Streamlining Your System

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

Streamlining Your System

Postby MaartenSFS on Mon Jul 16, 2018 4:27 pm

I have seen a lot of people over the years, both in and out of China, that have been learning systems with a curriculum that is endless. They often feature many forms, weapon forms, Neigong sets, partner exercises etc. I don't have anything against any of these things by themselves, but it's the sheer number of them that make the systems unrealistic. I myself studied Taekwondo and Chen style Taijiquan, which also had the same problem. Usually, myself included, practitioners of these systems don't have a clue about half of what they are training. We are basically paying to learn empty forms.

I believe that as students of martial arts we ourselves should be responsible for what we want to get out of it. If we have learned most of a system and our sparring has not improved (and we should be sparring, wrestling or fencing or it's not a martial art), then we don't necessarily need to throw out the entire system and go learn Boxing or BJJ - assuming that the teacher can or once could fight. We need to analyse what traits famous practitioners of a system were known for. What types of techniques are used? How is the power generated? What does the Shenfa look like?

Next is the hard part; test yourself. Are you able to use these techniques? Now in every system there will be high-percentage techniques, low-percentage techniques and everything in between. Some techniques will also be extremely practical in very specific self-defence situations, but almost useless otherwise. Decide HOW you want to use your system. In light-contact glove-less sparring? In no-holds barred sparring where anything goes? In gloved full-contact sparring? In wrestling? In sparring with very limiting rulesets like Taekwondo? DECIDE. Then ask yourself whether you can use the techniques, strategies etc. in the environment of your choosing. Can you generate the type of power that your system claims to possess? Can you hit anyone with that power? Do I do a load of fancy forms and then turn it into kickboxing when it comes time to spar?

Only you can answer these questions, but if the answers are not satisfactory more forms and secret Neigong sets are not going to get you to where you want to be. Assuming that your teacher can fight, you will need to put in some work to make it work for you. What are the highest-percentage techniques that are repeated over and over again in the forms? Can you use them in sparring? If not, pull them out and train them separately with the accompanying footwork. If you can't use that throw or fancy lock, are you using the correct entering techniques or combinations to put yourself in the right place and the right time to use them? Have you trained and conditioned your hands or your body to be able to apply these techniques properly? If you haven't, find out how to do that. What makes you different from your teacher? Why can he do it and you can't? If you've trained with him for more than two or three years and you can't use anything then there is something wrong with the way or what you are training.

Categorise all of the high-percentage techniques into entering and finishing groups and drill them on resisting partners and see what works and what doesn't. Put techniques that help train power-generation well into little groups and train them as often as you can. Little things that your teacher told you you could train to help improve your power that you did perhaps once or twice are what you should be training all the time. Consider only keeping a main form or two, or combining the best parts of forms that train only high-percentage and basic techniques and dropping the rest. Training them is wasting valuable time that could be used to help you improve your sparring, which is what martial arts should be about and you should know how much you suck and have the balls to admit it.

Also consider specialising if there is just too much to learn and train or if you are much better at one thing than another. I never cared much for Qinna because it is hard to pull off if you aren't already good at everything else, because it's tough to train safely and because it requires a lot of specialised conditioning training to use properly. So I kept only the highest percentage techniques and discarded the rest. And since my focus was not on Qinna and wrestling I realised that training a lot of Tuishou was not the best use of my time and without constant drilling 70% of my Taijiquan was useless, so I stopped training those things too and freed myself from those shackles and the burden of unrealistic expectations. If you are training an art like Xingyiquan then your primary focus should be explosive striking with a kick here or there. If it is Baguazhang you should be using crazy footwork, moving all over the place, confusing them and bouncing them around with power from your waist. If you are training Taiiquan then most of what you are doing should be following them like a shadow with lots of throws and Qinna and be really hard to move. If what you want to train and what the art was designed for are totally different, you should consider changing arts!

