also a judo practitioner advanced on the husband with arms outstretched to take a grip of his clothing. However, our rugby player pole-axed the exponent of the gentle way with a punch between the eyes. Subsequently he was charged with assault.
He pleaded self defence saying that he had no knowledge of martial arts and was found not guilty. This was despite the fact that the judoka had not laid a finger on him.
There are other grey areas. If a large person attacks a small person, or a man a woman or a young person an old person, then even if the assault is without a weapon the use of a weapon could in certain instances be justified, but as my learned friends will tell you, this depends on the merits of the individual case as seen by judge and/or jury.
Unfortunately the law like politicians is often a stranger to morality. Often what is legal is morally wrong, what is morally right is not always legal. This has led to a degree of support for certain actions by members of the public who have fought back against criminals and even to a degree of support for what amounts to vigilante type action. Like many of you both as a police officer and as a martial artist I have on occasions done what I believed to be right rather than what I believed to be legal; on occasion circumstances have forced me to do what is legal rather than what was right.
In a perverse way, the more laws we have the more criminals we create - certainly it helps to produce more lawyers, yet without law society is unworkable. If we accept the need to follow our own code, then we accept the possibility of being punished when that code comes into conflict with the law. In the end we all play God to a degree and even the decision not to break the law is playing God.
So what is the solution? Some of my learned friends state that if people are allowed to break some laws then they will feel free to break all laws. This argument is patently absurd. The reality is inevitably that if you do not wish to obey the strictures of a particular law, you risk the chance of being caught, of being charged and of being convicted. If this happens there can be no complaint as you have made your choice.
I realise that I have raised more questions than I have answered. Of course my learned friends, for a modest fee, can make it all sound so simple, but then it has been well said that some people rob you with a fountain pen and in such circumstances there is little opportunity for self defence.
by Dan Docherty (Combat August 1995)
We all do demonstrations. We all think demonstrations are important. But why ? What should a demonstration consist of ? In doing a demonstration what are we trying to achieve ? Is a demonstration the best way to achieve this result ?
In a chequered career perhaps I've been more fortunate than most in seeing a wide variety of demonstrations in the Far East, in Europe and in the United States. Some of these, a very few, were marvellously inspiring. Some, perhaps most, were merely competent; while some achieved a deep awfulness that still sometimes keeps me awake at night.
So why do them ? Firstly, they are a test - for students in particular. It is one thing to do your applications with a partner or to go through your form in the friendly and familiar environment of your regular class. It is quite another to do the same applications or form in front of an audience particularly an audience of martial artists from other styles.
Secondly, a demonstration is a showcase for a particular style and a particular teacher. The best advertising is to do a good public demonstration. I took up Tai Chi Chuan largely because I was captivated by the demonstrations of a troupe of Wu Shu exponents who came to UK in 1974. I initially followed my teacher partly because he was able to convince me of the effectiveness of his art by demonstrating various aspects of it.
In a way this is like selling a car; prospective buyers don't just want to be told the merits of a particular model, they'd rather see or even try it for themselves.
If you are going to do a demonstration, the first thing to consider is your audience. Is the audience large or small, mainly martial artists or mainly virgins ? If martial artists, are they predominantly Tai Chi Chuan practitioners ? If non martial artists are they predominantly young or old ?
It is well known that the eye takes in more than the ear and yet I have seen numerous demonstrations where the so-called demonstrator spends most of the time talking. This is appropriate in a workshop or seminar where there is audience participation, but not when there is supposed to be a demonstration.
One demonstration of Qi Gong that I saw a few years ago plumbed the very depths of awfulness. Firstly it was announced that the demonstrator,a tall thin Englishman, would demonstrate Yang style Tai Chi, then it was announced he would demonstrate Wu style Tai Chi and finally that he would demonstrate Qi Gong. After talking about the benefits of Qi Gong in a low monotone for some five minutes, he lined up three of his students; one of whom was short and fat, another tall and thin and yet another large and broad. These latter day Three Stooges proceeded to swing their arms from side to side following their teacher who gave a barely audible running commentary. Other exercises involved bending slowly forward at the waist.
I heard later that the demonstrator was very angry with me for laughing at him. Although we were not friends, I wasn't laughing at him for any other reason than what he and his acolytes were doing was hilariously funny.
I mentioned the nature of the audience. It is remarkable that in what is now, compared to 20 years ago, a relatively sophisticated martial arts world that people are still doing what effectively are simple tricks and trying to pass them off as some type of mysterious power.
A recent example of this found its way to my address through the prosaic medium of the Royal Mail. It was a circular advertising a series of seminars on Tai Chi and Qi Gong, to be given by Chen Xiao-wang. The circular showed a picture of Chen Xiao-wang standing in a low stance holding his ground against a line of 6 men pushing him. There was no explanation of what this was supposed to represent, but many teachers, some of whom are little more than charlatans, use such demonstrations to convince others of their Qi power.
In fact this demonstration relies on little more than basic body mechanics and can be replicated by a small woman. Now Chen Xiao-wang is a well-known master and a number of people who attended his seminars had good things to say about them, so I find it sad that a genuine instructor like Chen has joined the ranks of those who demonstrate this trick. To non-martial artists or beginners it may be impressive, but not to anyone with experience.
Perhaps the most common type of demonstration is to do a hand or weapon form. However, this does not mean that the form should be done in the normal way; the object of a demonstration is to grab the attention of the audience, so when demonstrating weapon forms in particular, there should be a degree of fire. Tai Chi sword may for example be performed in two ways, either smoothly and relatively slowly or like a dragon soaring and diving. For a non-martial arts and most other types of audience I'd normally choose to do the sword the second way.
As well as deciding what to demonstrate, it is necessary to decide who should demonstrate. In 1990 when I went to Taiwan with Nigel Sutton and a group of our students we met three South African Tai Chi practitioners who were over for the First Chung Hwa Cup competition. Their preparation for the said event seemed to consist of spending their free time consuming vast quantities of the dreadful local beer whilst puffing on American cigarettes. I was intrigued to learn that they were going to do a demonstration for us.
They lined up to do a form together. The form in question did not require a high degree of athleticism, but even so the shortest and fattest of these three braves fell over as he attempted a kick.
On another occasion I saw a video of demonstrations at a martial arts festival in Scotland where a large fat gentleman attacked his teacher only to be thrown to the ground time after time; after a couple of throws our large friend was taking so long to get up to launch the next attack that you felt like getting up to make a coffee between throws.
There is unfortunately also the kind of person who in blissful ignorance of his own limitations believes his Tai Chi to be marvellous and wonderful and takes every opportunity to demonstrate it. I know one such in Hong Kong. Hunched backed, clumsy and forever smiling he is always there if a demo is to be performed, when demonstrating a weapon form he rarely ends up facing the same direction as when he started, even worse he wanted me to take him round Europe with me to assist me in seminars.
As a teacher you must know your students. There are large people who can demonstrate sword well, just as there are small persons who can do a good spear form, but these are exceptions; normally it would be better to pick a smaller person to perform the sword which requires precision and finesse and a larger one to do the spear which requires power and focus.
Finally it is in my experience better to leave the audience wanting more than leaving them feeling they have had more than enough of your skills and charisma.
The Water Margin
by Dan docherty [Combat May 1998]
So it has come to pass. On Friday July 18th, I went with three students to Newport at the invitation of Paul Brewer to encounter his master, Dr. Shen Hong-xun. We arrived when the course had already started. We entered an upstairs hall where Dr. Shen was seated on a podium behind a table, facing his audience; also seated there on his right was a Caucasian gentleman and on his left, Jan Willem Van Overdam, from Holland.
I approached the podium and the room fell silent. I said who I was and indicated that I had the money for the course in my moneybelt (£312 per person i.e. almost £1250). I then spoke in Mandarin to Dr. Shen saying that he had said he had empty force, I told him to use it, because I was coming, again I told him to use it. I then slowly advanced and climbed up on the podium, standing over Dr. Shen. I then poured a bit more than 1 litre of Evian water over his head and shoulders, drenching him. He and Jan Willem raised their hands to try to stop me but were unsuccessful. When the bottle was empty I left with my students. I heard some people hurl imprecations at me. We drove off immediately to avoid any possible conflict.
I know some people were upset at what happened. I know Paul Brewer and others like Jan Willem and I have respect for their Tai Chi Chuan knowledge, to the extent that my actions upset them, I regret it. Dr. Shen, however, has made many claims directly and through his students about his ability to use empty force:-
"Without physical contact, and up to a distance of some metres, a person can feel and receive force created by my movements. This force can push them, make them roll on the ground - - even out of the hall's exit."
Dr. Shen has said people practice Push Hands and San Shou thinking these are Tai Chi fighting methods and goes on:-
"Whether or not the above is correct I do not want to discuss in this article. However, people do understand that everything is constantly evolving, that there is always a development from a basic to a high level and from a high level to an even higher level."
I discussed Dr. Shen's claims with experienced instructors from different schools, we were sceptical as to his ability to use empty force on someone who was not a true believer, we also were somewhat offended by the tone of the claims which seemed to suggest that people like us who didn't employ empty force were at a lower level than those who do. I wrote in to TCC magazine making what I hoped were mildly humorous remarks about the art of Ty-phoo in relation to empty force.
The response to the letter was an invitation from Paul Brewer to me and Rob Morton to attend Dr. Shen's course in Newport. The invitation was accompanied with an article by the Doctor which contained photos of him using empty force to roll a man out of a hall.
I resolved to go to Newport to see if Dr. Shen could do the things he said to me personally. Rob Morton accompanied me with two other students, one of whom is a trained para medic, we brought medical supplies with us in case someone was hurt.
My own position on empty force is that I am sceptical. It is impossible to prove that it doesn't exist. The most that can be done is to show that at a specific time and place in a specific set of circumstances empty force was not used effectively. How to do it ?
I did not want to hit or attack Dr. Shen as he is both older and much smaller than me, but he claimed higher powers than I possess. I looked at the Tao Te Ching; it says:-
"Under Heaven nothing is as soft and submissive as water, yet to attack what is hard and strong, nothing can beat it. For there is nothing with which you can replace it.
The weak overcoming the strong,
the soft overcoming the hard.
Under Heaven there is no-one who does not know of this,
but no-one can do it."
So I did it.
It was evident from Dr Shen's reaction that he did not enjoy being soaked in public and it is possible therefore to infer that if he could have prevented it, he would have. Like God, like many things empty force exists if you believe in it - it exists for you and other true believers not for pagans. I did not feel any empty force from Dr. Shen or anyone else, perhaps I will one day, if I become sensitive enough. I believe that Dr. Shen has a wealth of knowledge and experience in Tai Chi Chuan and other aspects of Chinese culture which he is able and willing to impart to others. I don't believe that he can use empty force on me. I am a pagan.
by Dan Docherty (Combat November 1998)
Someone, I can't remember who, said to me recently that every teacher needed to give inspiration to their students. I accept this responsibility readily, but where is the poor teacher to find inspiration? Although for more than 20 years I have only followed one master and only practiced one method, I have had many sources of inspiration.
But what is inspiration ? My dictionary defines it as, "a divine influence or action upon the lives of certain persons that is believed to qualify them to receive and communicate sacred revelation; or the act or power of moving the intellect or emotions". Let me tell you about some of these "divine influences or actions" in my life.
I once said to my master's eldest son that his father was a great teacher. His son said that his father was not a great teacher, but a man of great knowledge and experience. This was nearer the truth. I spent most days from 1975 to 1984 going to my master's house and training on the rooftop. He ran morning and evening sessions, six days per week. When I first went he was always there and spent most of the class time on the rooftop. He didn't teach a class in a conventional sense. People would just do their practice singly or in groups, sometimes under the guidance of an elder brother. Sifu (which is how we all addressed him) would circle the rooftop, deep in thought, more often than not puffing on a cigarette, sometimes he would speak to us, sometimes he would even show a technique or explain a concept, mostly he just walked around.
It was only after some months when I began to spend more time with him outside of the class that he started to show and explain things in a deeper way. I realize now that I was fortunate that I had no family ties in Hong Kong and that working odd hours in the police force gave me more access to Sifu. He was a powerful personality and a great influence for bad as well as good, both inside and outside the martial arts.
I liked his many maxims and have in translation made many of them my own. He told me:-
"Woman is the enemy of the hero" (so many women, so many enemies, so few heroes).
"If you don't rob somebody, somebody will rob you" (he robbed me).
"The only good woman in the world is your mother" (untrue in my case).
The last meaningful thing he taught me was:-
"The mouth communicates, the mind interprets".
In recent years, many of my Tai Chi brothers and sisters, while they admit the effectiveness of my approach, they disagree with it. I am accused of doing the weapons too fast and hard, of doing a martial form, of doing Nei Kung exercises differently from him, of having too deep a stance for free pushing hands.
He told me before I left Hong Kong to do weapons the way I do. He told me to practice Nei Kung more than form as it would have a radical effect on all aspects of my Tai Chi. He told me to sink and root in everything I did, including pushing hands. He did not have just one way of doing things, but many ways and I learned these ways as we travelled together in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Malaysia, Australia and Britain.
He told me not to be lazy like him - although I think his diabetes played a part in this, to teach things personally as far as possible so that people in the West could receive a true transmission. In all the years I have known him I never saw him do a complete form from beginning to end. I never saw him practice Nei Kung. He did practice some rolling and other conditioning before he went abroad with me to teach and sometimes he would push hands and wrestle with students in the class.
When he started out as a sifu, he was nineteen years old and a renegade from all the famous Tai Chi families then he became successful through his ability to fight and to produce fighters. This inspired me when I returned to Britain to follow his example. I strongly believed that there was a gap in the market to teach Tai Chi Chuan as a complete martial art rather than as just a health exercise. He is now sick and hopelessly poisoned against me; he has nothing to say to me anymore, but I think of the things he said and did in the glory days and they help me to carry on.
The most inspirational martial arts teacher and probably the greatest martial arts genius I met was Yoshinao Nanbu. People don't talk much about him these days. I met him in January 1973 when he came to Glasgow to show our Shotokan club his Sankukai method. He didn't hit or brutalise us like the other Japanese we had encountered; he strolled around in his shades smiling at us. He captivated my interest with his whirling and spinning and most of all with his emphasis on evasion. He was by then a renegade and a legend. His master, Tani, of Shito-ryu and Shukokai fame said some years ago that he did not know any Nanbu. My Tai Chi brother Ian Cameron saw him years ago singing as he demonstrated Sai Kata as senior Japanese masters looked on in disapproval. Nanbu was the first and as far as I know only Japanese master to compete in Europe. He always won because he said he would commit seppuku if he lost.
I visited Nanbu in Paris in 1974 just after he awarded me my black belt. I stayed in the dojo of the famous Henri Plee, which is where I was to teach Tai Chi 20 years later. Plee told me that martial arts were like women; some of us could find the right one straight away others needed to try a few before they found the right one, while others drift from one to another like latter day Casanovas. In the martial arts at least I have not become a Casanova.
Meeting these men of respect, men of the sword and of the pen, made me want to become one too. I need at this point to apologise to my readers for the dearth of articles in the last couple of years - I lost my inspiration for a while and felt, as my old granpappy used to say, "One door shuts and another one closes". I tried to write a few times, but felt a kind of impotence. The inspiration has come back now and proceeds from those who hate me as much as from those who love me; doors are opening.
I feel now that like these men I can also be an emissary. I found a boy yesterday at my class and he was reading about the super heroes that I used to read about myself more than thirty years ago. Like me his favourite was the Silver Surfer, an emissary, a wanderer and a man who had his own truth, not exactly one of the good guys like say Captain America and yet not exactly one of the bad ones like Doctor Doom. I guess my parents knew how dangerous the Surfer was because one day I returned from school to find then tearing up all my comics, but it was already too late. Somehow everyone knows about the Silver Surfer, even Pascale, and like the Surfer she inspires me, maybe because she reminds me of the Scarlet Witch, but that is another story.
I met another boy yesterday too. A Chinese boy called Zeus, a god who like the Surfer had his own truth. The boy's mother talked to me about things I hadn't thought about for years like the Tai Chi and Yi Chuan master, Lee Ying-arng whom nobody knows now and how he saved the life of the President of Guatemala as they travelled together on a plane and thus changed his own life for ever. Maybe all you need to be inspired is just to live, I've heard you're a long time dead. I buried my father nine days ago.
Sober as a Judge
by Dan Docherty (Combat August 1999)
This is about geniuses and judges, two categories which in the martial arts at least are not mutually exclusive.
A genius according to my dictionary is someone endowed with transcendent mental superiority, inventiveness and ability. A genius can also be someone who influences another for good or bad. The ancient Romans believed that two attendant spirits, one good and one evil, accompany us from the cradle to the grave.
