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Changshi Quan


Main Idea

Consider this scenario. An attacker is starting to attack you. You cannot escape, and therefore you strike to defend yourself. Do you think about using your fist? Your forearm? Your elbow? You shouldn't be thinking. There is no time. These surfaces should be so conditioned that you just strike and whatever surface hits, hits, and you keep moving and hitting targets with appropriate force until you are safe. That is one of the essences of what I call Chángshì Quán (常识拳), or "Commonsense Fist", the system of martial arts I created and practice.

My Martial Arts Background

My martial arts background is ITF taekwondo (2nd blue or purple when I was younger, white as adult), Zheng Manqing taijiquan (20+ years), intermediate Olympic style foil fencing (3 years), American kenpo (1st degree black), and Okinawan karate (white). I also have white belts in Judo and Aikido and several other martial arts I tested out. I also read like crazy! I finally realized that while I enjoy and respect all of these and other martial arts, including some of their past and current masters and practitioners, these arts all have some serious defects, which as a thinking person, I cannot ignore nor invest my mental energy, time, and money in any further. I am only interested in protecting myself (and family) from unprovoked attacks that I cannot talk or walk my way out of, ie. real-world self defense, in the most efficient way possible. Period. So-called bridge burning is generally a bad thing, but not if that bridge led to Bullshitville and you're also saving someone else from travelling there.

Some Common and Obvious Problems in Martial Arts

When I was practicing Okinawan karate, I asked my wife to punch so I could practice an outer block. She punched, but not the way I was expecting. I told her this was for me to practice the outer block and if could she punch like so and so instead. She did, and I blocked it. Now I ask myself, just what was I practicing? I certainly was not practicing a real outer block since the attack was completely unreal.

I understand that techniques contain ideas and so forth, but having dozens of techniques per belt is pointless repetition. An admitted silly technique will be put into your muscle memory even if Sensei says "But one wouldn't really do it like this for real." If that is the case, why practice it at all? The ideas and principles can be taught in an hour. Practicing say 3 or 4 techniques really well as your "go-tos" will serve you better in an actual fight.

Sensei worship. Yes, Sensei is a badass and his Sensei is a badass, and so on. However, that is all extremely irrelevant. They are not there with you if a real fight occurs. Don't rest on their laurels. Plant your own laurel tree instead. Also, do not flop for every technique your Sensei does on you. If you allow him to get you in a wristlock for a demonstration, do not then flop around on the floor and pretend that it is the most devastating thing ever done to you and you couldn't do anything about it. That is just pathetic!

What is the bottom line? Many martial arts tend to keep their hands down, love the step through punch, have numerous katas with forced kiais, don't focus on footwork, and don't really practice survival skills. Most martial arts have layers of unnecessary or silly techniques or ideas and unhealthy cultural baggage.

Characteristics of Commonsense Martial Arts

If someone strikes you unexpectedly, no matter the strike, everyone has a startle response of putting your hands up. Let's work with that. Next, we take the fingers and make them into fists to protect them since fingers can break easily.

No matter the distance, the striking movement can be the same. The surface that lands on the attacker would be different. There is no real need to practice a million different strikes or blocks. Consider the table below:

distance from attacker
surface that hits attacker

One would not need to practice three separate strikes, but just one strike ("3 in 1"). Condition your forearms and fists, practice hard, spar, and you're good to go.

It is not worth your time to learn pressure points. In combat, one cannot seek out an enemy's pressure points at will. Fighting is too chaotic for that. But quite simply, I will hit so hard that I will turn your entire body into one pressure point no matter where I hit. As my Papaw said "Your X hurts? Let me pinch your Y (in a different spot) so you'll forget all about X!" Don't think about pressure points, but do think about targets, and only two or three main targets. If I hit your head/neck, your computer gets shut down. If I hit your throat/stomach, the gas (oxygen, breath) for your engine gets taken away. If I hit your groin/knee, your root gets chopped. What else is there?

Let's take a look at kicking techniques. We keep kicks at groin and knees (front and back), and below the waist in general. We also stomp. We do all of this not by practicing many kicks but only one or two kicks. We also use stepping and a kick as footwork to off angle and get to the side or rear of the enemy. We value balance and ending a situation as quickly as possible.

Yet another example is leverage. We tend to keep our limbs close in in general and definitely snap them back. This gives power, sets you up to give another strike, as well as helps prevent being caught in a lock like an armbar.

We focus on standup striking rather than a ground game. Ground techniques are important, but I feel since we are upright and fights start upright, one gets more bang for the buck focusing on standup, and being prevented from being taken down, and striking your opponent to the ground, running away if needed, and getting back up fast if taken down.

