Monthly Archives: February 2009

Back in harness

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I may have had to admit, rather shamefaced, to Carlos and Yiming that I’m not doing much independent practice at the moment, but I have started going to yiquan classes again – yesterday and today.

I think that after watching a lot of systema recently, something has clicked. In these two classes I’ve found that I’m getting my shoulders and hips relaxing and moving in unison, which I had problems with before; plus, I’m finding much improvement in the way I add my body weight into movements. Speaking of which, a friend was asking about this stuff on Friday night, and I managed to use a one-inch punch to knock him off his feet (onto a sofa, I hasten to add). It’s really not so hard, is it? I wonder why people make such a fuss about it? (Joking!)

The class has been quite big this weekend; I think there must have been about a dozen yesterday, and seven or eight today. Master Yao actually called me on my handphone last weekend, just after I flew back in from Wales, to check when I would be coming in to class – he keeps contact with his students, it seems.

The atmosphere is very relaxed; he was chatting away with the Chinese students as we all went through our shi li exercises, mostly about different kung fu styles and masters, I think.

It’s probably something for a different blog post, but I was amazed at the amount of traffic that was generated by my last post! Right here, though, I should say that I’m really pleased with the training I’m getting at this school, Master Yao Chengrong’s Beijing Zhong Yi Wuguan.

As many readers will know, I first got a taste for yiquan at his brother’s school. You’ll find the posts elsewhere on the blog, but the reason I (and others) knew about it was largely because of Tabbycat’s blogging. Tabby responded to my last post with a blog post of his own, giving his own thoughts. I can’t compare the teaching of the brothers; I didn’t see much of Master Yao Chengguang and was taught by his main student. All I can say is that at my current school, the training has a lot of explanation of practical usage, and (in the week evening classes, rather than the weekend afternoon classes I attend), regular sparring. The training hall is well-lit and reasonably large, there’s no smoking, and there are a fair number of female students… Perhaps Tabby would like to give it a go next time he’s in Beijing 😉

You could put someone’s eye out

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Don’t run with scissors, my mum always told me….

Seriously… strength, endurance, softness, kicking to horse rider’s height, attacking under someone’s guard, going to ground against a strong attack and bouncing back… I’m beginning to see what the Systema guys are talking about wrt Cossack dancing…

Untitled

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When I got back from my break in Wales, the weather in Beijing was mild, and I was pretty sure that winter’s grip had been broken… Not so! We’ve had snow over the last couple of days, and the city has been primly wearing its white mantle… I got out on my bike for a couple of hours yesterday morning, and was impressed to see that the cold didn’t deter these hardy Beijingers from working on their taiji sword forms next to the frozen Houhai lake:

Just across the road from my apartment, this group maintained an old Beijing winter tradition:

Tough times for wuguan

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I was in a bar down Nanluoguo Xiang last night, catching up with my friend H, who’s back in Beijing after being away for nine months. When she had to pop to the bathroom, I idly picked up a copy of Beijing Today that was lying around. It’s edition 402, dated Feb 13 2009. There was a full-page article inside with the title “Hard days for wushu schools”, which featured Yiquan Master Yao Chengguang rather prominently. The article, by Jackie Zhang, isn’t online, and I don’t want to type the whole thing, but there are some interesting points.

Talking about his wuguan (where I studied briefly last year), the article says:

Since the wuguan was established 15 years ago the number of students has remained at around 40. With each course costing 300 to 400 yuan, the money the school makes is barely enough to keep going. “We have to rent houses and employ coaches. Some students are from places outside Beijing and we have to provide them accommodation and food,” Yao said.

To make more money, Yao created yiquan instructional manuals in print and video. “The financial situation is now better; we only have to worry about next month,” Yao said, adding that wuguan who are doing well can be described the same way.

In the past, wuguan flourished because owners also ran other businesses at the same time. “They ran businesses that took advantage of their wushu skills. […] But that business model cannot work any more. “I’m busy with the daily affairs of the wuguan” Yao said.

The article continues to say that many wuguan used to receive sponsorship from businesses whose owners are wushu enthusiasts, but that this is drying up as businessmen seek clearer financial returns for their money, as well as the global economic downturn affecting them.

Master Yao is quoted as saying that most wuguan were forced to close or go underground during the Cultural Revolution.

China’s economic reforms that began in 1978 gave wuguan new life. “Wuguan started opening again, but years of lying dormant made it difficult to repopularize the martial arts”, Yao said.

Wuguan are regarded as folk organizations, so they do not get support even from wushu associations

“Wuguan are not our business, a woman surnamed Lian from the Beijing Wushu Association said. She said the role of the association is to sponsor meetings of directors of each of their 57 wushu research organizations and to disseminate information about wushu competitions and policies”.

The article goes on to discuss the difficulty of motivating Chinese students to take up wushu; they are offered taekwondo in school, and those who try Chinese wushu often give up when they discover that it takes hard work, and that they won’t acquire movie-style super fighting skills. Finally the article mentions that wuguan see hope in attracting more foreign students; it talks about Master Yao’s Polish disciple Andrzej Kalisz (although not by name), and the spread of Yiquan wuguan to other countries.

The article ends with a quote from Xiao Bing, vice-chairman of the Foshan Wushu Association:

There is potential for the renewal of Chinese martial arts. Every little attempt brings hope for the future”.

Update
This reminds me of my recent post about the decline of Chinese martial arts in Singapore for much the same reasons. Very sad.

Asgarda


Well, my visitor traffic went through the roof while I was away, due to my post about the Ukrainian Amazons, which got mentioned on Metafilter. Hi to everyone coming from there; hopefully some of you will stick around!

I didn’t expect that – which reminds me that I should always be careful about what I say in my posts! That was a very spur-of-the-moment, tongue in cheek, post written while I was waiting to go to the airport, and it was slightly more flippant than it ought to have been. The dressing up as Xena does rather amuse me but, let’s face it, post-Soviet Eastern Europe isn’t famous for its enlightened attitudes to females, and if these women choose to use ‘Amazonian’ martial arts training as a tool for self-empowerment and mutual support then all power to them, I say.

The whole t-shirt of Yulia Tymoshenko thing, I dunno, is that just because she’s a symbol of a successful woman? If so, cool. If it means that they’re some kind of party-based militia? Hmmm, less cool, but I don’t get that impression.

What really amused me was another page that’s linked to from the Metafilter thread, which comes from what seems to be the official Asgarda site. Actually, that’s also not fair – most of the aims it lays out are pretty good, though I wonder about some of the claims regarding the ancient Amazons’ territory… Again… I don’t want to disparage them at all; even if I might raise my eyebrow at some of the historical assertions, they certainly wouldn’t be the first to build a supportive mythology. There’s nothing wrong with looking back into history to develop a positive national idea, and so far I haven’t seen anything to indicate that they’re nationalists of the negative kind…

Anyway, that page confirms the connection though with the “Combat Hopak” Ukrainian dance/martial art, and I’ve already expressed my doubts that that has any genuine historical roots (but… let’s not go there. That kind of discussion reminds me too much of the “Is Piper really African” flame war; it’s just not possible to win this kind of debate). No what amused me was the description of the guy behind Combat Hopak, Volodymyr Pylat, as “Supreme Teacher of Boyovyi Hopak”. Now, granted, this isn’t his site, and I have no idea if he himself uses this title. I hope not! If he does, I can only say dude, lighten up…

Downtime

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I’m back in Wales, visiting family and old friends; nothing will be happening blog-wise for a couple of weeks!

Category: Blogging