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Strong, fit and healthy?


As I write this, I’m supposed to be in my Sunday yiquan class. I did actually set out to attend but, before I’d gone very far, I realized that my lower back is hurting like heck, and it just wouldn’t have been a good idea.

I had a very interesting class yesterday. Yao Lao Shi had to correct me far more often than usual, and for the same things repeatedly, but it ended up being a very rewarding session.

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Tactical Gymnastics

Hmm. Very cool video:

I write this having missed systema class because I’ve been working late again; the work has been both necessary and interesting, but I don’t want this to continue… When I get time to train at home again, I’ll have to change my routine a bit to include more Flowfit 2 and/or systema groundwork…

The video comes from this page, where there’s also an interesting article by Coach Sonnon: I move, therefore I am.

Adding a bit moreโ€ฆ


Last week’s systema class went very well. I should probably give a little background about this. The classes are an offshoot of Mark Winkler’s Celtic Systema school, which has been going for a couple of years now. I haven’t met Mark in person, though we’ve spoken on the phone a few times, and he’s a really nice bloke. He’s super-into systema, and is currently working every hour he can get to save money so that he can go to Canada and spend 6 months training solidly with Vladimir Vasiliev. Now that’s commitment! Anyway, since he’s working, he’s not teaching, and the Carmarthen classes are being run by his long-time student, another very nice chap called Martin.

So, last week we went through rolls and ground work to begin with, and then moved on to partner work. This started with identifying chains of tension in the partner, initially with training knives, and then later on with fists. When we used the fists, we brought in breathing exercises to disperse the force of the blow (I’m not very good at this), and then added in a return strike, using the force of the blow received and redirecting it back to the attacker. This one was practised first on the ground, and then standing. Very, very, interesting. The class ended, as always, with us all sitting in a circle and contributing what insights we’d had during the class. I really like this aspect of systema: it’s very supportive and non-aggressive, and yet it trains with more use of actually receiving punches and dealing with the force than any of my internal martial arts training (but with less injury and attitude than the Thai boxing I trained in many years ago). This class is 90 minutes long, and the time just flies by.

As I mentioned to Kim in a comment, during my time in Asia I developed fairly thick tendons and a fair bit of relaxation, which allowed me to perform very well in, for example, yiquan tui shou sessions. This is how power is supposed to be generated in the internal martial arts, and is why neijia practitioners are able to stay strong into old age (I know, I simplify here, but you get the gist). On the other hand, I never really developed any muscle strength or aerobic endurance, which are also pretty handy things to have! (Sun Ru Xian was the only teacher I had who strongly emphasized that; plus, I suppose, Master ‘Blade Runner’ Zhang). Hence the pre-Christmas start to a fitness regime…. Last night, I did about six sets of Scott Sonnon’s Flowfit. I’m on level 2 (of 4), and it’ll be quite some time before I move to the next level. I can keep up with the ‘follow-along’ demonstration with minimal breaks between reps, although I’m gasping by the end. The main issue is that I can’t do the routine ‘elegantly’, so I now need to persevere with it and focus on doing it properly – which means focussing on foot placement, leg alignment, etc.

I’m also working on Scott’s Tacfit Spetsnaz Kettlebell routines. I’m now at the point of doing 6 reps of this: 2 reps at pre-recruit level with a 9kg kettlebell, 2 reps of pre-recruit with a 12kg kettlebell, and (for the first time last night) 2 reps with 9kg at the recruit level. This is working me very hard indeed, and exposing a lot of weak areas in my muscle strength, flexibility, and endurance ๐Ÿ™ On the positive side, the pre-recruit sequence with 9kgs is now fairly easy, whereas when I started, I struggled even with this – so I do seem to be gaining ground!

Thus, my routine on these sessions is Tacfit Spetsnaz warmup (about 5 min), 6 or so sets of flowfit (14 min), 6 reps of kettlebell (40 min), and Tacfit Spetsnaz cooldown (8 min or so). After that, I just have to lie and stare at the ceiling for a while ๐Ÿ™‚

Tuesday evenings are for training with Eli Montaigue. This evening was my second bagua class with him. It’s a small class, only 6 or so students. We worked on mud stepping – I still need to pay attention to my heels, as I haven’t managed to lose my bad habit of lifting them, but I am actually getting better on that, I think. We’ve moved on from the opening move and looked tonight at the single palm change. It’s unlike any bagua version I’ve trained before, but that of course is in the nature of bagua’s multiple forms! Eli teaches each element as form, followed by demonstration of application, and (in tonight’s class) incorporating body conditioning. So, all good so far.

Eli’s classes are an hour long. I mentioned before that I attended one taiji class, but since that was on a Wednesday, which clashed with the systema class, I didn’t go again. I’m glad to learn that there will be a new class on Tuesday nights, right after the bagua class. That’ll start next week, so Tuesday night will be neijia night!

So, there we are. After a slow start, my martial arts schedule is starting to pick up, and covering all the bases that I wanted.

Classes resume


After a long period of terrible weather, followed by the holidays, things are getting started again.

Eli Montaigue’s bagua classes kicked off tonight. It’s the first time they’ve run in Swansea, so pretty much everyone was a beginner (I include myself, since it’s a different style to what I’ve trained before – though Cheng-influenced at the very least – and in any case it’s a long time since I worked on my bagua). It was a small group, with good people from what I’ve seen tonight.

Tomorrow, barring unexpected hitches, I’ll be off to Carmarthen to resume systema classes. Looking forward to that.

