The video series you are about to watch is a walk through of some of our in-the-moment fun and research. I, (Marin Spivack), am at the time these videos were made a 22 year practitioner, 20th gen. tudi of Chenyu, and teacher of Chen Taijiquan. I have absolutely zero experience or exposure to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or any other trained ground-fighting method, and have never actually practiced it with anyone before one week prior to the filming of this video. My partner, and student (in Taijiquan) in this case had a background in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu of about 2 years of very regular training and probably the level of an advanced white belt.
This exchange was initiated impromptu based solely on a question, “How can Chen Taijiquan/tuishou methods be employed in ground-fighting?” A year or two previously I had casually mentioned that tuishou skills used in standup grappling etc translate easily to ground application based on some very casual experiences I had in the past. I never followed up on this statement, but my student as I remember, out of the blue revisited the question and asked me to explain that comment from a year or so back as it related related to his background. I was about to answer and just figured, hey, let’s try it out instead. The results were so interesting he suggested we should video it, and so the next week without any rehearsal or preparation, we did. The result are the videos that you will see.
This work and videos are not in any way attempting to claim Chen Taijiquan supremacy in ground-fighting. It is also not in any way an attempt to claim my own efficacy in ground-fighting, nor any fighting. It is also not intending to make any negative comment about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a respected and effective practice within it’s intended context.
The only questions or issues we wanted to address with these videos were,
1) Can Chen Taijiquan methods be effectively employed on the ground? If so, how? -And what might that look like?
2) What does ground-fighting look like when small joint manipulation and pressure points are allowed? -and by extension, how does ground-fighting as we are familiar with it change when more of a self-defense intent is included?
I am 47 years old, 5ft 6in on a good day and I weight about 142lbs after a a dinner of ribs, beer and ice cream.
My student/opponent, is 38 years old, 5ft 10in and probably at least 168lbs.
Rules: we did not do any striking, nor clawing or fish-hooking, eye gouging etc as it is only for the truly hated enemy and did not suit our questions at all. Small joint manipulation and pressure points allowed.
Tile over concrete floor, 100% unforgiving. No mats, no Gi.
He was to try apply his BJJ and submit me. I was to use tuishou/Taiji method to submit him, and or just survive. Sometimes we worked on a particular technique attempt on his part that he tried to apply on me, but those often and repeatedly led to tangental actions when either of us failed. Sometimes we approached the action neutrally without competing to observe the flow. Very often as can be observed I would simply offer him hand placement or positional disadvantage to start from. There was also time spent on him just explaining and demonstrating the sequence and approach that BJJ would use so we could explore it.
He tried hard to succeed as he wanted a reliable answer to his question. He did not go easy. I expected to fail as I have never done this. However, as I did try hard, I also did not go extremely intense either, as we were both feeling that tile floor, as well as the unplanned nature of the collision of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Chen Taijiquan joint locks. It would not be difficult to injure at fast speed.
Chen Shi Taijiquan Gongfu is approximately 400 years old and was developed for a context entirely without rules or sportive concerns. Although there are many cooperative and semi-cooperative practices that do impose limits (rules) for the purpose of achieving a specific skillset, the long term view is always one that involves and employs all combative and self defense methods.
Both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and “MMA” are fitted with rules that protect both the participants AND the “game”. Over the years I cannot count the number of times I have been told that small joint manipulation, pressure points etc, are banned because they either are,
1) too easy, require no skill, makes the game too boring, and it’s “cheap”
2) too dangerous, effectively ending the entertainment too quickly with injury
3) unsportsmanlike, it’s just plain mean-spirited to poke, and twist fingers etc
4) unrealistic, they don’t change or impede a trained opponent’s activity
5) will only make a trained opponent mad
6) unrealistic, impossible to employ against a trained opponent
Based on this experience I came up with these answers:
1) Too easy and cheap?
In many cases the joint lock (Qin Na) and pressure point techniques I was employing are not particularly easy to apply. They require training, conditioning, and keenly developed “mastery” of flow and psychological as well as physical situational control. This method of control or response of situation is developed in tuishou practice and is not at all easy. IF it were actually easy then this this would reveal glaring weakness in either the art against which it was employed, or the format, in regards to self defense. It SHOULD NOT be easy, from a self defense standpoint.
2) Too dangerous?
Yes, perhaps it is too dangerous. From a self defense standpoint we do hope our methods are far too dangerous. However from my experience here it seems apparent that there is little difference between submitting an opponent by a finger or an elbow. I think it is really very dangerous to the entertainment side of things, as well as dangerous towards the fun of an uninterrupted BJJ bout. These methods do interrupt a lot.
3) Unsportsmanlike? Maybe. Self defense is not a sporting attitude. It is in essence nasty and pragmatic. That said, again I do not think the pain of a finger or being poked in the ribs is any less sporting than being choked.
