fighting. San Soo does not have many hand trapping drills or things of that nature and the internal martial arts did. That was one major difference. When we fought, there was no element of surprise. Those experiences gave me a little more well rounded martial education.
Also, San Soo has a little bit broader base of technique. San Soo has a great number of fighting methods, including ground techniques and sacrifice throws, that most of the internal style don't have. Also San Soo had a lot of striking combinations whereas the internal styles were based more on the concept of finishing the encounter with one explosive movement. In other words, you trained the internal style with the idea that you didn't really issue your power until you got the advantageous angle and you knew that your strike was going to be 100% effective. There is a little bit different orientation there.
Tim Cartmell with his Ba Gua teacher, Luo De in Taipei, 1992
Also, body mechanic wise, San Soo uses mainly a rotational energy and the blows are often circular in nature. However, for example, Xing Yi strikes are closer to the body and strike straight out, with a "shocking" kind of energy. That gave me a different perspective on the ways one can generate power.
In training, in San Soo you spend the greatest portion of your time practicing techniques with a partner. There are forms and solo training exercises, but they are not emphasized nearly as much as the partner work. In the internal arts, you spend a great amount of your time practicing on your own. There was a much greater variety of basic solo exercises, basic solo drills and forms practice. The forms practice is where all the power and technical ability comes from. Also, San Soo does not have any kind of two-person push hands drills. The techniques are based as closely as possible on a real fighting scenario. The internal has a lot of intermediate steps such as push-hands and other sensitivity drills, Those were new to me when I first started studying the internal arts.
How about sharing some of your ideas about how power is generated in striking?
One thing that I noticed while studying San Soo was in watching Jimmy Woo, I saw that he was very relaxed and moved very naturally, but there was not much talk about how he generated his power. When I learned the internal my teachers went into much greater detail about the actual mechanics of body alignment and relaxation. As I progressed and met different teachers and got different ideas, I came to understand more and more about being able to generate power without effort and not opposing force with force. I think the keys are relaxation, correct anatomical alignment and using your mind to lead the movement of your body.
You said that when you first went to Taiwan you wanted to discover something about "internal power" and "qi." What were your ideas about it before you went, and what did you discover after studying with your teachers there?
In San Soo, there is no mention of concepts such as "qi" or "internal power," or "energy." It is pretty much about body mechanics and alignment used in hitting someone. There is no mention of anything "esoteric" or Xiu, "mysterious." I had read a lot of books. I very much enjoyed Robert Smith's books when I was young and I had read books by other authors. I really had no opinion one way or the other before I went to Taiwan, I was just curious. I knew that you could learn to fight without any concept of qi because I had learned to fight with San Soo and the word was never mentioned. But, I was wondering what there really was to all these ideas and concepts of "qi' and "jing" and all of these different kinds of energies.
I was very open minded when I went and interestingly enough, I discovered that my teachers very rarely, or never, mentioned anything about "qi" when we trained. If someone would asked a question about "qi' they would say, "Yea, well, qi is an energy in the body and it flows through the meridians," or something like that. But they never talked about it in training. In fact, my first Tai Ji teacher, Chen Zuo Zhen, never mentioned the word "qi' the first three years I was with him. I finally asked him, "What about qi?" And his response
Tim Cartmell demonstrates his "fa jing" ability in Taiwan, 1991
was that, "It is a natural occurrence in the body and the more you think about it, or try to control it, the worse off you'll be. Thinking about it will only hinder your progress." In all the years I studied with him, that is all he ever said about it.
Excluding Chinese medicine and qi gong, as far as the martial arts are concerned, what I found from my 10 years of study in China is that there is an inverse relationship between the amount teachers talked about qi and mysterious concepts, and their ability to fight. Meaning that the instructors that I found who had the most martial ability and were the most proficient in their martial art talked about qi the least. I found that the people who were talking about qi and mysterious concepts were usually not very good at the martial arts.
I know that you did well in some of the full contact tournaments that you participated in when you lived in Taiwan. How did you come to enter those events and what was the experience like?
Like I said previously, San Soo fighters don't enter tournaments and they don't do anything that could be considered "sportive." In Taiwan there are a lot of full contact tournaments and they were different from most of those you find in the United States in that you wear the minimum of protective gear and there are very few rules.
