Monthly Archives: January 2011


Another exercise session this evening, following the same routine as I listed before. Afterwards, I did a little body toning by hitting the body with a canvas bag full of soy beans (I got the bag from Nam Wah Pai when I was training with them in Lorong 29 in 2003, as it happens, and have carried it with me in my travels ever since. Pern Yiau’s branch of NWP doesn’t use this exercise, though). I finished up with a double-handed workout that is really a cossack sword exercise; however, I wasn’t able to bring my shashkas from China since they’re illegal in the UK, so instead I use a pair of Chinese brass maces, which are not illegal. Go figure…

Last night’s systema class was very good. We began by working on the ‘systema walk’, keeping the hips very loose and the pelvis tilted slightly. From there we moved on to evading slow incoming punches, always using only peripheral vision, and simply stepping aside to avoid the fist. After that, the same thing but evading slashes from training knives, which was much more difficult. Finally, we worked for some time on studying your opponent in order spot where the weaknesses are in their ‘chain of tension’. This is great stuff, the sort of thing that really attracted me to systema.

Until his recent death, I had never heard of Jack Lalanne; I read a number of martial arts blogs that have eulogized him, though, plus a number of UK papers ran obituaries. He certainly seems to have been a seriously admirable man. The most interesting comment I’ve read, though, is by John Michael Greer, who observed:

Lalanne was, rather, one of the very last great figures in what was once a huge and influential movement in American culture, and has now been systematically erased from our collective memory.

The phrase that was standard before that erasure took place was “physical culture.” From the 1870s until the Second World War, across the English-speaking world and in many other countries as well, those words conjured up much the same imagery that the current Lalanne retrospectives put back into circulation, however briefly, in the imagination of our time: a genial blend of robust exercise, healthy eating, spectacular feats of strength, and more or less colorful showmanship. Against a background of Victorian ladies doffing their corsets to swing Indian clubs, young men stripped to the waist hefting kettlebells full of lead shot, and circus strongmen challenging all comers to match them lift for lift, scores of figures now forgotten made their names into household bywords: Eugen Sandow, whose impressive exploits and even more impressive physique first made weightlifting fashionable in the Western world; Genevieve Stebbins, who taught exercise to three generations of American girls around the turn of the last century; Joseph Greenstein aka “The Mighty Atom,” the diminutive Polish-American strongman whose signature trick was tying a #2 iron horseshoe into an overhand knot with his bare hands, and many more – among them, and far from the least, Jack Lalanne.

One of the commenters links in turn to a Salon article about J.P. Müller, a Dane who in the first half of the 20th century developed an exercise routine that swept Europe, and counted Franz Kafka amongst its devotees. As a 15-minute routine for health and strength, it definitely seems to prefigure today’s trends! It’s interesting to watch; I suddenly feel an urge to grow a manly Victorian-style moustache…

Right, time for a random stream of consciousness post….

A recent post from Another Neijia Blog caught my attention when it popped up in my RSS feeds because it was talking about kettlebells.

Following that link, I wandered on to another, older, post on how to popularize qigong, based on yoga’s success.

Well, qigong comes in many shapes and forms. As I thought about it, my mind was drawn to the Five Animals qigong set that I briefly studied at the China Culture Centre in Beijing. In particular, the deer:

Now, I’ve got to say: this was on my mind because I’d been reminded of it as I watched one of Meyerhold’s biomechanics études on YouTube:

Also, I recently bought a book/DVD aimed at actors, The Vocal Arts Workbook and DVD – which contains a few qigong techniques.

So, I suppose, a way to promote qigong to a wider market would be to focus on actors and the media – many of whom, of course, are trendsetters. The focus would be on ‘breath’, ‘voice’ and ‘flow’…

…much of which sounds like systema, of course….

