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The Mind in the Art of Knife Fighting

 

Renegade Wing Chun, Todd Taganashi

Knife combat situations are extremely high-stress scenarios. Just the mere sight of a sharp blade in the hands of an individual who is bent on your destruction is enough to cause paralyzing fear in some men. There is no cowardice in fear, but you must not let this fear control you. Through training you develop skills and gain confidence in your technique, and that will help to minimize your fears. But, if you have never faced a hostile opponent’s sharp blade, you can easily underestimate the effect that the element of fear can have on your individual mindset. When engaged in a real world “fight for your life” knife fight, you will undergo certain psychological and physiological changes. As the element of fear sets in you will be overwhelmed by feelings of nervous anxiety and anticipation, your heart will start to beat at an accelerated rate, and you will get an intense adrenaline rush. Depending on your mind set, these variables can set in to play a definitive emotional reaction. This is commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” syndrome.

As a Knife Fighter, you must learn to master the element of fear in combat. The best technique that I know to control your fear while engaged in battle is slow and deliberate breathing. This is a tried-and-true method used by elite martial artist for centuries. In this technique you curl your tongue and press it against the roof of your mouth and breathe through your nose and exhale slowly deeply through the mouth. If you find yourself out of breath or flustered, use the same breathing technique except inhale through and exhale through your mouth making a low almost silent “ahh” sound.

Some will try to tell you that the best method of defense and offense in knife combat is the “Berserker Method”, an all out frenzy of violent aggressive movement. While that might  be an effective method of dealing with a low level or unskilled opponent it could lead to burning yourself out prematurely. Or in worse the case scenario “Going from the frying pan directly into the fire.” Without the skill to back it up most experts will agree your chance of survival is not good. On the other hand at the advanced level which we hope to acquire as a Martial Artist or “Knife Fighter” our goal is to remain calm both physically and mentally.

Although sparring with blunt knives is a good method of training a knife fighter to perfect his combat technique. There are many drawbacks to this as well. The true “fear of death” emotional response cannot be recreated in a friendly sparring match with your training partner. The big problem here is that after continuously practicing “safe sparring” a kind of nonchalant attitude sets in. Since there is no real danger of getting hurt, many martial artist develop this sort of kamikaze attitude towards knife fighting. I have seen knife sparring matches that would have literally been over in the first 3 seconds. Yet the combatants keep on fighting as if they were going to just suck up the pain of that slash across their face or thrust to the stomach. Without getting to graphic the body goes into shock, your vision becomes burry, yu begin to feel week and dizzy. Death is not far away.

So then how does one go about develop the ability to control the mind and fear under such hostile conditions? Do you have to face life or death combat on a daily basis?  My advice is that you learn to control your fear by taking up an extreme sport like mountain climbing, skydiving, or race car driving where controlling your fear is an ever present and crucial element. In this way you can experience real life fear and learn to deal with it in a way that no other set up training scenario could ever accomplish.

After all that is said and done, you will still never know how you will react until you see the flash of steel coming at you from a stranger on a dark stormy night. At that moment you will realize the true importance of “The Mind in the Art of Knife Fighting.”

© Copyright Todd Taganashi 2017

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“Do not seek to be like the masters of old. Seek what they sought.”

Renegade Wing Chun

I can’t honestly say that there is any one superior system or style of the martial arts. In fact, it is my opinion that there are no masters or grandmasters anywhere who can say this. If they do it is biased and ego based and myself I would avoid teachers like this. What I could say is that there are superior martial artists.

If we look back into the history and creators of the martial arts. We would see that even though the masters had core principles and favorite techniques, their ways were constantly changing and evolving up until the point of their death. Sadly, after the passing of their teacher, convinced that their teacher held the only true knowledge of combat, and in an attempt to become as good the master. Students would analyze and copy their teachers every movement as exactly as possible. Sometimes to the point of even trying to adopt the physical quirks and personality traits of their teacher. This brings to mind an old saying;

“Do not seek to be like the masters of old. Seek what they sought.”