I also primarily train at home. Home is as close as it gets, is free, and there are no (or to be honest I should say fewer) excuses to practice compared to working out at a dojo. There will also be no sensei worshipping nor politics. There are, quite simply, no limitations.

We train weapons from the beginning. Don't fall for the "you have to be an advanced belt before you can train weapons" line. Weapons, or as I prefer to say, self defense tools, begins and ends with escrima sticks and really sticks of any kind, as well as some knife work.

We train principles, especially power principles. The principles of torque, backup mass, gravitational marriage/Dempsey drop step/ITF taekwondo sin wave, are ideally done all at once and in every movement, especially the 3 in 1 strikes.

We discard the majority of sports notions, as these can get you killed. Combat sports are still games. We have a more law enforcement officer/bodyguard mindset.

There are perhaps a few more principles of Changshi Quan, but this is a good starter list.

Thoughts on Kata

We recognize the idea of forms (kata) is extremely important, but doing a lot of kata is extremely pointless. Therefore we focus on one form which basically contains our entire curriculum, and work towards mastering it. The form does not have any flowery movements. The form I've found ideal is a variant of Naihanchi Shodan. I was first exposed to Naihanchi Shodan during my short time with Okinawan karate and fell in love with it. First, many karate masters have said and say that Naihanchi is the soul of karate, all you ever need, and the other forms like the Pinan series were introduced to teach to children and a mass audience and to hide a lot of the more dangerous locks and throws. Naihanchi Shodan has many if not all of the ideas that Naihanchi Nidan and Naihanchi Sandan contain. Naihanchi Shodan is short in the number of moves and the time it takes to perform it. It has a very practical kick (returning wave kick, namegaeshi) that has many applications. The form is also symmetric, training both sides of your body at once. To have a form with all these traits simultaneously is amazing. Here is the form as I practice it with some annotations. Note that "strike" can also mean block/throw, so don't read too much into the labels:

Personal variant of Naihanchi Shodan

  1. opening (L palm over R fist at low abdomen level. This is the scholar/warrior idea as well as the dantian idea.)
  2. look to R w L cross step to R (this step can also be a stomp.)
  3. R inverse ridge hand, L pulls back
  4. R pulls w L elbow
  5. LR cup/saucer w look L (I also practice the cup/saucer move as what I call a "universal grab". I can grab you anywhere and pull you into left/right position, set up a throw, and so on. It is also practiced as a parry from below.)
  6. L low strike/block, R pulls back (this strike is done with the 3 in 1 idea mentioned above.)
  7. RL cup/saucer
  8. R cross step to L
  9. R outer block, L pulls back (block is done with elbow in tight on ribs for leverage.)
  10. L high/R low universal block/parry (The "universal block" can also be a parry from the side or kagite.)
  11. L strike w R pulldown/support (This is also practiced as a parry from above, and also a 3 in 1.)
  12. look L
  13. L wave kick (this kick can be done many different ways.)
  14. L/R double forearm strike to L (maybe the main 3 in 1 strike of this system.)
  15. look R
  16. R wave kick
  17. L/R double strike to R
  18. LR cup/saucer w look L
  19. L/R double strike (another 3 in 1)
  20. look to L w R cross step to L (I added this cross step for total symmetry.)
  21. L inverse ridge hand, R pulls back
  22. L pulls w R elbow
  23. RL cup/saucer w look R
  24. R low strike/block, L pulls back
  25. LR cup/saucer
  26. L cross step to R
  27. L outer block, R pulls back
  28. R high/L low universal block/parry
  29. R strike w L pulldown/support
  30. look R
  31. R wave kick
  32. R/L double forearm strike to R
  33. look L
  34. L wave kick
  35. R/L double strike to L
  36. RL cup/saucer w look R
  37. R/L double strike to L
  38. R foot in, and close (L palm over R fist at low abdomen level)
  39. hands by side, bow (think about what you learned, internally thank yourself, your practice partners, teachers, systems, countries, etc.)

We would also use parts of this kata to drill/spar from.

Thank for you reading about the martial art of Changshi Quan or Commonsense Fist that I created. I tried not to get preachy and advertisey, but wanted to communicate my background, why I created it, and what it is.

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Standard martial arts disclaimer: The material contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only. Before undertaking the study of any martial art, you should consult with your physician. You should be aware if you engage in martial arts you are doing so entirely at your own risk, including any present and/or future physical or psychological pain or injury that you may incur. The author of this content cannot assume any responsibility or liability for any injuries or losses that you may incur as a result of acting upon any information provided by this content, or any links to other martial arts information found herein.

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