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  • Evolution and traditional kung fu..

    Does traditional shaolin (or other specific styles) still change/evolve and if so can it still be called 'traditional'?

    Just wondering about it.. is it wrong to add new techniques or even new forms to kung fu? Would it then become a new style or variation along the lines of modern wushu? Would you be diluting/spoiling the style or improving it?

  • #2
    It depends on what you consider traditional. Traditionally, martial arts change. I say "traditional" and think of certain things i think are important- content, lineage and instructor.

    Content of a system is important. The martial and philosophical components should not necessarily be easy to learn (actually, it is preferred that the system challenge you both mentally and physiaclly), but the things in it should be clear in the sense that it is possible to udnerstand them and see a practicality. I would venture to say that most of the systems off the list of "traditional martial arts" now famous have become so due to a clear and understandable practicality to things such as fighting, defense, philosophy. its kind of like any other tool or vessel that you need for a certain use- if it dosent work for what you need it, you discard and/or replace it (you also might just find a different use for it altogether).

    Lineage is important as well. I, personally, like to know that my system has a documentable lineage because i feel that it will add legitimacy to the claim of being a traditional martial art. A traditional martial art, as i would define it, is a martial art that had been passed down from generation to generation and still maintain its general unique and defining characteristics. the degree to which the system changes each time it is passed down, of course, may be different. Granted, this can lead to all sorts of grey zones and such when you ask yourself "at which point, then, is this now a new system". But for the purpose of making a point, i will set that aside. I feel that lineage is important enough to consider if you go by the above definition.

    The instructor, i think, is always the final and mst determining factor. I am quite partial to this characteristic, as i have had bad experiences with fake instructors in the past. The instructor must, of course, be part of a lineage and his system must convey the characteristics mentioned above. He should, above all, be a good teacher. For the purpose of instruction, i feel that the responsibility falls overwhelmingly on the teacher. Later, you get more into the area of growth of the practitioner. At this point, the responsibility shifts towards the student. Of course, a ****ty student will go only so far before hitting a threshold or quitting altogether for some reason or other. But geneally speaking, to practice kung fu, someone neesd to teach it to you before you can help yourself grow into what you've been given.

    So, lets take a look at the questions:

    ---Does traditional shaolin (or other specific styles) still change/evolve and if so can it still be called 'traditional'?

    I would say that it does. in fact, from what i have seen, it is nothing short of impossible to stop that from happening. But whether or not the system has changed altogether depends on what and how much you have changed. You are certainly treading into a feild of opinions here. Do you mean traditional as "in would you use an armbar of a sidestep in this move?", or do you mean it as "we do our ma-bu's lower". I dont think either makes the system not traditional anymore, but some people may disagree. You can say i'm doing it wrong- i will simply say i'm doing it differentl. But, let's say that you are teaching Hung Gar, and you decide to teach Xiao Hong Quan in your curriculum. That's not traditionally part of Hung Gar, and in that sense, you system has become eclectic. I think that forms are good here because they are generally one of the more immediately distinguishable features of traditional martial arts. There are, however, other things like methods for "conditioning" and how the system generally approaches martial applications.
    What this basically means is that the system can evolve, but still be Shaolin, or whatever system it is.


    ---Just wondering about it.. is it wrong to add new techniques or even new forms to kung fu? Would it then become a new style or variation along the lines of modern wushu? Would you be diluting/spoiling the style or improving it?

    This is a very common and still, unfortunately, very difficult question to answer. One thing i would like to touch on right away, is this part: "Would it then become a new style or variation along the lines of modern wushu?"

    You have to understand something, wushu is a system. For all intensive purposes, you can use my definitions above to classify "Wushu" as a traditional sport (please leave the word "sport" at that, we all know exactly what i mean and i would like to stay on subject). Wushu was put together by an affiliation of martial artists. for better or for worse, it is a system that is handed down from genration to generation and maintains its general unique and distinguishing characteristics as it goes.