Certainly there have been and are geniuses - of all kinds, in the field of martial arts in general and in that of Tai Chi Chuan in particular
The first true martial genius I met was Yoshinao Nanbu, who like a true genius, through his individual flair and perception analysed and synthesised theories and methods of practice. He revolutionised competition karate with his footsweeps and spinning kicks. He practiced and taught with a freedom and elan that I had never seen before and have seldom seen since. He even answered questions intelligently. Right from the start he taught us body evasion and footwork (Tai Sabaki). This influence is still present when I teach Tai Chi Chuan as the first thing I show beginners is Seven Star Step Pushing Hands, so that right from the start students are learning timing, distance, cordination, footwork and evasion.
There is also the genius of simplicity. In one of the early South East Asian Chinese Full Contact Championships, the competitors had to wear baseball like masks with a cage effect in front to protect the face, no gloves were allowed. These rules favoured styles such as Choi Lee Fut which liked to employ heavy swinging attacks. With their straight line theory, the Wing Chun fighters all damaged their fists on the face guards, except for the canny Hong Kong police inspector, Pang Kam-fat, who was disqualified for repeatedly kicking his opponent in the groin. In Tai Chi Chuan Running Thunder Hand is usually employed with the fist and the strike is something between a hook and a straight punch. My master got my elder brothers to use Running Thunder palm strikes and swinging Wu Gang Chopping Laurels instead with considerable success.
In a sense my master was also an evil genius, teaching us to dominate an opponent in ways that had little in common with the rules drawn up by the Marquis of Queensbury. Another thing that I learned from him was how to teach people according to what they are actually capable of doing, rather than showing them more effective techniques which were too difficult for them.
Then there is another type of genius who is convinced that he knows, or at least never admits that he does not know. Genius teachers and genius students. When I first practiced karate round about 1971, I asked a 4th dan why the non-striking fist was drawn back to the hip when executing a punch or a block with the fist clenched. He said it was to hide the hand from the opponent so that he wouldn't know what we were going to do with it. The truth, which he could not admit, was that he didn't know; in those days you did what you were told and got on with it. Questions were not encouraged, as a result many unwise or even unsafe training methods were adopted.
Then there is the genius student. Instructors who have such students are very fortunate. They don't need to explain anything as genius student knows the answer. The reason that they are doing the technique that way is that is how you showed it to genius student last time and that genius student has total and accurate recall while obviously you, the instructor, have changed the technique.
You show a self defence application in the class, and instead of practicing what you have shown, genius student teaches his improved version to his training partner and unless you do something about it, the new improved version spreads like a cancer in your school, until it becomes the true one. But I don't like geniuses and the last time I saw one do a new improved version of my technique in a class I told him I'd hit him if he did it again.
In the Good Book or at least in a good book, it is written, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." Some believe that you can only become a judge if you attend a course and then only continue to be one if you continue to attend courses at your personal expense and inconvenience. But in the words of that Latin tag much beloved by Combat readers, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes ?" So there should be courses to learn to be a judge; courses on teaching people to be judges; courses on teaching people to teach people to be judges....
My student and muse, Pascale Deguen, told me that when she won the ladies' fixed and moving step pushing hands events at the 1st French Tai Chi Chuan Championships this year, one of the referees said to her that she should use more "listening" and less pushing, though he was unable to explain how to do this against opponents who outweighed her by more than 14 kilos. We look forward to seeing him demonstrate his point by competing next time. Indeed many non-competitors are fond of standing on the sidelines criticising pushing hands and Chinese full contact competitors for being too hard or not soft enough or not using enough technique, yet these same non-competitive geniuses are unwilling or perhaps unable to demonstrate how to use said softness themselves when up against someone who is other than a cooperative student.
Forms competition is still more contentious. For example some people say that they practice the Old Yang Form so this must be the true Tai Chi Chuan, but Old Yang died in 1872 at an age younger than my father who never practiced Tai Chi Chuan and who lived most of his life on a diet of whisky and cigars. Another problem that Sifu Gary Wragg of Wu's Tai Chi Chuan Academy and other experienced instructors have raised is the tendency of some judges to base their marking largely on the aesthetic quality and external appearance of the form demonstrated.
This can give an unfair advantage to competitors practicing Wu Shu Tai Chi and "modern" forms which can be more dynamic than the traditional ones. This is because of excessive sinking and overextension, not only can this result in injury to the joints and back, but it also contradicts concepts in the Tai Chi Chuan classics such as, "No excess, no deficiency." Furthermore the martial content in many of these forms is deficient and they more nearly resemble dance or in the case of weapon forms, gymnastic dance combined with juggling.
Over the years people started to wear Chinese kung fu suits for forms competition, then more recently we have seen more silk pyjamas. Pyjamas don't just look good they also hide tension and bad technique. Many years ago via a bookshop in Hamburg's red-light area, I acquired 'T'ai Chi Nude' by F.L. Yu, in which one male and two females in full frontal nudity and in glorious colour demonstrate poses from Yang style. As Mr. Yu (obviously a genius) says, "In these pictures, the exact disposition of the spine, its true relation to the pelvis, and the actual configuration of the legs are all completely visible." I am intending as an experiment to introduce Mr. Yu's idea for female competitors in my next competition as I feel that silk pyjamas are too much of a distraction.
by Dan Docherty (Combat October 1999)
Let me explain the Cantonese expression "Tek Gwoon " (in Mandarin, "Tie Guan"). Tek means kick; Gwoon is hall or in this context (martial arts) school. Tek Gwoon, or Kick School is where an individual or group goes to another school to make or at least offer some form of physical challenge. Kick School is not just visiting another school to spar, to do Tui Shou or Chi Sau; it is not a game. Kick School is a matter of honour and often a matter of dishonour. Women are usually too sensible to believe in such matters; it's a male thing.
One particular internal martial arts teacher in Tokyo constantly had karate black belts come to his school to challenge him until he made it known he would no longer fight third or fourth dans but would in his turn go straight to challenge the heads of their systems. It stopped.
Kick School is a very serious matter. It can involve the constabulary; it can make or break reputations overnight. I teach at a sports centre in Central London. Eleven years ago, a Chinese master came to kick my school with a posse of his students. At that time he ran a full time school in London. Now he doesn't.
In the same sports centre there has long been a class run by Larry Francois, a very able martial artist and Chinese full contact champion. Some years ago a Chinese master of Kung Fu who also taught there interrupted Larry's class and sent in his students to Kick School while he filmed them. He picked the wrong guy. Not only was the Chinese master unsuccessful, but the police were called in and he was banned from the sports centre.
A few years ago I read a report in the Tai Chi Union magazine about the "Empty Force" (force without touching) skills of a Chinese Grandmaster. Both he and his students testified to his skills and claimed he could use Empty Force to knock people down, make them perform somersaults and to make them roll out of rooms. I wrote in to the magazine poking some mild fun at the said Chinese Grandmaster. His students responded by inviting me to attend a five day course given by their Grandmaster and costing about £350. They said they would return my money, if I was not fully satisfied.
I have related what then transpired in the pages of a previous issue of this magazine in an article entitled "The Water Margin". Suffice it to say that I accepted the invitation, went to the start of the course and poured more than one litre of Evian water over the Chinese Grandmaster, drenching him. Of course that doesn't show he is unable to use empty force, but only that he did not do so on that occasion, or maybe he did, but I wasn't sensitive enough to feel his energy. The whole episode almost caused my expulsion from the Tai Chi Union and came close to involving lawyers, guns and money.
I give you this prologue because I received a letter the other day, anonymous, handwritten and in a plain brown envelope. It said (spelling & grammar as given):-
"Dear Dan Docherty,
Tai Chi students shows your article "THE WATER MARGIN" to MASTER John Ding (a EMPTY FORCE and TAI CHI MASTER)
After reading your article, MASTER JOHN DING angrily said "Why don't Dan Docherty try me ?!!
"Dan Docherty Tai Chi is still at a low level. Dan Docherty can't really fight, he just a bully and a COWARD!!
Well Dan Docherty you've NO excuse now but to come and meet MASTER JOHN Ding personally. To see him demostrate Empty Force. And pour a bottle of water on him!!
You may come on any
WEDNESDAYS - 8 to 10 pm
FRIDAYS - 7 to 8.30pm
At the JOHN Ding International Academy of T.C.C. station SOUTH WOODFORD.
If you don't come , it means you've accepted the fact that you're a COWARD!"
I've always considered that excessive use of capitals and exclamation marks indicates a compulsive onanist. Aside from this there is very much a "my dad says he can beat your dad" spirit in the letter, though the writer doesn't give his name so maybe he is illegitimate.
I've never met John Ding and know very little about him. He may or may not have said the things attributed to him in the letter, in any case he is entitled to his opinion. I think that it is unlikely that a professional teacher would either write or cause to be written such a letter. The possibilities are then that either it was written by one of his loyal students or by someone who wishes him ill. In any case I've no intention of putting myself in the wrong by rushing over to South Woodford or indeed anywhere else to KIck School.
I recently met American Liverpudlian Qi Gong master Jim MacRitchie and we discussed Empty Force. I've decided that since Chinese masters (and Grandmasters) make so much money out of Empty Force, it's time that I started making money out of it also. I propose introducing an Empty Force Challenge category to the British Open Tai Chi Championships and Festival of Chinese Martial Arts in April next year. We'll keep it very simple in the beginning. Competitors will be allowed to warm up using Empty Force against their own students, before using it against heavyweight Chinese full contact competitors and then finally against me. A panel of three judges will mark them out of 10 taking into account artistic impression of the Empty Force Master (or Grandmaster) and of the student/ heavyweight full contact competitor/me. As far as I am aware this would be the first event of its kind in the world.
I am writing along these lines to John Ding; as I do not believe he initiated these proceedings, he is quite justified in making no reply.
As for the anonymous, possibly illegitimate, compulsive onanist who wrote the letter, I don't believe your dad can beat my dad, but so long as you believe it and believe all the other things you say then they are all true - for you, And since your truth makes me a coward, I look forward to you coming to Kick School with me - anonymously of course.
I received the following reply from Master John Ding:-
Practical Tai Chi Chuan International
15th August 1999
Dear Mr. Docherty,
Thank you for your letter dated the 11th August 1999 and bringing to my attention a situation of which I was unaware.
Wishing you the very best in your endeavours.
Bio-Dynamic Tai Chi Chuan
by Dan Docherty (Combat November 2002)
Ellen, Chris and I must have tried around twenty different Vouvrays at a degustation in the Cave of M. Huet, who produced them all using “Methode Bio-dynamique”. This method was developed by the Austro-Hungarian social philosopher and spiritualist, Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925), who was the founder of anthroposophy, a spiritual and, to a degree occult, doctrine, which tried to understand the world by looking at the nature of man rather than that of God. Bio-dynamics is concerned with the dynamic relationship between organisms and their environment. For example, Steiner considered that in agriculture the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers over a period of time poisons the earth; they are absorbed by plants such as vines through their roots then are passed into the fruits of said plants (in this case grapes) which are then ingested by humans and animals (in this case in the form of wine). A recent British survey of fruits and vegetables on sale in British supermarkets found chemical residue from pesticides and fertilisers in between 25-48% of produce.
About a year ago I was involved with an internet TV show on martial arts and the environment. The producer had been thinking about this in terms of the old stories about copying animal movements, but in the case of Tai Chi Chuan there is considerably more to it.
The essence of the Book of Changes is certainly more than 3000 years old. The concepts of Yin and Yang are represented respectively by a broken line _ _ and by an unbroken line ___ . The broken line represents Earth and the vagina of the female, while the unbroken line represents Heaven and the penis of the male; the Earth is fertilised by rain falling from Heaven which in turn causes plants to shoot their flowers up and their roots down. On a simplistic level, living organisms such as ourselves are composed of Yin and Yang, so we take our fuel in the form of breath and water from Heaven and our food from Earth and after processing them in our bodies we return the waste products to Heaven and Earth again. To maximise the absorption of these fuels and thereby the amount of energy in the body, physical practice such as Qi Gong and Tai Chi Chuan became important as did the place and time of practice.
Caves and mountain-tops, because of their intimate connection with Heaven and Earth became particularly popular places for practice. Indeed the Tai Chi Classics (An Interpretation of The Practice of The 13 Tactics) invite us to be “still as a lofty mountain and move like a great river”.
Our relationship with the natural world is pithily expressed in the Chinese characters representing Qi (vital force/energy), Jing (vital essence) and Shen (spiritual essence). Qi contains the rice plant (fundamental food and rooted to earth and stretching to Heaven, with the vapour given off when it is cooked; Jing contains the rice plant and also giving birth and the colour of plants; Shen shows the sun moon and stars suspended from Heaven and (Humanity) expanding outwards towards them. Various methods of breathing combined with hygienic exercise were developed to harness these 3 Treasures and produce the state of Heaven, Earth and Humanity in unity.
This combination of breathing and hygienic exercise was later further combined with martial techniques to produce the internal martial arts forms and Kung methods which exist today; this includes Tai Chi Chuan and Tai Chi Nei Kung. When practicing both Tai Chi Chuan and Tai chi Nei Kung, there is considerable emphasis on the body being rooted through the feet to the earth and thus being well balanced while simultaneously allowing the spirit to ascend by maintaining a straight (though not necessarily erect) line from the crown of the head through the spinal column to the tailbone so that the central nervous system is correctly aligned and to develop abdominal breathing. In turn this means the interaction of the Three Treasures is enhanced.
The Tai Chi Chuan Discourse says, “The root is in the feet” and talks about severing the root of the opponent. This rooting for balance is of crucial importance in pushing hands. For example, in fixed step pushing hands, the body is like a plant or tree (or any flower of your choice), rooted through the feet to the earth while the rest of the body sways and bends in accord with the elements (according to the way our partner/opponent responds). We can apply the same method of swaying with the head and upper body when using body evasion in self-defence. Equally in both pushing hands and self-defence we try to sever the root of the opponent in order to unbalance him and take advantage of the openings this provides. In the sword form we have the technique of “Turn Body Plant Sword”, which precisely involves sinking and rooting.
”Many Tai Chi techniques express the deep relationship that practitioners had with the natural (but not necessarily animal) world. From the Nei Kung we have “Embracing the One (a reference to the unity of Heaven, Earth and Humanity)” and “Planting A Fence”. From the hand form there are “Seven Stars (Ursa Major or The Dipper)”, “Cloud (a pun on the similar sounding Chinese character for turning) Hands” and “Sweep Lotus Leg”. For the sword, the list includes, “Dispel Clouds to see Sun”, Magic Hand Picking A Star”, “Shooting Star Chasing The Moon” etc. The sabre has “Cloud Sabre Hide Sabre”, “Climb Mountain Look into Distance”, Searching The Sea” etc. Tai Ch spear contains “Facing The Wind Blowing The Willow”, “Waves Going Up and Down”, “White Rainbow Soaring to The Sun”, “Plum Blossom Opens Five Petals”. In pushing hands we have “Reeling Silk” (as if from a cocoon) and “Cai Lang (The Uprooting Wave)”. Finally there are less well-known techniques such as “Flying Flower Palm” and “Five Element (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire & Earth) Arms”
It is true that Chinese martial arts and Qi Gong are to some extent based on animal movements, so we have Praying Mantis, Dog Boxing,, Monkey Boxing, Dragon Sign, Snake Style etc. just as the spirit of Tai Chi sabre is based on the tiger while the spirit of the spear and sword is based on the dragon. Many Tai Chi movements are, however, based on dealing with animals rather than copying their movements, so we have.”Spin Around to Rein in The Horse”, “Catch A Giant Tortoise from The Bottom of The Sea”, “Embrace Tiger and Return (the tiger) to Mountain” and many more.
In recent years I have been running summer camps in France, Ireland, Hungary, Sweden and the UK. Weather permitting, it is a method of getting back in touch with the natural world. Even when training indoors, I often switch off the lights. Our eyes and other senses were not designed to be stimulated constantly by light and other electrically produced sensations. Computers, DVDs and mobile phones are twice over – in their production and in action, pollutants. If you are going to practice martial arts, try to do it the bio-dynamic way. By the way, I bought two cases of the wine.
YOU’RE A CULT!
BY DAN DOCHERTY
You’re a Cult – A Review of Chinese Sects, Heterodox Millenarian & Syncretic and Chinese Internal Arts by Dan Docherty
Editor Ron asked me for some book reviews or an article. I hope I have managed to kill those two birds with this one stone. I thought it would be interesting to look at Chinese attitudes to sects and cults, especially in view of the Falun Gong situation.
I planned this review some years ago, but only now have felt ready for the task. This is not a comprehensive review, but an eclectic one, in part looking at some of the less familiar writings on the subject. Some of these are virtually unreadable, being written in the jargon of the academic freemasonry, yet I hope and trust you will find this to be fascinating background.
