Monthly Archives: July 2009

Pressure Point Fighting


Wow… It’s incredible what you can find on YouTube! Great stuff… I immediately subscribed to his channel! Carlos, I think you’ll like this!

Three questions


OK, here’s a few questions that I’ve been wondering about lately. I wonder if anyone out there knows the answers…?

  1. Going back some time, on the old version of this blog, I linked to an article in Kungfu magazine that discussed policing methods in the new Chinese cities. My focus then was on something else, but I am curious now about something else that was mentioned: the use of cords.

    Chinese police are well versed in restraint-tie techniques. The restraint tie, really little more than a simple length of cord, is one of the most common tools for a Chinese cop, also one of the oldest and most traditional. It has been used for dynasties, so a vast arsenal of techniques exist. Beyond the basic procedures for quickly ?hog-tying? a suspect, there are methods for neutralizing knife or baton attacks. In the right hands, a rope is all that?s needed to subdue an armed assailant.

    Does anyone know anything about this? What’s the name of this art? Are there any online resources?

  2. Are there any traditional Chinese styles that focus on the dagger, or small knife? If so , which ones? If not, why not? Google didn’t suggest any…
  3. Does your martial art train you to take a punch? Of course no-one wants to get hit, but even the best defender has a bad day. So, I’m not talking about practicing blocks, evasions etc; I’m not even talking about just getting used to it via sparring – I mean, do you train specifically to receive a punch and keep on going? I’ve seen videos of Vladimir Vasiliev doing this in his systema classes, and Sim Pern Yiau of Nam Wah Taijigong gave me a demonstration of using Taiji softness to yield so that a blow’s force is dissipated. How about your teachers/styles?

Plastic people


Here’s another miscellany of links that I found interesting:

I’m a few days away from a month of travelling and holidays. I’m looking forward very much to the clean air of Wales, and practicing yiquan under the apple trees in my parents’ garden 🙂

I have a great deal on my mind, which is buzzing with things I want to blog about. Not sure where to start; I need to get everything in some kind of order…

The Battle of Catterick


Three hundred rode out, against one hundred thousand. Three returned.

Songs of my ancestors…

The Battle of Catterick.

Hermits, monks and acrobats


I don’t know whether you’re the same, but I tend to keep interesting pages open in browser tabs until I get round to blogging them. At the moment, I must have a dozen such pages open, and Firefox is getting slower and slower, so here’s a rag-tag of links.

More about Red Pine, aka Bill Porter. Quite apart from him being a fascinating person, he said something extremely interesting about Buddhism in China. Like most foreigners, I’m aware that Buddhist monasteries suffered a lot during the Cultural Revolution, with monks being forced back into lay life (if they weren’t killed), monastic lands being confiscated, and so on. Although there is a religious revival in contemporary China, the assumption is that there’s no longer any learning; that modern Chinese Buddhism is starting afresh, as it were. It’s natural to see that this must be the case, and the online Buddhist fora I belong to certainly assume this to be the truth.

As so often in China, though, the reality is more complicated. I’ve spoken to a monk myself whose temple survived the Cultural Revolution unscathed – because Zhou En Lai ordered the People’s Liberation Army to protect it from the Red Guards. The monk said that the temple was basically under siege for several years, with the monks inside, the Red Guards outside, and the PLA in between… There were a lot of temples in the same situation, I gather.

Furthermore, Porter has explained the relationship between hermits and monks in a way that I hadn’t considered. I suppose most of us Westerners think of hermits as reclusive, rejecting the world and society. This probably comes from the Christian tradition, especially the Irish, I guess, who sought out the most remote and inaccessible locations for solitude. Even this is an inaccurate understanding – many of the early Christian hermits, especially in Egypt, were constantly in touch with society. In Chinese Buddhism, it’s completely wrong to think of hermits in this way. Porter compares monasteries to universities, where monks learn the fundamental concepts and practices of their particular brand of Buddhism, be it Zen or Pure Land. Some then go into the hills, and can be considered as graduate students – learning to take the basic ideas, and make them their own, to truly live them. Even in the hills, a hermit is never far from other hermits; they get to know each other, and the established hermits teach newcomers the skills they will need to survive. Eventually, local villagers may help once they believe that a given hermit is truly committed.

