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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….

The ol’ y ‘n’ y…

2

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….

Systema changes


I’ve made it to two systema classes in the last month. In the first, there were three of us there, and we worked mostly on ground techniques. In the second, I was the only student there; Mark took me through some groundwork, but we finished early. Mark works as a doorman in Swansea, and the preceding Saturday evening had, by all accounts, been a bit of a warzone; Wales had beaten England in the rugby, and the town boys were running wild. Marl had been caught up in it all, and he was feeling a bit weary….

In fact, he announced the next day via Facebook that he won’t be running the Cardiff classes any more. It costs him a lot of money to drive up from the west of Wales where he lives, and if there are only a few students then he actually loses money. It’s a big pity, but I can’t blame him at all.

So… Fortunately, there’s another systema class in the same location but on Thursday evenings rather than Mondays. These are run by Jeff Faris, whom I’ve met at one of Mark’s classes. It should be interesting; whereas Mark is very much of the Ryabko, and more particularly Vasiliev, school, Jeff has apparently trained with a number of systema people from different backgrounds.

Love the hit

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So, just back from my second systema class, and in a thoughtful mood. Rather a frustrating experience, this one; through neglecting my zhan zhuang over the last few months, I’ve stiffened up a heck of a lot. We did a fair bit of light sparring tonight, and I was totally out of my depth. It’s OK, in a way. For one thing, as I’ve said frequently before, the training I’ve done in martial arts has never really been about the fighting. For another, I’ve learned a few things even so, but when you’re starting classes in a new style, you want to approach it de novo, with an open mind, rather than just breezing around with what you’ve learned elsewhere. So, there was an element to the sparring where I was holding myself back, trying not to apply yiquan or taiji techniques, and try to think about what a systema response would be. Nevertheless… just not at ease in the systema way of doing things yet. Hey ho, there’s only one way to get better, and that’s to practice.

Likewise with the hits… Boy, am I not used to taking punches, especially the deep, organ-level ones – the ones that you see Mikhail Ryabko demonstrating on YouTube… Ouch… Definitely, as I trained with the others – a bigger group this week – I found myself anticipating the shock, and tensing up. Something to work on…. The title comes from something Mark said during one of the exercises – to focus on the energy of exchanging punches with your partner, and to not worry about getting hit – indeed to love the hit, because when you get hit, you know you’re alive, you’ve learned something… Wise words, but not always easy to live up to!

One of the others in the group tonight is an instructor in his own right; he’ll be running Thursday night sessions, which I might try to get to from time to time.

Oh, and the chap who runs the gym knows Chris Crudelli, and thinks he might be able to get him to Cardiff for a seminar…

Arts and crafts

1

Recently, I’ve been putting my tui na skills to use, treating a relative for sciatica and chronic lumbago. Of course, after only a couple of sessions it’s too soon to see lasting results. Even so, when someone who enters the room bent double in pain, holding on to chairs and tables for support, walks away upright with only a bit of a limp… well, then I really feel I’ve achieved something.

And boy, do I also feel that I’ve been working… It’s physical work, this tui na, and I soon find the perspiration running freely. I’m too stiff as I work; I do need to get into the practice of taiji and qigong again, as I’m using the muscles of my arm too much. Sometimes I get it right, though, and I transfer pressure to the patient without effort, using body weight and core energy.

This comes on top of reading Matthew Crawford’s book, The Case for Working With Your Hands, which I bought a couple of weeks ago. I find it hard to disagree with his thesis that there’s a satisfaction to be gained from using craft skills that is increasingly hard to obtain from the white-collar conceptual mind-work that I was always encouraged to pursue. Certainly, a lot of my work in the higher education sector no longer has the status it once had. Increasingly, the basic teaching of core concepts can frankly be done just as well, or even better, online; the offshoring and/or virtualisation of education provision over the internet can achieve results just as well as a lecture to 350 students. There is another side to education; the widening of horizons, the cultivation of human potential, the development of self-confidence. That’s the aspect that attracted me into the field, not being or wishing to be, a research academic. It’s getting harder and harder to do that though; the changing nature of the industry is bringing bigger and bigger classes, where it’s hard to make individual connections, while fewer and fewer students seem to want anything more than an easy path to a qualification that will help their career. I’m seeing complaints now that it’s unfair to expect the whole curriculum to be revised before exams, or to give them case studies without accompanying answers. Certainly, there isn’t the satisfaction to be had equivalent to taking someone’s pain away because you gave them treatment based on skills you’ve learned the hard way.

