Monthly Archives: August 2010

Learning to walk

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There have been a number of times over the last few years when I’ve thought to myself “How dumb can you be? How can you have reached the age you’ve got to without having learned to walk properly?”. I’ve actually been even embarrassed to mention it here! These moments came, of course, after yiquan training sessions, when I’d had some insight during the zhan zhuang, or the stepping exercises, and then I’ve spotted a specific postural problem that, when thought about, I’ve realized has been leading to me walking incorrectly for goodness know how long. I found it hard to believe that other people besides me also didn’t know how to walk properly…

I was rather glad, then, when I cam across this passage in Constantin Stanislavski’s Building a Character:

As I was walking home today I daresay the passersby in the street took me for a drunken or abnormal person.

I was learning how to walk.

But it was very difficult.

The instant when my weight was shifted from one leg to the other seemed especially complicated.

By the time I neared the end of my walk it seemed me that I had succeeded in getting rid of the jolt when I shifted my body from one foot to the other – let us say from the toes of my right foot to the heel of the left, and then (after the shifting movement had run along the whole plant of my left foot) from the toes of my left to the heel of my right foot. Besides, I came to realize from my own experience that smoothness and an unbroken line of forward motion depend on the correlated action of all the springs of the legs, from the harmonious co-operation of hips, knees, ankles, heels and toes.

I was in the habit of making a stop when I reached the Gogol Monument. As I sat there on a bench I observed the passers-by and their way of walking. And what did I discover? Not one of them took a full step right to the end of his toes nor remained poised even for the fraction of a second on the tip of the last one. It was only in one little girl that I saw a floating gait and not the creeping type of all the others.

Tortsov is indeed right, people do not know how to make use of the marvelous apparatus which is their legs.

So we have to learn. We have to begin from the beginning and learn – to walk, to speak, to see, to act.

I’m going to have a bit more to say about Stanislavski, his techniques, and his students….

Wrestling competition in Ditan Park


A few weekends ago, before I went travelling, I went to Ditan Park to catch up with people from Small Steps Neijia. While I was trying to find them, I discovered that there was a big shuaijiao competition taking place. It was very cool – lots of old guys sitting in chairs and commenting knowledgeably on events, lots of keen youths waiting to compete, and a large crowd of fascinated observers! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to stay and watch for long, but here’s a short clip of what I saw. One of the nice things about Beijing is randomly stumbling across this kind of thing!

Interview with Mike Tyson


Meh. I’m sick, with a chest cold and bunged up ears, swilling down bitter TCM medicine that had better work, given how horrible it is!

Well, it could be worse, eh? Here’s an interview with Mike Tyson, who’s really been through the fire. (Via Communicatrix).

Category: Uncategorized

Where am I?

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On Thursday, I flew out of Beijing Capital Airport, still full with a meal of egg-and-leek dumplings and gan bian dou jiao (spicy fried green beans), with a couple of bottles of Yanjing Beer. By 0730 I was sitting in a coffee shop on Henderson Road in Singapore, happily devouring a breakfast of kaya toast and runny eggs, washed down with strong coffee sweetened with condensed milk. At 1330 I was chowing a lunch of dosai and dhal, with iced buttermilk, on Upper Dickson Road in Little India. At 2200, I was in Soi Ram Bhuttri Road in Bangkok, being served green curry and steamed rice, plus a streaming cold Chang beer, by a deep-voiced ladyboy.

The night I arrived in Bangkok, a heavily tattooed stranger on the next table told me that he worked for Microsoft in anti-virus development, but had just got back from Africa where he’d been involved in a personal sideline involving gold….

Last night, I just sat and could only nod my head as another stranger, this time a beautiful and charming Walloon nurse, poured out her stress and tension – she’d just come in from Haiti, where she’d been involved in post-earthquake aid with Medecins Sans Frontieres….

I wonder who I’ll meet today?

Ah, Asia. It’ll be a wrench to leave.

Category: Miscellaneous

Not goodbye

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Well, I’ve already told Yao Lao Shi and all the other people who needed to know…. I think it’s certain enough to announce… I’m outta here.

While I was back in Wales, I interviewed for a job, was offered it, and accepted. The background to all this, I’m afraid, falls into that category of “off-topic for this blog”; obviously, I have a life beyond what I blog about here, and sometimes that has to take precedence.

The details are all uncertain just now but I expect to leave Beijing in September. I’ll have to visit Singapore before I go, and hope to catch up with some of you then. With any luck, time and funds allowing, I’ll go back on the Trans-Sib, though I doubt I will have time to visit the Ryabko school.

I’ll be based in Swansea…. which I suspect means that I’ll try to sign up for bagua and taiji with the Montaigue clan…. Plus there’s a systema school there…. It’ll be fairly easy to get to London, as well.