Whether or not a martial art system works and it can be passed down is a hypothetical question at best. What works for a 6’3” 220 pound man will not work the same for a 5’4″ 145 pound man. So there can be no true way that is universal. Sure there can be key concepts and core principles which might work universally. But, as a teacher I can’t press what works for me on my students. The goal is to help them find what works for them. For their shape and given consideration to their particular attributes both physically and psychologically. To speak of what may or may not work for others as if the art of combat is a set doctrine is a very dangerous game. Instead it would be best for martial art teachers to clarify and speak of what works (or has worked) for them. Providing of course they have real world close combat experience. I’m not trying to sound like Bruce Lee or come off as if I know “the true way of personal combat.” In fact much of my philosophy of teaching and training goes against that of Bruce Lee’s. (Or, I should say that of  Mr. Lee’s martial art teachings as it has evolved from). Instead I am saying that I can’t teach anyone to fight like or be like me. Unless they have the same build, psychology, and life experiences as I do that would be possible.

Over the years I attended dozens of martial art seminars. It might seem egotistic but my intention was not that of leaning. Personally I feel the only way to learn martial arts is through hard training with a legitimate master over an extended period of time. The concept of learning at seminars as though mastery of martial arts was an accumulation of hundreds of movements goes against my philosophy. Although I must say, I think that seminar training could be beneficial for beginners who are still searching for that specific fighting art that will fit best for them and their lifestyle. Attending seminars with this attitude could be a good way to experience a glimpse of the various fighting arts. What is important here is that they need to understand, unless the movements taught at these seminar are carefully mastered through practicing them tens of thousands of times under the guidance of a true master, they are never going to work.

Honestly my motivation for attending the seminars that I did (and for that matter the masters who I visited for one-on-one training) was to meet and experience the arts of those few masters. In a way, sort of testing myself by seeing first hand the ability of these select masters and therefor adjusting my training appropriately. I find it sad that the general public is being fooled into believing that mastery of the martial arts is an accumulation of as many movements as you can. Rather than being told the truth that combat efficiency comes from complete mastery of a few basic movements. I know that I might offend some martial art teachers out there who make a living through teaching seminars. My intent is here is not to reflect badly on them. Certainly for those who do not have access to a legitimate master then training in seminars could be their only option. (After all, some training is better than none.) Just like any other learning platform, if there is a proper mind set and understanding of its limitations, then seminar training could prove to be beneficial. However, there are some seminar teachers out there who definitely don’t want my opinion on their two day “Instructor Certification workshops” that keep popping up everywhere. If there were liability laws governing martial art teaching ~ well enough said.

These days I don’t attend any seminars at all. As a Kung Fu man I could spend a lifetime training full time and never master half of what my Sifu has already taught me. If I could truly master 25% of that knowledge I would be very happy. As a Kung Fu teacher I concentrate on the training not the techniques. In fact I don’t teach techniques at all. If I teach you my fighting techniques you will just be copying me. What I offer is a bag of tools and the training methods to develop those tools. Just like a carpenter ~ some carpenters are good and some are bad. Some have many tools and can’t use any of them well. Some use very few tools yet create the most wonderful structures. It all depends on the person, their personal motivation, their attention to detail, and how well they have developed the ability to use their tools.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that I have nothing more to learn. But rather what I have to learn can only be achieved through rigorous training in what I have already been taught. Too many teachers have turned the martial arts into an accumulation of techniques with not enough practice of each. The end result has turned into the degradation of martial arts as a whole. Jack of all trades and master of none.

More so what I am trying to say here is this. I am out of the rat race of the “I know more.” or “My teacher is better than yours.” or even worse the propaganda of “Our system is the only one that really works.” This hypocrisy ~ as if all you need is a few secret moves (that only I can teach you) whether you train hard or not. I thinks it is a bunch of crap. As a martial artist I love and respect my teacher. But, honestly what I seek is much more than what any one man could teach another. That can only be achieved through rigorous training and personal experience. What I seek can only be found within myself.