I was given a copy of 9000 Needles for Christmas, and I’ve watched it a couple of times now. In brief, it’s a documentary about an American body builder who is paralysed after a stroke. When his insurance runs out, he’s packed off home; his family decide to take him to China, after learning about an acupuncture treatment specifically designed for stroke victims. The documentary was made by the patient’s brother, who naturally enough doesn’t know anything about acupuncture; as a result, it’s a little frustrating that we never learn anything about the principles of the treatment itself. It’s fascinating, though, to see the huge improvements in his condition over a short period of time; it’s also very interesting to see the inner workings of a Chinese TCM hospital (the same one, as I’ve mentioned before, that runs a one-year, English-medium, acupuncture diploma course).

I have a few aches and pains of my own at the moment: a big black bruise on my thigh, and a sore hip. Yes, I went to my first systema class for almost a year last week, and had a great time. This was at Celtic Systema, the school run by Mark Winkler, who’s not long back from six months of training with Vladimir Vasiliev. We worked on breathing, ‘old man walking’, some falling and ground work (hence the sore hip: no mats), and breaking tension chains (hence the bruise on my thigh). All good fun: I’m looking forward to the next class. It was a small group, only four students plus Mark. What was interesting was that Mark and one of the other students speak Welsh, so the three of us spent a lot of the class yn siarad Cymraeg – truly, Celtic Systema!

On the old New Year’s Eve (ie, following the Julian calendar), I went out with the local Mari Lwyd, and not for the first time by any means. It was filmed, so here’s what I mean:

I arrived shortly after this, so I don’t appear in the clip. It’s important to keep traditions alive – and truly alive. It’s a danger that they lose their vitality, become relics that are paraded around reverently, no longer inhabiting their true role in our psyche. The thing is, the Mari Lwyd, traditionally, is a force of chaos, an element of Saturnalia when all roles are turned upside down. Read the folklore, and the Mari runs around, chasing women and making children scream in delighted terror, respecting nobody. Know this, and that mare’s skull is full of a potent personality, waiting for the right bearer through whom it can come alive. Keith Johnstone, in his book Impro, has a lot to say about masks and trance, and the ability of a mask to ‘possess’ its wearer (I’ve put my copy somewhere I can’t find it, else I would quote). Anyway, what I’ve getting to is that I wore the Mari to the next pub we visited and, as someone said to me with a raised eyebrow the next day, I was “in character”. Someone else told me that they laughed until they cried, and the manager gave me a free pint, that’s all I can say…

Right now, I’m working through Bella Merlin’s Stanislavsky Toolkit; there’s an awful lot in there about breathing and movement that can very easily be related to systema, a link I’ve made before…

As they say: never a dull moment…

The virtues of a long memory

1

Well, things have been a bit intense lately; lots happening at work. We’ve also had a month of absolutely horrible weather, with unseasonable cold, strong winds that have seen off a lot of my recently-planted veg and flowers. Combine the two, and I’ve been very slack in my practice again. Thankfully, we’ve got some sunny weather again, and my spirits are rising: time to get out there and at it, there’s no time to waste now.

I should say something about what’s been going on in various spheres….

  • Taiji and bagua with Eli Montaigue: I put this temporarily on hold as I moved home, and ‘temporarily’ stretched to the point where the group would be so far ahead of me on the form that it wouldn’t be worth re-joining the class at this point. He does Thursday-night ‘application’ classes’ and that might be worth thinking about, but July is going to be frantic, so I’ll leave any decisions until August.
  • Systema: I was really enjoying the classes but, now that
    I’ve moved, they are too far away. The founder of the Celtic Systema school, Mark Winkler, is still in Canada, where he’s training for six months with Vladimir Vasiliev. He’ll be back at the end of August, and will be starting a new group in Swansea, where I work. I’ll leave the systema on hold until then.
  • Capoeira: Some of you will have seen on Twitter and
    Facebook that I’ve been attending capoeira classes. I’d realized that due to stress etc I’ve put on a lot of weight again; plus, for all the virtues of my hometown, it can be difficult to develop a busy social life. So, I thought I’d give capoeira a try again: very aerobic, plus lots of interesting people. It turned out to be true in both fields πŸ˜€ However.. I ran into the same things that caused me problems when I tried capoeira before: the principles of capoeira are competely alien to the principles of neijia, for one. That, I could probably adapt to; the other problem is that capoeira isn’t just a dance/martial art, it’s a lifestyle; the hard core expect you to get really into the music, the songs, the culture… and tend to get a bit pissy if you’re not as into all that as they are… In any case, as I say, July is going to be crazy busy, so I’ll defer any decision there, but I suspect capoeira is a non-starter. Pity, because there are some really nice people in that group.

Instead, it’s back to neijia… I’ve bought a wushu spear from Amazon, and have been moving from developing power with the zhan zhuang to testing it out with a xingyi spear form. This has been interesting; I can get the spear to bend more often than not; when I first bought a spear in Singapore, I certainly couldn’t, so there’s definitely been an improvement. I’m enjoying this, as with the spear the application of power is visible, so I know for sure whether or not it’s working.