Last night, I did a few sets of kettlebell exercises, plus a few rounds of Flowfit.


Merry Christmas


Well, season’s greetings to you all! I’m writing this from my parents’ house, while I digest Christmas dinner ๐Ÿ™‚

Apologies for the sparse posting; I’ve been super busy settling in to the new job, and still haven’t got internet at home – although hopefully that will finally be sorted out next week.

A lot’s happened since my last post, but it’ll keep until I have a bit more time. In summary, there were three things I hoped to get into after moving back to Wales: systema, taijiquan, and meditation. Classes are running in all three and, as you know, I went to a taiji class with Eli Montaigue – which I really enjoyed. However… that’s on a Wednesday evening. The nearest systema class… is on a Wednesday evening. The meditation workshops run by the New Kadampas… are on Wednesday evening. Bah!

So, the week after I went to Eli’s taiji class, I went to try the systema class. It’s an hour’s drive from my office, and is an offshoot of Mark Winkler’s Celtic Systema school. I really, really had a great time. It was my first exposure to systema IRL, and it lived up to expectations. Unfortunately, and completely by accident, I received a very solid knee-strike to my ribs, which is only now healing up… Even so, I could have gone back within a couple of weeks, but by then cold weather had descended upon the UK; the roads are bad enough in the area where I live that I opted to just get home as early as possible, so I haven’t been to any more classes yet.

I haven’t been completely idle, though. As I mentioned, I’ve fitted out a room in the house I’m renting as an exercise room, and I’ve been using it! I’ve been combining two of Scott Sonnon’s programs: Flowfit, and Tacfit Kettlebell Spetsnaz. I’m seriously impressed – although, they’re definitely highlighting my lack of physical strength… So, I’m going through the beginner levels at the moment, but very definitely seeing pretty rapid improvement. Once I get stronger and more flexible, I’ll start throwing in elements of Flowfit II.

What’s interesting is that with Coach Sonnon’s latest programs, he’s once again emphasizing his links with the Russian Special Forces (I got the impression that for some years he was playing it down). Flowfit II in particular clearly shows a connection with Spetsnaz systema. I’ve also bought a couple of DVDs about that: Internal Wave Energy, and Elements and Exercises Part 1. These are produced by Vadim Starov, if I have that right, but they are derived from Kadochnikov’s systema – which is also the root of the ROSS system that Scott Sonnon trained in… Never mind, the ins and outs of systema politics are hard to pin down! Anyway, Coach Sonnon has refined them into effective and easy-to-follow routines, while Starov’s DVDs are great for moving further into ‘proper’ systema – at least, that’s what seems to be working for me!

The ROSS curriculum is extremely interesting for me, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned before, given that it includes dance, etc…

So, anyhow. Systema is definitely going to be my primary focus now; I’ve always said that from the very first time I saw clips of it in YouTube (which was in 2007, before I even moved to Beijing), it ‘spoke’ to me – and having been to a class now, and started working with the DVDs, I feel even more that this is the style I’m meant to learn… I have big plans for systema…

That doesn’t mean that I’m leaving Chinese neijia behind! The clash of class times means that I can’t attend Eli’s taiji classes any more… but fortuitously, he’s just started a new class in bagua, which is on Tuesdays… I didn’t think I would be able to attend those either, but due to various circumstances changing, I’ll now be free to do so. Thus: a focus on systema, with bagua on the side. Oh, and I said something about wanting to revisit a weapon form, but I wasn’t sure what… Well, walking on a regular basis through country lanes to my local pub requires a stick (especially given all the snow and ice recently). So, it seems like shanxi whipstaff is the strongest candidate at the moment…

Also due to changing circumstances, my stay in the fishing village will probably be a short one; it looks like I’ll be returning to my home town next spring – I need to return to my tribe (see also this) before the economic storm breaks over our heads… but that is also for another post!

Anyway, I don’t want to end on a negative note ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll just say that as we approach 2011, I’m really fired up about getting into systema; I think this is going to be a real blast, and the people I’ve met so far are great. It’ll be nice to be back into bagua as well. I have a feeling that the plans I contemplated, of combining systema, acting, and dance into other elements of community resilience a la Transition Towns, are becoming more feasible. That’s quite exciting. I suspect that this will form a major part of my blogging focus next year…

So, Merry Christmas!

Getting started again


Well, now that I’m in my own place, it’s time to start putting a routine together.

So far, I’ve started with meditation; half an hour, morning and evening. I’m alternating between sitting, and standing in zhan zhuang. I time it by playing some on S. N. Goenka’s chanting which, if you’ve ever taken one of his vipassana retreats you’ll know, are Pali sutras and a fond part of my memories of Thailand!

I’m waiting for my gym mats to arrive from Amazon, at which point I can start working on cardio, flexibility, and endurance; the plan is to start the basic routines from Scott Sonnon’s Flowfit I and II, gradually increasing the difficulty level over the next few weeks, and then blending in yiquan practice and more elements from my systema DVDs. I want to start work on a weapon form as well, just bit by bit, but I’m not sure which one yet.

Once I feel I’m in good shape again, I’ll review the routine.

Last night I went to a taijiquan class with Eli Montaigue, who teaches “Old Yang” style. I’ll go to a few more classes before I write anything much about this, but I enjoyed it and liked what I saw.

In theory, all my stuff will arrive from China later today – including my swords, deerhook knives, pan guan bi etc etc… I need to see where I can buy a sword rack…