Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

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Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby Andy_S on Mon Oct 12, 2009 6:57 pm

OK, Scott Philips and Jose raise some very interesting questions in the other thread. Let's clear the air here. I ask the forum:

Who did CMA in Olde China? (Let's consider 'Olde China' from the late Ming - let us say, AD 1600 - or we are are getting away from history into legend.)

- Military?
- The royalty/aristocracy?
- Bodyguards/escorts?
- Bandits, pirates, thieves?
- Revolutionaires/assassins/proto-Triads?
- Theatrical performers (be they local troupes going from vilage to village or the top Opera lads in Beijing)?
- Retired miltary/bodyguards/escorts teaching the kids/self-defence forces in the villages?
- Physicians/herbalists?
- Priests and mystics?

And why did the learn MA?

- To fight as professionals (ie military, bodyguards/escorts, bandits, etc)?
- As part of a young literati or aristocratic chap's regular training
- To defend themselves against bandits, thieves, etc? (ie so theatrical performers, for eg, might need to learn theatrical MA - but also practical MA)
- In order to put on performances that would convert credulous peasents to their cause? (Be they religious or revolutionary)
- As a form of physical exercise to maintain health in a primitive, rural economy where malnutrition and disease was rampant?
- As a form of spirtitual exercise to maintain mental health and keep the ghosts and spirits at bay?

Feel free to add to the list above. Will be interested to hear opinions of Wuyizidi, Yuen-ming, Scott, etc.
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Re: Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby cerebus on Mon Oct 12, 2009 7:08 pm

I did. Because it was there. That is all.
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Re: Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby BruceP on Mon Oct 12, 2009 7:35 pm

farmers and peasant militia brought a particular body-method that was highly functional and effective, and readily carried over to combatives as an empty-hand and 'armed' fighting method.

I really liked Scott's personal perspective on the theatrical aspect of cma. Been waiting for someone to bring it like that for years and almost jumped outta my chair when I saw that clip in the other thread.
Last edited by BruceP on Mon Oct 12, 2009 8:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby Bhassler on Mon Oct 12, 2009 8:26 pm

Which other thread?
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Re: Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby Chris Fleming on Mon Oct 12, 2009 8:29 pm

The Shaolin and the Wu Tang.

Bring da ruckus.
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Re: Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby BruceP on Mon Oct 12, 2009 8:30 pm

the 'other thread', man :)
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Re: Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby Andy_S on Tue Oct 13, 2009 12:13 am

Other thread: 'Xingyiquan of the Chinese Army reviewed'

Thanks for the many insightful comments so far....
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Re: Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby edededed on Tue Oct 13, 2009 2:17 am

Well, lessee...

Military: Yes! Warlords, for example, recruited people like baguazhang master Guo Gumin to teach their soldiers.
Royalty/Aristocracy: Yes! Yin Fu was known to have taught the Guangxu emperor and some of the eunuchs, for example.
Bodyguards/Escorts: Yes! Du Xinwu of ziranmen was a bodyguard of Sun Yatsen. Huo Diange of bajiquan was a bodyguard of Puyi, the last emperor.
Bandits/pirates/thieves: The poor dude Guo Yunshen benged to death?
Revolutionaries/assassins/triads: Yes! Many baguazhang folks were said to have participated in the Boxer Rebellion, like Li Shao'an and Wang Dianchen (I think).
Theatrical performers: The Beijing opera, I suppose? I remember something about a famous Beijing opera guy who learned from Yin Fu, I think...
Retired military/bodyguards/escorts teaching kids: I guess at least they teach their own kids!
Physicians/herbalists: Almost all CMA seem to have some elements of this mixed in, but perhaps more in the South than the North
Priests/mystics: Well, Song Shirong became a monk when old; then we have the various Shaolin and Wudang monks (Xu Benshan, etc.)... then there were folks who did "shenda," i.e. calling of spirits into their body to practice martial arts

I think that a lot of people learned CMA because they wanted to be like their heroes in the wuxia stories of the time; others because they wanted to learn self-defense. A few learned it to cure diseases as well (often because of inability to buy medicine).

I haven't heard much about literati or aristocrats receiving such training as a regular thing; on the other hand, "village kung fu" seems to have been a fairly common phenomenon (which may have been haphazard, though).
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Re: Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby GrahamB on Tue Oct 13, 2009 2:38 am

I think it's worth thinking about what "Chinese Marital Arts" were in the late Ming dynasty.

Today we associate CMA with things like Wing Chun, Shaolin, etc... really we're talking about things for barehand self defence. I think if you got into a fight in the late Ming and tried to use barehand you'd be a bit of a joke, since people carried weapons. I think at this point in time Martial Arts were just that - military arts.

