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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…

Happy mooncake day


Well, the new semester has started, and I’ve been busy, busy, busy. It’s nice to be working again, after the long break, to be honest.

I was really impressed by an article in the Times, Be prepared – take evening classes in facing ruin. It starts off by discussing a recent murder-suicide case in the UK, but gets more philosophical. I’ve certainly faced a few ups and downs over the years, and I have to agree with the writer’s conclusions. In fact, they’re very compatible with Buddhist philosophy; success and misfortune are all transient. Remain equanimous either way; they are not you.

I’ve had a few swings of fortune even over the last week or so – reminders that great opportunities can appear unlooked-for, and that disaster can strike from nowhere. The disaster was narrowly averted; the opportunities are being explored… life goes on.

Most topical for this blog: I’ve come to a complete stop recently when it comes to martial arts. As I’ve often said, I’ve considered the last few years to be research, looking to find the right styles and the right teacher. About halfway through the summer break, I had finally decided that I’d found them. So, with the research over, it was time to get started… And at that point, I had a massive attack of nerves over the task ahead, and a complete failure of belief in my ability to ever progress. Gah! Well, after a couple of weeks, I’m kind of back on track, ready to get started, step by step.

I’ll be recommencing bagua lessons with Master Sun Ru Xian next weekend; I need a bit of time to review first. I don’t think I’ll be re-starting the bagua pan guan bi with Mi Lao Shi, and Master Sun Zhijun; fun though it is, if I’m not going to train all-round with them, I think I’d better concentrate on studying bagua with just one teacher, Sun Ru Xian.

I do also want to get into the yiquan. I knew that the lineage holder, Master Yao Chengrong has his school near my new apartment, and last week I went to see where it was. It was a wet, rainy evening, and the map on the website was only partially helpful. I spent quite a long time wandering around various hutongs, which was pretty interesting in itself. Lots of the siheuyuan near the school are much larger and grander than those near my apartment, with lots of moon gates leading to the street. Perhaps they used to belong to a higher social class, or – I suspect – they were military buildings. The west of Beijing, where I now live, was traditionally the base for the army, whereas the east was for the civil administration; even to this day, the east is a much more fashionable place to live!

Eventually, I found the school, tucked away inside a courtyard. There wasn’t any activity, but that suited me; I hadn’t gone to talk to anybody, just to get my bearings, and establish how close it really was – about 10 minutes’ walk at most, it turned out. Once I’ve got my classes settled down, ie in a couple of weeks most likely, I’ll get in touch and see if I can join a class; looking at the schedule on the website, I would perhaps want to do one evening class and Saturday afternoon, but we’ll see.

So, there we are; I’m gradually coming back up to speed. I caught up with Dragoncache last night; he’s training really hard, as always, with Master Sun Zhijun, and really putting me to shame with his dedication. Oh, I didn’t mention before that Master Sun Zhijun recently got married, to his third wife, I think (the first two having passed away).

Well, this is the Autumn Festival, so I’m going to eat some mooncakes. Have a good weekend, if you’re celebrating the festival (or even if you’re not!).

Holiday reading


As you may have guessed, I’m on holiday. I’ve been in Singapore for the last couple of weeks, chilling out, catching up with people, and thinking hard about the future.

Not much martial arts stuff to report, except that once again it’s important to be in the right place at the right time, and to seize opportunities when they arise. I popped into Kinokuniya at Ngee Ann City last Monday, and noticed a sole copy of Dr. John Painter’s Combat Baguazhang Volume 2. I flicked through it, and immediately decided I had to buy it! It’s full of really good material. The next day, I went in again, and there were four or five copies of volume one, so of course I grabbed one of those too! Two days later, they had all vanished, so it seems there’s a number of people in Singapore who are on the lookout for baguazhang books!

I haven’t had time to do more than skim them so far, but these books look very, very good – just what I needed at this stage. No forms, more of a focus on principles and application, some interesting discussions about the history and philosophy of baguazhang, etc. I’ll only have time to read them once I get back to Beijing, I think.

What else? I caught up with Master Zhou Yue Wen for lunch; he’s doing well, it seems. Master Sun Ru Xian asked me if I could find a DVD of Filipino stick fighting for him, and thanks to Jono I managed to find one. Ummm, that’s about it, I think.

More once I’m back in the ‘Jing.

