As someone whose martial education has been primarily of Japanese origins, I’m very familiar with the “jutsu to do” shift in the 1900s. Recently I’ve been looking at similar shifts in “marital emphasis” in other cultures. The superb “Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals” by Brian Kennedy and Elizabeth Guo (a book you everyone should own) has lots of interesting information in this regard.
When discussing Sun Lu Tang (1860-1933) the book says the following:
“If one wants to fight, they aught to use a gun”, so said Sun Lu Tang, according to his daughter Sun Jian Yun in Tim Cartmell’s translation of A Study of Taijiquan. Sun’s emphasis to his students and in his books was on practising martial arts for health reasons. This was a revolutionary idea at the time. Contrary to kung fu movies and the ideas of “New Age” Taiji students, Chinese martial arts had one purpose in the past: to fight … Martial artists did not practise for their health, and in fact many traditional martial arts practises were detrimental to health. Many forms of “iron body” training, for example, effectively cut short the practitioners’ lives short by decades. It was not until the founding of the Chinese Republic  that the idea of using martial arts as a form of physical exercise became widespread”.
It strikes me that there is some commonality there with karate. It’s also interesting that similar changes to the way the martial arts were being practised were occurring at roughly the same time.
Just as Itosu changed the way karate was approached through teaching it in the Okinawan school system, Sun Lu Tang (and others) taught T'ai Chi to the public at the Beijing Physical Education Research Institute from 1914 -1928 and it is said that this period was instrumental in the development of modern Wu, Yang and Sun style T'ai Chi. It seems there was also a fundamental shift in the way “internal arts” were viewed at that time. Kennedy and Guo continue:
“Qi gong exercises, as well as the more mundane but equally important physical exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups, had long been the foundation of Chinese martial arts excellence. But Sun’s writing linked – in the public mind at least – qi gong exercises and internal martial arts … The end result, which is still with us today, is the idea that “internal arts” are only “internal” because of qi gong exercises and the reliance on qi. This view is false, but it is a widespread view and it is the legacy of Sun Lu Lang … Most of the attitudes of modern-day practitioners of Chinese internal arts – regardless of where they study and whether they know the name Sun Lu Tang – were moulded by his written work. He was and remains the most influential author in Chinese martial arts history.”
This shift from combat to health, the modifications that result, what is less that 100 years old being viewed as “traditional” or “ancient”, and the inevitable fundamental shift to the way an art is viewed and practised is something I find very interesting.
I’m sure I’m not alone in that and that many here will also be interested to learn more about how this shift unfolded within Chinese martial arts, and the martial arts of other cultures and nationalities too. I thought this would therefore make for a good forum discussion.
Is anyone aware of any other good sources that address these areas specifically? Does anyone have some interesting information that they would like to share on these issues?
All the best,