Seeking Soft and Hard

art_seekingsoft2          It’s important to start this right. We have to distinguish between soft and hard, and internal or external. Let’s be honest, all styles of Kung Fu start as ”External styles”. But styles may be hard or soft and still be external or internal. Another way to say this is that all kung fu aims at occupying the center of the map. If you start in the north you will move southward. If you start in east you will traverse to the west. The point is that we often call this or that style external or hard or soft without understanding that even in the most extreme cases, a proper style covers all four of these corners.

art_seekingsoft9I want to compare two styles that most people might consider to be extremely opposed to one another. But Tai Chi and Hung Gar kung fu are not really that antithetical. In fact, as we will see, they share a great deal in common though that might not be as obvious as we would like.

art_seekingsoft5Of course people who study Tai Chi assume it is a soft, slow and internal style as if these things were all the same. But as we said earlier, all training starts externally because that is the only way you can start. However, in some cases the training starts with the hard external and in some cases with the soft external. At which point the training starts to reverse its direction and go toward the opposite direction is very dependent not only on the style, but on efforts of the student and intelligence of the instructor.

art_seekingsoft10There is also the issue of completeness. For instance, in Tai Chi, few practitioners wish to master the entire system. Therefore those aspects of Tai Chi in which you develop strength, create power, or condition the body are rarely seen by the majority of students. It may be a shock to say, but Tai Chi has body conditioning and other means of strengthening it to withstand blows. Though it rarely engages in exercise like iron palm training, there are equivalent exercises to develop strength and power in the limbs. Most people who study Tai Chi for at least a few years know that there are times when power and force issuance are clearly shown. Sometimes they may only see this when their instructor’s demonstrate, or give a private lesson; but it is there.

art_seekingsoft6Let’s compare Tai Chi with Hung Gar. The first clue that the so-called “external style” of hung gar is really something a little more sophisticated that it first appears, comes with the one thing which Hung shares with Tai Chi; something so obvious it is overlooked. Both of these styles have sections at least, of very slow motion action. Many parts of the Hung style move very slowly, relative to the speed possible by a reputable martial artist. Why, you should ask yourself, are the Hung Gar styles moving so slowly? Surely it cannot be for combat purposes. There are a number of aspects to the answer but at least some of these are because Hung players are focusing their attention and their actions internally, that is to say, at the appropriate pace and amount of strength linked with their intent. By the same token, Hung uses its famous Shaolin Temple five animals—especially the Dragon and the snake—to practice a more relaxed and fluid motion. The percentage of this type of motion increases as does the skill level of the Hung practitioner. You can actually see, If you’re exposed to enough of the Hung style, the transformation from early sets, such as Gong Chi Fuk Fu, to the Advanced sets such as iron wire, a very clear progression from hard towards soft and external toward internal. This does not even count such internal but hard training as the golden Bell or iron body.

art_seekingsoft7Flip the coin and you may see the opposite face in Tai Chi. Here we have a style which is famous for being, internal. Yet this perception of the limited goal can actually cause some real problems for students who think that they want to learn the true style. As they progress, they are inevitably introduced to practices such as push hands, Da Lu, body conditioning, and applications for self-defense purposes. This is not even to mention the variety of Tai Chi weapons also confusing the issue. As people learn to relax they eventually understand that they are also learning to open the pathways of what might be called the reptile response; that is to say our neurological nexus with its immediate and instinctual responses. Even the act of moving your hand in a tai chi manner, for instance, seems shockingly inappropriate to the brainwashed tai chi student who does not understand that this is the full realization of his internal training, the expression in external movement. In fact the secret of tai chi, is to perfectly match external actions with internal effects such as massaging internal organs.

art_seekingsoft1When we compare these two supposedly opposing forms of martial study, we find that they are actually very similar. Hung Gar has slow movement, Iron body training, internal breathing exercises even to the point of vocalizations. Tai Chi technique, shares many training methods. As the Hung practitioner raises his skill level, there is a notable emphasis on softening and refining his technique. The Tai Chi master crosses over the same mountain road but in the opposite direction. It is hoped that when they meet at the peek their will both enjoy the view.

art_seekingsoft12So when we regard these supposed differences, we should remember the story of the blind men and the elephant. The art of kung fu is ultimately a single entity. This is why it cannot be compared to a lot of modern martial exercises, many of which are very fine; but have not yet matured to the level of promoting balanced and centered training. What is happening now places the average student on a little track of going from sparring training to meditation to yoga to a massage, etc. etc.; all to achieve a unified technique somehow mysteriously arrived at by fragmented studies. In a way, this approach deconstructs what martial artists have taken centuries to bring together. There is nothing wrong about new ideas. But we might take a minute to see if, in a sense, we are not just reinventing the wheel. It might be a better idea to start further on and improve the wheel, instead of just going around in more circles.

One Response to “Seeking Soft and Hard”

  1. Ismael García Martínez says:

    Good article it is sure that Master Mancuso know much more points in common between these martial arts.

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