Monthly Archives: March 2009

A checklist


Well, it’s been an interesting week. I’m skipping my class yiquan class today as I have a pile of work to clear, plus I’m feeling under the weather. I went yesterday, though, and on Wednesday night, when H. came along as well. On both occasions I got the chance to take part in a lot of tui shou, and I have the muscle pain and bruises to prove it….

All I can say, really, is – at last! Sorry to keep banging the same drum, but Master Yao Chengrong’s Zhong Yi Wuguan is finally providing the mix of neijiaquan development and application that I’ve been searching for over the last few years. During the sparring sessions, I’ve been trying to apply the understanding of internal power as I’ve come to understand it… and basically I’ve been getting wiped out! Hahahaha, I’m not discouraged, though 😀 It’s only convinced me that the theory is correct; now I need to learn how to apply it correctly. Anyway, here’s a short checklist of things that I’ve been mulling over.

Muscle strength
I don’t have much of this! I need to work on this area, but I think that if I carry on sparring, I’ll develop strength fairly quickly. Although I do need to get stronger, I’m not too fixated on this. A number of the other students are significantly stronger than me, but I can hold my own when I get other things right. So let’s move on…

Aerobic fitness
Endurance, keeping my breath… I’m not doing too badly here, but I want to improve a lot. In yiquan, there’s a strong emphasis on finishing the fight quickly, but it’s not good to find yourself gasping for air when an opponent’s on the attack so… In the past, I built up a lot of aerobic fitness through bagua circle walking, and I’m hoping to repeat that – especially now that spring is here. The Siberian wants to start early-morning jogging around the Houhai lakes, so if we can drag ourselves out of bed in the morning I’ll start circle walking while she jogs…

Body weight
Like I said, a lot of the other students are significantly stronger than me. However, I’ve noticed that I can sometimes uproot them when I get my body mass moving correctly. It’s giving me more understanding of what the ‘yiquan dance’ is really doing:

This is definitely something I need to work on.

Speed and reflexes are one of my biggest problems at this point – both in the sense that I create openings but don’t attack through them fast enough, or I don’t see & react to incoming attacks. Hence the bruises… Again, though, this should improve with practice…

I’m not doing too badly with this; I am improving in my ability to maintain contact with my opponent, and to respond to changes in force and angle with changes of my own that do quite well at neutralizing quite a few attacks.

MUCH room for improvement here…. and yet I’m much better than I was. In terms of resisting yiquan’s “spinning and off-balancing” techniques, once I get more relaxed, I’ll be less vulnerable to such attacks. Even now, over a few sessions of tui shou I can see that when I actively focus on relaxing, I get much less fatigued, I am better balanced, and can take the power out of incoming shoves and punches (to some degree, at least). I’m also seeing that this softness is why systema is so effective, and why ‘proprer’ taijiquan is respected by many as the supreme martial art… Also, and I don’t want to get all Mantak Chia about this, why studying internal martial arts can make one a better lover…. Hehehe, anyway not to be too provocative, so let’s move on…

I’m being a bit learning-handicapped here. Yiquan’s curriculum is, I realize more and more, extremely well structured in the way it takes a basic move with health benefits, develops it into a ‘testing-force’ exercise, and then takes it further into becoming a combat application. I’ve gained a huge amount from the first stage, in terms of relaxation, softening, opening up the joints, and improving my balance and posture. As I don’t have good Mandarin, I’ve done this by observing Master Yao carefully and copying what he does. Since starting the sparring, I’ve begun to realize what I’ve been missing from his explanations, ie how these movements are used in combat. Luckily, I’ve been training with really nice sparring partners who’ve seen that I haven’t understood this, and have taken the trouble to point it out to me and show me what I should be doing. It’s another of the things I like about the school, this openness and willingness to help each other develop.

