The training environment

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Martial arts training halls provide a safe place for people to meet and explore combat material. There is seldom any risk of injury. The training is carefully monitored by the instructor.
It is a predictable scenario. However, it is also an illusion

Real life

Periodically you may hear of a skilled, seasoned martial artist being beaten up in the street by an untrained assailant. This sounds incredulous. Yet, the situation is really quite straightforward.


Real life combat is nothing like class practice. In the street, the emotional vibe is different, the threat is sincere and there's a high likelihood of getting hurt.
In class, you are often told precisely what will happen - before it happens - giving you ample time to prepare.
No assailant in the street will do this


If you want to see if your taijiquan works it is necessary to experience some sort of combat. Being actually beaten up is not so sensible.
It is better to simulate an assault without too much risk of being injured. Roughed-up, struck, caught unawares in class - these are good. Being actually damaged is not smart at all.


A student will often fail to commit to an attack and then be a 'smart arse' when the defender attempts their application.
This situation exists because the attack was poor in the first place, and the attacker is forgetting that they are engaged in practice, not combat.
In real life, no one will give you a heads-up.

Poor attacker, means poor counter-attacker

Poor attacking skills stem from inexperience and fear. You must learn to set aside your ego and forget about sparing yourself.
If you fail to commit, you will probably not have the opportunity to correct your mistake.


It is very common for new students to over-analyse training methods in class, second-guess the instructor or think that they can see holes in the material. This stems from naivety.
The instructor knows full well that the training is not real. This is why we have a syllabus.

Taijiquan fighting method

As the student makes strong progress through the grades the line between illusion and real becomes blurred.
The speed, ferocity and challenge of the training methods will tax even the most entrenched sceptic. Unpredictable situations force growth, change and adaptation.


Eventually, the student submits to the syllabus and trains hard without ego intruding. They merge with the Way. Only then will the art become fully realised.

The traditional learning environment for kung fu can be difficult to handle psychologically. During the first months of training, students may get frustrated because the training seems difficult and boring. They may feel discouraged because no one is telling them how great they are or giving them a gold star for their efforts. This type of feedback, which is a typical part of the modern education process, is not suited to the kung fu learning environment. Instructors need to encourage students but not give them false impressions or expectations.

(Adam Hsu)


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Page created 18 March 1997
Last updated 29 August 2019