Monthly Archives: January 2009

Amazons of the Ukraine


An Amazon. In the Ukraine.

An Amazon. In the Ukraine.

I enjoy reading the photostories from English Russia, and I thought I would share this one with you! Apparently “a French explorer discovered a tribe of Amazons”, living together and training martial arts in the Ukraine….. I have no idea what the real back-story of this is… Perhaps it’s better not to know. I’m not sure that there’s any good excuse for dressing up like Xena.

Here’s the full story.


Ah, a bit of Googling sheds more light. These ladies belong to something called the Asgarda Movement, founded by 30-year old Katerina Tarnouska, and there are about 150 of them. More pictures and background can be found here.
It seems that they are connected with the movement to rediscover traditional Ukrainian/Cossack dance/fighting which I mentioned a couple of posts ago.

The rat’s farewell


As I mentioned, we are now in the Year of the Ox, which represents slow and steady effort. That is precisely the situation in which I find myself – the next year presents a lot of opportunities, but I am going to have to work hard to take advantage of them. Hmm, OK.

However, I find myself driven to comment on the final two weeks of the year just gone – the year of the Rat. I signed a new contract with my employer. I began a relationship with a woman who truly engages and challenges me, and who is very, very important to me. I made significant choices about my future – which wasn’t unrelated to the first two points I just mentioned. I also deepened my interactions and relationships with a number of relationships with a number of readers of this blog: Jose, Carlos, Pern Yiau, Tom, and another who doesn’t want to be named yet.

I need to make clear that I do believe myself to be a Buddhist. That means that I accept that things change. In the past, there have been times when I’ve been affluent. There have been times when I was been influential in public life. There have been times when I was so broke I couldn’t pay my rent, and was extremely lucky to have good people I could borrow from. All these times have come and gone. I accept that this happens: circumstances change, and that all I can do is at least strive to be the best person I can be in the circumstances.

To a large extent, that’s what this blog is: my chronicle of my attempt to become the best I can be. If you know me, or meet me in the future, you’ll know that the real me is far more complex and messy, and generally not so cool, as the persona that appears in this blog. Nevertheless, it moves me deeply that some people at least find value in this blog. It’s important for me to acknowledge that the best, kindest, and most generous people I know are often people from the world of martial arts, and many of those are readers of this blog. I’d just like to say thanks to you all for visiting, and for getting in touch. I do appreciate it!

Gong xi fa cai!

I’m pretty sure everyone reading this will know that we are now in the Year of the Ox! Happy new year 😀

I’d like to share with you a little of what my Chinese New Year’s Eve was like, in the heart of historic Beijing. This is why I hurried my visit to Singapore somewhat, so that I could get back to China….

Dance dance combat motion


Well, I’ve been looking into the dance-related elements of systema, and what I’ve found is something called “Combat Hopak”. Supposedly it’s a revival of a traditional Cossack art from the Ukraine, rather than Russia. I dunno, it looks to me like a lot of Asian moves mixed up with traditional dance, but what do I know? 🙂

I met up with Carlos today in Singapore’s Arab Street, and we had a long chat over lunch. We compared his Wing Chun and my Yiquan (such as it is) and found many points of similarity. He mentioned that his sifu knows a form of Wing Chun based on Chinese opera, which I reckon would be quite cool to see!

I always enjoy talking to Carlos – he’s so enthusiastic about his martial arts studies, I always leave our conversations feeling way more determined to work hard at my own!


Just thought I would add this in here, as I don’t want to write a separate post about it: if I’m asking about martial arts with a strong dance element, I shouldn’t forget silat! I don’t know too much about Silat, but I’m aware that it’s performed to music at Malay weddings, and some of its many diverse forms are very close to dance….

Film fest

Well, in martial arts circles, the talk is all about the new Donnie Yen film, Ip Man. I’m flying to Singapore on Saturday for a few days to get a few things done, and I hope to catch this in the cinema there. Should be fun 😀

In my local DVD store, I also found a couple of martial arts movies that look interesting, although i haven’t had time to watch them yet.

The first is Redbelt, about a reluctant warrior who prefers the tranquillity of his dojo to the competition scene.

