Monthly Archives: May 2010

A search for words


The air quality was bad yesterday, so I didn’t try to get to the hills in the end… Pity, the day before was beautiful, sunny with blue, blue skies and a cool wind; I’d got quite excited about getting away from the city…

Anyhow, I went on to the yiquan class, and was really glad I went.

I’ve been working for a while on the mo ca bu stepping; trying to engage the kua as I step.. I think I’ve got it working fairly well now, at least in the slow shi li stages. I notice that when I get it right, I’m really rooted on the back leg, so the forward foot is both weightless, and slides naturally along the curve that Yao Lao Shi shows us.

There are a couple of German lads visiting; they train with Yao Lao Shi’s student who’s set up a school in Austria. There were also a few young Chinese lads, whom I’ve seen before but not for quite a long time.

The tui shou session was great. First, I trained with one of the Chinese lads, who was very good. He landed a few slaps and punches, but I delivered a lot more, I think. Then, I went straight on to partner one of the Germans, who was a bit better than me, but not by a lot. He managed to turn me and uproot my a couple of times, but on the other hand I was able to slip through his defenses with punches fairly easily and often.

So, in review: both of these guys were much younger than me and train harder than I do, but I think I acquitted myself well enough. My rooting is generally pretty good, and my defenses are strong. The German, as I say, turned me round, but I think I know what I did wrong. My use of my kua is good in the slow testing, but I keep forgetting to do it in the heat of tui shou; once I can remember that, I’ll be better placed to use fa li. I’m getting much better at staying focused on my partner’s centreline, and at redirecting force away from mine. I’m a bit too passive, and tend to just stay on the defensive.

Not a bad position to be in, and I have some clear areas for improvement.

Master Yao asked me to write an article about my experience of being a student at his school; it’ll go on his web site, and also in a magazine that will be published soon (not sure exactly what that is). Yikes! I need to think about what’ll be the right tone and approach to take for that….

After the class, I went to Beihai Park instead of the hills, and mooched around for a while. I hadn’t realized how close it is to my apartment if I cut through the hutongs! I finally saw the famous nine-dragon screen…

I took one of the shashkas and found a quiet spot to practice some more with that, alone except for the impassive gaze of an old man and his caged songbird….

Shashkas in Ditan Park


I got up early this morning, and headed over to Ditan Park for a change, just north of the Lama Temple. As you can see, it was a beautiful morning, with large numbers of people standing below the trees – stretching, chanting mantras, meditating, and doing lots of different forms of qigong. I spent a while in zhan zhuang with my back to a cedar (?) tree, and facing a small pine, inhaling the intoxicating scent of an early northern hemisphere spring day…. ahhhhhhhhhh…….

I took the shashkas. The pictures will give you an idea of what they look like compared to my taiji sabre. What surprised me is that they’re heavy – much heavier than the taiji sabre; of course, they’re stainless steel, while the sabre is aluminium, so it’s natural, I just hadn’t thought of it. The scabbards are also steel, covered with a very thin layer of faux-leather, so it was quite a bit of weight to be carrying altogether! The handles are hard plastic. I think they may get very slippery if I use them in hotter temperatures than this morning; in addition, the grooves were really grinding the skin on my hands – I have a few blisters. I think that somewhere I have a roll of non-slip tape, and I may put that over the handles.

That aside, they were a joy to use; they handle really well. I can see that using these babies will be a good workout for wrists, shoulders, back and waist…. Once I get the hang of it!

OK, I’ll report more later; now I’m off to yiquan class, and then I think I may head off to enjoy a sunny afternoon in the hills….

Swish, swoosh!

Yes… Rather delayed, but that only added to the anticipation…. My shashkas have arrived… and boy, are they nice! I can’t swing them around much in my apartment without decapitating my Buddha statue or disembowelling the sofa, so a full review and photos will come after I’ve gotten them out to a park… but they handle really nicely, though in completely different way to my Chinese swords; that beak on the pommel makes a huge difference!

To be continued….

A day trip

Pangzi and the nag at the Great Wall

Life in China can be tough, but it does have its compensations…

Category: China Life


and maybe threw a bottle of whisky into the mix… it might look like this Russian dancer…

Joking aside: wow. Talk about fitness!

According to one of the comments on YouTube, this guy is called Alexander Medvedev. I Googled the name out of curiosity, and it turns out he’s one of Scott Sonnon’s instructors. Hm, interesting.

I’ve just ordered a couple of Scott Sonnon’s DVDs, as it happens, and I’m waiting for them to arrive. I’ve also been reading up on ROSS, and trying to get my head around the differences between that and the various flavours of Systema if indeed there are any differences beyond internal politics….

The China Price


As I’ve mentioned before, I’d like to learn that double-shashka Cossack swordplay…. if only because it’s so cool 🙂 The Yang-style taiji sabre I bought is great for its purpose (for which I am using it) but, as it turns out, Tom was right, and it doesn’t handle too well as a substitute shashka. Of course, I could get a couple of short poles and just use those, but that wouldn’t be the same, would it?

So – again, as mentioned before – I’ve been seeing if shashkas can be bought online… There are two options, essentially: a “battle-ready” version from Windlass of India (for some reason, they call it a “shasqua”), that can take an edge:

Alternatively, there’s a display version from Denix of Spain, which supposedly handles like a real weapon, but can’t be sharpened.

The Windlass shashka can be bought from for a good price, but to be honest it doesn’t get good reviews, either for quality or for handling. I looked into buying the Denix version from, but even though their price is really good, the shipping costs bring into not-worth-it territory for me.

Eventually I had my “D’oh” moment. I’m in China, after all, where pretty much everything and anything is made and available. So, let’s see what’s on the market here…

A few moments later, I’d found this on Taobao:

Let’s face it, for less than 30 pounds / 43 US dollars / 60 Singapore dollars, it’s a steal….

I’ll let you know how they handle when they arrive….

Playing with sharp objects


Meh. My energy has been really low lately, and I’m not getting much done. So, here are some clips that have cheered me up.

The first is just awesome. The second, well, nothing you won’t have seen before, but I like the music. The third might get bagua people thinking…

And, by the way, happy birthday Carlos!

Category: Systema


Ninja turtle


I don’t know which group or school it is, only that they’re in St. Petersburg, but I recently came across this clip of systema training:

I thought it was interesting because it reminded me of something mentioned on the Martial Development blog a while back: Legends say that Taijiquan founder Zhang Sanfeng resembled a sloppy, dim-witted turtle“. Watch the clip and you’ll see an example….

Speaking of systema, I find myself wondering about the upcoming summer holiday…. I want to do another, more intensive tui na course here in Beijing, and also go back to Wales for a while. I may have time to go overland, on the Trans-Siberian… Don’t know if I can afford it, though…. Still, if I were to do that, ten lessons at Mikhail Ryabko’s school would cost 270 Euros… approximately 2.4K renminbi… That’s over the course of a week. A very reasonable price but hmmm, expensive place, Moscow. Probably won’t happen. Worth thinking about, though….