Martial Vocabulary: Yong and Ti

Yong and Ti: Expanding Your Knowledge

Yin and Yang are old friends to anyone in the martial arts. I want to introduce a new pair for your martial vocabulary: BaFa Eight Methods style Kung Fu plumpub.comYong and Ti. These are similar to the Western concept of form and function. Yong means “use” and Ti means “form” or “body.” This makes martial sense. Here’s the “form” of the chop hand and here is the “use” of it.

In the last few years many people have developed a suspicion that classical martial arts is too wrapped up in the form and has turned its back on the function.

In truth, neither function nor form is the problem.  It is the fusion between them.  Take something like the simple cutting palm. In forms competition its shape is often represented as though it were a flexibility exercise for the wrist, fingers tightly bunched, thumb cocked, hand stretched back at 90º to the forearm. Is this supposed to be good form? It isn’t. It is an abstraction developed from a palm hand that originally held the fingers apart, the back relaxed, the fingers rounded. The real cutting palm is far more organic, natural and customized than formal substitutes. You can see the energy flowing through the natural position just as you can see that the “proper form” is actually a dead position, a put-up job, a fake.

The very idea of form and its relation to function has been obscured for ages, and not just by accident. There have been times in China’s tempestuous history when beautiful Kung Fu was encouraged over functional Kung Fu. Throughout history the upper classes have manipulated every aspect of Chinese culture from allowing patents, determining medical procedures, regulating religious rite and, of course, evaluating martial arts. The phrase passed down the centuries for this abysmal misrepresentation is “Flowery fists and embroidered legs.”

The most conspicuous devolution of form and function has a simple origin. We may start with a specific movement which the master does in this manner. When he teaching it  he realizes that his arms are longer than any of his students so they must do it that way. Generations pass innocently until some master determines that there is a general way of teaching which encompasses long and short arms, thin and stocky and every other variation. The original effective method and all variations of it are compounded into this one form that, for all practical purposes, is useless on its own. However this standardized pattern makes teaching easier though it robs the spirit of the move. After a while people have all learned the master move but few remember that there ever was a specific, practical, simple and undecorated original. If they saw it their eyes would glaze in non-recognition.

After a while finding a decent move becomes a mystery like reckoning the location of Templar gold. Students and teachers cling to the form because it seems to have clues to stories of the style’s past, achievements of great Kung Fu masters, sources of codified skills and techniques. It’s your grandmother’s locket, but with a smoky miniature of what was once a vibrant person.

XinYi Kung Fu plumpub.comNone of this disqualifies the fact that there are secrets hidden in form. There are also secrets in the hands of some instructors and even in written records we have collected. Of course things can get lost and simplified past recognition; Leonardo’s formula for plastic, your family’s polenta recipe, the location of Troy, Fermat’s Last Theorem. The world is full of secrets public, private and misplaced.

Some secrets are little tricks, like how to uproot someone with a special twist. Some secrets, most worthy of the name, are doorways into a world of wonder. (And to be fair, sometimes you wish you could un-know them!)

The word Ti is more than just the look of something. It is the structure, the form, the shape (a very important word in the Kung Fu world). Yong is the use, but not just a single application like hit the guy on the clavicle. It covers the potential uses like a twisting movement that can be  an arm bar, a throw or a strike.

An Tian Rong plumpub.comIt is only natural to assume that the usage of a movement is the “real deal”, the punchline as it were. Such is not always the case. Sometimes I show the meaning of  a form and notice a sudden change in the student. He performs the movement with much more precision and power but little variation. The application/form starts to set like cement on contact with the air. The student will now perform that movement the same with a confidence born of single mindedness, forever and ever. All other nuances may be forgotten now that rhythm and rhyme are lock-stepped with function.  “If you concentrate too much on one application the other 99 disappear” is what the masters said, and it is true.

Universal shape, specific defense, strategy and tactic; when you study Kung Fu you don’t just carry these two around with you … you become the living vehicle held aloft by these two wings. You move as the situation dictates during fighting, yet retain a sense of form throughout. You perform a set and people can feel that the moves are more than vapid gestures.

Yong and Ti. There is a story that the most perfect teapot ever created was made by an unknown Okinawan carpenter . Not highly skilled he created this teapot humble, undecorated, simple; it is acknowledged by collectors to be a masterpiece. It is, you see, only a teapot with not one line of its form for any other purpose. Created by human hands, it contains the perfect intersection of Yong and Ti, and tea.

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