In China, as in other feudal societies, martial arts, meditation, therapeutic holistic exercise and meditation had and still have strong links with religion, ritual and revolution (think Knights Templar - and the 3 kisses, and other Crusaders, Janissaries, Sufis (champ dancers or damn chancers?), Thugees, Lamas, Shaolin monks, Complete Reality School Taoists…
Now cults and sects are not quite the same thing. Though ''cult'' started off life as a way of referring to religious practice or beliefs and ritual connected with worshipping a deity/ deities, it has come in our godless age to acquire the meaning of religious practice of a minority that is unorthodox and/or spurious. ''Sect'' tends to mean a dissenting religious body, often considered heretical within a certain religious tradition or whose adherents recognize a special set of teachings.
Many well-known Tai Chi Chuan and internal arts masters have been or are sect/cult members. Wu Jian-quan, Chen Pan-ling, Wang Shu-chin et al.
B.J. ter Haars book, ''The White Lotus Teachings in Chinese Religious History'' (University of Hawaii Press ISBN 0-8248-2218-8) is pretty comprehensive in discussing a recurrent sobriquet which dates back to at least the early Tang (7th century AD). The White Lotus sect dedicated to worship of the Buddha Amitabha was founded around 1133 by Mao Zi-yuan. Initial converts were poor vegetarian peasants who refused to pay taxes or carry out compulsory labour.
Later it became more of a cult and home to a mixed bag of Messiah-awaiting and apocalypse-predicting Holy Willies, heterodox Buddhists, bored literati (many of whom, became lay Buddhists or Taoists), itinerant preachers and the usual posse of cranks and troublemakers – as we shall see, these epithets pretty well sum up successive Chinese regimes’ attitude to cults. Nevertheless, a common reason for oppression of heterodox groups by hierarchies is that much of what is said and done by such groups is true and correct.
In 1557 a rebellion, allegedly caused by White Lotus apocalypse predictions, took place in Huzhou led by low ranking military officers and martial arts instructors. These would be prime candidates to lead any such revolt and they continue to be closely monitored.
Western equivalents would be Rob Roy MacGregor and his clan of black-mailers with their ''taxes'' on the English and supporters of the religious and political status quo in Scotland or Frank and Jesse James robbing the money-grabbing mortgage-foreclosing railroads and banks with their band of Missouri desperados. On another level people got together as self-help groups to finance local needs such as education, sanitation etc.
The first famous Tai Chi Chuan master was Yang Lu-chan, who went to Beijing in 1852 to teach at the Imperial Court. In his home town of Guangping in Hebei the local record of 1550 referred to an uprising of 1420 as being White Lotus. Thereafter White Lotus groups were described as being sources of local unrest and were equated with other heterodox sects such as the Yellow Turbans of the late Han dynasty as being troublemakers.
Officials variously referred to the White Lotus as ''gathering at night, dispersing at dawn'', ''man and women mixing in an irregular way'' (sometimes it was added ''…to burn incense'' – another common practice in ''Bai Shi'' initiation in traditions such as mine) ''eating vegetables serving demons'' and were accused of magic practices such as making paper figures into living beings. These were not words of approval. Between 1429 and 1584 some White Lotus groups in an attempt to distinguish themselves from earlier rebellious White Lotus, changed their names by removing the term ''White'' so there was ''Golden Lotus Teachings'' or the ''Lotus Tradition''.
We have seen this change of name also in many Chinese martial arts lineages.
However, in the case of many cults the name changed but not the group ethic. They had their own names for adherents such as Daoren (Person of the Way), Daoyou (Friend of the Way), Daogu (Lady of the Way)… I guess readers may find difficulty with these names for Buddhist, but these people were heterodox not orthodox. They discussed the Three Taoist Internal Alchemy Treasures of Qi, Jing and Shen using Buddhist terminology, while the lotus was itself an important Taoist symbol (''Sweep Lotus Leg'' of Tai Chi Chuan). This Internal Alchemy connection meant the White Lotus practitioners could also be accused of improper sexual activities.
The Wu Wei Teachings (this character Jiao is also used to describe orthodox religions) appeared in the late Ming, but without any millenarian element, interestingly this was around the putative heyday of Tai Chi Chuan patriarch, Chang San-feng. In 1637, an official gazetteer from the Lower Yangzi alleged that the White Lotus Teaching practitioners considered the Wu Wei Teachings to be their predecessors. To some extent then the White Lotus were syncretic as their practices and beliefs had both Buddhist and Taoist elements.
Scriptures written before 1500 are rare except for the Dunhuang collections and government attacks. Indeed the founder of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuan-zhang, introduced many restrictions on religious worship. Shamanism and healing, whether religious or magical, were prohibited as was the White Lotus Society.
One of the common activities of White Lotus groups was the recitation of spells sutras and names. In Tai Chi Chuan the Classics are mnemonic and were chanted during practice, while in a number of traditions including the one to which I belong, mantras are used.
A common objection of the Confucian hierarchy was that correct behaviour should not be done to acquire merit and offset bad karma, but because such behaviour is correct. I have some sympathy with this view and believe that Tai Chi Chuan and Nei/ Qi Gong practice should be done because it is good in itself rather than just to address health problems or meet girls.
Certainly in the Ching dynasty during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the idea of mankind consisting of exiled heavenly spirits going through painful cycles of reincarnation while awaiting a Messiah had become common. On numerous occasions such belief was used to foment and justify rebellion just as it justified official persecution which included torture to acquire confessions which were in turn used to justify further persecution. This use of torture has been a part of Chinese jurisprudence from time immemorial down to the present era. It included beatings, making prisoners kneel on iron chains, starvation and many more methods. Indeed it was considered that a confession was necessary to justify conviction.
An irony often missed is that the Chinese Communist party has often justified its actions before during and after the Revolution with reference to justified rebellions against corrupt feudalism from the ''Old Hundred Names'' (common people) including White Lotus groups.
The book by ter Haar is pretty tough going and maybe only for the committed historian of Chinese society, but it puts the Falun Gong movement into perspective with its exhaustive study of the White Lotus phenomenon.
''Treason by The Book – Traitors Conspirators & Guardians of an Emperor'' by the excellent Jonathan D. Spence (Penguin History; ISBN0-141-02779-7; £8.99) is a terrifying story of the detailed investigation under his own guidance of a ludicrous 1728 plot against the Manchurian Yongzheng Emperor by an oddball bunch of fake scholars, geomancers, the mysterious Taoist, chain-gang imperial eunuchs, beggars and snake-oil salesmen. It was almost a cult, but just didn’t get off the ground. Here’s what happened.
Someone hears rumours that loyal Chinese General Yue Zhongqi can be persuaded to lead his troops in rebellion. A front man is found to make the trek from the boondocks to Xian to hand a letter of support to General Yue.
The General is terrified and contacts the Emperor by Imperial Messenger. An enquiry begins; torture, dissembling and double agents are used. Local scholars and itinerant preachers are implicated. Rumours are traced, so it is known they were spread from someone coming from Beijing. A convict gang had passed through; the chain gang included eunuch servants of the Emperor’s rival brothers. The eunuchs had talked of the evil of the Emperor to the locals, the rumours spread in a series of Chinese whispers. People believed; sometimes that’s all it takes.
Martial artists and experts in breath control techniques as well as Taoists with ''special powers'' are involved in the failed conspiracy. Scholars are executed for writing mildly seditious poetry; families and associates are sentenced to a life of enslavement or exile and their property confiscated for the action and inaction of kinfolk; high officials are dismissed for being dilatory in their investigations. The law is so complicated none can follow it and all are terrified by it and its relentless enforcers.
In the end maybe the good guys won as the Emperor’s published rebuttal of the charges against him helped people remember them while his successor’s order to destroy all copies of the rebuttal made people think the allegations against Yongzheng were true.
Mr. Spence has written a brilliant and accessible book. It is also easy to read.
About 15 years ago, my old friend, Francis Gury, gave me the Book of Balance and Harmony (North Point Press - published by Rider in UK; ISBN0 7126 3521 1) translated & with an introduction by Thomas Cleary. I was put off reading it as it contains no index, bibliography or Chinese characters, though it purports to be an academic work. I read it cover to cover in Moscow recently and deeply regret my earlier hesitation, though I still don’t like the translator’s approach. Worst of all his is not a clear translation; as is the wont of many Western translators vague words like ''energy'' are used to describe wha is obviously a more specific Chinese term.
The author of this 13th century work was Li Daoqun, a student of sixteen or more masters, who, according to Mr. Cleary is supposed to have learned the final secret from ''a mysterious personage'' in Central Asia. Though there has been a veritable plethora of such personages floating around at various times – and not just in Central Asia, the material at times is immensely interesting to Tai Chi Chuan practitioners. Furthermore, Li later became a master of the Complete Reality school of Taoism to which Tai Chi Chuan patriarch Chang San-feng has been linked. He also wrote commentaries on the Tai Chi Diagram of neo –Confucian Zhou Dun-yi (1017-73).
It seems clear that the book was not entirely Li’s original creation. It is divided into 20 sections covering alchemy, Taoistic practices – including meditative, breathing and sex; philosophy, poems, commentaries and criticisms. Buddhism is often mentioned especially of the Chan variety; there is a well established connection between these schools. In 1984 I saw Taoist imagery including the Tai Chi symbol amongst the ruins of the Shaolin Temple and Buddhist imagery including gods and swastikas on Wudang Mountain. Over the centuries they influenced one another in both practice and theory.
In Part vii, the ''Gold Testing Stone'', we have ''… Sages, using their power of skilful means (note the use of a Buddhist concept), have opened up good avenues of introduction, setting up terminology and imagery, writing alchemical treatises to guide students.'' If these writings etc. are followed people will ''transcend into the realm of reality.'' And, ''…people of later times …have clung to the superficialities … bringing in all sorts of irrelevant issues, resulting in fragmentation of the Way.'' Then the author refers to ''…ignorant shallow students of today who arbitrarily write misinterpretations of the meaning of the classics of the sages…'' The parallels with Tai Chi Chuan practitioners and the TCC Classics are clear.
In Part viii, the ''Nine Grades of Practice'', for the ''Lowest of the Low'' level, which mentions 72 schools of sexual play, we have, ''… some have a virgin boy and girl copulate…'' which parallels a passage in one of 40 essays passed by the Yang family to the Wu which purports to have come from Chang San-feng and deals with internal alchemy. The passage talks about ''matching the jade girl and the baby boy…''
The ''Upper Middle Grade'' covers transmission of initiation and precepts, readings and recitation and thus has parallels with Bai Shi initiation ritual.
The ''Lower Upper Grade'' mentions ''…meditative breathing, massage, physical exercises… keeping the attention on the navel and swallowing copious amounts of saliva; all part of regular Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong practice. The passage continues, ''nine massage strokes for one forceful exhalation…''; this has parallels with, ''Move the Qi as through a pearl with nine crooked paths.'' which appears in the Tai Chi Classic ''An Interpretation of The Practice of The Thirteen Tactics''.
The ''Middle Upper Grade'' mentions, circulatory methods, bending and stretching and twisting the spine – all Tai Chi methods of practice. The ''Higher Upper Grade'' is mainly concerned with internal Alchemy.
Part xiii, Questions on Alchemy has the question, ''Strum the lute to call the phoenix…, what does this mean?'' It is explained as a metaphor for emptying the mind and nourishing the spirit. This would seem to explain the frequent appearance of Stroking the Lute/ Seven Stars (essentially the same technique) in Yang lineage long forms as a major application is to come to an on guard to face a new attack or opponent thus necessitating ''emptying the mind''.
Part xiv has a number of interesting thoughts on spiritual alchemy, including, ''When the mind is settled the spirit is complete; when the spirit is complete one perfects essence.'' This is reminiscent of the Dalai Lama’s statement that without peace of mind meditation is worthless and explains the ritualistic preparatory movements in many Tai Chi schools prior to entering the practice of form or Nei Kung.
Part xvii contains a long passage on movement and stillness of crucial relevance to both Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong practitioners.
Part xviii ''Songs'' contains references to the Northern Dipper and by extension is also a metaphor for the ''Seven Stars'' which we talk about in Tai Chi Chuan. A ''mystic pearl'' and later ''a tiny pearl''are also talked about which may or may not be the one with nine crooked paths referred to in the Tai Chi Chuan Classics. There are also many references to Qigong techniques to be found in Immortal Family Baduanjin and to the Nei Kung technique ''Embracing the One''. There are great quotes, ''Beginners who do not seek teachers grow old without attainment, bringing misery upon themselves.'' And ''Beginners are subject to deception; great mystics are not liked.''
Part xix, ''Poems'' refers again to the ''mind pearl'' and ''tiny pearl'', but is largely concerned with the problem of fixation. The poem ''Forging the Sword'' gives some substance to the name ''Qian Kun Jian'' (Heaven and Earth Sword).
Part xx, ''Veiled Words'', again deals with delusion and fixation and removing ''habit conditioned energy'' which is a prime purpose of internal training. Lastly it talks about knowing how and where to stop.'' I’m almost ready to do so – for now.
As the reader will see there are some very attractive elements in the Complete Reality approach to life and enlightenment which made it attractive to the literati, but the concepts are not suited to the peasant in the field so it did not pose the same degree of threat as White Lotus or Falun Gong. I hope those who deny Tai Chi Chuan’s Taoist roots now realize that they are right, what they practice truly has nothing to do with Taoism. For the others, get the book, despite certain misgivings the material is so fascinating that it is a must buy.
Part 2 of this review will look at other cults and sects referring to more of the growing body of literature on the subject.
PART 2 - YOU’RE A CULT – A REVIEW OF CHINESE SECTS, HETERODOX MILLENARIAN & SYNCRETIC AND CHINESE INTERNAL ARTS
''Bonkers'' is the epithet which the legendary man on the Clapham omnibus would use to describe Mr. Li Hong-zhi, founder of Falungong (Law/Principle Wheel Cultivation Energy) – also known as Falundafa (Law/Principle Wheel Great Law). Li’s work ''Zhuan Falun'' (Turning Law/Principle Wheel – ISBN 962-8143-04-02) is almost 400 pages long, in parts descending into unreadable gibberish and yet…
I have seen Falungong practitioners exercising in London, New York State (at the North American Qigong Association Annual Conference) and Hong Kong. I have discussed the exercises with the well-respected Dr. Roger Jahnke of the NQA and Dr. Alan Peatfield of University College Dublin. Both agree that the Qigong aspect that is practiced in public is basic and reasonably efficacious. Neither flinched or demurred when I described Falungong as a classic heterodox, millenarian, syncretic cult. However, much of the stated philosophy of Falungong is Buddhist in nature and quite admirable. Li emphasises losing attachments and increasing De (virtue) by accepting tribulations such as illness, and standing up to an unsympathetic spouse by continuing to practice. The three main Fa (Laws/Principles) of Falungong are Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance. You will have already noticed some similarities in belief with the White Lotus.
Let’s look at some of the criticisms of Li and Falungong from the Chinese Communist Party (Chicoms) as made in ''Li Hongzhi & His Falun Gong (Deceiving the Public and Ruining Lives) (New Star Publishers ISBN 7-80148-238-7). The book sets out Li’s background stating that he was born in 1952 in Jilin, but later falsified his birthdate to make it appear he was a reincarnation of Sakyamuni. He went from being a trumpeter in a police band to police guesthouse attendant to working in a factory security section. However, they say he gave himself a false background as a child prodigy student of mysterious Buddhist and Taoist masters – pretty standard stuff for someone with messianic tendencies. Tony Blair similarly lied about attending football matches in his youth to appear to be a man of the people.
A first accusation is ''Hawking the theory of ''doomsday'' by declaring that mankind has come to the brink of destruction'' and ''Claiming that only he himself and his ''Falun Dafa'' can save mankind.'' Mao said (Little Red Book, P. 2), ''Without the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party, … China can never achieve independence and liberation…'' While in the short 1969 Constitution of the Communist Party of China, there are seven references to ''Marxism-Leninism Mao Tse-tung thought'' and three references to Mao himself. Hmm, messianic tendencies seem to be a common theme.
Second is, ''Cursing the human race and regarding the earth as a rubbish heap (for bad people).'' Whole sections of Chinese society, landlords, intellectuals, the bourgeoisie and even the peasants were sent by Mao and the Chicoms to their deaths during the ''Hundred Flowers Campaign'', ''The Great Leap Forward'' and ''The Cultural Revolution.''
Third is ''Distorting and belittling religion and claiming that ''Falun Dafa'' is the orthodox law''. Article 88 of the 1954 Constitution of the People’s Republic of China states, ''Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.'' If you were to quote this to the Taoists, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Tibetan Lamas interned in the Laogai camps over the years they might look somewhat askance. Mao said (Little Red Book, P. 52), ''The only way to settle questions of an ideological nature or controversial issues among the people is by the democratic method, the method of discussion, of criticism, of persuasion and education and not by the methods of coercion and repression.'' Try telling that to the relatives of the late Wang Pei-sheng and Wu Gong-zao, both sent to the Laogai by the Chicoms just for being what they were, teachers of Tai Chi Chuan.
