Chinese Boxing and Guitar Playing

Robert W. Smith is an educated and articulate person who spent the early 1960's in South East Asia gathering and documenting information on Chinese Martial Arts.

Chinese Boxing, Masters and Methods by Robert W. Smith
Cheng Mang-Ching thwarting the push of four men.

He brings a good background in Western philosophy, mysticism and rational, reductive analysis to these traditional teachings, whose essence is often obscured by ritual and arcane symbology.

What relevance have martial arts to the performance of music, I hear you ask?

Well, Smith's main interest was in the Chinese "internal styles" of kung fu. Internal styles emphasise the development of "chi", a sort of "life force" which also figures in traditional models of acupuncture theory.

By contrast "external styles" focus on development of muscular strength, meeting force with force.

Chinese Boxing, Masters and Methods by Robert W. Smith
Master Yuan Tao, former guerilla general and champion of Fukien Province in 1934.

He was lucky (and persistent) enough to study with Cheng Man-Ching, the Grand Master of Tai Chi Chuan (Grand Ultimate Boxing).

Tai Chi is particularly interesting to me because the postural conditions developed through its practice are very close to those in the Alexander technique... extended spine, floating arms ease of movement, coordination of the legs and waist with the upper body etc.

Chi and Alexander

Smith's descriptions of learning how to trust the "chi" remind me of Alexander's exhortations to "inhibit" our usual responses. The descriptions of "touch" are fascinating and relate in my opinion directly to the development of touch in the playing of guitar. In the picture above you can see Cheng apparently thwarting the push of four men. Incredible as this may seem to Western eyes... I have seen and felt various manifestations of this myself during my martial arts training.

Chinese Boxing, Masters and Methods by Robert W. Smith
Cheng Mang-Ching thwarting the push of four men.

Whether these displays of strength are due to the cultivation of chi or a particular psycho-physical state is a moot point in my opinion. The point is that they demonstrate that "trying" in the way many in our culture are accustomed to is not the best way to achieve speed, accuracy and coordination.

"Trying" in the way many in our culture are accustomed to is not the best way to achieve speed, accuracy and coordination.

Chinese Boxing, Masters and Methods by Robert W. Smith
140 pages PUBLISHED 1974, 1990