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Why Chinese Martial Arts Is Good
by Josh Griffin 3/17/03
Ever since I was young I had wanted to study kung fu. Like most kids, I
had seen kung fu/karate movies and was in awe--power and grace, calmness
and control in the center of the storm. Yet even then, before ever taking
a martial arts class I notice a distinct difference between karate and
kung fu. Karate was hard fast and always strong. Kung fu was somehow
softer, more flowing, yet at the same time emanating a near ethereal sense
of power, speed and grace. Sometimes they moved fast, other times slow,
changing speed and tempo with dizzying effects, contorting their bodies
into near impossible animal-like stances and postures, then exploding into
air in utter defiance of gravity.
At 15 I attempted to enroll in kung fu school, but my father would not
sign the year-long contract and I ended up studying a very
non-traditional, Americanized martial art which offered a monthly rate.
Now, 13 years later, I am finally studying Wing Chun kung fu and Tai
Chi--arts which I have fallen in love with. To engage in esoteric
arguments as to why one martial art is inherently better than another I
think a bit foolish. Is a car better than a boat? In the middle of the
ocean? Each art brings its own distinct advantages and disadvantages. I
have heard that serious Thai boxers are ferocious fighters at 20, yet have
crippled bodies at 40--not a bad trade if you are young Marine about to be
sent off to combat.
This being said, there are certain things that I look for in a martial
1) It should be available to the young and old. Whatever art I study now
at 28, I hope to be able to continue to practice when I am 58.
2) It should be a valid form of self-defense. This is after all the
3) Forms should be provided to allow the artist to continue to train,
improve, and maintain the level of conditioning attained while
attending the school. When I left my first martial arts school for
college I had no forms to practice and quickly lost interest in doing
a 100 punches and kicks every night before going to bed. Years later,
when I took up kung fu, I was very dismayed and surprised to realize
that all the conditioning and flexibility that I had once sweated and
suffered for was completely gone. Had I been practicing tai chi since
then, I am sure I could have started where I had left off.
4) The art should provide ways of healing and conditioning the body,
strengthening the joints and stabilizer muscles to prevent injury.
My office mate takes Tae Kwon Do and recently went through a painful
knee surgery. She found out later that over half her class had had
knee surgeries resulting from injuries obtained at her school. It is
my opinion that this is the result of encouraging an improperly
conditioned body to prematurely attempt advanced moves.
5) The art should include a combative component that is random in nature,
like sparring. The closer we can train to a real fight the better we
will fair in the advent of one. The benefits from such training is
twofold: a) such training provides a threshing ground to sift through
what is practical for a fight, and what is better left for
demonstrations and exhibitions, and b) you'll get hit. I believe it is
good to every once in awhile to take a solid hit to the body.
Quickly recovering from a punishing blow can be the difference between
winning and losing in real life--something I learned the hard way.
6) The act of learning the art should build character at the same time.
I believe a good martial art school should instill into its students
humility, perseverance, gentleness, respect, confidence, loyalty and
In closing, I think that in Wing Chun and Tai chi I have found all of the
above. Wing Chun is a fierce combative art made renown in China by the
number of fighting matches won by its practitioners--in a sense, tried by
fire. A no-nonsense fighting style, every move in Wing Chun is dedicated
to quickly and effectively defeating ones opponent. Sensitivity drills
like Chi-Sao help to transform the arms in legs into veritable whiskers
giving the veteran practitioner the ability ``feel'' an attack develop.
Such drills refine the reflexes and greatly diminish response
time--something that is crucial for close-in fighting. The nature of the
stance allows the delivery of powerful blows with little if any wind up.
Tai Chi (though I have heard a devastating art in its own rights) is for
me a healing, meditative art. Something I can do to relax and center
myself. At my first class I was shocked and disturbed by the number of
seemingly simple movements and stances that my body, through lack of use,
had become incapable of. I have seen nothing that can compare to it. It
is beauty grace and power rolled into one. Since starting I have found my
balance, timing, flexibility and joint strength greatly improved. I am no
longer dependent on a gym or pool for exercise. My only regret is that I
did not started training earlier.