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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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What lies beneath


I’ve been thinking a great deal about filters recently. By “filters”, I mean mental filters: the means by which we exclude information, and limit our understanding of the world.

This has been a really rather fruitful process, and has led to some useful breakthroughs in the spheres I explore in this blog – namely, martial arts, and spiritual development.

A conversation I was having with a colleague recently, the topic of Buddhism, meditation, and mental filters, turned out to have a real impact… on me.

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No ‘ski jump’ at the bottom



I saw something on Facebook recently, which went along the lines of “The pharmaceutical industry doesn’t create cures, it creates customers“. This is quite true.

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Tree and wave



Some thoughts prompted by today’s yiquan class…


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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 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.

It’s all about the people


Some big news: my dear friend S. in Beijing has got married! This was a real bolt from the blue! I noticed her online on Skype, and started chatting; a publisher’s website here in the UK had announced that her book on Cheng-style bagua had been published, and I wanted to congratulate her. Disappointment, though – she says it’s not the case, and she’s still doing the final edits. I can’t wait, though; this book and the DVD that go with it are going to be amazing… Anyway, then she dropped the bombshell. She’s been engaged for a while, but she and her fiance had just decided to go for it, and married there in Beijing. Apparently they had sent emails out to all their friends, but something went wrong and a lot of people, including me, didn’t receive the news… Well, what can I say, but wish them both great happiness together!

It made me think, though. Over the last couple of weeks, as I’ve started going to classes in Cheng Hsin and systema, I’ve been reminded how, over the past decade or so, most of the best people I’ve met have been from the martial arts world. Sure, there are a lot of meatheads in some areas of the martial world, but as I’ve moved among the spheres of bagua, taiji, yiquan, and now cheng hsin and systema, I almost universally meet people who are sincere, down-to-earth, generous, humble, and passionate about their arts. Wu de isn’t just an abstract concept: it’s something that these people demonstrate daily in their lives, and it’s been a huge inspiration (and good example) for me.

One of the biggest issues for me as I’ve struggled to adjust back to life in the West has been the absence of this kind of community; I can’t express enough how glad I am to have found people like this again!

The ol’ y ‘n’ y…


Yin and yang are funny things. Last weekend was really, absolutely, a low point – the sort of moment that wakes you up to the fact that things really need to change.

And so, I went back to the website of the Cardiff Martial Arts Academy, where I went to a few systema classes with Mark Winkler of Celtic Systema. As I wrote a while ago, Mark had to give up the class because of the distance, but it was due to be taken over by Jeff Faris. Where Mark is from the Vasiliev/Ryabko lineage, I get the impression that Jeff is more of the Kadochnikov/Retsinuikh school, whose approach is a bit more in line with the way I think. I’d wanted to start going to classes a while ago, but it turned out that Jeff was away for a while, “on a personal security job in Eastern Europe”. Crikey.

Anyway, thinking that he must be back by now, I checked the academy’s website for their timetable, to check when the systema classes were, and I noticed that on Monday nights there is a Cheng Hsin tui shou class. Well, I’d heard of Cheng Hsin; in fact, I have a copy of one of Peter Ralston’s books, which I bought in a second-hand bookstore in Singapore’s Bras Basah centre years ago, and have carried around ever since. (I’ve tried several times to read it, but always give up; it’s written in a dialogue style that I can’t get to grips with – by which I don’t mean to say it’s bad, just not a style that I find easy to read), and I’d really got the impression that it was getting to the core of some important elements of taijiquan…

… and in any case, although I am practising my zhan zhuang, yiquan shi li, xingyi 5 elements form, and CMC-37 taijiquan, it’s all solo work. I really fancied the opportunity to do some tui shou and partner work… and so, on the spur of the moment, I went along.

And hmmmm. Wow. It’s very much all about yielding, and softness, and all the elements that make taijiquan a badass martial art. I won’t say much, as I really need to go back for a few more classes in order to get my head around it. I really enjoyed it, though, I’ll say that much. A small class: the teacher (an Irishman, Kevin Magee), another Welsh bloke, and a German woman who, apparently, moved from Germany to Wales to learn silat, but then switched to Cheng Hsin. It was a really serious-but-friendly atmosphere. I’ll be going back for another taste, for sure….

Recommended book: Sugong


Reader Tom got in touch, commenting on the lack of posts. True, true. I started writing as a product of my excitement at living in Asia, both Singapore and China. Even during the bad times, the environment provided small joys every day, and the amazing people I mixed with through the martial arts gave me lots of material. Moving back to small-town Wales has been a huge challenge, and I have to say that it’s been difficult, both in the personal and professional spheres. A new environment means a new perspective, one that I am still in the process of developing; I might write a bit more about that later.

Anyway, I want to recommend a book to you all: Sugong. Englishman Nick Hurst has written a fantastic biography of his kungfu grandmaster, an inheritor of the true Shaolin tradition. You won’t learn any martial secrets from this book, but its real value to me lies in its portrayal of Singapore and Malaya throughout the twentieth century. The aspect of Singapore that I loved the most was its complex network of martial societies, temples, food stalls and coffee shops, inhabited by witty, gregarious, traditionalist working-class people of many races and languages. Sadly, social and economic changes are wiping out this link to the old-fashioned Straits way of life. If you’ve never experienced it, this book is a great insight; to those who’ve known it and loved it, this book is going to become a classic account of martial arts society in South-East Asia.