Monthly Archives: June 2012

The ol’ y ‘n’ y…

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Yin and yang are funny things. Last weekend was really, absolutely, a low point – the sort of moment that wakes you up to the fact that things really need to change.

And so, I went back to the website of the Cardiff Martial Arts Academy, where I went to a few systema classes with Mark Winkler of Celtic Systema. As I wrote a while ago, Mark had to give up the class because of the distance, but it was due to be taken over by Jeff Faris. Where Mark is from the Vasiliev/Ryabko lineage, I get the impression that Jeff is more of the Kadochnikov/Retsinuikh school, whose approach is a bit more in line with the way I think. I’d wanted to start going to classes a while ago, but it turned out that Jeff was away for a while, “on a personal security job in Eastern Europe”. Crikey.

Anyway, thinking that he must be back by now, I checked the academy’s website for their timetable, to check when the systema classes were, and I noticed that on Monday nights there is a Cheng Hsin tui shou class. Well, I’d heard of Cheng Hsin; in fact, I have a copy of one of Peter Ralston’s books, which I bought in a second-hand bookstore in Singapore’s Bras Basah centre years ago, and have carried around ever since. (I’ve tried several times to read it, but always give up; it’s written in a dialogue style that I can’t get to grips with – by which I don’t mean to say it’s bad, just not a style that I find easy to read), and I’d really got the impression that it was getting to the core of some important elements of taijiquan…

… and in any case, although I am practising my zhan zhuang, yiquan shi li, xingyi 5 elements form, and CMC-37 taijiquan, it’s all solo work. I really fancied the opportunity to do some tui shou and partner work… and so, on the spur of the moment, I went along.

And hmmmm. Wow. It’s very much all about yielding, and softness, and all the elements that make taijiquan a badass martial art. I won’t say much, as I really need to go back for a few more classes in order to get my head around it. I really enjoyed it, though, I’ll say that much. A small class: the teacher (an Irishman, Kevin Magee), another Welsh bloke, and a German woman who, apparently, moved from Germany to Wales to learn silat, but then switched to Cheng Hsin. It was a really serious-but-friendly atmosphere. I’ll be going back for another taste, for sure….

Recommended book: Sugong

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Reader Tom got in touch, commenting on the lack of posts. True, true. I started writing as a product of my excitement at living in Asia, both Singapore and China. Even during the bad times, the environment provided small joys every day, and the amazing people I mixed with through the martial arts gave me lots of material. Moving back to small-town Wales has been a huge challenge, and I have to say that it’s been difficult, both in the personal and professional spheres. A new environment means a new perspective, one that I am still in the process of developing; I might write a bit more about that later.

Anyway, I want to recommend a book to you all: Sugong. Englishman Nick Hurst has written a fantastic biography of his kungfu grandmaster, an inheritor of the true Shaolin tradition. You won’t learn any martial secrets from this book, but its real value to me lies in its portrayal of Singapore and Malaya throughout the twentieth century. The aspect of Singapore that I loved the most was its complex network of martial societies, temples, food stalls and coffee shops, inhabited by witty, gregarious, traditionalist working-class people of many races and languages. Sadly, social and economic changes are wiping out this link to the old-fashioned Straits way of life. If you’ve never experienced it, this book is a great insight; to those who’ve known it and loved it, this book is going to become a classic account of martial arts society in South-East Asia.