Don’t know what this means for the blog. I will certainly keep posting until I leave Asia; once I get to Wales, well, I’ll have to see. It’s a funny old life….

Category: Miscellaneous

The roots of Piper

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As you’ve probably understood by now, I’m back in Beijing. Whenever I fly, I want something to read. I have many books of my own, but I’m a bookworm: I read, and re-read my books, and so for a long-haul flight I tend to want something new, and always buy something from the airport bookstore. On this occasion, I picked up a copy of Ross Kemp’s Pirates – partly from a Jianghu-inspired interest in Pirate Utopias, and partly from something mentioned in William Gibson’s Spook Country… It was interesting, but blah, didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know from reading the news, you know?

Still, it got me curious about what else this actor had done after he turned to journalism (given the adverts inside the cover of the book), especially since he seemed to have done a lot of programmes about gang culture around the world. After checking the relevant Wikipedia page, I searched YouTube… ANd found the programme that Kemp filmed about the Cape Town prison where Piper’s roots can be found….

It’s far from perfect – there’s a lot of metropolitan English attitudes that annoy me. For example, in the first episode, Kemp treats (it seems to me) some of the prisoners as stupid because they can’t understand him and he can’t understand their Afrikaans accent. This continues throughout the programme; the prisoners are always subtitled. Well… dunno – I can understand them with no problem, and it’s over 20 years since I was in South Africa but there we are…

There’s also a moment (in the second clip) where he describes a hardened criminal as “looking like a 12-year-old child”. WTF? You watch it, and tell me if that guy looks 12 years old!!! I just can’t understand why he says that….

Anyway, here is the program. Lots of good background on where Piper comes from.

Category: Piper

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The long and the short of it


There was no “Big Bang”.

Aaahhh, now this sounds and feels right.

As it happens, when I was about to take my O-Levels (not OWLs, Harry Potter fans), I was – of course – wondering about jobs, careers, and so on. I’m a geek, in case that had somehow slipped past you, and I was thinking about astrophysics as a university course. I wasn’t really sure, though, because although it seemed very interesting when I read about it, I wasn’t sure what it really involved, or where it might lead, or…

So, I did what any 16-year-old geek would do. I wrote to Arthur C. Clarke for advice, care of his publishers. He wrote me a very nice hand-written reply, which went astray but eventually reached me; by that time, though, I was already on a different path – which was probably for the best; I don’t think in retrospect that I would have made a very good astrophysicist!

Anyway, that leads me on to an extremely interesting article in Wired: There was no Big Bang, because mass and time convert to length and space. A Taiwanese physicist, Shu Wun Yi, has developed a new cosmological theory, which replaces the ‘Big Bang’ model. I’ll let you read the article for the details, but the essence is that the Big Bang model just wasn’t working; to make the numbers balance, physicists were depending on the existence of “dark matter” – more and more of it. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to actually locate any. I’ve kept an eye on this kind of headline for years, so I do know that this hypothesis has been dragging on and on, and yet no-one ever finds any of this mysterious matter.

Shun’s theory does away with this completely, replacing it with a model in which the universe contracts and expands, contracts and expands, eternally. Energy is conserved, and Einstein’s theories work, without the ‘placebo’ of vast amounts of completely undetectable dark matter.

In short, there was no beginning. There is no end. There are just cycles.

From a Buddhist point of view, this isn’t news.

Manchu archery

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There’s an interesting article in the latest edition of the Global Times (an official English-language paper published by the Chinese Government) about a Dutchman by the name of Peter Dekker. Peter is (pretty much single-handed) trying to revive the Qing-era art of Manchu archery.

Here’s the text of the article by Gao Fu Mao:

Peter Dekker is surely one of the more unique passengers travelling through Beijing’s Capital Airport. A scan of the friendly Dutchman’s luggage will likely reveal a kit of weaponry from China’s last courtly dynasty, the Qing (1644-1911). That he’s bringing this arsenal in to China, rather than out of the country, makes it doubly intriguing.

A historian and martial arts enthusiast, Dekker wants to resurrect Manchu archery as a modern day Chinese martial art. When we talked last month Dekker was in his workshop in the Dutch city of Groningen, a couple of hours north of Amsterdam, making Qing-style arrows. This anonymous suburban house stuffed with Chinese swords and archery gear is an unlikely center of expertise on the Manchu. The Manchu were a tribe from northeastern China (often referred to as Manchuria) whose exploits as bowmen helped them oust the Ming Dynasty (1368- 1644) and rule China for nearly three centuries.

A replica Manchu bow Dekker draws on in his living room is a “true replica” of an antique Qing-era bow, he explains. “It is quite different from the bows made today by people such as Yang Fuxi [Chinese bowmaker] which are more like a contemporary Mongolian-type bow.