After I had been studying Xing Yi for about one year, my teacher, Xu Zhen Wang, entered me in an All Taiwan full contact tournament. I had never fought in a tournament before and I won the spirit award for fighting hard, but I came in about fourth place. I lost to another Xing Yi fighter. I was disappointed that I lost, but it was a good experience for me. It was a lot different from a street fight and so you needed a different concept of how to fight in order to win these tournaments. The only rules were no finger attacks to the eyes, and once the opponent was on the ground, you had to stop, you couldn't follow up on them. But other than that it was pretty much anything goes.
About six months later they were having another All-Taiwan tournament and I wanted to enter that one and try again. For about a month before the tournament I practiced specifically for competition. When I went in the tournament I was about 150 pounds and a middleweight. But at this tournament the middle and heavyweight divisions were both small. So they took some people from the middle weight division and moved them into the light-middleweight division and they put me in the heavyweight division. I went into the tournament as a heavyweight at 150 pounds. I managed to win that tournament and came through without any injury.
The next year my Xing Yi teacher entered me in a much larger international invitational tournament. I represented the United States and won the middleweight division. After that I stopped fighting in the tournaments but went back several times as a referee.
In our Tang Shou Tao school, we only practiced
Tim Cartmell demonstrating Kung Fu San Soo,
"tournament techniques" for a few weeks before the tournament took place because my teacher felt, and I think rightly so, that you could either be a martial artist and train for combat street fighting, or you could be a tournament fighter. You really can't do both all of the time. So we were not allowed to train for sport tournaments for very long, only a few weeks right before the tournament came up. I think this is a point that people should remember. You can really only train for combat or for sport. It is difficult to train for both at the same time as they require different strategies and techniques.
What was the sequence of training in Tang Shou Tao?
When I first started with Xu Hong Ji, he was kind of testing my sincerity, so I just had to follow him and study the qi gong with his friend. When he actually started teaching me, the first thing he taught me was how to stand in a basic standing posture (San Ti Shi - JL ft and he taught me how to breath. Next he taught me pi quan. I did that for several hours a day, everyday, for a few months before I started the other elements. After several months of pi quan, I learned
Tim Cartmell demonstrating an application of Tai Ji's "roll-back" in Taipei, 1991
the other elements more rapidly, one every two or three weeks. Then he started showing me basic applications and different ways to strike.
From there I learned the combined forms and the twelve animals forms from Xu Hong Ji's son. I had been with him about two years and had learned all of the traditional Xing Yi sets. Then Xu Zhen Wang wanted me to have more experience with other people and experience at teaching so he opened the class again at his father's old school. A lot of his college students came to classes there and I was the senior student.
When he opened the school he went back and taught me all of the Tang Shou Tao basic forms, the eight step forms and other Shaolin style sets from the Tang Shou Tao system so that I could teach them to the younger students.
What do you think is the value of those basic forms for beginning students?
Because I had had over twelve years experience in martial arts doing Kung Fu San Soo and had a foundation in fighting, I started with the traditional Xing Yi sets. But I think that for people who are not physically in good shape or haven't done a lot of athletics or people with no martial background, that these sets are very good. They train the basic body mechanics, improve the physical condition, the basics of how to apply power, fundamental footwork, and all of those things that are important to martial arts. Although Xing Yi looks very simple, there are a lot of subtleties and deep concepts in the art.
Later when you started studying the Ba Gua with Luo De Xiu, did you notice a lot of similarities in the straight line Ba Gua from the Gao style and the basic sets that you learned from Xu Zhen Wang?
Yea, a lot of the "eight step" sets from the Tang Shou Tao system are a combination of Xing Yi and Gao style straight line Ba Gua forms. Since I had learned the eight steps sets in Tang Shou Tao, when I began to learn the linear Ba Gua I was already familiar with many of the movements. We did them a little differently, but the basic body mechanics were there.
After studying from all of the Xing Yi and Tai Ji teachers you had been with, what was it that attracted you to studying Ba Gua with Luo De Xiu?
