You Should Always Have a Teacher

June 11, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been training for over 40 years now. I still have several teachers, and am always trying to learn from anyone I train with. If you train long enough there may come a time when you have to travel great distances to train with the teachers you need.  If you have the teacher you need living close to you, you are lucky indeed.

I train different systems with the various teachers. While most of my teachers have learned, and teach multiple systems from multiple teachers, I want to focus on learning what each does best. The insights and understanding of each teachers core system, will be evident in all other systems they teach anyway.

I look at learning from different teachers in a similar manner to learning different systems. They each have their strengths, and perhaps weaknesses. Often times I find that each teacher teaches the same principles but, with a different interpretation and training method. The same can be true of systems as well. Sometimes it helps to have different perspectives, so that you can more clearly understand what is being taught. It can help and accelerate learning as you peel back the layers of the onion.

I would however caution you that you can try to learn too many things at once. So you must be careful not to try to learn too many systems, or have too many teachers at the same time. If you do you could end up with a confused mess, and make very little progress. In my opinion you only need one teacher at a time but, could possibly benefit from having two or possibly three. That is as long as what they teach isn’t in conflict. Over a course of a lifetime you could certainly have many more teachers.

Another reason to always have a teacher is to keep you on the right path in your development. It is easy to get off on tangents when off on your own. While you can certainly continue to learn and grow on your own, it is also possible to misunderstand something and go down the wrong path. The longer you are on your own the more you may change things. Your memory of things may also change over time. You can fool yourself into thinking you have a deep understanding of principles, concepts, or a system but, truly only have a surface level understanding. Worse than that if your understanding of a core principle etc. becomes increasingly flawed over time, it can have a ripple effect in all you do.

Having the right teacher can help you progress much further then you will ever be able to get on your own. While I’ve  specifically been talking about martial arts here, the same is true of all paths we take in life.

Mike Murphy

Categories: Concepts & Principles

Never Attack Where the Opponent is Strong

March 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Never attack an opponent where he is strong, only attack where he is weak. This is a universal concept used by internal and external martial artists alike.  It is also common sense for people who have never trained a martial art. Trained martial artists each use it in their comfort zone, and at the distance they train to fight at. I have however seen some forget this concept when they are fighting at a different range then they normally train for. To me that means a deeper understanding of the concept is needed.

For example taijiquan practitioners spend a lot of time training push hands. They use this practice to develop lightness and sensitivity. Whether practicing single hand, double hand, fixed pattern, or free style, they always start with the gap closed and they are already touching.

When doing push hands two people face each other and make contact feeling their opponent. One will initiate movement, normally seeking the opponents center. The defender will yield and deflect the attack. If the attacker puts to much tension/ power in the attack or over extends, he makes himself vulnerable to counter attack. If the defender stiffens using strength to defend they will expose a weakness the attacker can exploit. They push back and forth looking for this opening. Sometimes in order to create this opening one might tense push or pull a little hard momentarily at a point to get the other person to commit his weight and strength to defend that attack. The side they are strong on is the full side, their opposite side goes empty to balance the full side. The empty side is weak. Attacking their empty side gets the best results.

When you ask most taiji practitioners how they close the gap to touch their opponent in a fight, the most common answer is that you creep in until you can touch them. I’ve heard some say you just have to be willing to take a shot to close the gap if necessary. I’ve also heard this same thought process from Judoka, Juijitsuka, and wrestlers. To me that means they don’t understand how someone that is primarily a striker would apply the same concept.

When opponents square off, they will have some form of on-guard position that puts their strongest defense and offensive tools toward the opponent.  Unless you are much bigger, stronger, and faster then the opponent it would be unwise to attack them head on at their strongest point. They also start outside of each others reach, and must close the gap to strike in a real fight. When you are in transition/moving into the range where you can hit each other you are vulnerable to counter attack.

To attack the opponent when and where they are weak external martial artist move around their opponent toward a weak side. The opponent has to adjust to bring his strong side  back to facing his opponent. They will have a full side as they move making the other empty. Anytime they are in transition they are weak as well.  They use different footwork, feints, fakes, broken rhythm attacks, etc. to set up an opening to attack the weak/empty side. If you can see how they are breathing at the end of their exhale they are empty and weak. They have to inhale and become full before they can move and defend. Time your attack to coincide with the end of the exhale. These methods are how they will close the gap.

