Class Note No. 3

We are continuing our current theme of initial engagement then proceed to wrestling or grappling immediately.

This is a very fundamental concept to be instilled, as it helps the students understand why it is important to connect to the opponent and how to move across different measures.

If we only learn how to strike or wrestle, it would be very easy to be stuck when the opponent moves in and out of that particular measure, and you would be open for a counter. Connectivity helps us shorten our action cycle and keep the action flowing to maintain the initiative.

Strikes and Takedowns

The main points here are improvisation and connectivity. Since we don’t go into a fight knowing how the opponent is going to react, we can’t have a predetermined method of approach and a set way to end the fight.

The method is to engage the opponent with credible threats, so he is forced to react to your actions; thereby giving you the initiative and a quicker route to get inside his decision/action loop. You don’t have to be really fast, just a bit faster than his cycles would be enough. This is how you dictate the terms to him. What you do depends entirely on what the opponent is giving you.

Self-Defense: It’s about Getting the Ideas Right

I have seen a lot of videos about self-defense, and I have to say, people are generally too hung up on performing techniques rather than getting the ideas right. Applying the wrong ideas leads to the using of wrong techniques in the wrong contexts, and that would expose the defender to more risks than necessary.

Take, for example, I have recently watched a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu demonstration using the below method to escape a two-handed arm hold:

The idea of this kind arm-slip is simple: the arm is stronger than the thumbs, and by leveraging the entire force of the arm, one can slip away from the thumb joints easily.

But what if the attacker pulls you towards himself? The demonstrator would tell you to maintain and find a stable footing by pulling your balance backward, and once you have found your footing, you can perform the move and slip away.

We can test that idea. My student and I weight about 180 lbs and 150 lbs respectively. As we have shown here, despite being 30 lbs lighter, I can pull my student away rather easily, and he wouldn’t be able to perform the arm-slip.

Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that a 130 lbs woman cannot escape this way against a much heavier male attacker holding and pull her. Trying to escape this way would put the woman in danger, because she would have wasted the best opportunity to defend herself by launching a counter-offensive at the same beat at the exact moment when the attacker wouldn’t be able to do anything else due to his own momentum and hands being occupied, as we have shown below.

When the attacker holds and pulls you forward, he is actually helping you to generate momentum without you spending any energy. That means, you are using his force to hit him, and the harder he pulls the more it hurts. In addition, both of his hands are holding one of you arms and that leaves him undefended and his face wide-opened. The best thing to do in this scenario is to perform a sweep towards his face, attacking his eyes or nose. The take-down is actually a more friendly way of attacking since he won’t get severely injured.

Once you have injured him or taken him down, he would have to let you go, because physics. Job done. On the off chance he reacted fast enough to intercept your attack, he would have to use his hands and thereby releasing you from his grip. Job done. And in this case you have put him on the defensive where you can and should follow up with a series of attacks on your terms and initiative. You win either way.

Therefore, launching an offensive at the same beat using the attacker’s momentum is the sure way to get out of danger in this scenario. It is easier to do and more efficient as well, since you don’t need to waste one beat to find your footing, one beat to get you other hand between his arms, another to lift your arm, and another to run away. Even if you could slip away, the attacker could still continue the fight since you haven’t done anything to impede him. The arm-slips works only when the attacker is holding you without pulling with force, and both of you are relatively stationary, or when the attacker let you do it. This scenario is not realistic at all.

By launching a counter-offensive at the same beat, not only you would get out of his grip, you would be injuring him at the very same moment. Once you have done so, you’d have all the time you need to run away, or don’t, as you have the chance to op end the fight right there.

Sun Tzu said (I paraphrase), “One can dictate the terms of the battle if he attacks where the enemy is obligated to save”. We should apply the same idea in martial arts.

Class Note No. 2

Grappling during engagement; offensive and defensive.

