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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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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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Manchu archery


This is a very interesting clip, going over the art of archery as practised by the Imperial Guard of the Qing Dynasty. Thanks to Bai Yiming for the link! It features Scott Rodell, who’s an expert in many aspects of the Chinese Martial Arts – though I confess I only really know of him because I was (and am) very tempted by the jian that he designed… Still, that’s not going to happen while I’m in Russia! Maybe one day…

Armoured Kangxi Emperor” by Author of Qing Dynasty – Originally from www.sina.com. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Bodyguards in demand in China


China is still very much the Wild East…. Beijing’s semi-official mouthpiece The Global Times has an interesting article about increasing demand amongst Chinese businessmen for bodyguards….

“[Western security firms] are good at firearms and we are good at kung fu,” said Shi. “We are as good as the caravan guards from ancient China that you read about in novels,” added Mou, proudly.

In the West, bodyguards in their 50s are still highly sought after because they are experienced and can use guns. But in China, combat skills and one’s wisdom are more important, said Shi. Shi only accepts students between 18 and 35.

Training overseas usually focuses on anti-terrorism and armed protection. But in China the training is more about defending and controlling an attacker, said Shi.

I’m interested to read that one of the companies featured has its base in Zhangjiakou – which I often passed through on my way to Qingbiankou. Perhaps if I ever make it back there, I’ll try to write about them!

Bodyguards and Assassins poster” by The poster art can or could be obtained from We DistributionsChina Film Group.. Licensed under Wikipedia.

Ghost weddings


Chinese funeral

I first heard about Ghost Marriages in Singapore, shortly after I first moved there. At that time, it was an interesting piece of history, but not exactly relevant to the modern world.

I should have known better – tradition dies very hard indeed in China, despite the best efforts of the Maoist Communist Party. Traditions concerning the family seem to be particularly hard to break…

Seen via Chinasmack: Chinese Man Seeks Afterworld Wife For Dying Older Brother.

Image credits: The most unfortunate picture in the world by user Tieniu on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons licence.

Category: China Life

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Sports in China, 1937


While I was working as a lecturer in a Chinese university, basketball was incredibly popular amongst the students. Many of us foreigners assumed that this was due to the success of Yao Ming in the US. However, I’ve just found a piece of archive film that shows basketball was popular even in 1937… and at the end, are they skating on Houhai?

More interesting to readers here will be the first couple of minutes, in which we are earnestly told that “traditional sports still hold some interest“. All I’m going to say is… what on earth is that guy using??? Watch, and you’ll see what I mean.

Links of interest


Just testing a bit further, so here are a couple of links to pages that I’ve been meaning to post for ages.

Adidas punchbags relieve stress of Chinese subway commuters.  In an advertising campaign, Adidas wrapped the pillars in Shanghai subway stations with punchbags.

Research shows that meditation makes you more rational.

Winser Zhao: Chen style taijiquan


This is my friend Winser Zhao, performing an 83-movement Chen-style taijiquan set. I’m told it’s a fairly rare variant of the Chen style. Winser’s a great bloke, really into traditional Chinese culture. He teaches taijiquan, traditional calligraphy, and Mandarin. He also runs China Travel 2.0: if anyone is travelling to China, drop him a line – he organises cheap travel, local experiences, that sort of thing.

White clouds online

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Going back a couple of years, I posted about trailers I’d seen for a documentary called Amongst White Clouds. It tied up with the books I’d been reading then by Red Pine, about Chinese hermits. Coincidentally, I’ve been re-reading his books recently, just as one of my old MBA fellow-students posted a link on Facebook to this site. Amongst White Clouds has been put online in segments. I haven’t had time to watch it yet, but hopefully I’ll get around to doing so soon. It reminds me of a post on ‘Hollow Men’ that I’ve been meaning to write for at least a year! Anyway, I have no idea what the copyright situation is with these clips, so I’d better hurry to watch them in case they get taken down!

Tending seeds

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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 🙂 (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 🙂 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…