The second is JCVD, in which Jean-Claude van Damme plays a loosely fictionalized version of himself. Apparently, this is the film in which he finally shows that he really can act, and there are hopes that this could do for his career what Pulp Fiction did for John Travolta.

I’ll let you know what I think once I’ve watched them…..

Lazy sod


Or so I was called by one of my readers (mentioning no names, Carlos) for not posting more often… Guilty as charged!

So, what’s been going on? Well, my lofty ambitions for the year are on hold. This is a busy time of the year… I guess as well, I’m acculturating: the new year doesn’t start on Jan 1 for me any more; it’ll start when the Year of the Ox arrives in a little over a week! That’s when I’ll make my resolutions anew; the first couple of weeks of January have been a rollercoaster, and I need a bit of space to re-evaluate my priorities.

However, that’s largely off-topic for this blog. I’ve been to more yiquan classes, and as always I get some great insights every time I go. This weekend, we were working on some of the “testing force” exercises, and for the first time I really understood the ‘six harmonies’ principle. I was trying to synchronise the generation of power between my hip joints and my shoulder joints, and finding it difficult. Not in principle, only because I’m so stiff. Well, that can be remedied by practice, but at least now I’m aware of it.

I’ve also got to work on stiffness in my legs. I couldn’t work out why my knees were hurting so much. Eventually, I realised that it was because as I tried to stretch my hips to generate power, the stiffness in my legs was rotating the knees too far outwards. Also contributing was my weight distribution: it was centred too high. The solution was in the mind – I focussed on relaxing my leg muscles, and on breathing from the dantian, and everything just fell into place, problem solved. Now to integrate that into daily life, not just in class…

I also noticed that during this process, when I was clearing my mind in order to sense what my muscles were doing, I got snippets of memory popping into my mind; memories of things that happened long ago, and that I’ve not consciously thought about for a long time. This is what happens when I’m meditating; if you remember, one thing that originally drew me to investigate yiquan was that it seemed to offer a method that really combined martial training and meditation in a way that worked for me. i emphasize that last point, because of course I realise that the same could be done with other martial arts; bagua and taiji in particular, but it just so happens that I haven’t been able to get quite the same results from them. Horses for courses, and all that.

As for the bagua, not much to report just yet. I had intended to go as often as possible to the Liang bagua school as often as possible during the last couple of weeks, but circumstances prevented me from going. I actually have a little bit of a dilemma here. As you’ll have realized from my accounts of my lessons there, I really like that school: the teacher, the environment, and the other students. I certainly intend to keep going. However, I had lunch last week with Master Liu Jing Ru’s disciple Kong Cheng, and he told me that Sun Ru Xian lao shi had been wondering where I was! Total communications snafu. I would like to continue training with him as well! Apart from his skill, he’s a really genuine and generous person. In addition, I went out for drinks last Friday with Jose and a few of the others who’ve come over with Frank Allen and Tina Zhang to train with Liu Jing Ru. Apparently Sun Ru Xian had come up in conversation during a class there, and Master Liu had described him as one of his students who’s the most interested in actually fighting. I can well believe that.

Well, I did say that in 2009 / the Year of the Ox, I intend to really devote myself to improving my wushu. After CNY I’m flying to Wales for a couple of weeks. When I get back, I’ll have the timetable for next semester, and I’ll be able to plan out my training around that.

Oh, and one other thing – when I met Kong Cheng, he mentioned that someone from Singapore had visited Beijing to train with Master Liu Jing Ru. Apparently this person knows me… Who was that? Come on, ‘fess up! And if you know me, why didn’t you let me know you were coming? 😀

Put on your shoes, Reds, and dance…


I haven’t had any reply from the supposedly Beijing-based systema instructor; further Googling suggests that he’s actually in Hong Kong. Let’s wait and see. Anyway, the first time I ever heard anything about systema – like many people, I suspect – was in William Gibson’s novel, Pattern Recognition: a character, referring to a Russian oligarch’s bodyguards, mentions that they are trained in systema, a martial art based on Cossack dancing. This sounded unlikely to me at the time, and nothing that I subsequently read about systema referred to it, so I assumed this was a little bit of artistic license from Gibson!