Lastly, make sure that whatever you decide to train can be trained in the amount of time that you have to train. The important things should be trained at least twice a week. I have arranged it so that about 80% of the solo training part of my system (and there is some overlap with partner training) can be trained in about two hours, twice a week. The other 20% I train separately on alternating weeks when I feel like it. The same is true of my swordsmanship system. Part of your Tuesday training could be Hunyuanzhang, Five Element Fists and pole-shaking and you can save Santishi, the Twelve Animals and arm-conditioning tree-striking for Thursday, for example. I guarantee that you'll improve drastically, rapidly. If you can't do this with your current art then consider switching. Don't forget to spar as often as you can for regular reality checks. Good luck in your training.. 8-)
Last edited by MaartenSFS on Mon Jul 16, 2018 4:34 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Streamlining Your System

Postby nicklinjm on Tue Jul 17, 2018 6:04 pm

Very insightful comments Maarten, something all of us need to think about in the way that we practice our art ;)
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Re: Streamlining Your System

Postby LaoDan on Wed Jul 18, 2018 8:30 am

MaartenSFS wrote:I have seen a lot of people over the years, both in and out of China, that have been learning systems with a curriculum that is endless. They often feature many forms, weapon forms, Neigong sets, partner exercises etc. I don't have anything against any of these things by themselves, but it's the sheer number of them that make the systems unrealistic. I myself studied Taekwondo and Chen style Taijiquan, which also had the same problem. Usually, myself included, practitioners of these systems don't have a clue about half of what they are training. We are basically paying to learn empty forms.

The problem may be that students (and teachers?) “don’t have a clue” which makes the forms “empty”. But perhaps the forms would make sense and would be of value for those in the know? With less of an emphasis on practical usage, and more often using traditional Chinese martial arts for health and/or performance instead, the meaning of various forms can be lost, making them “empty”. But many forms have certain aspects of the art that they emphasize.

I sort of agree with where you are coming from, but also do not agree with many of the seeming conclusions that could be drawn from what you wrote. I myself value many of the lessons learned from various solo forms, although I do not practice them very much anymore. I currently prefer partner practice, although that does include two-person choreographed forms (which I see as bringing to my attention possibilities that I may not have discovered from just drills or sparring).

As a personal example, there was a recent thread on RSF about striking simultaneously with the landing of the foot. While my solo Yang style form does not do this, my Chen style fajin form (designed for competitions by selecting movements from various Chen routines) frequently does. It is also found occasionally in the choreographed Yang two-person weaponless form as I practice it, as well as several Yang style weapons forms (e.g., staff and spear). I did not post in that thread because I feel that it is a part of TJQ, but whether it is used or not is up to the individual practitioner and their specific circumstances and/or preferences. But if I did not learn those various Yang style forms that do use it, I may not have thought that it was a part of Yang style. I could not say, though, that it should or should not be used - that depends on the individual and the specific circumstances that they find themselves in.

Anyway, I just want to caution that something could be missed from what they teach to their students if one decides to eliminate “extraneous” materials in order to “streamline” a system. While OK for a personal system/practice, it could diminish the art’s comprehensiveness if some things are eliminated without careful consideration, and an understanding of, the potential contributions of those parts of the art.

You seem to be selecting things that you like and that work for you, while advocating eliminating other things that may actually work better for other people (e.g., qinna). You may succeed in creating your personal system, but at the expense of other aspects of your art’s potential for future students of yours. Even though one may have the experience to know what works for himself, this does not necessarily mean that that person has the wisdom to know what should be changed or eliminated for others.

