update: 2/24/2014- radio interview with Wilson: Heavy hands podcast interview Wilson Pitts.
In Fall of 1990, I began my attendance at VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) as a fine arts major. I had a huge interest in eastern philosophy from reading many books on Yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen. I had always had an interest in martial arts, but never found the right one. My sister Danielle, who was also living in Richmond, told me about a guy teaching martial arts in the park. Little did I know, this martial art was ‘Tai Chi Chuan’ pronounced “Tai Ji”, which was the proper name for the Yin-Yang symbol in Taoism.
Back home in Virginia Beach, the local Edgar Cayce “New Age” store called, “The Heritage”, had many books on martial arts and a Tai Chi instructor in where I tried a free class with instructor Larry Mann, director of Tidewater Tai Chi Association. I knew little about Tai Chi, and never really took the time to study it diligently while in public school.
When I went to Maymont park, I found the class and we started with a warm-up called Ba Dua Jin (Eight Piece Brocade). We soon were doing fundamental stance work, and before winters arrival, the first section of the Yang short form. I had also received some of Wilson’s Tao Experience foundation publications and learned a qigong called , 6 healing sounds.
In time, Wilson introduced me to his TCM doctor Amy Tseng. I got acupuncture from her for a left wrist damaged by years of skateboarding and a hairline fracture from a rock climbing fall. In years to come, I trained in 5 elements Hsing-I, some Pakua chang, got some boxing lessons, and did some fight team training in Wilson’s little, “One Room School House”.
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Old questions from pre-fight event training “fight camp” weekend.
1.What can the average internal martial artist practicing an art do to improve on practical self defense skills if their instructor isn’t teaching them?
Is push hands really enough?
Can’t really help you here, if the instructor does not demonstrate/teach applications get another instructor.
The beginner must at least see the instructor execute a non-force application for each posture while they are learning the movement. This plants the seed, let’s the mind not have a question about what are really simple movements. The beginner can not do it, but they must see it done to have faith in the process. T.T. Liang was fond of saying you have to imagine you can do it first, I believe this process is what he was referring to. Later, after the beginner has invested in practice and developed some root the applications for each movement, and in most cases there are several, need to be taught and practiced.No hard force can be allowed or there is no hope of “getting it”
The applications are a different practice from push hands. When push hands is done with resistance and hard muscular force it is of no use. The function of a soft, “sensing hands” practice is one, to help with form correction, and two, to develop sensitivity, increased feeling, in the arms. Root, correct postural alignment, and soft gung in the arms, shoulders and chest will all be needed to execute non force self defense applications derived from the formal postures. Anything else is once removed from the actual functional practice of the art and will be empty. This will be easy to tell because the application will not “work” with no force.
2. How long have you studied the relationship of Chinese arts and Western boxing?
What are the common similarities and differences?
I have studied martial arts, boxing included, for over 40 years. I started with students of Daniel K. Pai, who opened the first martial arts school here in Richmond in the mid 60’s. [ that was a little before my time] Pai himself was a feared street fighter and when I studied with his students It was all combat, no forms.
Chinese martial artists from more than one hundred years ago faced the same fundamental problems that English and American bare knuckle boxers faced during the same era. Fighting out doors on the ground, in the elements, with no safety equipment what-so-ever against unpredictable opponents who knew no rules and would do anything to win. That is about all that is common between them though.
The modern sport of boxing is very different, as are Chinese sport combatives. What I found useful from boxing was a live gap, the absolute need for distance appreciation and therefore footwork. These provide a degree of realism, even though it is far less dangerous than bare knuckle, no holds barred fighting. I found the Chinese arts, at least the way they came down to us in the US, needed this dose of reality.
3. What are some of the common problems you see when you watch Lei Tai and San Shou fighters these days?
I have not seen any lei tai in some time. Generally in the past I saw poor distance appreciation, almost no fighting at the critical distance, and too much reliance on brute force. However the sport keeps evolving and like I said I stopped going 7 or 8 years ago.
4. You teach an almost extinct form of western boxing. Can you explain what is going on in boxing now and what you’re trying to get us to understand?