Once the gap is closed and the first strike has hit, their mind goes to where they were attacked, leaving other targets empty and easy to attack. That is way you work up and down the body. That is why you work the various combination. You always want to be attacking the empty weak side.

Strikers that specialize in fighting at a distance need to be careful if they end up in a clinch, they don’t forget the same concepts they use at a distance.  They then need that same understanding that people trained in Taiji, Judo, Jujitsu, and wrestling have of this idea.

Mike Murphy

Categories: Concepts & Principles

Is Lineage Important in Martial Arts

February 22, 2011 1 comment

People feel very strongly about this topic. There are many reasons for this. Obviously those that believe they have good lineage think it is very important. Those that don’t, think it is unimportant.

I think having a good teacher is very important. Without the right teacher you are left with only your own knowledge and experiences to draw on. Books, video, and training with peers can only help you so much. By having the right teacher you have two peoples lifetime experiences and knowledge to draw on for your training. Each teacher has had his own teacher or teachers as well. Each generation you add is a multiplier for the available wisdom and experience you can benefit from in your training. However if you learn from a teacher with poor lineage or no lineage, there are other potential problems. Without good lineage you could be learning something that isn’t effective, or worse something that could get you injured or killed.

When looking for the right teacher you should keep in mind, that having a great teacher doesn’t mean the student will ever be great. Therefore you can find teachers with good lineage that don’t have the knowledge and skills of their teachers. If they don’t have a true understanding of their art and can’t demonstrate it, they might not be the best person to learn from. Another thing to keep in mind is that even if they have the true system, they may not be passing it on to you. Many teach an outdoor version to the masses, and only teach the real system to a few indoor students. This is one of the reasons for the decline in popularity of traditional systems.

On the other hand if you learn from someone with questionable lineage, or bad lineage for a system you have other issues. They can’t possibly have a true understanding of the system being represented, so couldn’t pass it on to you correctly even if they wanted too.  Now this doesn’t mean that they might not have as much or more to teach you, then a person teaching the same system with good lineage.  They might even be a far superior martial artist. It just means that they can not be true to the system they claim to represent, unless it is a system they created.

I look at learning from an indoor student of a system compared to someone that learned as an outdoor student, or via other means like this. If you go into an Italian restaurant and order lasagna and they bring you spaghetti instead. It isn’t what you ordered, it may have mostly the same things in it and be as good, but it isn’t lasagna. Someone with no lineage might be telling you they are serving you steak and maybe they are but, then again you might get a hamburger.  People have to decide for them selves if that is important.


Mike Murphy

Categories: Concepts & Principles

Should you do Iron Hand Conditioning

January 3, 2011 1 comment

Iron Hand or Iron Palm as it is sometimes called, is a form of conditioning that seems to be controversial. There are certainly pros and cons to it. It was certainly more common a century ago when someones skills to defend themselves was of more concern, then the person living in what is considered civil society today. So the question is, is it necessary today, and/or is it of enough value to warrant training? Do the pros out weigh the cons? I think that each person has to decide for themselves if it is right for them. So here are some perspectives that might help you make the best decision for yourself.

Iron Palm is generally practiced by practitioners of what is referred to as external martial arts. Though many internal stylist also practice it.  Many would also say that men fight with weapons, steel weapons come harder then you will ever make your hands. Developing iron hand takes time and practice. With those things in mind there might be different answers to the question for different people, as to train it or not.

Practitioners of external styles are inclined to train body conditioning and hardening exercises, but they also may modify their techniques to get around a lack of serious conditioning. For example they may tend to use closed fists more then open hands to strike. They might also sometimes modify what part of the body is used for a strike. An example of that might be to move in a little closer and replace knife hand, and ridge hand strikes with forearm strikes. Then of course you can be more selective of your targets and focus your strikes on soft body parts. If you do those types of things you can be extremely effective without Iron Hand.

Internal stylists tend to feel that Iron Hand is unnecessary because of their method of hitting. One way to explain the difference is to think of an external stylist hitting with their fist. Their fist is like a hammer that you strike the target with. While the hand of an internal stylist is more like a chisel you place on the target while they generate the power or the hammer from their feet through their bodies to the hand. In this manner their hand doesn’t have to absorb all of the impact the way it would, if the other power generation method was used.