For one thing, Luo had a complete system of Ba Gua. He had studied with Hong Yi Xiang (^ft #) and Hong Yi Mian (i-^ti^) and a man named Liu Qian ( %) in Gaosheng who was a student of Sun Xi Kun %. He had spent many years organizing and perfecting his Ba Gua and had a complete system. That was the first thing that impressed me because it was not common, even in Taiwan, for someone to have a complete Ba Gua method. There are some other teachers who do have whole systems of Ba Gua, but besides having a complete system, Luo was also a very proficient fighter, an open teacher and a fine gentleman. It doesn't matter how well someone can fight, if they won't teach, it doesn't do the student any good.
Luo had all of the qualities I was looking for in a teacher. He had a whole system, he was good at it, and he was willing to teach it. All of those things combined made me decide to stay in Taiwan longer than I had originally intended and study Ba Gua with Luo, and I consider myself very fortunate to have had such an opportunity.
When you went to the mainland, what was it that attracted you to the study the Sun style of Ba Gua and Tai Ji?
I had read all of Sun Lu Tang's books in Chinese and I was very impressed with his depth of knowledge and I had heard a lot of stories about him and talked to a number of people who knew him, including his daughter. He impressed me because he was one of the top martial artists of his time. A lot of the famous fighters that you hear about were large and strong men, Sun, however, was quite small in stature but still able to compete with the best. Because the basic principles which I adhere to in martial arts are along the lines of generating natural power without effort and not using force against force, I was interested in Sun Lu Tang. I think that because of his size, everything he did was, by necessity, in line with similar principles. So I was very interested in studying his martial arts.
After I met and talked with Sun Jian Yun (Sun Lu Tang's daughter), I was also very impressed with her level of skill and knowledge of martial arts. I wanted to specifically study his Ba Gua and his Tai Ji. I had studied with her briefly a couple of times during previous trips with Dan Miller. Later, I made a special trip to spend a period of time in the mainland to study just with her and Sun Lu Tang's grandson, Sun Bao An, and learn the whole systems of Ba Gua and Tai Ji.
What are some of the things you found out about his Ba Gua style?
Sun's Ba Gua is very simple, but all the essentials are there. I've heard that originally Dong Hai Chuan ( it /¿Ml) only taught about three palm changes and his martial art was relatively simple. Over the years as teachers inherited the art they added to it and brought in different things from other styles. What Sun did was to reduced the forms to their minimum bare essentials so that all of the different energies and body mechanics and motions and ways of developing jing are included, but the movements are very simple so that it is easy for you to pay attention to what is important rather than having to worry about complicated routines of motion. That attracted me, things that were both simple to learn and complete in principle.
When you went to learn the Sun style you say it was attractive to you in its simplicity, however, you also had over twenty years of martial arts experience. Do you think you could have gotten as much out of its simplicity without having the background you had?
No. But then again, because of my background, they didn't teach me all of the basics that they usually teach beginners. They had me demonstrate my Ba Gua, Xing Yi, and Tai Ji and saw that I had experience and so they just taught me the forms and we went right into the heart of the training. If I had been a beginner, I would have had to spend more time on basics and learned the forms more slowly.
I don't think it is necessary to practice a multitude of forms and movements in order to become a proficient fighter. If you are just a beginner, with no background whatsoever, and you only learn the forms, if you practice them correctly and you have a very good teacher it will be enough for you to develop martial ability, but only if the teacher teaches you how to use the movements in great detail. Otherwise you are just walking through a bunch of forms.
Didn't you tell me earlier that that is exactly what Sun Lu Tang had done with his "inner door" students?
Yes. His grandson, who was a boy when Sun Lu Tang was teaching, told me that Sun Lu Tang taught a lot of students the form, but it was only his top students who were taken out of the courtyard and into the house where Sun would close the door and show them how it all really worked.
I remember one story his grandson told me specifically. He said that he was playing with a ball in the courtyard and Sun Lu Tang had taken his top students into one of the buildings and closed the doors. He was going to teach a push hands class. Not long after the students had gone into the building, the doors burst open and one of the students went flying out backwards and landed flat on his back in the courtyard. Sun had knocked him through the doors.
Most teachers have that kind of separation among students. Depending on the student's sincerity and ability and how hard they practice, the teacher will invariably choose several students he will teach more than others, that was also true with Sun Lu Tang.
What do you like about Sun Lu Tang style Tai Ji?
