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Farewell 2012

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Lots of tumbleweed blowing around here…

Nope, I haven’t abandoned the blog; on the other hand, I haven’t really had too much to say, or energy to write it.

I had lots of good intentions for 2012, of course. As it turned out, though, the year can be summed up in these two images:

Work so hard that it destroys your health and crowds out any chance of having a personal life.

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure that you are not in fact just surrounding yourself with assholes.

During the summer I managed to get some good work in with Cheng Hsin and Systema; that all ground to a halt after September due to pressure of work.

It wasn’t totally a wasted year. I’ve got more trees planted – more apples, plums, and pears. I have a new polytunnel up, where some fig trees and sichuan pepper bushes are sheltering from the winter weather. I’ve begun to learn how to use my old hand-powered Singer sewing machine, and started learning how to make clothes – with some quite good results so far, ie something I wouldn’t be ashamed to wear in public 🙂 I’ve also found another, related skill, that I want to develop (upholstering!) and I hope to train up in that next year! I have various other projects on the go, which have been on the back burner but I intend to develop in 2013.

Finally, a lesson that life is cyclical. As those of you who are Facebook friends know, it was 10 years ago this month that I left the UK and went to live in Singapore. That set me on a path of discovery that I count myself blessed to have experienced; much of it has been documented in this blog. To make that step, I’d had to turn my back on a toxic situation, an environment that was holding me back and crushing my hopes. It wasn’t easy, but eventually a leap into the unknown was better than staying. Ten years later… well, history repeats itself if you don’t learn its lessons, but I do learn…

So, no: this blog isn’t dead yet! I’ll pick it up in 2013, possibly taking it in new directions. I hope you all have a good time tonight, whatever you are doing to see the new year in, and I wish you all success and happiness in the year to come.

Category: Blogging, Miscellaneous

It’s all about the people

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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!

Hilarion

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This post is just playing around with some ideas; you’ll probably want to skip it if you’re interested in the martial arts etc that I normally write about.

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My hometown developed around a river bridge. Originally, the bridge was part of the main Roman military highway stretching westwards to the Irish Sea. It lay between some important forts, and we know from the archaeological evidence that some elements of Legio II Augusta were present in the first and second centuries AD. The town’s location would have led it to prosper, and we know that there were several major villa estates in the area. The archaeological remains also suggest that the town became a centre for industrial-scale metalworking. Over the centuries of the Roman presence, life became settled, and the legionaries were withdrawn, back to the major camps. Changes in Imperial technology and military requirements eventually led to the classic legions becoming redundant; the focus shifted to mobile, cavalry-based forces.

The river runs through the town, and makes its way in a large curve to the sea a couple of miles away. The river valley is deep and steep, so from the town the sea seems a long way away. It’s not, though, and it actually doesn’t take all that long to reach the estuary by foot. There’s always been a reasonable little harbor at that estuary – at least, until the whole area was reconfigured for major industrial developments in the 20th century.

I very often walk up the remnants of that old Roman highway. It’s been bypassed now by a modern road, and is an overgrown country lane, with an uneven rock surface that’s the remains of the old road core. It rises up to the top of one of the highest local hills, and then continues, arrow-straight. The odd thing is that another little lane leaves it at the hilltop, going at a right angle in the direction of the sea. It arrives at a small village, leading directly to the old manor house, and then straight onwards to the old vicarage – a house sited on the edge of the escarpment, and from where there is a view down along the length of the river valley. From there, you can’t see either the sea or the town, but you can see most of what’s in-between. It’s interesting to note that on old maps this area is named ‘The Cross’. The local church, right next to the manor, is dedicated to Hilarion – rather an uncommon saint.

That side road is very definitely ancient, and has the same kind of surface as the main Roman road. Its straightness is unusual in a country lane. Taken together, that makes me think that it must also be Roman. Why would it be there? Well, we know that by the third century, the Western coast of Britain was suffering from increasingly aggressive raiding from Ireland. Indeed, the Irish began to colonize south-west and north-west Wales. A tower built where the manor house later was would have an excellent view of the sea and that little harbor. It’s the perfect place to have a lookout; if anything was sited, riders could have been sent to warn the town long before raiders made their way up the valley. Would the town have been a target? Of course! It was wealthy and, to the Irish, a source of worked iron and steel would surely have been irresistible. The site of the old vicarage would have been the perfect place to have observe the progress of any raiders, and to launch a mounted attack at the moment of choice. But why the uncommon saint’s name? Why was the site named ‘The Cross’ before it became a vicarage?

A story takes shape in my mind, of my town in the dying days of Roman Britain. We know that there’s no evidence of occupation after the fourth century; the site wasn’t settled again until the Normans arrived. We know that the Irish took the whole area by storm during ‘The Great Conspiracy’: in the latter part of the fourth century, Roman Britain was assaulted from three directions simultaneously as the Irish, the Picts, and the Saxons united to attack this island prize. The Romans were driven back to what is now the south-east of England. With reinforcements from the continent, they eventually reasserted their control over the whole of the province – but what would they have found as they fought their way back into the occupied areas?

