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The International Chinese Martial Arts Championship

06/08/2008

The International Chinese Martial Arts Championship took place this 2008 Memorial Day weekend.

The tournament , produced by of Master Nick Scrima, celebrated its tenth year anniversary at the Gaylord Palms Hotel in Orlando, Florida.

The event was well attended by groups from schools outside the USA including Colombia, Italy and Jamaica who competed in one or more styles of Chinese Martial Arts including San Shou, Chinese grappling, Xing Yi, Ba Gua, Tai Chi and much more.

Equally impressive, was the host of high caliber practitioners whose performance during the Saturday night’s presentation, justified their inclusion in “The Masters’ Demonstration”. Outstanding displays included demos by Yang Fukui, Liu Xiao Ling, Rick Barrett, Nick Gracenin, Kam Lee, Joel Timmons, Johny Lee and others.

As in previous years, Master Scrima assembled some of today’s most experienced judges for the competitions and of equal value were the efforts from his staff, who endeavored to create an atmosphere of cohesiveness and order. In my view, they succeeded.

Tui Shao (Push Hands)

My interest in this type of events is in taiji push hands and as customary, the push hands players competed on the last day of the tournament.. By this time, the spectators are mostly gone, the judges are tired and the competitors are anxious. Maybe they are trying to save the best for last; or perhaps the best last longer… I don’t know.

I entered two events. Restricted Push hands and Moving Push hands. I won the first event taking the “Gold” medal. However, the second event was mostly of benefit to the maintenance crew at the Gaylord Hotel, in that there was no need to clean the carpets that night. My first opponent, a man weighting 295 lbs. and half my age chose to clean up a bit with me… I’m still sore from the outcome..

During the hours spent waiting for competitions to start, I had plenty of time to analyze the current state of push hands tournaments and came up with some possible answers to questions often posed by those who view the events, perhaps with good reasons, as nothing more than “bad wrestling” and devoid of any taijiquan principles.

Typically, competitions in push hands are classified into three styles: Fixed-Step, Restricted-Step and Moving-Step push hands. Following is a short description of each with a little commentary.

Fixed-Step Push Hands

As the name implies, fixed-step push hands requires that the competitors’ feet do not move at all during the engagement. A point is awarded when one causes the opponent’s feet to move. Any slight shifting, raising of the toes, heels or lifting of either foot automatically places the player a point behind in the score..

I have mixed thoughts for this type of competition. For one, in actual fighting, one seldom keeps the feet planted and boxers know the perils of being “flat-footed”. On the other hand, if one is able to deal with incoming force without having to adjust the feet, it is an indication of good root and overall good body alignments through which pressure from the opponent is transferred to the ground. And while this may be a desirable skill to develop, it is not a practical position to maintain for longer than a split second before one responds with some form of attack or jumps backwards. And since push hands is not actual fighting, inevitably then, what takes place is that the competitors, in protecting their tiny bit of turf, engage in bracing, hugging, grabbing while vying for some small positional advantage leading to a disruption of the opponent’s root. Thus adherence to taiji martial principles are secondary to gaining a point.

In my view, well executed fixed-step push hands exemplifies a good level of taijiquan martial skill. The ability to find the opponent’s center of mass and effortlessly disrupting his/her alignment to gravity highlights a verse from the classics of “4 ounces deflecting a 1000 pounds”. Sadly, that’s not what one sees in most fixed-step matches and often the stronger wins.

Restricted-Step

This style of push hands allows the players a little more freedom in regards to footwork. Each player places one foot forward and may move the feet back and forth as long as the same orientation of foot placement is maintained. In other words if the right foot is forward at the beginning of the first round, it remains in that direction until the round is completed. On the second round the left foot is then in the front.

I’m of the opinion that the approach used in Restricted-Step push hands, closest resembles the dynamics of actual combat and promotes the expression of Taijiquan skills such as listening, adhering, and following amongst others. It allows the players to create distance and to close the gap without being penalized for footwork.

Moving-Step

Now, if Restricted-Step push hands allowed for more freedom in footwork, Moving-Step push-hands takes it to the next level. There are no restrictions regarding footwork or patterns and this style of playing offers the players the greatest opportunity to express taijiquan principles. Sadly, it does not and here’s why:

In the other two styles of push hands, F-S (fixed-step) and RS (restricted-step) the primary objective is to sufficiently disrupt the opponent’s balance in order to gain a point. If loss of balance caused one to fall, readjust the feet, hang on to keep from falling or anything that resembled instability (such as when failing a sobriety test), the judge would stop the match and award a point.

In M-S (Moving-Step) push hands, the competitors play within two circles. The inner circle is 15 ft. in diameter and the outside circle is 20 ft. in diameter. The further out the opponent is thrown the greater the points awarded.

These rules, from the competition I attended, and these rules from an upcoming tournament I would like to compete in, clearly state the objective of keeping one’s balance and disrupting the opponent’s. But that’s not what really happens. Instead, the match turns into a shoving, pulling, grabbing, and throwing exchange between two individuals where the stronger and the bigger one is, the greater the chance for winning even if such victory is obtained without observance to any taijiquan techniques.

I think that some of the reasons for M-S push hands deterioration into what an spectator called “bad wrestling” is the emphasis on making the opponent step outside the small, and believe me 15 ft diameter is not very big, circle and the cheers from the crowd when someone flies across both rings. There seems to be more value placed on throwing than in simply disrupting balance. Judges seem to ignore slight neutralizations and approved of what I consider to be brute force.

I have competed and won M-S push hands tournaments in the past, and although I did not win the M-S event this year, I will compete in it in the future but with a few changes in my preparation.

First, I will train in an actual 15 ft diameter ring. This is a must and serious players train within this space in order to judge distance particularly when stepping back. I didn’t do that for this event. A big mistake.

Second, I will not compete in the heavy weight division again. This division starts at 200lbs and has no limit. The other weight divisions varied by 15 lbs. increments. My first match was against a taller man outweighing me by around 80 pounds. Besides, for my height and bone structure I should weight under 200 lbs.

And third, I will work harder on my cardiovascular conditioning. I thought I was in shape for this tournament.. I really wasn’t.

I’m glad to have entered and won the R-S on the heavyweights division. There were some really good players there and I want to thank the following friends, students and colleagues for their assistance and for answering my “help Wanted” ad on this site. Because of you, I brought the Gold home.

The Players

  • Hugh Marlowe
  • Daman Douglas
  • C.C. Collins
  • Bill Eng
  • Richard Siewert
  • Wanda Hall (2006-8 Gold Medalist).
  • Don Miller (best phone coach around and former Gold Medalist)
  • Steve Wyland
  • Sherry Hartman
  • Bryce & Allison McKnights
  • Beth and our children for putting up with my madness

In Gratitude,

Fernando Bernall
Saint Augustine, FL

 

 

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