Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Taiji and Grappling

Where does Grappling fit in with today's Taiji?

I was going to explore the question, 'Is there a place for grappling in Taiji?' But before I could write the first word I was reminded of all the places where grappling is found throughout Taiji. A breakdown of the Chen forms reveals numerous throws and locks. And a recently televised Chen Taijiquan tournament, shows the reliance on grappling in sport applications. In fact, the concept of zou found in the Taiji Classics, is translated as "overcoming the strong and the hard by the gentle and soft way"(1), which is the same as Ju in Japanese, as in The Gentle Way: Judo, or The Gentle Art: Jujitsu. So there is indeed much of grappling in Taiji.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. Taijiquan is a complete martial art. It has kicks, punches, Dim Mak, grappling, chokes, Chin Na. It was devised as a method of self defense for life and death situations. We often see explications of punches, kicks and armbars taken out of the form. But we rarely--at least in the West--see much instruction or discussion of the grappling side of Taijiquan. Some highly noted exceptions are Erle Montaigue, who addresses grappling, as well as any other conceivable martial application in his teachings; and Tim Cartmell, who integrates Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with his Tai Chi curriculum.

I want to emphasize that I am exploring the relationship between grappling and Taiji. There is a lot I don't know. As always, I welcome comments and insight into this subject. Because I have studied Japanese grappling arts and Taiji, I have an interest in the relationship between the two, historically and practically. I believe there is much martial benefit to be gained from grappling in a controlled and rule-based situation, as one would find in a dojo. Besides being a good aerobic workout, it teaches one how to move, relax, breathe, and anticipate the actions and reactions of one's partner. If done correctly it is a good way to spar using full energy in a relatively safe manner. However, if we keep within the boundaries of Taiji, I can see how it is easy to transition from disciplined movement to all-out wrestling, which at some point is no longer Taiji.

It is my understanding that the creators of Taijiquan preferred to not go to the ground. It is of course preferable to send one's attacker there, just be sure and not join him. There is much wisdom in that. To that end, I think Taiji throws and Chin Na should be drilled so that practitioners know how and when to use them effectively. In a life-threatening situation Dim Mak is generally in order. But there are times when control techniques are appropriate. And there is always the very real possibility that anyone could be attacked and find themselves on the ground with their attacker. Again, knowledge of Dim Mak is valuable in life threatening situations, but for the occasional drunk or unruly brother-in-law, knowing a little groundwork could be valuable.

I guess in the final analysis it all boils down to what the individual Taiji player wishes to do. As I have noted before, there are numerous variations of this art. Looking at it historically and realistically, we should give grappling some deep consideration. Not only because it is part of the overall curriculum, but because it is practical for any and all martial artists.

(1) Jou, Tsung Hwa. The Dao of Taijiquan: Way to Rejuvenation. pp178.