It’s exactly six years since I moved from the UK to Singapore. So much has happened since then! I did write a long, thoughtful post about it all – but WordPress ate it, and I can’t be bothered to re-write it!
Monthly Archives: December 2008
I went to bagua school again last night, a bit late again after work.
Once again, there were only three students there: myself and two Chinese. The teacher got me working on strength exercises again: kicking, punching while holding bricks, the “da gun” (big staff), etc. It is big too, twelve feet long and made of some kind of heavy hardwood! He pointed out that bagua uses “big for practice, small for use” with all weapons.
After that, we reviewed what i’ve done so far of the linear form, which is gradually sticking in my memory!
Finally, we worked on so bagua qin na routines, which is completely new to me. It’s quite a revelation: many of these moves are so simple, and yet competely non-intuituve (to me at least!).
Most interesting is that the teacher, when he’s showing new moves, reinforces them by reciting the old bagua songs. Of course, I can’t understand the words – this is probably pretty advanced stuff even for fairly advanced second-language Mandarin speakers – but I’ve got the book, and I should perhaps start paying more attention to it!
On another note, I got an SMS the other day from Kong Cheng, Liu Jing Ru’s disciple – it seems the long silence was because he’s been out of town for a while. Hopefully we’ll catch up soon.
I went along to the bagua school again last night – I find I can’t say “I went to class” when the school is open every night and students drop in as and when they can…
I got there quite late (held up by things at work), and the teacher arrived at the same time. There were several people waiting – a couple of Chinese I hadn’t met before, and an American who’s studying xingyi ( I mentioned him before – he tends to go through his forms outside the building).
The teacher got me started on strength training, including:
– dropping into squats and then coming up into kicks
– punching exercises while holding bricks
– striking routines with a short length of scaffolding pole
– striking routines with a heavy 10-foot staff
and a few others. I haven’t done any strength- or aerobic training for a long time, so I was panting and sweating hard pretty quickly! The teacher told me, though, that just doing forms without this kind of work is empty training, and I agree. The American, who speaks much better Mandarin than I do, gave me some hints with the staff work, which was useful.
After some time spent on this training, I was put back to work on the bagua linear set. We reviewed what I’d done before – I ‘d forgotten some details – and then some new moves were introduced. As before, I spent most of the rest of the evening just repeating these, back and forth, back and forth. Cool.
One of the Chinese turned out to be a friend of the teachers, an expert in shuijiao (Chinese wrestling). While I was working on the forms, he spent some time in a tui shou session with the American; they seemed fairly evenly matched. After that, the American and I had a go; I managed to hold my own, somewhat to my surprise. By trying to stay calm, and responding naturally, I found that some of the yiquan techniques I’ve practised were effective.
Later, the American and Chinese had another session, but this time following wrestling rules – the Chinese guy won decisively!
Once again, I was struck by the ambience: the steaming breath as we all worked out; needing to wear a hat, or pull up a hood as soon as you stop moving; the sound of the train going by just outside the building….
I was hungry when I got home last night, but too tired to go out an eat! Today, of course, I’m aching. However, like I said before, this is the sort of training environment I’ve been looking for for a long time!
Oh, and a personal insight: one of the moves we practised was “pi quan” (?), a crushing, windmilling chop. Even with the teacher standing there telling me to hit him, I found it really difficult to do it. It was the same in last night’s tui shou, as well as in the yiquan classes: I actually have a strong and deeply ingrained inhibition against trying to hit someone. Not a bad thing, of course, but it’s good/useful to realize that it’s there
One of the great things about Singapore is that it has a very vibrant, very traditional martial arts scene. From my own experience there, I know for sure that there are some great masters around. However, it does seem that the overall age of the martial arts community is increasing, as the younger generation choose other hobbies… Dunno, what do my Singaporean readers think? I’m just writing this after reading this article from Yahoo! Singapore news. Will MMA rejuvenate the scene, or just lead the new generation further away from their traditional roots?
Yeah, sorry, bad pop lyrics, that’s more Dragoncache’s field than mine (man, that guy is a compendium of cheesy lyrics from years gone by!) – but enough of such trivia!
I thoroughly enjoyed this weekend’s yiquan classes. Not many people there on either Saturday or Sunday, only myself and two or three other students. That’s cool; on the rare occasions when it’s been just me and Master Yao there, it’s been kind of embarrassing since I often haven’t a clue what he’s saying (due solely to my lousy Mandarin, of course). When there’s a couple of others there, they can all chat and ask questions, and I just sort of do my thing and follow along and observe, and I actually feel like I learn quite a bit. Every now and then I have a question myself; more often, I just try something out with Master Yao or another student to see whether I’ve understood a principle, and that gets me along. However, I’ve been told off for not practicing enough outside class. I had actually been working on the standing zhan zhuang, but Master Yao wants me to do more of the moving shi li exercises. Well OK then, as they put it in one of Nicholas Cage’s better films (see, I can do obscure cultural references too).
