Monthly Archives: August 2011

To the hills

Right, I’m off to the hills… Three days in the mountains of Snowdonia, where the qi is very, very strong… See you soon!

Links of interest

Just testing a bit further, so here are a couple of links to pages that I’ve been meaning to post for ages.

Adidas punchbags relieve stress of Chinese subway commuters. Β In an advertising campaign, Adidas wrapped the pillars in Shanghai subway stations with punchbags.

Research shows that meditation makes you more rational.

New look, same as the old look


My server is behaving oddly, and the site just gets slower and slower. Please bear with me as I try to find out what’s happening! Part of it seems to be connected to the theme, so I’ve temporarily reverted to the default look and feel.

Category: Uncategorized


Test (sorry about all these, this should be the last)

Category: Uncategorized


There really aren’t that many resources available about Yiquan, at least for non-speakers of Mandarin. I’m basically trying to acquire everything there is, to assist me as I train solo and build on what I studied with Yao Chengrong Lao Shi. So, when I saw that Bruce Frantzis had issued a new DVD set covering Xingyi and Yiquan, my thought processes were along the lines of:

  • I can’t afford it right now
  • Yes, but it’s on offer for a short while
  • I can’t afford it
  • Yes, but it’s Bruce Frantzis, dude!
  • Bruce Frantzis doesn’t know yiquan. Bagua, taiji, and xingyi yes, but he’s never indicated before that he knows yiquan.
  • But you’re trying to learn xingyi anyway, so even if the yiquan material is duff, the xingyi material should be worth it.
  • I can’t afford it, though.
  • Oh, sod it.

So, I put my order in late on Sunday night. The package arrived early Tuesday morning. Good start…. I had some technical problems downloading the free qigong mp3 files, but the customer support team sorted that out promptly and efficiently.

Now, I’m busy, so I haven’t had time to watch the DVDs properly. Instead, I’ve had them playing in a small window floating in the corner of my screen while I get on with doing other things, so I didn’t give them my full attention. Thus, these are only my very general first impressions. So far, I’ve watched all of the yiquan DVDs, and the first xingyi DVD.

The yiquan DVDs were filmed live as BKF delivered a seminar. The camera shots are almost entirely of BKF sitting in a comfy chair. Occasionally, a student is brought in to demonstrate a stance. Each segment begins with a short sequence of BKF demonstrating one of eight zhan zhuang postures, while a voiceover explains the health benefits in terms of qi and the internal organs. A few martial applications are mentioned here and there.

Overall, this covers only 8 basic static zhan zhuang postures from the yiquan syllabus. There’s no discussion of testing force, and no stepping. If you are a complete beginner, wanting to learn zhan zhuang for health, you would be much better off buying Lam Kam Chuen’s books and DVD. If you know some yiquan, and want to explore the martial side of it in more depth, there is nothing here for you. I actually am pretty happy with it; my classes with Yao Lao Shi didn’t include any kind of qigong, and BKF’s background in this adds a lot of value for me. It’s nothing immediately useful, but there are lots of pointers for where further research could be done individually. I have to say, though, much of the delivery is pretty dry and there’s a lot of what seems like filler. I still rather get the impression that BKF has not done much training in yiquan but instead is bringing his background in the other arts and applying them to a crash course in the basic health postures of yiquan. As I said, though, these are my first and imperfect impressions. Verdict: not really what most people would be looking for, but very useful for me.

The bulk of the DVDs, though, are on xingyi. As I said, I’ve only watched the first one so far, but on this limited viewing BKF is much, much better. He’s clearly far more confident in his delivery, and demonstrates far more himself; there are also more shots of the students in the seminar and what they’re doing. I really get the impression that there’s great material to come in the rest of the DVDs. Verdict: wow, cool.

Recognition of yiquan spreads

This came up in my RSS feeds this morning: Bruce Frantzis is bringing out a new product: Hsing-i Martial Applications.

I note that it actually says “In early August we are launching a Hsing-i Chuan and I Chuan product.” (My emphasis).

On the signup site: “In this illuminating and refreshingly honest, never-before-seen video, Bruce Frantzis explains the principles of of Hsing-i Five Elements, Santi and the postures I Chuan …… How specific standing postures open up your Yang merdians; the effect being both strength and health, even into old age.

The contents of the DVD set are listed here.

As I always say: yiquan absolutely rocks… and it looks like the word is spreading…

The Flashing Blade


The Flashing Blade was a cheesy Euro-drama – made in France, and later dubbed into English – that I absolutely adored during… I guess it would have been the late 70s? Rapiers, damsels in distress, noble heroes and wicked baddies, as many swashes being buckled as you like… Ahhhhh, it was all so simple then…

Anyway, two slightly different points of view:

Maija at Sword and Circle says:

So much of why you do what you do, especially the way you hold the weapon and the way it moves in space comes down to blade and handle design and how that ‘interacts’ with human anatomy.