Interesting… Yiquan doesn’t focus on qi at all, in terms of its training methods. However, having studied taijigong with Nam Wah Pai in Singapore – who are very focussed on qi – I can see that the techniques have much in common, and that one benefit of yiquan training is to allow the qi to move freely. I think it was Tabbycat who posted recently about taijiquan ‘masters’ who can feel their qi, but are still stiff and easy to throw around… I suspect that once you’ve got the softness and relaxation cracked, you’ll be able to feel the qi very strongly… Perhaps at some point in the history of their training, some people got focussed on the diagnostic tool rather than on the real aim of the training…

To cut a long story short…. I’m having a great time with my training at the moment, and I think that yiquan is really helping on many levels. I need to work for a while on the issues I’ve mentioned above, and then I can start working in meditative techniques during the ‘health’ exercises. I’ll be working on adding insights from the Ryabko/Vasiliev systema model as well. After that, I’ll be able to go back to taiji and bagua ready to take them to a higher level than I could before….

On other, unrelated topics:

  • I hear that Master Zhou Yue Wen has moved back to Shanghai after several years in Singapore. When I get back to training with baguazhang, I may well make the effort to get down there occasionally if I can track him down, as I really like his bagua style.
  • If you’re interested in yiquan, I see that Master Yao Chengguang’s disciple Andrzej Kalisz has put a couple of books on for free download
  • Hehehe, sometimes I’m proud to be Welsh 😉

Time flies…


…when you’re having fun, and boy, have I been having fun lately! Apologies for the lack of blogging.

As I mentioned in my last post, work is very enjoyable these days. I’m trying to get some original research done as well in the area of how e-commerce can help sustainable development in rural China; this took me out to northern Hebei province last weekend, and so I couldn’t attend my yiquan classes. That’s ok, though. It was a great trip – an old garrison village, with remnants of the village wall still standing. It stood at the feet of some hills, and is brown and dusty; to be honest, it looked terrible when we got there. However, it’s at the entrance to a goge leading up in to the hills to the north, and so has been strategically important since forever. Walking up the gorge, there are remnants of the Great Wall from three different periods – at the bottom, pre-Qin; midway up, Northern Wei; and at the top, Ming. The countryside at the top is wonderful, rolling green hills that really remind me of mid-Wales…. Sigh… Of course, wonderful as the Great Wall is, I can’t help but think of, and feel sorry for, all the luckless peasants who got drafted to actually *build* the thing…

The Siberian and I are getting on extremely well; of course, a new relationship demands a lot of time, which has to come from somewhere…

So, ahem, not too much to report on the martial arts front. H. brought along a French girl to the Saturday class two weeks ago, and they both decided that evening classes would suit them better. However, the evening classes are of course much larger, and they don’t want to turn up until I can go with them, and I haven’t had time. I did manage to go to one evening class a couple of weeks ago, and go a lot of tui shou practice (aka, got bounced off the walls a lot), which was great fun and had my arms and shoulders hurting for a week. The class was actually extended for half an hour; there were a few guests, and Master Yao had a couple of his top students put on a demonstration. The guests were a hipster in his late 30s/early 40s (I would guess), a very attractive late 20s woman, and a fat bloke with a man-bag, obviously some kind of money guy. I asked one of the other students later who they were, and apparently the hipster is a famous singer in China who’s thinking of training in Yiquan, but I don’t know what the outcome was.

Anyway, that evening was great; there was a little bit of aggro from the young guy I had a run-in with last time, but nothing serious, just that he’s determined to win at all costs… Some of the older guys are extremely cool, and really make an effort to help and explain things. I plan on going a couple of times a week whenever possible – H. & I were discussing this with master Yao, and it turns out that for me it’s buy-one, get one free, ie every time I attend a weekend class, I can attend an evening class free. Cool.

So, I was at class today; there were a few familiar faces, and a few new ones. We actually did a fair bit of tui shou today, which we don’t usually on the weekend. This time, one of the more experienced lads put on a body defender, and when we did tui shou with him we put on gloves, and were encouraged to land punches. I got a few in, but Master Yao commented that I need to relax more, because I missed a lot of chances. He also says that I need to buy a body defender myself… Aiyoh, I wonder what he’s got planned…

Smiles, styles, secrets, friends.


A new semester has started, and I’m far happier at work now than I was during the previous six months; I’m noticing that as a result, I’m much more motivated to get off my backside and do stuff… including martial arts.

