In the West, Asian martial arts have been thoroughly commercialised and converted from a battlefield spiritual art – into a vehicle for making money. The instructors ‘sell’ their knowledge to classes of students – with an emphasis upon a very narrow definition of ‘self-defence’ (in the UK, many such teachers attempt to relate to their students by assuming they are in a pub on a Saturday night – and another drinker ‘starts looking at your bird’ and such other laughable narratives! In other words, the ancient martial arts of the East are taught to students in the contemporary West as a method to ‘defend’ themselves from attacks from other Westerners in a social (leisure) setting! Teachers of this type tend to cultivate a ‘cult of personality’ mentality throughout their school, which suggests that their art contains some sought of ‘mystical’ core that grants invincibility to each practitioner, and certain defeat to all those who are unlucky to confront it!
Ironically, I have been shown evidence of so-called ‘contracts’ signed by students when setting-up their monthly bank payments to the instructor. In the small print a disclaimer reads ‘The ‘student’ acknowledges that the movements taught are for guidance only, a may not be effective in any position of ‘self-defence’ - and that the instructor has no liability whatsoever for the well-being of the student.’ A lawyer-friend of mine advises that such contracts and ‘clauses’ are common-place nowadays in the martial arts scene which tends to target large classes of young children – where the training is sold to parents as ‘play’! The teachers do not care about the psychological, physical or spiritual well-being of their students, as the individuals concerned exist only to generate income and pay the bills.
In the expensive leisure centres, for example, the martial arts are sold as ego-trips for well-off and very rich! These people like to pretend that for the duration of the lessons they are legitimate martial arts fighters, when in reality the classes are designed around retaining their comfort levels in an air-conditioned room, with movements that do not go beyond a light cardiovascular workout. Each lesson is a self-contained episode as there is no guarantee that the ‘clients’ will be back next week! There is no continuation, but only the repeating of the myth of a deficient self-empowerment that occurs within one of the safest and crime-free environments on earth! The teacher must alter everything and change whatever the clients want changed to keep their attention levels up and to keep them coming back for more (whilst paying the ridiculous membership fees)!
Should a student progress in their martial arts practice and attend long enough for the teacher to take their presence seriously, he or she may well be considered suitable for participating in martial sports. This is a safe type of combat within which neither of the participants actually hit one another – but purposely throw-out their arms and legs to empty air in the direction of the opponent! He who throws enough such techniques is declared the ‘winner’ and the instructor’s school receives all the kudos for this success (hence the interest shown in the student by the teacher). Then there are the mixed martial artists who roll around on the floor in one-on-one bouts – each trying to ‘submit’ the other. In some versions, kicking and punching is also allowed during ‘stand-up’ periods to excite the fee-paying crowd! Although presented as the ‘best’ type of martial arts, modern militaries do not use this type of fighting simply because it does not work in reality (on the battlefield).
Legitimate Asian martial arts do exist. They exist in Asia and they exist in the West but they are well-hidden behind the thick blanket of highly commercialised martial arts. If a sincere student genuinely seeks-out a proper martial arts teacher, it is highly likely that they will be drawn into something very similar to what is described above. In fact, given the current conditions, such a scenario is virtually inevitable. In such a situation it is better to make the best of what is on offer in the outside whilst retaining you own inner freedom. It is a matter of bidding your time until you encounter what you are really looking for. Until that time, adaptability is the key to ongoing development. Understanding a situation does not mean that you have to be in conflict with it. It is better to remain quiet and meaning onto a situation and breathe new life into it. Traditional Chinese martial arts do exist, but they are difficult to find and even more difficult to enter!
Advanced martial arts practice is ethereal even though it involves the movement of the body. In fact, moving the body is basic gongfu training, a mastery of which should be gained in one’s youth if possible. When the body ‘ages’ - a practitioner does not want the problem of mastering martial technique whilst coming to terms with how ‘ageing’ changes the mind and body. Knowing how to stand, fall, get-up, moving, kick, punch, block and evade, etc, are foundational issues that must be thoroughly absorbed into the deepest levels of the mind and body well before middle-age is reached. Of course, this is not always the case, as some people take-up the practice of traditional Chinese martial arts late in life – but with regards the more robust and rugged ‘external’ techniques – youthful practice is preferred. This is why many older people (with no previous experience) start their martial arts training through one of the ‘internal’ arts – which are a product of an ‘advanced’ and ‘mature’ mind-set.
