Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Discussion on the three big Chinese internals, Yiquan, Bajiquan, Piguazhang and other similar styles.

Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby ambulocetus on Tue Oct 31, 2017 4:51 pm

Many discussions have taken place on the lineage stories and myths of various martial arts. Many words have been written debating who has the accurate origin story and what relationships different branches of various methods have to each other. After meandering around various threads, trying to catch up from a long absence, I had a brainstorm thanks to this post by Wuyizidi. http://rumsoakedfist.org/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=24888&st=0&sk=t&sd=a&hilit=manuscript&start=15&sid=e509ca16b6c363745aaa11ad2e12dd01#p420816 He mentions that piecing together the history of TaiJi is like paleontology. Well in evolutionary biology, there is a powerful tool called "cladistics" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cladistics Basically it's a computer program where you plug in the various characteristics of the animals or plants you are studying, and it gives you the most likely way in which these groups fit into a family tree. It is almost as accurate as DNA testing, plus it has the advantage that it works on long-dead organisms, whose DNA is unavailable. Here is an example of this type of software. http://crescentbloom.com/II/L/17.htm

Much valuable work has been done by members of this community, and this method could help verify the most likely origin stories, just like how in biology cladistics helps to verify DNA testing. All that it would take to implement this is for somebody with more free time than me to break down the elements of the particular style into their components and then plug them into the program. For example, we all know that Wing Chun, Karate, and White Crane have a stance where the toes point inwards. This characteristic and others would be able to show whether one of these styles is the origin, or if they all cousins from a common ancestor.
I give this idea freely to whoever might find it useful. Considering the amount and variety of martial styles in the east, it will take more than one person to attain anything close a comprehensive family tree, but this may make it a little easier.
I hope I explained this clearly; if anyone has any questions I will answer them to the best of my ability.
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Re: Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby Appledog on Tue Oct 31, 2017 5:34 pm

Cool post. I think a large amount of work on this has already been done, although I would be pressed to give you links off-hand there has been some work on this already. Try looking up Salvatore Canzonieri's writings, and those of Jarek Szymanski. Those are two names off the top of my head you might find interesting. ex. http://legacy.ymaa.com/articles/2016/05 ... -taijiquan

A while ago I started plugging names into a wiki and making short bios and links based on genealogy, teacher and student relationship, time periods, contemporaries, and so forth. Interesting results, but one of the issues I came to with the taiji family tree is how often it branched out or connected to other arts. I also noticed 'other things', patterns, emergent ideas and so forth, some troubling some encouraging. I noticed that there is in fact a large preponderance of evidence which suggests certain things about taiji's history (and the history of other arts). Some of which I had never heard before in 20+ years doing this kind of research.

Discussing my findings with my teacher I was surprised to learn that none of what I had 'uncovered' was really new work, but had been in the wind since all of this began. The trouble with this kind of information is basically no one really cares. History isn't that important to the practice of the art so often times a 'good enough' history is passed down to keep people satisfied. The truth is a little too complex and irelevant to really care about and is sometimes inconvenient to marketing, for better or for worse. Somewhere down the line I think I lost my own reason for researching the family tree. I'm not sure why, maybe I found something intangible I was looking for? One thing I really enjoyed were the gems -- the stories of bravery, dedication and morality that I found. Maybe these stories had been passed down for a reason? Maybe not. I'm sure there's a book in there somewhere if someone wants to write it.
Last edited by Appledog on Tue Oct 31, 2017 5:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby ambulocetus on Tue Oct 31, 2017 7:16 pm

