Thanks for your reply. I certainly agree with much of what you say and much of what you imply.
I personally do not believe that there is an absolute dividing line between Taijiquan, other so-called internal martial arts, and the so-called external martial arts. I also believe that Taijiquan really needs hands-on experimentation and training. On the other hand, I believe that the principles inherent in Taijiquan can have a pedagogical use beyond being merely descriptive.
“Would you try to shoot in on someone who looks completely prepared for it - as if they were just waiting for you to try? I wouldn't. That may be what you're getting at.”
This is of course a good principle, but is not really what I meant. Many wrestlers do in fact launch moves even when the opponent appears to be preparing for them, because wrestling has no problem relying on power and speed. During my wrestling days, whenever I judged my power and speed to be sufficient, I launched my technique regardless of the opponent’s intention or state of preparedness. My attitude in Karate was similar. This is one of the reasons why I cannot approach Yang Style Taijiquan in the same way. I understand the traditional Yang system to built around a fighting strategy that tries to give the opponent little or nothing to work with and tries to hide all its initiatives within transformations (hua) of the opponent’s energy. I am not stating this as necessarily a superior strategy, simply one that is different.
When you talk about Chen’s opponent feeling outclassed, I think you have your finger on it. What about Chen’s touch or body disposition could make someone know that they were outclassed and that to attempt to move in would be too risky? I never had perceived such a sensation while wrestling or doing Karate sparring, but at least twice now I have had a momentary taste of it while doing push hands. By the way, I am not talking about relative skill, which is something different. One can easily be outclassed without being able to sense it.
You also stated:
“Grappling IS internal…Certainly a good grappler trains body mechanics, non force on force, alignment with gravity, attack angles, sensitivity and abilities to adjust and change, etc. Skill and sensitivity is just that no matter what art you get it from. Most Taiji stylists believe that the sensitivity, body-mechanics and skill they derive from Taiji training are easily transferred to other physical disciplines. Why would this not be the case for your wrestling?”
You touch here on the crux of why I try to distinguish Taijiquan from such things as Karate and wrestling. I agree wholeheartedly that the skills and sensitivity you mention are important to Karate and wrestling and that these arts/sports have internal aspects. It is largely because of this that I want to make sure that I do not use Push Hands or other Taiji partner exercises in such a way that they advance my abilities in those arts/sports, but overwhelm subtle principles I am trying to develop in my Taijiquan. There is overlap of course, but for me that does not mean that I can willy-nilly mix the three things. Nor is that fact that a given technique is “effective” a sufficient guide.
Also, although no one active on this board appears to share my view, I believe very strongly that “internal” skills or principles are not the same in all martial arts. I do not view Taijiquan as simply a distillation of universal principles of movement and combat efficiency, but rather one compromise among many in martial arts. Because a particular technique may work in isolation or in one particular setting does not mean it is appropriate or will work in others. Taking half a sonnet and half a haiku and squishing them together to make a poem would rarely result in more sublime or more expressive poetry. If I take one of the Karate punches I learned and “relax my fist,” I will not have a more effective punch.
I can think of few postures in the form that do not violate the Karate principles I was taught. I also can think of few form applications I would be tempted to use in a wrestling match, since Taiji ideas of root and balance would be too confining. Where the mind is focused, which muscles are tensed or relaxed and at what times, what strategy and tactics I am focusing on—all are different.
Where I think I disagree with your view of Taijiquan is that I do not define it much in terms of “body mechanics, non force on force, alignment with gravity, attack angles, sensitivity and abilities to adjust and change, etc.” In many ways, I felt more skilled in such things as a 16-year old wrestler than I do now. My focus is much more on the why than on the what.
If I look at such principles as the Ten Essentials and Sticking (nian), Adhering (zhan), Connecting (lian), and Following (sui), I find concepts and techniques that I did not use in wrestling or Karate. In fact, I would say using many of them would have meant doing bad wrestling or Karate. Any wrestler maintaining a posture with a vertical spine (xu ling ding jin) is courting disaster. Any Karateka “following” his or her opponent’s technique or energy would be misapplying the vast majority of Karate blocks, which are intended to shock and attack limbs, not to uproot the opponent, “control the center,” or “Seize/Hold” his or her energy. Using the waist to the degree I try to do in Taijiquan would simply slow down my hand and arm speed in wrestling or Karate. Although I may unknowingly have used some Peng energy in my wrestling, I know I did not in my Karate. I find locally generated power and integrated power to be largely in conflict strategically and tactically. I cannot simply heighten the power of wrestling or Karate techniques by “adding” integrated “jin” (power), since this would put constraints on my locally generated power.
You also stated:
“Here's where I stir up a hornet's nest when I say that a good high-school or collegiate free-style AAU/Greco-Roman wrestler could take-down and pin most modern day Taiji "masters" in no time.”
I think I agree with your sentiment, although underlying my agreement is my opinion that wrestling does not command sufficient respect within its field of application rather than a belief that the Taiji “masters” are necessarily unskilled within their field of application. To turn the statement around, I would also think that most modern day Taiji masters could knock out or otherwise disable most wrestlers before they would be pinned.
You also stated:
“You mentioned a push-hands instructor not explaining the dynamics of the body-mechanics and fighting principles as he pushed with you. In my opinion any good teacher should be able to explain every detail as if he were talking to a 4 year old (very clearly). Chances are you could have taken them with your double-leg. Sounds like they don't train in free-sparring much. I would have went for it.”
I was not complaining that the instructors did not explain the body mechanics or fighting principles. I was trying to say that they deliberately were not focusing on these in physical terms. They were talking in terms of “energy” and principle, not body mechanics. Their whole point was that learning the body mechanics of a particular application was not the purpose of the exercise, but rather to learn and develop how to “dong jin” (understand energy). Once one can “understand energy,” the mechanics of an application flow from this.
It is the difference between memorizing a chess opening and understanding positional theory. While memorizing openings is certainly part of chess, it certainly is not the main road to chess mastery. One can argue that mere experience with “non-cooperative” partners is enough to gain the necessary knowledge. Some of this is merely a matter of learning style, but I would argue that some endeavors are so fraught with pitfalls or so subtle that such a strategy is problematic for many. There is more than one way to "skin a cat" and you may be more interested in exploring one way than another because of how it fits in with your overall goals.
The aspects of Taijiquan that excite me do not concern movement mechanics per se. What I understood from the two instructors I mentioned was that they were assuming a basic understanding and control of movement mechanics and were trying to take the students to the next step, i.e., how and when to apply those mechanics and even how to make them up on the spot. Focusing on the body mechanics needed to make a technique successful at any particular moment would have been a red herring. In fact, my understanding is that solo form practice is basically to learn one’s own body mechanics, but that Push Hands is for learning about the implications of the opponent’s body mechanics, i.e., about “jin” (energy).
By the way, my approach to Taijiquan is firmly rooted in principles Isaac Newton would have accepted; therefore, I am not talking about any type of paranormal or New Age energy. I find this very difficult to express without appearing to be arguing semantics; nevertheless, I am talking about something that is quite practical and physical, even if rooted in the mind. Can someone reproduce any of Tiger Woods’ shots by simply observing his movements? Surely, what can be observed of his “body mechanics” holds little mystery. I am more interested in how his mind is interacting with his body. This is what I seek to practice and apply.