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Twelve (years between) monkeys



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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Out on a high note


So, another semester has come to an end.

I spent most of last weekend and Monday marking reports, and on Tuesday the exams started… Since then, I’ve done practically nothing except grade those…. and finally finished about half an hour ago.

With all that happening, I haven’t made it to yiquan classes for a while; I had hoped to get there, but it just didn’t work. During the pause on Monday evening, though, I made it to an applications class at Small Steps Neijia for the first time.

We worked on some tang ni bu stepping and bai bu/kou bu, and then some drills; these were xingyi rather than bagua (Liu Lao Shi’s lineage is xingyi-bagua, mixing the two together). It was really interesting; I’ve trained in the basic xingyi forms briefly, but I’ve never done any tui shou. It was interesting to see the drilling movements of the forearm in xingyi, and compare to its yiquan equivalent.

A large part of that class was then given over to freeform tui shou, which was extremely interesting. First of all, I partnered up with Liu Lao Shi himself; I don’t doubt that he was curious to see what I’d got, and I think I made a fairly good showing. My posture and energy flow were obviously off, though, as my right knee hurt afterwards, and is still sore.

There was only one other student there, a western guy who has no real background in martial arts other than a bit of taiji. We partnered up in the second half of the class, and I was amazed to discover that I was able to completely control him, even as he tried hard to push me around. I guess I’ve become used to training at the Zhong Yi Yiquan Wuguan with fairly experienced people, and forgotten what it’s like to work with ‘civilians’…

The very final part of the class was free-form pad work; each of us took a turn, with the other two holding pads and randomly presenting them to be attacked. Not at that point being tied to practising any particular move, it was interesting to see what came up. I found myself using several different yiquan moves but also launching into taiji’s Golden Cockerel at one point, plus bagua’s single palm change, as well as some ballistic punching that almost certainly came from watching systema material….

I also found that in terms of mindset I quickly fell into a fairly brutal “take him down NOW” mindset that I associate with my time training with Zhou Yue Wen in Singapore.


After I left the class, I thought back to when I first arrived in Singapore in 2002; the days when the martial application of taiji was only an unconfirmed legend for me, and I’d never seen bagua or xingyi…… Jeez…. I really have come a long way….

Anyhow: that session of just letting rip was rather a high point. And tomorrow…. I’m outta here, flying back to Wales for a couple of weeks. I will have my MacBook, but I don’t honestly expect to be posting much. So: see you all again in August….

Two types of bagua


It rained while I was cycling to work last Wednesday. I had a rain cape, but my feet got soaked, and were damp for the rest of the day. Ever since, I’ve had a pain in my left instep; S. says that my spleen meridian has been weakened, so I need to take care of that. Apparently ‘fire’ energy works, so I’m being liberal with the red Tiger Balm…

Last night, I attended the lecture on the zhou yi, i.e. Yi Jing divination. It was interesting, but at a fairly basic level. I’m no expert, but on the other hand I have been using the Yi Jing to help me make decisions since around 1991, so I know a bit, and didn’t learn too much. It was interesting, though.

I was meant to be going out of Beijing this weekend, spending a bit of time in Hebei province, but it fell through late last night – I wasn’t too upset, as I’d been feeling pretty sick. The meant that this afternoon, I attended a personal Yi Jing reading with the same teacher. There are two ways in which the Yi Jing is useful for me. The first is when I have a clear choice to make, and am seeking input and guidance towards the decision. The second is when the situation is extremely unclear, and replete with possible options, none of which are obvious choices. In this situation, asking a question can help to collapse the cloud of possibilities into a clear choice. Today was an example of the second, and I’m left with a clear path suggesting itself. What I do about it is, of course, going to need more questions.

Oddly, the same path was described in detail last night. As I mentioned before, S. attended last night’s lecture, and we went for dinner afterwards. It was a strange evening; there were a lot of strange things happening, meaningful decisions suddenly arriving… there must be a word to describe it but it doesn’t come to mind: ‘eldritch’ isn’t quite it… ‘Uncanny’, perhaps… S. went into prophecy mode, foretelling a number of things for my future. All I know is, unless she’s managed to wiretap my Skype account, she knows a lot of things I haven’t told her… Hehehe, another thing she said was that I’m a sabre person, which seems to be true – I love the Chinese jian, because it’s such a delicate, precise weapon, and yet I always seem to end up working on sabres (either the Chinese Dao or the Russian shashka). Not sure what that says about me… Oh, and it seems a number of people who know me believe that I belong naturally to the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. (Actually, that was a pretty interesting time in many ways, when Iolo Morgannwg was writing Barddas and starting the modern Druidry movement; his son was present as a harper and singer of cerdd dant during the Merthyr Rising…. At the same time the Rebecca Rioters were burning tollgates… It was a busy time in the Welsh jianghu…).