On the other hand, if an individual is able to build 20-30 years of training prior to hitting 40-50 years of age – then the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and inner organs have all had time to experience a ‘hardening’ process over-time - and are far more ‘robust’ whilst the individual traverses into older age. Probably the greater reason for early martial arts practice is that the ability to produce massive (internal and external) impact power (with minimum) effort must be mastered before the body transitions into older age. This observation does not mean that older people cannot achieve this ability later in their life – but to already possess this devastating power is one less burden – particularly as we may also have far more responsibilities as mature people than the average young person. However, with the right type of instruction from a genuine Master, anyone of any age can ‘master’ gongfu regardless of circumstances. Motivation is the key to it all.
The mind must be ‘still’ and ‘expansive’. Its psychic fabric must be simultaneously ‘empty’ and yet ‘envelop’ all things without exception! Although there is much experimentation in the West with the physical techniques of the many (and varied) gongfu styles – very few practitioners are interested in the spiritual or higher psychological aspects of traditional Chinese martial arts. This is because gongfu has been taught the wrong way around in the West to suit the cultural bias of the fee-paying audience. Whereas in China kicking is learned before punching – in the West punching is taught before kicking (because of the influence of Western Boxing). Whereas in China a gongfu practitioner learns to stand still and to stand ‘solid’ whilst defending the ten directions – in the West students are taught to move around before being taught how to ‘stand still’ (this is because Western students do not understand the important of achieving inner and outer ‘stillness’). Whereas in China gongfu student learn to ‘relax’ before assuming postures – in the West students are taught to ‘stretch’ using yoga-like techniques (mostly unknown in China). Whereas students in China learn to ‘strike’ various wooden objects to condition the bones of the hands and feet – in the West, students are encouraged to hit ‘soft’ pads that give a false impression of what it is like to hit a ‘real’ body! In the West, the mind is ‘entertained’ as a means to secure continued fee-paying through class attendance – whilst in China the Master continuously looks for new ways of ‘testing’ the virtue of the student and for any reason to ‘expel’ them from the training hall!
All this ‘inversion’ must be remedied if the highest levels of spiritual and physical mastery are to be achieved. This has nothing to do with rolling around on a padded floor wearing padded-gloves – and everything to do with ‘looking within’ to refine the flow of internal energy. The awareness of the mind must permeate every cell of the physical body whilst the practitioner sits correctly in the meditation posture. What else is there? When advanced practitioners ascend to a certain age of maturity, reality has nothing to do with the ego pursuit of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ in petty disputes that ultimately mean nothing. Most of the combat sports of the moment are fleeting and exist merely to make money – and they are ineffective on the modern battlefield and not practiced by the military! The final lesson is to ‘leave the body’ with the minimum of fuss when the time presents itself. In a very real sense, a genuine Master of martial arts has ‘already’ transcended the boundaries of material limitation whilst still living. This sense of ‘completion’ and ‘transcendence’ is what draws the already perceptive into his or her presence to receive instruction...
Living in a second floor flat in London – and given that we are a family that collectively practices a style of (traditional) Chinese Martial Arts – much of daily training has to take place within our living-room! Obviously, with over a year of Covid19 Lockdowns – training in the ‘safety’ of our own home has been an important part of our collective psychological well-being and physical health! As part of our Longfist family style of gongfu requires the procuring and maintenance of the ‘heavy-hitting’ related with this ancient martial art – striking a suitable object on a regular basis is an important and integral part of our training regime!
We had to ensure that the free-standing punch-kick bag we chose could a) with stand the power of our kicks, punches, knees and elbows, etc, and b) not ‘fall-over’ as a consequence of being repeatedly and intensely hit. Having now used this product for over a month – subjecting its structure to every kind of martial arts strike imaginable – we are very happy with its performance, design and durability, particularly as we filled it with ‘water’ rather than sand (as we couldn’t go shopping due to Lockdown). The water has worked perfectly satisfactorily and it must be assumed that if sand is used – the already present stability will be even more enhanced!