Most people studying Tai Ji will learn one slow form. That is only one part of the training. That is kind of like the basics. Other styles, like the Yang and Wu, also had a fast form that went with it. Or if they only practiced the slow form, they would also have sets of exercises that would teach you how to fa jing and
Tim Cartmell with Sun style Ba Gua teacher Liu Yan Long (left) and Sun Lu Tang's grandson Sun Bao An (right), Beijing, 1994
Tim Cartmell practicing push-hands with Xing Yi instructor Liang Ke Quan in Bejing, 1992
other exercises, besides pushing hands, that would teach you how to connect with blows, and various other drills. Most teachers you find only do one slow form and one or two types of push hands and that will be it. For some reason they expect their students to be able to go out and fight. It's not going to happen.
The form practice is analogous to a boxer jumping rope and hitting a speed bag. You can't put him in the ring with only that experience. He might be in good shape and coordinated, but he doesn't know how to fight yet.
What Sun Lu Tang did is he again reduced it all to its essence. His form, as far as basics goes, is complete unto itself. He didn't separate his forms into a long extended posture form, and then a medium frame form, and then a small frame form, He didn't have one form for health, another for power, and then another for actual martial use. He put it all together into one form.
A lot of people say that Sun put Xing Yi footwork inside his Tai Ji, but in reality, this is the same footwork inherent in Tai Ji that all good Tai Ji practitioners use when they fight. It is usually either implied or hidden in the forms, or it is not shown to everybody. Sun was one of the few teachers who just taught it openly. He taught the form at the highest level in that the form was done just as the techniques were done in fighting.. He didn't have anything hidden. His theory was to practice like you are going to fight. He didn't have it separated into a lot of different parts.
Of course, besides doing the form and push-hands you still have to practice the movements on other people. People have to attack you and you have to practice the techniques on them over and over until it all becomes reflexive.
Now that you are back in the United States, what are you teaching and what is your schedule?
I teach the complete style of Gao Yi Sheng style Ba Gua, I teach Sun Lu Tang's Ba Gua, I teach the medium frame of Yang style Tai Ji, including various push hands, fa jing power exercises and actual fighting applications, I teach the Sun style Tai Ji, Chen Pan Ling's Tai Ji form, the short Yang Tai Ji form, I teach Xing Yi Quan, San Soo, and Tru-Balance Dynamics, which is my own synthesis of the basic principles of correct body use.
What system of Xing Yi Quan do you teach?
The core of the Xing Yi that I teach is from the Tang Shou Tao system, but I have also studied some Shanxi Xing Yi and Xing Yi with Liang Ke Quan and various other teachers. So, depending on the student, I will teach either traditional Hebei Xing Yi or Shanxi Xing Yi. So it is kind of a synthesis of the different Xing Yi systems that I've learned.
If a beginning student comes to you who has never studied Ba Gua before, where do you start their training?
It depends on the person's background. If someone already has some fighting experience, I will usually teach them the Gao Yi Sheng style. It is a little more involved and they get right into the martial applications. People with no background I often start with the Sun style because it is simpler to learn and you can learn basic fighting applications relatively quickly. It all depends on the person and how much time they are willing to spend. For people that don't want to spend too much time, the Sun style is a better option because there is a lot less of it. You can learn all the forms and basics relatively quickly. The Gao style is much more involved and has a greater range of techniques. To learn the whole style takes quite a few years.
I know that in your teaching you place a great deal of emphasis on proper body alignment and posture. Do you teach them this inside the context of the form movements, or do you teach them something else first?
All of my students, no matter what their background, start with my basic Tru-Balance posture alignment. My theory is this: in any martial art that I teach, we never use brute force or muscle tension strength. Everything is 100% based on alignment and what I call "natural power." We generate power one of two ways. One is by compressing our body, the other is by swinging our limbs.
Most people, even those who have a background, need some basic training along those lines. So in martial arts, I start everyone out with basic postural alignment and a set of eight natural power exercises. Once they go through those then they start the basics of whatever style they are learning.
Everything that they do, no matter what style, always comes back to the basic principle, There is never an exception to the rule. If you are striking, kicking, executing qin na, throwing, even wrestling, it always comes back to the principles of alignment and non-use of force.
