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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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China once more

Something odd happened recently during a work trip to Tianjin. I had a few spare periods, and I used them to practice my ZMQ-37 taijiquan form. Like most things that I write about in this blog, it’s been over four years (closer to five, in fact) since I did any work with this, but it came back surprisingly quickly. One set in particular went very well; I entered the flow state, with my mind quite empty of thoughts except for the feeling of my soles in contact with the floor, the movements of my joints and bones, and tendons and ligaments.

Suddenly, the room seemed to fill with the smells of a forest. There was the spicy fragrance of flowers, but also herbal undertones, and the richness of spring vegetation. It was quite inexplicable; I was on the eighth floor of a concrete monstrosity, in the middle of a dusty concrete campus on a very hot and smoggy day. There were NO plants anywhere nearby; the windows were firmly closed, and the aircon was blowing full blast. The experience only lasted for the duration of that set, and it was the only time I smelt anything natural during the two days I worked in that room.

On the other hand, although it’s not something I’ve experienced before, this is the kind of thing that is supposed to indicate a spirit presence. Even to me, that last sentence seems a bit far out but, after I heard the dragons singing in Qingbiankou a few years ago – when I was also in a deep meditative state – it’s an explanation that I’m open to.

Aaah. Yes, I’m back in China. There are different rules here….

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Tending seeds


Well, my fingers are healing up, which is good; the dressing was getting a bit stinky, so I took it off and replaced it with normal sticking plasters, which seem to be just as effective. My Chinese students have been very concerned, and offering health advice, which I find very touching. Hurrah for Confucian values! I’m reminded again about the aspect of China that I’ve always loved – especially as none of my colleagues have felt the need to ask what happened… Meh. Frankly, I’m finding UK culture a major anticlimax. I keep telling myself that there must be more to it, but it’s well-hidden if that’s the case.

Still, don’t get me started on that, or I’ll never find time to talk about anything else!

S. is coming to the UK! That’s something to be excited about. She’ll be in London on business in a few weeks, so I’ve booked some leave to go up to the Smoke, and we’ll chill out and catch up. Got to get in shape before then to look my best ๐Ÿ™‚ (I haven’t exercised for a couple of weeks and the weight has piled on again. I was about to work out tonight, before some crappy bad luck intervened. Carlos calls me lucky, but I say I’m as lucky as the average man or woman; it’s just that both my good and bad luck are more extreme that other people’s! Anyway, that’s a story that will wait for another time).

I’ll be in London across a weekend so, Jiang, this also might be my chance to pitch up at a systema class there. (I’ll let you know once the details are a bit firmer). Furthermore, I’ve discovered that there’s a woman in Westminster who runs Cossack dance classes; I’ll try to contact her to see if private classes are possible ๐Ÿ™‚ Yay yay yay! Hahahahaha…

There was no taiji/bagua class this week as Eli is in Norway, so nothing to report there.

I made it down to Carmarthen last night for the systema class, which was excellent, as usual. I was so tired that I was yawning all the way through class, but there we are.

Key points… We worked on a lot of exercises that were new to me. One was pairing up; one partner lies flat on the floor, while the other does pressups, fists on the first guy’s body. The partner doing pressups gradually moves around the other’s body, fists on shin, thigh, abdomen, ribcage, shoulder, and so on… A very interesting exercise, especially as my partner weighed around 120kg. Not that it hurt; fair play, he did ‘knee’ pressups so that he didn’t put his full weight on me. Also, I couldn’t stop laughing, which kind of put him off! I can’t explain it; it was kind of a ‘ticklish’ response, ie an interrupted defence response, I suppose.

After a number of exercises, we finished up with punching drills. These were also in pairs, just trying to punch using only the weight of the arm. I thought I would be great at this, since I completely get the concept. Instead, I was pathetic. Basically, I find it really hard to hit someone who’s just standing there, so my punches were constantly going in at the wrong angle and just skimming the surface… No power at all! It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and I don’t think I would have the same problem if I really wanted to hurt someone, but still… It just goes to show that my conscious mind is not completely in control of my actions!