The striking surface of the bag is tough and ‘non-leather’ - as we are vegetarians – this was an important factor in us making our choice. The bag sits atop four coach-type suspension springs that allow the bag to suddenly move off the centre-line – and re-establish itself just as quickly in the neutral, upright position! When this bag is affixed to the moulded (heavy-duty) plastic base – the structure stands around 6 foot 4 inches tall. As we have trained in the past on the ‘Muk Yen’ (Wooden Dummy) and hit the Makiwawa (of Okinawan Gojo Ryu Karate) - the quality of impact of this device lies somewhere between the two. It has a ‘whiplash’ within its deep structure which ensures it certainly is NOT too soft – with its robust response ensuring the bones, ligaments, joints and muscles of the striking limbs are kept in optimum health. This is one of the aspects that surprised us most – as we are used to striking a hard-wood surface with bare hands and feet. I suspect this bag has been devised in Japan for the practice of hard-hitting traditional Karate styles and is impressive.
This is a very well designed, constructed and presented piece of essential (traditional) martial arts equipment. Like any ‘professional’ grade striking device – expert instruction is required to avoid any type of impact-injury. After training this device can be pushed into a convenient corner for storage. As we have young children (and pets) wandering around our flat – ‘safety’ has been a priority – and this bag will not fall over when ALL the safety instructions are followed correctly. Even our young children enjoy punching and kicking this bag – and as we guide them properly – they do not experience any superficial damage to their hands or feet. However, a big and strong man or woman experienced in ‘striking’ - they soon learn that you ‘get back’ all the effort you put out! An all-round excellent product!
Author’s Note: I have had the honour to train and spar with a number of very tough and yet very relaxed Muay Thai fighters over the years! All have been hardened fighters with a gentle spirit and respectful spirit. Muay Thai fighters (along with Goju Ryu Karate men) are amongst the few opponents in the world that I can trust with me hitting them ‘full-power’ with ungloved-hands during free-fighting. In return, their blows are sharp, powerful, decisive and repetitive! I have the utmost respect for this Thai Buddhist martial art! ACW (5.5.2021)
The deep-rooted foundation of Muay Thai – or ‘Thai Boxing’ - do not lie in the brightly and well-funded gymnasia of the modern Thai city, but exist in the poorest areas of the jungles and the remotest of Thai villages. Depending on where the art is still practiced, Muay Thai is often linked to an ancient local Buddhist Temple – with esteemed Buddhist bhikkhus (monks) acting as the instructors and preservers of the tradition. The cultural basis of Muay Thai represents the psychological and physical reality of what it historically means to be born ‘Thai’. Thai Boxing is form of ritual veneration for the Buddha, the Dhamma and Sangha – as well as the King of Thailand, the government and the Thai people. As a consequence, Muay Thai has no other purpose in its most traditional form.
Muay Thai is much more than preparing a fighter to compete in the modern ring. Muay Thai is a fully-fledged medieval military art designed to train Asian infantrymen as they advance into battle escorting battle-elephants (the infantry ‘protects’ the vulnerable underbellies of the elephant from enemy attack, etc). The male and female warriors are psychologically and physically ‘toughened’ so to produce effective and hardened soldiers fit to fight in prolonged hand-to-hand engagements on the battlefield. Through harsh and brutal training all day long – the mind is ‘calmed’ and ‘purified’ so that all greed, hatred and delusion are uprooted and eradicated in accordance with the Buddhist Vinaya Discipline. This is why a Muay Thai warrior is a ‘Buddhist’ warrior to venerates and applied the Buddha’s Teachings (‘Dhamma’) in every facet of his or her life. This activity is regulated by the educated eyes of the Sangha (or the ‘community of ordained Buddhist monks’).
We Take Refuge in the Buddha!
We Take Refuge in the Dhamma!
We Take Refuge in the Sangha!
We Take Refuge in the Triple Gem!
This is the ritualistic vow that every Muay Thai warrior repeats with a total and complete devotion early every morning as they rise from their simple straw mat which they use as a ‘bed’. After toileting and drinking a little water – the daily training begins by running two or three miles at a steady pace around the temple and local villages. The pace is slow but steady. Speed is not the purpose – but rather stamina, strength and endurance. Rubbing the shins and fore-arms with wooden rolling-pin type devices slowly develops into the anatomical weapons being sharply ‘struck’ by these heavy objects (at the advanced level – this includes striking different parts of the skull). This leads to rope-work (or ‘skipping) to work-up a sweat before body-conditioning begins.
