Friday, August 26, 2011

Tai chi fighting club

Tai chi grandmaster Wu GongYi 吳公儀 (right)
1954 - Macau
The teaching of tai-chi sometimes looks embarrassing. It is a form of martial art, isn't it? But one won't learn how to fight in most tai chi schools, nor the teachers there have any meaningful combat experience, sport or otherwise. Most students of tai chi classes are middle-aged folks or more elderly retirees. It is also true that with introduction of more vigorous pushing-hands and Nei-kung in the discipline, some schools are attracting more young people seeking for a more healthy kind of workout in tai chi. The discipline is flourishing in terms of the increasing number of students. But some (teachers and students) are still nostalgic towards tai chi's martial art origin, and some took their own unique action.

Recently I came across the website of a tai-chi fighting school in UK (no name shall be mentioned). What do they proclaim to teach? Listen: street fighting! (NOT sport fighting). In recent years, Muay Thai is getting popular in Hong Kong and gaining female students who are single, 30+ and professional at their respective fields. These ladies look for some major work out and a place to satisfy their inner aggressive instinct. Muay Thai as combat sport for these ladies. What a big difference between the tai-chi fighting club in UK and the Muay Thai gym in Hong Kong!

Traditionally (I mean late Qing Dynasty and early Republic) martial arts schools in China had two categories of students: those who want to learn fighting to become professionals (security personnel/bouncer or stuntman/future actor and those who want to learn self-defense plus good health (needless to say in additional to the objective to become a teacher of the discipline). That is also what my father told me, and he belonged to both. Moreover, those with the objective to become a professional would also need to learn something about the prevailing legal practice (however undefined in those days) and need to learn how and where to flee in case of big trouble, like accidentally killing a "bad guy" (in those days usually meaning flee to one's ancestral countryside or flee to join an opera group living on the Red Boat, which was said to be always in need of dare-devil stuntmen). In mainland China nowadays, there are actually three categories. The third category is for those who like to learn sport combat. To satisfy the requirement of these students, many styles of Chinese martial arts (tai-chi included) have added more realistic sport combat tournaments within their own respective disciplines. And some even train students for San Da (散打), a kind of light-weight point-scoring focused amateurish MMA. And fleeing to the country side is still possible in China for not-too-serious cases of violence in which law enforcement has been alerted.

No esteemed martial arts school would claim to teach street fighting! True, there were street fighting clubs, but these were usually run by people with gangster (or at least shady) background. And true, senior instructors of the esteemed schools would usually be expected to know some "dirty tricks" in street fighting, in case they were being attacked by the shady guys who wanted to have "winning reputation".

So it boggled my mind as to why there is a market for tai-chi fighting clubs in UK purporting to teach students street fighting rather than sport fighting and workout. Perhaps it is just marketing!

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