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Studying Liang-style baguazhang


Intermediate-Level-18 Palms











What can I say? I’m delighted with Liang-style bagua. As a system, it’s got everything I’ve been looking for. In fact… twelve years after I arrived in Singapore with a rudimentary knowledge of Cheng Man Ching’s taijiquan, a period in which I’ve always felt that I’ve been searching for something which nothing I studied quite gave me… this is it. This is what I’ve been looking for, the whole time. Wow.

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Interlocking circles of bagua



So, what’s been happening since my last post? Briefly: lots and lots of work; not much progress with taijiquan; some progress with bagua; and quite a lot on the personal side.

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Twelve (years between) monkeys



I’ve just realized that twelve years have passed by since my first ever visit to Beijing, while it’s nearly six years since I left to return to Wales, not knowing at that time if I would ever come back to China. These are significant numbers: 12 years is the time to complete one full cycle of the Chinese zodiac, so six years is also a half-cycle. It’s also a year since I did, eventually, make it back to China, in April 2015, after being head-hunted out of the blue. A  number of signs and portents are suggesting I should take these signs seriously.


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China Daily recently ran a story on how the government is planning to replace lots of traditional squat toilets with Western-style porcelain thrones. This is a tragedy for Chinese martial arts, in my view. (I’m actually quite serious about that). What’s more, not squatting is a big reason why there are so many bad martial artists in the West. So, although a discussion of pooping is perhaps a bit too much for some readers, it’s a very good place to discuss being a good martial artist. Don’t worry about inadvertent offence, though: in this post, I’m probably going to upset lots of people with this one.

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Bagua, TCM: interesting links

A couple of things that I’ve seen recently:

 Acupuncture Reduces Depression and Insomnia

 Gao style Baguazhang,Practice and Applications:

Carus-p48-Mystic-table” by An unknown Tibetan artist – A Tibetan work, reproduced first in Waddell, “The Buddhism of Tibet…”, p. 453, and then in Carus, ” Chinese thought”, p 48. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Category: Acupuncture, Baguazhang, TCM

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… 🙂 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…

Shaking power


Wow, this is great:

Time has been too short in the last few days to do any work with the spear; even if I’d had time, it’s been raining too much (heh, so I’m wimpy – but even if I’d felt like practising in the rain, the ground is so wet that I would have trashed the lawn, so I needn’t feel bad about not going out!)

However… I’ve been getting a heck of a lot out of what I’ve been doing with the spear so far. As I mentioned in my last post, for someone without a training partner, spear-work really is a good test of whether or not the technique is generating power or not. In that video above, the key moment for me is at about 15 seconds in, when the performer starts full-body shaking, transmitting the power down the spear. Damn, I can’t do that! It really reminds me of a part of the longxing bagua form that Master Zhou Yue Wen taught, which also had a shaking move, very similar to what’s happening in the clip.

Looking at that, I think it seems to encapsulate the key element of what I’m striving to achieve; master that kind of full-body shaking power, and it can be applied in taijiquan, xingyiquan, or baguazhang… No problem. Again, and this is a purely personal observation, I have to say that the only path I’ve encountered that would lead me towards this is yiquan as taught by Master Yao Chengrong…

The virtues of a long memory


Well, things have been a bit intense lately; lots happening at work. We’ve also had a month of absolutely horrible weather, with unseasonable cold, strong winds that have seen off a lot of my recently-planted veg and flowers. Combine the two, and I’ve been very slack in my practice again. Thankfully, we’ve got some sunny weather again, and my spirits are rising: time to get out there and at it, there’s no time to waste now.

I should say something about what’s been going on in various spheres….