Unless teachers are just stringing their students along in order to make money (e.g., teaching numerous meaningless forms, with the exception for students who are just looking for fun variety, or for performance routines...), teachers should look for ways to shorten the learning curve for their students. You seem to be trying to take this approach, so I have to agree with your motivations. Just be certain that you have the wisdom to “streamline” your system in a way that really benefits your students in all of their individuality (i.e., their differences from you).
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Re: Streamlining Your System

Postby MaartenSFS on Wed Jul 18, 2018 5:34 pm

nicklinjm wrote:Very insightful comments Maarten, something all of us need to think about in the way that we practice our art ;)

Thanks, mate. From the skills that I observed when we met I'd say that your Master has got the goods and this may be applicable to you! Talk to him about it. :)
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Re: Streamlining Your System

Postby MaartenSFS on Wed Jul 18, 2018 5:52 pm

LaoDan wrote:
MaartenSFS wrote:I have seen a lot of people over the years, both in and out of China, that have been learning systems with a curriculum that is endless. They often feature many forms, weapon forms, Neigong sets, partner exercises etc. I don't have anything against any of these things by themselves, but it's the sheer number of them that make the systems unrealistic. I myself studied Taekwondo and Chen style Taijiquan, which also had the same problem. Usually, myself included, practitioners of these systems don't have a clue about half of what they are training. We are basically paying to learn empty forms.

The problem may be that students (and teachers?) “don’t have a clue” which makes the forms “empty”. But perhaps the forms would make sense and would be of value for those in the know? With less of an emphasis on practical usage, and more often using traditional Chinese martial arts for health and/or performance instead, the meaning of various forms can be lost, making them “empty”. But many forms have certain aspects of the art that they emphasize.

I sort of agree with where you are coming from, but also do not agree with many of the seeming conclusions that could be drawn from what you wrote. I myself value many of the lessons learned from various solo forms, although I do not practice them very much anymore. I currently prefer partner practice, although that does include two-person choreographed forms (which I see as bringing to my attention possibilities that I may not have discovered from just drills or sparring).

As a personal example, there was a recent thread on RSF about striking simultaneously with the landing of the foot. While my solo Yang style form does not do this, my Chen style fajin form (designed for competitions by selecting movements from various Chen routines) frequently does. It is also found occasionally in the choreographed Yang two-person weaponless form as I practice it, as well as several Yang style weapons forms (e.g., staff and spear). I did not post in that thread because I feel that it is a part of TJQ, but whether it is used or not is up to the individual practitioner and their specific circumstances and/or preferences. But if I did not learn those various Yang style forms that do use it, I may not have thought that it was a part of Yang style. I could not say, though, that it should or should not be used - that depends on the individual and the specific circumstances that they find themselves in.

Anyway, I just want to caution that something could be missed from what they teach to their students if one decides to eliminate “extraneous” materials in order to “streamline” a system. While OK for a personal system/practice, it could diminish the art’s comprehensiveness if some things are eliminated without careful consideration, and an understanding of, the potential contributions of those parts of the art.

You seem to be selecting things that you like and that work for you, while advocating eliminating other things that may actually work better for other people (e.g., qinna). You may succeed in creating your personal system, but at the expense of other aspects of your art’s potential for future students of yours. Even though one may have the experience to know what works for himself, this does not necessarily mean that that person has the wisdom to know what should be changed or eliminated for others.

Unless teachers are just stringing their students along in order to make money (e.g., teaching numerous meaningless forms, with the exception for students who are just looking for fun variety, or for performance routines...), teachers should look for ways to shorten the learning curve for their students. You seem to be trying to take this approach, so I have to agree with your motivations. Just be certain that you have the wisdom to “streamline” your system in a way that really benefits your students in all of their individuality (i.e., their differences from you).

Thank you for your well-thought-out response. I'll address some of your points in order:
1) I agree that students should not streamline anything if they don't have a deep understanding of it. This article was geared more towards students that have been learning from a teacher for several years at least and have more or less learned all of a system. I did all of this both with the blessings of my Master and his help.
2) My solo practise consists almost entirely of foundation training/warm-ups, line or circle drills of techniques with and without weights and Neigong. If I had a short form or two I'd probably train that as well, but only at most two or three times. If I had a long form I'd train that separately and only if I had enough time. I believe that one can get all the details that they need like how to step etc. from sparring with one's teacher or as instructions from him when sparring or drilling with senior students. Then those details should be carried over into the form, not the other way around. That way it becomes more realistic.
3) I can see what you are saying about the Qinna, but I'd rather excel at my own streamlined system and be able to teach that very well than be a jack of all trades and not have anything meaningful to pass on. Also, my system incorporates various strikes and some work better or worse depending on one's body type, personality, abilities, etc. and there are usually different ways to use each of these as well. I always teach my students how I use them and encourage them to use them in a way more suitable to their body type etc. I have included some high-percentage Shuaifa and Qinna as well to round out the system, but if someone wants to learn a wrestling art they'd be better off seeking an expert at that and I will encourage them to do that rather than lead them on.
5) Your last point is spot on and my reason for doing this (and for myself as well, of course). I want the system to be easy to digest and that a prospective student can learn how to use it ASAP, but that there is enough depth to keep them motivated for many years to come. ;D
Last edited by MaartenSFS on Wed Jul 18, 2018 5:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Streamlining Your System