The details – both of the zhou yi reading and what S. said – aren’t for this blog yet; I want to digest them a bit, and see what happens with some plans, but they would suggest that I’ve been reading John Michael Greer’s piece on Green Wizards, at the right time, since it fits so well with my own past thoughts both on Druids and on preparing for a post-oil future. Well, we’ll see. As I say so often, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so since there’s not much else I can do, I’ll await events. Either the forecasts will come true, or they won’t.

In other news, I gasped my way through the full 16 minutes of Flowfit Level 2 this morning. It was interesting to note what hurt and what didn’t; which parts of the body took more strain than I might have expected. I’ve come to note that my torso is subtly curved from bottom left to top right, a misalignment no doubt due to sitting at a desk with my left hand up controlling the mouse, year after year…. Need to sort that out…. I noticed it first whilst doing some of the qigong exercises at Small Steps, and I think today’s Flowfit workout confirmed it.

Speaking of Small Steps, I was talking with Liu Lao Shi and Dalida this afternoon, and they want me to change classes; they say it’s time for me to move from the qigong classes to the bagua application classes. Well, I actually blogged here a couple of days ago that I wanted to do that, but I hadn’t discussed it with them yet, so at least I had the right idea!

After leaving them, I came down to Ritan Park to do some practice, but it’s been a really, really hot day and I was baked by the time I arrived. I managed to do some work with the shashkas, but not for long; I overheated, and retreated to the Stone Boat, where I’m typing this….

Training in the trees

As I mentioned, the Small Steps school train in a different Beijing park every Sunday. Yesterday, it was the Temple of Heaven, right down in the south of the city. There’s now a subway stop outside the East Gate, so that’s how I went – but it seemed to take a loooooong time, and I joined the class about an hour and a half late. Next time we train there, I’ll go on my bike – I think it would be quicker!

The east side of the park is where the crowds are; loads of elderly Beijingers practicing ballroom dancing, Beijing Opera, that weird taiji badminton, kicking feathered weights and so on and so on… There was a new one I hadn’t seen before, of tossing large rubber quoits at one another, and trying to get your head through the centre so that you build up a set of them around your neck like some strange African tribe…. Past all these, and the tourists (both Chinese and foreign), past the vendors of chilled water bottles (yi kuai wu! yi kuai wu! Harlo! Two yuan!) Hehehehe, past the surreal flying saucers of the temple itself, and over the the quieter west side – more open and forest-like. Here, every grove seemed to have its own group of martial artists… One group, near where we were headed, were practising xingyi and bagua; young, heavily muscled, standing motionless in santi, or gliding in circles….

Then I joined Liu Lao Shi, Dalida, and a group of others, who had been there for a long time before I arrived! I was set to working on some of the qigong postures, including a long stretch of zhan zhuang. By the end of all this, my shoulders were really aching! After that, a session of the bagua ‘tea cups’ exercise, which I haven’t done in a long, long time! It was fun, though. All too soon, it seemed, the session was over, and we all went our separate ways.

One of the other students, the Canadian I mentioned, knows something about systema, and we’ve chatted about it before. We agreed yesterday to catch up some time to try training together; I think we could work on some of the exercises from Scott Sonnon’s Softwork DVD….

I went pretty much straight on to my afternoon yiquan class, pausing only for a plate of baozi. Mmmmmm, there’s a branch of the Qing Feng Steamed Baozi chain just around the corner from Yao Lao Shi’s school, and I often eat there on my way to class.

There were four of us there; two foreign, two Chinese. It was a good session, pretty strenuous towards the end. I managed to get in a tui shou session with all three of the other guys, and was feeling pretty strained afterwards; one of them is a lot taller than me, so I had to work pretty hard. Luckily for me, he has a habit of locking himself into a position and then pushing, so he’s pretty much unshiftable if you push against him – but with a swift change of angle, he can’t defend himself. He’s going to be tough to beat once he figures that out…

Then, on to Zhongshan Park. I worked on the ZMQ-37 as usual, giving it a few rounds. Next, the wuji long xing bagua form of Master Zhou – which I haven’t done for a good long while, and needs a bit of refreshing. That’s got a move very similar to one in the ROSS systema ‘wave’ DVD, of stretching out the arms and sending a wave rolling from hand to hand; something got a bit crunchy in my left shoulder when I tried that….