Which leads me to meditation; I’ve managed to sit a few times this week, and went again today to the lunchtime meditation session at work. The regular teacher can’t be there next week, so I’ll kind of be in charge (though not actually leading the meditation, only putting a CD on, but hey! Got to start somewhere!). Anyway, so, I’m out of practice, but having started again I feel once more the ‘thrill’ of good meditation, which encourages me to try harder. I was looking again at Plum Village’s website this week, and I noticed that the upper age limit for joining them is 50; I’m sure that’s changed, as I was certain they said 45 last time I looked. So, that’s still an option! I’ll be moving house again within the month; as I look around at all my things, that will have to be boxed up yet again, I feel like just throwing them in the street. Why do we collect so many objects, and invest so much emotional attachment to them? Better by far to do without!

I’ve also be working on my yiquan zhan zhuang, getting back deeper into it, and combining it with vipassana. Not finding it easy, but always reminded at just how great it is for building awareness of the body as a unit. I always feel better afterwards…

I’m making slow progress again with the Shanxi whipstaff form, after a long break. I’ve reviewed what I worked on before, and have learned a couple more moves. Slowly does it, though, and I’m still only getting towards the end of the first quarter of the sequence. It is a really nice form, though.

End-of-the-world stuff: the news today from Bahrain scares the hell out of me (read the whole article). Well, this week, I bought an ‘orchard’ – ie, five saplings of various fruit and nut varieties to plant in my parents’ garden… and I’m looking carefully through the seed catalogues for veg to plant now that spring is coming…

On moral and martial virtue


Right then, back to the nominal topics of this blog.

It’s Monday night and I have a long list of things that I should be doing, but frankly I’m too tired. For the first time in ages, instead, I sat for a session of vipassana: not too successfully, I fear – the monkey mind is very strong at the moment! Never mind, keep going…

This weekend there was a change in the air; everyone could taste the Spring coming. Last Thursday morning, I left for work before dawn; before getting into the car, I took a moment to stand silent, listening to the birdsong build up. The air was very still and full of qi; it made me clap my hands and shout HA for the joy of breathing. As I had a bit of a time margin before I needed to be in the office, I stopped the car as I drove over the moorland towards the city limits, and parked on the side of the road. I’ve often meant to do this, but never actually did it. On this occasion, there was a heavy mist, fragrant with the smell of brine from the nearby sea. In the pre-dawn gloom there was nothing of the views that are there on clear days, but the sense of stillness and space was calming. Soon, it’ll be the end of winter; time for me to buy some hill-walking boots!

Since I last blogged about martial arts, Earle Montaigue has passed on. I gave my condolences to Eli, but of course I don’t know him well, and I never had the chance to meet Earle. I’m saddened by that. I suppose the best anecdote I can give is that I bought a copy of his dim mak book in Singapore. When I moved to Beijing, I lent it to a Shaolin-trained martial artist who was studying dian xue of the Yang taiji style; his comment was that “it wasn’t the real thing”… but he never gave it back, despite being asked!

The last couple of weeks have been super-busy at work, combined with more than a little insomnia. I’ve made it to Eli’s classes; bagua followed by taiji. I’m really getting into this. It’s great to study the two together, which is something I’ve never done before, and I’m really getting my bagua vibe back! Plus it is just great to finally have an English-speaking teacher. I’m getting very excited about neijia again ๐Ÿ™‚

On the other hand, I’ve missed the last two systema classes; I’ve been too tired, and basically didn’t trust myself to drive there and back without falling asleep at the wheel (oh, and I needed to work late at the office…). I should be able to make it this week though. There’s also an all-day seminar coming up at the end of this month; I plan to go to that, so I’ll finally get to meet Mark in person!

