What is Chinese Boxing?
What exactly is Chinese boxing? As we shall see, this question is not as easily answered as one might suppose. The actual name in Chinese is "Chung-Kuo chuan", which literally translates as "Chinese fist". However, "fist" is typically translated as "boxing," meaning hand-to-hand combat.
In some ways, this translation is misleading and unfortunate, since in the United States today, "boxing" is a specific sport. Chinese boxing is not a sport, but a means of survival in no-holds-barred, life-or-death situations. Western boxing uses only the hands, which the boxer is required to sheathe in gloves. Chinese boxing has no constraints. It uses the entire body as a weapon. It was never designed as a game, and so knows no rules.
A martial artist who has trained in Chinese boxing might participate in a sport karate or kickboxing tournament, but he would not employ true, unadulterated Chinese boxing in the ring. To do so would be unethical, for his life would not be on the line—the stakes in a tournament are merely pride and money. "Chung-Kuo chuan," then, might be more accurately translated as "Chinese lethal combat method." However, as we at the CBII use the term, Chung-Kuo chuan is not just any Chinese lethal combat method—it is a very specific method. There are countless styles of Chinese martial art intended for use in lethal combat. Only a few of these subscribe to the particular school of thought that typifies Chinese boxing. Thus, Chinese boxing refers to a Chinese method of lethal combat governed by a particular philosophy and set of principles. To know what Chinese boxing is, one must know the underlying theory.
The cornerstone of Chinese boxing is the study of energy. Chung-Kuo chuan is the science of energy use and control. It seeks to generate power and to control oncoming force without depending on physical size or strength. The key to this goal is the mastery of one's own energy and the manipulation of the adversary's. For this reason, Chinese boxing is also known as "energy boxing".
As a result of this emphasis, the central skills of Chinese boxing do not deteriorate with age. While muscular strength and speed inevitably deteriorate, internal energy may be cultivated indefinitely. Thus, the energy boxer may continue to grow in combative efficacy as he grows older. Many of the masters of Chinese boxing, in fact, are in their 60's or 70's. Despite their age, they are feared fighters. This is in stark contrast to most athletic activities, in which yesterday's champions are today's has-beens.
Although the study of energy is the crux of Chinese boxing, one must not jump to the conclusion that any Chinese martial art that "studies energy" constitutes Chinese boxing. Just as countless Chinese styles are intended for use in lethal combat, countless styles believe that energy plays some role in combat. They may differ, however, in their view of what that role should be. Chinese boxing represents a particular school of thought as to how energy is best harnessed and manipulated combatively. Thus, we return to the proposition that to know what Chinese boxing is, one must know its theory.
My teacher, the late Christopher G. Casey (also known as Sifu Kai Sai), believed that all of Chinese boxing rests on the foundation of ten fundamental principles, just as the vast edifice of classical geometry rested on ten principles.
Mr. Casey's great contribution was to distill these ten principles from his studies with numerous Chinese boxing grandmasters. While pursuing a diverse assortment of boxing arts, he came to realize that they shared a "common denominator." With his gifts of insight and analysis, he was able to abstract their common essence in the form of ten core principles. Casey was thus like Euclid, the ancient Greek mathematician who discovered that all the geometry known in his day rested on five axioms and five postulates.
Although we owe our highly formalized understanding of the principles to Mr. Casey, he did not discover them on the practical level; they were discovered centuries ago and were handed down from generation to generation, always to a privileged few. But Casey, could be recognized as one of the first Westerners to develop a concise theory that clearly laid out the principles on an intellectual level. He presented an incisive analysis of something that had previously been understood by many only intuitively. (It is worth noting that although his profession was international reinsurance, his college degree was in philosophy.)
There is an intriguing parallel in the world of popular music. In the 1960's, the Beatles burst on the music scene. They had no formal education, no knowledge of music theory. They couldn't even read musical notation. Yet, as musical giants such as Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Fiedler were quick to point out, the Beatles were producing works of brilliance on a par with Gershwin. Bernstein, with his extensive background in music theory, presented lectures on what exactly John Lennon and Paul McCartney were doing that made their music so outstanding.