Purist passion

Dekker finances his passion with part-time work at Holland’s largest telecom company and at a local bicycle shop. Some “not very steady” income comes from restoring and selling antique Chinese arms. There’s income from teaching, but you sense passion for historical accuracy is more appealing than money for Dekker, who in early July taught a seminar of Manchu archery in Germany. “I was there last year as well. This year we will replicate a Qing-style military exam and see how good the students do by late Qing standards after a year of training.”

Clearly, he’s a purist. “I want to use accurate reproductions of Qing weapons in order to understand the antique weapons I collect and research. This bow is more slender, but with much larger ears. It’s more difficult to make, but they draw very smoothly and shoot very well. I always go to great lengths to get my material as accurate as possible because I believe the people whose arts I am studying had good reasons to make their equipment the way we did. If we change anything, we are misleading ourselves into thinking we know more than them.”

Dekker traces his Manchu passion to a childhood fascination for war games. “Like many, as a boy I’ve always been intrigued by Asian martial arts seen on TV. Luckily my parents have always been rather supportive in my interests, and on my 12th birthday I got my first real sharp sword. A Japanese one, because at the time I was in the assumption that Japanese swords were the best swords around.”

Under his parents’ “strict supervision” and without a good teacher, Dekker knew he’d never become a good swordsman like the ancient Asian warriors. But, interest piqued, he started to read around the subject, and was soon intrigued by the Chinese sword “especially because it pretty much has the same construction as the Japanese sword but yet so little is known about them generally.”

Over the years Dekker has mined for information in manuals and martial arts teachings “and the archery schools in neighboring cultures such as Korea, Mongolia and Japan that are all related to early Chinese techniques.” Dekker also began to learn from European academics in the field. Among them is acknowledged US-based Qing expert Philip Tom, “who pretty much put my studies on the right track and who is still always there with a critical eye.”

Eventually he was ready to go to China in search of more knowledge. Dekker has lived for extended periods in Chengdu, Hangzhou and Beijing, studying local martial arts. “I liked Beijing the most, as the old Qing heritage can still be found all over the city.” While other Chinese cities have destroyed much of their heritage, “Beijing has the Forbidden City, hutong and remnants of the city walls.”

Sadly though Dekker has been frustrated by the lack of real expertise in China. He’s become wary of what he terms the many Chinese “so-called ‘experts’ who go by a few facts and make up the rest as they go.” He says there’s too much “word of mouth stuff in their theories, much of which is proven to be inaccurate. My research and that of the people I work with is firmly ground in tangible evidence such as period texts, period artwork, eye-witness accounts and actual antique artifacts.”

“We do not go by hearsay of people who claim to know, we want to know where their information is from. If the source is not clear, the information is unreliable. For example, a noted Chinese expert published a book on Chinese swords which did not include a bibliography. In the West we wouldn’t be able to pretend to be an expert and publish a book that doesn’t cite any sources.”

Facing difficulties

Dekker believes a local emphasis on face – the “mianzi” (face) system – makes it hard to distinguish the real experts from chancers in China. “It is not commonly accepted in China to publicly say someone is wrong, but in the West it is common to criticize even the most respected researchers in any field if there is reason to.”

Lately, in between completing an English translation of the 1759 book Huangchao Liqi Tushi (皇朝礼器图式) and researching another book titled Manchu Archer, he’s been working with a Korean bowyer on a design for a replica Manchu bow that shoots much like the originals. So far he’s relied on traditional bowyer Jaap Koppedrayer, who’s made Dekker’s bows using traditional materials like bone sinew and horn.

Today Dekker’s own trainees learn to aim and shoot while running, then shooting while kneeling. Students have to learn what it is like to have to shoot someone while being shot at. “I keep full draw [aim at] on my student while he nocks [loads] a new arrow so he will learn to handle the anxiety that comes with this.”

To keep things authentic when sparring the trainees use wooden weapons “just like they did in the past. We don’t use foam in sparring, because it doesn’t hurt much. If you are not afraid when you enter a match, you are likely to do things you would not in an actual fight.”

You sense he’d like to have lived back in the day. “I don’t have the adversaries, nor the teachers that a Qing soldier had. Therefore it would be unrealistic to think I can reach the level of an elite Manchu soldier…of course it would be nice to become a master but I don’t think we can ever fully understand this period and its military simply because it is a bygone era. Still, I try to deepen my understanding and perfect my technique every chance I get.”

Learn more: www.manchuarchery.org

gaofumao@globaltimes.com.cn

Category: Miscellaneous

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This one’s for Tabby


This one is for Tabby Cat – it seems appropriate….

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Category: Miscellaneous