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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.

Being present

It’s been much warmer this week, but there is a price to pay… The winds have died down, so there’s no wind chill – but it also means that there’s nothing to blow the pollution away. Going to Zhongshan Park this morning, there was an acrid mist that caught at the back of my throat. As I entered the park, I could hear a distant booming that lasted for ten minutes or so; I wonder if the weather bureau was firing shells into the clouds to bring some rain…?

Sorry if these photos are getting repetitive, but I want to keep a record of what the scene is like every time I go to train; over the months, it should track the progress of the seasons – and, hopefully, remind me of progress in martial arts!

I’ve been practicing, and my mud-stepping is improving – Kong Cheng only had to kick my heels a few times. I did a few circuits under the eaves of a park office (where a thick-set Chinese gentleman of senior years was also practicing some qigong; we politely ignored each other). After that, it was circle-walking for two hours, winding up again with a bit of push-hands.

Such a simple description of the lesson but, internally, quite a lot happened. Kong Cheng had to remind me repeatedly about posture: leaning forward or to one side; wiggling my hips a bit too much; letting one arm (usually the outer) collapse in a bit too much… It’s all good; I think these are superficial issues that will vanish as I develop the internal work.

What do I mean by that? Well, as my stepping becomes less of an issue, my mind is able to move more freely around the body as a whole, identifying tensions. In particular, my shoulders, upper arms and upper back have a clear tendency to tense up, and only relax when I send my mind to them.Of course, once I do that, the lower back is free to sink in and under, the kua can move more freely, and the stepping gets more fluid and correct. So: it’s all in the mind – and, in keeping the mind present, calm, and aware of the body. Once the mind wandered (for example, ahem, composing a first draft of this post…) then everything tensed up again…

This awareness of tension is something I just wasn’t able to do before beginning yiquan, and the standing pole practice of zhan zhuang. As I mentioned before, that explains why my bagua before was so lousy – I simply couldn’t do it before because of the tension in the areas I just mentioned, so I guess I just compensated by go fast, relying on momentum and sloppy technique…. Kong Cheng mentioned that martial arts masters say “It’s easier to learn than to fix”, but there we are: I have to fix by bad habits before I can progress. Madam Ge Chun Yan often used to say that my root was weak, and I see clearly now why she said that.

If the zhan zhuang took me quite a long time to get into, the xing zhuang of circle-walking is tougher yet – maintaining mindfulness while walking is not easy! By the end of the session I was perspiring freely, and my ankles were aching from the unaccustomed strain; I lost a lot of weight when I first trained in bagua in 2004 – with luck, the same will happen again! It’s this kind of train of thought that makes me think that finally I am on the track for learning proper neijiaquan; above all, it’s the awareness that’s important, not the form. I didn’t have that when I was training in Singapore, or indeed when I first came to Beijing. Again, it’s only since I started the yiquan with Master Yao Cheng Rong that the penny finally dropped.

So, on the whole, I’m feeling quite positive about it all at the moment.

What a weekend…


I need a holiday to recover, how am I going to face work tomorrow…?

As I mentioned, the Piper guys were passing through town for a few days; I managed to catch up with them on Thursday night at a seminar they gave at a local school, and then again on Friday night – after my class with Master Zhou – as they explored Chinatown. Very, very nice guys. More on that in a later post.

Yesterday was taken up with a small part of the seemingly endless preparations for my move to Beijing, followed in the evening by Ch’an meditation. Our sifu instructed us in the different kinds of meditation, and their purposes. I am still hung up on the koan of “What is a butterfly?“. Katz!

Today was the second in my interview series as I sat down over lunch with Madam Ge, and asked her about the Beijing wushu team, life in the movies , and the future of Chinese wushu. Many, many thanks to her for her time – and even more to my gongfu brother Jono, for translating.

A bonus was meeting up with a visiting Taiwanese master, Mr Liu Pang Yao. We had much difficulty understanding each other, but it turns out he’s expert in at least Cheng Man Ching taijiquan and Cheng-style bagua (and probably much else besides). He gave a few demonstrations of applications, which were very, very cool – and which I will appreciate a lot more once my back and shoulder return to normal 😀 Very, very, effective, let’s put it that way! He gave me a few flyers for the World Cup Tai Chi Chuan Championship, to be held in Taipei in October this year. Email tccass at ms35 dot hinet dot com for more info.

Now, it’s home again, and settling back into paperwork before work tomorrow…