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I was recently having a discussion with a Chen Tai Chi practitioner on a forum, regarding a clip (MMA fighter vs Wing Chun) . Much of the debate centred around the fact that the WC “didn’t have his feet aligned properly.” This then sidetracked into a debate about toes in vs toes out, which, to my mind, highlights a problem in some areas of the martial arts.
The Tai Chi guy explained how Chen style is very complex in terms of setting up “tangent points” and similar in order to neutralise incoming force into the ground. He added
“ In fact the geometrical framework becomes so advanced that even a person with very advanced understanding of mechanics will not be able to see it unless somebody who knows it points directly to it and even then the comprehension is a bit too much for the normal individual.”
You can imagine how much training it must take in order for the body to quickly and spontaneously organise itself in such a complex fashion in order to deal with force/impact. Thousands of hours, I should think. Which is one reason Tai Chi is usually practiced slowly, right? (I have some experience in that style!)
Or... you can take a step. Or rotate your shoulder. Or let the body naturally wave to pass the force through, or even to recycle it.
Alright, I don’t mean to sound facetious – well, maybe a bit – but my goal in training people is to make things as simple as possible for them. Largely, it is about stripping away any tension or inhibitions that prevent the body from working its own, usually very simple and natural response. Touch a hot plate – how fast does your hand move away? Is any complex training involved in that? No. Can you move any faster than that? No.
So doesn’t it make sense to keep our training as simple as possible (not necessarily easy!) in order to allow our built-in survival system to do its job, rather than try an lay a complex pattern of movement over it?
A second example. We all know the grab and evade drill. Move away from and evade the grabs of your training partners. Recently I was teaching a young family. Mum, Dad and their three kids (aged 3-6). We ran the grab-evade drill for the first and I gave the instructions, “Don’t let the people grab you!” Now, normally, with adults at first, they will bounce around, use jerky movement to try and dodge a grab, become a little tense perhaps.
Not so the kids. In the corner of the hall was a stack of tables, about four deep. Without a word of discussion, the kids all immediately ran into the corner, under the tables, safe and unreachable in their little cave. Beautiful.
In conclusion, does this mean that we can ignore bio-mechanics? Of course not they are part of our physical make-up. But to my mind, one of the fundamental aspects of Systema training is to avoid unecessary complexity in favour of clean, simple movement that gets the job done. It gives you less to argue you about on internet forums, but it might just save your skin one day!
Associated clip - movement for defence