Over at Internal Kung Fu, Nicholas Waller* writes:

When Yang Lu-chan popularised tai chi by teaching it to the Manchu Emperor’s palace guards, he probably taught sword forms.
Because in 1850 it may have been a well-used weapon in China.
Yang Lu-chan’s purpose in teaching sword would have been for self defence, for viable, practical martial purposes.

150 years later…
In the UK nobody carries a sword.
You are unlikely to be attacked by a sword and you are unlikely to be carrying a sword yourself.
The police are not happy with members of the public owning or using swords.


We do not teach the broadsword as a self defence tool. Sifu Waller has no interest in training or teaching sword forms and drills.


Clearly, these two points of view agree on the basics; the sword forms of taiji, bagua, and xingyi were developed by people who lived in dangerous times and needed to perfect weapon forms for their own survival. The question is: do these forms have any meaningful purpose today, or are they just an historical legacy that’s beautiful in its own right but – due to social and technological changes – now obsolete.


I wrote a year or two ago about the Sikh martial art of gatka. That came to mind as I heard about one of the stories from the recent riots in England, where the Sikhs of Enfield came out to defend their gurdwara.

Personally, I’ve got a lot of time for Sikhs, having known them in Singapore. Watch various videos on YouTube about these guys in Enfield, and you’ll see a few swords in evidence. As one the men in the clip says: “Why aren’t the police here? Can you see any police?“.

Even before the riots, there was a change in the air, evident when a man who fatally stabbed a burglar was not charged.

I’m sorry if this is becoming too much of a regular refrain, but I think that hard times are coming. This isn’t the US; we don’t have a gun culture here, and thank goodness for that. Nevertheless, flash mob crimes are increasingly happening both here and there, organised, I’m guessing, by people who have experience of commanding raiding parties in MMPORPGs (though the media don’t seem to have picked up on this; and I have to say I have no evidence beyond a gut feeling). Here’s an example:

Don’t know. Really, I don’t know. Maybe it was all a one-off, and things will go back to what we used to call normal. But, I read economic data and news ever day, and I see no sign of that – quite the contrary. Here’s a great article from The Oil Drum; it lays out clearly how Peak Oil means that economic growth is a thing of the past. How will that work out? No-one can be sure yet, but the signs we see so far are of mass civil unrest.

So… Is training in the sword, and other weapons forms obsolete? I’m not at all convinced of that. I think they may still have a future. Maybe not as an everyday individual piece of equipment – but it may be that those of us who study martial arts will need to step up and use that knowledge as part of our communities.

(NB not so long ago, McDonald’s in the US held a national hiring day, and were overwhelmed with applications – to the extent that violence broke out between applicants in some places. I saw something about that on YouTube, and noticed that many of the people in the clip were carrying golf clubs. At first that struck me as strange, since the US after all is a gun culture. After a while, I concluded that although many of these people probably did have guns, they carried golf clubs so that they could engage in self-defence at an intermediate level, when drawing a firearm was just too risky. I’d be interested to hear what readers from the US think about that).

* Not to be disrespectful in any way, but I don’t call anyone sifu unless I’ve accepted them as my personal martial arts mentor and teacher.

Working on the basics

As I was standing in the garden yesterday morning, a flight of wild geese flew over the treeline, not all that far above my head. There were about twenty of them, honking to each other in a leisurely conversation, on their way somewhere…

As it turned out, I was in the garden quite a lot. Two sessions of zhan zhuang: one early afternoon, with the sun warm (for once!) on my face, the other approaching midnight, with a full-ish moon and the stars clear and bright. I also spent a while planting herbs on the bank of the garden; once they’ve taken, I should be able to do my meditations and standing practice with their scent in the fresh air… I remember vividly what it was like to stand in zhan zhuang when I visited Qingbiankou in Hebei Province, with the herb-scented breeze flowing down from the hills… Quite an experience… Finally, I lifted the first of my potatoes… A rather disappointing crop so far, but I bet they’ll taste nice this evening…

Not what you’re expecting from a martial arts blog, perhaps… But wait…

There was a car boot sale behind the town hall yesterday morning, and I strolled down to take a look. I ended up buying a bunch of books, and four chili pepper plants. I’m not sure what type they are, but the peppers look as if they’ll be rather small, which suggests they’ll be hot! (Oh, and I ordered some sichuan pepper bushes from an online garden supplier; give it a year or two, and I’ll be able to prepare my own ma la mix with entirely home-grown ingredients!). Anyway, as I walked down, I found myself being greeted by shopkeepers standing in their doorways and passersby… People I went to school with, or I regularly shop with, or who drink in the same local pub as me, or even just are faces I see regularly… It was a good feeling.

