“For the past five thousand years, Chinese martial arts have been renowned for their practical combat effectiveness. However, why do some people deny the practical combat functionality of traditional martial arts today? Why do some individuals directly refer to Chinese traditional martial arts as ‘dance arts’?
The main reason lies in the increasing theatricalization of martial arts, especially in the past few decades.
With the advent of a peaceful life, the practical combat functionality of martial arts has diminished significantly. Since the 1950s, authorities have formulated numerous official martial arts routines that greatly reduced the practical combat aspects of traditional martial arts routines, focusing instead on fitness and performance. These routines were widely promoted by the authorities, fulfilling people’s desire to practice martial arts without causing major social disturbances. This was an inevitable action for the government during peacetime, leading to the degradation of many martial arts into ‘dance arts.’
Moreover, before the liberation era, there were also performances imitating martial arts in the Jianghu (martial arts community). The reason for this was that many martial arts performers faced mostly lay audiences who enjoyed the spectacle of martial arts performances. True martial arts, however, are not easily understood by the layperson. To satisfy the audience and make a living, martial arts performances were often accompanied by elements of ‘dance arts.’
Another reason for the emergence of ‘dance arts’ lies in the transmission of martial arts. When a true martial arts master encountered someone who was not supposed to receive the teachings but needed to be taught, they often resorted to superficially instructing routines, leading to cases where skilled combatants were trained in superficial ‘dance arts.’ For example, Yang Luchan taught Tai Chi Chuan to influential individuals in the capital, which falls into this category.
All these reasons have led many people to be dazzled by the superficial aspects of martial arts, combined with the prevalence of martial arts in wuxia novels and action films, while authentic martial arts are rarely seen, leading to misunderstandings.
In fact, authentic traditional martial arts routines were created out of the need for transmission and survival in combat. From the basic to advanced levels, they are all designed with combat effectiveness in mind. The essence of training in traditional martial arts routines is training for real combat. These routines are an essential carrier of true martial arts, and basic training is often the beginning of practical techniques, intricately tied to real combat.
To explain this point, we need to understand a common sense: everything follows certain rules, and fighting is no exception. When an untrained person gets into a fight, they usually throw a punch with a simple action: raising their hand and striking the opponent. For those who don’t know martial arts, this is a practical punch. If the opponent is also untrained, they may get hit by this punch, and some might even lose the ability to continue the fight, while others might counter with another punch or engage in a grappling encounter. This is the simplest, most common, and most primitive form of fighting.
Now let’s talk about basic martial arts routines in true traditional martial arts. Every person who has come into contact with these authentic martial arts schools knows and practices these moves; the difference lies in whether they have received authentic transmission and undergone scientific training.
Here’s an example: Practitioners of Wing Chun Kung Fu all learn the basic technique of ‘Bong Sau’ (Wing Arm). When properly applied, a ‘Bong Sau’ nullifies an opponent’s punch. Tai Chi practitioners can suppress the opponent’s hand with only half of their starting movement. Those who practice natural-style ‘Nei Quan Shou’ (Inner Circle Hands) can control an opponent’s life and death with just half of a circular motion. If you’ve just started training in Xing Yi Quan, you will likely use a ‘Gou Shou Xia Cuo’ (Hook Hand Downward Thrust), rendering the opponent defenseless. If you have studied authentic Shaolin Kung Fu, you can throw a ‘Wai Gua’ (Outer Circle) after a while, making your opponent powerless. If you have spent a few days learning real Wudang boxing, then you can effortlessly neutralize an opponent with an ‘Yin Shou’ (Yin Hand) technique. Additionally, there are early forms of martial arts such as the Police Combat Boxing, Emei, Bagua, etc., which I won’t elaborate on here. The examples mentioned above, except for the early Police Combat Boxing routines, are all basic entry-level routines in traditional martial arts.
In a civil dispute, after executing such a move, the fight usually comes to an end. The following steps, such as how to deal with the opponent next, are all explained in each martial art’s basic training, so there’s no need for me to elaborate further. If the opponent still wants to fight after taking this initial hit, then it’s no one’s fault but theirs.
If someone is skeptical, I suggest they observe or try it out for themselves. Most people, who are not familiar with professional martial arts training, prefer this kind of fighting. Those fundamental moves in traditional martial arts routines, once taught and transmitted properly by real masters, become like conditioned reflexes, allowing even those who have only practiced them for three to five days to use them instinctively for self-defense.
Perhaps someone might ask: “You are fighting against a live opponent, won’t they react?” Well, let me tell you, as long as the opponent is not a professionally trained martial artist, not from a military or police background, and not someone who frequently engages in fights, once they miss the first punch, they become a sitting duck in front of someone who has received professional martial arts training (even if that person has only trained for three to five days). They won’t have time to react. If, by any chance, they do manage to respond, then you’re out of luck; you’re facing a martial arts prodigy, akin to how many people idolize Bruce Lee.
These moves are meant for fighting, even real-life life-and-death battles. For modern kickboxing matches, they don’t hold much significance. Anyone with some understanding of fighting will see that while these moves can determine your survival in a street fight, they won’t necessarily determine the outcome of a competition. This is a significant reason why true traditional martial arts are rarely seen in modern kickboxing competitions.
Every move in traditional martial arts routines is designed for real combat situations. It’s impossible to exhaustively list all examples. Traditional martial arts routines are the result of the wisdom of countless predecessors, and each move was created for combat.
In short, true traditional martial arts routines are specialized training for various types of combat and life-or-death encounters. Again, for those who have the opportunity to receive authentic traditional martial arts routines: If you practice just three to five sets of routines well, even if you are not skilled in fighting, you will be able to defend yourself and overcome your enemies.”