Blog Archives

Twelve (years between) monkeys

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I’ve just realized that twelve years have passed by since my first ever visit to Beijing, while it’s nearly six years since I left to return to Wales, not knowing at that time if I would ever come back to China. These are significant numbers: 12 years is the time to complete one full cycle of the Chinese zodiac, so six years is also a half-cycle. It’s also a year since I did, eventually, make it back to China, in April 2015, after being head-hunted out of the blue. A ┬ánumber of signs and portents are suggesting I should take these signs seriously.

 

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Is mindfulness dangerous?


Mindfulness

Short answer: no, if done properly. Usually not, even if not done properly. Alternatively: yes, decidedly so. Much depends on your perspective.
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End-of-year review 1 of 2: meditation

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Candle Meditation

Well, well, well: it’s almost nine months since I came back to Beijing. Here are some thoughts as 2015 inches towards its close.

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What lies beneath


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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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Tree and wave


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Some thoughts prompted by today’s yiquan class…

 

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Small steps of progress


Perseids and stars

Take it in small steps. Don’t run before you can walk. Two steps forward, one step back. In it for the long haul. All useful phrases, especially this week.

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The Blue Room


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I recently moved into a new place, as I described on my main blog. ┬áIt’s a small studio apartment slap bang in the middle of St. Petersburg. The walls are papered with a shimmery blue paper, and the curtains are also a pale blue. The windows face east and, as this is the period of the White Nights, when it’s only dark for a couple of hours, that means that the sun is shining into my room for much of the day. As a result, I keep the curtains closed, and the room fills with a tranquil blue light, as if it were an undersea cave.

My moving came just after the summer solstice when, by coincidence or not, I experienced a sudden new burst of optimism and energy. Consequently, all kinds of plans and practices which had been on the back burner have come back into play.

One of these is that I’ve started meditating again – for half an hour or an hour most days, using the mp3 files from my Vipassana retreats in Thailand. I’m already feeling the benefits, though there’s a lot of lost ground to be made up.

I also realised that I needed to start practising Chinese martial arts again. I’ve been starting to practice the Cheng Man Ching taiji form a bit; I knew that my yiquan teacher’s brother has disciples in Russia, so I Googled to see if there is anyone in St. Petersburg. There isn’t, but I found a wushu group, so I’ll start training xingyiquan with them. They have a teacher of bagua, but her classes are at a time I can’t make, unfortunately. I’ll write more about this in another post, but it seems like it’s time to bring this blog out of mothballs and back into active use…

Image Credits: Curtain Call by user tata_aka_T on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Systema again


It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. Lots of food for thought.

As I write, the muscles between and around my shoulder blades are only hurting a bit, having been very painful for the last couple of days. That’s the result of Thursday night’s systema class! As I wrote in my last post, I’d decided to get back into gear and start attending systema classes again, the classes this time being led by Jeff Faris.

When I went the week before last, Jeff was away, attending a seminar in Europe. Not many people were there: two of his students, myself, and a newcomer who’s never studied any martial arts before, but had got interested from seeing clips onYouTube. I gathered that the two students hadn’t been studying systema for long either, but we started off with some of the exercises that were familiar to me from Mark Winkler’s classes, and then moved on to striking exercises. This was very interesting: Nick, the student who’d taken charge, introduced this in terms of theory – looking at the position of your opponent’s feet, and directing your strike towards ‘the third point of the tripod’ to break your opponent’s balance. He also mentioned the helix and the wedge, which I’ve previously only heard mentioned by Matt Powell’s Pramek, though I know it comes from the Kadochnikov system. This kind of simple but effective theory is something that I haven’t encountered before, and is one of the things that has really attracted me to systema Kadochnikova.

Later on, another student arrived, and the session went up a few gears. This was a guy from Latvia (I’m guessing from accent etc that he’s one of the Russian minority population there), and has clearly trained extensively in systema. He got us working with exercises in soft power, unbalancing our training partner simply through redirecting their force. With my background in taiji and yiquan, I’m fairly good at this sort of work, but I have to say: this guy stood in front of me, put his hand very gently on my chest and, with very little pressure indeed, had me flying backwards. It was very similar to what you see taiji masters doing…

The same guy was there last Thursday when Jeff came back from his travels. Jeff had us doing a lot of hard striking work, using punchbags and pads. That’s why my shoulderblade and back muscles are hurting! We did quite a lot of work striking double pads; I did my best to use the big muscles of back and leg to generate power, and it worked fairly well. The muscles that are aching are those that are loaded when I’m standing in zhan zhuang properly, though I plainly haven’t been doing enough of that lately. We also did a lot of work on ‘crowd scenes’ with five-on-one work, either simultaneously or in procession. When we were all attacking simultaneously, it was interesting to note that the target rarely had to deal with more than one or two at a time, with the rest standing off to look for an opportunity and/or getting in each others’ way.

We finished with work on some of the more esoteric aspects of systema. Jeff introduced us to ‘social distance’ – for example, the space between an individual and a hostile group at which the individual’s actions aren’t yet definitely an interaction with the group (eg a change of direction, going through a shop door – is it an attempt to escape, or something that has nothing to do with the group?) He also demonstrated how to introduce a new social distance – eg, as members of the group approach, seeming to respond to someone in the distance behind them.