  • Taiji and bagua with Eli Montaigue: I put this temporarily on hold as I moved home, and ‘temporarily’ stretched to the point where the group would be so far ahead of me on the form that it wouldn’t be worth re-joining the class at this point. He does Thursday-night ‘application’ classes’ and that might be worth thinking about, but July is going to be frantic, so I’ll leave any decisions until August.
  • Systema: I was really enjoying the classes but, now that
    I’ve moved, they are too far away. The founder of the Celtic Systema school, Mark Winkler, is still in Canada, where he’s training for six months with Vladimir Vasiliev. He’ll be back at the end of August, and will be starting a new group in Swansea, where I work. I’ll leave the systema on hold until then.
  • Capoeira: Some of you will have seen on Twitter and
    Facebook that I’ve been attending capoeira classes. I’d realized that due to stress etc I’ve put on a lot of weight again; plus, for all the virtues of my hometown, it can be difficult to develop a busy social life. So, I thought I’d give capoeira a try again: very aerobic, plus lots of interesting people. It turned out to be true in both fields 😀 However.. I ran into the same things that caused me problems when I tried capoeira before: the principles of capoeira are competely alien to the principles of neijia, for one. That, I could probably adapt to; the other problem is that capoeira isn’t just a dance/martial art, it’s a lifestyle; the hard core expect you to get really into the music, the songs, the culture… and tend to get a bit pissy if you’re not as into all that as they are… In any case, as I say, July is going to be crazy busy, so I’ll defer any decision there, but I suspect capoeira is a non-starter. Pity, because there are some really nice people in that group.

Instead, it’s back to neijia… I’ve bought a wushu spear from Amazon, and have been moving from developing power with the zhan zhuang to testing it out with a xingyi spear form. This has been interesting; I can get the spear to bend more often than not; when I first bought a spear in Singapore, I certainly couldn’t, so there’s definitely been an improvement. I’m enjoying this, as with the spear the application of power is visible, so I know for sure whether or not it’s working.

In Jess O’Brian’s excellent book, Nei Jia Quan, there’s an interview with Tim Cartmell; he argues that there’s no difference between the three styles of taiji, xingyi, and bagua – they are just different ways of expressing the same principles. I’m going to go with that – I know for sure that in Beijing, my taiji improved dramatically after yiquan classes. So, I’m still focussing principally on yiquan, but I’ll be testing out the principles with the other three as well. Who knows, once I’m happy with my xingyi spear form, perhaps I’ll have a go at Sun Zhijun’s bagua spear form that Kim reminded me of recently 🙂

In other areas,I’m getting a real sense of urgency now. Globally, events seem to be accelerating towards a crisis. Greece and the Eurozone are staggering onwards, but the crisis is only temporarily contained. In the US, there’s bickering and posturing while the debt ceiling remains unresolved, natural disasters pile one upon the other, and state governments grind to a halt as their money runs out…

Here in the UK, there are also storm clouds building up. The government’s austerity program is just starting to be felt, and there are the first strikes and protests in response. There are also reports that crimes against property are rising again. The university sector, where I work, is heading for a pummeling as well, and there are rumours of redundancies coming…

So, dunno; I just get the feeling that bad times are going to hit soon; not this year, maybe next, or the one after that…

An anecdote: perhaps ten years ago, my parents and I were walking back home through a patch of parkland that lay between our house and the town centre. It’s unlit; not a problem for us, as we are so familiar with the path we don’t need to see our way. On the way, we met a rather jumpy policeman. Once he’d established that we were respectable citizens, we had a chat. He’d recently been transferred from a nearby large town. He was amazed; he’d been in our town for over a week, and nobody had tried to stab him… There are a lot of pretty deprived communities nearby, and nothing much has changed since then.

I also remember that in the last severe recession there were a lot of burglaries in our street. We didn’t get broken into – largely, I suspect, because we had a dog. I’m going to think a lot about defensive gardening now (don’t laugh!). Mmmm… time to plant sichuan peppers and roses… Spiky but useful…

Anyway, that’s why I refer to memory in the title for this post. I look at my students, and they’ve only ever known economic boom times; this downturn could be very hard on their age group. At least I have some memory of bad times to draw on…

Starting Monday, I’ll be working on qualifying to teach English as a foreign language. It’s a four-week course; very intensive, so expect radio silence here. It’s necessary for my job, but it’s also going to be really useful if things go pear-shaped at the university…


Dojo Rat has just put up an interesting post about soft xingyiquan. I’ve never seen xingyi performed that way before although Lina, a colleague of mine when I first started work as an MBA intern during my Tsinghua days, showed me a soft form that was similar in some ways.

Anyhow, DR’s post led me to write this as a form of thinking aloud, since xingyi was on my mind anyway.