Eventually, after years in the hills living close to nature, the hermits will often return to the monastery. The insights and experiences they have acquired in their time away from the modern world equip them to become the ‘Professors’ – those who can inspire new monks in training with the true nature of Zen. It’s this stage that Porter discusses, and which suggests that Buddhism in China today can rebound more quickly, and in a more authentic fashion, than many outsiders think. The Cultural Revolution broke up the monasteries, but those were the undergraduates. The majority of the hermits, it seems, passed through that time almost completely unaffected, in some cases completely unaware of what was happening outside their mountains, and are now re-emerging. The reconstituted monasteries are thus regaining teachers who belong to the authentic Chinese tradition, and who possess the knowledge gained before the monasteries were broken up. I find this extremely encouraging.

Some interviews with Bill Porter, aka Red Pine:

And now for something completely different.

Here’s a couple of parkour clips I really like, found via this Guardian article.

The child returns


What would you do if you were caught in a riot? I mean, obviously, you would try to get out. But what if impolite people tired to stop you?

It’s a nightmare scenario, and partly why (if I were years younger and fitter) I would want parkour to be a part of my repertoire. As it is… Heh. Would martial arts training be of any use at all, do you think? I like to think that perhaps it would help me to get out….

A little paranoid, I know, but I saw something a bit worrying when I checked the headlines this morning: El Niño is back, and it’s going to be ugly. There were big, big worries globally in 2007 when food stocks dropped, prices rose, and unrest increased around the world. This time, it’s coming on the back of the global economic crisis, when millions have already lost jobs, homes, savings… Even at my most Panglossian, I can’t see this going well.

I don’t know how much it will affect China; hopefully not too hard, as things are already tough enough for a lot of people here. For example, here’s a recent video from China, Shishou, which got hardly any coverage in the West, being overshadowed by events in China’s northwest that were going on around the same time:

Could it happen near you? Of course it could. If you’re reading this from Singapore, you just need to think of Jakarta 1998… In the UK? Poll Tax riots… well, lots of riots happened in the 80s, and let’s not forget that UK unemployment is already approaching 80s levels….

And so on, and so forth. Never mind, it may not happen.

Li-ttle red dot


Just noticed in passing that Jet Li is now a Singaporean, though he’s keeping it quiet. He joins actress Gong Li as a new citizen of the city-state.

Red Pine in Beijing


I went to The Bookworm this evening to catch a talk by Bill Porter, aka ‘Red Pine’. I’d been planning to go for well over a month, but hadn’t thought to pre-book a ticket. As it turned out, the talk was well over-subscribed, and I was lucky to get a ticket on standby.

He was talking about his new book, Zen Baggage – a personal pilgrimage around the significant historical sites of Zen (Ch’an) Buddhism in China. I actually bought the book about six weeks ago, and I’m not going to say anything about it now as I hope to review it at some point.

Since I’ve already read it, the readings were only mildly interesting. It was the conversation afterwards that gripped me. Porter, let’s just say, has made the hard choice to follow what he loves, even though it led to poverty. I have to respect that, especially in light of the choices I’m weighing. It turns out that he’s a friend of Daniel Reid – “He turned to Daoism, I turned to Buddhism, and we balance each other out”. Apparently Reid lives in Yunnan now. I’m vaguely aware of his work, although my friends H. and S. are big fans.

Anyway, I had a brief and enlightening chat with Porter after the talk. It seems that the book for which he is most well-known, Road to Heaven, will be re-published in September this year. I’ll look forward to getting a copy. I had planned to take my copy of Zen Baggage along for him to sign but, since I was kept late at work, I didn’t get a chance. Instead, I bought a copy of Cold Mountain.

No…. NOT the American Civil War novel that got made into a film a few years back! This is the collection of Chinese poems by a Daoist, or possibly Buddhist, hermit, made famous by Jack Kerouac in The Dharma Bums. Which is where I first heard of them, and I’ve been looking for a copy ever since….

Worth more dead

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, as it’s one of those things that occasionally crops up to show the weirdness behind the scenes in contemporary China:

Yang Dongyan, also of Sha’anxi province was arrested last year for strangling young women and selling their fresh bodies as ghost brides, when the supply of fresh corpses dwindled.

Dongyan discovered families would pay more for a fresher corpse in good condition, than one that had been buried for a long period. Families seeking ghost brides for their dead, unmarried sons demand young good-looking corpses for the spirit marriage ceremonies.

Dongyan previously traded in live women, who he kidnapped and sold to lonely bachelors, but discovered they were worth more dead, as ghost bride corpses.