As for the title of this post… Having had a great time in the last class with Eli, I asked him whether he’d ever seen wulin zhi. It turns out that he hasn’t, so I’ll lend him my copy when I go tomorrow. That has motivated me to watch it again myself; it’s playing as I type (the famous scene with the pole circle is on right now!). As always, I love it – and yet, I feel saddened.

Those of you who know me IRL know why I left Asia, and I still think I did the right thing. And yet… and yet… I keep on being reminded why I originally quit Wales, and why I didn’t think I would return – until suddenly I had to. Hardly anyone has asked me what my life was like in Singapore and China; what I valued, and what I did with my time, or who I knew and why I valued them. It seems to be assumed that it was just a phase, and now I’ve returned to ‘normal’ life.

Not so, though. As I sit here watching wulin zhi, I’m reminded of how much I have internalized the values of wu de. To quote from that link, wu de stands for:

  • Ren: benvolence and mutual love
  • Yi: righteousness, justice, judging with the heart, having friendly feelings
  • Li: respect, rules of conduct, politeness
  • Zhi: knowledge, reason, education and learing
  • Xin: trust, sincerity and openness, to truly believe in something, and also to keep one’s promises, be stable and engaged in things
  • Yong: courage and braveness

I think of some of my teachers, especially of the older generation: Yao Cheng Rong, Zhou Yue Wen, Sun Ru Xian… These are men; men to be admired, men to be respected, men to be emulated. It’s important to me that though I never approached anything like their level, I was at least taken seriously. I find none to match them here; indeed, even today, I found some of the values that they and I hold were mocked by a colleague. Don’t get me wrong; there are other values. In my home town, I more and more feel a part of the community; it’s no small thing to be greeted from all directions by people old and young, from all walks of life, when you walk into a pub. But, and but… when the darkness falls here, Asia calls me.

I won’t be getting on a plane anytime soon, unless it’s for a holiday. Nevertheless, it’s a good thing to be reminded of wu de, and that the values of the jianghu, the values of wulin are more virtuous, and more admirable, than those of the little people I sometimes have to deal with here.

Two types of bagua


It rained while I was cycling to work last Wednesday. I had a rain cape, but my feet got soaked, and were damp for the rest of the day. Ever since, I’ve had a pain in my left instep; S. says that my spleen meridian has been weakened, so I need to take care of that. Apparently ‘fire’ energy works, so I’m being liberal with the red Tiger Balm…

Last night, I attended the lecture on the zhou yi, i.e. Yi Jing divination. It was interesting, but at a fairly basic level. I’m no expert, but on the other hand I have been using the Yi Jing to help me make decisions since around 1991, so I know a bit, and didn’t learn too much. It was interesting, though.

I was meant to be going out of Beijing this weekend, spending a bit of time in Hebei province, but it fell through late last night – I wasn’t too upset, as I’d been feeling pretty sick. The meant that this afternoon, I attended a personal Yi Jing reading with the same teacher. There are two ways in which the Yi Jing is useful for me. The first is when I have a clear choice to make, and am seeking input and guidance towards the decision. The second is when the situation is extremely unclear, and replete with possible options, none of which are obvious choices. In this situation, asking a question can help to collapse the cloud of possibilities into a clear choice. Today was an example of the second, and I’m left with a clear path suggesting itself. What I do about it is, of course, going to need more questions.

Oddly, the same path was described in detail last night. As I mentioned before, S. attended last night’s lecture, and we went for dinner afterwards. It was a strange evening; there were a lot of strange things happening, meaningful decisions suddenly arriving… there must be a word to describe it but it doesn’t come to mind: ‘eldritch’ isn’t quite it… ‘Uncanny’, perhaps… S. went into prophecy mode, foretelling a number of things for my future. All I know is, unless she’s managed to wiretap my Skype account, she knows a lot of things I haven’t told her… Hehehe, another thing she said was that I’m a sabre person, which seems to be true – I love the Chinese jian, because it’s such a delicate, precise weapon, and yet I always seem to end up working on sabres (either the Chinese Dao or the Russian shashka). Not sure what that says about me… Oh, and it seems a number of people who know me believe that I belong naturally to the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. (Actually, that was a pretty interesting time in many ways, when Iolo Morgannwg was writing Barddas and starting the modern Druidry movement; his son was present as a harper and singer of cerdd dant during the Merthyr Rising…. At the same time the Rebecca Rioters were burning tollgates… It was a busy time in the Welsh jianghu…).