However… last night I stumbled across an American martial arts TV show that someone’s put on YouTube. I don’t know how long it will be there before it gets a takedown notice, so let’s enjoy it while we can. Overall, it’s enjoyable popcorn TV. The second section is particularly interesting, though, because it shows a little of the relationship between systema and dancing! Intriguing… The third section has embedding disabled; you’ll have to go to YouTube for that.

This would make systema only the second dance-based martial art I know of, after capoeira. Anybody know of any others? Also, if I can’t find a systema instructor in Beijing, maybe I should find someone to teach me Cossack dancing. There’s lots of Russians here, there must be someone who could 😀

A mystery solved…

Hehe, one of the incoming SMS messages with New Year greetings was from Rene, my fellow-student with Sun Lao Shi. I’d tried calling Rene on a number of occasions, and never got a reply….

Anyway, it seems that Sun Lao Shi was travelling in Europe for a couple of months, and after he came back was occupied with his daughter’s wedding… Rene was also in Europe for a while, and then Hong Kong…

So that’s why I couldn’t get in touch with anybody 🙂 I must confess, I had been a little…. disconcerted by the sudden disappearances!

We’ll try to get up to visit Sun Lao Shi sometime soon… Of course, in the meantime,not having any idea what was going on, I’ve started training elsewhere… Well, I’m sure we’ll find a solution…

Category: Baguazhang, Sun Ru Xian

Nitrous oxide

I used to fight a lot with my younger brother when I was a kid, as brothers will do. My brother’s bigger than I am, and he was (still is, actually) an athlete, whereas I was (still am, actually) a geeky bookworm. I soon learned that the only way to fight was to avoid using my strength, but to sense and redirect his power. In many ways, that’s probably why a lot of the push hands training I’m doing in my yiquan classes feels both natural and familiar.

My experience of meditation, such as it is, has also led me to believe firmly in the importance of breathing, sensitivity, softness, and mental clarity and calmness. This is where tajiquan also feels right and natural to me.

As I think more about these elements, and how to apply them with what I’m learning in my classes, I can’t avoid becoming aware that another group of people have also been working hard on these principles, a group who I’ve only gradually learned about over the last year or so – mostly through Tabbycat’s blog. Yes, I’m talking about systema, and Mikhael Ryabko’s branch in particular.

Obviously, YouTube has a lot of material, and I’ve been watching this a lot lately. There are also a lot of interesting systema bloggers, which CMA practitioners might find worth a look:

There’s also an online martial arts magazine that I hadn’t previously heard of, Meibukan, which has some very interesting Systema articles:

  • Issue 3: Systema introduction, interview with Vladimir Vasiliev
  • Issue 9: interview with Mikhail Ryabkov
  • Issue 10: how systema is used in modern policing

In my job, I have a long summer break, and it did idly cross my mind that I might take a trip to Moscow…. but that quickly came to an end when I realized that based on Lonely Planet’s guide for backpackers, a week’s living expenses in Moscow – not even including accommodation, let alone training fees – would be more than a month’s income for me! Aiyoh, this is what it means to be earning Renminbi 🙁 I hope it’s revalued upwards soon!

However, maybe that trip wouldn’t be necessary – I noticed yesterday on Vladimir Vasiliev’s site that there is apparently an accredited systema instructor here in Beijing! Judging by the name, it looks like he’s not mainland Chinese, maybe Singaporean or Malaysian… I’ll drop him a line, anyway, and let you know what happens…

By the way, I stole the title for this post from a blog post by Brad Scornavacco, Nitrous Oxide For Your Martial Arts, in which he says:

I have seen knife-fighters blow past their peers, Judo players easily countering throws while knocking their partners down almost at will, grapplers suddenly not being tapped out by anyone except the highest-level fighters, boxers moving, slipping and hitting harder than ever–all after training in Systema. The movie The Matrix illustrated this dynamic when Neo began fighting Agents with one hand whereas previously he could barely hold his own. That knowledge and skill he gained is akin to what happens when people train in Systema.

What Systema does to your previous training is like adding nitrous oxide to a race car; it turbo-charges your skill level.

Hmmm, that sounds interesting….

Happy New Year


I haven’t been training much for the last week or so. Partly it’s just been pressure of work, partly it’s because the extreme cold has made my achilles tendon stiff and painful – this is the one that I trashed a few years ago in Singapore. It hasn’t bothered me much for the last year or so, but I guess something like that never really heals. Anyway, a week of rest, and it seems to be recovering; I’ll just need to be a bit careful for the rest of the winter!