A fourth accusation is ''Using ''Falun Gong'' to amass dirty money, …tax evasion and money-laundering.'' This from a party whose local cadres are selling off peasant land without prior consultation or subsequent compensation, many of whose high-ranking police and military officers are responsible for large-scale software pirating and gangsterism. Li says that practitioners should not charge fees as he does as he has expenses such as travel, bed and board, producing teaching material etc. He certainly seems less grasping that the average American TV evangelist.
It is alleged that 1.404 people have died as a result of Falungong practice. To Western ears that sounds like a lot, but is nothing compared to the tens of millions killed by the Chicoms.
But Li is ''bonkers''. He talks about installing a ''Falun'' (his sect’s logo is the reverse of the Nazi Swastika – itself also taken from Buddhism) in the abdomen which rotates clockwise to absorb energy and anti-clockwise to emit energy and benefit others. One wonders if this is more ridiculous than the Taoist concept of Dantian (Cinnabar Fields) or the good and bad angels which the Franciscan nuns told me I had on respective shoulders, though I was never sure which was which. Li also talks about the Third Eye between the eyebrows which connects to the Pineal Body at a high level; we can use it to see through our dimension into other time spaces and at a lower level through walls or human bodies. Some of us can read with hands, ears feet or even stomachs. Other skills developed by Falungong cultivation include clairvoyance and the ability to tell the future.
Li is criticised by the Chicom government for saying that illness is a matter of karma (Li interprets this as a kind of psychic baggage) and that practitioners gain karma and lose De (virtue) if they try to heal others. Conversely it can be regarded as a tribulation to increase De. Li deals with the vexed question of Qigong related psychoses by saying that there is no ''cultivation insanity'' and that problems and strange behaviour are the result of immoral minds and a show off mentality.
However, he talks about demonic interference which can manifest it in ambient noise every time one tries to practice or in sexual fantasies; these are tribulations so there is no need for treatment. Li says that only one in a hundred Falungong practitioners get it – if some of their claims to the size of their organisation are correct this could involve anything from 300,000 to 700,000 people. He goes on ''All of our practitioners should be sure never to behave abnormally among ordinary people.'' Referring to sex and pornography, ''There were no such things in our ancient Chinese traditional arts.'' My book of erotic Ming prints is available for his perusal.
On the plus side, if one has genuine energy one can give it to others unintentionally. Furthermore Li quotes Sakyamuni who mentioned, ''Precept (Morality) and abandoning all desires and hobbies until nothing was left so that one could attain the state of Samadhi'' (trance meditation).
If we followed ancient Chinese science and the TV wasn’t invented people would have one in their foreheads and ''they can watch anything they want to see.'' ''Without trains and planes people will be able to levitate in the air.'' ''The flying saucers of the extraterrestrial can… become large or small.''
Unlike the case of Tai Chi Nei Kung and certain other systems of Qi/Neigong, there is no Bai Shi (ceremony of ritual initiation) in Falungong, however there is the idea of filling the headtop with energy, somewhat analogous to the Tai Chi concept of suspended headtop. Indeed Li’s writings use a lot of terms from Taoist Internal Alchemy such as ''Mysterious Gate One Aperture'', which Li accuses false Qigong masters of using to refer to the penis (or presumably the vagina), or the ''Primary Infant''. He goes on to criticise the concept of three Dantian, saying that ''Dan'' is everywhere.
Li pour scorn on ''fine arts Qigong'' such as music Qigong, Calligraphy Qigong etc and says it is plundering Qigong for money. He is not wrong. He differentiates martial arts Qigong from ''internal body cultivation'', saying that the former requires practice in motion so one cannot achieve a state of tranquillity or send Qi to the Dantian. I sense he would not win the sympathy vote with Tai Chi Chuan practitioners.
Li talks of shoe imprints on trilobite (fossils) more than 260 million years old, of the oceans swallowing tall and ancient architecture from civilisation that were tens of millions of years old. ''Some people do not eat or drink for … over ten years, but they live very well.'' ''Not only trees are lives, they also have very advanced thinking activities. ''Historically the record for the longest sitting time is over 90 years.'' ''If I cannot save you, nobody else can do it.''
Li makes valid points about the dangers of ''dual cultivation between a man and a woman'' though he is naïve in claiming that the practice originated outside of China. He is also correct in stating that the Taoist School is more concerned with developing the body through Internal Alchemy whereas Buddhist meditation is more concerned with the mind, though some Buddhist schools such as Li’s do both. Typically, however, Li brings in other dimensions and the idea that through his cultivation practice human cells are replaced by high energy matter. He talks of a Ming dynasty practitioner who was possessed by a snake which transformed his body into that of a snake to make trouble for Li who caught the snake and used ''Dissolving Gong'' to dissolve his (its?) lower body and turn it into water while the upper body ran home. The name Jesus comes to mind.
Li correctly states that both gradual and sudden enlightenment are acceptable as the result is the same and that ''after the lectures you will also be able to become a good person.'' After reading them I felt terrific.
As well as these two books from the two protagonists there is a rather good if overly academic analysis of the story in ''FALUN GONG The End of Days'' by Maria Hsia Chang (Yale University Press; £16.99; ISBN 0-300-10227-5).
The Chicoms first took action in 1996 when they became aware that Li’s ''Zhuan Falun'' (Turning Law/Principle Wheel) had sold more than 1 million copies. They banned it and 4 other Qigong publications. By that time official estimates of Falungong membership were around 30million. The cult claimed double that; many of them government servants. By April 25th, 1999, as a result of Chicom oppression, cult members held a silent demonstrated outside Communist Party HQ, the Forbidden City, Beijing. After the student rebellion of 1989 and the massacre that followed, the response was predictable. Li emigrated to the USA in early 1998; in July 1999 the Chicoms banned Falungong and all Falungong material; active members were sent to prison and labour camps and psychiatric hospitals almost all without trial. In the past several years there have been protests at the Chicom torture, murder and organ-harvesting of Falungong detainees. Li himself has been accused of being a CIA agent; sect members were accused of treason.
All for non-violent protest, practicing Qigong and believing two or three impossible things before breakfast. All the while Li encouraged martyrdom and criticised the Chicoms from the relative safety of exile.
Yet in 1992 according to Li’s followers, Jiang Ze-min, President of China and head of the Communist Party had private Falungong treatment for arthritis and neck pains, indeed at the time Qigong was seen as an ideal solution to the health care crisis; an ideal way to improve public health and to save money. Li’s sect was also a member of the Chicom controlled Qigong Research Association of China, though they resigned when the persecution started.
When I visited Wudangshan with editor Ron in 1999, we chatted to some of the locals; to a man they told us that the Falungongers were bad people and the Chicoms were right to repress them. It was evident that despite being banned, some groups were still active. In 2006 when we chatted to some of the senior Hubei province Tai Chi teachers, they told us that there was no Falungong around anymore. In fact the green ribbons we saw park Tai Chi and Qigong instructors wearing indicated that their teaching was state approved and licenced. Unlicenced teachers are banned from the parks and only a few Qigong systems – all without ritual or religious overtones, are allowed. Falungong is not one of them.
It is clear that Falungong was a danger to the state. It had millions of true believers, a millenarian religion/philosophy, a charismatic leader and worst of all it gave people hope that it could bring about the end of decades of oppression and corruption by the Chicom regime with which it was favourably compared. It was for them a reprise of the Taiping and other rebellions. There cannot be two tigers on one mountain.
The last book I wish to mention in this series on sects and cults is ''Original Tao – Inward Training and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism'' by Professor Harold D. Roth (Columbia University Press, 1999; ISBN 0-231-11564-4), of Brown University. I consider this to be is one of the finest works on classical Chinese mysticism and meditation ever written. The background, the translation (with Chinese text presented alongside) and the explanatory notes are all clear and first-rate.
Professor Roth’s book is a translation of Nei Yeh (Inward Training), a collection of poetic verses on the Tao, which he dates from the mid-4th century BC during the chaotic Warring States period and he uses the title ''Original Tao'' as ''…it represents the earliest extant presentation of a mystical practice that appears in all the earliest sources of Taoist thought.'' The text was buried in a work called ''Guan Zi'' attributed to the famous minister, Guan Zhong, of the 7th century BC.
Roth points out that philosophers were not the only influence at court, often practitioners of Fang Shu'' – technical and esoteric arts such as medicine, breath cultivation, divination, demonology etc., held greater sway. Much of what was passed down was by oral transmission and the mnemonic nature of Nei Ye suggests this is how it, like the Tai Chi Classics, was originally transmitted.
The terminology found in Nei Ye also has resonances with the Tai Chi Classics. The character Zheng crops up again and again – it is often translated by Tai Chi exponents (especially those of the Cheng Man-ching tradition) as ''erect'' but as Roth points out in the present work Zheng means correctly aligned and I would argue this is how it should be translated in the Tai Chi Chuan Classics.
Other TCC Classics terms and concepts used include: Wu Chi (No Ultimate/Limit), Zhong (Centrality) Ding (Fixed/Stable), Qi Jing Shen (the Three Treasures of Internal Alchemy) Xin (Heart/Mind), Yi (Intent), Hua (transform), Bian (Change), ''Zheng Xin Zai Zhong'' (Align the mind in the Centre)'', ''(Qi) flows through the nine apertures'', longevity, ''Vitality comes from peace of mind and meditation reduces sense desires.''
Roth believes that early (non-religious) Taoism consisted ''of a number of closely related master-disciple lineages all of which followed a common cultivation practice first enunciated in ''Inward Training''.'' These individual lineages would have mainly been small independent groups and could not be said to be a cult like Falungong or even an organised sect like the Complete Reality School. The links between early Taoists and what Roth calls the ''cult of immortality'' to which practitioners of physical and macrobiotic hygiene belonged need further examination as does the influence of both on Tai Chi Chuan and Qigong. However, then as now such activities were unpopular with the political elite, because to take them seriously meant devoting your life to them and failing in your duty to produce descendants and serve the state.
I hope through this extended review of books on and approaches to meditation and the way it was and is done ranging from master-disciple to guru and groupies, to show readers that the once a week class in the local hall or sports centre is far removed from the various Chinese points of origin.
One further point, the Chicoms are not only banning all except a few internal art practices, but have also introduced a grading system of nine levels for Qigong such as has already been done with Chinese martial arts. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Dan Docherty: Tai Chi Gladiator
Interview by A. D. Davies [This is the first part of the interview in Fighting Arts International, which introduced Dan Docherty in the UK.]
Dan Docherty's forthright and often iconoclastic views on Tai Chi have angered and shocked members of the Tai Chi community in Britain, leading many of them to regard him as a heretic. After a background in Karate he went to Hong Kong in 1975 to serve as an inspector in the Royal Hong Kong Police. While there he trained in Tai Chi Chuan under Master Cheng Tin-hung. He represented Hong Kong in both the 1976 and 1980 South East Asian Martial Arts Championships: placing second in the Heavyweight Division in 1976 and winning the Open Weight Championship in 1980. He is a scholar as well as a fighter, having a law degree and a postgraduate diploma in Chinese. In 1983 he published `Wutan Tai Chi Chuan', which he co-wrote with Cheng Tin-hung. Dan has travelled extensively in South East Asia and has visited both the Shaolin Temple and Wutan Mountain, where Tai Chi originated. He now teaches Tai Chi in London.
What first got you interested in martial arts?
I had read a little on the subject and knew a few people who had done Judo, then in 1971 when I first saw a karate class at Bellahoustan Sports Centre in Glasgow, I jumped at the chance of learning some of the intriguing skills I'd heard of and I signed up the same week.
What style and who were your instructors?
The style at that time was Shotokan karate and my instructor was Sensei AI Dowan. He was a very competent and enterprising instructor and I owe a lot to the sound basic grounding he gave me. He also brought a lot of Japanese masters up to Glasgow to give courses. Of these Senseis Enoeda and Kato of Shotokan and later Sensei Nanbu of Sankukai particularly impressed me. Enoeda, though strict, did not dispense the kind of gratuitous violence that was Kato's trademark. We greatly admired them for the power and precision of their technique. Nanbu inspired as much animosity as he did admiration. His unorthodox Sankukai style contained elements of Aikido and Kendo as well as Karate. It was very different to what we'd been doing up to then with lots of sidesteps, spinning techniques and subtle counter-attacks. He'd walk around wearing his tinted glasses and a big smile - very much 'Mr Nice Guy'. Though he'd beaten Valera in competition and coached the French national team he was unacceptable to the Shotokan diehards and this led to a split in our organisation - I stayed with Al Doran and Sankukai. Nanbu didn't have much English, but one word he used a lot comes back to haunt me from time to time, 'Escape!'
How far did you get with Karate?
I was awarded my 1st Dan by Sensei Nanbu in 1974. Immediately after that I went to Paris on a trip arranged by AI Doran and stayed at Henri Plee's dojo. At that time Sensei Toguchi was giving a course there in Okinawan Goju. In its way his training was as different from Shotokan as Nanbu's. Some of the training was very gymnastic and it struck me as a very powerful and practical style.
Did you see any other masters whilst in Paris?
I also trained in Sensei Nanbu's dojo with his assistants Tsukada and Kamohara. There and at Dominique Valera's dojo, which I later visited, I was amazed at haw fast people were in kumite (sparring) compared to what I'd been used to in Glasgow. I also visited the dojo of Sensei Kase; I much admired his approach to teaching Kata (form).
How did you get interested in Tai Chi?
When reading about the historical background of Karate I often came across references to Tai Chi. Also some of the French karate boys I'd met had learned some. I started to read Tai Chi books, but the problem with the majority of them was and still is that though they were full of great stories about the feats performed by the masters of antiquity, the self defence techniques shown and the explanations given seemed incredibly ineffective. I then had a couple of Tai Chi lessons from a dancer in Glasgow. She hadn't a clue how to apply the movements for self defence purposes and I couldn't work it out either. I was intrigued but baffled! Given that the movements must have self defence applications, where did the power come from? I knew there must be a missing link.
Is that the reason you went to Hong Kong?
One of the reasons. By that time I'd got my LL.B from Glasgow University but I'd become far more interested in martial arts training than in a legal career and I felt I had to go to the Far East to find what I was looking for. When I saw an ad in the paper for inspectors in the Royal Hong Kong Police I successfully applied and in June 75 flew out to Hong Kong.
How did you get into martial arts in Hong Kong?
Initially I went round some of the clubs. It's very difficult to find someone who is both of good character and possesses a high level of ability in the martial arts. Many martial arts clubs are recruiting grounds for the Triad Societies and being in the Police I didn't want to be involved with these types. I did some Goju Ryu and Wing Chun, but I didn't feel either of these systems was right for me personally. Luckily, George Button, the Chief Physical Training Instructor at the Police Training School and one of Hong Kong's top Aikido men told me he'd learned some fighting Tai Chi under Cheng Tin-hung in Kowloon. I then went to see Cheng Tin-hung.
What were your first impressions of Cheng Tin-hung and his training?
He was very cordial, very polite, but very alert. As he had no English and my Cantonese at that time was very limited, he spoke through an interpreter. He took us up to the rooftop where his students were training. No grades, no uniforms; and doing different things - weapons, pushing hands, hand form self defence techniques - while some were just chatting. Sifu Cheng showed us some self defence applications from the hand form after which he invited me to hit him as hard as I could in the stomach to demonstrate Tai Chi Nei Gung (internal strength). He absorbed some of my best gyaku-tsukis (karate reverse punches) with no sign of tension or pain. It was then that I began to suspect I had found the missing link that I mentioned earlier. A week later I had totally given up Karate and Wing Chun. In the 12 years since then he has been my only master and his Tai Chi has been my only method.
Tell us a bit more about this Nei Gung method.
This is a secret side of Tai Chi, only taught after the student has gone through a ritual ceremony. We do not use the term Chi Gung, because Chi Gung tends to suggest that the Chi is deliberately directed to different parts of the body; we never try to direct the Chi. Instead we use the term Nei Gung. Nei means internal and refers to the fact that the 12 Yin and 12 Yang internal strength exercises are designed to strengthen the body internally by enhancing the function of the internal organs and the chi and blood circulation. Furthermore they stimulate the central nervous system, forge the will and make the mind more tranquil. The internal strengthening process trains the ability of the body to both withstand the blows of the opponent and to strike the opponent with what the Cantonese call 'Ging' - focused power The Yin exercises are also particularly effective in improving health and easing cases of insomnia, muscle and bone injuries, nervous tension etc. The Yang exercises are mainly for power. Some of the exercises have a self defence application. After about 3 months' internal strength training, when all the Yin exercises have been learned, the average student should be able to withstand someone jumping on his abdomen from head height. I must stress that this kind of training and demonstration should only be learned from a competent and suitably experienced teacher. Even if you practice other so called Tai Chi Chi-Kung such as 'Holding a Jug' for 40 years you will still be unable to do this. I might add that my teacher has been much sought after by teachers of other styles of both Tai Chi and other martial arts for this very reason.
