The A-List

Just about any way you can think of bending, twisting, kicking, spinning or wrestling, has at some time or another been represented in Chinese martial arts. There’s very little new under the Kung Fu sun.

In addition to this, the Chinese martial artists are the hands-down winners for recombining all the various methods of combat. Most people might believe that old adage, “There are only so many ways to hit, break and kick.” That’s a lot like saying there are only so many ways you can use the numbers one through nine. But in reality, there are infinite ways.


And the frustrating thing is, that all this versatility would be heralded by Western Martial Artists but is almost ignored by the Chinese themselves. They describe the different kung fu styles like they’re all off the same menu: One order of Yin and Yang, A Dash of Soft and Hard, Fifty Percent Health Benefits, and Comprised of These Special Eight Moves, etc.

It strikes the non-Chinese martial artist as unaccountably odd. You can scan the backs of DVDs and VCDs, read the forwards to books, hear teachers’ lectures on their styles; and realize that it’s all the same list, over and over.  It’s as if in Western boxing the announcer were to say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the bout tonight will be composed of jabs, straight crosses, hooks, uppercuts, democracy and the advantages of science.” What’s up with this, you may well ask?

Every style seems redundantly described as a combination of Yin and Yang, soft and hard. Every style is represented as a well-balanced blend of self-defense and health practice and, amazingly, all the styles seem to share the same, eight or so, weirdly-named actions. After having bumped into this a number of times, you learn that the style you are interested in has a chopping down movement (known as Pi) and by now you think to yourself, “Well, who doesn’t?”

And you know you’re right, but you haven’t looked quite close enough. It is a source of pride among Chinese martial artists that they have reduced thousands of actions into twenty or thirty patterns. Looking closely you will see that these actions are not at all the same in each style. Just as in a great chef’s recipe, a little variation can make a big difference. As far as mentioning the more abstract ideas like Yin and Yang, this reinforces the claim that the design of the style balances and harmonizes all of its components. Otherwise, it would be like going to a great restaurant that didn’t serve desserts or drinks.

A style isn’t a style because it punches straight; it’s a style because of the WAY its straight punches relate to its other moves. Sometimes you see a player perform a classic move and either say, “If THAT’s how you do Pi, better luck next time,” or you nod and think “Now that’s an interesting approach.”

(And, ultimately, what are these attributes but rungs on the ladder to transcend any style)

When you really think about it, the ability to describe an entire style in fifteen or twenty words is quite an achievement. A TRUE style, not just pure or traditional, is one that has blended all these movements into a functional whole.


How does YOUR style perform the Dropping/Splitting movement known as Pi? I wonder.




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