Monthly Archives: December 2010

Feel the weight


I was at a bit of a loose end yesterday. This period between Christmas and New Year is a bit of a dead time, especially when you’re newly-arrived in a country and don’t have strong social networks yet. To be honest, I would have preferred to be working, but the office is closed for the week, and the heating is off, so that wasn’t an option. I also had a bit of an urge to travel deeper into Wales than I have done so far; in my walking around the lanes I’ve felt something of the place, the qi of the land (which is very different to that of China), but I haven’t yet felt the deep connection with the earth which I used to have. Perhaps going inland, closer to the hills, would help re-establish the connection…

So, I headed off on impulse to Y Gelli Gandryll, otherwise known as book-town Haye-on-Wye. Not only would that take me through the Great Forest and the Black Mountain, it would lead me to a town packed full of bookshops… Perfect!

So, off I went. It was a good drive through wild country, with small hamlets huddled amongst the hills. There were some moments of great views, but to my great disappointment there was heavy mist most of the way, so I couldn’t really get a feel for the land. Never mind, it was nice to be travelling through winding hill roads with the steppe music of Hanggai as a soundtrack.

I only bought one book in the end, one for which I’ve had an eye open for some time. I’m dipping into it at the moment, and I’ve already found one quote that I wanted to share:

In talking about muscle relaxation, Tortsov told a story out of his own life: in Rome, in a private house, he had the opportunity of watching an exhibition to test equilibrium, on the part of an American lady who was interested in the restoration of antique sculpture. In gathering up broken pieces and putting them together she tried to reconstitute the original pose of the statue. For this work, she was obliged to make a thorough study of weight in the human body, and to find out, through experiments with her own body, where the centre of gravity lies in any given pose. She acquired a remarkable flair for the quick discovery in herself of those centres which establish equilibrium. On the occasion described, she was pushed, and flung about, caused to stumble, put in what seemed to be untenable positions, but in each case she proved herself able to maintain her balance. Moreover, this lady, with two fingers, was able to upset a rather portly gentleman. This also she had learned through study of centres of weight. She could find the places that threatened the equilibrium of her opponent and overthrow him, without any effort, by pushing him in those spots.

Sounds like a taijiquan manual! In fact, it’s taken from the chapter Relaxation of Muscles, in Constantin Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares.

It als reminds me of one element we worked on in the one systema class I’ve attended, in which we tried to find points on our partner’s body that would collapse their structure… I am convinced that somewhere in systema’s history one or more stage-trained people contributed insights from the actors’ craft!

OK, enough philosphizing; time to post this, have a quick lunch, and get out to enjoy the winter sunshine at the Worm’s Head

A new Asgarda article

I just discovered that the UK Telegraph (a mainstream broadsheet) ran an article about the Ukrainian Asgarda movement a couple of months ago. It’s very well-written, and adds a lot of new information to what we knew before. The author, Sally Howard, actually went to Ukraine, and spent some time with the women of Asgarda, getting to know them and their aspirations. Highly recommended.

Read the article here.

Gender relations in Ukraine are indubitably strained. Yet the existence of groups such as Femen and the Asgarda shows how far Ukrainian women have come in breaking free from the constraints of the Soviet regime, under which feminism was despised as ‘bourgeois ideology’.
Indeed, a few days spent with the happy, politicised and ambitious young women of the Asgarda made me wonder if British girls too wouldn’t benefit from such a regime. With many young British women aspiring to the Katie Price lifestyle, perhaps a movement that empowered girls to be martial artists, rather than sex objects, would be a useful antidote.
After a pathetic attempt to master a few scythe skills, I ask the Asgarda what they’d say to young women in Britain. ‘To believe in themselves,’ says Daria, ‘and that women are as strong as men.’
‘You are not just a housewife or a girlfriend or an object to look at,’ Katya adds, ‘you are a person and you can choose your own path.’

Merry Christmas


Well, season’s greetings to you all! I’m writing this from my parents’ house, while I digest Christmas dinner 🙂

Apologies for the sparse posting; I’ve been super busy settling in to the new job, and still haven’t got internet at home – although hopefully that will finally be sorted out next week.

