This is not exactly the same as Bare Knuckle Boxing as practiced in the contemporary West – but might be nearer to the ‘bare knuckle’ equivalent (under the ‘London Prize Fighting Rules’) practiced in the West prior to the advent of the Queensbury Rules and the implementation of ‘gloved’ fighting (in the late 1800s). Indeed, the further back in time the comparison is taken – the nearer the two forms of combat become – with Western boxing originally involving throwing and kicking, and used as an unarmed augmentation to fighting with staffs, swords and pistols, etc. A book I read in my youth in the UK was entitled ‘Cross-Buttocks and Claret’ - referring to bloody public spectacles of punching, kicking, tripping and throwing!
My father (Peter Wyles) – from the working-class slums of Leicester was taught by his father (Alfred Gregory Wyles 1916-1976) the bare-knuckle style passed-on by his father (Archibald Britton Wyles 1887-1941 – born in Duddington, Northamptonshire). A bolt upright – two-armed affair that relied on a solid and repetitive jab occasionally follow by a straight-right – the closed hand of which would habitually be used to protect the chin when not being thrown (the 'point' of the chin 'sits' in the 'eye' of the closed-fist). Coupled with elaborate foot-work and ‘swaying’ from the hips – no hooks were used. The arms were used like ‘bats’ to ‘catch’ and ‘hit’ away any incoming blows – including head-butts and elbows. Correct-positioning overcame rapid and continuous movement whilst power of punch overcame diversity of punch. I suspect that in an era when people in the West had never encountered Asian martial arts (or ‘French Savate’), the general paradigm around ‘fighting movement’ would have been quite different and premised upon historical Western institutions involving fighting arts and any innovations that had developed out of these entities.
Modern weaponry and service in the professional military (and particularly experiences of combat) may have developed variants and styles of fighting all over the UK. Brutal hand to hand fighting to the death on the battlefield may have ended in unarmed combat when weapons broke, bayonets snapped and ammunition ran-out. Fighting in fairgrounds and outside public house is, of course, a British institution and I have met a number of Romany people in the UK who have been brought-up fighting ‘bare-knuckle’ in what they call the ‘Gypsy Style’! Generally speaking, these Romany people have treated both my Asian and Western martial history with a great respect. As Romany people have had to fight to defend their very existence throughout the years – obviously as a people they have developed a very healthy respect for the fighting arts!
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!
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.