The details – both of the zhou yi reading and what S. said – aren’t for this blog yet; I want to digest them a bit, and see what happens with some plans, but they would suggest that I’ve been reading John Michael Greer’s piece on Green Wizards, at the right time, since it fits so well with my own past thoughts both on Druids and on preparing for a post-oil future. Well, we’ll see. As I say so often, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so since there’s not much else I can do, I’ll await events. Either the forecasts will come true, or they won’t.

In other news, I gasped my way through the full 16 minutes of Flowfit Level 2 this morning. It was interesting to note what hurt and what didn’t; which parts of the body took more strain than I might have expected. I’ve come to note that my torso is subtly curved from bottom left to top right, a misalignment no doubt due to sitting at a desk with my left hand up controlling the mouse, year after year…. Need to sort that out…. I noticed it first whilst doing some of the qigong exercises at Small Steps, and I think today’s Flowfit workout confirmed it.

Speaking of Small Steps, I was talking with Liu Lao Shi and Dalida this afternoon, and they want me to change classes; they say it’s time for me to move from the qigong classes to the bagua application classes. Well, I actually blogged here a couple of days ago that I wanted to do that, but I hadn’t discussed it with them yet, so at least I had the right idea!

After leaving them, I came down to Ritan Park to do some practice, but it’s been a really, really hot day and I was baked by the time I arrived. I managed to do some work with the shashkas, but not for long; I overheated, and retreated to the Stone Boat, where I’m typing this….

Recent reading

  • Striking Thoughts has a good review of Jingwu: The School That Transformed Kung Fu. Jing Wu, or Chin Woo as I know them, were my training neighbours in Duxton Plain Park, and I got to know a number of them. Lots of very nice people there. This looks to be an interesting book; I’d like to pick up a copy some time.
  • Mike Garofalo over at Cloud Hands discusses something very interesting: what were Yang Lu Chan’s Training Methods while he worked for the Imperial Guards? That’s something I would definitely like to know more about. I tried searching Chinese-language websites using Google auto-translate, but didn’t get very far. Maybe some of my Chinese-speaking readers could give some pointers?
  • Rick at Cook Ding’s Kitchen links to a really interesting National Geographic article on the ancient tea trade route between China and Tibet, with Tibetan horses being sold in exchange for Chinese tea. The tea was carried over breathtaking mountain passes on the back of coolies…
  • Dojo Rat discusses a Robert W. Smith quote about The Chatter In The Modern Urban Mind. Makes me think once more how much I miss my Welsh mountaintops…
  • I’m not sure why Scott Phillips has been ‘vacationing at home‘ recently, but his comment about ‘Whatever it is that holds โ€œmeโ€ together is unraveling’ certainly strikes a chord.
  • And given the last two, and some of my more recent posts, I read John Michael Greer’s latest dispatch from The Archdruid Report, “Merlin’s Time“, with a lot of interest. There’s a lot to think about there.
  • Let me also add there, an article on the Energy Bulleting: Creating a post-peak future you will want to live into, and A quiet crisis whispers of impending poverty on The Automatic Earth, which actually ends on a an uplifting note (way down below the quoted news articles, just above the comments).

The Tea Road


I’m still reading the economic news, and crossing my fingers as the western economies creak and groan under vast amounts of debt. I hope that it will all work out and the world of abundance will continue as it has for the last twenty or so years – but I, like most of you, am old enough to remember how it was before, when flying to the other side of the world was only for the few, and stitching and mending and “waste not” were the rules we lived by, and so I can’t see how we carry on as we have been, living beyond our means as a culture.

