The Way Of The Intercepting Style

Jeet Kune Do and putting the Chu’an back into Tai Chi Chu’an.

Welcome to The Water Method; thoughts and theories on Tai Chi in the modern world. In today’s post, I’ll be talking about the philosophy of Tai Chi and it’s similarities to Bruce Lee’s martial art, Jeet Kune Do.

As most people know, Bruce Lee shot to fame in the sixties and seventies by way of starring in big budget Kung Fu films and a short lived American TV series called The Green Hornet. Since then, his work off screen has arguably become more successful and respected than his work on it. Many martial artists have become actors, but none have managed to secure a lasting legacy like his, and this is in part due to the fact that he wasn’t simply a leading man who could perform his own stunts. His own personal philosophy was applied to the way he fought, which led to the creation of Jeet Kune Do.

Essentially a precursor to the mixed martial arts training that is prevalent nowadays, JKD saw all martial styles as valid and used whatever worked best in any given situation. Lee was a Taoist, and this shows in how he looked to strip away anything that was unnecessary or not as efficient as possible; this resulted in him using a variety of techniques, striking from long range with kicks or moving in close to use grapples, throws or punches. All of this means that JKD doesn’t really have a specific “look” to it – laypersons can often recognise the slow, graceful flow of Tai Chi, or the hard, swift strikes of Karate for example. But with JKD, if anything is up for grabs, then you’re never sure what you’re going to see.

Tai Chi evolved over the years from a purely martial style to one that broke down the mechanics of the body.

All of this means that from student to student, we see differences as much as we see similarities. Due to differing body sizes, body shapes and possible physical impairments, each person who learns JKD is essentially learning their own unique style. Which is what Bruce Lee probably would have wanted.

Which raises an interesting point about Tai Chi. Both arts essentially came from the same source, which is Taoism, which placed great emphasis on refining what you do and not leaving anything superfluous in your routine. Tai Chi evolved over the years from a purely martial style to one that broke down the mechanics of the body, and helped the practitioner to truly understand how they moved, which should in turn help them become better at movement and, therefore, better at fighting. And yet, like I just mentioned, there is always a very definitive look to Tai Chi when it is performed. You can’t miss the expansive movement of the arms and legs when the student is moving forward – a good example would be the single whip move.

There are countless Tai Chi students across the earth, and yet its like being able to speak the same language even if you’ve trained on the other side of the world. I was recently on holiday in Vietnam, and was offered a Tai Chi lesson one day by a tour guide – he didn’t know that back in England I also studied the art, so I took him up on the offer to see how he was taught and what it was like in comparison to what I know. The next day, we begin and he goes straight into showing us the Yang 24 step form; one of, if not the, most recognised Tai Chi form on the face of the planet. And there I am, having travelled countless miles to be doing what I practice every day back at home.

Now, I’m sure Bruce Lee might well have an explanation for this, but there seems to be a paradox here. Tai Chi as a style is Taoist, which in turn says to refine things, to reduce everything until there is only the essential left. JKD says to embrace everything at first before whittling away until you’re left with what works for you. So how do we have two completely separate styles arising from the same core philosophy? Shouldn’t there be more of a cross over, even if it is unintentional?

Obviously, most of us think of Lee performing long, driving kicks and rapid fire punches when someone mentions JKD, so it’s a natural assumption to just think that this is what the style does. But Bruce Lee had years of Wing Chun training before he began creating his own approach to fighting. Years of learning to counter instead of blocking, years of practising low kicks to destabilise an opponent and years of being told to dominate the centre line between you and an adversary. As such, what we’re seeing is a very strong Wing Chun grounding, on top of which additional ideas and concepts are allowed to be introduced to.

It’s not uncommon for martial artists to begin their training at a young age, and if so then we all have a style that we studied before being truly aware of how others fight. Kids being taken to Karate or Tae Kwan Do classes before discovering other, more esoteric and harder to find arts, or students learning wrestling or boxing while at school, who in turn want to improve their stand up game and try their hand at Muay Thai. Before anything else, we learn the basics of one art, and that – for better or worse – becomes the bedrock by which we judge all others. You can’t run before you can walk.

It’s sometimes easy to take for granted that we’re practising a refinement of years’ worth of study and dedication,.

So is Jeet Kune Do truly a revolutionary art that makes Tai Chi look stilted and outdated? It could be easy to think so, but if you were to take away the Wing Chun elements that Bruce Lee couldn’t look past, then you’ve got a disparate collection of moves without anything to hold them together. Imagine performing a Tai Chi form without any real control of your centre: the limbs would be disconnected and out of sync, and any real energy or strength that you had would quickly dissipate.

Tai Chi has had so long to establish it’s philosophy and it’s myriad forms that it’s sometimes easy to take for granted that we’re practising a refinement of years’ worth of study and dedication, from countless students across the world. And now, with the internet at almost everyone’s fingertips, we can share our findings with anyone with an interest in the subject. We might be stripping away the extraneous, we might all be different people with different needs and approaches, but as we continue to whittle away those unnecessary elements, we’re slowly coming to a perfect distillation of how to move, and how to fight. It doesn’t matter where you join the river, just as long as you go with the flow.

That brings us to the end of the post; I hope you’ve enjoyed The Water Method and will join me next time for another discussion about the martial arts in the modern world. So until then, be like water.

Practical Arts

Why Tai Chi is perhaps more useful as a martial art than you may think.

Welcome to The Water Method; thoughts and theories on Tai Chi in the modern world. In today’s post, I’ll be talking about why Tai Chi is perhaps more useful as a martial art than you may initially think.

