Why Slow is Actually Fast

The slowness of Tai Chi is the fastest way to develop proper waist power, correct weight shifts, smooth movement and muscle memory. You see it in the park or on TV, lots of elderly people moving very slowly in a fluid motion that resembles some sort of martial art. Well, it is a martial art but the emphasis is on physical development.

Going that slow is actually very difficult especially for beginners. The thighs, knees and ankles burn with fatigue. It doesn’t seem like you are making any sort of progress. This is absolutely wrong. Sore muscle is a sign that you are working them out. It also means you are performing the techniques correctly.

Waist Power
There is a saying in Tai Chi, “the waist drives”. This means each movement initiates by a waist movement. The waist moves the feet and the arms. Nothing is done without the waist directing the power. The waist thrusts punches forward. Arms are put into defensive position by a twist of the waist and subtle weight shifts.

Push hands drill of Tai Chi

Push hands drill of Tai Chi

In all martial arts, the waist is key to generating power and force. Yet in Tai Chi, it is so isolated as the main mechanism for all movement that it becomes the focus of training. This is a good thing if you want to develop proper power.

Weight Shifts
Tai Chi has a rule that no leg is lifted or moved unless it is un-weighted. That means all your weight needs to be in the other leg. Normally, we stumble around and make quick footwork shuffles to compensate for our lack of balance. Some artists are so good at it that they appear to be stable and balanced the whole time. This is only true for Tai Chi artist.

The key is to shift your weight without wobbling side to side. The center of balance must be maintained inside one’s own body. This shifting of weight back and forth is much like the ebb and flow of waves. It is exactly how the Tai Chi artist develops tremendous force when they actually touch you with their strike or push.

It should be so smooth that it isn’t visible from the outsider’s perspective.

Smooth Movements
Smooth and fluid movements are key to uproot the opponent and stay balanced. This trait is a result of proper waist movement and weight shifts. The Tai Chi artist becomes hard to push up against because they “go with the flow”. The exercise of push hands develops sensitivity to force either pushing or pulling. It keeps their attacks and defense in harmony like one fluid stream.

Not only is it hard to press or pull the Tai Chi artist, it is also difficult to locate an opening for attack. Imagine trying to find a dry spot on the beach with the waves ebbing and flowing. At some point, the water covers it up without warning. The key characteristic of all martial artists is to remain smooth and fluid with their movements. Tai Chi is a perfect style to develop that trait.

Muscle Memory
The slow movement and counts develops wonderfully ingrained movement habits. The short 12-step Tai Chi form has, as the name would imply, twelve steps. Yet each of those steps has four to eight sections. By practicing these steps over and over, you learn the exact way to do a movement. It gets ingrained in your muscles to move that way. The Tai Chi artist invests in proper movement first, then technique application second.

Did you know you could perform Tai Chi forms at normal speed? It requires you to be very good at doing it very slow so each movement is exact. At that speed you can see the martial application of each technique. Tai Chi is a sophisticated martial art and combat style. It just hides itself as a simple way for the elderly to exercise and stay fit.

If you want to understand your martial art better, consider taking a Tai Chi class for at least a year. It takes that long to really appreciate the subtle changes affecting your movement. It’ll be the best use of your time and comprehension of the biomechanics of Kempo.

Has another art helped you understand your base art? Tell me how.

Why Learn Other Arts?

Learning a new martial arts style (or one that is upstream or cousin to your current art) is like learning a new language. It opens up your mind and allows you to think differently. You view the world different. You see different vantagepoints of a set of moves. You have other mental models to compare and contrast things. In short, it makes you smarter.

Gun defense

Gun defense

Cross-Train Other Arts

There’s a myth around that states, “My martial arts style is COMPLETE. Therefore I don’t need any thing else.” However styles get a false sense of authority and security. They should continue to explore, analyze and evolve to new conditions and new technology.

Seminars and workshops are great for this type of cross training. They provide key theories and concepts that can be adapted or aligned with one’s own style. It may also explain things that you either forgot or didn’t understand fully. If an art is complete, how can someone know something equally effective?

Style Bigotry and Lineage Myopia
Don’t become fixated on a single style for all things. Just like all tools, they are good for their specific purpose but not all purposes. Everyone is influenced or descended from something else. The whole notion of styles is born of modification and cross-pollination among other masters.

“What is your lineage? That master is no good! Only my lineage is correct and pure.” These lines may not be exact quotes but the sentiment is there. History tells us many Okinawan masters went village to village collecting katas and training from the locals. They assembled these arts into kara-te. If you notice, they cross-trained with others.

Another example is the founder of Judo who went from Jujutsu school to school learning what he could. He distilled his knowledge into a new art. Now there is a lineage from that source and anything different is “watered down” or “not true” judo.

We are just repeating the cycle. It must be done with caution and purpose though. To gain the most benefits from other arts, one should be well versed in their own arts—a black belt or equivalent. You need some point of reference from which to understand the new material.

Totally Complete Art
In my opinion, there are very, very few arts that are ‘complete’ in the true sense of the word. I believe all these complete martial arts are from China. They included martial, healing and spiritual development of the practitioner. They include single and two person forms. They have oral traditions, herbs, weapon crafting and so on. A complete art does not limit itself to kicking, punching, grappling or breaking hard materials.

Use leverage to unbalance your opponent

Use leverage to unbalance your opponent

It is also my belief that an intact style of this volume rarely continues unchanged for very long. It either synthesizes into a streamlined system, looses pieces to faulty human memory, or begins to focus on what the lineage holder finds the most interesting. Using this analogy, styles become similar to religious traditions and practices. In fact, the vehemence with which some people argue the truth of their style often reminds me of religious fanatics doing the same on street corners and on cable TV.

Open up, examine and test. Explore indigenous arts of other areas. Martial arts need to work all the time not only when it is the “true” art. Don’t wander the playground crying, “My style is better than your style” because it is the training of the artist that proves an art’s worth.

Disagree? Tell me why?

Kempo in Action 3

Here is a real life example of how one of my students actually used a technique in an actual robbery attempt. The names are changed but the story is true.

Natasha, a restaurant manager on the graveyard shift, used verbal and mental self-defense moves I taught at workshops and in class. She used her Mom-justu to keep the vagrants and vagabonds in check. Often in the late night hours, a drifter would come into the restaurant and demand money or food yelling and screaming with fists in the air.

Using a calm demeanor, Natasha told them sternly to get out of the restaurant. “That behavior is not welcomed or tolerated here.” she said. Natasha never backed up or gave up ground. Her confidence and tone broke the will of the opponent and they left.

Only on two occasions did they resort to striking her. Each time she blocked with a strong left arm and wagged her finger at them. “That behavior is definitely not allowed. I’m now calling the police.” Again, her calm yet forceful demeanor never faltered. Again the vagrants left humbled by her defense.

Remember that self-defense happens well before the first strike is thrown. Keep yourself out of dangerous situations. Be prepared and calm. Use your mind and mouth to de-escalate the situation so there is no physical attack.

Have you ever taken a potentially violent situation to a none-event just by using your mind and mouth? Tell us your self-defense story.