A never-ending road to Taijiquan sparring

Tim's Discussion Board: Tai Ji Quan : A never-ending road to Taijiquan sparring
   By taijiquan_xuesheng on Sunday, September 10, 2006 - 02:41 am: Edit Post

Please help me understand.

I’ve been doing Taijiquan for almost 10 years. When I joined the group, the teaching seemed very practical, with special emphasis on qin-na. I asked the teacher about a rough estimate on how long from a complete beginner (I wasn’t a complete beginner) to free sparring and the answer was “five – six years”. So I stayed.
But over the years the teacher’s priorities have changed dramatically towards completely abandoning any random work and instead concentrating solely on following the principles of uprooting the opponent. Every time we asked him when does he plan to start teaching us san-shou, the answer was always “later, later”. “Why”, he likes to say, “would you want to start sparring at a lower level if you can wait until your level is higher and then the technique will be much higher level as well.” “It will only take 5% of effort to learn sparring after your push-hands and principles are good enough”.
So here I am, have developed a fair amount of whole-body jing (enough for my taolu to self-correct) and understanding of the style (enough for me to be able to uproot the opponent if he is not too fat and gives me a clear force to work with), can do all the flashy swords and staffs, have been helping my teacher to teach beginners taolu and push-hands, have put enough effort and time to help run the school etc., usual story. But I still can’t comprehend why, according to my teacher, learning san-shou should not start until the student knows the principles really-really well, if push-hands was introduced at an earlier stage and was let to mature together with taolu and weapons.
I have hard time believing that fighting experience can be acquired from doing prearranged exercises and repeating forms hundreds of times.
So, I suppose, my question is simple “have I been duped?” What would you do if you were in my shoes – go learn another style (the only other taiji instructors around are training the elderly), go to a boxing gym for sparring and keep doing Taijiquan for health ?..

   By Tim on Sunday, September 10, 2006 - 12:57 pm: Edit Post


Have you been duped? Ask yourself the following questions:

Have you ever actually seen other students sparring (for real, full contact, not just pushing hands)?

Have you ever actually seen your teacher sparring?

Do any of the other advanced students fight in san shou or mma tournaments?

Do you practice wrestling and grappling for real (both partners resisting and attempting to submit the other)?

How much time is spent on pad work?

How often do the students glove up for contact drills?

You should be able to answer your own question (and you might ask these questions of the next teacher you consider training with).

   By taijiquan_xuesheng on Monday, September 11, 2006 - 12:22 am: Edit Post

Tim, you'll laugh but the thing is that WE (myself and a couple of other dorks) are the "advanced students" -- when the teacher arrived from China, we were among the first bunch of his students (so there were no others to gauge the level), and we stayed because the teacher DOES have peng-jin and understands the darn principles well. He just (only just :-)) doesn't seem to know how to use them in a random situation.
The initial ad of the school claimed “many of Master’s students won gold medals”, and we thought “OK, must be in China”, but we went to teacher’s hometown in China a couple of years ago hoping to see the “real deal” but instead found an identical group of local dorks meeting together once a week and pushing each other with their beer-bellies. Needless to say, the phrase about “gold-winning students” has disappeared from the latest edition of the school ad.
We didn’t see the teacher spar, ever, and we asked him why. The answer was “no need to, if a person can use the principles well enough then the skill will follow and therefore sparring is redundant, you just don’t see it at your level”. When we asked him if his own teacher has ever sparred, he replied “of course not” and gave us that specific Chinese look as if you’ve just asked him a very inappropriate question.
Students never glove up, even more – coming from an external style, I asked the teacher when would he conduct punching drills with us – the answer was “not in class, practice at home”. Because, according to him, Taijiquan punch is such an advanced technique that you have to get the principles really well before attempting to punch properly.
The saga can go on and on, but, you see, my main concern is not even my own wasted years, but now I’m having an ethical problem teaching beginners – some of them come with serious attitude willing to learn and the last thing I want is to be an accomplice in duping others the same way I was duped.

   By Tim on Monday, September 11, 2006 - 01:15 pm: Edit Post

Well, if your practice with this teacher has resulted in the development of useful attributes, that training time was well spent.

But it seems obvious that for the actual martial part of your training, you'll have to look elsewhere.

   By andrea pennacchi on Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - 08:27 am: Edit Post

Xuesheng's story sounds a lot like mine, I feel I'm learning a lot but I also feel the lack of martial content in my training.
Which discipline could help me best integrating my Taijiquan training?

   By Jason M. Struck on Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - 09:46 am: Edit Post

there are boxing gyms in every city

and free (or almost free) Judo clubs at every community center and BJJ clubs at every College

   By Just A Joe on Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - 03:25 pm: Edit Post

Xuesheng, I have no idea of what and how you have been practicing for the last 10 years, but developing peng jin seems to be a good start at least. Doesn't your school have any free-style push hand training (meaning you are in close with each other, and you can sweep, hit, throw, etc. - not just push)?

To pose a question for you, do you really think sparring makes you a great fighter? From my experience it does not, but maybe that's just me. Being a great fighter is a total commitment towards that goal, and the truth is, not everybody can be a great fighter. I guess the question to ask yourself would be what do you really want and how are you willing to go about it to get it. Just my two cents.