Is there anything else that distinguished Cheng Tin-hung's method from other styles of Tai Chi?
Two things. Firstly the heavy emphasis he placed on footwork and evasion when using either striking or grappling techniques. The footwork is largely trained in the `Seven Stars', `Nine Castles', and 'Da Lu` pushing hands exercises. The evasion is trained in the 'Foo Yang; 'Four Direction', 'Chin Si' (Reeling Silk) and 'Choi Long' (Gather The Wave) pushing hands exercises. I must emphasise pushing hands is not self defence but only a method of training skills that are useful in self defence.
The second difference is that both his own and his student's abilities have been successfully tested in full contact competition and in 'duels'. He has produced many South East Asian Martial Arts Champions. I am talking now about Tai Chi fighters, training only in Tai Chi, fighting opponents from other styles of Chinese kung fu as well as other martial arts. No other Tai Chi master has produced a S.E. Asian Champion. This is why, a few years ago, when they were thinking about introducing this type of contest to China, the Chinese authorities invited Cheng Tin-hung to Peking to advise them on rules, training and holding tournaments.
It's also why the Hong Kong Government asked Cheng Tin-hung to examine Tai Chi teachers for the Government's Tai Chi morning classes.
Over the past 12 years of Tai Chi practise I have come across many students and teachers of other styles of Tai Chi and have found them able to talk good Tai Chi - stories about their teacher or their teacher's teacher but when it came down to it they had only a rudimentary knowledge of basic pushing hands and self defence. No internal strength, no evasion, no ability to 'Faat Ging' - strike with focused power. They do not in fact practise Tai Chi Chuan; they practise Dou Fu Chuan - Beancurd Boxing. In other words, because they have only Yin and no Yang, their fists are like beancurd; soft and soggy.
Is internal strength training enough by itself for fighting purposes?
Although internal strength training is the fundamental prerequisite for practising Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art, it is certainly not enough in itself. Once you've trained an ability you have to learn how and when to use it so regular practise of the hand form, pushing hands and self defence techniques is essential. Furthermore like most styles of Kunq Fu, Tai Chi Chuan has any punching techniques. If your fist is not tempered, you will injure the hand when punching any of the hard bones of the face. This is as true for Tai Chi as it is for hard style martial arts. So you must restrict yourself to open hand strikes or you temper the fist by punching sandbags etc. It is also necessary to do some stamina training - this is particularly important when training for full contact competitions where your choice of techniques and targets are limited and you are facing a powerful, trained opponent rather than some beer-bellied loudmouth. The softness of the hand form and of the Yin styles of internal strength balance this kind of Yang training. If you only do Yang training, you are not doing Tai Chi Chuan and may as well go and practise Shaolin boxing.
The essential combat theory of Tai Chi Chuan is to use softness or Yin to overcome hardness or Yang and to use hardness or Yang to overcome softness or Yin. So rather than blocking the opponent's attacks we divert or redirect them using evasion and/or footwork at the same time. This is using softness to overcome hardness. The attack has then become 'dead' force and has changed from Yang to Yin. At this point we must also change from Yin to Yang by striking (Yang) the vital points of our opponent (Yin). This is using hardness against softness. In order to train this evasion it is necessary to do a lot of practise on the pushing hands exercises I mentioned earlier.
Most martial artists and all the Tai Chi people I have met would describe Tai Chi as a `soft' internal martial art. I know a number of Tai Chi practitioners who would regard you as a heretic.
They're only partly correct - on both counts. The term 'Tai Chi' refers to the concept of the universe being composed of the complementary forces of Yin and Yang. Tai Chi Chuan is therefore a `Chuan' or martial art which employs this concept. There should therefore be Yang training to complement the Yin training. If the art is only Yin, it is only half an art. If anyone can show me how to hit someone softly sending them flying across the room with a flick of the fingers, I'd willingly pay them a lot of money! During my teacher's visit to the UK in 1986 many teachers of other styles of Tai Chi and of other martial arts took part in the seminars. These Tai Chi teachers had for the most part a high degree of softness - but that was all. One in particular had learned for more than 10 years from the so-called Master of the Five Excellences, Cheng Man-ching.
This gentleman had been practising Tai Chi for more than 20 years. During one of the seminars he pushed hands with a tall, skinny 17 year old called Kevin White who had been learning from me for about nine months. Kevin pushed him all over the place. Later this gentleman contacted me with a view to learning internal strength. This indicates that either
Cheng Man-ching did not know internal strength or, if he did he didn't teach it to even his long-term students.
As for being a heretic, so at one time was Galileo. The heresy of today is the orthodoxy of tomorrow. If they believe I'm wrong, let them show they can do better.
You don't seem to have a high opinion of Cheng Man-ching; also you seem to be suggesting that a lot of people who are generally accepted as Tai Chi masters have an imperfect knowledge of the art.
I think Cheng Man-ching is extremely overrated. He firstly became famous because, as a long-term member of the Kuomintang, he was the tutor to Soong Mei-ling, the wife of the then President of Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek. This naturally was of great advantage in making him famous as a Tai Chi teacher. Looking at his books on Tai Chi, I find them verbose and unimpressive; they don't mention internal strength and I believe he had little if any practical fighting experience. In any event his own teacher, Yang Cheng-fu was defeated in Peking in the mid-1930s by Wan Lai-sheng, a hard stylist. (Wan is listed in 'Asian Fighting Arts' by Draeger and Smith as practising Tzujan Men - Spontaneous Boxing). I should point out that, as soon as he heard of Yang's defeat, Wu Jin-chuan of Wu style Tai Chi sought out and defeated Wan. At that time Yang was about 50 years of age while Wu was 13 years older! Funnily enough Wan still lives in Peking - teaching Tai Chi!
Yang Cheng-fu died in his early fifties. Looking at surviving pictures of him it is obvious that he was grossly obese. I believe that this led to him changing the Tai Chi he had learned from his father to suit his lack of mobility I believe this is why Yang family Tai Chi is deficient in footwork and evasion training. It was feasible for a huge man like Yang Cheng-fu to meet opponents head-on without side-stepping, but sooner or later this method was bound to fail.
Unfortunately the Wu family system is not what it was either. As the above anecdote shows, Wu Jin-chuan maintained a high degree of fighting ability well into his sixties. His son Wu Kung-yi was a different case. A few years ago the Wu family unwisely published a book in Chinese on Wu style Tai Chi. As well as including some esoteric writing advocating sexual congress with male and female virgins, the book also contained photos of Wu Jin-chuan and his son. It is obvious from the father's deep stances and precise posture that he possessed excellent technique. The postures demonstrated by Wu King-yi are high and stilted and really he looks like a sick man.
Tai Chi is not some precious heirloom that has been handed down unchanged from father to son, from generation to generation. To be good at Tai Chi, to be good at anything you must have the commitment to watch, to think and above all to train. Without this no matter whose son you are you just won't have it. I believe later generations of the Yang and Wu lacked this commitment and so the Tai Chi handed down by them is inferior.
Is this why you use the name 'Wutan Tai Chi Chuan' rather than a family name?
Wutan (or Wudang) Mountain in Hubei Province is the spiritual and historical home of Tai Chi Chuan because that is where the Taoist Chang San-feng formulated the art. So in using this name we were trying to get away from the myths and conventions perpetuated by the Yang, Chen and Wu families and to state that our Tai Chi is the original Tai Chi of Chang San-feng from Wutan Mountain. Our own genealogy is as follows:-
Was there any difference in the teaching of Chai Man-hin and Cheng Wing-kwong?
The major difference was that Chai could teach Tai Chi Chuan as a fighting art while Cheng could not. Cheng Wing-kwong was a businessman who learned Tai Chi mainly for health and none of his students attained the fighting ability that Cheng Tin-hung and his students had. In fact it was Cheng Wing-kwong who brought Chai to Hong Kong in the first place! On the recommendation of another Tai Chi master he invited Chai to Hong Kong to teach his own sons and his nephew Cheng Tin-hung. Chai's methods were harsh so only Cheng Tin-hung managed to stay the course with him.
Also Cheng Wing-kwong sometimes used to deliberately mislead students. Where he didn't want to teach them a particular technique, rather than simply refusing to teach them, he would either teach them wrongly or teach them something else entirely. As Cheng Wing-kwong didn't know the correct names for some of the Nei Kung styles and knew few self defence applications, he would get Cheng Tin-hung to teach him what he had learned from Chai. As a result some of the late Cheng Wing-kwong's students have had to ask Cheng Tin-hung to show them the real stuff. In general the hand form and basic pushing hands that Chai and Cheng Wing-kwong taught Cheng Tin-hung was similar. Because their transmission of the art came down from two different lines, this is further evidence to show that it was Yang Cheng-fu who changed the Yang style.
To be honest though, students of Cheng Tin-hung have also been guilty of corrupting what they've been taught. One of his former students who teaches in Australia has made a complete mess of the system. He's not got the weapon forms; the hand form doesn't flow because it is linear like a basic Karate form; the internal strength techniques are wrong and taught in the wrong order; he only teaches very basic pushing hands and incorrect self defence applications. I was told by one of his students that he is regarded as one of Australia's top Tai Chi men! He's even had the temerity to tell his students that he regularly goes back to Hong Kong to visit and learn from Cheng Tin-hung! The truth is Cheng Tin-hung hasn't seen or heard from him in more than twenty years.
What about Chen style Tai Chi?
Oh yes, this amazing Taoist martial art with techniques such as 'Buddha's Warrior Attendant Pounding Mortar'! basically it's Shaolin Boxing with a bit of Tai Chi thrown in. I've written on this elsewhere. In brief, some members of the Chen Clan of Henan Province wanted to cash in on Tai Chi's popularity so they invented a false genealogy and put forward their mish-mash of Chen Family Pao Chui and Tai Chi as the original Tai Chi. China's leading Tai Chi historian Wu Tu-nan exploded this myth in 'A Research into Tai Chi Chuan' (written in Chinese and published in 1986) which describes his visit to the Chen family village in 1917.
You've actually been to the Shaolin Temple and to Wutan Mountain haven't you?
I visited both locations with Cheng Tin-hung In May 1984. The Shaolin Temple is a bit of a disappointment. It is very small and, since the issue of a stream of kung fu movies in China, it has become something of a tourist trap. In fact when I was there, there was a major refurbishing going on and the statues and murals were being repainted in gaudy colours. A couple of hours spent there is already more than enough. We were shown the imprint of Bodhidharma's shadow on the wall which he was reputed to have sat facing for years in unceasing meditation. This of course is absolute `twaddle'. We were also shown the small training room where the mighty footstamps of the Shaolin monks had caused indentations in the stone floor. It would be more remarkable, if there were no indentations after so many years of use. The trip to Wutan Mountain was much more worthwhile.
What made it different?
Wutan Mountain is a remote range of 72 peaks in Hubei Province which has been a Taoist retreat since at least the early Tang dynasty (618-9O0AD). Dotted around these peaks are magnificent temples, nunneries, grottoes and palaces. Furthermore, most of them are in an excellent state of repair as the very remoteness of Wutan Mountain protected if from the depredations of China's turbulent history, up to and including the Cultural Revolution. For our own purposes the trip was made the more worthwhile as we found tablets inscribed by some of the early Ming (1368-1644AD} emperors honouring Chang San-feng as a master of the Tao.
Going back to training methods, how did you manage to adapt Tai Chi for competition fighting and how did the training you used for competition fighting differ from ordinary Tai Chi training?
The contests which I took part in were fought on raised platforms, with no ropes. Full contact was allowed to any part of the body except the groin. Throwing, punching, kicking, knee, elbow and head butting techniques were all perfectly legal. Each fight was scheduled for 3 two minute rounds with one minute between each round. The object was to either stop your opponent or outpoint him. In this type of contest you cannot afford to just wait for your opponent to attack as time is strictly limited. Furthermore, when we fought in the South East Asian Martial Arts Contests representing Hong Kong you must consider that our opponents were highly trained champions representing their own countries and their own individual styles. Fitness and power therefore are vital in this type of competition. Also to become champion you must expect to fight a number of times within a few days.
In both the 1976 and the 1980 South East Asian Martial Arts contests I and one fellow student were the only Tai Chi fighters, not just in the Hong Kong team, but in the whole competition. In our training we used the type of gloves and rules that corresponded with those of the contest and only practised techniques, including throws, that were practical with those gloves on. When sparring one would adopt the methods of other styles such as White Crane, Thai Boxing, Choi Li Fat etc., while the other would counter. We also did a lot of Tai Chi stamina and internal strength training. Between times we'd do the hand form to balance the training and help massage our aching limbs. I also used to practise pushing hands and this came in useful when throwing an opponent from the platform.
How useful did you find the four years' Karate training you'd done?
It wasn't that helpful. The first time I did full contact sparring - with a much smaller senior student, I got whacked in the face so hard that my nose was pouring with blood. My automatic reaction was to turn round to Cheng Tin-hung expecting him to stop the fight and warn my opponent. Instead I got hit again.
What differences did you find between the 1976 and the 1980 South East Asian Martial Arts Championships?
In 1976 I was very raw, with only one year of Tai Chi behind me and so my defence in particular was not that well developed. That was also a particularly vicious competition because the gloves we used were like driving gloves with the fingertips cut off. In my first fight against a hard stylist from Malaysia I got two black eyes a bleeding nose, puffed lips and heavy bruising from the left hip down to the foot from Thai Boxing kicks. My left foot was so bad I couldn't get a shoe on and I had to have a tetanus shot followed by herbal mudpacks to reduce the swelling. I won the fight by the way! Four days later I stopped my next opponent as well, but lost on points the day after in the final of the Heavyweight division, to Lohandran of Malaysia and Chi Ke Chuan. He was fully fit as he'd only had to fight one contest lasting one round before the final. I felt really frustrated because I was sure I could have taken him if I'd been uninjured.
The next South East Asian Martial Arts Championships was held In Malaysia in 1980. This time we used Thai Boxing gloves. In fact the Malaysians had been training with Thai Boxers and they had a top Thai Boxing coach as one of the corner men for their fighters. This time there was a Superheavyweight Open Weight category for those over 220lbs. I weighed around 190lbs., but, against my teacher's advice, I opted to step up two weight categories to fight in this division as I figured there would be more 'face' to gain and in any case I'd be faster than my opponents. In my first the fight against Roy Pink of England and Five Ancestors, who weighed over 300lbs., I knocked him out in the first round. Then I was in the final against my old friend, Mr. Lohandran. I beat him on points in front of his home crowd in Kuala Lumpur. The only other Hong Kong boy to emerge as a champion was my fellow student, Tong Chi-kin who won the Middleweight title. After all that, I decided not to fight in competition again.
Why would a well-educated man like yourself take part in this kind of bloodbath?
I felt that the only way to test the system and to have credibility as a practitioner of the system was to fight the best people from other styles in full contact competition. Apart from that my teacher asked me to fight . . . and I do come from Glasgow.
What do you think of the popular theory that it's best to start with the other internal martial arts of Hsing I and Pa Kua before going on to Tai Chi?
This is only a fairly recent idea. In the early l9th century, when Yang Lu-chan brought Tai Chi Chuan to Peking, Hsing I and Pa Gua were viable independent systems. Since that time, although more and more people learned the individual arts, fewer and fewer learned them in any depth. Partly this was because most teachers will not teach every student 100%. You can't trust all your students equally. Some are heavily involved in other systems so of course you don't want to give them your best stuff which they might later use against you. Also many students are too greedy; even if you could teach them all you know, they'd still want more 'knowledge is power' is what they believe. This led to some students learning one art then switching to another. Some teachers also wanting more `tricks' to show their students, would learn the three arts then tell their students it was necessary to go through the three stages. Furthermore for many Tai Chi people it is necessary to supplement their ineffective Tai Chi with a `harder' style such as Hsing-I.
The Chinese refer to this kind of person as 'One hundred knives - of which not even one is sharp!' Remember Yang Lu-chan was given the nickname 'Invincible Yang' and became chief combat instructor to the Manchu Imperial Guard and he practised and taught only Tai Chi Chuan. I spent nine years in Hong Kong and saw many of the top Kung Fu masters in South East Asia demonstrate their arts. I had the opportunity to learn from any of them. In particular any of those Hong Kong masters would have been delighted to have a police inspector for a student - especially when I was in the Criminal investigation Department. I didn't go to anyone else because I feel there is a lot of potential for me to improve and develop within the one complete system. I have neither the time nor the inclination to practice another.
