"'The time has come' the walrus said 'to talk of many things. Of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax. Of cabbages and kings!"
-Lewis Carrol, "Alice in Wonderland"
The Walrus in the poem was trying to keep the carpenter distracted and preoccupied. In the Tao Te Ching the "shoes and ships and sealing wax" would be described as "ten thousand things" which is to say the illusions of the material world and of the ego...
Ego is a plague on the martial arts community. Ego has people bickering over which "style" is better and what techniques will and won't "work on the street." Teachers and students alike succumb to their egos and boast of their power, prowess, and "secret knowledge".
Well I've had it, and I am blowing the lid off! So here are the biggest "secrets" of martial arts lain bare for all to see... The time has indeed come!
1. There is no ultimate martial art
Like it or not, modern warfare is the closest thing to an "ultimate martial art" and that's why it is used by militaries. Bombs, drones, poison gasses, tanks and shells and bullets are more efficient at destroying human life than anything hands, feet and elbows could ever do. Even in ancient times primitive firearms were used. Spears were favored over swords in the iron age because of the length they put between you and your opponent. Basically, nothing that people like to think about martial arts is true. From a strictly military standpoint, we are at the top of our game now. There has never been "honor" in warfare, that's just the indoctrination they give you so you are willing to die for someone else's ambition.
When it comes to civilian combat, ie "self-defense" there is no form. It is all chaos. Training hedges the odds a bit, but it does not guarantee a "win" and even if you survive the encounter, you may still have lasting and unforeseen repercussions to deal with. Practice for 200,000 hours and you can still be beaten by someone with no training at all. Yes, even if you "roll" even if you spar with the best fighters, even if you have won trophies and cage matches. In the real world, there are no rules, there is no honor, there is only chaos. Your best bet at hedging the odds is to square with that.
Now that I got you warmed up, lets get to some of the "good" stuff...
2. Chi is real, but it's probably not what you think.
The word "qi" or "chi" or "ki" is a concept which simply does not translate well into English. It is similar to concepts like "prana" (Indian), "mana" (Polynesian) and "ond" (Old Norse). Indeed it has been hinted at by practically every culture but our own! We have concepts like biomagnetism, kinetic linking, fascia and the extra-cellular matrix which describe parts of it, but not the whole, so it remains foreign to us. The tendency with Western culture is to make Eastern things seem mystical, almost like magic, whereas back East they are utterly mundane.
The word "chi" can mean a number of things in Chinese, and all are interconnected. In English, we like things to mean one thing, especially if they are foreign... yet we have words like "bow" with several meanings that have nothing to do with one another, and have the nerve to say other languages are complicated... Chi in martial arts refers to several different elements all working in tandem. You might call it "synergy" of the body.
3. The "Golden Bell Cover" and "iron shirt" are not the stuff of fantasy
You may have seen the video of the guy getting punched in the face while trying to use "chi" to generate an invisible shield of sorts. This is the kind of ego I was talking about in the beginning. Chi is real, but it's not what this poor fool thought. Likewise, there is a method of protecting the body using chi, but it isn't going to deflect blows like magic. "Jin zhong zhao" or "golden bell cover" and "tie shan" -iron shirt, are two distinct practices that produce the same result. One is "internal" the other "external" but just like the martial arts "styles" described the same way, it is only a matter of where one starts that serves to distinguish one from the other.
In either case the tissues and fascia are made to adapt through rigorous conditioning and training exercises. It is a long and intricate process which essentially forges the body into a completely new machine. There is not shortcut or simple way to do this. It has to do with "chi" only in the Eastern, traditional sense, not the way it exists in the Western imagination. The "internal" aspects have to do with the fascia which holds the organs in place, and the effects the breath has upon it. Watch any "iron shirt" or "golden bell" demonstration and pay attention to the way they breathe, the timing of the breath, the subtle movements of their face and skin, and the alignment of their bodies. All of this is "chi" being put to work. It isn't magic, it's just the product of many generations worth of study of body mechanics and the adaptability of living tissues.
4. "Empty force" is real, and also not what you think...
This is mostly due to publicity and marketing than linguistic failures as described above. More ego... Okay, so you may or may not have heard of "empty force" but the term has been co-opted by some the biggest scams in the whole martial arts world. These have invariably been debunked and brought great shame to their proponents and the martial arts community as a whole. It would be easy to make a scapegoat of this single concept as the reason why all "internal" and "soft style" martial arts are the laughing stock of the martial arts world...
but, instead, I am going to reveal the truth!
Empty force is NOT hypnotism, it is NOT telepathy, it is NOT telekinesis, it is NOT magical or mystical at all!!! It has its roots in "wu wei" or "effortless effort" which applies in many ways to martial arts, both in the philosophical and practical sense.
Philosophically, it is the state of peace and serenity that comes from mastery of self and emotions. It is the eye of the storm, the stillness amidst the chaos. It is something we become intimately familiar with through the practice of aikido. It comes with letting go of expectation and flowing effortlessly with change. The ideas that "empty force" can influence an attacker without even touching them comes from the very real effect that kind of calm can have on other people around you. Have you ever felt uncomfortable around a complete stranger for no reason at all? Have you ever felt inexplicably comfortable with someone, as if you had known them for years though you just met? It's the same thing. When a real life threat is present, sometimes the situation can be de-escalated just by changing the "energy" in the room. You do that with your reaction, or lack thereof. This is literally the foundation of the training for crisis councilers, psychotherapists, and negotiators. If it didn't work, these jobs wouldn't exist.
