Wang Xiang Zhai wrote once that fighting is the lowest expression of skill in martial arts. What does that mean to you? What expectation do you have of the meaning of that? For example, there’s a famous Chinese martial arts teacher who, when you talk about health based training, talks about fighting – because he is very unhealthy. But when you talk about fight training, he talks about health based training – because he’s not much of a fighter. We can use the same idea whichever way want. And some people use Wang’s quote directly to excuse themselves from serious fight training. We’ve probably all heard ‘Wushu is about more than just fighting you know!’ Yes, I do know – and no one can make it only about fighting. I read someone on a forum recently say that anyone who is interested in Chinese martial arts for reasons other than self defence is not really a relevant person. Well, Chinese martial arts is more than just fighting – most of us sense that. No one can say what it ‘just’ is. It’s too profound for that. On the other hand, just because it’s about more than fighting doesn’t mean that it’s ‘not’ about fighting! It is, obviously. One might say “But master Wang says fighting is the lowest expression of skill.” Well, yes, but he didn’t mean ‘don’t fight’ or ‘don’t do serious fight training.’ Sometimes, misled as we often are by the ‘idiot filter’ i.e. ‘general ignorance’, the wisest of ideas pass right over our heads, despite being very simple. In fact, speaking from my own experience, I often missed wise ideas because they seemed ‘too’ simple. I’d been groomed to expect far more complex answers for most questions, so I ignored simple truths. One of the most useful tools of ‘conceptual mapping’ I was ever given was ‘dis-appointing’ my expectations. The world of Chinese martial arts, for example, is full of what I call ‘theatre’ – that is, the titles, the uniforms, the arcane theory, the fancy interpretations – and indeed, ironically, the theatrical verisimilitude of the compliant demonstration … and also, walk on cameos by the ‘if I was fighting a boxer I’d use beng quan…’ and ‘I went to Taiwan, got hit lightly by master and was ill for two weeks but it wasn’t food poisoning in a foreign country is was obviously an internal force strike’ fantasy prediction support acts… all there to dress up fairly simple ideas, or to obscure them, or to hide the fact they are not understood, or simply to lie. In that type of production, the truth is a minor actor, especially when compared to the grandeur of the set. I’m reminded, in negative, reverse terms, of Winston Churchill’s quote to the effect that in times of war, truth is so precious it must at all times be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies. Well, in the current ‘run’ of the current Chinese martial arts shows, truth is indeed body guarded by lies – although, ‘bullied’ would be a better word. Often, the original ideas of any philosophy become up-staged by the ever-growing ‘theatre’ that gets set up around them by an ever growing, ever willing army of actors and stage hands, unbendingly intent on making truth as occult and obscured as humanly possible. In fact, those stage hands usually seem to have no idea what the truth is. They are igonrance’s little helpers. Gee – what a thing to say! Someone wrote to me recently and accused me of asserting myself to be a great master. And then amusingly demanded that I prove that to them. As if, they lie, then I must prove their lie, and if I don’t, then somehow I’m shown to be afraid, or lying or some such. Man, they really must think they’re arguing with an amateur. I’d rather just point out the lies. Because, actually, this kind of thing I am writing about is the knowledge of the gutter. All of us in the gutter who are honest, know this. We know that most of the stuff people talk about in Chinese martial arts can’t be used by most of the people who talk about it, and we don’t know it because we’re great masters ourselves – we just know it because we look at them and see that they can’t do what they say they can do, or that it simply doesn’t make any sense. Just as we’d know they couldn’t play a cello, just by listening to them play. Anyway, as more and more stage hands come along, get taken in by, and add to, the theatre, the harder it becomes to see the simplicity of the original ‘play’. We ‘appoint’ expectations – and then expect them to be fulfilled. The mother, looking for a karate class, has the expectation that her child will get coloured belts. In Chinese martial arts, as we get more and more interested in the subject, we are presented with a range of ideas which, I believe, are mostly very simple, yet, we are tricked for a time in to appointing the most extraordinary ‘expectations’ for. Something like mojin, or hunyuan li, or fa li, sounds incredible when you read about it, but is far more mundane when you experience it. The exploits and knowledge of past or senior practitioners of Quan take on a kung fu movie magnitude. People argue about levels, and the astounding abilities of past masters. But what they’re doing isn’t helping us at all. What they’re doing is feeding and inflating our expectations to such a distorted degree that achieving the real skills of Quan becomes permanently beyond our reach. We will always fail. It reminds me of D.H. Lawrence’s assertion that Jesus was deliberately presented as a ‘perfect man’ whose example we should follow, with the Church’s full knowledge that no one could ever live up to that expectation, and so must, inevitably, fail. If you are expecting