Monthly Archives: November 2009

Into the mood


Now that my arm is healing, I’ve started going to Beijing Improv again; I went to the workshop last night for the second week in a row. Last week, for some reason, there was a very small turnout, and personally I wasn’t in a very creative mood, so it was OK but not great. Last night, however, rocked; there was a good turnout, mostly Chinese (the workshop sessions are bilingual), and there was a real buzz. There were very few poseurs, the kind who don’t act, but play the part of someone acting, if you see what i mean. Pretty much everyone there threw themselves into it, building up a group energy that was really rewarding.

Since there weren’t many foreigners on this occasion, I got to play a part in most of the English sections, and was reminded why I’ve taken so much to improv; it’s fascinating to attempt to turn emotions on and off as required, to see which ones are easy and which difficult, which ones come most naturally, and to ponder why that may be…



In conversation last night, a visiting American mentioned a book he’d bought – and then stopped, and asked “Have you heard of Amazon? I know you’ve been living in Singapore…..“.

I think I may have laughed out loud… FWIW, I think I bought my first book from Amazon in 1997.

Baguazhang question


Which famous martial artist said this?

I wish that the people practising ‘Bagua’ would concentrate on the double and single ‘chuanzhang’, paying special attention to intuitively perceiving every movement, doing their best to take a more advanced course of training, and earnestly enter into the theory, putting it all into practise for a long time, then they could get close to approaching its essence.

I’ll post the answer in the comments after a couple of guesses have been made.

Category: Baguazhang



I’m just going to shut the **** up. Every time I feel like moaning, I need to come back to this post. This picture has not been Photoshopped….

Half man, half price

Story found at sgwutan.

Making connection


I was talking to S over dinner a couple of weeks ago, and mentioned Master Yao’s birthday party. She commented that the sense of belonging we have in our respective schools is actually one of the nicer parts of living in China; generally speaking, we’ll always be foreigners and never really accepted. She speaks Chinese at native level, though, unlike me, so it is easier for her. At Master Yao’s school, for much of the last year I’ve often been the only foreigner in class; if there have been others, they’ve only been visiting. While I was taking a break from class, though, a couple of new people arrived – a Russian who works as a translator, and a Frenchman who’s an academic at Tsinghua. They will both be in Beijing for a long period, and we all live or work in the same area, so we hope to catch up outside class as well. It’ll be good to have people to chat to about all this!

The Frenchman was an unwitting comedy act the other day; Master Yao wanted to demonstrate an application of ‘Xiong Long’, one of Yiquan’s signature postures. He used it as a throw to break out of a bear-hug from behind; the French guy, unaware of what was coming, flew to the ground in a most elegant manner, and with a very surprised expression 😉

We’ve been doing a lot more work on fuan shili. In yiquan, the knee doesn’t go forward as far as it does in taiji. In this posture, the forward shin should essentially stay vertical. I find this difficult – my knee keeps going forward as far as you might see it in Yang taiji, never further than the toes, but it’s too far as far as yiquan is concerned. I know exactly why this is; it’s because I’m not opening my kua enough, or in the right direction. Master Yao showed me what I should be doing, and I’m working on it. I’ll get it eventually, but at the moment I have to think too much about it, rather than it being in muscle memory. What was interesting was that as I was repeating it over and over, I finally felt the force coming from the rear leg in a spiral. I remember seeing this in one of Mantak Chia’s taiji books, which I bought in Singapore a few years back, and was wondering then how you did it. Heh. I must say that I’m learning a heck of a lot through yiquan, much of which is the same as taijiquan; I’ll agree once more with Tabby:

If you do (most types of) Tai Chi with the same slowness and precision and concentration of Yi Quan’s zhan zhuang, mo jin, and shi li work, it would come to much the same thing. So normally I would say, along with Master Yao, that Yi Quan and Tai Chi are variants on the same theme and it’s just personal choice if you enjoy long standing and hard sparring go with Yi Quan, while if you like the relaxed form practice and push hands go with Tai Chi.

For various reasons, I’m tending more towards yiquan now!

Anyhow, I see that once again I’m talking about structure. In a recent post I agreed with Scott Phillips regarding the big muscles of the back. Why? Because my own experience confirms it. As yiquan practice has changed my posture for the better, I have felt these muscles become more important, and have used them more and more. I also agreed with Rick regarding fascia. Again, my own experience suggests that this is true. I agree with it because I have felt it. In the ongoing debate (and it seems to have become one, since apparently emails are being exchanged, with some passion it seems), Tabby is dismissing this, using an electric shock as an analogy for taiji power. This I have not experienced. I’m not disagreeing, or contradicting him. Not at all. I’m just saying that it’s outside my experience so far.

However… In the same post that I refer to above, there’s this:

I don’t blame people for practicing other things. They may have other goals, but even more central point – it’s just too difficult to do it the BL 5-principle way. It’s frankly almost impossible to get it even with sustained correct teaching and dedicated personal practice. Still very likely you will miss it. It’s only by accident that I stumbled over it.