“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”

~ Miyamoto Musashi

© Copyright Todd Taganashi 2017

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Combat Striking Training Doctrine

1. All striking must be geared towards ending the fight as quickly as possible.

2. Always train to strike at selective targets.

3. When striking power can be generated through five methods:
a.) Method One – Basic Striking; Using the waist, hip, shoulder, body shifting, and elbow to generate power
b.) Method Two – Two Directional Force; Striking as your opponent moves toward you.
c.) Method Three – Internal Power; Striking with internal combustive energy.
d.) Method Four – Psychological Power; The power of the mind and the will to live.
e.) Method Five – Using all striking methods simultaneously.

4. There are three elements crucial in effective striking and targeting.
a.) Timing
b.) Movement
c.) Positioning

5. No matter how good you are, in any real fight the chances of being hit are very likely. You must include training to withstand striking impact.

© Copyright Todd Taganashi 2017

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The True Way of Wing Chun Chi Sau

Renegade Wing ChunChi Sau (translated – sticky hands) is a special training exercise unique to the fighting system of Wing Chun Kung Fu; it teaches sensitivity & adaptability and provides a reasonably realistic platform for the Wing Chun man to practice his techniques. (Primarily those used in close combat range.) There are three basic forms of Chi Sau practice: Dan Chi Sau (single hand), Poon Sau (two handed “rolling hands”), and Sheung Chi Sau (free flow practice). The goal is to be able to apply all the movements from Wing Chun’s three empty hand forms affectively and efficiently. Smoothly adapting to your opponents movements and reactions to your movements. In advanced stages Chi Sau is practiced while standing on a small table, while blindfolded, or both.

A lot of people practice Chi Sau as a sort of tag game where the one who gets the most hits wins, but this is not the true way of practice. In reality, at the close range in which Chi Sau is practiced striking or “tagging” is the easy part. Not getting hit is the hard part. The concentration during Chi Sau should be on sensing your opponent’s energy and reacting to his movements, a difficult task when you are spending all of your energy on attacking. Furthermore a good Wing Chun man will use this energy against you in a real fight utilized the theories of “Simultaneous Attack and Defense” and “Two Directional Force”. In the long run if Chi Sau is continually practiced in this manner the Wing Chun man will begin to subconsciously rely on this aggressive method as a combat strategy. Over relying on reckless aggressive attacking at close range is a sure way to get “popped” by an equally aggressive and determined opponent.  And, it will most likely lead to grappling as your opponent will also be in range to trap your hands as he tries to stop your attack. This situation is very much the same way as how MMA fighters end up clinching just before they go to the ground. Needless to say once you go to the ground your striking ability will be severely limited. I always advise my students that if they are intent on entering and fighting at close range, then they had better be well trained in grappling and ground fighting. Or ~ (I should add), have the power to take their opponent out with one or two punches.

To develop close range combat efficiency and work on solidifying your standing structure the best way to practice Chi Sau is at a moderate speed, combined with short bursts of energy, and intervals of fast movement. While at the same time moving smoothly in and out from all out “Trapping” (hand immobilizing) to simple “Rolling Hands”. Engaging and disengaging with your partner in a rhythmic yet broken pattern. Maintaining a calmness of both mind and body.

The new fad in Wing Chun is Chi Sau competitions. This once again goes against the true purpose of Chi Sau and Kung Fu in general. As Chi Sau competition begins to flourish the fear is that many students (and teachers) will gain a false sense of Kung Fu superiority through their doing well in these competitions with no true measure of whether their striking was effective or not. This illusion will overshadow the true essence of Wing Chun Kung Fu which is in the ability to transmit power and energy into the target as simply and affectively as possible. In an interview with Black Belt Magazine Ip Ching (Son of Grandmaster Ip Man) was asked which elements of Wing Chun his father practiced the most. He said that it was Sil Lim Tao form and Punching. This is very interesting. Many Wing Chun men would choose to dominate their opponent (or at least try) with complicated hand immobilizing attacks. I on the other hand, would prefer to end the confrontation with a simple single direct attack. That is combat efficiency.