Distance, timing, rhythm must be trained until they are instinct because at a distance where you can strike your opponent, the critical distance, things happen too fast, your vision can not be counted on, and you must have appropriate, trained responses that can flow out or you will not be effective or efficient.
5. I’ve had a fascinating awakening practicing pakua push hands with you student Roberto Sharpe, it almost makes practicing fixed step and moving step push hands virtually useless now.
In tai chi and pakua, each have an oral tradition- correct me if I am wrong- in taiji it is – “stick , adhere , neutralize , follow and
attack/emit”. In pakua it is “run, sit, comprehend, and pivot”. Can you touch base of the two and comment on your study of pakuachang?
Reciting words out of a book is not helpful beyond an extremely basic level.
The big break through that Pa Kua represented in the 1870’s was the fundamental idea of changing angles in the gap in response to the opponent’s offensive actions. Changing,either with him , or against him, and when this was accomplished the openings in his defense would be obvious and counters, take downs etc. flowed right in and through. The foundation of all of this was footwork and position relative to the opponent.
The same is true in Taiji, it is practiced through study of Eight Gates and “taiji in one step” Not of these advanced practices are much use if the student has not had faith in the practice from the beginning and learned and practiced the fundamentals in an organised manner. Even then there are people who spend years going through the motions, develop no root, and can not go on to investigate the very interesting advanced practices.
Comments from Wilson:
There are reasons Chinese teachers do not teach openly, very good ones, with the most important one being concern for the student’s health. We say many westerners are “stuck in their head” but really the energy is stuck in their chest. If they can not or will not soften their chest and let the energy go down to the dan tian then they must not be exposed to true internal practice as this could lead to worse health problems than they already have. This is a real problem that should be taken seriously. The real stiff ones will be the first to dismiss this as Chinese myth or some thing. To the Chinese this translates as lack of sincerity but there is such a huge cultural divide here between this modern western world of fire and hardness and Chinese neijia practices from a more ancient time that it is difficult to assign blame. Many are called but few are chosen… to develop a deep root that is.
Part 2: (coming Soon)
Those were questions from way back when…Now lets cover more recent events and your training:
1. You have been working a lot on translations of some of the Pakua classics, can you discuss your interest in the translation of these classics and some of the folks you have been working with to accomplish this?
2. Huashan qigong has been a significant part of your training since I met you in 1990. Can you discuss more about this branch of qigong, where you learned it. Please also talk about your recent work with the Taiji stone ball and Taiji ruler.
3. You mention Robert W. Smith as one of your Tai Chi teachers, he recently passed away, can you discuss some of the things you learned from him, how you got to know him and learn from Robert Smith?
4. MMA (mixed martial arts) first came on the scene in early 1993. We watched some fights together. At first it was a battle of styles, later the styles merged to where athletes learned the best from Juijutsu, Judo, boxing, Muay Thai, and Wrestling. What are your thoughts on the exponential growth of MMA in the world of martial arts today?
5. A.- Several of your students have fought Lei Tai and we did a fight camp back in the day: what are your thoughts on developing a well rounded fighter? That weekend we did things like- diet, qigong, simulation event sparing w/video taping, talks and training on abdominal work, body hitting/conditioning, and other endurance training.
B. (optional question) The infamous school yard fight between former student Jamar and Maoshan where Maoshan got his butt kicked, thoughts on this…even famous UFC commentator Joe Rogan had a good laugh. thoughts?
6. You have a Boxing Blog on old school boxing called Plug ugly’s boxing blog.
Can you talk about some of your boxing trainers and your passion for writing about some of the old school boxers-
7. Last but not least- I am indebted to you for introducing me to the holistic lifestyle through Chinese TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) doctor Dr. Amy Tseng and your former publication. “The Tao experience Foundation”. You shared Chinese diet therapy, interview with Dr. Amy Tseng, some Pakua basics, Qigong sets, meditation, massage, and other holistic health and lifestyle information. Even some of your students have gone on to become licenses acupuncturists and massage therapists. What are your thoughts on the mainstream media starting to accept this ancient tradition now, more so than 20 years ago?