In Jess O’Brian’s excellent book, Nei Jia Quan, there’s an interview with Tim Cartmell; he argues that there’s no difference between the three styles of taiji, xingyi, and bagua – they are just different ways of expressing the same principles. I’m going to go with that – I know for sure that in Beijing, my taiji improved dramatically after yiquan classes. So, I’m still focussing principally on yiquan, but I’ll be testing out the principles with the other three as well. Who knows, once I’m happy with my xingyi spear form, perhaps I’ll have a go at Sun Zhijun’s bagua spear form that Kim reminded me of recently πŸ™‚

In other areas,I’m getting a real sense of urgency now. Globally, events seem to be accelerating towards a crisis. Greece and the Eurozone are staggering onwards, but the crisis is only temporarily contained. In the US, there’s bickering and posturing while the debt ceiling remains unresolved, natural disasters pile one upon the other, and state governments grind to a halt as their money runs out…

Here in the UK, there are also storm clouds building up. The government’s austerity program is just starting to be felt, and there are the first strikes and protests in response. There are also reports that crimes against property are rising again. The university sector, where I work, is heading for a pummeling as well, and there are rumours of redundancies coming…

So, dunno; I just get the feeling that bad times are going to hit soon; not this year, maybe next, or the one after that…

An anecdote: perhaps ten years ago, my parents and I were walking back home through a patch of parkland that lay between our house and the town centre. It’s unlit; not a problem for us, as we are so familiar with the path we don’t need to see our way. On the way, we met a rather jumpy policeman. Once he’d established that we were respectable citizens, we had a chat. He’d recently been transferred from a nearby large town. He was amazed; he’d been in our town for over a week, and nobody had tried to stab him… There are a lot of pretty deprived communities nearby, and nothing much has changed since then.

I also remember that in the last severe recession there were a lot of burglaries in our street. We didn’t get broken into – largely, I suspect, because we had a dog. I’m going to think a lot about defensive gardening now (don’t laugh!). Mmmm… time to plant sichuan peppers and roses… Spiky but useful…

Anyway, that’s why I refer to memory in the title for this post. I look at my students, and they’ve only ever known economic boom times; this downturn could be very hard on their age group. At least I have some memory of bad times to draw on…

Starting Monday, I’ll be working on qualifying to teach English as a foreign language. It’s a four-week course; very intensive, so expect radio silence here. It’s necessary for my job, but it’s also going to be really useful if things go pear-shaped at the university…

Washing the hair

2

Last week’s Tuesday night class was pretty cool. I started off with a bit of push hands, partnered with one of Eli’s long-term students. That was interesting; I found it hard to get back into the taiji spirit, being far more inclined to use yiquan’s more assertive methods. Got to remember to relax…

That was while we were waiting for Eli to arrive, after which we began the bagua class. We moved on to learn a new palm change; it’s one per week, no hanging about here. Which is not to say that we’re rushing, either, the hour is enough to learn the new move, and to integrate it with what’s gone before. Eli demonstrates a few applications of what we’ve just learned, and shows something of the difference between the form and the real-world usage. I’m getting happier with my stepping, and am finding it useful to visualize the various axes(as in: plural of axis, not hatchets – that would be weird!) around which the body turns during circle-walking. It’s all good…

After that, we go straight into the taiji class. We go through a section of the long form as a group, and then everyone practices the last thing they learned while Eli goes around giving feedback. Again, all good. I definitely note that I’ve got more tense since I moved back to Wales, but now that I’ve started practicing zhan zhuang again I hope that’ll sort itself out. I got a half-hour of that combined with vipassana fitted in instead of lunch this afternoon, and felt much better afterwards.

The following night, I made it again to systema class. That was a great session. The bulk of it was spent in two groups, with one group ‘assaulting’ the other with light slaps and punches to the face and head. To begin with, the people being attacked simply had to protect themselves by keeping their elbows up and their hands sliding around their scalp in a ‘washing the hair’ movement. Later, we moved on to moving around so as not to retreat, and then finally counter-attacking with elbows and kicks. We finished up with a pair exercise, holding each other’s right forearm, and trying to use our feet and legs, sensing where your partner’s weight was so as to uproot him. It was all rather cool; certainly the experience of facing someone wading in towards you as you take hits to the head (even if the force is pulled) is a very valuable exercise in maintaining calmness under pressure…

Unfortunately, the workshop I mentioned was yesterday, not next Sunday as I’d thought. I had a family commitment that took precedence, so I didn’t get to meet Mark; next chance will be in six months, after he gets back from Canada!