Good points. Some people have too much invested in the "official" versions of history to get excited about an unbiased method that points to the objective truth. But the beauty of cladistics is its flexibility. In biology it is used not only to find how species relate to each other, but also to find how genera, orders, families, all the way up to kingdoms. I suggest start with broad divisions and once the method has proven its worth, then focus on the fine details. That way people ease into trusting the method. For example, start with a grappling family tree by entering characteristics of ShuaiJiao and JuJutsu. Then later on narrow it down to individual styles within those broad divisions.
As a proof of concept, one could plug in styles with a known relationship to confirm that it works. Say you enter the characteristics of TaeKwonDo, Japanese karate, Okinawan karate and White crane. If enough defining characters of the styles have been correctly entered, and a tree comes out that doesn't have Crane at the bottom and TaeKwonDo at the top, then we know it didn't work.
Yes I've read a lot of stuff from Jarek and Sal. Certainly there will be a lot of ground that has already been covered, but it's like a second opinion to give more confidence in the answer, and you never know what surprises might pop up.
Last edited by ambulocetus on Tue Oct 31, 2017 7:28 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby Bhassler on Tue Oct 31, 2017 8:38 pm

A lot would hinge on how you defined characteristics. Are you looking at movement patterns? Techniques? Shenfa?

In the 50's Noa Eshkol and Avraham Wachman created he Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation system in Israel, and something like that might be useful for detailed movement analysis to generate the raw data for cladistic analysis. I knew someone who was in Israel and met up with some students of the method. Among other things, they notated the movement of a taiji practitioner and had a dancer replicate it perfectly using the movement notation to the degree that observers couldn't tell which was which. At one time they had sat in a street cafe in Paris and would correctly identify where in the world passerby came from based purely on movement characteristics.

It's fascinating stuff, but I've never really delved deeply into it, as it makes my brain melt. Surely there's someone reading this forum who wants to use all these ideas for a PhD thesis so they can practice martial arts for another few years virtually full time and put off getting a real job-- snap to it, whippersnappers!
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Re: Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby ambulocetus on Tue Oct 31, 2017 8:50 pm

Oh,that's interesting! I've never heard of that. Yes,that could be helpful. The more characteristics you input to the analysis, the more accurate the result. So movement patterns, stances, terminology, principles, every way you can break it down will increase the reliability of the tree.
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Re: Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby Trick on Tue Oct 31, 2017 10:20 pm

Bhassler wrote: Among other things, they notated the movement of a taiji practitioner and had a dancer replicate it perfectly using the movement notation to the degree that observers couldn't tell which was which.

If it was a "pair dancer" I would believe he or she picked up some "Taiji" stick and follow quite easily with an experienced TJQ "observer"...
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Re: Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby Trick on Tue Oct 31, 2017 11:00 pm

Not an MA history researcher, just like to compare and brainstorm on the subject sometimes. Back when I began training in TJQ & XYQ I had already been doing Karate quite some time. Began comparing Karate Kata's with the movement of IMA, got this feeling how the Naihanchi later renamed Tekki(iron horse) might shared a common source with Xin/Xingyiquan since I felt I could find XYQ Horse, Bear, Eagle and Snake in the Tekki Kata's ....yes probably some kind of whishful thinking back then. But then years later I learned a variation of the XYQ horse exercise that very much clicked bac to that thinking about an eventual common source of XYQ and Karate.....Not only limited my interest to the Naihanchi Kata's but I involved the Kushanku, Passai an Seisan also, where in the Kushanku I thought to see similarities not only with XYQ but also with ChenTJQ, the similarities was not shenfa wise but just in techniques....my theory here was that the methods that later formed TJQ, Xin/Xingyiquan...and Karate had a common source from the Shaolin temple.......Karate's Seisan kata, said to probably be the oldes known kata, the name mean- 13, or 13 hands/techniques, could this have some connection to Taiji's 13 postures, well it does not look like that when seeing the Seisan Kata, but maybe TJQ of today does not look like the source of TJQ in the past, and the same goes for the Seisan Kata.
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Re: Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby ambulocetus on Wed Nov 01, 2017 4:00 am

I never learned Naihanchi, but if you do Seisan with open hands like they do in the White Crane version, the techniques work well in sticky-hands.