The Eagle


I can’t remember what the last film release was that really interested me… Avatar? (Saw it twice, hehehe, once in Beijing, once in Singapore!). Bodyguards and Assassins? That was very cool. Alice in Wonderland was an abomination. Hmmm, I watched all of those with S., who I miss very badly indeed. We had a great Skype chat the other day, but a) it’s not the same as actually hanging out, and b) it just made me miss her even more! Well, these are the attachments that cause sadness; I guess here is the reality of Buddha’s teaching, that attachment causes suffering. All things change…

But anyway, back to films… I caught Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood on the plane back to the UK, and that’s so-so at best. Since then, nothing really…

Next month, though, will see the release of The Eagle of the Ninth, the film adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff‘s novel. That was a big favourite of mine when I was a kid; in fact I still have a copy and can quite happily re-read it. I love all of herAquila‘ family sequence of novels, which spans the period from the early Roman occupation of Britain, through to the period of collapse, and the Age of Arthur… I’m still trying to find a reasonably-priced copy of ‘Frontier Wolf‘, which was always my favourite…

Anyway, here’s the trailer. It looks good, though the accents cause me a bit of a problem – the Romans spoke with British accents, don’t you know…. 😉 Hehehehe, anyway: one to look forward to…

Adding a bit more…


Last week’s systema class went very well. I should probably give a little background about this. The classes are an offshoot of Mark Winkler’s Celtic Systema school, which has been going for a couple of years now. I haven’t met Mark in person, though we’ve spoken on the phone a few times, and he’s a really nice bloke. He’s super-into systema, and is currently working every hour he can get to save money so that he can go to Canada and spend 6 months training solidly with Vladimir Vasiliev. Now that’s commitment! Anyway, since he’s working, he’s not teaching, and the Carmarthen classes are being run by his long-time student, another very nice chap called Martin.

So, last week we went through rolls and ground work to begin with, and then moved on to partner work. This started with identifying chains of tension in the partner, initially with training knives, and then later on with fists. When we used the fists, we brought in breathing exercises to disperse the force of the blow (I’m not very good at this), and then added in a return strike, using the force of the blow received and redirecting it back to the attacker. This one was practised first on the ground, and then standing. Very, very, interesting. The class ended, as always, with us all sitting in a circle and contributing what insights we’d had during the class. I really like this aspect of systema: it’s very supportive and non-aggressive, and yet it trains with more use of actually receiving punches and dealing with the force than any of my internal martial arts training (but with less injury and attitude than the Thai boxing I trained in many years ago). This class is 90 minutes long, and the time just flies by.

As I mentioned to Kim in a comment, during my time in Asia I developed fairly thick tendons and a fair bit of relaxation, which allowed me to perform very well in, for example, yiquan tui shou sessions. This is how power is supposed to be generated in the internal martial arts, and is why neijia practitioners are able to stay strong into old age (I know, I simplify here, but you get the gist). On the other hand, I never really developed any muscle strength or aerobic endurance, which are also pretty handy things to have! (Sun Ru Xian was the only teacher I had who strongly emphasized that; plus, I suppose, Master ‘Blade Runner’ Zhang). Hence the pre-Christmas start to a fitness regime…. Last night, I did about six sets of Scott Sonnon’s Flowfit. I’m on level 2 (of 4), and it’ll be quite some time before I move to the next level. I can keep up with the ‘follow-along’ demonstration with minimal breaks between reps, although I’m gasping by the end. The main issue is that I can’t do the routine ‘elegantly’, so I now need to persevere with it and focus on doing it properly – which means focussing on foot placement, leg alignment, etc.

I’m also working on Scott’s Tacfit Spetsnaz Kettlebell routines. I’m now at the point of doing 6 reps of this: 2 reps at pre-recruit level with a 9kg kettlebell, 2 reps of pre-recruit with a 12kg kettlebell, and (for the first time last night) 2 reps with 9kg at the recruit level. This is working me very hard indeed, and exposing a lot of weak areas in my muscle strength, flexibility, and endurance 🙁 On the positive side, the pre-recruit sequence with 9kgs is now fairly easy, whereas when I started, I struggled even with this – so I do seem to be gaining ground!

Thus, my routine on these sessions is Tacfit Spetsnaz warmup (about 5 min), 6 or so sets of flowfit (14 min), 6 reps of kettlebell (40 min), and Tacfit Spetsnaz cooldown (8 min or so). After that, I just have to lie and stare at the ceiling for a while 🙂

Tuesday evenings are for training with Eli Montaigue. This evening was my second bagua class with him. It’s a small class, only 6 or so students. We worked on mud stepping – I still need to pay attention to my heels, as I haven’t managed to lose my bad habit of lifting them, but I am actually getting better on that, I think. We’ve moved on from the opening move and looked tonight at the single palm change. It’s unlike any bagua version I’ve trained before, but that of course is in the nature of bagua’s multiple forms! Eli teaches each element as form, followed by demonstration of application, and (in tonight’s class) incorporating body conditioning. So, all good so far.

