Monthly Archives: November 2008


I went to yiquan class yesterday, and left again almost immediately. There were three of us there apart from Master Yao. I was standing in zhan zhuang and I couldn’t stop wondering whether I had flooded my apartment….

I’d put the washing machine on just before I left for class. Like in many apartments here, the washing machine is in my bathroom, and the outlet pipe isn’t plumbed in; I need to unroll it, and put it into my shower cubicle for the water to drain away. If I forget (done once, and caught in time) the water will quickly flood the bathroom and the water will rapidly move out into the living area….

So I was in zhan zhuang, and I couldn’t stop wondering whether I had remembered to unroll the outlet pipe… In the end, I decided I had to leave to go and check. It turned out I had, and there was no problem, but after that it seemed to be too late to go back.

So, I had class again today. We just worked on a couple of moves for the whole lesson, which is great for me – that’s the way I like to to learn. There were four Chinese students as well as myself, and a couple speak pretty good English. Master Yao was asking whether we had any questions. Some of the others did, I didn’t. I just watched as Master Yao corrected them, and he corrected me a few times as well.

A visitor arrived during the second hour – the German guy I mentioned previously – and Master Yao was outside talking to him for sometime. While he was outside, we starred doing a bit of tui shou; the moves I had been practising slowly turned out to be really useful for sensing and redirecting the opponent’s force, and for pushing along lines of stiffness to uproot. Hmmm, cool. One of the students who’s been there longer than me gave me some useful insights into generating fa li. He can do it from a static pose, but struggles during tui shou; he’s too eager, and signals that he’s about to use it. He said that he’d studied for a few years in New Zealand; apparently there’d been some trouble between Chinese students and some Maori, who are much bigger and stronger. He said he’d been able to use his kungfu to defend himself, but felt it was more luck than skill, which is why he’s begun to study yiquan now that he’s back in China.

The zhan zhuang is really good for my shoulder muscles; all of the muscles etc that have been chronically tense and stiff are slowly and painfully stretching and relaxing… I’m also noticing that my kua are opening a lot; the key to this was the backward and forward motion in various postures. As I go back, the weight falls on my hind leg, my head rises and spine stretches, and the heel of the forward leg rises slightly; as I sway forward, all of this reverses. At first, my forward knee would sway backwards and forwards as well, and Master Yao and other students repeatedly told me off about this – but I couldn’t work out how to stop it, and the keep the shin upright and the knee steady. Eventually, I realized that the key lies in stretching the muscles and ligaments in the hip joint… My next project is sinking my weight; I’ve improved a lot here, but during tui shou my weight rises too far, making me too easy to uproot…

Live and learn, live and learn…

Going in circles


Starting bagua again isn’t turning out to be as straightforward as I’d hoped! There are both external and internal reasons for this…

Externally, I don’t know where my teacher is! He apparently went away somewhere a couple of months ago. I called a few times, and his wife said he’d contact me when he got back, but I haven’t heard anything. I feel a bit awkward now, and I don’t want to keep on calling… I’ve tried contacting the only other one of his students who speaks English, but his phone is constantly powered off. I’ve also tried getting in touch with Kong Cheng, who introduced us, but there’s no answer there either. I am perplexed!

I’ve decided that I can”t wait any longer, which is a pity; I really like the Liu Jingru form of bagua that Sun Lao Shi was teaching me, but I’ll carry on practising that with the help of DVDs and VCDs. So, on Monday evening, I went to check out a new wushu group that teaches bagua, xingyi and sanda. It’s very close to where I work, which is a huge plus, and has classes every evening, so I can get there easily during the week. It’s hidden away behind an apartment complex, and is basically a big prefab metal shed. It’s cold inside! There’s no electricity, so the only illumination was from camping lamps, which cast stark shadows. Overall, there was a kind of cyberpunky, ‘Fight Club’ feeling which was… heh… stimulating…

When I got there, the students were doing pad work with the teacher in rotation; when they weren’t kicking, they were stretching, doing pushups, working with scaffolding poles or staffs… some were working on xingyi forms… it was clear that in this school self-motivation and individual practice are the norm. I chatted to some of the other students and they were friendly but very focussed on what they were doing. Interesting.

My contact there is an American bagua student. He showed me some of the forms, and he’s very good! The style taught in this school is Liang Zhen Pu, and the stepping is quite different to what I’ve done before in the Cheng styles.

I’m a little hesitant to start learning yet another new style. On the other hand, it’s really convenient, the guy I know there shares my outlook on learning martial arts and raves about the teacher, they apparently do a lot of group work and applications… so it seems to make sense.

I didn’t get much chance to speak to the teacher himself. He was happy for me to observe, but focussed on working with his students – kind of a ‘if you want to join, join; if you don’t, don’t’ sort of approach, I guess. Hmm. I have a lot to do today, but I’m not working, so I’m going to try to get back there right at the beginning of the class to have a word with him.

