On facebook I wrote a little about Tim’s recent Paris seminar. I’d like to go a little deeper, partly into what we covered, but more into the underlying message.
A number of people asked “what style does Tim do?” And the answer I prefer is martial arts. Sometimes I think simply movement would be better. Of course there is a long list of teachers, and he still practices some Chinese styles, but he is more interested in ability than style.
What do I mean by this? Well during the seminar he referred to the same throws as coming from wrestling, or Judo, Sambo, or Shuaijiao, or Taiji or Bagua or Xingyi or Jujutsu. The analogy he made is that while the entries and some details might be different, throws that actually work and can be applied to resisting opponents tend to look very similar.
If you took ff the clothes of the practitioners and were just shown the bodies of two people in mid throw you it would be very hard to tell what art the throw came from. Sure the entries might be different, the initial stances, sometimes the grips, but the throws themselves would be remarkably similar.
Why? Because when it comes to the throwing someone who does not want to be thrown there is a lot that does not work, and competitors will find and gravitate to the few that do.
This is why despite his long background in internal arts Tim says if you want to find a martial training method that works, it better be a sport. Sports people are constrained by the rules yes, but more importantly they are constrained by what works. Non sporting arts are not ‘constrained by rules’ but aren’t constrained by what works either. Which is why you see so many ludicrous techniques in so many arts. Some techniques may not be ludicrous, but may require arduous training from early childhood to be practical. Do you have that kind of time?
The whole ‘we are not constrained by rules’ argument falls apart as well because non-sporting arts are constrained by a lack of full resistance. Tell me, who is more at risk, the martial artist practising a ‘deadly’ technique in a cooperative manner, or a judoka who risks having his head slammed into the mat by a fiercely strong and agile competitor. What is more stressful, risking health and reputation before an audience or a pre-arranged kata with a real sword?
Yes, the sportspeople have rules and referees, it is not a genuine life and death struggle, but show me a ‘traditional’ school that engages in real life and death struggles…
We also meet the argument that the combat sport must be less spiritual or good for self cultivation than the art. Would you say the same thing for a non combat sport? Would you poo-poo Usain Bolt because he does sport sprinting, not traditional art running? All the qualities that people espouse as being good for the individual in traditional arts are also present in sports: training focus, hard work, esprit de corps, courage, self analysis these all apply to sports.
Of course you get hideous egos in sports, and you also get elite athletes who are isolated from the world by trainers and managers so never have a chance to develop fully as human beings. You also get the same in martial arts, senseis who convince their students they are invincible, students who believe the hype and bizarre cult like activity.
And yes, ‘da street’ is not a sporting competition. Tim gave the example of Renzo Gracie who broke his knee using a wrestling takedown on concrete. He still neutralized his attacker, but had to go to hospital afterwards.
If you do MMA you better know and be able to at least counter wrestling take downs from real wrestlers, and Tim teaches these in his MMA classes, however he also makes the distinction between these and what he would use outside of class. The double leg he taught us is different from the standard wrestling double leg, which makes sense since the context is different. Tim’s approach to choice of technique is practical and conservative – greatest possibility of working combined with minimum risk.
Anyway, what did we go over during the seminar?
We started with principles of body use, simple solo exercises that come from internal martial arts combined with partner exercises designed to illustrate and ingrain how to make the most of your natural strength.
These were followed with ground exercises, Breakfalls and a variety of movements from BJJ. Tim uses these to help students to relax standing up (because they lose their fear of falling) to develop coordination from the hips and centre as well as building a more accurate inclusive sense of the body. If this had been a groundwork seminar they would have been useful relative to techniques as well.
From there we moved to some throws. We started with what is essentially the same throw in terms of how the opponent falls, but with three different hand positions to manipulate the opponent. The idea being that the different positions would elucidate the underlying principle behind the throw and help us to recognize the opportunities for it when they arise.
This led to a flow of defense from the opponent followed by counter throws that used the defense of the opponent to set up the next throw.
On the second day we reviewed the basic and ground movements before moving onto to another set of throws, set up in response to a ‘basic’ attack.
The final part of the session was a series of counters that used the position and direction of the opponent attempt to throw you to take them down.
All of the techniques were explained in a way that showed their relation to solo techniques from Taiji, Xingyi and Bagua, which opened a window on the years of study that Tim has behind home, the research he has done. Some of the questions served to give a credible bullshit free perspective on the history of Chinese martial arts.
If you have had some experience of throwing then many of the techniques are likely to be familiar. What works is common to most martial arts remember. The value is in the details that make a real difference in how well the the throws work.
Finally we had time to review the weekend, and for questions. Tim described the process he recommends for taking these skills from the easy cooperative environment of the seminar to being able to apply them on a resisting opponent.
What I have not yet given justice to is what it’s like to be thrown by Tim. It is remarkable how little pressure you feel on your body, how difficult it is to resist, and how suddenly your balance disappears. Tim’s method of kuzushi (Japanese for unbalancing) is very subtle, and stems from the integrity of Tim’s body alignment, which he describes as ‘easy to do but hard to keep’
It’s not just the skill Tim has that makes his seminars so worthwhile. It is also his teaching method, which is beautifully clear. I wanted to hate him when I could see light bulbs going off in the heads of my students who attended. I’d be trying to communicate some of these things for a while without quite getting through!
Fortunately it’s hard to hate someone as honest and enthusiastic as Tim. He’s a man who knows what he does, loves what he does and has high personal standards as to how he presents his work.
Basically if you get a chance to train with Tim, take it. Don’t worry about your level, Tim will help you start well, or refine what you have, it’s an opportunity to progress whether you are a student or teacher.
Let’s round things up with a quote from Michael, one of the participants and long time martial arts practitioner
“Let’s spell this out: Tim practices and teaches ZhaoBao and Sun style Taiji, Shanxi Xingyi, and Gao/Yizong Bagua. He also happens to be a BJJ black belt who placed first at the 2003 IBJJF Pan Championship as a brown belt and first at the 2004 IBJJF Pan Championship as a black belt. He teaches BJJ alongside Marcus Almeida, the most highly decorated BJJ competitor in the world. Furthermore, he explains everything in terms of biomechanics. A class with Tim is a chi-free zone. 100% down to earth, no BS, pure quality.
I’m not prone to gush, but Tim may be the best teacher I’ve ever met, in his ability both to impart knowledge and to demonstrate high level, realistic skill. Regular training with him would provide the best chance of becoming the multifaceted martial artist I always dreamed of being. If only it was easier to emigrate to the US…in the meantime once a year will have to do. Let’s hope we can make it happen again.”
ps. Dickhead warning: if a student shows a desire to get something to work Tim will put lots of energy into helping them get it. If a student says “Well in our style we do it like this…. ” and ignores instruction then Tim will won’t waste his energy. Go to a seminar to show off what you know? Don’t be a dickhead.
pps. The dickhead warning applies to more than just training with Tim.