After working on the strengthening of the bones it is time to strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Different Masters use different types of sit-ups, squat-kicks, back-raises, press-ups and loosening and stretching exercises. Relaxation coupled with strength and endurance is emphasised. All this voluntary suffering is designed to ‘burn-off’ the bad Kamma produced in the endless previous lives that have been lived by these Buddhist warriors. Next is the technique of striking, blocking, kicking, punching, head-butting and elbowing, etc. This includes groin-kicking and how to defend against groin-attacks. Devastating knee-attacks delivered at various (and unpredictable angles) are used to break ribs and paralyse the diaphragm of an opponent. This progresses to many different kinds of pad-work and bag-striking. Some bags are full of sand and others of small stones and the fighters must learn to punch and kick each with no injury or loss of stamina or will-power.
This leads to various forms of ‘sparring’ in the ring either with or without gloves. Nowadays, even the most traditional Muay Thai training temples usually ‘wrap’ the fighter’s hands early in the morning – although there are some traditional ‘hand-toughening’ exercises that involve punching trees, blocks of wood and various other objects. The hands are then treated with special (traditional) medicine. As violence is prohibited within Buddhism – greed. Hatred and delusion must be uprooted through long hours of seated mediation (usually in the evenings) and the reading of the Buddha’s Suttas. This distinctly ‘Buddhist’ training is the true foundation of Muay Thai and is the hidden conditioning ingredient to all the martial technique that this art involves.
Most people outside of Thailand only encounter the kick-boxing element of Muay Thai performed in a modern boxing ring. Traditional Muay Thai is fought on a raised stone disc or dais (after each performs a ritualised martial dance to the Hindu God Rama and the and the Buddha) Fighters have their hands wrapped by a thin and course rope (not Western bandage-wraps). Sometimes the hand-wraps are dip in a type of glue and then dipped into broken-glass – depending on the purpose of the fight. A rattan ring is worn around the top of the head as a form of skull-protection from the powerful round-kicks delivered with bare-feet, etc. For the King of Thailand, not only are his most trusted bodyguards all advanced Muay Thai warriors – but at least two specialise in the technique of double-swordsmanship incase a traditional ‘beheading’ is required of a convicted criminal.
As the Muay Thai warriors hold the status of ordained Buddhist monks – all are ‘celibate’ whilst they live and train in the Muay Thai Temple. There is no mixing with females allowed and certainly no girlfriends, or wives, etc. When not engaged in the actual physical training of Muay Thai – such a warrior-monk is expected to engage in studying the Buddhist Suttas, meditating, cleaning the temple and humbly serving the monks, etc. As they start training and fighting as young as 5 or 6-years old, a Muay Thai fighter could well in excess of two-hundred fights by the time he or she is 25-years old! Unless a Muay Thai fighter ‘retires’ and leaves his or her status as a Buddhist warrior monk – there can be no relationships with the opposite sex allowed.
Muay Thai is an ancient martial art that has been adapted to the modern, Western-boxing ring very well. I am of the opinion that it is one of the best all-round striking, grappling and throwing martial arts in the world today, that has retained its deep spiritual roots in modern times. Westerners, by comparison, possess a psychology and physicality that is all incorrect for Muay Thai. They do not possess the deep Thai cultural connection to the Buddha or to Buddhist culture. They have no understanding of Buddhism or any respect for the Dhamma, the Sangha or the Thai King. They know nothing about quietening the mind and uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. They think and move like a Western-boxer from a Judeo-Christian culture that has ‘secularised’.
This mentality is shot-through with the capitalist ideology and a one-sided effort defeats a multisided foundation. Westerners place all their and determination in the wrong place (as can be seen from the above video). When confronted with the best Muay Thai Masters – they incorrectly believe that if they just try harder – their inappropriate manifestation will somehow ‘work’ despite never working in the past during similar situations. They employ a lateral determination against the ‘deep’ and ‘profound’ training of a celibate Muay Thai warrior monk – as this is the case – why should they win? Why should this disrespectful and entirely incorrect interpretation of the Asian martial art of Muay Thai be allowed to succeed? This is where Western notions of ‘effort’ fall flat on their face – with no sympathy from me!
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.