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A week of internal alchemy

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This is a bit overdue, but pressure of work has stopped me from writing. Anyway, here’s my review of a week spent at an Inner Alchemy retreat with Daoist Master Mantak Chia, at his Tao Garden retreat near Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand.

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Category: Mantak Chia, Qigong

Studying Liang-style baguazhang

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Intermediate-Level-18 Palms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What can I say? I’m delighted with Liang-style bagua. As a system, it’s got everything I’ve been looking for. In fact… twelve years after I arrived in Singapore with a rudimentary knowledge of Cheng Man Ching’s taijiquan, a period in which I’ve always felt that I’ve been searching for something which nothing I studied quite gave me… this is it. This is what I’ve been looking for, the whole time. Wow.

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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  number of signs and portents are suggesting I should take these signs seriously.

 

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Straight up


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Receiving an elbow strike to the bridge of the nose certainly focuses one’s attention, and that’s what happened to me recently.

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China once more


Something odd happened recently during a work trip to Tianjin. I had a few spare periods, and I used them to practice my ZMQ-37 taijiquan form. Like most things that I write about in this blog, it’s been over four years (closer to five, in fact) since I did any work with this, but it came back surprisingly quickly. One set in particular went very well; I entered the flow state, with my mind quite empty of thoughts except for the feeling of my soles in contact with the floor, the movements of my joints and bones, and tendons and ligaments.

Suddenly, the room seemed to fill with the smells of a forest. There was the spicy fragrance of flowers, but also herbal undertones, and the richness of spring vegetation. It was quite inexplicable; I was on the eighth floor of a concrete monstrosity, in the middle of a dusty concrete campus on a very hot and smoggy day. There were NO plants anywhere nearby; the windows were firmly closed, and the aircon was blowing full blast. The experience only lasted for the duration of that set, and it was the only time I smelt anything natural during the two days I worked in that room.

On the other hand, although it’s not something I’ve experienced before, this is the kind of thing that is supposed to indicate a spirit presence. Even to me, that last sentence seems a bit far out but, after I heard the dragons singing in Qingbiankou a few years ago – when I was also in a deep meditative state – it’s an explanation that I’m open to.

Aaah. Yes, I’m back in China. There are different rules here….

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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!


North Wales (Eryri, the ‘place of eagles’) was great. We stayed at the foot of Snowdon next to a lake, the water of which was so clear and still it was like glass. It reflected perfectly the smudgy purple of the heather on the hills around, the mossy greens and slate grey of the terrain… A small stream gushed and gurgled past our window. It was incredibly peaceful. With all the trips we made to Caernarfon, Beddgelert, Llanberis and so on, I didn’t manage to do quite as much practice as I had hoped but nevertheless got up at six to stand in zhan zhuang next to the lake. It was wonderful; I haven’t felt so cleansed and energized for a long time. My companion (as they say in the restaurant reviews) and I are now wondering how we could pursue our respective careers from Snowdonia….

Speaking of careers and suchlike: I’ve just found out about a one-year course in acupuncture, taught in English at the TCM Hospital of Tianjin. I’m very, very tempted, I have to say… The detailed syllabus is available here (PDF).

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There really aren’t that many resources available about Yiquan, at least for non-speakers of Mandarin. I’m basically trying to acquire everything there is, to assist me as I train solo and build on what I studied with Yao Chengrong Lao Shi. So, when I saw that Bruce Frantzis had issued a new DVD set covering Xingyi and Yiquan, my thought processes were along the lines of:

  • I can’t afford it right now
  • Yes, but it’s on offer for a short while
  • I can’t afford it
  • Yes, but it’s Bruce Frantzis, dude!
  • Bruce Frantzis doesn’t know yiquan. Bagua, taiji, and xingyi yes, but he’s never indicated before that he knows yiquan.
  • But you’re trying to learn xingyi anyway, so even if the yiquan material is duff, the xingyi material should be worth it.
  • I can’t afford it, though.
  • Oh, sod it.

So, I put my order in late on Sunday night. The package arrived early Tuesday morning. Good start…. I had some technical problems downloading the free qigong mp3 files, but the customer support team sorted that out promptly and efficiently.

Now, I’m busy, so I haven’t had time to watch the DVDs properly. Instead, I’ve had them playing in a small window floating in the corner of my screen while I get on with doing other things, so I didn’t give them my full attention. Thus, these are only my very general first impressions. So far, I’ve watched all of the yiquan DVDs, and the first xingyi DVD.

The yiquan DVDs were filmed live as BKF delivered a seminar. The camera shots are almost entirely of BKF sitting in a comfy chair. Occasionally, a student is brought in to demonstrate a stance. Each segment begins with a short sequence of BKF demonstrating one of eight zhan zhuang postures, while a voiceover explains the health benefits in terms of qi and the internal organs. A few martial applications are mentioned here and there.

Overall, this covers only 8 basic static zhan zhuang postures from the yiquan syllabus. There’s no discussion of testing force, and no stepping. If you are a complete beginner, wanting to learn zhan zhuang for health, you would be much better off buying Lam Kam Chuen’s books and DVD. If you know some yiquan, and want to explore the martial side of it in more depth, there is nothing here for you. I actually am pretty happy with it; my classes with Yao Lao Shi didn’t include any kind of qigong, and BKF’s background in this adds a lot of value for me. It’s nothing immediately useful, but there are lots of pointers for where further research could be done individually. I have to say, though, much of the delivery is pretty dry and there’s a lot of what seems like filler. I still rather get the impression that BKF has not done much training in yiquan but instead is bringing his background in the other arts and applying them to a crash course in the basic health postures of yiquan. As I said, though, these are my first and imperfect impressions. Verdict: not really what most people would be looking for, but very useful for me.

The bulk of the DVDs, though, are on xingyi. As I said, I’ve only watched the first one so far, but on this limited viewing BKF is much, much better. He’s clearly far more confident in his delivery, and demonstrates far more himself; there are also more shots of the students in the seminar and what they’re doing. I really get the impression that there’s great material to come in the rest of the DVDs. Verdict: wow, cool.

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!


Right, time for a random stream of consciousness post….

A recent post from Another Neijia Blog caught my attention when it popped up in my RSS feeds because it was talking about kettlebells.

Following that link, I wandered on to another, older, post on how to popularize qigong, based on yoga’s success.

Well, qigong comes in many shapes and forms. As I thought about it, my mind was drawn to the Five Animals qigong set that I briefly studied at the China Culture Centre in Beijing. In particular, the deer:

Now, I’ve got to say: this was on my mind because I’d been reminded of it as I watched one of Meyerhold’s biomechanics études on YouTube:

Also, I recently bought a book/DVD aimed at actors, The Vocal Arts Workbook and DVD – which contains a few qigong techniques.

So, I suppose, a way to promote qigong to a wider market would be to focus on actors and the media – many of whom, of course, are trendsetters. The focus would be on ‘breath’, ‘voice’ and ‘flow’…

…much of which sounds like systema, of course….