Good. I’m enjoying this mix. I’ve had to stop the kettlebell exercise temporarily since I’m not getting back from work until late, but hopefully I should be able to start again soon… Next target then will be to start the shanxi whipstaff again…

More on ‘end-of-the world’ planning; the economic news doesn’t look so good, so I continue to research ‘useful’ skills for when the world starts getting less flat… I should be going on my deferred blacksmithing course next month, and I’m looking into picking up tui na training in the UK. I’m not sure if I will be able to get the time off, but this anatomy and physiology class – a prerequisite for basic tuina training – looks like a possibility… Maria Mercati seems to be pretty well-known…

On moral and martial virtue

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Right then, back to the nominal topics of this blog.

It’s Monday night and I have a long list of things that I should be doing, but frankly I’m too tired. For the first time in ages, instead, I sat for a session of vipassana: not too successfully, I fear – the monkey mind is very strong at the moment! Never mind, keep going…

This weekend there was a change in the air; everyone could taste the Spring coming. Last Thursday morning, I left for work before dawn; before getting into the car, I took a moment to stand silent, listening to the birdsong build up. The air was very still and full of qi; it made me clap my hands and shout HA for the joy of breathing. As I had a bit of a time margin before I needed to be in the office, I stopped the car as I drove over the moorland towards the city limits, and parked on the side of the road. I’ve often meant to do this, but never actually did it. On this occasion, there was a heavy mist, fragrant with the smell of brine from the nearby sea. In the pre-dawn gloom there was nothing of the views that are there on clear days, but the sense of stillness and space was calming. Soon, it’ll be the end of winter; time for me to buy some hill-walking boots!

Since I last blogged about martial arts, Earle Montaigue has passed on. I gave my condolences to Eli, but of course I don’t know him well, and I never had the chance to meet Earle. I’m saddened by that. I suppose the best anecdote I can give is that I bought a copy of his dim mak book in Singapore. When I moved to Beijing, I lent it to a Shaolin-trained martial artist who was studying dian xue of the Yang taiji style; his comment was that “it wasn’t the real thing”… but he never gave it back, despite being asked!

The last couple of weeks have been super-busy at work, combined with more than a little insomnia. I’ve made it to Eli’s classes; bagua followed by taiji. I’m really getting into this. It’s great to study the two together, which is something I’ve never done before, and I’m really getting my bagua vibe back! Plus it is just great to finally have an English-speaking teacher. I’m getting very excited about neijia again πŸ™‚

On the other hand, I’ve missed the last two systema classes; I’ve been too tired, and basically didn’t trust myself to drive there and back without falling asleep at the wheel (oh, and I needed to work late at the office…). I should be able to make it this week though. There’s also an all-day seminar coming up at the end of this month; I plan to go to that, so I’ll finally get to meet Mark in person!

As for the title of this post… Having had a great time in the last class with Eli, I asked him whether he’d ever seen wulin zhi. It turns out that he hasn’t, so I’ll lend him my copy when I go tomorrow. That has motivated me to watch it again myself; it’s playing as I type (the famous scene with the pole circle is on right now!). As always, I love it – and yet, I feel saddened.

Those of you who know me IRL know why I left Asia, and I still think I did the right thing. And yet… and yet… I keep on being reminded why I originally quit Wales, and why I didn’t think I would return – until suddenly I had to. Hardly anyone has asked me what my life was like in Singapore and China; what I valued, and what I did with my time, or who I knew and why I valued them. It seems to be assumed that it was just a phase, and now I’ve returned to ‘normal’ life.

Not so, though. As I sit here watching wulin zhi, I’m reminded of how much I have internalized the values of wu de. To quote from that link, wu de stands for:

  • Ren: benvolence and mutual love
  • Yi: righteousness, justice, judging with the heart, having friendly feelings
  • Li: respect, rules of conduct, politeness
  • Zhi: knowledge, reason, education and learing
  • Xin: trust, sincerity and openness, to truly believe in something, and also to keep one’s promises, be stable and engaged in things
  • Yong: courage and braveness

I think of some of my teachers, especially of the older generation: Yao Cheng Rong, Zhou Yue Wen, Sun Ru Xian… These are men; men to be admired, men to be respected, men to be emulated. It’s important to me that though I never approached anything like their level, I was at least taken seriously. I find none to match them here; indeed, even today, I found some of the values that they and I hold were mocked by a colleague. Don’t get me wrong; there are other values. In my home town, I more and more feel a part of the community; it’s no small thing to be greeted from all directions by people old and young, from all walks of life, when you walk into a pub. But, and but… when the darkness falls here, Asia calls me.

I won’t be getting on a plane anytime soon, unless it’s for a holiday. Nevertheless, it’s a good thing to be reminded of wu de, and that the values of the jianghu, the values of wulin are more virtuous, and more admirable, than those of the little people I sometimes have to deal with here.

Adding a bit more…

3

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 πŸ™ 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 πŸ™‚

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

2

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.

Groovy.