A lot’s happened since my last post, but it’ll keep until I have a bit more time. In summary, there were three things I hoped to get into after moving back to Wales: systema, taijiquan, and meditation. Classes are running in all three and, as you know, I went to a taiji class with Eli Montaigue – which I really enjoyed. However… that’s on a Wednesday evening. The nearest systema class… is on a Wednesday evening. The meditation workshops run by the New Kadampas… are on Wednesday evening. Bah!

So, the week after I went to Eli’s taiji class, I went to try the systema class. It’s an hour’s drive from my office, and is an offshoot of Mark Winkler’s Celtic Systema school. I really, really had a great time. It was my first exposure to systema IRL, and it lived up to expectations. Unfortunately, and completely by accident, I received a very solid knee-strike to my ribs, which is only now healing up… Even so, I could have gone back within a couple of weeks, but by then cold weather had descended upon the UK; the roads are bad enough in the area where I live that I opted to just get home as early as possible, so I haven’t been to any more classes yet.

I haven’t been completely idle, though. As I mentioned, I’ve fitted out a room in the house I’m renting as an exercise room, and I’ve been using it! I’ve been combining two of Scott Sonnon’s programs: Flowfit, and Tacfit Kettlebell Spetsnaz. I’m seriously impressed – although, they’re definitely highlighting my lack of physical strength… So, I’m going through the beginner levels at the moment, but very definitely seeing pretty rapid improvement. Once I get stronger and more flexible, I’ll start throwing in elements of Flowfit II.

What’s interesting is that with Coach Sonnon’s latest programs, he’s once again emphasizing his links with the Russian Special Forces (I got the impression that for some years he was playing it down). Flowfit II in particular clearly shows a connection with Spetsnaz systema. I’ve also bought a couple of DVDs about that: Internal Wave Energy, and Elements and Exercises Part 1. These are produced by Vadim Starov, if I have that right, but they are derived from Kadochnikov’s systema – which is also the root of the ROSS system that Scott Sonnon trained in… Never mind, the ins and outs of systema politics are hard to pin down! Anyway, Coach Sonnon has refined them into effective and easy-to-follow routines, while Starov’s DVDs are great for moving further into ‘proper’ systema – at least, that’s what seems to be working for me!

The ROSS curriculum is extremely interesting for me, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned before, given that it includes dance, etc…

So, anyhow. Systema is definitely going to be my primary focus now; I’ve always said that from the very first time I saw clips of it in YouTube (which was in 2007, before I even moved to Beijing), it ‘spoke’ to me – and having been to a class now, and started working with the DVDs, I feel even more that this is the style I’m meant to learn… I have big plans for systema…

That doesn’t mean that I’m leaving Chinese neijia behind! The clash of class times means that I can’t attend Eli’s taiji classes any more… but fortuitously, he’s just started a new class in bagua, which is on Tuesdays… I didn’t think I would be able to attend those either, but due to various circumstances changing, I’ll now be free to do so. Thus: a focus on systema, with bagua on the side. Oh, and I said something about wanting to revisit a weapon form, but I wasn’t sure what… Well, walking on a regular basis through country lanes to my local pub requires a stick (especially given all the snow and ice recently). So, it seems like shanxi whipstaff is the strongest candidate at the moment…

Also due to changing circumstances, my stay in the fishing village will probably be a short one; it looks like I’ll be returning to my home town next spring – I need to return to my tribe (see also this) before the economic storm breaks over our heads… but that is also for another post!

Anyway, I don’t want to end on a negative note 🙂 I’ll just say that as we approach 2011, I’m really fired up about getting into systema; I think this is going to be a real blast, and the people I’ve met so far are great. It’ll be nice to be back into bagua as well. I have a feeling that the plans I contemplated, of combining systema, acting, and dance into other elements of community resilience a la Transition Towns, are becoming more feasible. That’s quite exciting. I suspect that this will form a major part of my blogging focus next year…

So, Merry Christmas!