What’s this got to do with anything, you may be asking. Well, it’s been a crazy week, world-wide, hasn’t it? The US downgraded; even so, things will get worse there, because there’s no money left. As I’ve mentioned several times before, in the US, government at every level is broke, and will have to stop its operations. In Euroland, there’s no respite as governments try to find a solution to sovereign debt – but they won’t, because there is no good solution. And, in London, the cracks started to show, as the streets burned, and the police barely held the line. It’s all quiet again now, but the problems are not going away.

Behind all this lies resource scarcity. Oil, food, water, minerals, whatever. It’s all costing more than it did, and that’s only going to get worse. In London, Minnesota, the Middle East, Africa, China… those who have nothing are finding it hard to cope as the costs of living rise… Those who have something will become ever more desperate to hang on to it…

So, it’s a good time to go back to examine basics. The targets I set myself, and described on this blog, a year or so back are proving to be sound ones. I’m re-establishing myself in a strong community, where people know and look out for each other. I’m getting familiar with how the garden works; reading my books to learn about the medicinal values of herbs and spices, so that I can decide which to plant… And working on the martial arts and meditation, to build mental and physical resilience…

At the top, the photo is of London Sikhs, who gathered to protect their gurdwara from the mob; standing on the steps with swords, axes, and sticks. Perhaps that kind of thing will become more common.

Various other people

Tom says in the comments, “We want details“… Sorry Tom, but not just now πŸ˜‰ Partly that’s because it’s off-topic, partly to protect her privacy, and partly because it’s very early days… Hehehe…

Still, it got me thinking that I’d mention a couple of other friends from Beijing, and what they’re up to.

H. is still in England, and getting ever-deeper into her Buddhist practice. We’ve only corresponded infrequently and are well overdue for a catchup, but she seems really happy.

I had quite a long chat with S. the other day as well. She’s still in Beijing, and making huge advances with her study of martial arts, qigong, and spiritual practices. All I can say now is that I suspect I’ll be able to reveal her identity before long, perhaps in a couple of months. She’s likely to become quite well-known (in martial arts circles, at least); I think she’s got the potential to become one of the great martial arts figures of our generation should she so choose (though she may well decide to focus on other areas…) I’m just glad that I’ll be able to say I knew her before she was famous πŸ˜‰

Sorry to be such a tease, but there we are; I don’t want to name names unless people are willing.

Category: Miscellaneous

Through to the other side


Well, I’ve just finished my intensive, 4-week CELTA course. When you apply for a place, you are warned that it’s intense; I was told that it would be best if I had someone else to do my cooking and washing for me, and that I could expect to routinely work into the small hours on assignments. As it happens, I don’t have anyone to do my housework for me, and I have commitments that sharply limit the hours I could commit… so it was a very hard slog indeed! I was routinely falling asleep at the keyboard, and basically only just scraped through. Still, a pass is a pass, and the qualification should be very useful indeed. I have plans… πŸ™‚ I also met a rather special woman…

So, where am I at? I managed to get a few training sessions in with the spear. I’ve now got that xingyi spear set down, on a broad-brush level. I need to spend a bit of time now working on the fine detail, to make sure I’ve got that right. After that, I’ll move on to a bagua spear set. The Sun Zhi Jun spear form that I’ve been discussing with Kim here is pretty complex; the more I work with the spear, the more I realize how tricky that set is. So, I think that as an intermediate step I’ll work on this form:

I’m still really enjoying working with the spear; it’s been a revelation to me. So much so, I had to acquire a Hanwei Yari. Apparently there’s been a fire at the Hanwei factory and all their inventory was lost, so all of the UK retailers are out of stock, and I had to get it from Kult of Athena (who were great, by the way: HIGHLY recommended). It took a while but it’s arrived, and I’m really pleased with it. It’s not as flexible as a waxwood Chinese spear, but hey… On that note, two more clips:

Jet Li vs Donnie Yen in Hero:

Yari vs Chinese spear:

My zhan zhuang went completely out of the window during the last month; I was far too tired and pushed for time. I’ve started again as of today and will be very regular, if only because I have to complete a 6-week diary of twice-daily meditation sessions. This is part of the ongoing requirements I need to fulfill in order to obtain the qualification as a teacher of meditation; you may recall that I went to Brighton in early June for the initial weekend training. At that time, I hadn’t even thought of doing the CELTA course, which was very much a last minute decision… Anyhow, the plan is, zhan zhuang standing meditation in the morning, sitting meditation in the evening. I also have to do two book reviews, which I’ll probably post here as well. That’ll take me to mid-September, at which point I’ll be off to Switzerland to visit the aforementioned young lady… After that, in October, I plan to start that course in tui na – weekends in London for so months or so…