Monthly Archives: March 2008

Bagua and zen weekend


Saturday: I took the train on line 13 from Wudaokou, looped far round to the north of Beijing, and got off at Guanximen, which is just across a river from where Master Sun Zhijun lives. I say river, it’s more like a storm drain, with a trickle of filthy water running along it, backed up into pools occcasionally where people have thrown building waste onto the river bed. Heh, but it does have lots of nice trees along its length. I think I was just in a bad mood: on Thursday, the weather had changed from the lovely warm spring back to wintry cold and rain – not nice at all 🙁 On Saturday it wasn’t raining any more, but it was still very cold.

Mi Lao Shi was already at Master Sun’s apartment, along with another lady whose name I didn’t get. We chatted for a while, and then went outside again, to where a circle has been painted on the yard, including a “starting box”. I was pretty rusty, so we worked on the first half of the bagua needles / pan guan bi form. It came back fairly quickly, and Mi Lao Shi corrected a lot of small mistakes – in particular, moves where the hands are meant to be yin and yang (eg one facing upwards, and the other down) but where I was doing the move with both yin or both yang…

After a while, Master Sun and the other lady came down to watch, and Master Sun also gave his feedback. Mi Lao Shi and her friend both speak some English, which really helps! It was fun. After our hour was up, we went back up to Master Sun’s apartment, and chatted for a while longer. I mentioned again to Mi Lao Shi that I’m hoping to learn applications; after we’ve worked on the basics, we’ll be able to move on to that. I’m not sure whether that will be taught by Mi Lao Shi, or by Master Sun… I couldn’t follow their conversation closely, but I got the impression it would be the latter.

So there we are, that was my first bagua bi lesson in Beijing! Looking forward to the rest…

On Sunday morning, it was off again to Sun Ru Xian’s apartment across the road from the Old Summer Palace. This is getting confusing: from now on, I think I’ll refer to Sun Zhijun as Master Sun, and Sun Ru Xian as Sun Lao Shi….

So ,anyway, I spent the two hours working on the first three palms, plus the single and double palm changes. Hehehe, like many of my teachers, I think Sun Lao Shi might be a little surprised at how slow on the uptake I am, but there we are, I’m dumb, so let’s just work with it 😉

It was pretty cool. The Chinese xingyi student is in Hong Kong this weekend, but the Dutch guy and English woman, Rene and H, were back again, working on the tanglangquan. We were also joined by a French guy whose name I forgot; he’s working on Yiquan. Also there were a couple of Sun Lao Shi’s longer-term students, Chinese guys in their forties. They were really nice, down to earth, working guys, no pretences at all – the real, classic, traditional martial arts students, in the sense that they were there in their everyday suits and ties – the kind of old-school working class we don’t see in the West much any more. They were both bagua guys, and one in particular gave me a lot of help with the double palm change while Sun Lao Shi was working with the other students.

On the previous occasions when I’ve lived in Beijing, I’ve missed being able to study Buddhism in English, and wasn’t expecting to find much on this occasion. Luckily, H had found a Zen teacher who runs classes very close to where I’m living, and so after our class with Sun Lao Shi we went there. It was really cool – Master Wei’s a nice guy, with lots of TCM experience, and a long background in Zen. We chatted for quite some time, then went into seated meditation, followed by some walking meditation. This last was done very fast – totally not the very slow, measured walking I was expecting… We had to leave quickly after this, as we had a bit of a time crunch, so I’ll have to wait until I see him next time to ask him about that.

Finally, I introduced H to a vegetarian restaurant in Tsinghua Yuan, where the Sichuan hot pot is absolutely delicious! Mmmmmmm 🙂

First bagua class


I met Master Sun Ru Xian at his apartment at 9am. We were waiting for some other people to arrive, so we chatted for a while. He’d already prepared a personal curriculum for me, based on our conversation the previous Sunday: the basic eight palms, including the I Ching diagram for each, single and double palm changes, and the nine palaces.

Then we went to start our class. The others trickled in slowly: the Chinese student I’d met before, who’s studying xingyiquan and a Shaolin form, plus a younger couple, a Dutch guy and an English woman, who are studying tanglanquan.We each worked on our own thing, as Master Sun moved between us.

For me, Master Sun had me working on the first three basic palms, plus the single palm change. He teaches Cheng style, but there are a number of differences from what I’ve learned from Madam Ge, especially “Great Roc Spreads its Wings”, and the Single Palm change.

I haven’t been practising for some time, so my bad habits are reasserting themselves – in particular, my qi being too high, causing my stepping to be unrooted, and my shoulder muscles being tight. To deal with the former, he had me hold bricks, especially in the Great Roc palm – the muscles get tired really quickly and have to un-knot.