So, sorry, I’m in a bearish mood still. (I never believed in “power animals”, even in the days when I knew lots of neo-pagans. I’m coming to suspect that if I have one, it’s a bear…..)

So, let’s talk a bit about what I’ve been up to.

Others are thinking along the same lines. Dave Pollard wrote about an article on Sharon Astyk’s site, which I liked very much. I recommend reading the original article, but Dave’s summary covers all the key points:

[Y]ou should move if:

Your mortgage is way more than the value of your house (especially since house values are likely to go lower)
You have young children or are elderly, and the people youโ€™re closest to live far away
You have children you want to spend time with, or parents who need your care, living far away
You live in an extreme climate and are not adaptable to living without inexpensive heat, air conditioning, water, and imported food
You live in a community with people with mostly lousy (by your standards) values
You donโ€™t think your children have a future where you live
You are planning on moving anyway (sooner is probably better than later)
You arenโ€™t going to be happy or viable where you are if everything based on oil (transport, bought food, plastics, clothing, heat) gets much more expensive, or if your โ€˜commuter jobโ€™ disappears and you have to take (cheaper) employment locally
You live in an exurban area with no viable public transit, no locally produced food, and few close neighbours
You are not truly โ€˜nativeโ€™ to where you live โ€” never really fit in, called it home โ€” and someplace else has always beckoned.

Now, I love living in Beijing; I love my work here, and there are very good people who share my values and worldview. Recently, I’ve been practising a lot in Zhongshan Park, and as I cycle beneath the walls of the Forbidden City with the morning sunlight and clear air making the red paint glow, or leaving the park at dusk with the air above me full of swallows flitting about and chittering as they return to their nests under the eaves of the watchtowers, or chasing insects amongst the willows that line the moat – well, I have to pinch myself to remind myself that yes, it is real, and yes, I am living in this amazing, fantastic city.

But I know that it won’t, it can’t, last forever. So, maybe it makes sense to think about how and when it ends – and a number of the points on Sharon’s list were already making me a little uneasy. I also got set thinking by a recent article on Afghanistan in the 1950s – a place of engineering success, rock and roll, and liberal values. I wonder if the people in those pictures ever suspected that within their lifetime their world would revert to being “a broken 13th century country“. Kyrgystan used to be a pretty well-developed element of the USSR; who, then, would have foreseen the ethnic cleansing and savagery that’s in the headlines this morning?

A lot of people are talking these days about beginning to build your tribe – or, as military theorist John Robb calls it, a “resilient community”. I’m not sure that I see that happening for me anywhere but Wales…

So, what to do? There are perhaps two options.

One is to seek to retreat from the world and let it go on its way without me. That’s the route of the hermit or the monastery. I still want to write about people who’ve taken that way, in the much-postponed next post in the “What’s it all about?” sequence of entries here. That did seem a strong option for me at one point, to be honest. I’m very drawn to Plum Village, for example… ๐Ÿ™‚ Still, starting from when I began dating the Siberian, I’ve been drawn back into the world of attachment….

The other route is to get involved in building a resilient community. The question is, what can I (or you, reader) contribute?

It’s a question that is provoking a new movement in my martial arts interests – and leading me along the Tea Road…. In other words, it’s why I’ve been posting a lot about shashkas and systema recently!

I’ve been reviewing some of the DVDs of systema that were given to me, and comparing them to the “Systema Spetsnaz” DVD on “Internal Wave Energy” that I recently purchased. I also bought Scott Sonnon’s “Softwork“; I gather that this isn’t what he teaches these days, being from an earlier period in his trajectory, but it brings together what he learned from ROSS and other Russian systems.

To be honest, I really don’t see any huge differences between the practices of the different schools. I really like the philosophy that they all seem to share, and which is outlined in an article that I’ve previously linked to:

The doctrine of Russian Martial Art is based on the concepts of non-violence, cooperation, non-resistance and conformity. The Russian Martial Art master absorbs blows effortlessly, contorts the body to accommodate the threat and maintains contact until the assailant is rendered immobile.