"Empty force" applies to physical techniques as well. Think about when a threat first presents itself. Before any contact is actually made, there is already anticipation of escalation. Some drunk gets angry, they expect someone to fight. The challenge is accepted and reciprocated. Escalation continues until something ends it, one way or another. Just like how the verbal cue prepares one for the physical altercation to ensue, so too can physical cues initiate physical preparation...
Let me simplify this a bit. An untrained person will likely flinch if someone raises a hand with the intention to strike them. Flinching is a primal reaction that causes the muscles and fascia to arrange themselves in such a way that felt impact is reduced, and the internal organs are partially protected. The body does this naturally, and the more one trains, the more the body learns to anticipate, adapt, and counter. The way "empty force" works in a physical encounter is that it goes with what is happening, not against it, nor does it follow its own prerogative. There is nothing for the opponent to anticipate or adapt to because you are just blending into whatever they are doing. When you blend with their energy, you can also cause it to continue in a given direction in spite of their intentions to perform another movement. This is how many taijiquan (Tai Chi) and aikido techniques work. You don't follow form in these martial arts. You don't perform scripted techniques. Those are all just training exercises to teach you the underlying principles of blending, timing, and internal force. Once you have that, you don't use your own technique, you use the opponent's technique against them. We have all heard those words, but this is what it really means. It is all about empty force!
5. "Pressure Point" techniques work in real fights, but don't make you an unstopable killing machine
and why would you want to be? Let's stop and analyze this for a moment. Why is everyone so obssessed with how much damage a technique or weapon can inflict? Bombs and poisons can do massive damage, but I don't use that knowledge! There are numerous ways to end a human life, but I have never killed anyone! Yes, striking vital points can have an impact on the deeper systems of the body, but there is no secret combination that will result in the "delayed death touch" of legend, and why on earth would you want there to be?!?!?! The simple fact that you learned this thing would be more than enough to constitute an act of premeditated murder. You would do life in prison, or get the death penalty, and your teachers may well be tried as accesories to the fact!
The art and science of kyushojitsu underlies many different martial arts, from Okinawan karate, to jujitsu, to myriad forms of Chinese Kung Fu (where it is called qin-na or dim mak) it is even found in Indonesian Silat and elsewhere. Numerous cultures and styles have their own variations of the same basic technology. It is nothing more than medical knowledge of the human anatomy combined with the will to exploit it for an edge in combat. That may sound wicked, but is it in any way different from using a knife, or a gun, or a bomb? When the stakes are "kill or be killed" then we use whatever we have at our disposal.
However, when it comes to self-defens killing is NOT what we are going for. Our job is to get out of that situation as quickly as possible. It is about creating a window for escape, not destroying another human being. Kyushojitsu makes it easier to overcome an attacker who is physically superior, which will most likely be the case in a real attack anyway. It can increase your chaces of disabling, incapacitating, or even maiming an attacker, which can give you a bigger window for escape. Yes, it can kill, but the chances are not much greater than they would be with any other martial art. Judicious application of technique is key. Truth be told, you are more likely to kill someone accidentally by NOT studying kyushojitsu, because it gives you the fundamental knowledge of what areas are most vulnerable to attack, and which will produce the most profound results.
A person with no medical knowledge may not think stabbing someone in the leg could kill, but the femoral artery is one helluva bleeder! Everyone knows a blow to the head is more likely to result in a "knock out" but a sharp rap to governer 15 (the brain stem) could be instant death! By the way, this point is used "on the streets" in a technique known as "curbing" perhaps you've heard of it?
The truth is, many of the meridian points that get "needled" in acupuncture do not respond well to touch, as in acupressure. Likewise, there are points that can be touched, but shouldn't be needled. In both disciplines, there are more points used than ar practical for fighting. Then, there are "extraordinary points" used in fighting that aren't to be found in acupuncture and acupressure text books! There is no "five point palm exploding heart technique" ala "Kill Bill" and the only reason we don't strike points full force in class is because we don't want to get sued! Practicing kyusho is as safe as any other martial art, perhaps even more so given that you have a truly knowledgeable teacher proficient in revival and healing techniques as well as martial arts.
"Little Alice fell down the hole, bumped her head, and bruised her soul."
It is time we relinquish our egos and succumb to experience. Let go of expectation, prejudice, and presumption. Pursue the arts in earnest, with an open mind, and a sincere desire to improve, evolve, and transcend. That's how we become artists rather than just fighters. So let us stop fighting one another and come together in mutual passion for martial arts!
Born intersex, assigned "male" at birth, but her femininity was obvious as she developed. Ergo, Rae is both "intersex" and "transgender" in that her gender does not match that assigned at birth. She identifies as "hijra" or "kathoey" -words from Hindi and Thai languages respectively for "third gender" people. Rae is an author, holistic healer, and martial artist. She teaches and provides services professionally.
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