Category: China Life

A busy weekend


I spent a lot of this weekend interviewing university applicants. They have to go through a whole series of tests and examinations, but one small part of the procedure is an English-language aptitude test, so many of us foreign lecturers are roped in for this. We are paired with a local member of staff, and interview the applicants one by one, with an average of six minutes for each. The standard of English varies enormously, from near-fluency to complete inability; most are able to sustain a simple conversation about their lives and aspirations. (Note to self: that’s better that your standard of Mandarin – get this sorted out).

It’s tempting to get bored by this constant stream of stumbling, inarticulate youngsters. Still, many of them are still in shock after the dreaded gaokao; many of them have spent years in preparation, only to be disappointed. In addition, it’s a real opportunity to learn something about the lives and aspirations of China’s young people – easier in a way than with my own students, since there’s a culture that encourages maintaining a distance (correctly so, in my opinion). Many of them are vague about why they are applying and what they want to do – but really, was I any different at that age? I decided to make it an exercise in compassion, if that doesn’t sound too precious, and to try to find something interesting in each one. I’m glad I did; many, who were incredibly nervous and could barely speak at first, relaxed and talked passionately once the right question was asked. Not all of them will succeed, of course. Still, I know that these were extremely important interviews for them, and the experience will have marked them; I hope each one left feeling that someone was genuinely interested in them.

Anyway, moving on. I met up with Master Liu Jing Ru’s disciple Kong Cheng on Saturday evening. We first met when I trained with Master Liu back in 2007; he’s the one who took me out to visit Dong Hai Chuan’s grave. He’s recently returned from a tour of Europe, where he was teaching bagua and TCM in a number of countries. We chatted about bagua and other martial arts, and he didn’t dismiss my ‘theory’ that bicycling is a great CIMA training method 🙂 (Hey, but don’t the classics say that one of the hardest joints to relax is the ankles? And can’t pedalling really focus your mind on the flexing and movement of the ankles? And there’s also the alignment of hips, knees and feet…) Hehehehehe. Anyhow, we discussed training, as (as I previously blogged), I was thinking of re-starting bagua. I’m not sure that I can go back to Sun Ru Xian Lao Shi, as I don’t live near him any more, and the language is an issue (but let be clear that I really like and respect him – his skill is fantastic, and he’s an incredibly warm and generous guy). The Liang-style teacher has moved location, and my contact with him, Taichibum, seems to have vanished. Kong Cheng suggested that I train with him, and I think that’s probably what I’ll do, although not until after I’ve gone back to Wales for break.

And on the topic of going back to Wales, I see that there’s a systema school near my hometown, so I’ll try to get a couple of private classes if I can, just to finally get a taste. Via Twitter, I’ve also found that one of Cheng Man Ching’s students lives fairly close as well, and it would be cool to catch up with him if I can.

As for the yiquan… well… something’s happening. Last week, I went to a morning class, and really made progress, I felt, with the basic health movements and testing-force exercises. Everything just seemed to work, and I went home feeling stretched, with the tendons in my wrists and hands feeling energised after force had rippled through them. Master Yao commented that I’ve relaxed a lot since I started his classes – which I agree with, and I put it down entirely to the yiquan training methods! I couldn’t go on Saturday, due to the interviews, but I made it yesterday. To be honest, for most of the class I was just feeling tired, but towards the end we had a tui shou training session. I was paired up with one of the new students, who’s about my age, I think, very strong but very tense. I found that the more he pressed, the easier it was to slightly redirect his force and neutralise it, without me needing to use muscular strength. Then the “something’ happened – I found I was able to ‘bounce’ him. I don’t really know what I did, but he was thrown backwards and upwards, with both feet off the floor. As soon as he touched down, I was able to do it again. This really didn’t take any strength on my part. I could have carried on, I think, but I was a little bit freaked out, and broke contact. Hehehe, the whole class was speechless. There was a long discussion about it, which of course I couldn’t follow. Master Yao I think pointed out that I still tend to go through tui shou in a taiji way rather than the way yiquan does it, which is probably true – I tend to be passive and wait for my opponent, rather than moving to take them down. I also haven’t mastered yiquan’s quick, uprooting methods. I’ll work away at it, though. Master Yao told the class that I had real gongfu, though, which of course I’m very pleased about!

Hehehe, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: yiquan rocks!