   By taijiquan_xuesheng on Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - 02:48 am: Edit Post

"Just A Joe", did I say I want to be a "great" fighter? I'm sure I didn't. Who cares about great fighters, I only want to develop practical skills, to be able to use my pengjin to defend myself using Taijiquan, not just talk about how great were the masters of the past.

About free-style push-hands. No, we don't even do the push-hands circles anymore, we just do "peng", "lu", "ji" and "an" parts of the circle separately and concentrate solely on uprooting. All the random work is completely missing.

I feel you might have an answer for me, you say from your experience sparring doesn't make one a fighter, then what does? What would you recommend me concentrate on in my training? Not a "great" fighter, just a competent one :-) Thanks

   By andrea pennacchi on Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - 04:44 am: Edit Post

Thanks Jason, I'll give it a try. Although BJJ has not taken root in the part of Italy I live in, judo and boxing are quite well developed. Plenty of doubts though...

   By Elliot on Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - 12:18 pm: Edit Post

Just A Joe,

So, have you ever practiced real sparring (as in mma style) against competent opponents for any length of time?

If so, why do you think it doesn't make people great fighters.

If not, why are you qualified to have an opinion about sparring in the first place.

   By Ventura on Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - 02:38 pm: Edit Post

Greatness is relative...

When you ascribe "greatness" to something or someone you should at least qualify and or quantify your claim.

   By Just A Joe on Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - 03:03 pm: Edit Post


This is just my opinion, which means nothing really, but I thought I would offer my perspective. You already invested so much time in TCC, so you must really enjoy the art. Enjoyment is a big part of the training isn't it, otherwise why would you do it? Why not continue your internal education and find a school or teacher that has a more martial intent, which should include power training, application, and free-style push-hands at the very least. Many TCC masters studied with multiple teachers to get the big picture, and especially these days whereas some masters specialize only in certain areas of development. With proper practice of these methodologies you should gain some self-defense strategy at the very least against the ordinary joe. I mean, you don't just study TCC for fighting do you? Does anyone really these days? There are other benefits of TCC besides fighting right? I think the reality of TCC in today’s world is that it's more of a life-long pursuit (as an internal process). In other words, you benefit little by little, so it's something you can study and practice well into your old-age. For instance, I am getting too old to be fighting anymore, or rolling around on the ground 4 or 5 days a week (that would just lead to my body breaking down faster imho), but at least with TCC practice you can remain strong in structure inside and out while you age gracefully, and at the same time gain some "competent" self-defense skills against the "average joe" - (and if you have a lot of talent, intelligence, and diligence, maybe more than the average joe).

Now if you are talking about being able to beat someone more than your "average joe," like someone who trains regularly and is in excellent physical and mental shape (like mma types), that's another whole ball of wax altogether. You will need to train stand up and ground fighting. Namely bjj or judo and boxing skills, as well as have the proper mental and physical mindset imho. I think these MMA champions would most likely crush every TCC master you could come across these days, but like I said, it's all what you really want to pursue and how you want to do it. I prefer the life-long pursuit myself, but I'm probably older than you, so our interests may differ.

   By Tim on Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - 07:52 pm: Edit Post

Just a Joe,

Good points about people practicing Taijiquan for more than just fighting.

But the original question was about training with someone that doesn't teach the practical fighting skills promised, even 10 years into the training!

I agree a student can acquire some useful fighting skills from the practice of Taijiquan (provided the training includes a lot of contact sparring). But the problem with finding a "more martial" Taijiquan school is that they are almost non-existent.

   By Just A Joe on Thursday, September 14, 2006 - 10:18 am: Edit Post

I agree Tim, TCC schools that teach with martial intent are few and far between these days. I can not argue with that at all. The money is on the health side today, so I suppose it's hard for some of these teachers to turn that away. I believe there are some teachers out there though, and I know for a fact that there are more than a few that adhere to good basics which include power training, application, technique, and free-style push hands (which is close to sparring anyway, depending on the two participating in it). I also agree if after 10 years the teacher hasn't given him the "goodies," than most likely he doesn't have them to give, which would also make him a liar if he promised and did not (or could not) produce. IMHO, ten years of serious (and proper) TCC training should yield most students the self-defense skills to ward off the average Joe. If he hasn't gotten these basic skills from his teacher (if that has been his focus), than he must move on.

I wonder if Xuesheng ever tested himself against anyone to see if what he's learned has benefited him at all? I'm not saying he should stay there; in fact, I think he should definitely leave since his teacher has been dishonest with him. But, I have seen a few examples of people who have never technically sparred that did well when the time presented itself. Maybe they were lucky, I don't know. Of course, it all depends on what kind of training the student has done and how they practice, and the "practice" is a fairly subjective thing.

   By Gary Ellis on Saturday, September 16, 2006 - 09:33 am: Edit Post

One point, Joe,

"But, I have seen a few examples of people who have never technically sparred that did well when the time presented itself."

It is possible for types of training other than sparring to give you skills that will save your ass in a pinch, but that doesn't mean that sparring isn't more effective for this or that adding sparring wouldn't vastly improve your chances.

Add a Message

This is a private posting area. Only registered users and moderators may post messages here.