    This question, "Would it then become a new style or variation along the lines of modern wushu?", implies that wushu is simply a traditional martial art that someone made a couple of major changes to and is now selling a cheap, watered down version of. Its really not that simple, and much of that has to do with a circus of an issue regarding martial application, the meaning of the word "wushu" and an on-going crisis regarding very concept of martial arts in even the most abstract sense. without getting too deep into this, i would just say that you can't just label stuff "wushu" because somebody changed something. I know it's tempting but thats simply not how it works. If that's the case, someone practicing Wushu can do something in NanQuan just a bit different and his teacher will scowl, "Ah, whats that? that's Hung-Gar" in which case "Hung Gar" is now equivalent to a derogatory term denoting "you're making it look flashy/the way you want it to". In my opinion, one of the mistakes a lot of us make is to think of "wushu" as some trash term denoting an encroachment of modern non-martial arts on traditional martial arts. What we should be doing, in my opinion, is respecting wushu as a system in its own, irrespective of our prejudices. In my opinion, this is why so many younger monks dont care to "wushu-ify" Shaolin. As far as they are concerned, wushu is a traditional art. What we are calling "wushu", these guys are calling "national" or "of the country".

    In the end, whether you cheapen the system you practice or not should all boil down to what you think. It is, in my opinion, undoubtable that for some reason or other, your teacher will not be doing their stuff exactly the way their teacher did, which alone should speak volumes. What you should be asking yourself is how much you care. What things do you mind changing, being changed, or even staying the same?

    On a compltely personal level, I like to do my stuff as close as i can to what i learn because i like the idea of a classic form that i can do which has been practiced for many generations and i feel that by doing it as close as possible to how my teachers have shown me, i not only manage to keep it from moving from the origin as little as i can, but i also do my part to preserve a certain line of thought with the system carrying it. I see it as a sort of immortal cry from the past that only some people will ever hear or experience, almost like sending a transmission through space that will go on and on through the cosmos perhaps to be picked up eons away in another time by another life. It is a wonderful way to keep alive the spirit of people long ago dead and i feel that i do them honor by being more conservative in my practice.

    Is it "wrong" to add techniques? Well, i dont know. if your teacher is trying to teach you something and you dont seem to be willing to do it the way he wants you to- you change and/or add stuff- that is peobably the "wrong" way to go by doing things. Beyond that, though, i think that it is not a matter of right or wrong anymore. Its more a matter of what you feel you want to do. Don't forget that martial arts werent handed down to us by some supernatural power that told us never to change it, its just we sometimes make our teachers out to be deities and thats where the confusion about this seeps in . Its up you you, is basically the whole thing in a nutshell.
    Last edited by dogchow108; 01-10-2005, 11:42 PM.

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    • #3
      dogchow108
      russbo.com demi-god
      Usergroup: Registered
      Member Groups: Super Member
      Time spent in forums: 1 hour 47 minutes 6 seconds

      And I bet all that time was spent typing that reply, hahah...
      Becoming what I've dreamed about.

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      • #4
        The evolution of Shaolin is quite amazing, especially over the past two decades. I'll show what it has become, soon, in some new videos I have for the site.

        Within the next few days.
        Experienced Community organizer. Yeah, let's choose him to run the free world. It will be historic. What could possibly go wrong...

        "You're just a jaded cynical mother****er...." Jeffpeg

        (more comments in my User Profile)
        russbo.com


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        • #5
          Originally posted by LeiYunFat
          dogchow108
          russbo.com demi-god
          Usergroup: Registered
          Member Groups: Super Member
          Time spent in forums: 1 hour 47 minutes 6 seconds

          And I bet all that time was spent typing that reply, hahah...
          eh, everyone else was asleep and i had nothing else to do.

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          • #6
            Great reply dogchow!

            I am inclined to think it depends on motive.. for example adding new techniques for fighting to a martial art (any) is a good thing if the aim of that style and the people training in it is to win fights (street fights or competition).

