Everything that needs to be said can be seen in this photograph. Those who are suitably 'aware' and who have developed genuine self-respect - will treat others with respect and understand the true 'essence' of Hakka Gongfu! We train in old warring arts that would not work on the modern battlefield simply because they are out of date. Great martial skill could be wiped-out in a second even by a stray bullet! We train to uproot greed, hatred and delusion, so that warfare does not arise a) in the mind, and b) in the environment. This means we train to create, establish and maintain genuine peace in the world! Chinese culture evolved out of the requirement to 'fight' on the one hand (in 'self-defence') and develop the personality to the highest psychological, emotional and spiritual level possible. This is why Confucianism and Daoism include warriorhood within spirituality. Technically speaking, Buddha advises that ALL violence be given-up but the reality of the matter is that if certain groups of Buddhist monks and nuns had not 'defended' their temples from external attack - their temples (and very probably 'Buddhism' as a whole) would have been wiped-out in China! This is not to say that violence is 'right' or 'preferred' - but rather an acknowledge that Chinese society (and most societies in the world) need to evolve to a higher level of reality so that violence can nolonger exist or flourish!
Combative interaction can occur in a myriad of ways. It can be psychological, emotional and/or physical. Intense combat can involve all three realms of existence. This is a serious situation where the ‘immediacy’ of the threat generates the inherent danger! Relaxation, awareness and superior positioning is the way to meet these challenges in the physical world. How this unfolds is dependent entirely upon an individual’s experience and the style they have been practicing for decades. Spiritual maturity is defined as the ease with which a person occupies their mind and body, and their ability to predict aggression and quickly counter ‘shock’. This is how the Master makes what is hard for most people appear to be ‘easy’. In other words, this is unhindered ability of an individual to come to terms with ‘change’ (易 - Yi4). In other words, a traditional Chinese martial artist, regardless of style or lineage, should make a point of studying the ‘Classic of Change’ (易經 - Yi Jing). This study should be ongoing, deep and profound. Furthermore, it should be free of all profit-seeking and worldly limitations. No one can ‘tell’ you how to understand this text and you must take responsibility for your own understanding of it.
What does ‘易’ (yi4) mean? The upper particle is ‘日‘ (ri4) is the Moon that lights up the Earth through its reflection of the Sun! This probably refers to a light in the darkness or a cultivated light which dispels darkness (the exact definition of the Sanskrit term ‘Guru’). The bottom particle is ‘勿’ (wu4) which composed of the left sub-particle of ‘刀’ (dao1) or ‘blade’ and the right sub-particle of ‘𠚣’ (dao1) or ‘dripping blood’. When placed together, these two sub-particles generate ‘勿’ (wu4) which literally depicts ‘blood dripping from a blade’. As a distinct character, this ideogram appears on the Shang Oracle Bones (c. 1766 to 1122 BCE) and was used as a ‘warning’ ‘not to do something’, ‘not to carry-out a specific action’, or to ‘stop doing what has already been done’. The emphasis is from ‘movement’ to ‘stillness’. Within modern (everyday) Chinese language use, ‘勿’ (wu4) is used to refer to the word and concept that denotes ‘no’ as opposed to ‘yes’.
When combined, and taking all this data into consideration, ‘易’ (yi4) seems to imply a situation where once there was difficulty (勿 - Wu) - but this difficult situation is transformed into its opposite by the presence of ‘日‘ (ri4) - which is the Moon that lights-up the entire landscape through its glow! What was previously ‘hard’ is now made ‘easy’ by a ‘change’ of circumstance. When beneficial ‘change’ is experienced, it is generally the case that actions that were once ‘blocked’ or ‘hindered’ now become ‘open’ and ‘free-flowing’. This explanation demonstrates how the ideogram ‘易’ (yi4) can simultaneously mean both ‘easy’ and ‘change’. However, another version of this ideogram is ‘蜴’ (yi4). It is related and exists within the same series as ‘易 (yi4)’. The difference is that this version - ‘蜴’ (yi4) - has the extra left-hand particle of ‘虫’ (chong2) which refers to a dangerous, venomous snake, or a similar type of animal or insect.
