I discovered an interesting article on the Martial Tai Chi site called “How Taiji Lost Its Quan.”
This article discusses an interesting aspect of Chinese martial arts (that you don’t really find in other fighting approaches) that I think is one of the reasons Chinese fighting styles often struggle for respect in Western circles.
There are many ordinary problems that dilute and warp the transmission of fighting knowledge. Students become the teacher’s of the next generation, so the student is the first weak link. Not every student who goes on to become a teacher were their teacher’s best fighter. Some bad students become poor teachers. Some of the best fighters never teach. Every person is different and we differ in apprehension of the material, diligence in training, and the ability to communicate what we know.
The Chinese had these other factors operating to muddy the martial waters.
The Ming (in the south) lost against the Ching (or Qing or Manchu) from the north in the 1600s. This began three hundred years of revolt and civil disobedience. One of the more subtle tactics of disobedience was the teaching of martial systems that were like guns with the bullets taken out. Chinese martial arts teachers were already well-known for “holding back” to maintain their martial dominance over their students. At best, teachers would often only pass the best information to their children or a favorite (read loyal) student. The Ming vs Ching conflict only exacerbated this trend. The Southernerswould sometimes be forced to train their overlords and they would hand over a diluted version of the system.
Anyone who has studied a high level martial art understands how easy this would be to do. Correct vs incorrect body mechanics are extremely subtle. A change in the hip angle of a few degrees can enhance your striking power to a shocking degree.
Wing Chun sayings are full of references to this Ming/Ching conflict. The very name of our fighting system (“forever spring”) is considered by some to be a reference to this struggle.
So the article suggests some approaches and versions of Tai Chi Quan were de-fanged versions.
I think the transmission of Wing Chun was affected by this sort of issue as well.
If you are not fighting all the time, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between good fighting technologies and poor ones — this was the whole plot of the film “The Prodigal Son.” So we have whole clans and lineages of Chinese arts that were diluted and defanged. We have “Over the fence” versions of systems stolen through secret observation then taught for money.
This is why systems and teachers need to be carefully assessed before a student devotes five or ten or fifteen years to learning the system!
I sometimes think this is the origin of Bruce Lee’s famous “Classical mess” references (in which he disparaged empty systems which were useless for fighting). These Martial “arts” were perhaps the systems which had their teeth voluntarily pulled.
And now we are left doing a sort of dentistry, trying to determine which system, principle, and technique is valid and useful and what was some flowery gesture.
Without giving one another head trauma!