Pan guan bi on hold

I just gave Mi Lao Shi a call; I won’t be going for any more pan guan bi lessons until after I get back from Singapore, and possibly until after the Olympics. This week has shown me that the security on the subway is extremely strict, and I’m not prepared to risk trouble by taking my weapons through the scanners. The alternative is to use taxis, but I don’t go directly to class, and I don’t come straight home afterwards, so that would mean using taxis all day, for multiple journeys. That’s too expensive. It only affects a couple of lessons, since we had in any case agreed to suspend classes at the end of July.

Bagua where the rivers meet

I was up at 5 again today – well (cough) I almost was – and met Sun Lao Shi just a little bit late. We moved to a different location, a promontory at the junction of two small rivers, with willows all around, and a small pagoda. The place where we’ve been the last few times seems to have been turned into a storage dump for building materials, and is now swarming with migrant workers and rentacops.

Our new location is pretty busy as well – a number of people (mostly retirees, it seems) were practising taijiquan and qigong. Nobody got in anyone’s way, though, and every seemed friendly and chatty.

We worked on the basic set for a while, particularly the transitions, before reviewing the ba da zhang. As I mentioned before, I have this memorised now, and Sun Lao Shi was able to start working on the details. He did this by starting to review applications, which helped a lot. Very cool. After that we moved on to the first two sets of the linear 64 palms. I’ve got the first, more or less, but I’m still having a lot of trouble with the second. I’ve filmed him doing this,
so I have something to work with during solo practice.

He had his short staff with him; I think that before I arrived, he’d been working on the Shanxi whipstaff form – heh, I hope so, because I definitely want to learn it! First things first, of course; let’s make a lot more progress with the bagua. I’ll meet him again on Friday morning, and then I think we’ll be taking a short break as he gets more involved in the summer camp. It’s a good time to review how far I’ve progressed… When I first met him, I was expecting to leave permanently in August, and he drew up a curriculum based on that. I’ve only achieved about 75% of that – due in large part to the job being a lot more time-consuming and tiring than I expected, leaving me less time and energy to practice between classes. I guess it’s also true that since I decided to stay in Beijing, I’ve slackened off a bit, as there’s less time pressure. These early-morning sessions are really good, though; very productive. I hope I’ll be able to continue them once term begins again…

At 8 we wrapped up, and I cycled down to Lush at Wudaokou to grab breakfast, before heading down to the Yiquan Academy for day two…

BTW, on the subject of the subway… Every time I’ve taken the subway in the last few days I’ve been stopped and had my bag checked in the new airport-style bag scanners. It isn’t just me, it’s everyone – they’re being very strict. I asked one of the police whether, as I’m studying wushu, I would be allowed to bring in my practice weapons…. and the answer was an unequivocal ‘no’. Since my bagua needles are actually fully functional weapons, I now have no intention of trying
to take them on the subway; it would mean confiscation at best, I think, and who knows what at worst. My alternatives seem to be taking taxis everywhere on Saturdays (including my class with Master Sun Zhi Jun, plus everywhere I go before and afterwards), which would cost me a fortune – or, stopping classes a couple of weeks early, and hoping it all gets a bit more relaxed after I get back from Singapore, by which time most of the Olympic events will be finished…

I haz teh dumb


That kind of sums up how I’ve been feeling lately. Definitely discouraged. Part of the reason I moved to Beijing was to experience the martial arts culture, and to meet great teachers… and I have – but I’ve had so little spare time to train that my practice of martial arts and meditation has gone completely down the drain. That wasn’t part of the plan! The last few weeks have been the worst – end of semester fatigue really drained my energy levels, and the rain has made training even more difficult.

Last weekend was really lousy. I went to meet Master Sun Zhijun for pan guan bi class, and really, I might as well not have gone. In fact, it would have been better if I’d cancelled. I was just so tired I couldn’t get anything right. It was very frustrating. On Sunday, I was still feeling bad, and I didn’t want to have the same experience with Master Sun Ru Xian. I cycled over to his apartment as usual, chatted for a while with him, Rene, and a friend of his who was hanging out shooting the breeze, and arranged to move the class to Tuesday, ie today.

I used the time this freed up to do some paperwork, and then headed downtown – and this time, I got stopped, and had my bag scanned…. I didn’t have the pan guan bi with me on that occasion – I wonder what would have happened if I had…

This is the last week of the semester, and things are starting to fall into place again. I’ve got no teaching, as it’s exam week. I spent much of yesterday sleeping, which has helped things a lot!

