Monthly Archives: July 2014

Monkey see, monkey do


Just to keep you up to date with what’s happening…

The school’s website mentions that they teach Shaanxi xingyiquan, of the Song family lineage. Tom from the Rum Soaked Fist was kind enough to fill me in on the style and its background, and mentioned that it’s the form of xingyi practised by Alex Kozma – who I know from attending a bagua workshop he put on many years ago in Singapore. Much water has passed under the bridge since then! Still, it just goes to show that the world of martial arts can be small indeed…

I’ve been to two more classes: Thursday and yesterday (Saturday). With Vladimir on holiday, both were run by Dima.

On Thursday, there were the same other two students as on Tuesday, ie the two of them plus me plus Dima. We ran through a dizzying variety of exercises: the five element fists, dragon and tiger movements, spear-shaking, stepping, partner forms… Almost all of this was entirely new to me, so by the end of the lesson, my brain was in full meltdown!

Yesterday, in the school gym, it was just me and Dima, and we covered pretty much the same material. He spent a lot of time correcting me on details, but once again it was a lot for me to try to absorb – especially the partner sequences, which for some reason simply won’t stick in my my memory. He also demonstrated a lot more of the the spear steps (6, I think) and more from the 12 animal forms.

We had time to chat; him recalling very rusty English, me trying some faltering Russian. He told me about his time as a conscript soldier; he was sent to Mengistu’s Ethiopia as a ‘military advisor’, where he (if I understood correctly) was  radio operator in a combat unit. Now he’s in the construction line, possibly a roofer, though we couldn’t quite find the right word. He told me about being attacked by an angry monkey while he was in Ethiopia, and how that’s deepened his understanding of the monkey form 😉

Basically, all I can say at this stage is that these guys really know their xingyi. This looks like it will be interesting.



Image credits: Angry Long Tailed Macaque – Penang, Malaysia by user Crystal Patsalides on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Broken heart

I described in my last post how moving to a new apartment suddenly enabled me to start meditating again.

As my practice resumed, I began to get back into the mindset I last experienced in Beijing, four years ago, in which vipassana meditation and yiquan complemented each other, leading to a range of benefits – mental, spiritual, health, and martial. I realised how much I missed yiquan.

When I came to Russia, a big part of my ambitions for my time here was to learn systema – which I’m writing about on another blog. It’s been great – but I didn’t have the opportunity to learn very much before the summer arrived and most of the schools shut down until the autumn.

So, given that I have time available, and the realisation that I wanted to get back into the Chinese martial arts, I Googled for yiquan in St. Petersburg. I knew that my teacher’s brother has students in Russia – but none of them are here by the Neva! However, the search did turn up a St. Petersburg Wushu Institute. They offered taijiquan, baguazhang, and xingyiquan.  Well, that looked interesting…

So, I got in touch. Short story: there’s only one bagua class a week, and it clashes with something else I’ve got on. There are three xingyi classes a week, and I can get to them all, at least at the moment.  I also fancied studying xingyi – which, of the three, is the one I have least experience of. Partly it’s because yiquan is based on xingyi, so there’s a link there. Also, xingyi is the most aggressive and linear of the arts, and has the effect of raising the practitioner’s confidence and determination. In the past, when I was in Singapore and Asia, that was the opposite of what I needed: I wanted taijiquan and bagua to moderate my energies. Today, coming out of three very bad years, it seemed just the thing.

So, I’ve signed up and started attending classes.

The first class was on Saturday, and was in a school gymnasium near Mayakovskaya metro station. There were only two other people there: Vladimir Soloshenko (who I’d spoken to on the phone), and a big guy named Dima. Vladimir speaks excellent English; Dima understands some.

This is Vladimir:


In that first session, we went through warmups, the santi standing position, and some stepping. We also did some power-generation exercises using the da qiang, ie a 3-metre long spear.

The Tuesday and Thursday classes are held in the school’s own premises, in a courtyard not far from Chernyshevskaya metro. This has quite a low ceiling, so they can’t train with weapons there, hence the use of the gym on Saturdays.

The class was short yesterday, because there was a celebration at the beginning of Vladimir’s birthday on Sunday. During the class, I worked with Vladimir, while Dima instructed three other students in Russian.  We worked mainly on pi quan, the first of the Five Element fists.

It all feels a bit strange to me. I’m long out of practice in the Chinese martial arts, and there are lots of differences to what I’m used to…

As for the post title, this was something Vladimir reminded me of about xingyi’s power, and about the nature of the strikes: keep the arms soft except for the moment of impact. You’re transmitting your power into your opponent’s organs, not breaking your way through the bones…

Vladimir is now away on holiday for a couple of weeks, so the next few classes will be with Dima, or another guy called Zhenya who I haven’t met yet. So, we’ll see how it goes…

Image credits: Broken Heart Grunge by user Nicolas Raymond on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

The Blue Room



I recently moved into a new place, as I described on my main blog.  It’s a small studio apartment slap bang in the middle of St. Petersburg. The walls are papered with a shimmery blue paper, and the curtains are also a pale blue. The windows face east and, as this is the period of the White Nights, when it’s only dark for a couple of hours, that means that the sun is shining into my room for much of the day. As a result, I keep the curtains closed, and the room fills with a tranquil blue light, as if it were an undersea cave.

My moving came just after the summer solstice when, by coincidence or not, I experienced a sudden new burst of optimism and energy. Consequently, all kinds of plans and practices which had been on the back burner have come back into play.

One of these is that I’ve started meditating again – for half an hour or an hour most days, using the mp3 files from my Vipassana retreats in Thailand. I’m already feeling the benefits, though there’s a lot of lost ground to be made up.

I also realised that I needed to start practising Chinese martial arts again. I’ve been starting to practice the Cheng Man Ching taiji form a bit; I knew that my yiquan teacher’s brother has disciples in Russia, so I Googled to see if there is anyone in St. Petersburg. There isn’t, but I found a wushu group, so I’ll start training xingyiquan with them. They have a teacher of bagua, but her classes are at a time I can’t make, unfortunately. I’ll write more about this in another post, but it seems like it’s time to bring this blog out of mothballs and back into active use…

Image Credits: Curtain Call by user tata_aka_T on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.