After that, a bit of xuan xuan taiji dao. Mentioning that, I should note that on my way to the park, I’d noticed that my bike was shaking unusually when I braked, so I stopped at the Drum Tower to get it fixed by the bike repair man there. It turned out that the rim of the front wheel was a bit buckled, so that needed changing. While he was building the new wheel, one of his friends noticed the sword bag slung over my back and wanted to know what was in it, so I told him it was a taiji dao. Oh, he said, a taiji jian. No, a taiji dao. Is it long? he asked. Yes. Ahhh, it’s a bagua dao. Sigh. I got it out of the bag to show him. Hahaha, it’s a Japanese sword, not a Chinese sword, he told me. Sigh. I gave up.

In the bag, I also had my shashkas, of course, and I ended my training session in the park with a spell using those.That, and trying a few simple Cossack dance moves…. I’m getting faster and more accurate with one, and a bit more coordinated with two. I don’t think I’m being too forward if I say that I can already do a lot of what this guy is doing (not as well; not as smoothly; but getting there, bit by bit); what I can’t, I should be able to do soon….

My left wrist is going to take a while to train up to be as strong and flexible as it needs to be, though, and my shoulders definitely felt the strain. The left, in particular, is still too tight; it’s difficult to let the sword in my left hand swing naturally. Hehehehe, and one day I must get someone to take a picture of me doing that while a platoon of PLA soldiers marches past, staring at me in curiosity whilst keeping perfect step….

Oh yes, and I mentioned recently that I was still working on finding the correct way to grip the shashkas. Well, since I bought my new MacBook I’ve switched my default browser from Firefox to Chrome, and discovered with great pleasure that it’s got an auto-translate feature by default – which has seamlessly made a whole lot of YouTube comprehensible… Thus, I found myself looking at this, which kind of answered my immediate questions:

Bagua updates


When I was a student at Tsinghua University, the cafe-bar Lush overlooking Wudaokou train station was one of my favourite hangouts. Later on, when I first moved to my current job, it effectively became my office – it was where I would do a lot of my lesson prep and marking. I also used to go there a lot for breakfast after the early-morning bagua training sessions with Sun Lao Shi. I don’t go there so often these days, since my life and working patterns have shifted somewhat, but I popped in yesterday after dropping my suit off at a dry-cleaner’s.

By chance, sitting at one of the tables was taichibum, whom I haven’t seen for a year or more. We trained together for a while with teacher Zhang, in the Blade-Runneresque environment of a freezing, condemned warehouse. Shortly after that, I decided to focus exclusively on yiquan for a while, and we lost contact. Taichibum is looking well, I have to say; he’s obviously training hard! It seems that teacher Zhang has migrated to the US, where he hopes to open a school. The group is now training at the Language University (the warehouse having been demolished), and are being led by one of teacher Zhang’s friends, who is a shuijiao expert. Funny how things turn…. Anyway, taichibum and I will hopefully catch up again, though the academic year is coming to a close and both of us will be travelling over the summer.

Anyhow, I mentioned recently that I’d been picking up the bagua again. Not strictly accurate, that, but I have joined a bagua school: Small Steps Neijia. They run two tracks of classes – one in qigong, and the other in bagua applications. I’ve been going to the qigong sessions, as I felt I needed that more at the moment. There’s been some attention paid to bagua stepping in this strand as well, which I’ve found valuable as we worked on the issue of raising the heel that I’d encountered with Kong Cheng.

The bagua tradition is in the line of Liu Feng Chun, and – as I understand it so far – is influenced by xingyi. It’s also, if I understand correctly, fairly ‘minimalist’, without the longer and more complicated forms of other lineages.

There are informal classes on the weekend as well, in a different Beijing park each week. I’ve only made one, having had other things to do, but the applications and pad work are a part of these classes as well.

The students are a mix of Chinese and foreigners (majority foreign), and of male and female (majority female). Most don’t have a deep background in martial arts. At least one is also a student of Zhang Sheng Li’s Milun School, which was my first bagua school back in 2004, and later during my time at Tsinghua. As an aside, it seems that Zhang is no longer teaching so much; that’s being done by his senior disciple, while Zhang himself is more involved in getting a Buddhist Temple built….

Anyhow, back to Small Steps; I really like it. It’s very friendly, and there’s kind of a family atmosphere that I find valuable. Apart from the qigong and the bagua, the teacher, Liu Xuyang, is also a tui na practitioner, which is a field I want to learn more about. So, it’s very definitely right for me at this stage.

Also: a little bird tells me that, in the wake of the Yip Man movies, filming has started on a movie about the life of Dong Hai Chuan! I can’t say more about it, but the little I’ve been told makes it sound intriguing; I’m looking forward to this one…