to launch people ten metres with your fa li, why would you ever bother with the mundane practise – and mundane results – of short movement skills? In the same way, over blown expectations in Chinese martial arts inevitably lead to failure. No one can achieve fantasy level skills. No one. So dis-appointing expectations – a completely mental, sports psychology technique - can be far more important in achieving high level than attempting to live up to over blown expectations – simply by making ‘high level’ much lower than we thought it was. Many of the astoundingly complex, mystical skills we’ve ‘expected’ from wushu are actually far simpler ideas and techniques ‘talked’ in to seeming so much more than what they really are. Many times, once our expectations are ‘dis’ appointed, it’s a matter of ‘oh that? I already know/can do that! I expected it to mean something much more complex!’ A lot of the tools of intuitive training, I believe, are mental – are in the realm of sports psychology rather than physical training. Dis-appointing expectations is one of the foundation skills. When you do that, ‘high level’ drops down a great deal. It leaves the realm of wire-work film kung fu, immortal masters… it even drops down lower than light touch dim mak/fa li… even lower than qi powered internal force/inner explosion fist strikes… In fact, it drops right down to perfectly achievable good, solid skill, well within the grasp of any serious student with a good aptitude and good training ethic. Drifting back to Wang’s quote… The Italian economist Gramsci once wrote that ‘Common sense is the practical ideology of the ruling class.’ Like Wang’s quote, it loses something not only in interpretation, but also in translation. In the West we see ‘common sense’ as the obvious, everyday interaction with reality, such as don’t lick razors. In most ways ‘conventional wisdom’ would be a better translation – but again, that would lose something; namely that sense of conventional wisdom seeming to be obviously, self-evidently true. You don’t just believe it; you see its truth reflected all around you. What Gramsci meant, of course, is that those people who make up the top-tier, the ruling class (in his Marxist world view) inevitably make sure that the ideas which keep them there, which legitimise their position, become perceived by the lower echelons as self evident truths. Such as slave owners thinking it self evident that slaves are racially inferior. Or taiji teachers making people believe that hard physical training isn’t important – because they can just qi-death you. It’s something similar to Orwell’s 1984, where language itself is being ruthlessly reduced, to thereby reduce the capacity of people to work out how they are controlled and manipulated, or how to do anything about it. Fact is, many people are drawn to becoming martial arts teachers because they have personal issues, such as low self esteem. There is a reason why people set themselves up in what are effectively cults with followers, tiers, dogmas, etc. – and that’s it: personality issues. They are the ruling class, and they will lie to ensure that conventional wisdom is structured so as to support their position. And because they are exactly the opposite of the people who really should be considered at the top, so, equally, I’m afraid much of their ‘wisdom’ is in fact the opposite of what is really true. And I am afraid of this – because the tactics they use are only a symptom of the wider problem of lack of reason, circular logic, and down right lie via propaganda that every so often engulfs a society. Such as now, in our time. Wang’s quote is a very useful little nugget of insight, and because it’s based on a true principle, it naturally at first seems to contradict ‘conventional wisdom’, and yet, when you consider it further you realise it’s both a very simple idea, and also one that inevitably unfolds in to deeper and deeper territory of insight – a sure sign of a genuinely true principle. Those who have never heard of Wang might assume – naturally – that he must be one of those so called internal martial arts so called practitioners who cling to the idea that ‘fighting is vulgar’ much in the same way that a poor man clings to the idea that his pretty wife really does need to work three hours a night overtime with her wealthy boss. Actually Wang was a hooligan in his love of fighting – but not in his intellect or character. He clearly loved to fight, and fought countless people, winning and losing. But just because someone fights, that doesn’t mean that they have any skill or insight. That’s it. Simple. Just because someone goes out every Saturday night and has a fight in the street, that doesn’t mean they have any deeply trained skill or unfolded knowledge on the subject. But that simple idea frees us from an enormous amount of hokum. See, a person looking for truth is beset on all sides by steaming mountains of lie. Every liar, every untruth, every misguidance, is like an enemy to be avoided. So how do we safely, and economically, ‘map’ our way through such vile territory? Well, you can’t try everything for twenty years to see if it really works. Many people will say ‘if you want to know if it works, come and try it’ but that should be a warning sign to you – because any proof should be demonstrable to people who aren’t in the group – otherwise, what kind of proof is it? If I’m a beginner, how can I know if it works, even if it works on me, or even if I can make it work on other members of the group? Actually, in research on cults, this is a well known