It seems that I never will get it 🙂 Ah well. I’ll keep on practising and learning the way I’ve been doing it. It’s slow, but it seems to get results. No point discussing or debating it any longer. However, I would be very interested in reading more about that accident.

Links 19.11.2009


Links 16.11.2009

Category: Miscellaneous

TV kungfu monk


A Buddhist monk can be expelled, and never allowed to be a monk again in this life, for killing, or for sexual intercourse. Fair enough, your average Western layperson can understand that. A monk can also be expelled for claiming to have magical powers. Huh? What’s that all about? Surely there aren’t many monks going around pulling rabbits out of hats or making eggs appear from people’s ears? And what would be wrong if they did?

Well, it’s my feeling that meditation can lead you into areas that seem very strange to the layman. Let me emphasize that I’m not speaking from personal experience, just that my extremely limited meditation practice plus reading around gives me ideas. BUT anyway, since this is a blog and, as Tabbycat often says, you get what you pay for, let’s press on.

My feeling is that insight meditation, practised intensively, allows the meditator to develop profound understanding into his or her own mind, and the interaction of mind and body. Knowing their own body and mind so well leads to the ability to simply recognize how subtle physical signs betray the emotions and thoughts beneath. To the observer with a clear mind, these things are just simply obvious; and since people very often unconsciously signal what they are about to do or say, this means that they can be manipulated. To the layman, with the normal cluttered mind dominated by “want” rather than “see what is”, it appears to be… well, magic.

Of course, this is just a way of understanding human nature, and it’s by no means unique to meditating monks! Confidence tricksters, card sharps, hypnotists, all use some variation of this. In my younger days, when I bought lad mags such as Loaded, I remember reading an article on seduction, which recommended synchronizing your breathing with that of the young lady in question, as well as mimicking small body movements. Same thing… it’s using understanding and sensitivity in order to influence and manipulate.

There’s more, though; as I wrote once before, it’s my belief that a mind trained to be empty, to avoid projecting wants, is at the root of poetry and prophecy. There’s no mystical woo-woo here, no pacts or spirits, just the ability of a clear mind to see patterns and trends – but of course, most people don’t have clear minds, so… it looks like magic.

Buddha knew all this. He knew that many monks would go through this period in their development and that some, weak in their purpose to leave all this behind and reach enlightenment, might be seduced by the power they seemed to have developed and present themselves to lay people as having mystical powers. They turned to the Dark Side of the Force, as it were. Hence, Buddha wisely made this rule: say you’ve got magic powers and you’re out – because there are no magic powers, just the insights of a calm, clear mind…

Of course, as I say, this isn’t unique to monks. I gave some other examples, but of course, some martial artists can go this way as well. This is probably where the whole ling kong jin thing comes from: not a Ben Kenobi, levitate-physical-object kind of power, but a sensitivity and ability to feel the opponent’s intention kind of power. And how is this power developed? Aha! Zhan zhuang! Or, for example, taiji’s slooooow movement. Insight. Clear mind. Understanding of self leading to understanding of others, and thus to the ability to manipulate them.

Tabbycat says taiji is pure energy, get the body out of the way. Rick at Wujifa speaks of fascia, and connection. Scott talks about the big muscles of the back.

The thing is, they’re all right! I would submit that you start with what Scott’s talking about, move on to where Rick is, and eventually get to Tabby’s astral plane, the key, the connector, being a clear mind, an empty mind, that’s able to observe, learn, change.

As Tabby says, TV is an energetic phenomenon… but if the circuits aren’t properly connected and the plug’s not in, there won’t be much to see, because the energy can’t flow…

Still, what do I know? I don’t have my Jedi Knight badge yet, no woo-woo powers here. I’m probably completely wrong.

An outstanding yiquan resource

I’ve just added J. P. Lau’s Yiquan Research to my blogroll.

I’ve been slowly reading my way through his “Yiquan Beginner’s Guide” (free download from his site) for months. If you’ve got any interest in yiquan at all, you should read it; it’s incredible.

Fire that fact-checker!

Forgotten kungfu form coming back in fashion“, reads the headline from China Daily.

Yongchun boxing, once a popular form of kungfu in the southern China during the Qing dynasty, is gradually coming back in vogue in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.

“After the recent movie Ye Wen, based on the life of a Yongchun boxing maestro, was screened in Guangzhou early this year, a lot of people have started taking Yongchun lessons,” said a local Yongchun boxing coach surnamed Chen.

Wait…. Yongchun boxing? AKA “Wing Chun boxing”? Wow, if that’s what China Daily calls “almost forgotten”, I can’t wait to see how they define “popular”!

(Oh, and while I”m quoting other websites, here’s one I found via the William Gibson discussion board: Cat-bathing as a martial art….)

(Found via another martial arts blog, but I’ve forgotten where, sorry).

Category: Martial Arts