Master Yao records a lot of his larger classes, with the aim of putting material onto his website (see my blogroll on the right). He also films other events. He puts these on play during class (there’s a TV on one wall, and it’s just there as background). On Sunday, he put on a video of an event from the day before – the ceremony when he accepted a new indoor disciple. It was really interesting to watch: lots of tipping libations, koutou-ing (sp?) and so on. I assumed that the new disciple must have been studying with Master Yao for some time, but apparently not, according to one of the other students. I’m not sure exactly how Master Yao accepts/chooses disciples, but it seems that one needn’t have been one of his students for a particularly long period.
Moving on.. this evening I went for the second time to the new bagua school, and I’m totally enthused again. I went in, the teacher said hi, and then he ignored me and carried on working with a xingyi student. I changed, went into the ‘bagua room’, and carried on with what I was doing last week (the first move of the 64-linear form). Taichibum and another student were already there, doing circular forms. We had a chat, then got on with our respective practice. It was really cool, just going back and forth, back and forth, with those two guys circling away… This is what I’ve been looking for: a community of learners, each going at their own pace rather than all doing the same thing at the same pace. Taichibum gave me some really useful advice, which improved what I was doing a lot.
After about three quarters of an hour or so, the teacher came by to take a look. He took me out into the main ‘factory’ area and took me through some more sections of the linear form. He’s really patient – as soon as I get lost, I ask to go back and start again, and he’s got no problem with that. Every new move is accompanied by a demonstration of what it’s for – which again, I can practice again and again until I’m clear about it. This is just great 🙂 The ambience helps a bit as well: like I said, it’s a big old post-industrial space, lit only by a couple of camping lamps; this means I’m training on my own thing, breath steaming in the cold air, and I can see maybe the teacher and another student or two, and the rest are just shadows moving in the darkness…
Basically, as far as coming to Beijing to work on my martial arts is concerned, this is it. This is the situation I’ve been looking for. It didn’t happen the way I expected, but… things worked out for the best. The crucial thing for me now is to practice, practice, practice…
Well, Dragoncache gave me a call last week, and mentioned that the director who’d filmed me in June was trying to contact me – apparently, she had a DVD with a copy of the program to give me, but she’d lost my number. I met up with her at Wanfujing, and we chatted for a while… Apparently, the version I’ve got is not the final cut – which is just well, because at one point they’ve included a picture of Huo Yuanjia, and say it’s Dong Hai Chuan… Oops!
Dragoncache is the star; he’s featured a lot with his sifu and his bagua brothers and sisters – and, of course, his Chinese wife, which adds human interest 🙂 His bagua is good; very fluid. They actually show me demonstrating taijiquan more than anything else, though there’s a very nice sequence of me working on the pan guan bi with Mi Lao Shi and Sun Zhijun Lao Shi (including me doing an overhead strike when the bi gets tangled up in an overhanging branch! Ahahaha, not good to do in a fight!). Overall, I’m actually quite pleased with the way I’m depicted, especially given the way that the crew pissed me off at the time. However, it really does clearly show that a) my lower back needs a lot of work, and b) man, do I need to lose weight…. Hehehehe well, never mind. I had to promise faithfully not to put any of it online, so no you can’t see. I think it’s due to be broadcast overseas next year sometime, but I don’t know more than that….
This just appeared on YouTube – an glimpse into Yiquan master Cui Rui Bin’s training centre. Apparently it’s just outside Beijing. Nice…
They train in zhan zhuang post-standing for 70 minutes every morning, and again every afternoon! OK, note to self: get practicing!
I just want to highlight this important post by my friend Sim Pern Yiau of Singapore Nam Wah Pai…
I went along to the new school today. The teacher was “Oh. You’re back. OK, let’s get started.” Heh. He told me to stretch while he took another student through a turning/jumping kick sequence. He wanted to see how high I could kick, which turned out to be not far off my old standard – I’ve been stretching a lot lately…
As I mentioned before, the school is in a big old post-industrial space. There’s a small semi-built room of breeze-blocks in the middle; this has no roof, only a tarpaulin. The floors are covered in linoleum (which was rolled back today), and a couple of the walls are covered in pine panelling and/or mirrors. The overall effect is of a small dance studio sprouting inside an old warehouse – which may indeed be the case, for all I know. This is where the bagua students practice, it seems.
The teacher wanted to know who I’d studied with before, so I told him. He knew some but not others; respected some, but not others (and not always who I might have expected). He confirmed that he teaches Liang style bagua; his teacher was Liu Jiemin, student of Guo Gumin, student of Liang Zhenpu.
I showed him my basic Cheng-style stepping, and then he began to introduce me to Liang-style circle-walking. He used a lot more references to qi than I’m used to, about the qi rising from the bubbling well points, through knees and hips to the ming men, and then back down the other leg. There’s a real twist maintained along the legs and up to the groin at all times. Hmmm, very different to what I’m used to, but definitely what I’ve always expected from bagua.
Then he started me on the linear 64 (though he also demonstrated it on the circle). I took the first two moves and repeated them until it was time to leave.
I think I’m going to enjoy this school. I can see why Taijibum was so enthusiastic.