Action 1:

Initiate an attack and bind with the opponent’s arms. Open them in an opposite manner, i.e. one up, one down, and grab his right at the end of the opening move while he is distracted by the staggering and opposite actions. Takedown with a spiral.

The takedown is done correctly if the opponent spins on the ground.

Action 2:

The opponent initiates an attack. Bind his leading arm and draw it inward, while at the same time shoot your left forward and perform a brow-sweep. Your draw and the shooting of your body is going to make him resist by pulling back, and that allows a takedown with a simple push. Your leading arm should lift his up to pin his balance down.

If he does not resist by pulling backward, then you can simply perform an attack with the arm that is drawing him in.

Class Note No.1

Action 1:

A typical Mantis “Chaotic Fury” with multiple hits along and across different lines and directions in a burst. Strikes turn to grapples and grapples turn to strike.

Action 2:

Right hook to his left, cross and hitting his right ear without turning the wrist. Could turn this into an eye-sweep or a backfist.

Action 3:

Backfist. Pressure and misdirection on his left to get in from the right. His right arm lets go, and the backfist follows immediate to get into his cycle.

Conflicting Force 爭力 (zhēng lì)

For any attack to be effective, the attack has to land where the opponent is not defending, i.e. the open part of his body. This is easier said than done, as any person will naturally put up their arms in defence in face of an attack, unless they are surprised or slow to react. Therefore, the question is posted to the attacker to find a solution to overcome the defence, which in martial arts, is called “opening up” an opponent.

There are couple common methods, and surprise is one of them. In the Mantis School, we have a method of attacking high and turning low to create and take advantage of an opening, and this opening is both physical and mental; we will discuss this further elsewhere as this is not just a simple feint. Other methods include the usage of speed, or feints, or by putting pressures on the opponent to fix him at one point. All these methods can be effective depending on contexts, but they tend to rely on speed, strength, or taking advantage of an existing opening. What if the opponent can match your speed, strength, and see through you intent? That’s where skills come in.

Taking the question to the defensive side, effective defence means that the person would not stand there statically, as he has the same goal as you do to end the fight on his terms and to do that he would have to open you up too, and that would usually involve some kind of parries. In order to parry, he would have to come into contact with your hands or arms, suppose the attack is coming from the upper body, and that would result in a bind-a contact of body parts against body parts, force against force.

In order to “win the bind”, one can either overcome the pressure or resistance by force, or slip away from the opponent’s force and exploit an opening, or perform a combination of the two: a redirection. To do that, one has to exert pressure on the opponent, feel which way his counter-pressure is going, and decide how to make use his force on the spot. The opponent, if he is advance enough, will do the same thing, and the force that is exerted by each side in this battle for the bind is thus called the Conflicting Force.

Now, imagine the two sides are in contact on both left and right, and they both exert this Conflicting Force, then this force would form an imaginary sphere between the combatants, and the direction of the force would dictate the manner of the attack or defence within that sphere. For example, if the opponent is pulling back amidst the Conflict, then you can just follow his force and attack forward. Adding in the concept of Six Harmonies, when your left and right are also “in contradiction of each other”, that would mean when you are following your opponent’s pull to attack forward, your other arm should also exert force backward, as this will allow you to hit harder by: 1) using the opponent’s own force; 2) misdirecting his focus to your other arm. As such, the Conflicting Force describes a complex phenomenon where not only you are in conflict with the opponent, but also with your own.

Abstract No.4 First Stanza 摘要四路 第一段

Asian martial arts devote a lot of time on practising forms, and here we want to show how a form should be practised: By breaking it down into sections and use them in sparring.

Originally, there was no such thing as a form (or kata, to go by Japanese terms), and forms were created for solo practice. If we have think of the martial arts as a distinctive art form, then it is more akin to Jazz than anything else. Think about the premises of all martial arts. The goal is to neutralize a threat as fast as possible, but in order for the threats to be credible, they cannot be fathomable prior to engagement, for, otherwise, they would not be perceived as a threat since they are already known and, thus, ripe to be countered. To put it in another way, nobody would attack or defence in any given fixed way, and any pre-determined ways of reaction would be a detachment from reality, as the slightest of change in position and pressure can mean a world of difference. In short, the level of skills in martial arts is not determined by strength, speed, or how “perfect” a move is performed, but how one can adjust to change and dictate the change themselves. That is not to say strength and speed are not important; it is just that they are elements within the terms of the equation.