© Copyright Todd Taganashi 2017

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The Warrior Hunter

Taganashi Renegade Wing Chun

“A Warrior Hunter knows that his death is waiting, and the very act he is performing now may well be his last battle on earth. He calls it a battle because it is a struggle. Most people move from act to act without any struggle or thought. A Warrior Hunter, on the contrary, assesses every act; and since he has intimate knowledge of his death, he proceeds judiciously, as if every act were his last battle. Only a fool would fail to notice advantage a warrior-hunter has over his fellow men. A warrior-hunter gives his last battle its due respect. It’s only natural that his last act on earth should be the best of himself. It’s pleasurable that way. It dulls the edge of his fright.”

~ Carlos Castaneda

© Copyright Sifu Todd Taganashi 2017

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The Way of the Tiger

Tigers are solitary animals and although they can be social they prefer to be alone.
The tiger is tolerant but territorial and will never back down from a fight.
They do not hunt or roam in packs and will avoid interaction with other predators.
Powerful, fast, and agile the tiger is one of the true warriors of the animal kingdom.
The spirit totem of the tiger brings honor, courage, loyalty to one’s inner-self, and independence.
These are the Ways of the Tiger.
They are my ways.

~ Taganashi

© Copyright Sifu Todd Taganashi 2017

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A Strong Will Can Pierce Stone

The story that I am about to tell is very old. I heard it first when I was about 13 years old. I am telling it to the best of my ability as I remember it.

The story is set in feudal Japan.

Once there was a young newly married samurai couple who were very much in love. The young couple shared a deep love for nature. Every day they would take a long walk in the forest together. One day while on their walk they were ambushed by a tiger. Although they both fought valiantly, sadly the young woman was killed and dragged off by the tiger.

Heartbroken by the death of his love and ashamed that he could not save her. The young samurai vowed that he would train himself and one day get revenge on the tiger. Knowing that his enemy was very fierce he trained himself diligently in the ways of archery and swordsmanship. Day after day, week after week, and month after month he trained with only one thought in mind, to kill the tiger. Each day after training he grabbed his sword and bow would take a walk along the same path where he and his wife encountered the tiger. Hoping to have a chance at his revenge.

Many months went by and the young samurai was beginning to feel he would never find his nemesis. Until one day while walking he saw in the distance a tiger sleeping beside a tree. Certain that this was the tiger who killed his beloved he slowly and silently drew an arrow. He thought about his wife, their lost dreams and their lost love. With all his love and all his hatred he loosed the arrow. The arrow flew deftly through the air and landed dead center of its target penetrating deeply. Tossing his bow to the side the young samurai drew his sword and moved in to take the head of his enemy. As he moved in closer he was shocked to see that it was not a tiger, it was actually a striped stone. But how was it that an arrow made of bamboo could penetrate stone?

When word of this reached his village everyone asked the young samurai to demonstrate how he could pierce stone with his archery skill. Time and time again he tried but his arrows would always bounce off the stone. As much as he tried he could never repeat the act again.

The moral of the story is that all men (and women) have the ability within themselves to do great things. And although hard training is important, it is the mind and the heart that matter most.

This story is the basis for the ancient proverb …

 “A strong will can pierce stone.”

~ Taganashi

© Copyright Sifu Todd Taganashi 2017

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The Traditional Martial Art Teacher

Since most of my students call me Sifu, I am often asked;

What is a Sifu?

So many times have I been asked this question that I have a well prepared answer. (The following quote is from my website.)

“The word Sifu is written with the Chinese characters 師傅 and  師父. The character 師 means “teacher”, while the meaning of 傅 is “tutor” and the meaning of  父 is “father”. Sifu is a role model; his words and actions represent not only himself and his school, they represent his teacher, and his teacher’s teacher. He is not overbearing or feared by any man nor does he fear any man. His training and understanding brings a peace of mind which can be felt when you are in his presence. In the west most will think that they pay their Sifu for Kung Fu lessons with money and tribute; it is an investment. But the true investment is made by the Sifu in his student.”

But is that it? Are all martial art teachers considered a Sifu?