From the article "Disappearing weapons in Chinese Martial Arts" on http://www.yongquan.org:

China is a huge country, and its land area is densely packed with villages and towns - most modern maps do not give a true impression of this as all but the largest places are omitted. This is true on maps of other countries as well, but modern Chinese maps take this practice to a more extreme degree than will be found elsewhere - even fairly large towns may be omitted. There are certainly many thousands of towns and villages in China, and a high proportion of these may have very small groups of martial artists practicing their own particular arts in a more traditional way. Group sizes taught by the more traditional teachers tend to be small, often with only one to three students per teacher, a far cry from the hundreds of massed ranks easily seen doing modern wushu. At the very least the "unknown" martial arts of China dwarf the well known ones in terms of numbers of arts, although obviously not in terms of numbers of practitioners. As a direct result of this situation, no one can say for sure what is and is not practiced in China today. There is much that is known only to small groups of people within China of which there is no general knowledge whatsoever among the general population within China, let alone in the outside world.

Having accepted these points, when reviewing "average" current practice among contemporary practitioners of Chinese martial arts some clear issues relating to the nature of contemporary weapons usage can be identified. That is, if one were to make an objective (purely statistical) survey of what passes as "martial arts" in China today, taking the most common type of practice as the "norm", three particular differentiating factors relating to weapons usage may be noted that contrast contemporary practice with that of the practitioners of former times:

1. Weapons practice now has a lower priority than unarmed (bare-hand) practice
2. The range of types of weapons employed are greatly reduced
3. Those weapons that are used today exist in different forms (often smaller, less robust and more standardised in format)

However, these apparent differences arise from a more fundamental issue, namely that what is generally categorised under the term "martial arts" (wushu) in the China of today differs materially from what the practitioners of pre-modern times termed "martial arts". To put it another way, the very meaning of the term "martial art" has significantly changed in the popular consciousness of most Chinese people, as well as in that of the average martial arts practitioner. Where once the term "martial arts" would have certainly related heavily to the usage of weapons practices, archery being a good example, today it generally does not. This is to the extent that most contemporary Chinese people would not consider the bow to be a martial arts weapon.
Before examining the historical process through which this situation has arisen, it is first useful to make some straightforward comparisons between what may be considered a typical martial arts "class" in the China of today with one of the late Ming Dynasty (c. 1600). The following table illustrates the main differences:


Factor ...........................................Typical Modern Class c.2003...........................Typical Ming Dynasty practice c.1600

Number of students:.......................10 to 100........................................................1 to 3
Relationship of teacher/students:....Sporting, Cultural and/or Official Assoc.........Relative, clansman and/or member of
.............................................................................................................................same profession
Is the teacher paid to instruct?......Yes - generally a commercial relationship.........No - non commercial relationship
% of practice typically devoted to unarmed study:.....More than 80%.....................Less than 10%
Number of weapons studied:.....................0 to 3............................................1 to 20
How difficult is it to become a student?......Very easy..................................Extremely difficult for an "outsider",
..................................................................................................variable difficulty for "insiders"
Basis for acceptance of a student:..............Commercial..........................Character, sincerity, duty and/or blood ties
Preconceptions of the student:.........Tailored by the media and popular culture.......Tailored by religion, vocational group
.......................................................................................................and need (e.g. to fight in a war)
Typical applications of martial arts:.....Sporting competition, cultural..............Battlefield application, body-guarding,
...............................................entertainment, national pride,...............guard work, militia work, religious austerity,
................................................infrequent self defence .........................banditry and counter-banditry

Type of garments worn during practice:...Special lightweight garments -..............Everyday clothes, armour and
................................................. martial arts "uniforms".......................military uniform
Ranking system:..............................Grades, coloured belts and sashes...........None, military or religious rank
...................................................................................................(which may be unrelated to martial arts ability)
Syllabus:.......................................Fairly set......................................Variable depending on current need
Main type of practice:..........................Forms......................................... Applications

While the precise figures and information given in the table are guesstimates and open to debate, and there are obviously some teachers in China today who teach in a more traditional way, few would contend the gist of what is indicated - that is, that when we discuss martial arts practice as defined by its "average" modern adherents we are really talking about something very different from what went on in former times. A very clear issue that does not require percentages or degrees is that in former times there were no martial artists who did not study weapons at all, but today there are many.
Last edited by GrahamB on Tue Oct 13, 2009 6:54 am, edited 7 times in total.
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Re: Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby Scott P. Phillips on Tue Oct 13, 2009 6:49 am

Over all these are good lists. But I would ask the opposite question. Who did not practice martial arts? I mean when you think about it, the three or four groups least likely to practice martial arts actually did practice.
1. Orthodox Daoist Priests had a precept against owning rare or sharp weapons, or serving in the military (unless they were in command of troops).
2. Buddhist Monks had precepts against harming and killing etc...
3. Women. We have accounts of female Generals, Bandit leaders, wuxia performers.
4. Old women. The image of the powerful anti-Confucian Granny sneaking around causing sexual indiscretion and occasionally kicking some ass. (see Dangerous Women http://northstarmartialarts.com/blog1/?p=962

The expression, "Gongfu" really meant "meritorious action!" It was more or less (in the sense that Chinese culture is not going to fit even into this box) the definition of being a human.

Graham makes an interesting point, but I would propose that practicing martial arts and becoming a formal disciple are not the same thing.