So if it isn’t needed is there still a reason to develop it? Well in my pre-Iron Hand days, I had broken my hand once, and a finger here and there sparring. these were accidents. They happened either when I was countered, or when I was just off fractions of an inch in a defensive movement. Since taking up iron hand training, I haven’t broken anymore bones in my hands. Now this isn’t to say that your hands and fingers can never be broken, because they certainly can. However it certainly reduces the likelihood of it happening, while making your hands a better self defense tool.

Some people have the misconception that your hands become deformed and mutilated through Iron Hand conditioning. This is a myth. If your hands become this way it is from improper training methods.  If you train properly using the correct herbs your hands actually will have increased sensitivity. There should be no visible callouses or deformities. yet your hands become very strong, and hard as iron when you strike. I would caution anyone thinking of training Iron hand to seek out a qualified instructor before attempting any training. If you do learn a proper method, training will make the bones in your hands denser, and your hands stronger.  Anything that does that has to be good for you.

You can take your training to different levels. A basic Iron Hand training method could take about 30 to 45 minutes to do, while a more advanced training method might take 90 minutes to do. Training daily gets the best results, and is a must for serious Iron Hand development. Once you have achieved the level of hand conditioning you want, you can reduce the number of days a week you train to maintain the development you have. If you train two or three times a week, you will certainly receive some benefits. Training once or twice a week will maintain the level you previously developed.

With the above information you should be able to determine if training Iron hand is for you. Remember to seek out a qualified teacher if you do decide to pursue this training method.

Mike Murphy

Categories: Concepts & Principles

Bagua Serving Tea Exercises

December 5, 2010 2 comments

The serving tea exercises of Bagua are for developing integrated body movement, and power. They are based on a story involving Dong Hai Chuan the founder of Bagua. The story is about how he became the teacher for the palace guards.

As the story goes the Emperor entertained his guests to a great feast. The palatial grounds were crowded with people at that time, and entering and exiting was impossible for the servants. Dong Hai-Chuan , was able to maneuver in and out of the palace grounds by leaping on and off the courtyard walls while balancing trays in each hand. The Emperor was very impressed by Dong’s agility and questioned him. Dong revealed himself to be a Master of Baguazhang, and gave a demonstration of his skill. His performance was so unique that the Emperor made Dong the martial arts teacher of the palace guards.

So the exercises are done as if you have a tea cup in your hand that you must keep upright without spilling a drop, or dropping the cup. As I previously stated using these exercises you develop integrated body movement and power. This is a goal of all the internal martial arts. Though the terms used to describe what you are doing vary. For example taiji practitioners talk about reeling silk. This is the same thing with winding, and unwinding, coiling and uncoiling, and all the joints working in unison.

Mike Murphy

Thoughts on Why I train Multiple Systems

November 30, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve talked about this topic before, but I had a shift in my training routine again this morning.  I’ve learned and practiced many systems over my lifetime so far. Each one was the right one for me at the time. So the question became what to keep and what to throw away (if anything). So I have two systems that get most of my attention and two others that are right behind them. This means I spend a minimum of an hour a day on each of these.  Other systems I have I dabble in from time to time, depending on who I’m training with or teaching. I might run through them one to three times a week.

Anyway practicing each for me helps peel back layers of the onion for the other systems. Each time I gain a new insight in one system, I revisit the others to see if it holds true to them as well. It has been said that truth is in the similarities, and ego is in the differences of the arts.

In my youth I did a lot of weight training. In weight training you workout using the same routine for about 4-6 weeks, then you change your routine. This does two things for you. First it keeps your body in shock so it is growing muscle mass to keep up with the changing demands being placed on it. The second thing it does is keep you from getting bored with your training. People that get bored eventually quit training.

So at the very least if you don’t change things up from time to time your progress will be slower then it needs to be. If you get bored and training isn’t fun, you may not train with the intensity needed to make great progress. That is if you just don’t quit all together.

To become good at anything, requires constant hard work over a long period of time. Make it fun!

Mike Murphy

Categories: Concepts & Principles

Light and Sensitive

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

There is a difference between “Light and Sensitive” and “Soft and Relaxed”. The first is found in nature. Look at an insect as its antenna brushes against something. Watch a praying mantis, it is a perfect example of “Light and Sensitive”.

To become too “soft” is to become too “yin” and lack balance. It is to become weak. Weak does not survive in nature.

People start out to “Yang”. They use to much power in each movement, they are stiff and have too much tension. They don’t feel, and can’t adapt very quickly to changes their opponent makes. They tend to over extend and put themselves off balance unnecessarily, and for longer then needed.  This makes them easy to manipulate. They lack “Yin” to balance their “Yang” , so emphasis in training is often about seeking to develop “Yin” in order to have proper balance.