After the class, the Chinese student (Peter), his wife, and I went to a nearby martial arts supplies shop to buy strap-on weights for the wrists or ankles. We each bought a 4kg set for the wrists, and a 5kg set for the ankles – at only 10RMB per set, why not?

I enjoyed the class a lot; it’s nice to have a bunch of people around training in different forms. At the end I was tired, but not too tired… I’m thinking of taking a training in xingyiquan with Peter, and then following on immediately after with another class of bagua…

Two Suns, one Mi

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Well…

So I went to visit Master Sun Zhi Jun this afternoon; he’d said he wanted to speak to me about my wanting to study bagua while I’m here.

I had a difficult time getting to his home. My taxi dropped me in the wrong place and, when I asked for directions, passersby sent me in all kinds of different directions. I called Master Sun, but that didn’t really help, as I couldn’t tell where I was! I very nearly gave up in frustration. In the end, someone finally put me right, and I made it to his apartment, half an hour late.

We chatted for a while; not easy, because my Mandarin is so lousy. I explained that I really wanted to focus on the bagua bi, so he called up Mi Jun Pei – by his own admission, she’s the specialist in that, and better than he is himself. So, if all goes to plan, I will meet her at Master Sun Zhi Jun’s apartment complex every Saturday afternoon from now on to train for one hour. Master Sun will also be there, but won’t teach. We discussed the price, and agreed on an amount that still reflects his status, but isn’t as high as the price first mentioned. I really want to work on the application aspects, so this should be interesting.

Tomorrow morning, I’m meeting another Master Sun – Sun Ru Xian – for my first baguazhang lesson. As I mentioned before, he’s from Master Liu Jing Ru’s lineage, and is very good on application. I’m looking forward to it…

Category: Baguazhang, Beijing

Beijing Shichahai Sports School


Where Madam Ge Chunyan went to school. Oh, and a promising young student called Jet Li. Whatever became of him…?

I don’t know what it was like then, but now the students must need all of their kung fu skills to evade the rickshaw touts and tourist traffic…

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Category: Beijing, Martial Arts

An eyebrow is raised


A colleague of mine volunteered to act as an interpreter today, so I finally gave Master Sun Zhijun a call again.

Since I last tried to contact him, I’ve been thinking more about what I want to achieve while I’m here in Beijing. My free time is extremely limited; my job is very time-consuming, and I have a lot of other claims on my non-work hours. So, my conclusion was: I can learn baguazhang in Singapore. I should spend my time in Beijing taking advantage of specialized skills that are only available here. OK, so I want to work on bagua applications with Master Sun Ru Xian, as I mentioned before; he’s very close to where I live, and personal experience has convinced me that he’s for real. With Master Sun Zhi Jun, I decided that I really want to work on the Emei Ci that I studied last year in Singapore; not just the form, but also the application.

So, my colleague spoke to him on my behalf today, as I sat next to her and contributed questions. There were a couple of things I didn’t quite follow. He corrected my colleague, and insisted he teaches Pan Guan Bi, not Emei Ci – and yet everyone else (including the factory that makes them) insists that the weapon I studied, with the ring halfway along the length, is an Emei Ci, and the Pan Guan Bi is something else entirely (see photos a couple of posts ago). I’m not sure where this disagreement about names comes from.

Anyhow, his view is that if I want to study [the weapon in question], I should study with one of his students, who specializes in it; this is probably Mi Jun Pei, who taught the course in Singapore. If I want to study baguazhang with him, ie the unarmed form, his rate is [January 2010: redacted, since this is an old figure]RMB/hour, which I couldn’t afford anyway. It doesn’t matter since, as mentioned above, with him, or his students, I want to work on the [weapon] and its real-life application, not the empty hand form. I’m going to try to meet him next Saturday to talk this over.

Category: Baguazhang, Beijing

Why get the snip?

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One thing I’ve often wondered about when I’m reading about baguazhang is why Dong Hai Chuan became a eunuch. None of the reasons I’ve read really satisfy me. If it was to assassinate the Emperor, it was a pretty dumb idea; I’m pretty sure that the Imperial Guards would keep a very close eye on the Palace Eunuchs. Hiding out from the police? It’s a pretty extreme way to lie low; he must have been very desperate – and such a sought-after fugitive would surely have risked ultra-severe punishment if he was discovered to have infiltrated the Court itself. There would have been much better, and less painful and risky, ways to avoid attention – even migrating to Malaya or Singapore, for example, was an option at that point in time.

Maybe it was just to get a nice income?

In trying to understand why on earth someone would submit to castration late in life, I’ve not understood:

  • What would be the motivation?
  • How did people actually get selected to be eunuchs?
  • What exactly was the status, role and ‘career path’ of eunuchs?

I’ve been reading Osbert Sitwell’s 1939 book, “Escape with me!”, in which he describes his impressions of Beijing after living there for a winter in the mid 1930s. At one point, he goes out of the city towards the Western Hills, in order to visit a colony of eunuchs; former servants of the Imperial Court who were driven out in the 1920s, and who were living out their old age forgotten, in poverty. This section sheds some light for me on why Dong may have chosen this ‘career path’.

