Breaking with Traditions: A Critical Examination of the Phantom Arrow 跳出傳統:從新檢視〈鬼箭手〉

Our traditional manuscript describes the technique of Phantom Arrow (鬼箭手, guǐ jiàn shǒu, lit. ghost arrow hand) as follow:

“I, standing with right foot forward, initiate an attack with my right arm. The opponent, standing with his right foot forward, uses his right hand to ladle my right arm. He then takes a left step and attack me with his left arm from the outside line.

In this situation, I should turn my right hand inside-out, with my palm facing upward, to break away from his ladle. I then take a left step, use my left hand to push down his ladling arm, lift my right arm to push his left out of the outside line to create the space so I can thrust his face with my right.

Pushing down his left, pushing up his right, thrusting his face all the movements happen at the same time. There is no particular order, but the turning of the right hand is done earlier.”

(Ladle is a technique where one combatant attempts to hold and turn the opponent’s wrist with his thumb and the digits.)

I have problems with how this technique is applied as recorded in the manuscript, as I do not think it is a very reasonable method of application. Since it cannot be used in real time in such a way, the value of the description is limited even if we consider it to be a practice exercise.

The major problem with the description being, it does not consider the time and how many beats it takes in order to finish the whole set of movements. Regardless of which schools of martial arts from which cultures, the key to victory is whether one can strike the opponent in between his beats or tempo–inside his cycle of movements–where he would not be able to respond. The whole point of techniques is to give you discernible patterns to help you achieve that goal. Techniques are like melodies in a piece of music: the tune will not be good if you cannot hit the right beats, regardless how well it is written.

Let us take a deeper look. When the opponent initiates an attack, regardless how and with what method, the first thing I need to do is respond to that pressure and make it miss. The better response is to make it miss and counter-attack at the same time. If we follow the manuscript, when I attack with my right hand and the opponent defends and ladles my right, his left would be in the ideal position to initiate a counter at the very same time, unless he is very clumsy. To be prudent, we have to assume and practice accordingly that his counter will happen in the same beat when the ladle happens.

When my attacked is ladled by him, physically it means that the energy of that attack would be spent and/or absorbed by the opponent. In the larger scheme, it follows that I have already finished that beat of movement, and before I can initiate another move, the opponent has already countered in the gaps of my beats. This is what we call “the moment when the old force has passed and the new force has yet to generate”. This is the moment where vulnerability presents itself. That is to say, unless the opponent separates his movements into two beats, or that his counter is incredibly slow, he would have hit me in the face before I could do anything.

When the opponent has already countered in the gaps of my beats, I would not have the time to “turn my wrist”, “push down his ladle with my left”, “push up his left with my right”, and “thrust his face”. In order to do all the above, it will take at least two beats: 1. push down his right and lift my right up at the same time; 2. connect my right to his left and thrust. The speed of the thrust also depends on his reaction, and if he does not push inwards to defend his face, my thrust would be very slow, as I cannot make use of his force. Furthermore, it still does not solve the problem of a same beat fast counter.

In addition, suppose he countered with a hook punch, it would extend the distance and the time it would require for my right to reach his left, and even if I could reach it in time, the angle would not be right to perform a thrust. Suppose he turned his face with the hook, which is the correct thing to do, then my thrust would not do a lot of damage as I would only be able to hit the side of his face.

Suppose his ladle upset my balance, I would have a hard time trying to get away, let alone pushing my right to life his left. If his ladle is somewhat successful, it is better to follow his force to perform a downward punch, or by ducking his left and perform a right hook yourself. It would be even better if you attacked him with your left the moment he tried to ladle you. Why give him the chance to do what he wants? There are many ways to react to the situation, and the manuscript provides one of the clumsy ones.

In another words, the manuscript describes a scenario where both sides are clumsy, and if both sides are so slow and clumsy, all sort of moves would automatically be “reasonable”, because the gaps between the beats are so long. The whole point about the Phantom Arrow is the element of surprise of the upward thrust, and we can come up with a couple more reasonable ways to perform that:

  1. Initiate your moves with the Double ClosureWhen the opponent resists, you turn both of the palm upwards to create downward pressure. If you can make his arms sink down, proceed with the thrust with either hand.
  2. Begin with in a way similar to ladle-embrace punch (勾摟捶, gōu lōu chuí, lit. hook hug punch), but instead of a punch you present a thrust to his eye with your right. When he defends your thrust with his left, hold and pull his left hand towards you and thrust upwards with your left.
  3. To get as close to the manuscript as possible. I initiate the attack, he ladles me and I get my right away with the same method as described, only this time I also turn the palm of my left upwards. Do not wait for his counter, once your right is free, thrust his eyes or his left with it with the palm facing down; . I then thrust my left upwards.