            On the other hand if the aim is more than that ('more' being debatable to some extent I suppose) such as to preserve an 'art' or heritage, to develop yourself physically and perhaps in other ways, to show respect to those that have gone before or whatever.. then perhaps adding new stuff is a bad thing.

            As for modern wushu I am all in favour of it.. it looks cool and is probably lots of fun to do for those able to fling themselves fearlessly through the air.. wish I could do it! As long as it doesn't replace traditional shaolin kung fu which I think (hope) is unlikely given that so many people (at least non-chinese) are really keen on learning only traditional kung fu and as such money will talk and so keep it alive..

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            • #7
              The only thing I may contest a little, is lineage, as I think it can be important, but does not need to be. I have a teacher who has learned from a lot of people, who all have lineage, but he was never a student for too long, as he was fairly transient, and came to them with skill. So he would not concider himself a lineage holder, however, he does have the knowledge of some of these teachers.
              practice wu de

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              • #8
                If "traditonal" shaolin continues to only be about forms. Then it really becomes just like wushu. All forms no fighting. So what is the difference?

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                • #9
                  The theory and concept behind it..
                  practice wu de

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                  • #10
                    I am considering joining this school www.sifuchenying.com.

                    I am through with "traditional" shaolin. It is the same type of training as wushu except minus some of the cool flashy moves.

                    If you want to learn actual effective fighting take a wingchun class or jujitsu on the side.

                    I think if you look closely the theory and concept behind the two arts are very similar. And every year they get even more similar.

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                    • #11
                      Mortal, it's funny how I agree with most of the **** you say outside of politics. Good point, form work is nice, but you need large amounts of 2 man and multiple opponent drills and freeplay to get good at actually fighting with any martial art.

                      It's funny how you very rarely see americans who can and do fight with their gongfu in a match. For all our pretty forms, most revert to glorified kickboxing in their sparring.
                      Show me a man who has forgotten words, so that I can have a word with him.

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                      • #12
                        I guess that means your a liberal. lolo

                        You know what they say never talk about politics.
                        I live in New york so I make it a point to never bring it up.

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                        • #13
                          lol, glorified kickboxing, what would make good gong fu look different then throwing punches and kicks, oh wait, those guys hold there hands up near their heads...
                          practice wu de

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                          • #14
                            are you kidding me? thats pretty much what san-da is. The Chinese do exactly that- revert to overglorified kick-boxing despite all the pretty forms. And I've seen Push-hands competitions that have turned into something that looked more like Greko-Roman wrestling. I think this is the funniest thing about all this- the Chinese themselves have always been the biggest factor in taking what we call traditional martial arts and making them more modern.

                            Mortal- in a way, i am sad that another person has given up the search for traditional Shaolin, and in some ways its perhaps just another sign for me to pick a number. I guess im just a stubborn bastard. One thing i've never really liked about Shaolin is the way they deal with applications. for the most part, i'm pretty disappointed with it- but i have my hands full with stuff i've figured out. On the whole though, i agree with you- if you want to learn direct, no-crap fighting, theres much better systems there. Systems like WingChun and XingYi are less susceptible to attacks on their practicality than something like TaiJi or ShaoLin.

                            Shaolinstylee- Lineage is important because with that, you know the guy is not making something up and selling it as something that he was taught by an authority in that feild. Your teacher studied with several people who were good in their feilds, and he has that to his credit. He's not a lineage-holder, but that dosent really mean too much. What is important, though, is where it came from. Granted, though, these are just the categories i go by based on my (less than fortunate) experiences with MA teachers.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by mortal
                              I guess that means your a liberal. lolo

                              You know what they say never talk about politics.
                              I live in New york so I make it a point to never bring it up.
                              lolol.

                              I agree with mortal very often as well. Politics included.

                              I should just add BJJ to the martial art waiting list I want to try.
                              Becoming what I've dreamed about.

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