I can imagine a dawn when the citizens of my town woke to an ordinary morning. Their town was still prosperous. Life had been undisturbed under Roman rule for centuries. Grandfathers complained that things weren’t as good as during the days of their youth – the currency was increasingly debased, there were more and more new taxes, free men were being forced into serfdom, the Irish raiders seem bolder each year further down the coast while the soldiers were fewer and fewer (especially as more and more generals declared themselves to be the Emperor and marched their armies away to inglorious defeat). But old men always grumble.

Perhaps the first warning they had were the war cries of the raiders who had slipped up the valley from the estuary during the night. Perhaps a rider came galloping down from the lookout tower, who knows? There may have been a small cavalry unit there, who fought until they were overwhelmed or, more likely, most of them had already been called away to deal with trouble elsewhere. Whatever happened, the town couldn’t be saved.

By the end of the day, the town was in flames. Many of the men were dead. Women and children had been carted away to the boats to become slaves, along with valuables, stocks of metal, and livestock.

Some of the survivors banded together in an old Iron Age hillfort, which remained occupied and fortified through the Dark Ages. Others would have fled to the lookout tower and cavalry post in search of safety, and settled within and around its walls. Devastated, ruined, they may have chosen to build a church dedicated to Hilarion, the ascetic saint who was attacked by thieves – thieves who left him alone and even repented of their evil ways for attacking a man so much poorer than themselves, a man who had nothing left for them to take. Surely a fitting patron for the remnants of a prosperous community, who have lost everything, while raiders from the sea remain a constant threat. Such a traumatized group may have raised a stone cross in the old observation post above the valley, praying that this holy symbol might deter the Irish where horses, swords and spears had failed….

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Those who have been reading for a while will see where I’m going with this. All around us, the signs increase to show that our society and economy are under increasing stress – stress that is becoming unsustainable. Peak resources, environmental degradation, climate change, sovereign debt, corruption, and the elevation of special interests… Like the ancient burghers of my hometown, so many of their modern equivalents become gradually inured to the changes, forgetting that, once, it really was better. One day, though, it might all fall apart. That day could be soon. Based on the information available I would put 2014-15 as the key period, as that is when oil production will really start to drop off – which means that the price of EVERYTHING will rocket. That’s when things will get really ugly.

Plan. Be prepared. Be ready.

Welcome, 2012

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If anyone is still following this blog, season’s greetings to you, and best wishes for 2012!

However, as Alf – who studied Welsh with me so long ago – said this morning on Facebook:

Just a reminder, before anyone gets overly excited about that arrival of 2012, that we’re in the middle of year 5772 on the Jewish calendar, and year 7520 on the Byzantine calendar, and won’t get to the end of year 4709, 4708, or 4648 on the Chinese calendar (depending on which school of calculation you follow) until later in January. And on the good ol’ Julian calendar we’re not even up to Christmas (Dec. 25) yet. So for those celebrating, have a happy new year, but remember that in a sense the year is new every morning :).

Hopefully I’ll be a little more active in the new year.

Technical note: one reason for the long drought in posts was that a lot of comments mysteriously got deleted. I had hoped to find a way to restore them from a backup, and didn’t want to add more before that got done. I don’t think it’s going to happen, though, so I may as well start posting again!

Category: Miscellaneous

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!

To the hills


Right, I’m off to the hills… Three days in the mountains of Snowdonia, where the qi is very, very strong… See you soon!

Various other people


Tom says in the comments, “We want details“… Sorry Tom, but not just now 😉 Partly that’s because it’s off-topic, partly to protect her privacy, and partly because it’s very early days… Hehehe…

Still, it got me thinking that I’d mention a couple of other friends from Beijing, and what they’re up to.

H. is still in England, and getting ever-deeper into her Buddhist practice. We’ve only corresponded infrequently and are well overdue for a catchup, but she seems really happy.

I had quite a long chat with S. the other day as well. She’s still in Beijing, and making huge advances with her study of martial arts, qigong, and spiritual practices. All I can say now is that I suspect I’ll be able to reveal her identity before long, perhaps in a couple of months. She’s likely to become quite well-known (in martial arts circles, at least); I think she’s got the potential to become one of the great martial arts figures of our generation should she so choose (though she may well decide to focus on other areas…) I’m just glad that I’ll be able to say I knew her before she was famous 😉

Sorry to be such a tease, but there we are; I don’t want to name names unless people are willing.

Category: Miscellaneous

A dance in Japan


I have a bad habit of opening up interesting links in a new browser tab and then forgetting about them. I just found this in one such tab; I have no idea where I got the link from originally – possibly it was someone I follow on Twitter? Anyway, I like it, so I thought I would share it with you…

Kathy’s Cinematic Dance Reel – by Chibi Moku from Chibi Moku on Vimeo.