Very briefly, Jeff then mentioned distractions (eg clapping hands) and changing the rhythm of your movement to confuse an opponent; I was rather reminded of Piper by the way he showed this! I asked him after class, though, and he’d never heard of Piper, so there we are.

We then moved on to no-contact force, using psychological cues to get an opponent to stop, or even fall, through gesture, eye contact, and projection of will. This was right at the end of the session, so I didn’t get deep into it – but of course, the no-contact aspect of systema (not to mention taiji’s lin kong jing) is pretty controversial. I don’t think it needs to be, since it works according to fairly clear principles – but, I suspect it needs a great deal of self-knowledge and self-awareness before it can be used. My impression so far is that it depends on identifying where the opponent has mental and/or physical blockages. It’s easier to do this if you are aware of your own, and of how they were expressed in your movements and facial expressions, for example; have that knowledge, and you can spot it in someone else. The trouble is, it also works better when you are familiar with the opponent; in my case, if my opponent expresses the intention to punch, I’m much more likely to freeze up and respond (by stopping or, indeed, recoiling and even falling over) if I’ve trained regularly with him and know how much that punch would hurt! This is why we see ‘lin kong jin experts’ getting into trouble on YouTube when they face up to a stranger; they’ve become used to training with the same people.

So: my first two weeks getting into systema have been fascinating. I’m really enthused, and have learned a heck of a lot. Can’t wait for the next class….

Logjam

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Phew: I made it to the meditation group at work today. This is actually the first time I’ve been since… blimey… June? I always meant to go during the summer and autumn, but I was always just too damn tired. It was great: even after such a long break, I got back into it. I could feel myself getting warmer, and a bit sticky as my body started to detox – always a sign that the meditation is working. For a brief time, I got really deep in to it; the world vanished, thoughts were absent, and there was just the breath… Man, did I feel better afterwards!

Also back into the zhan zhuang these last few days. There’s always something new. One of my fellow-students on the tui na course had commented on part of my right foot being really stiff – and it was too, I just hadn’t noticed, and was unconsciously compensating with my posture. So, I’m working on that and, slowly, painfully, it’s stretching and opening up. The standing is generally going well, though the creaking of ligaments and popping of tendons (or is the other way round?) remind me of the ground I’ve lost. Not to worry, I’ll soon be back to where I was, and then onwards…

Might be an opportunity coming up to get back into acting; that’ll be good, I was really missing the creative flow of those improv workshops in Beijing. Couple of other things in the pipeline, too, but I won’t mention them in case I jinx them. Systema classes starting soon; that’ll be cool.

Wow, it’s like a logjam, isn’t it, sometimes? You need dynamite to clear the blockages but then discover there’s a lot of cool stuff waiting to flow down to you….

On being in a box…


 

JEB CORLISS: Well, you wanna know what I think is crazy? I think waking up at 6:00am, eating breakfast and getting in a car and sitting in traffic for 1.5 hours on your way to a job where you then sit in a box for eight hours, get a 30 minute break to eat some lunch get back in that car and sit in traffic for another 1.5 hours on your way home where you eat dinner and watch the TV then go to sleep. Repeat that until you’re about 60, you retire, and then you die! I think that is absolutely insane!

[Source]

Phew. Well. That was a tough summer. After the fun of North Wales…. dunno. I fell into a ‘slough of despond’ led there by a combination of things but in particular, I guess, by the… smallness? of life in the UK? The lack of interest and vision? The acceptance of the lifestyle Corliss talks about above, and the assumption that it’s both right and normal? While all the time, events loom large and the storm gathers on the horizon that might sweep it all away… Meh. Took me a while to remember that I’m bigger than this. Getting back on top of things now.

That said, there have been a lot of positives as well. Still with the girl I met on the CELTA course; her and her little boy. It teaches you a lot about yourself, accepting the trust of a child. Dealing with an indefatigable 5-year-old when he’s playing up? That teaches you a lot about yourself as well. I got the qualification, by the way; can’t remember if I mentioned it, but I’m a qualified teacher of English now.

After a last-minute effort, I also submitted the paperwork and assignments for the meditation course. This was the follow-up for the training weekend I took back in June, so I’m now also qualified to run meditation sessions (which I could do anyway, but now I’m able to join an industry organisation and get insurance, which is so important these days).

For the last few weekends, I’ve been travelling up to London for the training course in tui na at the Asanté Academy. I’m really enjoying it, and my course-mates are a really sound bunch of people; some are working acupuncturists, some are martial artists, some are just interested. A good mix of people, all of them interesting. The gf has been accompanying me, so no time yet to catch up with other London-based friends (readers of this blog included) but that’ll come.

A lot of the theory we’ve been covering has been discussed in terms of acupuncture rather than tui na, and I’m finding that really interesting; it’s definitely getting me more curious about that course in Tianjin. Not sure how I would pay for it (the year’s living as a student, rather than the fees as such), but I’m looking into it now as a serious option.

My martial arts training has been largely on hold, what with everything, apart from zhan zhuang and some xingyi, but as I’m getting back into a more focused state of mind I’ll be trying to ramp that up again…

Interesting times, and all that…

Oh, and a software update broke the blog theme, thus taking the site offline for a while, and leading to yet another new look and feel!