Functional Movement

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A Wing Chun friend asked about a certain method of training body movement which I had seen earlier. It looked interesting and could be beneficial to those training Tai Chi who have no idea what they are doing.

But if you know what you are doing would the training still be beneficial? Well, I guess it depends on where you are in your journey. There is a view of the founder of the movement doing power issuing movements. Yes, they were nicely done and he is a bona fide Chinese martial artist.

However, the bigger question would be can the movements translate across efficiently into application, say in push hands? Its nice to undulate the body smoothly, gracefully and suddenly whip the power out. But you do know that your opponent or even your training partner is not stupid, right? Or at least my students are not the compliant type. They won’t stand still or not resist. Mostly, they do because they think how can a technique be realistic unless it works on them even when they are resisting it.

So therein lies the dilemma. Certain ways of moving the body is seductive and sexy because you can do things that a normal person cannot do. But at the end of the day when you are attacked by an uncooperative opponent can what you have learned carry you through the day?

This is where learning movement for the sake of beauty is not beneficial for those who are learning a traditional style that do have a learning path mapped out. Movements in a traditional style are rarely fluff unless they are part of a public form, what I would call a sampler form  – something to show to the public that the style has something yet not give away too much.

So movements in traditional forms are meant to be functional, to enable you to achieve a simple objective, how to prevail, to stop conflict. To do so its not enough to move about, we must know what we want to first achieve before we even jump into the techniques.

For example if I want to control you I would need to see how to go about it. Many times this is situational and you go with what you are given. But for the sake of learning we say this is an example of how to learn control to avoid confusing a student. So a simple example is two persons having an argument, things get heated up, tempers start to flare, the body language starts getting aggressive and chests start getting thrown out, heads pulled back, nostrils flared up and the macho dance begins. If one fails to back down the fight may suddenly happen.

However, if you are in the situation and you don’t really want to fight but it looks like you cannot avoid it then what do you do? Voices are raised, suddenly a shove or maybe no shove at all, just a punch and all hell breaks loose. Well, if you are not looking to fight you might not even want the situation to escalate to this point. So how do you defuse it? What did you learn in Tai Chi, in push hands that you can use to defuse the situation, to defend yourself if necessary, or go further if you really must do it. What do you do? How do you increase the chances of you having the upper hand, to win if a fight does happen? So this is where the study of strategies, positions, lines, distance, timing, etc comes in. Stuff you learn until you can move implicitly.

There are no real answers here; its only when it happens that you really know what is the appropriate thing to do. In training you can only work on suppositions, scenarios. So they are not really as useful because a real scenario will be different, perhaps more different than you think. So you can only work on your awareness, your timing, your control, your techniques, your power – all these factors being part of functional movement or perhaps a better term would be practical movement.

Thus, from the Tai Chi perspective a functional and practical movement requires us to implement the strategy of soft overcoming hard, borrowing the opponent’s power, remaining fluid and elastic to neutralize and issue power; achieving a certain degree of sung, yadah, yadah, while executing our techniques. So if I learn something that does look like it could expand my knowledge of movement but ultimately is of little or no use in what I do in Tai Chi would it still be beneficial? Having breath of knowledge is good, but since there is so much knowledge out there and we only have so little time in a day our objective to Master Tai Chi Today can only be achieved if we carefully go with those movements that help us to get there. Maybe after that we can expand on our range and catalog of movements because by then we have enough depth of knowledge to understand better where we stand and what we can gain from importing new knowledge.

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