Standing still, not standing still


I am still here, I just haven’t been in to mood to post much.

London was great. I was lucky, and the weather was beautiful – blue skies, and hot sunshine, mmmm! There seemed to be cherry trees in bloom everywhere, and the scent at night was heavy and soporific. Of course, the main thing was that I caught up with S again. It was wonderful; we just picked up our friendship as if we’d seen each other last week, not seven months ago. We practised zhan zhuang together in Earl’s Court, went to see Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seeds exhibit at the Tate Modern, and generally had a good time hanging out.

Speaking of zhan zhuang, I did quite a bit, in parks or the gardens of the Youth Hostel where I stayed. Got a few funny looks, but that’s only to be expected!

I’ve been working a lot on the standing recently, getting a fair bit done most days. I’ve been working mostly on the basic health stances, working on opening up the kua to take the pressure off my knees, and working on loosening up the achilles tendons. I’m about ready to go on to more of the shi li stances, and also practising some of the more advanced health postures. I’m finding Lam Kam Chuen’s books very useful as guides for the time being. (S and I almost wandered over to Hercules Street from the Tate Modern to check out the Lam Association offices but decided that it was too hot and a bit too far, so we went to Covent Garden instead).

One of the pleasures of the standing has been the reconnection to nature as I practice in the garden. In the early mornings I have ducks and wild geese flying low over my head. A little later, I can enjoy the songs of the blackbirds, and the hoarse calls of the crows. In early evening, the birds are all settling back down into their roosts, and I slowly hear them all go quiet, until at last the final holdouts cease their lonely songs. This is also when the bats emerge, flittering overhead in the dying light. Then, at late night practice, I listen to the owls hunt, calling each other through the darkness. Something snuffles and crunches in the darkness – a hedgehog, perhaps?

Of course, I don’t do all of these slots every day! It just depends when I have time. But it’s nice.

In the garden, the trees I’ve planted are starting to bloom. The pear tree has the most; it’s very vigorous, and has put out a lot of flowers. The cherry tree is also doing well. The apple trees may bloom later this year, or it may be that they need to establish themselves, in which case I’ll see the results next year. The first five that I planted are all already much taller; they’re prospering, it seems. Good job I put a few handfuls of concentrated manure in the hole… Tomatos, chilis, and sunflowers are all germinating… Need to get a rambling rose planted soon, and to look at getting sweetcorn, rocket, beetroots and climbing beans underway…

The house move is in progress; hopefully all will be completed soon. I need to get deposits off for the anatomy course, and for the meditation leadership course. I’ve made contact with the local group of Thich Nhat Tran’s Order of Interbeing; they should have a meeting soon, but it seems they don’t get together very frequently. There’s also a branch of the Western Chan association nearby, who meet several times a month, so I’ll get in touch with them too.

Life goes on!

Sliced


Wow, time flies… It surely can’t be four-and-a-bit years since I bought myself a Keris Sundang? That was my present to myself for finally landing a job after my MBA… I couldn’t afford it at the time but, heck, it’s one of the decisions you don’t regret.

The blade is held fixed in the scabbard by a small catch, which really isn’t obvious if you don’t know it’s there.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m in Beijing. The keris is in my living room, in a stand on a bookshelf. One day I decided to take a look at it, and found that it was very difficult to remove from the scabbard – the clip was damaged. Furthermore, the upper brass band around the scabbard was loose. I hadn’t caused this, so what might have happened? At the time, the Siberian and I were sharing the flat with two other women; I was certain that neither she nor they would have been messing around with it. On the other hand, I knew that our Chinese landlady would let herself unannounced in from time to time, creeping around the apartment and taking photographs (I’d caught her red-handed a couple of times). Sometimes her husband came with her, and it was entirely plausible that he might have taken a look, and tried to force it out of the scabbard…

The keris came back to Wales with me, and last Sunday night I wanted to have a look at it. Even depressing the catch, it was still very stiff… until it came out suddenly… and I found myself looking at a thin line across the fingers of my left hand, which oh so slowly gaped open and started to seep blood…

Bah. Many thoughts go through your minds at such a time. (Examples: ‘Can it really be true that I have no first aid kit in the house?’, ‘So where exactly is the nearest A&E, then..?’)

Well, I could still make a fist and – after I’d washed it in cold water and soaked it in TCP – the wound didn’t hurt too much, I decided to see how it felt in the morning. As it turned out, I made it to a doctor, and got some ‘sticky stitches’ and some dressing, and it isn’t too serious. Could have been much, much worse. I’ll probably have scars, but heck, they’ll just add to my collection.

As a learning experience, well… after looking at the split skin and blood running down my arm, the subcutaneous fat cells bulging out past the edges of the wound… I certainly respect knives as weapons a whole lot more – what was previously abstract became a reality, written in my own flesh. Plus, I’ll never trust a Chinese landlord again.

Category: Miscellaneous