When we ask the question which martial art is the best, as we often hear in mixed martial arts matches, or read in online forums, or even in the training hall, we often assume that best means the toughest. The one that’s the most efficient at tackling unexpected attacks from a potentially unknown number of assailants, possibly with weapons. After all, martial arts are about fighting, so it should stand to reason that these arts should enable the student to fight their way out of any sticky situations that they come across, shouldn’t they?

But hold on a minute – what if that’s not the purpose of all of these different fighting styles? Are you always carrying your sword, your six foot staff, or your limited edition Game Of Death replica nunchucks around with you? If, like most people on the planet, you don’t, then maybe we need to go back a step and re-evaluate what we mean by “the best”.

There is always a constant jockeying for being known as the most practical, efficient style in these competitions.

If you’re an avid viewer of the UFC, Bellator or any other mixed martial arts program, you’ll know that there is always a constant jockeying for being known as the most practical, efficient style in these competitions. Through the past twenty years or so, we’ve seen wrestling, Judo, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jujitsu be praised for their approaches to winning one on one matches in a relatively safe, controlled environment. All grappling formats like wrestling and Jujitsu focus on getting in close to an opponent and locking them up with grips, holds and chokes, completely restraining the other person. However, this is all under the assumption that the practitioner has their undivided attention on one individual; a typical self defence course instructor would never advise getting tied up with someone, or going to ground to apply a lock, when there’s the chance that you could be attacked by a second party.

Likewise, stand up shoot fighters – whether they be Karate, Muay Thai, kickboxing students, or anyone else – will train with the express purpose of striking the body and head, with a lesser focus of working the opponent’s legs to slow them down. But the chest and head are supported by some of the strongest bones in our bodies, and are inherently designed to withstand blunt force trauma, like an incoming fist. Due to the obvious danger in going for the eyes, the throat or (heaven forbid) the groin, these areas are understandably designated as off limits during sparring practice and in technique drills.

So, we can’t risk going to ground for a choke hold or getting wrapped up around our attacker, and we might find ourselves conditioned to not striking in the most dangerous areas. But before you bin your heavy cotton Gi and sell your sparring gloves, maybe we’re looking at this all wrong; instead, let’s ask ourselves another question to help us get to the bottom of what we mean by “the best”.

What percentage of your life do you spend fighting? And I don’t mean sparring, or arguing with work colleagues in the office. I mean fighting – fending off would be muggers, or defending someone from an assault. The chances are, most of us would say less than one percent. Not even half a percent, I’m confident to say. Now, that won’t be true for everybody, but for the general population I would say that learning vicious street fighting techniques are probably not at the top of their to do list.

So, if you go to a martial arts class with the express intention of improving your day to day life, then it stands to reason that studying deadly techniques is most likely not your main priority. We’ve all seen adverts for classes, and they never sell themselves as being the most violent, the most intimidating or the most deadly. They’re often stating that students will become healthier and more confident. People improve their balance, their co-ordination and reduce stress, along with other benefits such as becoming part of a community and broadening their horizons. In fact, most of the things that students want are tangible improvements in their own lives, so the actual punching and kicking can be more of an aside than a requirement.

And if we’re looking for an exercise class with a strong sense of community, that also offers a workout with self defence elements and a martial mindset, where do we turn to? Where are we going to be able to improve our posture, our balance and our mental clarity, which we will appreciate on a daily basis? There’s an argument to be made that this is where Tai Chi steps in.

The best martial art could be the one that helps you through the working day.

If you want “the best” martial art, then are you a professional fighter? If so, I can completely understand that Muay Thai, Brazilian Jujitsu or a mix of different styles would be your first thought. If you’re genuinely concerned about being attacked on the street or in the pub, then I agree that something like the Keysi Fighting Method or the Russian Systema approach makes sense. But if you’re like the rest of us, just living day to day in a relatively aggression free place, then the best martial art could be the one that helps you through the working day. Remove the stress, improve your body, clear your mind – all of these can be done without throwing jumping spinning head kicks or by endlessly striking wooden practice dummies until your fists bleed.

Tai Chi might not be the loudest, it might not claim to be the most vicious, and it certainly isn’t the fastest art out there, but think about what you want from a style. Maybe, it just might be the best.

That brings us to the end of the post; I hope you’ve enjoyed The Water Method and will join me next time for another discussion about the martial arts in the modern world. So until then, be like water.

An Introduction

Be like water my friend.

Welcome to The Water Method; thoughts and theories on Tai Chi in the modern world. I’m Rob Argent, and in this blog, I’ll be talking about the way that Tai Chi has adapted through the years, from a fighting style in ancient times, to a state approved health practice in the Chinese Communist era, to it’s modern incarnation, incorporating both of these things, and much more.

How do we define ourselves as martial artists?

Each month I will be uploading a new post about the martial arts and how they fit in with our day to day lives, in a time when the majority of us don’t require hand to hand fighting skills or knowledge of obscure combat practices. It has been almost thirty years since I first stepped foot in a Karate dojo for the very first time, and since then I’ve trained in May Thai in Thailand, Kung Fu in America and Tai Chi in China. Over the years and miles, I’ve seen a wide assortment of different practices and styles, and each one has something that we can learn from.

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In the first few months of this blog, I will be looking at the practicality of martial arts and what we can learn from them aside from the obvious striking and grappling. After that, I will be moving on to how we define ourselves as martial artists and what we can do to help build our own identities through our training, and what we can do to help others. And after that, who knows? If there are any burning questions that people have, or any topics that they would like to see raised, then please leave a comment at the bottom of the posts and I’ll be sure to look into them.

Be like water.

That brings us to the end of this introduction; I hope you’ll enjoy The Water Method and will join me next time for another discussion about the martial arts in the modern world. So until then, be like water.

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