… which fits rather nicely with something I’ve also been seeking in my martial arts studies (see my post ‘The manner of victory is important‘).

So far so good, but if I can get this with the Chinese martial arts, why move towards systema? This is where community comes into the picture…. With the Chinese martial arts, I’m getting great results in health, mental calmness, and combative ability; yiquan in particular, as I’ve mentioned here many times, has been particularly beneficial for me. The thing is, even if I reach the level of being able to teach in one or more of these, I’m not sure how they help to build a community -especially back in the UK where they’re not exactly mainstream; in a community adapting to resource constraints, I rather suspect that they would be seen at best as “nice, but by no means necessary”.

The Russian martial arts, on the other hand, have elements that may be a bit more marketable. In particular, I’m thinking of its connection with Cossack dance and choral singing (hey, I am Welsh, after all!). These are elements that can be used to build a community – dance and singing could attract people of all ages when a lot of what has become popular entertainment turns out to be unsustainable, and people start working in larger groups again…. It is suitable for both genders and all ages… and inside the song and dance are health techniques and systema fighting methods… Add to that the connections with the theatre from Stanislavsky, Chekhov and so on, and you have a system that’s highly appropriate to community-building….

As an example, I’ve been following the “Siberian Cossack Group LAD” for some time; although there are some elements that make me wary – and I know there has been a falling out with Mikhail Ryabko, though I have no idea what it’s all about – they are doing a lot of interesting work in combining the elements I’ve been talking about, and taking these into schools, youth groups, and so on – take a look at their videos on YouTube. (And, as a point of interest, in a recent Yiquan class, we had a visitor from Hong Kong who trains systema there, and who has friends who’ve attended the seminar in Kuala Lumpur I wrote about before. We had a very interesting chat!).

Don’t take this to mean that I’m giving up on the Chinese styles – quite the contrary! I’m still really enjoying the yiquan, though I think this is something for me to work on in my original path of “martial arts and meditation” as opposed to ‘finding a role in a community’. I’ve also been training again in bagua, though for various reasons I’ve kept quiet about that; I’ll be writing about it soon, though.

I’d be interested to hear what you think about all this….

Smiles, styles, secrets, friends.


A new semester has started, and I’m far happier at work now than I was during the previous six months; I’m noticing that as a result, I’m much more motivated to get off my backside and do stuff… including martial arts.

My friend H. came along to the yiquan class yesterday. She has a background in Northern Preying Mantis, and (after I suggested it to her) she attended Master Yao Chengguang’s academy for a month last summer before going back to the UK for 9 months. Now that she’s back she wanted to check out my school: partly because I’m there and it’s good to train with friends, but more because Master Yao Chenrong’s Academy is rather more female-friendly, and there are a number of women training there. She really enjoyed the class, and will be attending every Saturday, which will be nice.

We were comparing plans for the coming semester (she teaches English) and we both have a scary number of objectives. In fact, we both want to do more than is realistic! So, some pruning is needed…

I have to say that the chance conversation I had with Carlos last year has had a profound impact on my interest in martial arts…. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have started yiquan… which would have been a great shame! As I’ve mentioned before, I’m getting fantastic results and insights from the yiquan I’ve studied with Master Yao Chengrong, and this weekend has kind of led me to a decision. Since I came back from Wales, every yiquan class has been really fruitful; I’ve had great insights into posture, breathing, power and movement – and let’s face it, that’s no small potatoes! I can’t see that I have any other choice but to focus on yiquan as my main style, now. That means I’ll be doing very little baguazhang, except some maintenance on some of the styles I’ve learned to date. Here’s an example of the yiquan training methods:

This means the fulfilment of a prophecy… Last summer, before I started at Yao Chengguang’s wuguan, I met up with a Chinese friend of mine, who trained at Shaolin for 20 years, and now runs a martial arts school in Beijing. He said firstly that I should train with Yao Chengrong and not Yao Chengguang, and secondly that if I started yiquan I would give up bagua. At the time, I didn’t believe either would happen. Well… I wouldn’t say that I’m giving up bagua… I’ll go back to it in a while. I don’t think I’ll be attending the Liang-style school for some time though (in any case, I hear that it’s moved again – the old warehouse space is due to be demolished, so apparently they’re on a university campus now, according to taichibum).

