I was digging through old notes, making a list of things to do, when I found an early rant about my martial art practice. With mass shootings a monthly occurrence, and Russian troll farms influencing American thought, it is time to revisit my steadfast belief in non-violence and skepticism.
Before the twentieth century, internal martial art masters taught their students orally. Most students, and probably most masters, could not read or write. Learning was through repetition of the forms and memorized stanzas. Students who practiced hard and served the master well passed the art to the next generation.
At the start of the twentieth century, some masters published books about Taijiquan, Bagu Zhang, and Xingyiquan. Publishing this knowledge was expensive, so only a few tried. Those that succeeded grew their schools, and their lineage survives to this day.
The Internet gives us an opportunity to access these teachings in a way the old masters could not imagine. But the business model for martial art masters has not changed. Emphasis is on the old ways and traditional methods. They insist you cannot learn from the written word or video instruction. Their argument is that there is a secret transmission impossible to capture in a video or the with the written word.
These same masters make outlandish claims about their arts. They claim immortality, invulnerability, and comic-book powers are within your reach. Nonsense. Martial art training will not give you supernatural powers. If it did, professional sports would look very different. With the billions spent on professional and college athletics, someone would have sold out and taught these magic powers to a sports franchise. What about the world’s militaries?
I reject the notion of qi as being a magic force used to heal or attack others. Martial arts are a physical practice. We have a century of added information on anatomy and the functional mechanics of the human body since the classic texts were penned. When dealing with the classic writings and traditional methods, I accept what is useful, adopting the scientific method to my practice.
When comparing the health benefits of martial art practice to other forms of physical activity, you find they are the same. The facts say a brisk walk, once or twice a day, cannot be beaten as a simple and healthy, exercise.
I reject the idea that learning taijiquan, Bagu Zhang, or Xingyiquan outside the traditional methods will lessen the value of your practice. I recognize any activity you undertake for self-improvement as a positive action. I find individuals engaged in improving themselves are engaged in improving the community.
There are 20,000 martial art studios in the USA—three times more than Dunkin Donuts—yet most American’s think the arts are esoteric and out of reach. Traditional methods of practice and training have a place, but only if supplemented with modern understanding. Since so many martial art studios focus on self-defense or violence, they lose the true meaning of martial art practice to an audience in desperate need of it.
We are engaged in a global community that can eliminate geographical, societal, educational, and economic boundaries. Re-imposing boundaries from the past serves to turn people away from actions for self-improvement.
There are good and bad books and videos about taijiquan, Bagu Zhang, and Xingyiquan. The great leveling power of the Internet, however, is that you can reach across geographical and classical boundaries to find the best instruction for you.