As a practitioner of a Taoist martial art do you regard yourself as a Taoist?
No. I have desires, ambitions and responsibilities therefore I am not a Taoist. Mind you I've seen a Chinese doctor's business card on which is printed `Dr. X (Taoist)', I find this extremely funny. You must distinguish the crooks, opportunists and lechers involved in religious Taoism from the Taoist sages. I think many passages of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, while interesting and entertaining are not realistic. I'm particularly referring to the concept of Wu Wei or non-action. In addition to Taoist philosophy, I like the realism of the 3rd century BC Confucian philosopher Hsun Tzu (not to be confused with Sun Tzu, author of `The Art of War').
How important is Tai Chi to you?
There's a Steve Goodman song where the woman asks which one he'd choose if she and B. B. King were both drowning; the answer is "I ain't never heard you play no blues." That's how I feel about Tai Chi.
You obviously enjoyed the nine years you spent in the Far East; what made you decide to come back?
In order to progress and fulfil my potential in Tai Chi Chuan, I needed the stimulus of teaching. Cheng Tin-hung observed several times that, unless fighters like myself taught the art, it would die as a fighting system. In any case, I never really enjoyed being a police officer in Hong Kong so it wasn't that hard to give it all up. The final factor influencing my decision was that I wanted to do a postgraduate diploma in Chinese at Ealing College in London.
There is no comparable course to this elsewhere and I found the environment in Hong Kong not very conducive to study. I felt I needed a deeper understanding of written Chinese, particularly the grammar, so that I could effectively do independent research and translation. It is an excellent course. In fact it's shown me that a major reason for the confusion surrounding the interpretation of the Tai Chi Classics is the poor grammar or complete lack of knowledge of Chinese of those writing on the subject.
If Chinese is interpreted literally, it makes a complete nonsense of the language. For example 'Tai Chi Chuan' can be interpreted literally as 'Supreme Ultimate Fist'. This might suggest that we only use fist techniques and that these techniques are the most wonderful that exist in the martial arts! Sometimes though, the knowledge of Chinese may be very good, but the interpretation will still be wrong because the interpreter's knowledge of Tai Chi is inadequate. Some of the solecisms that have appeared in Tai Chi books and articles over the years must have Chang San-feng turning over in his grave!
How practical is Tai Chi Chuan in the street for self defence?
Our Wutan Tai Chi Chuan is effective both at long and short range; with or without weapons. However, as with any other system you must consider the respective abilities of defender and attacker. Certainly it has helped me - and some of my students - out of awkward situations.
You mention weapons; are ancient weapons like the sword, spear and sabre really practical nowadays?
Ancient they may be, but they are not an anachronism. A long umbrella or similar length of wood can be used as a spear, while a shorter piece of wood can be used as a sabre or sword. It's a nonsense if you've studied martial arts for years and are faced with an armed opponent and you can't use such every day implements when they are to hand. Of the weapons, the spear is the most practical and is my personal favourite.
What are your hopes for the future?
I want to spread our Wutan Tai Chi Chuan around Britain and Europe so that Tai Chi Chuan once again has the reputation of a highly practical martial art and is no longer thought of as just some soft exercise for old ladies and ageing hippies. I want also to further my own and other peoples understanding of Tai Chi by research and translation as well as by training and teaching. To that end I hope to be able to produce more books and articles on Tai Ch Chuan.
A Master Calls: The Dan Docherty Interview: Part Two
By A. D. Davies [This is the second part of the interview in Fighting Arts International, which introduced Dan Docherty in the UK. Covering the visit to Dan's class by Master Chu King-hung]
Apart from the letters which have appeared in FAI, what reactions have you had to your interview in issue 46?
Well I had several hundred letters and calls from all over UK and from Europe and these were almost entirely favourable. It's fairly obvious that many people out there are interested in learning or at least in looking at Tai Chi which works as a fighting art. However, there were a couple of adverse reactions - from Tai Chi teachers of other styles. One incident in particular may interest readers.
You had a 'visitor'?
Correct. I was teaching my class in Covent Garden London, at about 8pm. on Friday, 22nd April, when a sturdy, balding Chinese gentleman of medium height came through the swing doors of the studio followed by a retinue of nine or ten persons. It was fairly evident they hadn't come to join the class. I recognised the Chinese gentleman from photos I'd seen in martial arts magazines both here and in Hong Kong. It was Chu King-hung. I also recognised one of his students.
Is that Master Chu King-hung of Yang Style Tai Chi?
None other. He told me he had some matters discuss with me, but that he could wait until after the class. After about 35 minutes watching me teach the class self defence, pushing hands and hand form, Chu gestured for me to come over. He told me that neither I nor my students had any internal power and that, in his 32 years of practising Tai Chi and his 15 years teaching it in Europe, I was the only one to say bad things about Yang style Tai Chi. I told him that I had never seen any Yang stylist here or in the Far East who could use Tai Chi effectively as a martial art and that I felt entitled to say so. Likewise he was free to express a contrary opinion.
He challenged me to do a `chi power' demonstration with my students and then he would do one with his. Now I've seen many of these so called `chi power' demonstrations where co-operative students are sent flying under carefully controlled circumstances. Some supreme charlatans even claim to be able to do this from a distance without touching! I said to him that this was no way to test skills, the traditional Tai Chi method was to have a pushing hands contest; student against student or teacher against teacher. He then demanded that I push hands with one of his students.
How did you feel about this?
It wasn't his place to tell me what to do, so I said it must be student with student. The senior student he'd selected was well over 6' tall and I believe his name is Bob Coleman. I knew him because in 1985 he'd attended one of my courses in Tai Chi spear. I nominated my student, Carl Burgess, to face him. Carl is considerably shorter than Bob and he has been studying Tai Chi for about 8 months.
Before they started, I told Carl the tactics to adopt. They made contact and Bob moved in with a strong push. Carl diverted it, twisted and threw Bob onto his back. There was a pregnant silence until Chu called, "Again!".
This time Bob came in a bit harder Carl gave way and turned him, pushing him into the wall. Bob thanked Carl and admitted he'd lost. He also said to Chu that Carl was good. I asked Chu what he wanted next. He looked at me and in a loud confident voice, he said, "I must have contact." At the same time he brandished his arm in front of him the way the hero does in the climactic scene in third rate kung fu movies, just before he beats the bad guy to a pulp and gets the girl.
So you and Master Chu pushed hands?
Three times. The first time he stepped in with a hard push. I diverted it thus destroying his balance. Instead of admitting he'd lost, he complained that I was bigger than him. I told him that he'd known this before he came and that he claimed to be a master with 32 years experience. He seemed to have forgotten that I'd got no internal power. So we pushed again, and again I destroyed his balance. After he'd lost balance he grabbed my neck for a moment, but still couldn't destroy my balance. I told him he'd lost again, but he denied it saying that the floor, was slippery. I pointed out that it was the same for both as we were both wearing trainers. Suddenly he shouted to one of his students to take a photograph as my neck was red. I intimated to this gentleman in dulcet Glaswegian tones that such action might not be in his own or the camera's best interests. No photos were taken.
Chu then demanded a third pushing hands bout. He adopted the same tactics and again I easily destroyed his balance. This time he said "Different method!" I pointed out that he'd known this also before he came. I told him that he was the one with no internal power, that I have students better than him, that he was a bullshitter and that I had just shown his Yang style to be useless for self defence.
How did your own students react to all this?
They were astonished that someone of Chu's experience and status in Yang style circles would make such a challenge in the first place. Obviously
they were pleased at the outcome and amused by Chu's excuses. He'd swaggered in like big John Wayne, but went out like Mickey Rooney. To lose once may be considered unfortunate; to lose five times doesn't leave much room for doubt.
What about Master Chu's students?
They were initially shell-shocked, but after I'd expressed myself in typically diplomatic terms about their style and their teacher, a couple of them tried to hit back at me, not by saying how good he was or by trying to turn defeat into victory, but by reproving me for my choice of adjectives and nouns. A young woman who was one of the strongest critics of my language ended up calling me an "arsehole."
Don't you think you were a bit too abrasive?
Not at all. The whole thing was a total surprise to us. They'd come along unheralded and uninvited. They'd disrupted my class. It was obvious they'd planned the whole thing and come well-prepared with a camera to record my humiliating defeat at their hands. Chu had issued and insisted on persisting with the challenge despite defeat after defeat and had then come up with pathetic excuses. I felt some sympathy for Bob Coleman, because he was very honest and sincere throughout, but I don't feel the least bit apologetic for anything I said either then, now or in FAI 46. You know the Edith Piaf song 'Je ne regrette rien.'
How did it end?
I said I'd heard enough bullshit for one night and I told them to go home. They left and we left. Outside I saw Bob go up to Chu and shake hands. He apologised for losing. We felt thirsty rather than apologetic so we went for a few drinks.
Have you heard anything since?
Chu called me on the Monday morning and wanted to talk to me. I told him I'd done all my talking on Friday night, and I would send him a letter about the incident and about arranging a pushing hands contest between our students if he so wished. That remains the position.
In `FAI' 48 there was a very angry letter from John Eastman of Yang style Tai Chi in which he is strongly critical of you and of many of the things you said. Do you accept his criticisms?
In the Hong Kong police force we had a term for people like John, 'Chocolate Policeman.' This refers to the kind of officer who was useless on the street, but had a nice nine to five job shuffling paper. If they left their air conditioned offices to go out in the hot sun they'd melt - just like chocolate. John's fairly typical of Yang style Tai Chi people; the kung fu is in the mouth not the hands. The best answer to his letter is to ask readers to compare it to what I said in the interview in `FAI' 46.
Are there any specific points you'd like to deal with?
Yes. He criticises photos that were used in the article, but these were selected by `FAI' from a wide variety of photos, also the first thing most people mentioned to me about the article was how good the photos were.
Again John, a self-confessed professional journalist and Yang style Tai Chi instructor, mentions conversations he had with me. He asks what 'differentiates my Tai Chi from other external styles which also utilise and demonstrate nei kung." This suggests that I am a hard stylist. However, then he says he put it to me that much of what we taught was similar, that I agreed with this, saying with a smile that the reason I emphasised the difference was business. This is untrue, except maybe for the smile and it belongs to the "Freddy Starr ate my hamster" school of creative journalism.
On the subject of internal strength, it was John who asked me about learning it and about the possibility of private lessons in pushing hands and self-defence techniques. He shows his ignorance of it when he suggests that the feats shown could be replicated by hard stylists. I don't recommend this as
He says that a tofu hand can't do much in a fight, but that water under pressure can?
The analogy is incomplete. Your opponent is a man, not water. This is a further example of the prevarication's Yang stylists come out with when confronted with uncomfortable issues such as how a Tai Chi man can temper the fist so it can hit the hard bones in the face. Their maxim seems to be, "if in doubt, waffle!" I know if I was in trouble I'd rather have someone like the redoubtable Mr. Gary Spiers on my side than any five of these jokers. I saw Mr Spiers give one of his inimitable demonstrations up in Glasgow about 16 years ago. These clowns are equally inimitable but in a different way!
John also has interesting and wonderful ideas about the Chinese language, despite the fact that, as he admitted to me, he is unable to read Chinese. He suggests that the character `Chuan' of Tai Chi Chuan is not really a fist in a martial arts sense but is "a fist with which we should pound ourselves into better, healthier more accomplished human beings." This is doublespeak, where defeat is victory, the truth is a lie and so on. Presumably practitioners of all other 'Chuan' such as Shaolin Chuan, Hung Chuan etc. are also not really practising martial arts. Maybe Kendoka should be cutting themselves with their swords. Sado-masochism is both a novel and unusual reason for practising martial arts.
But surely the health side of Tai Chi is important?
I don't deny it, but I'm not old and I'm not sick. There are five short passages which together compromise the Tai Chi classics. Certainly some contain references to health, but each of them has references to the use of Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art. Because our Tai Chi follows the theory outlined in these passages, because our Tai Chi is a proven fighting art that is why we claim the connection with Chang San-feng. Our Tai Chi is at least as good for health as any other Tai Chi, where it differs is in its proven fighting capability.
Aren't you just stirring up trouble in 'knocking' other styles?
The only other people I've 'knocked' as you put it are other Tai Chi people. You'll note that in the original interview I didn't criticise any current teachers by name. I only do so now because they have now come forward to take issue with me physically and verbally. Furthermore, I believe my criticisms are valid ones. Some Tai Chi teachers charge more than twice what I charge for classes. You need to pay whether or not you can make the class. The teacher is hardly ever there himself and even when he is he has nothing of value to teach. If 'knocking' these guys stirs up trouble, I am only too happy to continue 'knocking'.
What about the anecdotes that John relates about Cheng Man-ching's fighting ability and his criticism that if you need to enter a contest to find out how good you are then your ability is not very high?
I heard the same fairy tales about Chu King-hung and other Tai Chi teachers - all this rubbish about their fantastic 'chi power'. John was modestly reticent about his own fighting ability and in this regard he has much to be modest about.
Secondly, Yang stylists rightly boast of the fighting ability of Yang Lu-chan, who first brought Tai Chi to Peking and who took on all comers. This led to his appointment as martial arts instructor to the Manchu Imperial Guard. Presumably he was not very good either.
Another point, since well before Yang Lu-chan came on the scene Tai Chi, though still a Taoist martial art, was no longer exclusively taught by Taoists. By that I mean that, though Tai Chi Chuan retained the Taoist philosophical principles on which it was based and though a thorough knowledge of these principles was and still is necessary to practice the art, the teacher's themselves were no longer Taoist hermits. For the most part from Yang Luchan onwards they have been professional Tai Chi instructors not Taoist sages, and that includes the long time Kuomintang member, Cheng Man-ching.
As regards Cheng Man-ching's knowledge of the martial aspects of Tai Chi, I would advise those interested to study his books and compare what he says and what he shows to what is in our book 'Wutan Tai Chi Chuan' Furthermore anyone is welcome to come to watch any of my classes and compare the methods.
Another Yang style teacher who learned from Tung Ying-chieh, one of Yang Cheng-fu's senior students, told me that as far as they were concerned Cheng Man-ching was nothing special.
I would have to endorse that view.
John Eastman also refers to using acupressure where, by use of Chin force, Chi energy is extended into the patient and says that similar methods using a fist at high speed rather than a finger at slow speed would cause damage rather than healing.
In the 17 years I've been practising martial arts, both here and in the far East I have met many seemingly normal, rational, intelligent people who, as soon as the word `Chi' is mentioned, abandon all their critical and analytical facilities.
You don't need to be a doctor to know that using a fist on someone at high speed can hurt them, but that is nothing to do with Chi. Also striking nerve centres or pressure points of a compliant patient are one thing, but trying to do so to another trained martial artist who is turning, twisting, attacking and defending is another matter.
You seem very dismissive of Chi energy.
I'll tell you a story. Last summer I attended two lectures in London given in Chinese to a Chinese to a Chinese audience from a Chinese gentleman, Professor Lin Yun. The story goes that at the age of six, in Peking, the professor was recognised by the lamas of the Yung-ho Temple as an emanation of a Bodhisattva, so they taught him the secrets of the Black Sect of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism.
The lectures were respectively about Chi and about Feng Shui (geomancy) which the professor claimed to be interrelated and about which, according to the literature provided, he is an expert. The professor must be in his early fifties.
The first lecture was about Chi. His argument was that you could tell how the Chi flowed in individuals by looking at their posture, behaviour etc. He got a couple of members of the audience to come out, he made some general remarks about their Chi, then gave them advice on certain exercises to practice to improve the flow.
In the literature provided many awe inspired disciples of all nationalities told anecdotes about the professor. One even claimed that during one of the professor's lectures that she had seen a huge and brilliant white face hovering above him!
The second lecture was to be on Feng Shui and was scheduled for late at night, so Chinese restaurant workers could attend. I got there half an hour early and waited outside the cinema where it was to be held. However, when this master of the secrets of the Black Sect of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism arrived he had to be supported by his two extremely attractive female assistants, one holding each arm to help him into the cinema. He could barely walk. I don't want to speculate as to what had happened to the professor's Chi flow.
But why do so many people Believe in Chi energy?
Maybe they've been reading too many 'Fantastic Four' comic books. Also it gives the promise of an easier way than actually training or striving. The thing is some teachers of the Chinese martial arts deliberately use jargon like `chi energy' in the wrong context to mislead students into thinking that there is some mystical key which one day they will somehow acquire and then they too will become Taoist sages.
What have been some of the more positive responses to the original interview?
Owing to the response I received, I've had to start organising seminars on a regular basis both in London and elsewhere. Also it has made me realise the poor quality of much that is written about Tai Chi and has stimulated me to try and put together some articles for 'Fighting Arts International'.