Postby windwalker on Wed Jul 18, 2018 7:03 pm

MaartenSFS wrote:5) Your last point is spot on and my reason for doing this (and for myself as well, of course). I want the system to be easy to digest and that a prospective student can learn how to use it ASAP, but that there is enough depth to keep them motivated for many years to come. ;D


Whats your business model based on.

If its something that one can learn ASAP, what would prompt them to continue to learn for many years to come...Why would one do that?

The main concern with a lot of practices is one of preserving that which was practiced before regardless whether its useful or not
in today's time.

With the other aforementioned arts there's a whole organization dedicated to promoting preserving their respective arts.

Much of the discussions here focus on methods and practices of current masters relative to past masters to see if
indeed they are still what past masters practiced. There is hardly any mention of usage compared to other threads on MMA, BJJ ect.
were the focus is on usage.

Some of the successful teachers that I knew in running their MA gyms have programs addressing the needs of each segment
insuring a stability that allows the gym to stay open for business. One has to either make their market, or prove to the market
that what they have or do is something that they should do.....


I mention this only in passing I was never really able to adapt my own training to make it commercially
viable. ..If this is ones only source of income might be a good motivator for making
the required adjustments.

Just wasn't my thing

I now focus on working with people who are experienced enough to understand and seek out what their looking for.

wish you luck on your own journey ;)
Last edited by windwalker on Thu Jul 19, 2018 5:26 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Streamlining Your System

Postby Trick on Wed Jul 18, 2018 10:27 pm

If consider fighting as in modern sport fighting where two persons on mutual agreement can legally fight, isn’t modern Sanda that streamline of CMA ?
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Re: Streamlining Your System

Postby MaartenSFS on Thu Jul 19, 2018 4:24 am

I don't believe so at all. As a ruleset or as a separate martial art I have no problems with it, but as a system it lacks most of the techniques, strategies, power—generating methods etc. of CMA.
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Re: Streamlining Your System

Postby Trick on Thu Jul 19, 2018 4:53 am

What kind of fight is it a modern day living in a civilized society CMAist is seeking ? That will say if they are seeking a fight
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Re: Streamlining Your System

Postby Trick on Thu Jul 19, 2018 5:10 am

MaartenSFS wrote:I don't believe so at all. As a ruleset or as a separate martial art I have no problems with it, but as a system it lacks most of the techniques, strategies, power—generating methods etc. of CMA.

Yes I agree that sport Sanda might not contain the techniques and strategies that TCMA for self defence might have, the power generation thing of TCM into Sanda I see no issue with....If “dueling” fights under (today’s)lawful conditions is the goal, i can only see sport Sanda fighting to be the natural development as an expression of CMA fighting.
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Re: Streamlining Your System

Postby MaartenSFS on Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:06 am

Why don't you see an issue with the power generation? That's one of the most important things. I can assure you that Sanda is nothing like most CMA except perhaps Changquan and some Shaolinquan, but even then it's missing a lot of techniques. Like I said before, I have no problems with the Sanda ruleset or even sparring with gloves.
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Re: Streamlining Your System

Postby MaartenSFS on Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:16 am

windwalker wrote:
MaartenSFS wrote:5) Your last point is spot on and my reason for doing this (and for myself as well, of course). I want the system to be easy to digest and that a prospective student can learn how to use it ASAP, but that there is enough depth to keep them motivated for many years to come. ;D


Whats your business model based on.