I don't think the weapons question is so easily resolved either. Yes, wearing your hair in the que (slave style) was a do or die situation, but I suspect rules about weapons had a lot more gray areas. Couldn't you claim you had weapons for the purpose of defending the interests of the Emperor? Both the Ming and the Ching were afraid of religious uprisings and I believe it was quite common for a group of people practicing martial arts to claim publicly that they were just doing it for health, or more likely, merit. That would have driven unarmed training methods also.
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Re: Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby Chris Fleming on Tue Oct 13, 2009 7:17 am

"Who did not practice martial arts?"

Are we really going with the stereotype that all Asians practice martial arts? Or that there really were bands of Amazonian gong fu buddhist taoist ninjas?

Most people did not practice martial arts. Especially in a Confucian society like ancient China martial artists were seen as trouble makers and at minimum people who didn't add anything to society. If anything, they were most likely to be seen as criminals in training. This may or may not have actually been the case depending on the individual but the average farmer or average business man knew one thing--that guy has a sword and is adept in using it--he could rob and kill my ass. Life wasn't the movies.

It's just like today: society as a whole doesn't bow down when you hear of a cop being promoted to captain, or if a bounty hunter captures a criminal, or if a soldier blows someone else up--people in ancient China were more concerned about how to grow their crops, how to grow their business, how to succeed in politics. And similar to today, people don't fall all over themselves to learn martial arts.
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Re: Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby bailewen on Tue Oct 13, 2009 7:20 am

3. Women. We have accounts of female Generals, Bandit leaders, wuxia performers.


Image

The expression, "Gongfu" really meant "meritorious action!" It was more or less (in the sense that Chinese culture is not going to fit even into this box) the definition of being a human.



This claim is extremely questionable.

Also:
Over all these are good lists. But I would ask the opposite question. Who did not practice martial arts? I mean when you think about it, the three or four groups least likely to practice martial arts actually did practice.

Your logic is faulty. A far more plausible explanation to the fact that you can find people in all walks of life practicing is that essentially nobody practiced martial arts other than actual martial artists, ie. soldiers, bodyguards etc. All that has been shown is that there are notable exceptions to this rule but as a rule hardly anybody trains martial arts in any significant way.

Many of the women examples, for example, are in the history because they are such notable exceptions to the common practice. Same thing for the monks. A monk who does martial arts is really kind of notable so he tends to get mentioned. What your argument needs is some sort of evidence, any evidence at all really, that the practice of martial arts was typical of any of those groups. For farmers, merchants and intelligentia, the history out there seems to indicate that it was exceedingly rare just like it is today.
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Re: Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby Scott P. Phillips on Tue Oct 13, 2009 9:23 am

Gongfu means meritorious action, don't take my word for it. I got it from Kristofer Schipper in Taoism and the Arts of China.
Here is the quote: http://northstarmartialarts.com/blog1/?p=38
Bailewen, I'll take your challenge if you give me a standard of falsifiability. What would you consider proof?
First I'll backpedal, I don't know. How could we, we are speculating.

Daoist priests were always rare, perhaps only one per village in many places. But knowledge of the Daodejing was common.
Professional actors were very rare too. But most people knew some opera, and it was common to have memorized a portion of your favorite role. Some people are now arguing that it was the most widespread aspect of Chinese religion.
A doctor considered good enough to take on disciples was rare. But everyone had a Granny who knew formulas, used medicinal herbs in her cooking, practiced guasha, and brought you a moxa box when you were suffering from wind cold symptoms.

I would go further than you. There were whole regions of China where the concept of "pure martial arts" didn't even exist. Martial artists good enough to take on disciples were rare. But a lot of people learned a family form.

The 20th Century started off with a strike to the heart of Daoism. The Daodejing had for 2300 years spread the idea weakness is ok. That a person can even be weak and still have "prowess." In the 20th Century all martial arts had to be strong. Obviously, weakness did not completely loose the fight, since Tai Chi spread like wild fire, but I would argue that it was replacing something else more complex and diverse.

If you go into a martial temple in Taiwan, you will see that it is covered, floor to ceiling, in martial arts imagery. I recently read,(review to come if I can just stop posting on this darn forum) that Guanzi was the most popular deity in Northern China and that martial possession was considered easy to achieve, and quite common. (If you read Chinese look for author Cheng Xiao on Yihequan).

Now, let's take the most difficult case and also the only truly original thought I've had about Chinese culture. Women with bound feet! Did they have ways of practicing martial arts too? http://northstarmartialarts.com/blog1/?p=226
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Re: Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby Scott P. Phillips on Tue Oct 13, 2009 9:34 am

Hi Chris, I missed you're post. The Shaw Brothers have more to teach us about Martial Arts History than all the politically sanctioned epics and martial arts histories that came out of 2+2=5 PRC China. My website has been banned in China since 1996!
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Re: Who did CMA in Olde China? And why?

Postby Chris Fleming on Tue Oct 13, 2009 9:40 am

Do you have more to contribute to RSF than repeatedly spamming your blog?
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