Mr. Bad Example
by Dan Docherty
I'm very well acquainted with the seven deadly sins. I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in. I'm proud to be a glutton and I don't have time for sloth. I'm greedy and I'm angry and I don't care who I cross.
True confession ? Perhaps, but these lines also appear in the title track of Warren Zevon's excellent new album, Mr. Bad Example.
Over the years, I've read, and sometimes maybe even written, sanctimonious articles in the martial arts press about the behaviour and ethics expected of a martial arts instructor. Often these articles refer to an ideal exemplified by some great master of the past or by some elderly living master. I'd now like to examine this moral maze and attempt to show that grey areas are more common than black or white.
These sanctimonious articles usually place taboos on the instructor in the fields of foul language, violence, untidyness, sex, drinking, drugs and smoking. Instructors are expected to be polite, restrained, tidy, and abstemious. In an effort to make themselves appear more acceptable to the public, instructors often buy into this by wearing blazers and ties and awarding themselves titles such as "Professor" or "Grandmaster".
These articles usually portray instructors as black or white stereotypes; as living saints or the scum of the earth. I haven't met too many instructors who would conveniently fit either of these stereotypes.
It is perhaps sad, but nonetheless it is true that some "bad" or even criminal instructors are excellent martial artists. It is also sad but nonetheless true, that many instructors are fine upstanding citizens, but not very good martial artists. Of course we also have "bad" instructors who are bad martial artists and even "good" instructors who are good martial artists.
In Japanese martial arts, many instructors identify with the samurai ethic of bushido. What is not often acknowledged is the fact that some Japanese instructors who are now revered as paragons of all the known virtues were little more than war criminals when they served with the Japanese Imperial Army in its brutal campaigns throughout South East Asia during World War II. They got away with it because the Allied powers knew little and cared less about what one group of Orientals was doing to another. I'm quite happy to believe that some of these men were and are polite, restrained, tidy and abstemious. They are still war criminals.
The field of Chinese martial arts also has idols with feet of clay. Take Bruce Lee. It is well known in the Chinese martial arts community that he was taking "medicines" to help him deal with his heavy filming schedule. When he died, it was not with his wife at his side, but in the company of his co-star, the glamourous Miss Betty Ting Pei.
When I was serving in the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, I arrested fellow members of the Chinese martial arts community for offences connected with gambling, drugs and prostitution. In the early 1980s, a confidential report was published by the Triad Society Bureau on triad involvement in Chinese martial arts associations which gave Lion Dances and other demonstrations at traditional Chinese festivals. It revealed that just over one third (68 organisations from all over Hong Kong) of the almost two hundred organisations involved had a direct triad affiliation.
The reason for this involvement is that such demonstrations also involve 'requests' for 'donations' from shop keepers and onlookers as well as fights between rival associations. Apart from the prospect of monetary gain, the triad elements in some cases genuinely believe in the religious aspects of some of the festivals or sought prestige as government officials and VIPs often attend such events. There is of course some triad involvement in similar Chinese festivals in Chinatowns in Europe and America.
Of course most Japanese martial artists are not war criminals and most Chinese martial artists are not triad members. The point is that these hard facts are usually swept under the carpet and safer targets are set up for the Don Quixotes of the martial arts press to tilt their lances at.
Many of the old masters of Tai Chi Chuan had lifestyles which would raise a few eyebrows in our so-called permissive society. Yang Cheng -fu was grossly obese and died in his early fifties; at least one member of the Wu family was addicted to opium; many of the masters kept concubines or frequented places of "ill-repute"; many such as Cheng man-ching, were, by their own admission, heavy drinkers; many such as Yang Pan-hou and my own teacher liked in their youth to provoke fights. It's refreshing to know that some things don't change.
The thing is, I don't believe that any of these men were bad or wicked. They didn't rob churches or test the sharpness of their swords on prisoners. Nevertheless, each of them, in his own way, fails the respectability test that many Holy Willies in the martial arts world would like to set for the rest of us.
Christ once stopped a crowd from stoning an adultress, saying "let he who is without sin cast the first stone". In the martial arts world too, there are a lot of would be stone throwers.
Having talked of sinners, maybe it's appropriate to talk of saints and sages. Because of the laws of libel, let's restrict it to dead saints and sages - this also leaves me out.
It has always struck me as strange that some members of the karate world, everytime one of their number does or says anything that isn't quite respectable, they quote the words or deeds of Gichin Funakoshi in their admonitions. Funakoshi was a very nice old Okinawan schoolteacher, but personally I find his words and deeds often boring and usually irrelevant - I'd much rather read about Gary Spiers.
Fellow columnist, Tony Leung, recently debunked many of the elements of the Ta Mo story. I think that many of the stories about famous Tai Chi masters of the past were also nonsense. The problem is that their students had and in some cases have a vested interest in portraying their masters as mystics and sages. Some teachers even portray themselves in this light, setting themselves up as gurus; even worse, there are always plenty of suckers who believe them.
Apart from outright criminals, the people I object to are the pompous, the officious, the cheats, the frauds, the hypocrites, the dictators and anyone who doesn't get their round in. Those are what I would call seven deadly sins.
Let's give Warren Zevon the last word:-
"I'm Mr. Bad Example, intruder in the dirt
I like to have a good time and I don't care who gets hurt
I'm Mr. Bad Example, take a look at me
I'll live to be a hundred and go down in history"
by Dan Docherty
Nine years service in the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, dealing every day with the vicious and the evil, the stupid and the cunning, the sadistic and the psychotic - and those were just my fellow police officers; it gave me, amongst other things, a criminal mind.
That's why. That's why I can read it in your faces. I can see it in your eyes. I know you 're trying to hide it. But it's there in every move you make. You always agree with what I say, with what I write, with what I do. But all the time you are watching. All the time you are waiting for your chance.
You see me in my Armani suit climbing into my Jaguar. You read about my jetset lifestyle, mixing with the cultural and intellectual elites of many lands. That should be you in that suit, that car, that plane; but it's not. Life is unfair to you.
I was first warned about you in Malaysia by one of my Tai Chi uncles, more years ago than I care to remember. He said, "Your students are your enemy."
My teacher warned me too. He told me that, as a Tai Chi instructor, I would have two kinds of enemy; external and internal. Of these the deadlier are the internal ones, because they are close. Some are sleepers and don't surface for years. Others are more obvious, making small incursions at first, but gradually growing in daring.
Students fall generally into one of four groups. There is usually a hard core of loyalists, then we have the ordinary student who attends classes in the same way that he/she might go to the cinema. Thirdly there are the outsiders, people from other schools who, despite your unprepossessing personality, have come to you to learn your specialities or who want to be able to say, "been there, done that". This is just a commercial transaction - at least at first; finally there are the schemers and troublemakers.
I don't accept that all these people are always my enemies, but I do realize that not all of them are always my friends. In the Book of the Way and of Virtue (Tao Te Ching), Lao Tzu advises us:-
"Use truth to rule the state,
Use mystery in deploying troops'
Use no thing to obtain all under Heaven."
"The more conspicuous laws and edicts are,
The more we have robbers and rebels"
It is most advisable to be truthful with your own students, but that does not mean telling them all about everything. Don't interfere unnecessarily. Don't create rebels by trying to enforce the unenforceable. And yet, even if you follow this excellent advice you will still have enemies.
OK, you are the great master; what can these little people do to hurt you ? They can slander and libel you behind your back, they can rip off your ideas and methods and present them as their own, they can stir up trouble between you and other teachers by their foolish words and deeds, they can hurt or mislead other students (sometimes with the best of intentions) and they can give others the impression that your kung fu is no good because their own standard is so low.
Of all the terrorists and gangsters who have controlled China, Chairman Mao was the most adept at identifying and destroying his enemies. One of his most brilliant coups was the "Hundred Flowers Campaign" which he started with the invitation to "Let one hundred flowers bloom; let one hundred schools of thought contend." Some poor fools fell for it and all their long suppressed desire for freedom came gushing out in essays, paintings and speeches.
This fulfilled Mao's dual purpose. On the one hand he was able to use the masses to attack his known enemies within the party, on the other he was able, by giving people freedom of expression, to identify the 'sleeper' enemies and then use their own words against them.
It is a trait in the Chinese psyche not merely to punish one's enemies, but to make them admit their guilt and by mass criticism followed by self-criticism to 're-educate' them. This trait is not completely foreign to the British martial arts community either.
Sometimes your friends can get you into deeper trouble than your enemies. The idea of a band of sworn brothers acting together for what they perceive as the common good reached its apogee at the the end of the Han dynasty. We can read about it in the classical Chinese novel, "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms".
The book tells the tale of the great warriors Kuan Gung and Chang Fei, who pledged their loyalty to Liu Pei. This unwise decision led to thousands of deaths including their own and years of misery and warfare for the people of China and all to further the misdirected ambition of their master, Liu Pei. In the martial arts also many students expend loyalty uselessly to further the twisted ambitions of their teachers.
The traditional structure of Chinese martial arts groups is well known to many readers. The teacher is called the Sifu or teaching father, this name also has Taoist overtones. The students refer to one another as younger/older brother/sister. This structure is very much in the Confucian tradition and everyone is expected to know his or her place in the hierarchy which becomes for most of them a second family.
Well, that is the ideal. The reality, from my own experience, is that sometimes jealous fellow students are only too willing to inform your teacher of all your sins of omission and commission and to stir up mischief. I well remember one occasion in Hong Kong many years ago when my teacher was showing grappling techniques on the rooftop, some of my fellow students tried to get me to take him on. I refused because neither of us had anything to prove or gain by such an encounter.
If you truly wish to befriend your teacher you must be prepared to advise and even argue with him for what you believe is right. I have had strong arguments with my teacher on many occasions, sometimes he has won the argument, sometimes I have, but everything that was in our hearts was spoken.
As teachers we should judge students more by their deeds than by their words. Secondly people change - for better or worse so continuous assessment is necessary. Thirdly, we should give students as much freedom as possible; for example if they want to train with other teachers or styles let them - if you forbid them they'll do so anyway.
If you treat people right they might even become your friends or at least not be your enemies. If you don't treat people right they'll certainly not become your friends and there is every chance that they will become your enemies.
Tai Chi For Health
by Dan Docherty
Both my parents are doctors, so from an early age I was the recipient of whatever pill, injection or potion that came on the market. This has given me a uniquely jaundiced view of the dark science of medicine and the shamans who practice it. The hands that heal are of value in a great number of instances, but in a number of others are either of little value or are even dangerous.
A couple of years ago one of my Chinese female students complained of stomach pains so her mother sent her to a traditional Chinese doctor who gave her bowls of a foul tasting potion to drink saying that the cause of her sickness was bad Chi. After a few days the pain got worse so I advised her to go to hospital. At the first hospital casualty department she was told that she was pregnant, which she wasn't; at the second they diagnosed acute appendicitis and operated the same day.
We have to consider that while an individual may be entitled to call himself doctor as a result of graduating bottom of his medical class thirty years ago from some God-forsaken university, this hardly puts him in the best position to provide his patients with treatment using the cutting edge of new technology.
As far as traditional Chinese medicine and alternative medicicne are concerned the picture is murkier still. At least with a properly qualified Western doctor you are sure that he has a certain basic knowledge and training. Often in Chinese stories and films there is the character of the itinerant traditional Chinese doctor. One of the reasons that some of these gentlemen were itinerant doctors was so that they weren't around to suffer retribution at the hands of unsatisfied customers.
Doctors on the whole take a dim view of martial arts injuries (it's your own fault), particularly if the patient is a hip young dude with an attitude problem and often advise complete rest where this is quite inappropriate. In fact the person with an attitude problem is the doctor as such advice is not only unhelpful and complacent, but in some instances woefully wrong. Fortunately a few more enlightened practitioners are more open minded about the benefits of exercise and there are now some sports medicine clinics around the country doing a good job.
I decided to write on this subject after chatting to one of my students, Dr. Mike Webb, who is a medical researcher. While helping me to research some material for my forthcoming book on the Tai Chi Chuan Classics, Mike came across some interesting studies on exercise in general and Tai Chi Chuan in particular and their effect on the body. I should add that I have certain reservations about some of the Tai Chi related studies, but I'll bring this up later.
Firstly I'd like to deal with material on exercise in general with specific regard to its effect on bones. The first study - of 39 postmenopausal sedentary, estrogen deplete white women aged from 50-70 years of age was made at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Maryland. Twenty women were given five different high intensity strength training exercises two days per week for one year, while the other group were untreated. The study found that muscle mass, muscle strength and dynamic balance increased while bone density was preserved in the strength trained group but all these factors decreased in the untreated group.
Next was a study over 2 years of a 26 year old female by the Bone Research Group, UKK Institute, Tampere, Finland. After 1 year of lower limb strength training the subject injured a knee ligament and had to undergo 1 year rehabilitation. The study found that physical training has the potential to increase the mass of healthy bones. In contrast immobilisation, used as a treatment of soft tissue and bone injuries is shown to result in atrophy of these tissues.
Next comes a study of the effects of resistance training on prepubescent children. For 12 weeks 52 children were given the training which consisted of maximum sustained isometric contraction of elbow flexion for ten seconds. A control group of 47 children did not receive the training. Both groups after the 12 weeks showed increases in the cross sectional areas of tissue in the upper arm, however, in the control group this was because of an increase in fat area, while in the training group it was due to increases in muscle and bone area.
Finally an American review found that part of the reduction in bone density observed in older people is due to disuse rather than the aging process itself and that older people who have been active for many years seem to exhibit generally enhanced bone density.
Let's look now at specific Tai Chi based studies. The Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the National Taiwan University Hospital treated a group of 41 males and females aged from 50 to 64 years and a control group of 49 sedentary males and females. Tests found that the oxygen uptake, O2 pulse and work rate of the Tai Chi group were significantly higher than those of the control group.
An interesting study at the University of Connecticut, School of Medicine found that in a study of women aged 62-75 years, those who did only posture control exercises, including some simple Tai Chi exercises showed no significant difference in improved posture compared with a control group who did these exercises and some flexibility training as well. (i.e. as much benefit from Tai Chi alone in terms of improved posture as from Tai Chi plus flexibility training).
The Department of Health Sports and Leisure Studies at the Northeastern University in Boston compared the metabolic and cardio-respiratory responses to the continuous performance of Wing Chun and Tai Chi Chuan exercise. The study found that the ventilatory equivalent for for oxygen obtained during Tai Chi Chuan exercise was significantly lower than for Wing Chun exercise, suggesting that "Tai Chi practitioners utilise efficient breathing patterns during exercise". However, the study also found that only the continuous performance of Wing Chun exercise elicited values for oxygen uptake and heart rate responses that would be expected to bring about a cardiorespiratory training effect in subjects with with a relatively low initial value of oxygen uptake.
One of the problems with the last study is what do we mean by continuous practice of Wing Chun and Tai Chi Chuan exercise ? Both these arts have hard and soft elements there are many different approaches in both arts. For example typical Cheng Man-ching hand form is very understated while other styles like my own tend to be somewhat more vigorous and expansive. The vigorous and continuous practice of Tai Chi spear or Tai Chi throwing techniques would definitely cause a cardiorespiratory training effect.
So next time you feel below par, forget the Prozac, get yourself down to your local martial arts (preferably Tai Chi Chuan) club and get training.
Secrets and Lies
by Dan Docherty
The ability to understand and to apply new information depends on the knowledge, experience and innate physical and mental powers of the individual. Knowledge begets knowledge - sometimes. As practitioners of Chinese martial arts, we have to have secrets - our "inside the door training". For secrets to be secrets, there must be a possibility for those who don't know them to become members of the chosen few and to learn them one by one.
As with any elite, the chosen few are not keen in having their numbers increased. When my master and I taught students of one of his students in Australia in 1988, I was impressed with the serious attitude of the students, but we found that their Tai Chi had severe technical defects. However, not only were we (particularly yours truly) resented especially by some of the teachers amongst them, but some of the teachers were heard to say that they would keep the new stuff for themselves, while continuing to teach the old stuff in their classes.
My teacher's attitude was always to teach or not to teach, rather than to mislead. In this at least he had sincerity. His uncle on the other hand deliberately taught many people certain techniques wrongly. I consider this criminal.
I greatly liked the 60's cult series, 'The Prisoner'. Every programme opened with The Prisoner (Number 6) asking, "What do you want ?"
Number 2 replies, "Information."
Only to be told by The Prisoner, "You won't get it!"
Number 2 cackles, "By hook or by crook we will! Ha! Ha! Ha!
The present situation in Chinese martial arts between East and West is somewhat like this. When I left Blighty for Hong Kong in 1975 there was a very limited amount of Tai Chi Chuan around, although some of the pioneers of those days such as Rose Li, Paul Crompton, Danny Connor and Ian Cameron are still going strong and have inspired many of their students to become teachers. Now in the West we have many highly experienced instructors who by hook or by crook have, like Number 2, obtained the information which they sought.
