Curriculum and Cross-training

Blog entry #16: Curriculum and Cross-training

Recently I sent out an e-mail to the club listing the sword forms available at Cold Mountain and it was drawn to my attention that I had inadvertently missed one. This got me thinking about the sometimes hazy borderline between what is ‘club-curriculum’ and what is ‘club-available’. Also, has cross-training a role in a club's curriculum?

Most martial arts clubs have a core curriculum based on one style. Typically, experimentation or practice of other styles in the club is strongly discouraged as loyalty to the club requires a disregard for the arts one may have acquired from other sources. I strongly reject this standard. I feel that club members should be encouraged to retain the arts they have acquired elsewhere and should feel free to practice them in club time and premises. It all adds to the richness of the club culture. I also believe that they should feel free to take personal students.

At Cold Mountain there are three main traditions studied, any one of which has an associated curriculum that could be adequate foundation for a club. They are

  • Old Yang (1800’s),

  • Traditional Yang (early 1900’s)

  • and Chen (Beijing mid-1900’s).

Each of these has its own supporting qigong system.

1. Our Old Yang curriculum is based upon the 170+ movement middle-frame long form of Yang Chien-hou as transmitted through Tian Xiaolin (Tyan Zhaolin) and the Shen family of Shanghai. It includes the fighting and qigong systems of the associated animal styles.

2. The Traditional Yang family curriculum is comprised of the modern 16 and traditional Yang family 108 movement forms. It also includes the Yang family straight sword taught via the modern 16 movement form, the traditional 54 movement form, and the two-person Five Section form developed by Sam Masich. Although practiced by very few people in the club, this curriculum also includes two traditional sabre forms, the Chen Yan-lin sequence and the 13 Energies Yang Family Sabre.

3. Our traditional Beijing Chen family curriculum consists of the 1st. Routine and the 2nd. Routine (Cannon Fist). Some members of the club also practice the traditional Chen sword form (Beijing tradition).

And it is with this last form practised in our club that we enter the realm of ‘what is club-available’? The group practicing Chen sword generally consists of senior students who have a thorough grounding in the Yang curriculum. For them, the Chen sequence is a natural extension upon their previous studies, a chance to acquire and perfect new skills. But it is not actually taught as an integral part of the club curriculum, and some of the participants in this group are not actually Chen Tai Chi practitioners other than their involvement with this form. I myself practice Chen sword, but my approach is somewhat different from their’s.

Another tradition we have represented in our practice is Xin (Modern ) style represented by the 24 Movement Simplified Modern Tai Chi form and the 32 Movement Modern Sword form. But these are also add-ons and are not presently offered in regular classes other than a 40 minute monthly practice session on the 24. The 32 sword may turn up in practice, and may not!

We also practise two elements of the Flying Rainbow Fan system developed by the late Mme Wang Ju-Ron, her Single and Double Tai Chi Fan forms. But once again, the numbers studying these forms are low and whether lessons are offered depends upon the demand.

And I guess that is the issue. How much interest is there? Is there enough to justify a time commitment by a teacher?

An additional factor is -- what skills might be accessed through club members other than the Chief Instructor (me)? Lisbeth and Bob are leading the independent Chen Sword section. They also are leading an in-club Yang family Ba Duan Jin section and Lisbeth is our expert when it comes to the Flying Rainbow Double fan. Randall is an expert in Kempo and occasionally offers individual training in Self Defence principles. Tanya has training in one of the Wu-Dang lineages and can be seen practicing Wu-Dang sword and empy hand on most Monday evenings. Peter Reist has trained with Andrea Falk and can regularly be seen working on his Ba-Gwa hand and sabre forms, and Allan is a practitioner of the Practical Method Chen system and can be seen working on both this and the Jun de Leon Escrima methods. So there is a lot “club-available” (perhaps on request) which is not actually part of the curriculum. And this material is always subject to change as our club membership changes.

Finally, I myself teach my personal Cold Mountain Long Fist style (which includes elements of Tongbeiquan) in some Chen classes, as well as regular workshops on Irish defensives – my own family’s boxing system and the defensive use of the walking stick (shillelagh). This last element is not part of the Asian martial arts spectrum and is not a Cold Mountain club activity. Still, it is available on request and focuses squarely on principles of practical self defence.

The point I am making is that martial arts should not be practised in seclusion from each other. Cross-training adds to the vitality of an art and keeps it alive. The great masters of old cross-trained and were none the worse for it. Yang Cheng-fu was a Schwai-jow enthusiast and Sun Lu-tang was a master of Ba-gwa and Xing-i. Why should we not follow their example?

The accompanying photograph from the 1920’s shows a gathering of eminent martial artists of the period, great practitioners of: Tai Chi, Xing-I, Ba-gwa, Wudang, Shaolin, Ba-ji, and Ziranmen. In a time of chaos, strife and bloodshed they took sustenance in the company of each other. Let us reflect on this….

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