Internally… Wow. Watching the students made me realise that I haven’t done bag or pad work for a long time! If I join this school, it’s going to be a big challenge… I’m soft compared to most of the people I saw there. Better to be sure that I’m mentally prepared and ready before I do ask if I can join…

Category: Baguazhang, Beijing



While I was living in Singapore, I often thought that I would like to try some acting. It never happened. I looked around for classes, but the only options seemed to be corporate – and there just didn’t seem to be enough demand even for those.

Why am I interested in acting? Well, I wrote about it on the previous incarnation of this blog: All the World’s a Stage. After all, each of us is an actor. All of us are given a script at birth, written by our family and community. Some of us ad-lib, some of us leave the performance and head off to look for a different role…

This whole idea of acting has been on hold for a couple of years. Recently I’ve been getting closer – I’ve been attending Toastmasters, the public speaking society. I’m OK with giving prepared speeches – it kind of goes with my job – but the impromptu Table Topic sessions have been challenging.

Recently, I’ve been hanging out at a bar in the heart of historic Beijing which is well-known for its live bands – and it turns out that Beijing Improv have their meetings there as well. I caught one meeting by chance (as an observer) and it looked fun. Maybe I’ll take the plunge and give it a go…

New circles


Getting back into the bagua… Spent some time circle-walking this morning, reviewing the ba mu zhang, and working on getting my transitions right from one palm to another… I’ll have to spend a few days on this – I’m rusty after my long break – and then it’ll be on to the ba da zhang… It feels good though, after not working on my bagua for a few months; I’m noticing that my abdomen, spine and lungs feel really energized…

Category: Baguazhang

Wow, a great resource


Run, don’t walk over to YouTube, and to an absolutely amazing archive of martial arts interviews recently uploaded by MartialArtsTV MartialArchiveTV!

Just as a sample, here’s an interview with Bruce Frantzis from 1987, split into four segments. Incredible stuff.

I love the “Take it easy” pleas from his sparring partner in the 4th segment 🙂


In yesterday’s yiquan class, I was talking to Karula, the German girl who’s been staying in Beijing for a month. She studied taijiquan in Germany, and came to China specifically to study yiquan. She’s been training every day, and has the bruises on her forearm to prove it. She speaks better Mandarin that I do, and mentioned that I’d misunderstood what Master Yao said last week: it seems he said I can use his brother’s book to help me understand what is going on, I just need to be careful of some differences. That’ll be useful.

We practised a couple of the more unusual yiquan postures: ban fu shi chengbao zhuang (bending over expanding-embracing post) and xiang long zhuang (landing dragon combat post). The first is standing, but bent forward with the arms and forehead resting on a support, and is apparently good for the intestines. The second is a long stance, with 70% of the weight on the forward leg (it’s usually 70% on the back), arms raised, and the torso twisted so that you’re looking backwards… It needs reasonably good balance, and is developing waist power, I think!

Karula and I tried some tui shou, as the the German guy who’s usually with her wasn’t at class. I thought they’d come together from Germany, but it seems he actually lives in Beijing, is a long-term student of Master Yao’s, and was just helping to translate. Anyway, something interesting occurred, as I was pretty tired: as Karula tried to press me, I deflected her force and – in that slightly dreamy state you get when you’re tired – I found my hands “sticking” to her arm and going almost automatically into taiji’s “cloud hands”, which demonstrated that it is an effective joint-breaker. Hmm. Of course, I didn’t break her elbow, but it became clear that it could be done! It made me think about my views that sparring practice is necessary in training: yesterday, that application of cloud hands emerged spontaneously – but I’m not sure it would have been so clear, or at all useful, if that had been a real fight rather than a training session….

Speaking of training and sparring, a Serbian girl lives downstairs from me. She started attending wushu classes for the first time shortly after I moved into my apartment, and showed me some of what she’s learned. Even though she and her fellow-students are all novices, her teacher has already got them started on the short staff (bian gan), similar to what I studied for a short while with Sun Lao Shi. She’s already way better than me! There’s many possible reasons for that of course 🙂 but one is certainly that they train the form in class, but then also do free-form sparring, learning to apply what they’ve just studied – so learning to improvise, improve reflexes, and so on! Of course, it helps that she’s fluent in Mandarin!

I was planning to go out with friends to have dinner last night, but it got cancelled at the last minute. That left me at an unexpected loose end, so I headed down to Houhai to see what was up. I’ve noticed that since the Olympics there are many more touts – in some sections, almost every bar has a young guy or two outside trying to lure in passers-by, plus lots of “lady bar” pimps. They’re getting a lot more aggressive as well; I think a lot of people invested heavily in bars for the Olympics and, when the visitors didn’t arrive in the numbers that were expected, found that they are not recouping their money. That’s just my theory, but it’s a fact that these guys are barely stopping short of physically dragging people off the road and into their bar! One of these lads got particularly in my face last night, well beyond what I thought was acceptable, and it led to a bit of a scuffle and name-calling. Nothing more serious! I should, of course, have let it pass but I notice that since I started training yiquan I’ve got a bit more of a temper. I expected this – those of you who knew me in Singapore may recall that I said for quite some time that I didn’t want to study xingyi, because I was worried that xingyi is by nature pretty brutal, and I was concerned about the effect it would have on my temperament. Well, yiquan is derived from xingyi and, yes, I’m finding that its directness and ferocity are having an effect. I’m going to need to start balancing my training with meditation – which would be a good thing to do anyway.