Anyhow, so the upshot is that I haven’t gone to bagua class. I have been to yiquan, which continues to get better; I’ve had a couple of minor breakthroughs in my understanding of the use of body weight and redirection of force, and I feel that I’ve improved a lot. Now I just need to consolidate these so that I don’t slip backwards!

One of my regular readers, Jose from Portugal, flew in to Beijing on Tuesday evening. He’s here for a few weeks on a training course with Liu Jing Ru. The course has been organized by Frank Allen and Tina Zhang from New York, and who probably need no introduction to readers of this blog! I met Jose yesterday at his hotel, and showed him a few sights. We walked from Qianmen Gate through Tiananmen Square, and into the outer courtyards of the Forbidden City. After that we went to a very good little restaurant for lunch – my favourite, Beijing dumplings, mmmmm! Jose was introduced to the world of Sichuan mala green beans and erguotou. He seemed to like them!

After that, a visit to Wanfujing shopping street, and to the Stone Boat bar in Ritan Park…. I won’t embarrass Jose here, but I’ll just say that he’s a really nice guy, and very interesting! It’s the first time that I’ve met one of my readers this way, I think, and this was a good beginning!

At the end of the afternoon, we went back to his hotel to meet the rest of the group, who are a mixture of mostly Americans and Germans, with a couple of others. I met Frank and Tina, who are both really friendly and chatty. Tina invited me to join them all for their meal, which was at a nearby restaurant. I tagged along, and got to know some of them. It was quite an odd experience, in a way. They’re all very nice people – but as I’ve written before here, I wasn’t really into martial arts deeply before I moved to Asia, and so I’ve never been in a large group of Western martial artists before! All of the Westerners I know here who practice martial arts have lived in Asia for quite a long time, ans are pretty well immersed in Asian culture – so there were a lot of differences in attitudes, and a lot of things that I hadn’t realized I’ve taken for granted were obviously a bit new and strange to some of these guys. Not that that’s bad 🙂 It just gave me a little bit more insight into how I’ve changed over the last few years!

Soon, the meal was over, and the guys got back into their bus to return to their hotel. They needed to get an early night – their class started at 9am this morning! Not so for me – I planned to see in the New Year, and so I went on my way to the Drum Tower. Here the
evening turned sour, I’m afraid. The last time I was in Beijing for New Year, in 2006, I stumbled upon a ceremony where at midnight the drums in the Drum Tower were beaten, and the bell in the Bell Tower was struck, in a dialogue that lasted for perhaps half an hour. It was a magical experience, all the more so because I had only encountered it by chance. The crowd that had gathered to watch was small and happy, and the police presence was light and relaxed. I was really, really, looking forward to experiencing it again….

It was not to be, though! The police presence this time was oppressive – hundreds of officers and guards sealed off the square completely, and when I got there at around 9pm, they were already refusing to let people through. I managed to get past because I happened to talk in Mandarin to a sympathetic official, and was able to name the bar I was trying to get to. Once I got into the square, I realised that it had been filled with a huge scaffolding structure,, with media gabbling away, garish lights turning the towers yellow and purple, and even more police all around. The band I saw at the bar were very good, and there was a great atmosphere there, but they finished all too soon…. In the course of the evening, I had a romantic disappointment which actually hit me quite hard, so it was a rather sad blogger who saw in the New Year – with the sound of the bells and drums all but drowned out by the noise of the media circus and security apparatus…. Bah, that’s all I have to say! In the end, it’s perhaps a good thing – it was confirmation again, as if I needed any, that clinging to attachments – be it romantic hopes, dreams of repeating a happy experience, or whatever – is a cause of suffering and unhappiness. Better by far to meditate and cultivate non-attachment 🙂

And so here we are in 2009! Even if my night was mixed, I hope that all of you had a great New Year’s Eve, and that the new year will be happy and prosperous for you all 😀 I don’t usually make resolution, but this year I will:

  • I will focus hard on my martial arts training
  • I will resume meditation practice, and start attending dharma classes again
  • I will study hard to improve my Mandarin
  • I will not allow anything else to distract me from these

How about you?