I was up at 5am this morning, and met Master Sun at 6. We trained in next to a river near his home, a really great location with lots of trees. Other people were in the vicinity, training taiji double fan, sword, and other styles. We worked on the ba da zhang; I’ve almost got it now, and by the end of the week I should be ready to start working on the details. Tomorrow, I’ll meet him again at the same time, and we’ll work on the first two sequences of the linear 64-palm set. He told me today that he’s there every day, and I’m welcome to train with him whenever I want; it’s all to be considered part of the deal. Cool. Very cool. This is going to help a lot, I think. So far I’ve only been meeting on Sunday mornings, and by it’s already very hot by the time we get started, so it’s not always very productive.

Phew. All of this leads up to a bit of decision-making. I’m about to start a month and a half of vacation, of which two weeks must be in Singapore. How do I pass the time…?

Basically, I need to spend a lot of time preparing next semester’s lessons. I had no opportunity to do this before last semester, so I was constantly in a crazy rush. Preparation now means more time to meditate and practice martial arts once the next semester begins.

In addition, if I can get some freelance work over the summer, it will bring in some cash that I can add to my buffer; that means the insecure nature of this kind of work will give me fewer sleepless nights next semester…

This all says: stay in Beijing. I would love to go to Korea…. but it’s just the wrong time to go on retreat for three weeks. My practice is still too weak to benefit from that, and the opportunity cost is too high.

This does also mean, of course, that I will be able to follow my original plan, and take the yiquan course. I’ll call Master Yao Chengguang later today.

OK, decision made…


When I woke up this morning, I could hardly walk, my legs were so stiff! I’ll attribute this partly to being out and about on the bike, but mostly to yesterday’s pan guan bi lesson with Master Sun Zhijun.

We worked for some time on the form, where I’m improving a lot (he says) – though there are still plenty of issues I need to work on! These are less to do with the form itself, though, and more to do with my perennial problems of left shoulder and lower back – which sometimes improve, and sometimes regress, but never seem to go away!

I showed him the video of Shao Zhong Ming performing pan guan bi, which I have on my iPod touch, and asked him how many different forms there are for this weapon – as the one in that clip is very different from what I’m learning. His answer was that because this weapon isn’t traditionally from bagua, but was borrowed from xingyiquan, there are really as many forms as there are with empty hand. The form Shao uses in the video is older, but Shao had had to learn it in something of a hurry prior to the competition. The form he’s teaching me is one that he’s developed more recently – it looks different, but the basic moves and concepts are actually all the same.

We then spent the rest of the lesson working on some applications, which was exceedingly cool. Anyone learning a form for the first time (or at least, someone like me who has no real combat or even sparring experience) will always try to work out what the movements are for – and it’s always funny when my guesses turn out to be completely wrong! Hehe, so anyway, we went through a few demonstrations, which involved strikes to the neck, back, achilles tendon and calf… et cetera, et cetera….

Master Sun reminded me that the forms really only are to train the body in movement; when it comes to fighting, the aim is to act naturally, to seek spontaneous opportunity, and he gave me a few demonstrations of what he meant. All of this, by the way, is increasing my affection -and respect – for the pan guan bi as a weapon. It’s not sharp, but even lightweight strikes like those yesterday show how effective it could be – it can really hurt! I have a book on pressure points that I’ve lent to a friend here (who dismissed it as “rubbish, because no-one who knows this stuff ever teaches it to a foreigner”!) and I’m going to have to get it back and look at it some more. Even if it’s not ‘authentic dian xue’, it’s still a useful compendium of soft spots that would make someone unhappy if you hit them hard there with a steel spike….

My main need now is for a training partner. I don’t think Mi Lao Shi has really trained in the applications – I could be wrong, but Master Sun is doing all the talking now (in fact, yesterday was the most he’s ever spoken in all the classes I’ve attended, and he certainly seems far more cheerful when he’s talking about all this!). However, this may be about to change… As a foreigner in Beijing, you soon realize there’s an insatiable desire amongst the Chinese to improve their English. I got an email this morning from another of Master Sun’s students, Li Ming. I’ve met her a few times at Master Sun’s apartment, and she’s helped translate during some lessons. She used to be a journalist and editor, until she became a professional kung fu coach. She suggests we meet up for some language exchange, and perhaps bagua practice together. Could be very interesting indeed, so I’ll try to set that up…