And the kata Tensho looks an awful lot like the beginning of the first routine of the pre-Yip Man styles of Wing Chun.


Considering all the myths and legends associated with the southern styles, they could benefit from the cladistic method even more than the IMAs. That is, if you consider finding out the truth to be a benefit.
But yea, using cladistics to trace karate back to Shaolin and finding a common ancestor with TaiJi is theoretically possible. This would be an example of higher level taxonomy analogous to the phylum in biology.
Last edited by ambulocetus on Wed Nov 01, 2017 4:39 am, edited 8 times in total.
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Re: Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby edededed on Wed Nov 01, 2017 5:54 am

Would be interesting to try, if only to see what might come out!

Many challenges of course - although martial arts in some ways can be compared to organisms, they would be like organisms with huge amounts of horizontal gene transfer, not to mention high rates of genetic loss...
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Re: Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby oragami_itto on Wed Nov 01, 2017 6:06 am

it actually shouldn't be too terribly difficult to work from form videos to get a good bit of legwork done.
by which I mean, of course, a team could maybe work out the algorithm in a year or two
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Re: Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby ambulocetus on Sat Nov 04, 2017 3:36 pm

If some future researcher does stumble across this post and thinks my idea has merit, they are welcome to use it. Some interesting controversies that could be a good place to start are:
1. Did BaPan Zhang really come before BaGua
2. Is TongBei really one of the ancestors of TaiJi or are they jumping on the Chen bandwagon
3. Many styles claim to be descended from Yueh Fei. Whose claims are legitimate
Due to the intrigues of the Ching Dynasty and the devastation of the Cultural Revolution, the history of many Chinese styles has been obfuscated. However the future researcher must keep in mind that the results may be rejected by those with closely held opinions.
Last edited by ambulocetus on Sat Nov 04, 2017 3:56 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby ambulocetus on Sat Nov 04, 2017 3:41 pm

edededed, I like where you went with the analogy. Let's go even further.

Ring species: a ring species is a series slightly different types that each one is so similar to the one next to it that they can interbreed, by the time the two end species meet up all little changes have added up and they look totally different. Could this be why Sun style TaiJi looks so different to TaiTzu ChangQuan?

Difference between genotype and phenotype. Genotype is what the DNA says the organism has potential to become. Phenotype is how that potential is expressed. Yang TaiJi has the DNA of a fighting art, but it is often expressed as a health exercise.

and the extended phenotype. The extended phenotype is how the genotype is expressed that reaches beyond the actual body of the organism, such as the shape of a nest of a particular species of bird. This could be analogous to MMA, where it has a simple DNA but it has affected how other martial arts have approached their training methods.

I think we can even come up with more biological analogies; in particular with evolution, but that's a good start.
Last edited by ambulocetus on Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby Finny on Sat Nov 04, 2017 4:57 pm

It's not 'your' idea, for starters. It's a method that has been applied and debunked repeatedly in the past.

It's a false analogy. Cladistics works because of known common genetic sources for physiological traits. That's not the case with the martial arts - there is clear opportunity for simultaneous invention, given the shared goal of all 'martial artists', together with the obviously shared physiology.
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Re: Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby ambulocetus on Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:31 pm

{citation needed} Finny, unless you can provide a citation for that, I will assume that you are one of those with the deeply held opinions to whom I was referring. Are you afraid of what may be revealed?
Last edited by ambulocetus on Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:41 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: Towards an Accurate MA Family Tree

Postby edededed on Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:32 pm

It's not a great analogy, and it might not work - but still, it might be fun to see what results. (Whether the results worth the effort needed is another question.)

1. Is bapanzhang older than baguazhang? Looking only at movement, differences abound, but the same can be said for most 2nd generation baguazhang schools, too. Might be worth understanding the evolution within established baguazhang itself first (e.g. why are Yin substyles so different from each other?). I myself am curious about the lesser-known Liang styles (like those of Chu Guiting, etc.).
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