My readers may well demand why any human beings should voluntarily surender themselves to such treatment, especially when they must have known beforehand what was in store for them, and when, furthermore, the Chinese emphasis, civil and religious, on the virtues of paternity, and belief in them, are taken into account?…

But the answer is a very simple one: China was a country vast and poor, and the profession of Palace Eunuch was the only certain road in it to riches for the man who was both destitute and uneducated. In order to qualify, no competitive examinations were necessary, as in almost every other walk of life. Not seldom, too, it led, through the favour of Emperor or Empress, to a great career. Moreover, the Palace Eunuch lived at the centre of things, in the Imperial Palace. For these reasons, the appointment to such a post was eagerly sought after, and its drawbacks minimized in the popular mind.

Thus, quite apart from those whose parents had chosen them, and prepared them, for the role at an early age, hoping themselves to profit by ot, or whose cast of mind had, to a certain extent, fitted their characters in advance to their new situation, manifesting a cunning and love of intrigue, a feeling for dress and ceremonial, and, above all, for money, that sought its outlet in such an existence as only the Forbidden City could supply, in addition many a poor married man, with wife and children, and without any special ability for the life of an oriental palace, would have the operation performed on him in order to obtain the chance of providing for his family after his death.

Contacts missed and found

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I mentioned that a chat with Carlos had got me thinking about yiquan… So, I did a bit of googling, and discovered that I’m not the only one with yiquan on my mind. That in turn led me to realise that Tabbycat is blogging again, which I hadn’t been aware of. More than that, he was in Beijng! So, I dropped him an email… but a bit too late; he’d just left for the States again. Well, I’ll be here for a while… Anyway, as I’ve often mentioned over the last couple of years, I have a real problem with being stiff, particularly in the shoulders. I’m very tempted to sign up later in the year for one of the Yiquan Academy‘s 30-day intensive beginners’ courses; I really think that intense sessions of zhan zhuang might do the trick as far as relaxing and opening the joints goes, not to mention posture…. Well, we’ll see.

I’ve caught up again with Will, who was the senior student at the Beijing Milun School back when I was here before in 2004/5; he’s too busy running his restaurant these days to do much martials arts beyond a bit of Chen taiji. The food is very good, though!

I called Master Sun Zhujin, to talk about meeting him for classes. If I understood him correctly, he’s free to teach on weekends. Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand where he lives! It got a bit frustrating; I’ll have to call him back again when I’ve enlisted a Chinese-speaker to help me….

As I’ve mentioned, Master Liu Jingru lives way down in the south of Beijing; I’m way up in the north, and it’s just not practical for me to get down there. However, I’d been in touch with his main student, Kong Cheng, who was so helpful to me last June (it was Kong Cheng who took me to Dong Hai Chuan’s grave). Kong Cheng happened to be in Wudaokou this morning, so we met up. He was in a real hurry; he’s flying Italy tonight, and will be there until June, teaching acupuncture and bagua in a series of cities. We met at Lush, where I was having breakfast.

As we chatted, I mentioned the difficulty I was having, ie that all the bagua teachers are very far from the University district. “Oh, but there’s one very close!”, he said, “Do you want to meet him?”. A couple of minutes later, we were in a taxi, on our way to meet Master Sun Ru Xian, who lives just north of Tsinghua University, near the Yuanmingyuan ruins. He’s studied a lot of internal martial arts, and is first and foremost a xingyi man. I spent a few hours talking to him; he’s really nice and down to earth, as is his wife. He has a few very friendly dogs as well! My luck continued to hold good; one of his students was there, a Chinese guy who had taken his MBA in Singapore (U of Chicago), and speaks excellent English.

Master Sun asked whether I wanted to learn for health, performance or application; I said application, which was clearly the right answer. He spent a lot of the time throwing me around (his apartment fortunately has big, soft sofas), and it looks like I might start training with him next week. He’s a heavyset guy in his 50s, very strong. He’s a student of Liu Jing Ru amongst many others. We also chatted about Yiquan, which he learned from Wang XiangZhai; he pointed out quite rightly that it’s only something to study if I have a lot of spare time.

Well, funny how things turn out…

The shop

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Where all that cool stuff is to be found…. To answer Ed’s question in a previous comment, the shop is in the town of Xiang Shan, about a 30-minute bus ride from Tsinghua University. The prices are great because it’s a factory shop – the weapons sold around China and the world are actually manufactured just outside this beautiful park!

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This is the street it’s on:

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On another note, after a chat with Carlos on MSN yesterday, I wonder if anyone has any thoughts about yiquan…?

Emei ci and other stuff

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Emei ci:
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Pan Guan Bi


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