So one of the first things they are taught is to relax, and not use any muscle tension that is not required. This is an important skill to develop. It is developed through proper training and repetition.

Softness is a term used often in conjunction with being relaxed and sensitive. Many work to be as soft as they can.

Some systems use various methods of push hands to develop softness and sensitivity.  This is a great training method, and should be used in some form by anyone training in a martial art.

However many get caught in the trap of  working to ever become softer and more relaxed, even to the exclusion of normal exercise.  They lose all aspects of Yang.

People that follow this path think they are developing higher levels of skill that may take 20 or more years to develop.  They rationalize in their own minds  that pursuit of this goal will eventually make them the superior martial artist. This is even while they continue to lose any confrontation with an opponent. If you’ve been training a system for a number of years, and you can’t defend yourself against an untrained attacker, you are practicing fantasy martial arts.

Training properly in an internal style, you will continue to develop higher levels of skill and understanding throughout your life. However if you aren’t learning how to use it from the beginning, and you are intentionally making yourself weak to improve softness and relaxation you’re going down the wrong path.

You must maintain balance between yin and yang to be an effective fighter, and to maintain your health at the highest level. So with this in mind, I suggest you should be thinking “Light and Sensitive” instead of “Soft and Relaxed”

Mike Murphy

Categories: Concepts & Principles

Bagua Two Man Form

September 20, 2010 1 comment

Bagua like all internal arts relies heavily on sensitivity. There are variations on Rou Shou to help develop sensitivity, and fighting applications. They all start out with a set pattern. Once you’ve mastered the pattern you move onto free style movement where either opponent can attack at will. Here is an example of a two man form being done free stye:

Mike Murphy

Treating Injuries – Do’s and Don’ts

September 7, 2010 1 comment

The following is a guest post by Paul Hench. This is certainly a topic of great importance to all martial artists.

Treating Sports Injuries – Dos and Don’ts
It’s the worst thing that could happen to a sportsman or anyone who is a keen fitness enthusiast – when injury strikes, it could signal the end of their playing days in the worst case. It all depends on how serious the injury is and how effective and immediate the first aid measures have been. Treating sports injuries is sometimes as simple as bandaging a sprain and resting for a few days; at others, it involves complicated surgery followed by a long period of rehabilitation and therapy. While the main treatment is the responsibility of doctors and other healthcare professionals, there are certain things that you should and should not do when the injury occurs to prevent aggravating it.

Here’s what you should do:

Do stop playing or exercising as soon as you feel any pain or discomfort – when you push on in spite of the pain, you risk making the injury worse and inviting permanent damage.

Do rest for a day or two instead of going back to playing or exercising again.

Do see your doctor if the pain persists for more than a few days or worsens over a period of time.

Do apply an ice compress on any swelling, and if it does not subside, do see a doctor immediately.

Do use an elastic bandage to restrict mobility, especially if it’s your knee or ankle.

Do elevate the injured area – if it’s your knee or ankle, put your foot up on a pillow so that the injury heals faster.
In short, the Dos involve the RICE therapy when there is no external bleeding – Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate.

Do see a doctor immediately if there is any kind of external bleeding.

Do follow instructions if you need a surgery and rehabilitation and therapy following the surgery. When your joints are injured while playing a sport (in most cases, it is the knee), therapy is extremely important to regain your range of motion and muscle strength.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do:

Don’t be stubborn and continue to play even when you’re advised not to do so or when you know that there’s something wrong with you.

Don’t pop painkillers unless they’re prescribed by your doctor – they not only cause side effects, they also mask the real problem by eliminating the pain and convincing you that you’re normal.

Don’t assume that you know your body better than your doctor and override their suggestions and orders.
Sports injuries cause more than just physical pain – the mental agony and apprehension that you go through wondering if you will ever be able to play again takes its toll on you if you don’t adopt a positive attitude and follow the right treatment. Do what has to be done, and focus on getting better so that you can start doing what you love again.

This guest post is contributed by Paul Hench, he writes on the topic of masters in public health. He welcomes your comments at his email id:


Mike Murphy

Categories: Oriental Medicine

Bagua Single Palm Change

Here is an example of walking the circle in upper basin slowly. I’m doing the single palm change to change directions. Read my earlier blogs on bagua for clarification on walking the circle.


Mike Murphy