Welcome to The Palace Guard, the tai chi chuan and martial arts blog for intelligent martial practitioners. As the blog develops, I hope to feature other writers with a fresh take on the martial arts and related subjects. For now, I hope you enjoy my posts: feel free to leave comments, or email me at the address available on the profile.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Shaolin and Wudang

Recently, In the spirit of martial camaraderie I accepted an invitation to train with some Shaolin chaps for an evening. I had gone along, mouthguard in bag, expecting some sparring, but we kept it quite mild-mannered and focused on some martial drills instead. The key to these seemed to be stances, mainly based on quite a wide and deep step which is somewhat different to my usual ambivalent stance. These stances were used to generate extra power, something which we don't pay too much mind to in our approach, beyond using the right mechanics  for the job (and perhaps conditioning). The long stance did indeed feel powerful, but also slightly immobile and ripe for sweeping. There were similarities also, with both Seven Stars and Nine Palace Stepping being part of the Shaolin repertoire, albeit under different names. The drills were lively and energetic, and utilised a range of punches from angles different to those I am used to, but my "kickboxing"(!) approach to them seemed to serve me well enough.
The martial approach of these fellows seems to be "quickly in, quickly out", a kind of sniping approach if you will. Sifu Tim was able to demonstrate some great combos and evasions. By contrast, our Tai Chi way is more akin to throwing a weighted net over someone, or like a cloud of bees that you just can't get away from.
It was interesting to me that the teacher referred to my movements variously as "kickboxing", "boxing", "bagua" but never "tai chi". In fact he was of the opinion that, of all the things they teach in their particular Shaolin syllabus, the Tai Chi would be the one I'd most benefit from, which only goes to say that our ideas about what Tai Chi is are rather different.
The main difference really is in the approach: these Shaolin soldiers were training for the ring, whereas in our Tai Chi, we are inspired by the notion of usage in  "real" martial situations.

Thanks to Tim, Jon and Rich for a great evening, huzzah for the Shaolin style!

Sunday 18 March 2012

The Samurai Game©: a Daimyo's reflections

Of all the roles in the Samurai Game© , I was quite, quite certain that the only one I definitely didn't want was that of daimyo, the leader of the clan. So, when, after much change and hesitation, the other members of my clan silently lined up in front of me to indicate their choice of leader, I was filled with horror and surprise , but perhaps too a little gratification.
I won't go into to much detail about the rules of the Game out of respect for its integrity, and so that those who go on to do it afterwards don't have too many preconceptions. But let me make it clear: the way that the Game is set up makes it feel very real. Once I had welcomed my samurai to the clan, the challenges started in earnest. Initially, fate was on our side and we didn't suffer any deaths for a short time. But then, the tide turned and the deaths started to pile up. Warriors eager to prove their mettle rushed into the fray, only to be killed and find that, even in death, they were racked with disappointment, frustration and grief. One of my clan said that, whilst dead, she couldn't get over the feeling that her soul would be stuck in limbo as she couldn't let the manner of her death go, she couldn't let it pass. There were also moments of great beauty: one of my samurai gave a great poetry reading, but then killed himself in deference to the spirit of his opponent's reading. A champion from each clan was selected at one point, and there was held an epic twenty-minute long battle of endurance and heart, which was proclaimed an honourable draw.
Every decision I made had an immeditate tangible effect: at the start I had to choose a sentry, a role which requires the utmost mental vigour. Whoever was chosen would battle with themselves and the Game. I made the decision many times to send someone to a battle which both I and they knew they would lose.  I saw my clan furiously try to assert their strengths, only to be challenged on their weaknesses: when they could turn the odds, though, there was cause for somber celebration.
In the end, all my samurai fell. I sent the sentry in for his one and only challenge, for which he'd waited the whole war. He lost, and I was left to face the enemy daimyo and her clan alone. We met on the field of battle and she fell. Her clan chose to kill themselves rather than ally with me, with the exception of one, and so it was that only we two were left alive to savour the rather bitter taste of victory.

If you wish to find your edge, to step into another world of life and death, I heartily recommend this great Game which I know will stay with me for a long time. Advice? Enter wholeheartedly and there will be a victory of sorts. Only it may not feel like it.

Friday 16 March 2012

The Samurai Game©: prologue

Tomorrow this Palace Guard goes to play The Samurai Game©, the famed training tool developed by the late and great George Leonard. I really have no ideas what to expect, and I'm trying hard to lay aside my pre-conceptions, which I'm finding impossible. It might be better just to play  with my preconceptions fully in place...
I always want to "do things well". This self-evidently has its positive sides, but the negative sides are pretty strong. It means I worry a lot about how I should be in any given situation. I feel I need to be impressive, and that is quite a lot of pressure to live under. Undoubtedly, the Game will poke at this tendency and a whole lot besides...
I will give a full debrief upon my return, although I'm under the impression that they like people to keep the details private. I shall abide by whatever they say. Until tomorrow then...