Eli’s classes are an hour long. I mentioned before that I attended one taiji class, but since that was on a Wednesday, which clashed with the systema class, I didn’t go again. I’m glad to learn that there will be a new class on Tuesday nights, right after the bagua class. That’ll start next week, so Tuesday night will be neijia night!

So, there we are. After a slow start, my martial arts schedule is starting to pick up, and covering all the bases that I wanted.

Taiwanese sword maker


This clip was passed on to me by one of my MBA classmates.

The only accompanying text on YouTube is:

Once considered divine, the centuries-old Taiwanese craft of sword-making is dying. But one person is doing his best to keep the ancient tradition alive.

Anyone know anything more about it? A quick Google search turns up this:

Classes resume


After a long period of terrible weather, followed by the holidays, things are getting started again.

Eli Montaigue’s bagua classes kicked off tonight. It’s the first time they’ve run in Swansea, so pretty much everyone was a beginner (I include myself, since it’s a different style to what I’ve trained before – though Cheng-influenced at the very least – and in any case it’s a long time since I worked on my bagua). It was a small group, with good people from what I’ve seen tonight.

Tomorrow, barring unexpected hitches, I’ll be off to Carmarthen to resume systema classes. Looking forward to that.

Last night, I did a few sets of kettlebell exercises, plus a few rounds of Flowfit.


Why I changed direction


Some time ago, I linked to the trailer of Banlieu 13: Ultimatum, and asked is this our future?

You may have thought I was being dramatic, but the economic data keeps on suggesting that it may not be far off. The US is effectively bankrupt at every level; the Automatic Earth bloggers are pretty good at tracking the numbers, and yesterday’s entry is particularly sobering (skip past the first part about the Arizona shootings; the bulk of the post is about the financial state of US states, counties and cities).

There’s one report they reproduce that contains the following quote: “Clearly the markets don’t think we’re Argentina, but we should send them a signal that they are right, that we will address the issue.” That’s kind of on the money. I spent a week in Buenos Aires in the autumn of 2001. I loved it; it was a beautiful city, full of elegant people. Clearly, there was a fair bit of money around; the shops were packed, the tango was fantastic, and everyone was dressed to the nines. A month later, their economy collapsed. There’s an inhabitant of BA called Ferfal, who blogs about life following the crash, and a recent post of his is worth a read: Life in Argentina, 9 years after the 2001 Collapse. Remember, Buenos Aires was very definitely a first-world city.

Today’s headlines in the UK are all about the record, and unexpected rise in prices. They talk about ‘inflation’, which is a bit misleading, since inflation is caused by an increase in the money supply. Despite quantitative easing, that isn’t what’s happening here; these price increases are being caused by rising energy (read: oil) prices, plus expensive food due to climatic events. Unfortunately, these factors are only going to get worse. All the figures I read suggest that global oil supplies are likely to drop off a cliff around 2015; demand will still be increasing, so prices will go through the roof. That’s when we’re likely to get our ‘Argentina experience”…

Hence (one reason for) the new focus on systema: it’s easy to teach, it’s effective, and its links to theatre and dance make it accessible to a wide variety of people. Unfortunately, the Chinese martial arts would be harder to sell to a population undergoing extreme economic and social stress, whereas I’m convinced that systema, properly packaged, could become a social glue.

We’ll find out, of course. Perhaps I’m being too negative, and it would be far from the first time. However, if in 5 years’ time I’m right, then I’ll be ready. If not, I’ll still have lots of useful skills!


I visited my local second-hand bookshop yesterday. Over the years, I’ve got to know the owner fairly well; he’s a very nice chap. As I was walking in, we got chatting, but it turned out that he had to rush out, for a quick meeting with someone. Since he knows me well enough, he didn’t mind leaving me alone in the shop; as I didn’t want to leave until he got back (thus leaving the shop empty), I found myself exploring some of the stacks of books at the very back of the back room on the top floor – somewhere I haven’t reached before. Lo and behold, I found a few shelves of books on the theatre and, amongst them, two that I immediately bought: The Mastery of Movement by Rudolf Laban, and Meyerhold: A Revolution in Theatre about Vsevolod Meyerhold, a student and (later) collaborator of Constantin Stanislavski. There’s a lot here that’s very interesting, especially in that area where I see a crossover between acting, dance, and systema.