The third method is more reasonable, as if the opponent has just initiated a counter, a thrust to his eyes would be faster and more effective. If there is not enough time, your right can meet his left to intercept the attack, and that connection would turn his focus to his left. The shift of focus will create a gap on his right, and then you can follow by thrusting with your left. This method is essentially the same with the second, the only difference being the third method is used on defence and the second offence.

It is unreasonable to hold onto traditions or manuscripts just because they are passed down by the elders. Whenever we studying something systematically and critically, it becomes a science. The study of martial arts, like any other studies, has to be scientific, and it is the fluidity and the flow of application that makes it an art.

拳譜上的〈鬼箭手〉:

「我立右步,出右手擊彼,彼立右步以右手刁我右手,上左步,以左手擊我外門。我即將彼所刁之手向外一翻,令手心朝上,使彼刁手不得力。上左步,用左手將彼刁手按下,即起右手撐彼上外門之手,以射其面。按彼手、撐彼手、射彼面是一時俱發,不分先後,但反手稍早矣。」

這是傳統拳譜對「鬼箭手」應用方法的描述。我認為這描述方式僅僅有作為記錄的價值,實質意義不大,更不能按這描述用於實戰中,所以它連作為練習方法也難以說的得上。

這個描述的問題是,它完全不考慮節拍這麼重要的一環。不論是何種武術,勝負關鍵其實就在於是否能夠掌握節拍、打在對手節拍的中間,招式根本不重要。招式就像是歌曲的旋律一樣,不論旋律再精妙,節拍錯誤也會使再好的歌曲不堪入耳。

試想,當對手出手攻擊,我先不問攻擊方法、方向是怎樣,作為防禦一方首要做的是化解攻勢,更好的是化解攻勢同時展開反擊。按拳譜的描述,我出右手攻擊而對方防禦刁住我右手的同時,他的左手將會同時反擊,這是在同一拍發生的動作。

我用以攻擊的一手被他刁住,那就是我攻擊的力度已經過去並被他的刁手所抵消了,即是說我的拍子已經打過了,在我還未能打出新拍子時,他的反擊卻剛好打在兩拍之間:舊力畧過,新力未發之際。這即是說,除非對方的反擊與刁手分離或者慢得不可思議,我將會為他所擊中。

既然對方已經攻擊在我兩拍之間,我根本就不會有餘閒去「手向外一翻」、「左手將彼刁手按下」、「右手撐彼上外門之手」、「以射其面」,要完成上述動作,再快也得用兩拍的時間:一拍外翻同時按下左手同時撐開外手,二拍刺眼。刺眼也得根據對方是怎樣回防,假如他不往內推,這一刺眼就會很慢。

如果對方左手是以圈捶上,我的右手要作撐手的路程會變得遙遠,就算撐上了角度也不適合作出直刺。又假如對方的圈捶姿勢正確,在攻擊時轉一下臉,最後那一刺就會因失準而失去攻擊力。又如果對方一刁就使我失去平衡,那我就根本撐不了他左手,連脫手也有困難。在他能刁住我手的情況下,最佳反應是借他力順勢插捶或躦打。更好是他剛要刁手的時候我就用同時左手攻擊,為什麼要給他機會反擊呢?變化有很多種,拳譜這一方法可能是最笨拙的一種。

換句話說,拳譜的描述要雙方都非常笨拙的場合下才能應用得上,而如果雙方都是非常笨拙,什麼樣的招式都可以是很「合理」的。〈鬼箭手〉的重點其實就在仰手傷面而已,我們可以提出幾個更合理的方法。一、以〈雙封手〉上,對方招架時,兩手外翻作封閉狀並往下沉,沉下則利用對方反應從下往上刺,如躲開則立刻變〈掃邊手〉。二、以〈勾摟捶〉上改作點睛,他防右手時用左手從下刺上。三、真要接近拳譜的話,我攻擊,對方刁手當時立刻以同樣方法脫出右手,左手按下他刁手同時要仰翻,不待他反不反擊,右手一脫手就立刻以投手點睛或要他左手,我的左手則順勢從下往上刺。

第三個方法比拳譜上的合理,因為假如對方還未來得及攻擊,點睛會是更直接、有效的攻擊。如果沒有時間,我就用一手招他左手,這樣會將他的注意力集中在他左手上,他右手一空我就可以乘勢用左手刺眼面。這個方法又跟第二個方法一樣,不過是一攻一防的差異而已。

我們不能因為傳統與拳譜是由上一輩傳下來就不問所以的遵守它,教條並不是有效的學習方法。任何的學習都必須有系統並用上批判的視角,這樣就會成為一門科學,這樣的學習才會有效。武術的研習也跟任何知識與技術的研習一樣,必須是科學的,有效的學習能幫助當修習者融會貫通,當他能靈活與流暢地施展他所學會的技巧的時候,那就是一門藝術的展現。

 

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