Behind Every Good Non-Classical Martial Artist:
Tai Chi Martial Arts
Erle Montaigue. 26 December 1992

So many masters and sifus, nowadays trying to cut corners and gets there the easy way. Their excuse "I do non-classical martial arts". Usually, it's an excuse for pure laziness and not wanting to do the hard work necessary to turn a martial art into a survival art.

But take a look at the really good so-called 'non-classical' martial artists, those who have seemed to have found the way and have long since given up their classical part. Their background is usually steeped in the classical martial arts such as tai chi marital arts. Bruce Lee is the prime example of this. No one, of his students has ever risen to his level of proficiency and inventiveness. It is my opinion that only Danny Inosanto has ever come close, and he has a classical arnis background, and you can't get any more classical than arnis! Larry Hartsell has a classical wrestling background. I have seen some of the first Bruce Lee students who are now into their fifties, but who also do not look very well, over weight, poor skin tone etc. They look like old men. They write articles saying they can still take on the best of them with one punch etc, but they look so sick! Whereas Danny Inosanto still looks very fit and healthy. Who gives one hair off of one rat's bum if they can still punch at 55 years old! What really matters is if their martial art has kept them healthy with a good life and whether they are able to help others to a good long healthy life.

The tai chi martial arts is supposed to be an integrated system of self-defence and healing. And I guess we have to look back to the days when our martial art was really our family's and our survival art. When we would not only have to fight one person in a pub fight or do 'battle' against someone in the ring with rules and regulations, that's not fighting, we would have to fight wars! The head of the family, usually the male, would not know if his family would even be there when he returned while his family would not know if he was coming back that evening. Such is the way of the beginning of the Yang Family Taiji in China, known as the most feared fighters in all of China and yet, people nowadays call tai chi martial arts a dance! Of course, now, we do not have life threatening situations every day of our lives, but the art remains the same and there is no difference between the internal systems for health as for the fighting art, it's the same energy. In fact, when I give seminars, some people like to break it up into one day for healing and the other day for fighting. However, those who only attend for one day depending upon their preference, really miss out for not attending the other day, because the healing and martial arts cannot be broken apart. This is how it used to be, and this is how it should be now.

And isn't self healing the most important! Proper tai chi martial arts causes one to be able to simply beat one's opponents by out living them! And a style of only punches and kicks is unable to do this, whereas classical styles are. No style? Of course Bruce Lee had a style, a number of classical styles in fact. Tai chi martial arts was one of these. These are his basics. It is my opinion that Bruce Lee, if he lived, would have taken his students back to his beginnings and taught how he knew and not what he knew. And this is what I think about the classical martial arts, whether they be Karate, tai chi martial arts, Kung-fu, T.K.D. etc, the basics are all contained in the classical forms and katas of these martial arts. This is where we learn the 'body management', so important in turning a basic classical style into a street survival system. You cannot take the classical movements from a form or kata and make up physical reasons for their being; they are not there for that. Try and use technique from a form or kata in a real survival situation and you lose. A good martial art does not teach technique, but rather teaches the mind through movement and the body.

The so called 'non-classical' stylists who have never done a classical style, always say the same things like not wishing to waste time in doing so many movements that seem to have no meaning. They also say that rather than do kata, why not do the actual techniques from the forms with a partner. Here, the non-classical person has lost the whole idea of kata and stems from he or her simply not knowing the real meaning of kata. We don't do it to learn techniques! We do it to learn internal body/mind movement. It has nothing to do with learning techniques. If your internal mind does not have it then you do not have it, and we do not learn 'internal work' from doing attack/defence situations with a partner. The survival skills come much later when we learn all about 'the no mind state, eagle vision, reptile brain, and fa-jing'. Here, we make use of our own natural movements, different in every body/mind. For instance, someone's most natural movement to a simple attack from the front may be to throw up his or her hands in front of the face. So here we turn this movement into a more devastating fa-jing/dim-mak strike, and eventually, this movement, which was always this person's most natural movement, becomes the sub-conscious movement to any type of frontal attack by hand.

If you don't have the basics, then you've got nothing! And the classic forms from tai chi martial arts and katas are your basics, they teach you how to move. It's not the fact that we learn really low stances and exaggerated movements so that we can then use them to fight. It's far from that; we do these katas which involve much discipline, so that we are able not to use them when some real trouble is coming our way. If you see a classical martial artist in a serious scrap, who simply knocks someone's head off and leaves, then this is a martial artist who has done the basics. However, if you see a martial artist who goes into some sort of stance and on guard position, low stances etc, and who gets his head knocked off, then this is the classical martial artist who has never taken his basics beyond basics.

As we become more and more advanced in our survival skills, we tend to use less and less techniques, rather preferring to stick with the tried and proven one or two in order to survive. But it's the years of classical work that gives us this ability. In a real situation, and I don't mean the odd drunk at a pub, a half of an inch step, balanced, here or there can mean the difference in life or death.

So, doing the katas or forms day in, day out, does not teach us how to fight using those forms from tai chi martial arts or katas, but rather, it teaches us how to survive, using much simpler techniques while always keeping the upper position of hands and feet, balance wise.

On the other hand you'll get people who go to a few or many lessons at their local Karate or kung fu club and then brag that they know the martial arts. This is the other side of the coin, these people, some who have been studying for 30 years even, do not know the martial arts, because they have not learned to take their martial art into a survival realm. A martial artist will always make a better street fighter, provided he has taken his art to a higher level of survival and is aware that all the forms and katas in the world, only, will not cause him to be able to fight. He has to learn how to fight, as well as learning his martial art.

On the other hand, someone who has only learnt from a few books or who has taken a few lessons from a number of different teachers and watched a few Bruce Lee movies will also never learn about survival.

It's the classical martial arts such as tai chi martial arts that teach us the psychology of the fight. The difference between winning and losing is 50% mind and 50% body. If you do not have complete control over your own body and mind then you have not got it. And you can't get this control watching a few Van Dam movies or learning a few high kicks and fast punches. You have to do the work pertinent to the survival skills you are trying to hone.

Look at what happens in a fight or an attack. If you could slow down the action, you would see footwork and handwork. If you take a look at any good kata or form, you will see this exact foot and handwork, only exaggerated and slowed down. This is to teach the mind how to tell the body how to move. When you are into a real fighting situation, this will naturally speed up and you will naturally use those same postures, footwork and handwork that you so painstakingly worked upon for the best part of ten or twenty years. You don't think about it of course, it's all there. Just like learning to shoot a bow, at first you are all hands, but slowly, the bow becomes a part of you and your body and mind merge as a whole unit, and you finally are able to hit the target many feet away sub-consciously. It's the same with the katas and forms; we do not learn them to learn technique, but rather sub-conscious mind and body movement.

One does not have to practice the forms and katas for evermore, only until those movements have become subconscious do you have to practice your katas. In this way, when you are involved in a fight, does your art become so called non-classical? I am one of the most non-classical martial artists or survival artists ever when it comes to fighting. But my whole background is in the classical tai chi martial arts, it is the arduous, hours of practice in my early years that holds me in good stead nowadays when I perhaps do not have time to practice three of four forms every day. Now, I prefer to spend that time with my children, playing music, painting, writing, teaching them about what I have learnt, along with their normal schooling as we teach our own anyway. But isn't it the irony, we spend all of this time becoming good at survival and just when we are getting there, we no longer wish to do it! We grow up and our minds mature, we want to keep out of the way of trouble and avoid like the plague, fighting, so perhaps we do the martial arts, to not do the martial arts!