That said, however, one must understand the patterns of movement before they can adjust, change, and improvise in a way that is martially sound. This is where forms are useful, as a form usually chains together a set of movements following a line of logic. It is best to think of it as an étude in music, where the student can learn to understand scale and other techniques in a short piece. Therefore, like practising music, if we want to make the practice of forms effective, we must first understand the lines of logic within the forms and why certain moves are performed following what logic.

Thus, what is Abstract (摘要 zhāi yào) then? Literally, it means drawing out the essences (the English word abstract comes form Latin abstratus, “drawn away”). The idea here is to distil the whole Mantis System into several discernible frameworks so the practitioners can practice and think about those essences on their own. The 1st Stanza of Abstract No.4 as shown here combines couple elements together: First, we start by striking the eyes, then we follow the resistance to bind with the opponent’s arm and strike with a cross, then we move into wrestling, and if the opponent moves away, we can follow up with a kick. The idea here is that of an continuous flow moving across the measures (distance of engagement, for instance, striking distance and kicking distance etc.) For this reason, we consider flourishes unnecessary fluffs. Forms do not need to look good; they should look reasonable as in fitting with what the moves are attempting to achieve. Beauty in martial arts comes from matching the movements with physics, not how pleasing to the eyes they are.

When a practitioner is practising a form by themselves, they should always imagine that they are applying the moves on a real person. When practising with a partner, they should pick a section, adopt a sparring mindset, try to perform the moves as real as possible, but without the intention to block the opponent’s every single move, so one can see how the moves are performed and the other can learn how to react and/or move away. When the practitioner becomes more advance, they should pick a technique from the form and practice improvisation.

Wrestling 摔跤 (shuāi jiāo)

Literally it means throws and trips in Chinese. When people think of wrestling, they either thinking of Greco-Roman wrestling or WWE, which is a form of sport entertainment, and Judo is usually left out for the discussion and treated as its own separate thing. While there are many similarities in all forms of wrestling, as they are, after all, sets of skills that aim to either throwing or pinning the opponent to the ground, Chinese wrestling is more about finesse than using brute force, and in this sense it is more (very) similar to Judo than other forms of wrestling, in fact, they are so similar that some people believe they share the same origin.

Traditionally, wrestling was considered one of the fundamental components of Chinese martial arts (unfortunately, many Chinese martial arts have lost this component), and that was due to military necessity back in the days. In the ancient battlefield where fighters wore armours, swords were not very useful due to armour protection and polearms were a hindrance once the opponent had gotten inside the range, soldiers would have to wrestle once they had gotten into the thick of melee.Therefore, the military back then held wrestling in high estimate and the courts regularly held competitions to promote the art; the Qing Dynasty even form a “Wrestling Battlion” (善撲營 shàn pū yíng) filled with elite soldiers who sometimes moonlit as royal bodyguards.

Traditional wrestling as a stand alone art is conducted with two participants wearing the wrestling garb (褡褳 dā lián) ; therefore, a lot of techniques are coupled with holding on the clothes (again, very similar to Judo). Our school, however, focuses on wrestling without the garb and combined it with strikes, kicks, and grapples to form a coherent system.

Historically, there have been many names for wrestling in Chinese. One of them is Jué Dǐ (角抵), and it was also called Xiàng Pū (相撲), both of which suggest a contest of strength. The characters Xiàng Pū mean Sumo in Japanese. It could be that Sumo is evolved from an earlier form of wrestling that emphasised more on strength and less on finesse techniques.

Wrestling with Dā Lián (褡褳)

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.