principle of information manipulation called ‘proof by recruitment’. Any group that seeks to recruit you as its primary means of ‘proving’ what it says is clearly incapable of proving it to anyone who hasn’t already been groomed (step by step – as you will be) to believe it. ‘Incestuous proof’ is meaningless. There isn’t time to believe every idea to see if it works, or to train in every system to see if it’s effective. And fact is, we can be made to ‘think’ or ‘experience’ that an idea, religion or method really does ‘work’ just by virtue of the way Gramsci’s Law works – that we can be groomed in to seeing any ideology as self evident truth. In simpler terms, who doesn’t think that their teacher/system is great? And who doesn’t say ‘if you don’t think he’s great you should come down and bla bla bla…’? If he really was great, he’d be great from external perspectives too; greatness may have to be seen to be believed, but it shouldn’t have to be believed to be seen. Wang’s quote is based on a very useful tool of ‘mapping’. In mathematics there is a technique called ‘number counting’ which allows vast amounts of data to be ‘counted’ in very simple ways, thus saving mathematicians hours of time. For example, the simple principle that any whole number ending in a zero is divisible by 2 allows predictions to be made for a literally infinite amount of numbers. In the same way, by working out a few simple insights in to the way people lie, are groomed, issue and spin personal mythologies, are brainwashed, spin information, deal with criticism etc., you can immediately recognize, dismiss, negate and cast aside huge swathes of specific ‘lie-types’, whether the appear in the past, present or future. That’s a true principle, because it keeps on giving – it unfolds yet further, in to deeper, wider implication. See, I can’t tell you what the ‘true’ Quan is. No one can. Quan is an expression of true principles, so by its very native nature it has no fixed point, only deeper or shallower expression, depending on the insight and skill of the person searching for its heart. What we can do is strip away and negate falsehood ever more effectively. What I can do is offer some tools that help to do that. This is the ‘good twin’ of defining oneself by what one isn’t. Negating what is wrong is easy, once you have the basic tools – and that eliminates 90% of the so called data out there by revealing it to be false. (As Shameless’s Frank Gallagher says, there’s a difference between data and information.) Mapping via negation is a core principle expressed in the Tao Te Ching as: ‘In pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added. In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.’ Recognize what’s wrong once, and you’ll recognize it always. And as the same lies and techniques of soul-less de-education are used by every liar in the field, just seeing one lie shows up a million others. Just think how much data that lets you process – just recognising one lie type, such as ‘proof by recruitment’, navigates you safely through a million similar lies. Wow. Wang’s admonition that fighting is the lowest expression of skill frees us from the pit-fall of appointing too much credence to the opinions of a number of people we really shouldn’t have, such as, those who bumbled their way in terror through a few tournament rounds, and later on used that as a qualification to lecture others on ‘real fighting’; or those who claim to fight bare knuckle, full contact six times a week; or those who say ‘I’ve had plenty of real fights – I know my stuff works!’ Not that those experiences, if true, have no relevance. But… Machiavelli wrote that we should know a prince by his advisors. In the same way, we should know the validity of claims by considering the circumstances, such as level of the opponents, skill expressed in the fight, etc. Just the fact that someone fights, even regularly, doesn’t mean that they have any unusual skill or insight. If, for example, you were to make a list of all the world’s best soccer players, they need to play, of course, so you can see their skill in action, under pressure, but on the list of criteria for judging them, ‘plays every Sunday afternoon’ would be very low on the list. It would be a ‘given’ that they play or played regularly, anyway. That box would be ticked on pretty much all the players’ sheets. It’s the other boxes that matter – the ones that we tick off for skill and quality. When people make claims of ‘I fight’, well, as the rappers Disposable heroes of Hyphoprisy say: ‘Don’t just read the lips, be more sublime than this – put everything in context.’ The football player plays, but is he a fat, low skilled player on a pub team, or a Premiership footballer worth a hundred million pounds? If a pub player lectures you that such and such a football strategy is worthless/great, how much credence is his opinion given due to the fact that he pants his way through a pub football match every week? Not to say that his opinion is wrong – if it’s true, it’s true. What this is about is how people sometimes back up wrong ideas with non-sequitur qualifications. There are skill-less hooligans who fight every week, and there are professional fighters who’ve never had a street fight, and only fight full on, for real, every few months, in their professional, paid bouts. Which is the most skilful? There are people who bumbled their way through tournaments, and there are people who’ve never entered tournaments, but fight more realistically every Saturday night on their sparring class. Fighting, or practical