When expressed as ‘蜴’ (yi4) - this ideogram takes on the meaning of a ‘lizard’ which can adapt its outer skin to ‘blend-in’ with the ever-changing environment (I.e., a ‘chameleon’). This type of lizard knows how to ‘not stand out’ and how to ‘achieve things’ in an ‘effortless’ and ‘unassuming’ manner. As the external temperature changes – so does the pigmentation arrangement of the Lizard’s skin. As a means of temperature control – the lizard also manages to remain ‘unseen’ as an evolutionary by-product. An advanced practitioner of martial arts can adapt to the physical environment in a manner that preserves his or her life, and which removes greed, hatred and delusion from the mind (and body) of the opponent. When this type of change is mastered in every position, a practitioner literally seems to perceptually ‘disappear’ as they no longer react in a dualistic manner. There is no one to chase and no one to hit...
I was recently asked (by a prominent [British] Muay Thai practitioner) to write a short text about the cultural differences between ‘Western’ Thai Boxers when compared with ethnic ‘Thai’ Muay Thai counter-parts. He was particularly interested in the different cultural patterns of ‘effort’ that are in effect in the Thai Boxing ring in Thailand. He explained to me that he knows full well that many dedicated and very respectful Westerners travel to Thailand to compete in ethnic Thai Boxing competitions (not ‘adjusted’ to the sensitivities of the international community) - and as soon as they step-off the aeroplane suffer the beginnings of a psychological collapse and the development of tremendous feelings of doubt!
Furthermore, despite bravery and stoicism – as soon as the ‘smiling’ Muay Thai Warriors the ring and being the traditional ‘Ram Muay Wai Kru’ - an ancient ritual of respect that praise the Hindu God – Rama – as well as the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – a very strong sense of ‘alienation’ manifests. This sense of ‘cultural’ distinction is made even more pronounced as the Thai practitioner also ‘praises’ his or her family ancestors, parents, teachers and fellow students, etc. Perhaps this is one of its main purposes. This ‘dance’ is in fact a ‘secret’ martial art that only true Muay Thai Masters know how to interpret and use in combat. Muay Thai Masters have told me that it is a Thai manifestation of ‘internal’ martial art similar to the Taijiquan of China – which is often performed nowadays to ‘music’ as is the ‘Ram Muay’ (this is the shortened title my ethnic Thai friends us who live in the Warwick area of the UK).
I have had the privilege to train in the UK with students of Master Sken and Master Toddy over the years – despite never meeting these two experts in person. When some of these practitioners have passed through Sutton (South London) - they have come into our gongfu training hall on Sunday mornings and we have worked together. They have always been respectful, tough and very dedicated. Other than this contact with Muay Thai, my family frequent the Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon, and on occasion, the Forest Hermitage (Wat Santidhamma) in Warwickshire – both of which serve the British ethnic Thai population and the Theravada Buddhism they practice. Years ago, when I lived in Hereford, I sparred full-on with ethnic Thai visitors and I was impressed with their ‘relaxed’ attitude and ‘fierce’ manifestation when fighting! I was inspired by how they live and breathe Buddhism first and foremost – and throw punches and kicks only after they have learned the Buddha’s Teaching fully! This is why I often seek-out special Theravada Bhikkhus living in the Buddhist temples in the UK. Unlike in the Thai villages and forests – this is not a common occurrence in the UK – but occasionally I get lucky!