My friend H. came along to the yiquan class yesterday. She has a background in Northern Preying Mantis, and (after I suggested it to her) she attended Master Yao Chengguang’s academy for a month last summer before going back to the UK for 9 months. Now that she’s back she wanted to check out my school: partly because I’m there and it’s good to train with friends, but more because Master Yao Chenrong’s Academy is rather more female-friendly, and there are a number of women training there. She really enjoyed the class, and will be attending every Saturday, which will be nice.

We were comparing plans for the coming semester (she teaches English) and we both have a scary number of objectives. In fact, we both want to do more than is realistic! So, some pruning is needed…

I have to say that the chance conversation I had with Carlos last year has had a profound impact on my interest in martial arts…. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have started yiquan… which would have been a great shame! As I’ve mentioned before, I’m getting fantastic results and insights from the yiquan I’ve studied with Master Yao Chengrong, and this weekend has kind of led me to a decision. Since I came back from Wales, every yiquan class has been really fruitful; I’ve had great insights into posture, breathing, power and movement – and let’s face it, that’s no small potatoes! I can’t see that I have any other choice but to focus on yiquan as my main style, now. That means I’ll be doing very little baguazhang, except some maintenance on some of the styles I’ve learned to date. Here’s an example of the yiquan training methods:

This means the fulfilment of a prophecy… Last summer, before I started at Yao Chengguang’s wuguan, I met up with a Chinese friend of mine, who trained at Shaolin for 20 years, and now runs a martial arts school in Beijing. He said firstly that I should train with Yao Chengrong and not Yao Chengguang, and secondly that if I started yiquan I would give up bagua. At the time, I didn’t believe either would happen. Well… I wouldn’t say that I’m giving up bagua… I’ll go back to it in a while. I don’t think I’ll be attending the Liang-style school for some time though (in any case, I hear that it’s moved again – the old warehouse space is due to be demolished, so apparently they’re on a university campus now, according to taichibum).

The yiquan is also making me think far more about the use of the body than most previous schools or classes have done. As an example, Master Yao pointed out the other day that my right kua tends to collapse in, taking the knee inwards with it. Once I started paying attention to this, it completely changed my posture, and even the way I walk. How come nobody every noticed this – or at least, drew it to my attention – before now? I’m beginning to relax my back a lot more, which is having a big impact on the stiffness in my left shoulder and lower back – which, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know is a big deal!. As I loosen up, I’ve become more and more interested in systema.

I’ve been bowled over my the generosity of a reader (who wishes to remain anonymous), who gifted me 14 DVDs and 2 books on systema. I am really grateful, mate – you know who you are! I’ve been watching the DVDs a LOT since they arrived, and there’s a lot in systema that I recognize from bagua and yiquan. More than that, though, there’s something about systema when I see it performed by Vladimir Vasiliev that looks absolutely right, as if this is the way I’ve always thought that a martial art should be done. It’s something about the softness, stillness, and fluidity of it… particularly against multiple opponents…

The way that Systema is described by the author of Let Every Breath, Scott Meredith also seems that it fits perfectly with the goal I’ve been searching for for the last few years: an effective martial art that is thoroughly integrated with meditative and spiritual aspects (although Systema specifically claims a connection with Russian Orthodox Christianity, there’s nothing I’ve seen or read that’s incompatible with my Buddhism). So even though I’ll just be self-teaching from DVDs around the yiquan, you should probably expect to hear a lot more about Systema in the future. When I spoke to taichibum, it turned out that he’s trained a bit in systema before, so now that the spring is on the verge of arriving in Beijing (touch wood!) I may suggest an occasional get-together with him to work on it… The gf’s return from Siberia has also focussed my attention on my need to lose a few kilos so who knows, perhaps I’ll take up cossack dancing for an aerobic exercise 😉 Seriously, though, I think that yiquan and systema are extremely compatible…

While I’m on this note, I’ve also been invited to take part in another martial arts project – but, for the moment, I’ve been asked not to talk about it 😀 It’s unlike anything I’ve done before, and should be pretty interesting… Once I can, I’ll let you know more, but it won’t be soon…