The criteria for being a martial art teacher is always changing. Generally speaking, a martial art teacher should be an expert of a specific style or method of boxing (unarmed combat), skilled in the use of a wide variety of modern and traditional weapons (specializing in at least one), and he should have (at least) general knowledge of healing, herbal medicine, and philosophy. With these skills and qualities, one could be described as a Sifu (in China), Sensei (in Japan), or Guru (in India).

The second most frequently asked question is;

What is the difference between traditional and modern martial art teachers?

The main difference between traditional martial art teachers and modern martial art teachers should not be measured in movement or combat efficiency. The main difference is that with traditional martial art teachers a large emphasis is placed on the development of character, humbleness, and non-aggressive behavior. Most modern martial art teachers only concentrate on the physical and many teach overly aggressive tactics that very often lead to legal problems for their students who “go too far” in a fight.

If we are to look at martial art schools from a personal development perspective, with self-defense ability as a side benefit, we can draw some basic conclusions concerning the differences. In most modern martial art schools students are taught to take a violent, aggressive approach to personal combat with little or no consideration of how that mindset will transfer into their normal daily lives. I will not get into any personal opinions of the type of character this develops. In contrast, traditional martial arts students are taught to remain calm in combat and to minimize any overly aggressive behavior.

In my core art of Wing Chun Kung Fu many teachers can be accused of teaching their students to be overly aggressive in close combat. They do not understand the deeper meaning behind Wing Chun’s Centerline Concept.

The Centerline Concept is based an imaginary line that runs straight down the center of the body. The theory of protecting one’s own centerline and attacking the opponent’s centerline is the core of most of Wing Chun’s fighting strategy — but it goes further than that. The Centerline Concept also represents the state of mind in which a Wing Chun man seeks to be undisturbed mentally and remaining focused (centered) during a fight, while at the same time forcing his opponent to lose control mentally and become “un-centered.” When the Kung Fu student learns this it will transfer into his everyday life. The results are obvious.

If your teacher or school falls into the category of only teaching fighting, it does not mean that they are bad teachers (or school.) What it means is that there is only a limited knowledge that can be transmitted through this method of teaching. And in the traditional sense these teachers cannot be called a Sifu, Sensei, or Guru. Furthermore as the student grows older the knowledge and skills attained through this method of teaching will eventually dwindle with age. Some will say that MMA and hybrid unarmed combat systems are the new era in martial arts. But I disagree. In this ever changing world, I believe the ways of wisdom, honor, and tradition will always prevail.

~ Taganashi

© Copyright Sifu Todd Taganashi 2017

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Speed is Not Part of the True Way of Strategy

I have seen many Wing Chun Kung Fu demonstrations where through means of hasty speed and aggression the onlooker is meant to be impressed. Attackers are dispatched with a flurry of empty punches in the air. The Wing Chun man attacking like a maniac. And we are supposed to believe that if the punches had connected his opponent would have been easily defeated. Having been in real close combat situations, I know that this is all hype and complete non-sense. And the truth is, this type of kamikaze strategy will most likely get you killed.

Perhaps it is age and experience that leads the expert martial artist to the strategy of “The Calm Mind and Body.” And, the knowing that speed (as it is related to the correlation between himself and the opponent) is a combination of (1) Timing, (2) Movement, and (3) Positioning. This is then combined with an understanding of the rhythm between oneself and the opponent. Speed like this cannot be taught, it can only be experienced.

A quote by Miyamoto Musashi serves to validate my essay. In the words of the famous 16th century military strategist…

“Speed is not part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, according to whether or not they are in rhythm. Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast.”

To explain this better let’s take for example a champion tennis player. They always seem to be in the right place at the right time, moving effortlessly from volley to volley. While at the same time forcing their opponent to hurry back and forth across the court through perfect placement of each ball return. Testing their opponent’s skill and endurance. If we as martial artist can reach this level then obliviously we will see speed as only a prerequisite to power, not a means or strategy to win a fight.

~ Taganashi

© Copyright Sifu Todd Taganashi 2017