The yiquan is also making me think far more about the use of the body than most previous schools or classes have done. As an example, Master Yao pointed out the other day that my right kua tends to collapse in, taking the knee inwards with it. Once I started paying attention to this, it completely changed my posture, and even the way I walk. How come nobody every noticed this – or at least, drew it to my attention – before now? I’m beginning to relax my back a lot more, which is having a big impact on the stiffness in my left shoulder and lower back – which, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know is a big deal!. As I loosen up, I’ve become more and more interested in systema.

I’ve been bowled over my the generosity of a reader (who wishes to remain anonymous), who gifted me 14 DVDs and 2 books on systema. I am really grateful, mate – you know who you are! I’ve been watching the DVDs a LOT since they arrived, and there’s a lot in systema that I recognize from bagua and yiquan. More than that, though, there’s something about systema when I see it performed by Vladimir Vasiliev that looks absolutely right, as if this is the way I’ve always thought that a martial art should be done. It’s something about the softness, stillness, and fluidity of it… particularly against multiple opponents…

The way that Systema is described by the author of Let Every Breath, Scott Meredith also seems that it fits perfectly with the goal I’ve been searching for for the last few years: an effective martial art that is thoroughly integrated with meditative and spiritual aspects (although Systema specifically claims a connection with Russian Orthodox Christianity, there’s nothing I’ve seen or read that’s incompatible with my Buddhism). So even though I’ll just be self-teaching from DVDs around the yiquan, you should probably expect to hear a lot more about Systema in the future. When I spoke to taichibum, it turned out that he’s trained a bit in systema before, so now that the spring is on the verge of arriving in Beijing (touch wood!) I may suggest an occasional get-together with him to work on it… The gf’s return from Siberia has also focussed my attention on my need to lose a few kilos so who knows, perhaps I’ll take up cossack dancing for an aerobic exercise ๐Ÿ˜‰ Seriously, though, I think that yiquan and systema are extremely compatible…

While I’m on this note, I’ve also been invited to take part in another martial arts project – but, for the moment, I’ve been asked not to talk about it ๐Ÿ˜€ It’s unlike anything I’ve done before, and should be pretty interesting… Once I can, I’ll let you know more, but it won’t be soon…


In yesterday’s yiquan class, I was talking to Karula, the German girl who’s been staying in Beijing for a month. She studied taijiquan in Germany, and came to China specifically to study yiquan. She’s been training every day, and has the bruises on her forearm to prove it. She speaks better Mandarin that I do, and mentioned that I’d misunderstood what Master Yao said last week: it seems he said I can use his brother’s book to help me understand what is going on, I just need to be careful of some differences. That’ll be useful.

We practised a couple of the more unusual yiquan postures: ban fu shi chengbao zhuang (bending over expanding-embracing post) and xiang long zhuang (landing dragon combat post). The first is standing, but bent forward with the arms and forehead resting on a support, and is apparently good for the intestines. The second is a long stance, with 70% of the weight on the forward leg (it’s usually 70% on the back), arms raised, and the torso twisted so that you’re looking backwards… It needs reasonably good balance, and is developing waist power, I think!