As I mentioned in a recent post, xingyi boosts the practitioner’s yang energy, being so aggressive. When Madam Ge started a xingyi class in Singapore, I was a bit leery about joining it, for precisely that reason. At that time my yang energy was very strong, and I was wary of boosting it further; during my days in politics, I’d learned what that could be like. As it was, I did join the class, and enjoyed it, though I didn’t take it beyond that introduction. Funnily enough, not long after returning to Wales, I went through quite a bad patch of low energy and low spirits; I found myself spontaneously trying to remember the 5 Elements linked set that Madam Ge had taught, as if my body knew how to boost my will and mental strength.

Not long after that, I was asked to recommend a martial art. An acquaintance, who is a teacher of meditation, was feeling that she was too nice, and people were taking advantage of her as a result. She wanted to try a martial art in order to boost her assertiveness. Of course, I had to recommend xingyi!

I was searching around for a resource to which I could direct her, and it took a while. This morning, I found this clip on YouTube:

Of course, there are lots of good clips of the 5 Elements form on YouTube, but few are suitable as a resource for a complete beginner. However, this clip is the trailer for a DVD, which actually looks pretty good – to the extent that I might order a copy for myself.

That’s in addition to Ken van Sickle’s DVD on the Zheng Manqing Sword Form, which I plan to get after my next pay cheque!

Actually, I’ve been spending a lot of money lately. More about that in my next post.

Re-evaluating René

I’m working my way through various yiquan standing positions, gradually working up to shi li exercises as and when I feel I’ve understood the essence of each zhan zhuang pose. It’s incredible how even a small shift in the position of the hands loads different muscles, ligaments, etc all the way up the arms and into the shoulders…

This morning was rather chillier than it’s been of late, but no problem. I was trying to incorporate mindfulness into my routine, with limited success. I observed the patch of sunlight on the grass grower larger as the sun rose. Pigeons launched themselves from trees and rooftops with a heavy thwack of their wings. A pair of blackbirds foraged for nesting materials. I’m not sure where exactly their nest is, but it’s close by; I’ve seen them mobbing a magpie; they obviously don’t want him knowing where the nest is either, for fear that he’ll raid the eggs later on…
The mature cherry tree has been shedding its leaves for a few days now; whenever there’s been a breeze the petals fall like snow, and form banks among the grass. As of this morning, though, it’s shedding whole blossoms instead of just petals. They’ll all be gone soon. The apple trees flowered for a couple of weeks, but have now lost pretty much all of their blossom as well.

This too will pass…

I’m still tangled up in the house move; pretty much down to cleaning now. Soon it’ll all be over. I can’t wait .

In addition to the yiquan, I’ve been reviewing my ZMQ-37 taijiquan, and my bagua lately. I’ll practise for a few more weeks and then try to take it out of the garden. There’s a “hippy shop” in town, so I’ll stick a notice up to see if anyone is interested in taiji in the park on weekend mornings… That’ll encourage me to get up out of bed, hehehehe.

There was an interesting article in the paper this weekend: How meditation might ward off the effects of ageing. I linked recently to a study showing that meditation restructures the brain; now we find that it also affects the chromosomes. What is odd about the article is how apologetic the author is about meditation, and about how the researchers are also meditators etc etc. I suspect it reflects a certain cognitive dissonance in which the author is struggling to overcome the belief that this is ‘Asian nonsense’, ‘hippy mysticism’, etc and therefore undeserving of ‘serious’ scientific consideration. After all, this kind of research surely undermines the Cartesian separation of body and mind; if that happens then a certain re-evaluation of Western thought, science and medicine has to take place. It also opens the possibility that TCM theories – derided as being ‘unscientific’ – may also be valid after all… Of course, these thoughts won’t be new to readers of this blog, but to the ‘ordinary’ Westerner, unaware of the cultural limitations of their knowledge, this could be rather threatening…

If it isn’t clear already, I rather think that such a re-evaluation is long-overdue!

There was another article, on a totally different topic, which I also thought relevant: Economics is far too important to be left in the care of academics… I mention this as it’s rather close to home; it seems to me to embody many of the current problems of western thought…