There is a lot of speculation in books and magazines about secret forms and techniques which Yang Lu-chan and his sons did not want to fall into the hands of the alien Manchu rulers. And yet a number of their students who were famous as fighters such as Wan Chun and Quan Yu were not ethnic Chinese. So I don't buy the speculation; what I suspect is that the first two generations, wanting to be successful and to secure their reputations, did teach a number of students to a very high level, not based on whether they were Chinese or not, but on their personal ability to perform the art at a high level. A good student is the best advertisement for a teacher.
Not everyone got everything from Yang Lu-chan. I suspect for example that Wu Yu-xiang went to learn from Chen Qing-ping for this very reason. So how do you get this "information", these secrets ? It's partly by revelation and partly by osmosis and intuition. Revelation is direct and obvious, the master or somebody else shows or tells you or you read it in a book or see it in a video. Very often you learn of secret knowledge through the indiscretion of those proud to be amongst the chosen few - after all what's the point of knowing secrets unless others know that you know. I'll talk of this another time, perhaps.
Let me give two examples of osmosis and intuition. Sixteen of the Tai Chi Nei Kung exercises have direct martial applications. We repeat each of these exercises dozens or even hundreds of times in one session of Nei Kung, many times more than any movement in the form. Twice while in charge of the Kowloon Regional Vice Squad I used Nei Kung techniques. I used 'Swallow Piercing the Clouds' to break a soldier's grip on one of my team and in another case 'Boatman Rowing the Boat' to disperse a crowd of lowlife in a raid on a mahjong school. In both cases I did the technique without thinking, they had become second nature to the extent that my teacher had never shown me how to use the techniques in the way that I did.
Secrets and arcane mysteries have their place, but they are no substitute for practice. I have students who have been doing Tai Chi for three or four years, who are better than some who've been practicing for three times as long and who know more secrets.
In May 1998's Combat, Aarvo Tucker, whom I first met with his Ba Gua brother Ed Hines in Taiwan in 1994, related how he lived with both his Tai Chi master and his Ba Gua master and actually taught for the latter. In a similar way my teacher got me to show push hands and fighting applications to his sons. As foreigners we were without family ties in the Far East and had left home, friends and family to learn the art. We got close to our teachers because we gave everything for the art we went eating with them, drinking with them and doing other things (at least in my case) over which it is better to draw a discreet veil.
A good account of this type of life though in an Aikido setting is given in Robert Twigger's book, 'Angry White Pyjamas'. Through this type of direct personal contact inevitably listening to and watching your teacher inevitably you learn and perceive things that you never could by just attending classes a few times a week. However, many people see, but few observe and fewer still are able to analyse or synthesise these observations. A simple example. One of my senior students who had many times seen me put students through the Tai Chi Bai Shi (ritual initiation) ceremony attempted to help me at one such ceremony by lighting the joss sticks; he lit the wrong end.
As Mr. Twigger points out it is considered an honour to be selected as the master's uke (the person on whom the technique is performed) because only in this way can you learn the feel of the technique at a high level. The greater the pain the greater the honour. Because of this close contact between earlier masters and non-family members, including non-Chinese, famous Tai Chi families have been forced to invent more secrets to make more changes in the Tai Chi which they teach, though not necessarily the Tai Chi which they practice. They want it back, but it's too late. I strongly suspect that the Tai Chi Chuan of the famous families has changed maybe even more than the Tai Chi outside the families and not always for the better.
Let me sign off with a quote from Mencius, "I refuse, as inconsistent with my character to teach a man, but I am only thereby still teaching him."
by Dan Docherty
I wouldn’t have hit the youth in the kidneys on the underground platform if Ronan hadn’t been there. I had little choice and no time to think, I had to be in the moment and hurt him with a static Tai Chi Nei Kung technique that I had never used in that way before. An epiphany.
Epiphany is from the Greek word meaning a coming to light, an appearance, a manifestation. In modern parlance it is a revelatory manifestation of a god or divine being and thereby has come to mean a sudden flash of insight into the essential nature of something or someone or an intuitive grasp of reality. I have had a life full of epiphanies.
In the Iliad it is the gods who make the heroes blind to reason, blind with hatred, anger, lust and envy; they’re at it still, but sometimes even a god loses focus and control and in that instant it may be possible to have your epiphany. The greatest hero in that book is Odysseus. He was not a god or even of divine descent; he was an ordinary man, but he always had a plan. He always tried to operate out of reason, not emotion. After so many years of blindness, I try to do the same.
One time I asked my master to demonstrate applications to my students with sword against spear. He said, “Impossible” and so I did it myself. He then said, “Ah, that is very clever!” He had never thought of it because his old master had taught him only on the basis of sword against sword, or broadsword against spear. Of course, if really attacked, he’d have had no problem in doing it. The late Robert Trias wrote a book called “My Hand is My Sword”; my sword is also my hand.
Albert Efimov met me for the first time in France and said that he had heard a lot about me. I told him that some of the stories were even true. He said he heard that I loved martial arts and asked to push hands. Albert is rather aggressive and I didn’t understand his essential nature at that time. I guess the fall from the horse was still hurting me so I hit him without hitting him. He sent me a fax one week later identifying himself as the Russian I’d hit in the face with his own hand and asking me to come to Moscow to teach sword fighting. I guess that hit gave him his epiphany.
Those Russians. Best students I ever taught. Albert took me to meet Konstantin V. Asmolov from the Russian Academy of Sciences. Konstantin is a geek, a typical internet nerd. Tall, thin, hunched and four eyed. Nobody in Western Europe has heard of Konstantin, yet he is one of the most knowledgable swordsmen you could ever meet. I had two hours in his company talking and exchanging ideas and looking at ancient Chinese and Korean texts. I went home and the first time I picked up a sword everything was new, I finally understood and was like stout Cortez silent on that peak in Darien with all his men as he gazed for the first time on that lonesome ocean. Epiphany.
Young Kie came and told me he was a swordsman and wanted to start learning Tai Chi sword. I told him I’d charge him double until he finished the form to my satisfaction. His questions have even made me go back to re- read Liu’s “The Chinese Knight-Errant” and Musashi. Thanks to my Russian friends I can now begin to understand and teach him at an appropriate level.
I have had many talks with Kai and Ilpo about Dim Mak and pressure points and suddenly one day when pushing hands I understood how it had to be, control, qin na to close or seal in order to Dim Mak. I took the guys to eat some bear kebabs in Turku to thank them for their help.
Philippe has taught me so much about wine and next time I drink Chateau D’Yquem, I’ll know how to taste it properly. I was showing him Fair Lady Works At Shuttle and was going into the turn to do the next one when I realised for the first time, everything is something. Monster epiphany.
It is fairly obvious when extending the arms or feet that you are hitting the opponent, it is less obvious what is happening when you retract or coil them. Most people go through their whole martial arts career practicing their forms without thinking about any of this. Practicing like that may be fine for producing a tranquil mind, but it will be difficult for them to advance their understanding of what they are actually doing.
It seems to me that the forms are arsenals of movement and that these movements can be individually applied or combined together in an endless variety of combat possibilities. That is the value of forms; those old Chinese guys knew a few things.
I guess as a teacher one of your responsibilities is to make it possible for your students to have epiphanies. I just came back from the first European Tai Chi Championships in Utrecht. My students and students of my students. They did not win much more than 20 golds and 50 medals all in all. I guess that was also some kind of epiphany for the other teachers and styles.
by Dan Docherty
The Yi Jing contains many apt phrases, for this article I choose, "It will be advantageous to meet with the great man" which appears in the commentaries and/or judgements on four hexagram and There will be advantage in crossing the great stream which appears in the judgements and the commentaries on half a dozen hexagrams.
It all started when on behalf of the Taijiquan & Qi Gong Federation for Europe, I was invited to attend and teach at the Annual Conference of the North American Qi Gong Association in upstate New York in October 2001. Shortly thereafter some French Tai Chi friends told me of a book on Tai Chi Chuan written by a Montreal based student of Cheng Tin-hung. Despite training with him since 1975 I had never heard Cheng Tin-hung mention this Mr. Irving Leong, whose name was, however, recorded in Cheng's book on Tai Chi weapons. I had assumed him to be some Johnny come lately, long after my time, who'd picked up a teaching certificate and emigrated to Canada.
I ordered Histoire, Fables et Theorie du Tai Chi Chuan by Irving Leong (Humanitas ISBN 2-89396-218-1). It is a paperback of just over 100 pages, translated into French by Marie Desjardins, and contains a goodly number of illustrations, all by the author. As the title suggests, the book mainly deals with Tai Chi history, stories of famous masters (including quite a few about our own master) and the practical theory. I phoned Cheng Tin-hung who told me Mr. Leong was one of his students from the early 60s, an educated man, with a good grasp of the theory.
Students of Chinese martial arts always want to know what it was like in the old days; I am no exception, so through Marie's good offices I contacted Sifu Leong who said he would be pleased to meet me in Montreal after the Conference.
After four long days of eating rabbit food, drinking boy-scout beer and retiring before 8 p.m. every night at the Omega Institute in upstate New York, I was ready for Montreal. Sifu (Teaching Father) Leong picked me up at my hotel and proved to be a sprightly gentleman in his early seventies. He took me to a restaurant in Chinatown and told me he had a surprise for me. In walked a man whom I had not seen for 25 years, Leung Chi-keung, one of the most talented of my Tai Chi elder brothers from the mid -Seventies on the rooftop. He had married and was bringing up his family of two daughters and one son in Montreal and had taught himself in the meantime to become a Cantonese opera actor and musician.
Over the three days that followed I spent many hours in the company of my elder brothers, fine gentlemen both. Sifu Leong invited Leung Chi-keung and me to his club, where his students put on a demo for us and we in turn did a short demo for them, Sifu Leong then concluded the demos with a performance of the rarely seen Tai Chi Whip. As a special treat Sifu Leong showed us all a film from c. 1962 of our master and senior students demonstrating form and applications. What follows are the fruits of some conversations with Sifu Leong about the old days.
Sifu Leong is a Hong Kong boy who went over to Canada in 1949. He spent five years in the Canadian airforce and had the mixed blessing of being based in Ireland for some time. He later worked with Boeing before returning to Hong Kong in 1960 to find a wife, see the old place and take some time out to learn some of the traditional Chinese Kung Fu that had fascinated him since he was young. He was successful in all these endeavours.
He saw an ad from a master who taught Tai Chi Chuan for fighting and with weapons so he went along expecting to see an old fellow in a kung fu suit, but instead met a stocky youth slightly younger than himself. Thinking this was the assistant, he asked for Cheng Tin-hung; the youth said he was the very same and invited Sifu Leong to punch him. Cheng Tin-hung could withstand the blows on the body and cheek, so Sifu Leong decided to train with him.
In those days, not so many students came, but quickly Sifu Leong found himself one of a group of 4-5 regulars who would always be there training from Monday through to Friday and in the evenings they would go out together to eat and socialise. Cheng knew Leong was going back to Canada so he deliberately taught him a lot wanting him to teach when he returned to Vancouver.
On his return in 1963, Sifu Leong met Tony Jay who‰d been one of the regulars. Tony also knew Lamma Boxing, which he taught in his Tong (village association). They set up a Tai Chi club together teaching all the aspects of the art and a few of their students went on to become teachers themselves.
Eventually, Sifu Leong moved to Montreal, some friends who knew he trained in Tai Chi Chuan encouraged him to teach which he did at home and they trained together in Nei Kung (24 Yin and Yang Internal Strength exercises), tui shou (pushing hands), san shou (fighting applications) weapons and hand form. After a while, with two partners, Sifu Leong opened a club, which has been running for about 10 years. Subsequently, the partners split up and Sifu Leong started his own club. Peter Yu who also trained in Wing Chun, also started his own Tai Chi club while the other partner discontinued teaching.
Sifu Leong agreed with me about the importance of Bai Shi (ritual ceremony of discipleship) which he requires all students to undergo before they are taught Nei Kung. As Montreal is predominantly French speaking, a lot of the students are French Canadians, but with some Chinese and with more ladies than used to be in our master's place. His students tend to be young, as older folk who want to train in Tai Chi Chuan prefer to go to Chinatown.
We talked about competition. When Cheng Tin-hung was training his first group of fighters for Leitai (literally platform, refers to traditional Chinese full contact fighting) competition, Sifu Leong would practice wrestling with them. One day Cheng Tin-hung asked him to spar. Sifu Leong found Cheng could read him like a book and though he was able sometimes to escape, he was not able to attack him successfully as Cheng was too quick and alert sensitive to every change and with fast reflexes. However, more usually Sifu Leong practiced throwing free wrestling as well as techniques such as Raise Hands Step Up, Embrace Tiger and Return to Mountain, White Crane Flaps Wings, Pioneer Arms, Seize Legs etc. The competition people were very quick with good technique.
Ng Woon-tong, the leader of the group was thin and friendly, nut in pushing hands he was very dynamic and with little effort, he could bounce people off the wall. Some students became boastful and one was kicked out of the school; he said he could take anyone's punch and charged people $5 per punch, but this was like a challenge to other schools so Cheng Tin-hung wrote in a newspaper that this fellow was no longer a disciple as he wished to maintain good relations with others.
Sifu Leung said, Sometimes during the training we might compete to see who could hold Nei Kung postures like Golden Tortoise for the longest time. Occasionally we would go to the hills around Hong Kong and practice Nei Kung in caves. Sometimes we would play "king of the ring" where one person would fight each of the others in turn. At that time also, Cheng Tin-hung was preparing to write a book on Tai Chi Chuan. He got a good calligrapher to commit it to paper and asked me to design the front cover. I drew different postures showing wrestling and weapon techniques. (Sifu Leong was unaware that the publisher has for many years been using the same design on his other martial arts books also). At Sifu Leong's request Cheng put his name and address on the book and subsequently got a lot of students in this way.
There was no set routine to the training, when students first came in they learned square form (simplified form, like block letters) after you could practice a little by yourself, he'd teach tui shou and san shou, there'd be a lot of throwing techniques then weapons. Cheng was in good shape in those days and practiced with the students individually usually taking the role of the attacker in san shou, so every day he would be taking repeated hits to the body.
Oftimes, they would all go with the master to play mahjong together or go to drink tea instead of training, so it was very much a social as well as a martial relationship. His wife at that time (the first of three) also helped to teach as did some of the more experienced students. In fact there were never many lady students in those days (a situation which, with the Hong Kong Government's opening of Tai Chi classes in housing states, has been very much reversed).
There was no structure to the training and each student was treated differently, if Cheng Tin-hung liked you, he would teach you more; if he didn't like you, he'd hardly teach you. He was very good in theory and explaining the principles. They didn't have much contact with other martial arts schools at that time. What he particularly liked about Cheng Tin-hung's method was that the self defence was simple secure and effective, allowing a fast response, while not putting the practitioner in danger, so to effectively punish the opponent.
There are some interesting differences in how Sifu Leong does the sabre form and in how Ian Cameron and I were taught to do it a decade later. It seems that in the old days many techniques more closely followed those to be found in Wu Tu-nan's book "Tai Chi Xuan Xuan Dao" (Tai Chi Mysterious Sabre "Xuan Xuan" being a Taoist name for Chang San-feng) and the sabre form in this book is about 80% the same as that taught by Cheng Tin-hung. However, as both methods are equally efficacious in application, and other techniques in all the forms permit of variation, I don't feel there is any conflict here.
Sifu Leong said that he always had been interested in reading Tai Chi books, especially those dealing with theory and history, but too many books just repeat the same details or don't give enough details while some hardly give any information but only show how to do the form, also stories and fables about previous masters are diminishing with time and so, feeling that this kind of information is disappearing, he wanted to write a book which contained most of the theory and stories, with a few which came from or were about Cheng Tin-hung.
Sifu Leong believes that North Americans don't really understand Tai Chi Chuan and many are aware of it only as a health exercise. Of course in various books there are contradictory statements about people like Jiang Fa. Sifu Leong was trying to set out the contribution of famous masters of the past, inevitably many people are missed out. Cheng Tin-hung in his 50 year teaching career must have produced hundreds of talented disciples, but it's impossible to list them all, the same must be true of masters of the past.
There is a fairly active Tai Chi Chuan scene in Canada and people are well aware of one another, but Sifu Leong's group don't have so much contact with other groups. There have been competitions in Toronto and Vancouver, but not Montreal as yet.
His philosophy is that you learn the art from your sifu, but through your own practice and teaching you can make your personal contribution or development for example in the relatively new field of competition pushing hands, so that you give back more than just what you learned and Sifu Leong hopes this process will continue with his students.
On a personal note, prior to meeting Sifu Leong, I hadn't visited Canada since 1978, I hope not to have to wait another 23 years before again crossing the great stream.