I know that right now you are currently studying some Gracie Jujitsu. What made you interested in pursuing that?
absolute nonsense. If you have a good teacher who understands how to fight and knows how to teach, within a year of hard training in any internal style, you should be able to handle yourself in most any kind of street altercation. Obviously, if you fight someone who has had fifteen years of combat training, there is a limit to what you can do with one year's training. But for what most people might encounter with street fighters or muggers and such, a year's training will allow you to be well equipped to handle yourself. The mastery of any art, however, will take a lifetime of intense study.
Since I was young, my major emphasis in martial arts has always been practical fighting ability. The Chinese martial arts are deficient in ground grappling. San Soo has some ground fighting and other Chinese styles also have a bit of it, but I lived in Taiwan for ten years and have traveled all over mainland China and I've found that, in general, the Chinese don't grapple on the ground. I think that it is mainly due to their historical background in martial arts. Chinese martial arts came from a battlefield background. People in armor who fall down don't grapple. You are like a turtle on your back if you are wearing armor and fall down. Lying on the battlefield in the midst of battle will almost certainly result in your being trampled to death or speared by the nearest upright enemy.
Many times, the Samurai in Japan were sitting on mats unarmed when a conflict started. They were also often involved in police work where grappling and submission skills were a necessity. So they came up with elaborate and sophisticated grappling methods.
A few years ago I heard about the Gracie's and I saw their tapes and I liked what I saw. I didn't deny the fact that I was very deficient in ground grappling skills. So for the last few years when I came back to the states, I would go and take a lesson. When I moved back to the states at the end of last year, I started studying Gracie Jujitsu regularly. Originally I studied with Nelson Montiera and his senior student Ted Stickle, who was an old San Soo friend of mine. I now study with Mark Eccard, who is the top student of Rickson Gracie.
If someone comes to you and says, "I want to learn how to fight." What do you teach them?
If someone comes to me and they just want to learn basic self defense skill and they do not want to devote years and years to training, I would teach them a kind of modified San Soo with a lot of ideas taken from the internal arts.
If someone comes with absolutely no martial background at all, usually within six months they will be fairly proficient at self defense. If they are interested in continuing their training after that, then they can go on with whatever style they want to study or learn San Soo more in-depth. Otherwise, I teach whatever style the student wants to learn from the start.
I used to hear stories about it taking five years of study in the internal martial arts to get the basics and then ten years to become proficient. I think that is
If someone came to you and said that they were not interested in fighting at all but wanted to learn some exercise for their health, what would you start them with?
Again, I always start with the Tru-Balance Dynamics. With the alignment and relaxation exercises. From there I teach various types of qi gong that I have learned over the years In Taiwan, such as Ba DuanJin il if - Eight Section Brocade), or Swimming Dragon qi gong. For people who want to build their strength I also have a whole set of Chinese gymnastic exercises for strength.
I always start with Tru-Balance because if you want to be healthy, or you want to have martial ability, it all comes from the same body. I don't see any difference between what will make you healthy and what will give you martial power, So I always start with correct body alignment and relaxation, how to use the body most efficiently without any effort or tension.
A lot of people will learn martial arts for health. Although learning a martial arts does not necessarily mean you are going to go out and fight, I am dead set against people who modify martial arts or martial arts training for "health." The health benefits of martial arts training are the "side effects" of training for combat efficiency. When you use the body in the most efficient and natural manner, coordinate your mind and body, and learn how to breath correctly, it naturally gives you the most power for martial arts. When you try to alter the original martial art into some kind of "health practice," I think you are going to invariably detract from the system's health building potential.
Chen Wei Ming (f^-ftity), a famous Yang style student of Yang Cheng Fu, said in a book he published in the thirties that, "Although everyone knows that Tai Ji is a great and devastating martial art, very few people know that it is also good for health." You can see from that quote that there has been a 180 degree turn around in people's perceptions of things like Tai Ji in the last 60 years. Nowadays, most people know Tai Ji is some kind of health exercise, but many are surprised when you tell them it is originally a martial art.
Qi gong and related exercise systems have the advantage of being simpler and relatively easy to learn. Martial systems are more complicated and involved, but besides the benefits of health, self-defense skills are also acquired.
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