Karula and I tried some tui shou, as the the German guy who’s usually with her wasn’t at class. I thought they’d come together from Germany, but it seems he actually lives in Beijing, is a long-term student of Master Yao’s, and was just helping to translate. Anyway, something interesting occurred, as I was pretty tired: as Karula tried to press me, I deflected her force and – in that slightly dreamy state you get when you’re tired – I found my hands “sticking” to her arm and going almost automatically into taiji’s “cloud hands”, which demonstrated that it is an effective joint-breaker. Hmm. Of course, I didn’t break her elbow, but it became clear that it could be done! It made me think about my views that sparring practice is necessary in training: yesterday, that application of cloud hands emerged spontaneously – but I’m not sure it would have been so clear, or at all useful, if that had been a real fight rather than a training session….

Speaking of training and sparring, a Serbian girl lives downstairs from me. She started attending wushu classes for the first time shortly after I moved into my apartment, and showed me some of what she’s learned. Even though she and her fellow-students are all novices, her teacher has already got them started on the short staff (bian gan), similar to what I studied for a short while with Sun Lao Shi. She’s already way better than me! There’s many possible reasons for that of course ๐Ÿ™‚ but one is certainly that they train the form in class, but then also do free-form sparring, learning to apply what they’ve just studied – so learning to improvise, improve reflexes, and so on! Of course, it helps that she’s fluent in Mandarin!

I was planning to go out with friends to have dinner last night, but it got cancelled at the last minute. That left me at an unexpected loose end, so I headed down to Houhai to see what was up. I’ve noticed that since the Olympics there are many more touts – in some sections, almost every bar has a young guy or two outside trying to lure in passers-by, plus lots of “lady bar” pimps. They’re getting a lot more aggressive as well; I think a lot of people invested heavily in bars for the Olympics and, when the visitors didn’t arrive in the numbers that were expected, found that they are not recouping their money. That’s just my theory, but it’s a fact that these guys are barely stopping short of physically dragging people off the road and into their bar! One of these lads got particularly in my face last night, well beyond what I thought was acceptable, and it led to a bit of a scuffle and name-calling. Nothing more serious! I should, of course, have let it pass but I notice that since I started training yiquan I’ve got a bit more of a temper. I expected this – those of you who knew me in Singapore may recall that I said for quite some time that I didn’t want to study xingyi, because I was worried that xingyi is by nature pretty brutal, and I was concerned about the effect it would have on my temperament. Well, yiquan is derived from xingyi and, yes, I’m finding that its directness and ferocity are having an effect. I’m going to need to start balancing my training with meditation – which would be a good thing to do anyway.

Heh, on the topic of aggression on the streets, this is of course one reason why I want to develop my ability to protect myself if need be! Dragoncache thinks I’m being over-stressed about this, and he’s probably right but… on the other hand…. there’s a recession coming, and hard times with it. China’s a pretty safe place, of course, but on the other hand, you know, there are a lot of people here who have got used to an ever-improving economy, and may not be prepared for the money drying up. At the back of my mind, I recall the TV scenes of the riots in Indonesia in ’97….

So on that note, a couple of links:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not walking the streets in fear! China is very safe ๐Ÿ™‚

And as for that scuffle with the tout… I felt bad afterwards that I’d let myself be provoked. When I sat down later, though, I started reading my copy of The Compass of Zen, which I had in my bag, and it opened to the page about the Avatamsaka Sutra, and I read:

The Avatamsaka Sutra teaches that everything is truth. In Hinayana Buddhism, for example, getting angry and then acting on that anger is not such a good state. But the Avatamsaka Sutra displays Mahayana Buddhism’s extremely wide view: like everything else in this universe, anger is also truth. For example, a child misbehaves and plays in a dangerous street. The parent sees this and becomes very angry. The parent scolds or even spanks the child. “How many times have I told you not to do that?”. The child’s behaviour is the truth: it is not good or bad. The spanking and the scolding are also neither good nor bad, and they are also the truth. Whereas the Hinayana view is to try not to act on anger, in this view – the view of the Avatamsaka – the anger and the scolding and the spanking are meant to prevent the child from causing harm to himself and others. They are simply truth.

I’m going to think about this.

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!).