What is Martial Art

While reviewing the archives I found this original About This Book essay from Earth Dragon Canon: Walking, Martial Arts, and Self Evolution. I tweaked it a bit, and present it for you to enjoy. As with most material on The Walking Circle it is available under the Creative Commons License listed in the sidebar.

Martial art practice is more than the study of physical movement. It is an exploration of the mind through the body, and conversely the body through the mind. At its finest, martial art practice is an expression of humanities need to live in peace. At its base, it is an expression of humanities worst instincts.

The greatest martial artist of the 20th century promoted the arts to a world searching for reason in the torrents of blood spilled around the globe. These masters recognized that man, with his new weapons, could deliver an unlimited barbarity upon his fellow man.

In the 20th century alone, man distorted religions for personal or national gain, leveraged nationalistic fervor to plan genocide, and manipulated millions into the murder of millions more.

The martial arts were a part of this story, and like nationalism and religion they were an instrument of violence, teaching the most efficient way to dispatch an opponent.

Taijiquan Posture Vocabulary

When discussing any subject it is important to define a vocabulary that you will use in that discussion. You may remember that the early weeks in most grade school classes were spent on vocabulary. Once you had the basic vocabulary in hand, new terms were introduced as you studied the subject. The same is true with Taijiquan study, but I find that most of that early vocabulary is focused on translating Chinese words.

In my past efforts at sharing Taijiquan I have done the same. For the original thewalkingcircle.com website, I provided a glossary of Chinese terms and expanded it over the years. I am sure we will get to that again in this blog, but that is not what this post is about.

For this post I want to take a stab at defining the Taijiquan form, or sequence, or posture, or routine, or whatever the kids are calling it now. The problem is that when discussing Taijiquan the use of the words forms, posture, and stance are often intermixed and confused. For example, is it the Yang Style Taijiquan form, or sequence? Is that the Ward Off posture or form? Are you in the Bow and Arrow posture or stance?

Choosing Other Exercise

In my books, I shared how my early focus on Taijiquan benefited me on multiple levels. I also shared how my success led to pain from sitting with a computer for hours on end. Looking back, it is easy to see how the focus on Taijiquan created my success, and how that success lead to the later pain. While I could focus on that, I also realize that it was that same pain that lead to my intense study of Baguazhang and hours a night of circle walking.

The lesson I learned is that Taijiquan alone is not a replacement for other physical movement. Despite the decades of teachers promoting Taijiquan as a superior form of physical exercise, it is not. The general effects of Taijiquan are the same as taking a brief walk, and that is only if you practice a long traditional form, for at least an hour a day, and include some supplemental exercises in your practice.

My Early Journey

After discovering Taijiquan I went into a phase of exploration where I used every resource I had available to learn more about the various family styles of the art. This was a very different routine from when I first discovered those blue and yellow books by Yang, Jwing-Ming. During those first years, practicing Taijiquan was everything. I moved outside, eating, drinking, and practicing under a Pin Oak tree. At heart; however, I am a skeptic, and seeing Taijiquan through the narrow lense of one author did not satisfy my intense need to learn more about the art.

During this process I learned that most ardent practitioners go through this phase with their Taijiquan studies. For me, this phase extended to the arts of Baguazhang and Xingyiquan as well.
My early passion with Taijiquan was at the very earliest days of the Internet and there was little material to be found there. The “big box” bookstores had the more popular titles, but the really interesting material was found in the pages of Tai Chi or other martial art magazines. At $50 or $60 dollars a VHS tape, and $30 or $40 dollars a book you only had to get burnt once to become a real skeptic about this material. After one of the VHS tapes I bought for $40 was only 30 minutes in length, I became just such a skeptic. It would take weeks for me to choose an additional purchase. When I became a pest to both the vendors and publishers of the material, seeking additional information about the products before making a purchasing decision.

Teacher, No Teacher, Teacher

My process of learning and studying Taijiquan is not unique. I know this because one of my earliest inspirations in Taijiquan study, Jou, Tsung Hwa, said so. Now, Jou was not talking directly to or about me, but he shared his journey with Taijiquan in his books, and those stories spoke to me and my journey.

The title of this post paraphrases the Zen saying "first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is." Learning a new art or skill is like this. First you see the mountain, and think that others have climbed that mountain, and you would like to as well. So you start climbing the mountain, and the trail goes up and down, back and forth, and you are not sure if you are on the right trail, or even the right mountain. You think back to when you decided to climb the mountain, how beautiful it was in the distance, but now, when you look around, you can not see the mountain because you are too close to it. Finally, you reach the peak of the mountain and looking back you can see it with all of its peaks and valleys behind you.

Safer Indoors, or Sick Man of the East

With the reports of record air pollution in China, I started thinking about Beijing being the capital city of the Chinese martial arts. All the internal arts gained their popularity in Beijing. Yin, Fu and Cheng, Tinghua taught Baguazhang in Beijing, and it was because of the popularity of Yang, Lu Chan's Taijiquan that the Chen family came to Beijing at all. If a martial art is well known today, it owes that popularity to those teachers working and living in Beijing during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Martial Art, Personal Growth, and a New Journey

I started thewalkingcircle.com to share my experiences with the internal martial arts of Baguazhang, Taijiquan, and Xingyiquan. Overtime my application has changed, but the mission had remained the same, until recently.

The lesson of our lives is that change happens, and the past two years has brought plenty of that to my life. In 2008 I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take some time and write a book about one of the three passions in my life; martial arts. I had started a book on Taijiquan a couple of years earlier, but when I began this project in earnest, I realized my current passion was with Baguazhang. So what started as yet another book about Taijiquan, became Earth Dragon Canon -- Walking, Martial Arts and Self Evolution; and it was good.

The Modern Student

Modern martial art students separate their martial art training from the rest of their life. Compartmentalizing it as an activity that they share with people they barely know. They go to work, watch television, attend events and family outings without integrating or considering their martial art practice, it is just another activity on a full schedule.

This was not the way of students in the past. Martial training was one facet of a persons education. Reading, writing, studying the classics of philosophy and history, and even medicine were all taught with the martial forms.