The notion of secrecy

Forbidden Kill Strikes

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Sometimes the particular way that the Asian martial arts connected mind and body together resulted in legendary powers in the practitioner. In the desire to safeguard this knowledge from the unapproved or unscrupulous, it became customary to protect this information. This gave rise to a tradition of secrecy that surrounded the martial arts of the Far East. Serving a valuable function at one time, secrecy limited access to information by rival groups and individuals.

However, secrecy is no longer as important as it once was. The value of the most masterful sword technique of severing a man's arm from his body is minimal when compared with the destructive potential of automatic firearms. The ability to harmlessly neutralize an attacker by knocking him unconscious



Medieval Taoist Texts
Secrets of the internal tradition: This ancient Taoist text from a cut wood-printing block includes coding known only to the initiated. At the points indicated by arrows, the adept would explain the secret meaning of the symbol.

with a slap from the back of a defender's hand is not as easy as employing pepper spray. In contemporary society technology provides easy access to results once attainable only through years of dedication and trust.

Yet the notion of secrecy has not disappeared with modernity. Although there is some justification today, most secrecy is a hindrance to the transmission of complete knowledge. Even today there are some traditionalists who still regard it important to keep secrets from outsiders. This practice is rooted in martial art history in the Far East and was especially prevalent during the grass roots Boxer Rebellion of the turn of the century. For example, it was reported that the late Wang Su-Qin, a well known internal arts master in Taiwan, would only teach those who had been initiated into the I-Kuan Tao cult.38

In my experience, there have been several times when other teachers, sometimes even extended kung fu "family" members, have approached my teachers and suggested that they not teach me (or at least not teach me in depth) since I was a foreigner. This is reminiscent of the famous story about Bruce Lee in which he was challenged for openly teaching to Westerners; as the story goes, the challenge became physical and Lee had to fight an opposing master. Robert Smith's Chinese Boxing Masters and Methods, describes several incidents where knowledge was kept from him. Once one of Smith's masters saw him in a photograph with another teacher and the master stopped teaching him altogether! This illustrates another motive for secrecy: interschool rivalry and jealousy. In Smith's words: "... [the teacher] ... had seen a photograph in a Hong Kong magazine of me with Cheng Alan-Ching. Sharing me with a boxer at odds with the entire boxing community was too much for him. This ended our association."39

Although the issue is clouded by charlatans who pretend (or imagine themselves) to possess secrets of the martial arts, there are indeed secrets, especially in the internal arts. And there are those who believe that this information should be guarded at all costs. There is, for example, the story of the praying mantis teacher who had been contracted to go to Japan and teach his art. He was assas sinated before he could complete his contract. Anyone practicing for a great length of time, especially in earlier periods where information was first available in the West (the 1960s) will have similar stories. To take an example from my own experience, in the mid 1980s I employed an older Chinese man as a teacher of t'ai chi ch'uan who also taught some praying mantis and suai qiao (Chinese wrestling). On more than one occasion when I walked through the area where he was conducting an advanced class he abruptly stopped teaching advanced applications of suai qiao and began practicing basic drills, carefully guarding his "secret" practice from my eyes.

Many traditions contain esoteric knowledge about the training of internal energy. Secret training methods range from the simple to the bizarre. A teacher once showed me "secret" notes that were nothing more than acupuncture meridians and the traditional circulation pattern of qi. It is important to note that special qi training methods with strange and unusual practices that promise power should be approached with extreme caution. Many are dangerous to the students' health and should be avoided. This category includes methods of tying weights to one's testicles with the promise of amazing powers both martial and marital. It is amazing indeed to see what one will do in the search for power.

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