combat training of some kind, is essential in martial arts, as Wang also pointed out, in the same sentence, as it happens. But just fighting doesn’t mean anything without context. A twig on the same branch are those famous and successful instructors who have dubious tournament wins in their background. Wang’s insight also frees us from them – because it allows us to consider whether those tournament wins were all that they were cracked up to be. I know of a few – but one particular instructor whose students make quite a song and dance over a famous tournament win that he had, long time ago, long way away… I’ve see the video – and it shows a fairly hapless fighter, swinging his arms wildly, and planting a lucky shot by accident on his hapless opponent. From that, a hero was born. Imagine the version of that fight that will appear in the Hong Kong movie version of his life! We can take a more critical eye also on those who worked on doors – how much does it count for, you and your mates tossing out drunks? Or those who worked in the prison service – how much does it count for, you and your mates using pin-down on a sixteen year old youth? Again – not to say that it counts for nothing, only that we should consider carefully exactly what it does count for. Just as an interesting Youtube video points out that Special Forces don’t do a great deal of hand to hand fighting – they are awesome warriors, but they mainly use guns and bombs. When you actually see special forces doing hand to hand combat training, it rarely looks as good as professional MMA level combat training, because they have only a limited amount of time to train in that one small aspect of their arsenal. Not to say that some aren’t unarmed combat experts – some obviously are. Just because people have been in altercations, or a certain profession, well, don’t just read their lips - be more sublime than this. Put EVERYTHING in context. We’re not trying to do anyone down, just to assess information honestly and openly – and of course, if we’re wrong, re-assess it. Then take your critical eye to co-operative demonstrations. How often are we expected to say someone is really great just because they provide a co-operative demonstration against a compliant opponent? Anything can be made to look good and effective when used against a co-operative or low skilled opponent. But how many times has someone tried to sell you that a compliant demo is evidence of real usefulness? And if you want, you can even start exploring the difference between fighting in competition and fighting for self defence, or military or police purposes, recognising cross-over skills but also fundamental differences. So often we argue about the wrong issues, failing to approach the subject for what we can learn that’s new, as opposed to what we want to state simply because we ‘belong’ to a particular group. To me, one of the first steps to free thinking is to stop belonging. To belong is really to be the property of a specific group/ideology. I believe, from my experience, you get more value out of ideas and methods when you come at them from an individual, critical and free thinking perspective. Then you don’t have to swallow or spout the party line – only look honestly for true and useful ideas, whilst recognising/rejecting things that don’t ring true. Now, there’s a dichotomy in all that, I know. On the one hand, it says that anyone can have an opinion – you don’t have to be great. On the other, that we should be wary of opinions given by people who don’t have much right to express them. Doesn’t it? Well, no. Look, if something is true, it’s true, and it doesn’t matter who says it. There’s a certain lie-type that goes along the lines of ‘how dare you criticise my teacher! Prove that you can do better!’ Well, we don’t need to. The truth or otherwise of an idea is intrinsic. An eighty year old woman can see that a fight is faked just as easily as a UFC champion. It isn’t fake for one, and not for the other, just because one can fight to prove their point and the other can’t. In fact, in those circumstances, people don’t fight – or aren’t invited to fight ‘to’ prove a point; it’s simply a tactic of intimidation, making people feel that if they want to express their opinion, they need to be aware that violent consequences may ensue. My response now is always ‘Why? Can’t you provide an honest demo by yourself?’ Once you start dis-appointing expectations, most of the truth seems to fall in to place anyway. Map via negation – drop what is useless. Listen to opinions, but don’t dismiss or accept them based on anything but their intrinsic truth. Well, as far as you can – I can’t say whether certain ideas of physics are brilliant or gobbledygook… but I recognise where someone is over all lying to me, even in physics – simply by the methods they use to ‘prove’ their theories. If someone called me a coward for not believing they’d achieved cold fusion, and demanded that I prove I CAN do cold fusion before I comment, I’d know, pretty much, that they were lying. And it’s exactly the same for martial arts. As for, ‘what is Quan’ – as I say, I can not say. ‘Dis-appoint’ the expectation that the method of finding out is simply learning techniques that others claim work. By far the most useful initial tool of understanding it is to first of all start recognizing and dismissing the dis-information currently being peddled as ‘perceived wisdom’. Don’t simply accept ideas – work out immediately what is wrong with them, rather than swallowing them whole. Like mining for gold, wash away the dirt.