Heh, on the topic of aggression on the streets, this is of course one reason why I want to develop my ability to protect myself if need be! Dragoncache thinks I’m being over-stressed about this, and he’s probably right but… on the other hand…. there’s a recession coming, and hard times with it. China’s a pretty safe place, of course, but on the other hand, you know, there are a lot of people here who have got used to an ever-improving economy, and may not be prepared for the money drying up. At the back of my mind, I recall the TV scenes of the riots in Indonesia in ’97….

So on that note, a couple of links:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not walking the streets in fear! China is very safe 🙂

And as for that scuffle with the tout… I felt bad afterwards that I’d let myself be provoked. When I sat down later, though, I started reading my copy of The Compass of Zen, which I had in my bag, and it opened to the page about the Avatamsaka Sutra, and I read:

The Avatamsaka Sutra teaches that everything is truth. In Hinayana Buddhism, for example, getting angry and then acting on that anger is not such a good state. But the Avatamsaka Sutra displays Mahayana Buddhism’s extremely wide view: like everything else in this universe, anger is also truth. For example, a child misbehaves and plays in a dangerous street. The parent sees this and becomes very angry. The parent scolds or even spanks the child. “How many times have I told you not to do that?”. The child’s behaviour is the truth: it is not good or bad. The spanking and the scolding are also neither good nor bad, and they are also the truth. Whereas the Hinayana view is to try not to act on anger, in this view – the view of the Avatamsaka – the anger and the scolding and the spanking are meant to prevent the child from causing harm to himself and others. They are simply truth.

I’m going to think about this.

A pause for thought


I was on MSN last night chatting to Carlos, who commented that I’ve been quiet for a while. Very true. It’s not that things haven’t been happening, more that I’ve been trying to absorb and process it all.

The yiquan is going very well indeed; I’m loving it. The weekend before last saw quite large classes on both Saturday and Sunday, with the foreigners (German & Russian) that I mentioned before, plus more Chinese than usual. On the Sunday, we practiced with the staff, which was cool; it’s not a weapon I’ve used much before.

Last weekend saw a big change. It turns out that many of the Chinese who have been coming for the last few weeks are not actually from Beijing; they’ve been staying for short periods to train, but have now gone home. The Russians have also left, and the Germans depart next week – which means that before long, it could be just me and Master Yao at the weekend small classes! That’s a rather scary thought, given the language barrier… Of course, I’ve been having 1-1 lessons with non-English-speaking teachers for the last year or so – Master Zhou in Singapore, Master Sun Zhijun, Mi Lao Shi and Sun Lao Shi here in Beijing – but that was bagua… I don’t mean to say that bagua is any less profound that yiquan (much more, in many ways) but if nothing else it’s much easier to actually see what the teacher is doing in bagua! Yiquan is much more subtle… Still, I’m looking forward to it.

I did politely ask Yao Lao Shi whether it would be ok to use the books I’d bought from his brother, Yao Chengguang, earlier this summer. He suggested it would be better not to, as they don’t do things the same way (I couldn’t follow what the differences are, but the point was clear). So, right now, I’m trying to use VLC to rip Yao Lao Shi’s DVD (Yao Chengrong, that is) so that I can put clips onto my iPod. So far it’s not working – the picture is badly distorted 🙁

Even with the communication issues, I am learning huge amounts very quickly in the yiquan lessons. My ‘kua’ and shoulders are stretching and relaxing. My weight is sinking more naturally right down to the soles of my feet and is better distributed when it gets there. Although yiquan doesn’t talk about qi, I’m feeling some kind of sensation at my lower and middle dantians while I’m in zhan zhuang (post-holding standing posture). I’m even having new insights into (Cheng) bagua’s palm use and mud-stepping!

And so, speaking of the bagua… I have no idea where Sun Lao Shi is. I called a couple of times in October but his wife said that he was travelling, and that he would contact me when he got back. I haven’t heard anything but so far it’s not really a bad thing… As I’ve mentioned here, I kind of lost my direction for a while, and stopped training solo. However, I began to use VLC to put clips from VCDs of Liu Jing Ru onto my iPod (it works fine with VCDs; the problem is with DVDs) and that finally relit the flame, so I’ve started training again. I’ll spend a while refreshing my memory on the details of the ba mu zhang and ba da zhang at first, and then move on to doing it faster and longer (for aerobic fitness) and with steel rings/wrist & ankle weights (for endurance and strength). A friend of mine says that he often goes to Ditan Park in the morning to work on his Chen taiji, so I may try to join him – it’s only a couple of subway stops away.

So that’s the news up until now….