If its something that one can learn ASAP, what would prompt them to continue to learn for many years to come...Why would one do that?

The main concern with a lot of practices is one of preserving that which was practiced before regardless whether its useful or not
in today's time.

With the other aforementioned arts there's a whole organization dedicated to promoting preserving their respective arts.

Much of the discussions here focus on methods and practices of current masters relative to past masters to see if
indeed they are still what past masters practiced. There is hardly any mention of usage compared to other threads on MMA, BJJ ect.
were the focus is on usage.

Some of the successful teachers that I knew in running their MA gyms have programs addressing the needs of each segment
insuring a stability that allows the gym to stay open for business. One has to either make their market, or prove to the market
that what they have or do is something that they should do.....


I mention this only in passing I was never really able to adapt my own training to make it commercially
viable. ..If this is ones only source of income might be a good motivator for making
the required adjustments.

Just wasn't my thing

I now focus on working with people who are experienced enough to understand and seek out what their looking for.

wish you luck on your own journey ;)

I'll try to reply to your points in order, David:
1) I'm not really thinking of it as a business model. I know that I should be if I want to teach it more, but I can't bring myself to water it down.
2) Regarding learning it ASAP I should elaborate a bit.. I meant that one could start using it in sparring ASAP but that there would be many stages to mastery. These stages of progression are clear and make a lot of sense, so students should remain motivated, if they want to get better.
3) I totally agree about everything else you said. I feel like I'd rather teach the real thing to a select few students than commercialise it and find a lot more shitty students that will be a chore to teach.. :P
4) That's a good point that you make on focusing on usage like combat sports. I would definitely say that what I do is a complete martial art for self defence that is trained as a combat sport. What I mean by that is that it has all of the techniques to get you out of bad situations no matter the cost, but is more like a combat sport when we spar. I would say that that is less the case with the swordsmanship, as the good safety weapons keep it fairly realistic.
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Re: Streamlining Your System

Postby Trick on Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:53 am

MaartenSFS wrote:Why don't you see an issue with the power generation? That's one of the most important things. I can assure you that Sanda is nothing like most CMA except perhaps Changquan and some Shaolinquan, but even then it's missing a lot of techniques. Like I said before, I have no problems with the Sanda ruleset or even sparring with gloves.

Power generation, what I mean is that the specific body training methods of the different traditional CMA’s that lead to a desired ShenFa would not be a hindrance for SanDa players to practice and have use of I think.....but I actually don’t know since I don’t engage myself in SanDa ……Anyway from my perspective to look at this, SanDa clearly seem to be the fighting streamline of CMA…… I should maybe say that I do make an distinction between fighting and self defence/protection in where fighting as probably most people seem to see it is two persons face each other ready to fight and go for it, while self defence is a different situation. Two different scenarios that does not involve same strategies.
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Re: Streamlining Your System

Postby MaartenSFS on Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:58 am

Sanda is some CMA throws with some Changquan kicks plus boxing. I don't see how it can be a streamlined version of CMA at all. I'm not saying one is better than the other, only that, other than the fact that they are both martial arts, that they are totally different. And I have trained in both, so I should know..
Last edited by MaartenSFS on Thu Jul 19, 2018 10:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Streamlining Your System

Postby Trick on Thu Jul 19, 2018 12:22 pm

I don’t understand this, if you are saying you practiced fighting that would mean you practice freestyle sparring? are you doing this full contact or at least something as semi contact, if so wouldnt it look as SanDa then? Or are you saying you are doing contact sparring without gloves? For sure you are eliminating techniques such as finger trust to eyes, groin kicks and contact attacks to the back of opponent for the safety of each other? ……Or are you sparring “karate competition” gloveless style with light contact to body and no contact to the head? But also in that format of which I’m familiar with eliminate certain techniques for safety reason.
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