I have also discovered that the Head Monks are often reticent to discuss this issue in the temple due to many Westerners developing the wrong attitude about Buddhism and Muay Thai. The way this works is that if the Head Monk wanted Westerners to learn Muay Thai – he would make its presence known and organise access. When I have discovered Muay Thai practice in the Buddhist temples – it has always been by mistake. This has also included incidents of special ‘tattooing’ sessions – whereby ‘sacred’ images and spiritually empowered mantras are ‘tapped’ into the skin – using a pointed-bone and coloured ink... These marks are considered ‘sacred’ and ‘divine’ as they grant the carrier with special spiritual powers. Interestingly, when I asked the Head Monk about how a person should begin their practice of Muay Thai? He answered that I should read the Pali Suttas about ‘correct breathing’, and about ‘stilling the mind’ - whilst living in an isolated meditation hut for at least three-years. Without this foundation of ‘Dhamma’ - I was told – I cannot practice ‘genuine’ Muay Thai.
It is best (or most advantageous) to perfect martial movement during the first half of your life – say aged 0-50 years – and then use that experience to integrate with the changes that happen to the mind and body from 50-100 years, etc. This is the ideal model. However, many people are not in a position to achieve this for various reason, and so a more serious attitude of self-organisation is required. The distractions of youth are interesting and enjoyable, but even when young there should be an inner core of training-attitude that is isolated from the worldly life. This oasis of peace, quiet, tranquillity and harmony will allow for the development of a deep and profound state of mind, the awareness of which will thoroughly ‘penetrate’ all aspects of bodily movement within the martial context. This is the traditional way which becomes ever more important the older a practitioner becomes. Do not become distracted by the ego-accomplishments of worldly-markers as these things, although interesting within their own context, do not give you any understanding or ability to cope with the ageing process. Those who become enmeshed in worldly concern may win this medal, that belt or this competition, etc, and although there is nothing inherently wrong with this, many people involved in such a superficial path simply ‘stop’ training at around 30 years of age because no one ever taught them about ‘what happens next’. If a practitioner must become involved in combat-derived competition, participate quickly, prevail swiftly and leave, as there are much more important martial elements to master.
Form movement is the key to mind, body and environmental mastery. A Form passes on the physical and psychological aspects of the martial lineage concerned. Intense practice when young allows for the dialectical elements of training to continue to permeate (and penetrate) the body and mind long after physical practice has ceased. The physical movements coupled with their reflection in the mind generate spiralling cycles of growth throughout the body-cells that eventually continues even outside of times of formal training. Ageing happens for a reason, and has many positive elements to it, as even young people age. With age comes maturity, experience, understanding, mastery, appreciation, wisdom, compassion, loving-kindness and selflessness. There is a certain ‘joy’ to giving-up the tyranny associated with youth! The other side is that physical abilities change. Within youth orientated societies it is said that abilities are ‘lost’, but this is not entirely true. It is better to say that physical abilities ‘change’, ‘evolve’ and ‘mature’, and manifest in a manner that is ‘different’ from that of the mindless years of youth.
Chinese martial arts are an interesting subject that has historically emerged from within Chinese historical experience. If a barracks, community, homestead or temple, etc, is attacked by a ruthless enemy, then everyone (men, women and children) are expected to ‘resist’ in one way or another, irrespective of ‘age’ (at least within Hakka Chinese family tradition). Between times of communal self-defence, people practiced the movements of martial forms to a) keep-fit and healthy (through preventative exercise), b) to perfect martial technique (i.e. retain ‘grace under pressure’ during intense combat experience), and c) deepen psychological and emotional maturity (or what might be more broadly referred to as developing a more profound sense of ‘spirituality’). Although there are numerous stages that an individual must traverse throughout their life, a paradox occurs whereby an elderly master moves with both ‘lightness’ and ‘speed’, whilst retaining massive striking-power with any part of the body that happens to make contact with the opponent. A mature practitioner knows how to correctly and appropriately ‘give things up’ without losing strength of mind or suffering any kind of detrimental reaction. Certainly, as the ageing process unfolds, the ‘physicality’ of youth is slowly replaced with the ‘psychological’ awareness of maturity.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.