Casey was a Leonard Bernstein studying under intuitive geniuses like John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Of course, he was not just a bookworm who attained knowledge of the arts "on paper" only, any more than Bernstein (who authored the score of "West Side Story") was a mere musical academic. As a practical result of his insights, Casey was able to synthesize knowledge from a wide variety of sources. He studied with an unprecedented number ofChinese boxing grandmasters and mastered a diverse assortment of boxing styles. He became a genuine energy master. (For details, see the section below on "History and Lineage of Sifu Kai Sai.")
Each of us can follow in Mr. Casey's footsteps toward energy mastery if we, like him, devote scrupulous study to the principles of Chinese boxing. These principles will be discussed at length in part two of this book, but we should introduce them at least briefly here. They are:
1. Rooting: Sinking and relaxing the body mass to increase stability.
2. Yielding: Never opposing force.
3. Sticking: Using forward pressure to close the gap between you and your opponent and to control your opponent once contact is made. Sticking expedites the climax of the encounter.
4. Centeredness: The mastering of your own complete balance and the conquering of your opponent's balance.
5. Six-Nine Theory: The theory of change, inspired by the I Ching. A boxer guided by six-nine theory retains the ability to change energy and tactics at any moment in combat. He never overextends and never commits himself to an allornothing gambit. Six-nine theory also entails a philosophy favoring techniques with a high percentage of payoff.
6. Unitary Theory: The development of maximum power and speed, not by reliance on the muscles, but by training every part of the body to work in unison, and by learning to draw fully on the body's internal resources.
7. Projection: Turning energy within the body ("chi") into force directed at a point outside the body.
8. Line and Angle: The study of the angles of the body and the lines of attack to promote efficiency in defense and economy in the projection of energy. With an appreciation of line and angle, you can fend off attacks with subtle movements, sometimes of less than an inch. You eliminate wasted motions that delay seizing the offensive and create openings for further attacks. You avoid clashing with your opponent head on, but instead maneuver to his weak angle, where you need less power to vanquish him.
9. Body State: A special development of the muscles that allows energy to circulate freely and project powerfully. This entails a pervasiveness of energy throughout the entire body, rather than the segmenting of energy into isolated parts of the body.
10. Mind-Hit: The mastery of the mental dimensions of combat. This is a broad category that includes methods of disrupting an opponent's mental focus.
These ten principles blend together, as if in a magic formula, to produce a peerless mastery of energy. We thus refer to them as "the principles of energy mastery. Chinese boxing is not a particular style of martial art, but a category of martial art. Any Chinese style governed by the principles of energy mastery falls into the category of Chinese boxing.
A martial art, of course, need not be Chinese to accord with the principles of energy mastery. "Energy boxing" can refer to any martial style, of whatever origin, that adheres to the principles. Chinese boxing is thus a subset of energy boxing.
The question of which martial art styles constitute energy boxing is a murky one. A particular style may be presented in accordance with the principles by one instructor, while another instructor's presentation may not accord with the principles. Only in the first case would the style constitute energy boxing. In theory, any style can be presented in accordance with the principles, but some styles are better formulated to adhere to the principles than are others.
At one end of the spectrum, we have styles that are ideally formulated, such as three of the classical internal Chinese martial arts, Tai Chi Chuan, Pa-Kua Chang, and Hsing-I Chuan. Unfortunately, some practitioners of these arts are not well schooled in the principles. This is especially true of persons who practice Tai Chi Chuan as a health exercise rather than as a combative science. Such persons may know how to generate energy within themselves, but are lost when it comes to applying that energy in combat or controlling the energy of an attacker.
Even those who study Tai Chi (or Pa-Kua or Hsing-I) in a martial context may be quite limited in their grasp of the principles. They may present the style as a fighting art, but a fighting art far below its full potential. On the basis of my experience, I would say that a slim minority is actually doing, or even striving toward, energy boxing.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are styles with numerous built-in obstacles to the principles of energy mastery, styles that encourage bad habits. Hard styles generally fall into this category. You can learn mastery of the principles while studying one of these styles, but you are learning in a hostileenvironment. It would be like trying to learn to swim in quicksand. If you were to succeed and then present an energy boxing interpretation of your style, it would appear very different from the usual presentation of that style. It would be as though the style had undergone radical surgery.