4) Won’t stop a trained opponent? This idea failed. In this case my ‘opponent’ was far more trained in this context than I, and he wanted his questions answered clearly so he was going for it, yet this definitely stopped him. He stated quite clearly that he had also heard many times how one can “fight through the pain” and these things would make no difference, so that is what he tried to do, and no that was not working. Could someone more trained and tougher than him fight through it? Maybe to some degree, there are beasts out there, but still many of the methods are basic physiological actions that produce expected natural results. One might be able to “fight through” it but that itself requires attention, which is exactly what we intend, as we seek to control the situation, rather than win by points.
5) Makes opponents mad? yes it may. That can also be called mind control. Even so, being mad does not make anything more or less effective. Anger is not a problem solver. In a self defense situation the default state is that the opponent is enraged enough to mean you serious harm. Assume they are mad, anyhow. If they are not mad, that may be worse.
6) Unrealistic and impossible to employ against the trained? Apparently not. There are always going to be local failures of technique, and individually formidable opponents against any particular person or ability. But again, these are fairly straightforward physiological actions that produce normal results. The bigger question would be whether or not a highly trained person in BJJ or the like was adept in closing off the opportunities to employ these methods, and it seems apparent that in fact they do not train at all to close these off as such threats are clearly outside of their rule-set and therefore are neither expected nor prepared to deal with.
I know from years of debating these topics that there are going to be those who say I “suck at ground-fighting” and they are absolutely correct. Myself having zero experience at it and sucking at it are specifically the status from which I approach this and it is the correct state to test these ideas. I am in fact not terribly interested nor motivated towards ground-fighting, so I happily ‘suck’. I would rather train tuishou, and here that is what I tried to use.
The other argument that we are obviously going to hear is, “the opponent is too poorly skilled to offer a legitimate test of these questions”. We could entertain that idea. After this experience he himself wondered, maybe he was really a bit worse than he thought he was. Here were some of his thoughts:
“I trained BJJ pretty regularly for about two years. I stopped in 2010 and I would say I was an advanced white belt. I could win fights against other white belts, and sometimes against a blue belt. At the time I would say I was acquiring a decent command of the basics. Now it’s pretty rusty and I had a few moments where I couldn’t quite remember how to execute the moves or some of the details of what I was trying to do. I still have a lot of respect for jiu jitsu and I think it’s both fun and effective in its sphere.
Today I tried a few things. Arm bar from the mount, cross choke from mount, americana from the mount, kimura from the guard. I also think when you were in my guard at one point I tried an omaplata. In all of these cases we began with me in a controlling position. And in many cases you willingly made yourself vulnerable to these attacks (maybe not the omaplata as that one came out of a progression of moves).
In each case I didn’t feel like I was in danger of losing the position, because you weren’t necessarily trying to get out of the position. Rather, whenever I made a choice to attack a specific side, you took advantage of that and attacked me from the position that you were in.
Some ways that this was different from rolling with a jiu jitsu player is that instead of defending my attempts at submissions, you went with them and turned them into attacks against me. I found that my thumbs were particularly vulnerable, as were my wrists. Some of the ways that you used pressure points were more compelling and painful than others, but what they really did was draw my attention, and often my hands, in such a way that allowed you to attack me. I intentionally tried to ignore those and fight through the pain, but it was impossible to not react at all, and the reaction opened me up, even if it didn’t make me lose position.
What the camera might not pick up is the way in which taiji jins as well as qina worked here. I’m particularly thinking about peng in your arms when you were in my guard and I tried to pull you to me, and peng in your legs when I was trying to pass your guard.
Basically, it felt like whenever I put my hand on you, even if I was in a dominant position, it opened things up for an attack.
A couple of things I took away:
1) The different strategies of jiu jitsu and taiji: jiu jitsu seems to really emphasise attaining position and then working towards a submission, whereas you looked for a submission from wherever you were. For example, when I went to put my hand in your collar for a choke, a jiu jitsu guy would try to defend and prevent me from getting my hand in there. You just took my hand and attacked it.
2) This helped me see the difference between external and internal: a lot of the structure that you were using and the way that you were moving me might look similar at times to what jiu jitsu guys are doing but it feels very different. And there is nothing in the jiu jitsu training regiment that would allow a person to develop that.
These are just some quick thoughts. There’s clearly a lot more to be said.”
The idea that he was not good enough and that is why I did not utterly fail is not compelling. I have been lectured time and time again that “without ground-fighting I will have an incomplete martial art for modern times” etc etc, and that “anyone who does not spend at least a few months rolling with BJJ guys to get the basics is in for a rude awakening even from any white belt” etc. It was an uncountable number of times I’ve heard that talk.
If these ideas are at all correct then a white belt, who knows the basic techniques should easily handle a complete idiot-noob as myself, otherwise that might mean that sans sporting rules, something like Chen Taijiquan might actually just be somewhat useful in ground-fighting, and hence, real fighting and self defense. Regardless of his level, he was good enough to go through fairly normal BJJ positional and technical procedure, and the opportunities within THAT were very readily available to one who does not observe their rules. And breaking the rules, to illustrate that difference WAS the point.
Could a BJJ practitioner also employ these techniques thereby totally negating that advantage in a real situation? In some cases absolutely yes. The easy pickins they could also replicate, but some of the flow and joint lock methods are not within their curriculum at all, are not easily learned for anyone, and even though not necessarily obvious to the untrained eye, many are quite specific to Chen Taijiquan.
As my student noted, there are definitely some things that do not come through well on the video, he could feel them and was affected by them but a watcher cannot see easily. Some of the compelling/painful locks or points happened under the crush of bodies. So he may shout or be stopped but the audience cannot see the area of action. In other cases the important point might be that I am using a specific and subtle Taijiquan skill to move and control his weight and direction. It is not magic, it is just what we focus on, and it works very well. Though a watcher cannot necessarily see HOW or WHY it worked, or in many cases if not trained to watch they may not even notice it happened at all. Another less obvious point is the pressure point touch. On the video in some cases it appeared (even to me) that I was lightly touching and he was reacting. It is not clear at all what or why there is any effect. This one is hard to discuss, because it is not particularly light at all, it hurts (a lot) but for some reason it looks light.
Another important point to consider is that we had no gi to grab, and we were on a tile over concrete floor, no mats. Uncomfortable as this was it is also very important as a barometer for self defense. That evening and the next day, of course I had painful bruises all over every bone on my shoulders and back down to the tailbone, as well as both knees and around the back of my head. The most interesting part (to me) though was that we had to slow some moves way down for fear of a head, face, or dental injury just during what might be considered a rather normal change of position in sporting context. So as a result of that the audience will notice that in some cases we slowed down and kind of lowered the opponent to the next position. It became quickly obvious that an injury from being thrown in such a surface was not reserved for a standing height. Being quickly smashed to the hard floor from even a half sitting position suddenly seemed perilous so we slowed that down. This was not because anyone intended to be compliant, but more the intent to avoid becoming a lisping denture chewer.
Again I must restate that I have no intention of making any negative statement about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, on the contrary, I found it all very interesting. However it is decidedly a sporting concern with those rules in place. The rules dictate what receives attention, and in this case it was apparent that attention is not given to the vulnerabilities that Chen Taijiquan Gongfu would normally seek to exploit. It is apples and oranges as they say. Certainly there are enough similarly nasty things any BJJ practitioner could also decide to do if faced with an actual threat, but the method I sought to employ are neither in their curriculum nor prepared for defensively, in that sport version at least. Of course as a non-practitioner of BJJ I am also unprepared and vulnerable to the methods they might employ, yet breaking those rules that allow smaller joint locks and points appears to at the least equalize that situation to some degree if not more.
As I also stated earlier, this is absolutely not about the supposed primacy of Chen Taijiquan or myself. By traditional standards I am a fairly average practitioner of my art, and I am neither highly athletic, strong, nor fierce, and I am a bit old as well. Chen Taijiquan has never been highly concerned with conquering the world of ground-fighting, and I personally do not believe in the idea of any martial art being inherently “better” than the rest. The important part is what its intended purpose is and what living that life of practice offers the individual. So it does not have to be “the best”. It just has to work as intended in this case for self defense, which is my interest.
Plenty of folks have stated over the years that Taijiquan or something like it, cannot or should not work in either ground-fighting or some other arena because the practices employed in such an environment either do not appear as Taijiquan appears, or do not favor the methods Taijiquan appears to favor. My thought is that demanding that any martial art must get 100% of what it wants from any situation in order to function and be called legitimate is an unrealistic burden to place upon it.
Chen Taijiquan usually functions standing up and utilizing an anchor to the ground for power and body action. The argument that, removed from that ground anchor based structure it will then either cease to be Chen Taijiquan or cease to function is an unrealistic illogical demand. Chen Taijiquan being a martial art intended for self protection should be, was, and IS functional having far less than 100% of it’s familiar situational needs met. Not being able to stand, being over powered, outweighed, out of one’s element, it can still be used effectively and in those situations it is still authentically Chen Shi Taijiquan that is being used effectively. In this case there is no other answer, as myself as the example I have only ever seriously trained this art, and had absolute zero exposure to formal gound-fighting outside of watching a few matches. Whatever came out can only have come from that one source. Might I fail terribly when faced with a much stronger or more skilled opponent? Quite possibly, but it does not change the results of this test much. There will always be someone better.
In closing, I am certain there will be many who simply hate both the videos and the discussion, and some will have the opinion that none of this is particularly important or earth shattering and I think that is also a fine position to take as well. However it remains an extremely interesting and fun intersection (collision) of two arts in our estimation. We do not have any great need to establish any new era nor be heroes, or villains, nor even shmucks for any cause.
It is probably relevant to mention that I am not teaching ground-fighting, nor “a Chen Taijiquan approach to ground-fighting”, nor am I promoting a seminar nor idea in any way related to this. I just train and teach Chen Shi Taijiquan Gongfu, and remain humble enough to wade into unknown territories and risk being revealed as a normal fallible person. Psychologically and spiritually I can suggest that is a most healthy and comfortable position to aspire to in martial arts.