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…
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!
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).
Well, I’ve just finished my intensive, 4-week CELTA course. When you apply for a place, you are warned that it’s intense; I was told that it would be best if I had someone else to do my cooking and washing for me, and that I could expect to routinely work into the small hours on assignments. As it happens, I don’t have anyone to do my housework for me, and I have commitments that sharply limit the hours I could commit… so it was a very hard slog indeed! I was routinely falling asleep at the keyboard, and basically only just scraped through. Still, a pass is a pass, and the qualification should be very useful indeed. I have plans… I also met a rather special woman…
So, where am I at? I managed to get a few training sessions in with the spear. I’ve now got that xingyi spear set down, on a broad-brush level. I need to spend a bit of time now working on the fine detail, to make sure I’ve got that right. After that, I’ll move on to a bagua spear set. The Sun Zhi Jun spear form that I’ve been discussing with Kim here is pretty complex; the more I work with the spear, the more I realize how tricky that set is. So, I think that as an intermediate step I’ll work on this form:
I’m still really enjoying working with the spear; it’s been a revelation to me. So much so, I had to acquire a Hanwei Yari. Apparently there’s been a fire at the Hanwei factory and all their inventory was lost, so all of the UK retailers are out of stock, and I had to get it from Kult of Athena (who were great, by the way: HIGHLY recommended). It took a while but it’s arrived, and I’m really pleased with it. It’s not as flexible as a waxwood Chinese spear, but hey… On that note, two more clips:
Jet Li vs Donnie Yen in Hero:
Yari vs Chinese spear:
My zhan zhuang went completely out of the window during the last month; I was far too tired and pushed for time. I’ve started again as of today and will be very regular, if only because I have to complete a 6-week diary of twice-daily meditation sessions. This is part of the ongoing requirements I need to fulfill in order to obtain the qualification as a teacher of meditation; you may recall that I went to Brighton in early June for the initial weekend training. At that time, I hadn’t even thought of doing the CELTA course, which was very much a last minute decision… Anyhow, the plan is, zhan zhuang standing meditation in the morning, sitting meditation in the evening. I also have to do two book reviews, which I’ll probably post here as well. That’ll take me to mid-September, at which point I’ll be off to Switzerland to visit the aforementioned young lady… After that, in October, I plan to start that course in tui na – weekends in London for so months or so…
These are some ideas that have been buzzing through my mind recently… To be changed/developed/abandoned as appropriate… Feedback welcome!
Element 1: meditation Meditation to calm and clear the mind is a fundamental first step. Body scanning to build awareness of physical sensations. Mindfulness. Element 2: zhan zhuangBuild body awareness, correct posture and alignment. Strength and endurance. Addressing health issues and old energies. Element 3: Voice training, public speaking, acting techniques. Better to avoid a fight through persuasion, psychology, use of correct tone. Defuse, rather than fight or flight. Six healing sounds. Leading eventually to use of kiai. Element 4: shi li and stepping Increased body awareness. Mind-body unity in movement. Element 5: tui na for everyday health issues Basic treatments for self and others. Element 6: tui shou Element 7: san shou
There are other things that could be included, but that’s a rough idea. Any comments? Does this sound like anything that’s already being used but I don’t know about?
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.
Well, the trees have arrived, and have been planted in my parents’ garden: apple, plum, pear and cherry in one row, with a hazel tree starting a second row – which will probably be finished with a couple more apple trees, though that’s yet to be decided. I’ve got a row of potatoes dug, with a couple more to be done this weekend. Plus, I have packets of seeds to be started off: chili, four varieties of tomato, basil, and mushroom spores to be set in manure…
All very therapeutic, especially since spring is definitely here at long, long last and the weather has been wonderful lately. I can’t tell you how much it lifts my spirits to be going to work in sunlight, and coming home in sunlight too. Fantastic!
That aside, there have been some tough weeks lately. When I arrived at my new office, I was told “Welcome to the graveyard of ambition” and, in retrospect, I might have paid a bit more attention to that… Still, the change in season got me energized again and got me thinking… As someone said, if your environment stresses you, change your environment; if you can’t change your environment, change yourself. (I can’t remember who said that. Perhaps it was me). So, I’ll be leaving the fishing village in a few weeks; it’s very pretty but I’m not really getting to know anyone there. I’m moving back to my hometown, to a smaller place but at least I have a strong network there. I’ve started making changes at work too, so that should be less stressful.
When I was starting to sort my books for packing, though, I came across Bruce Frantzis’ classic book on the internal martial arts, and realized it was years since I last read it – and I’ve come a long way since then, so I took it to the pub to have a re-read. As I was looking at the section on the overlap between meditation and the internal martial arts, a lightbulb went on, and a big train of thought kicked off, the results of which are:
I remembered how much I enjoyed the tui na course I took in Beijing. I wanted to take it further then, but events intervened. However, having looked around, I’ve realised that there is an accredited course available in London that I could do on weekends that would qualify me to practice tui na in the UK with professional insurance. The next course begins in April; I was close to enrolling on that, but eventually decided that it was too soon, especially with the house-move still to come. Another entry point would be in October, running till January, which would be much more practical. It would also give me time to review all my videos, notes and books from the Beijing course.
Starting in October would also be a good idea, as it would allow me to take the anatomy & physiology course that I linked to in a previous post; it would make the tui na course far more rewarding if I started it with a good grounding in the physical structure of the body.
I mentioned how I have been attending meditation sessions at work, and had managed one session when the instructor was away. That got me looking for courses, and I’ve found a course in leading meditation sessions. Again, it’s accredited, so would allow me to get insurance and run classes professionally. I had a long chat on the phone last night with the trainer, and it looks like that would happen in June. It kicks off with a weekend course, followed by 6 weeks of home-based work.
This wouldn’t be cheap, but it is all certainly affordable for me, and is reasonable given the outcomes. If, by the time next spring comes around, I was able to run meditation sessions and tui na treatments, that would be a good thing to be able to do….
The week after reading Bruce Frantzis’ book, I was in a different pub – this one in my hometown, ie where I will soon be living again. I’d taken my copy of Sarah Pritchard’s tui na book to read through, and was reading through it slowly, when two girls sat down at the next table. I say girls, they were women, likely in their late 20s, early 30s maybe? Anyway, I could see them taking an interest, and eventually one came over and demanded to to know what it was all about. I explained, at which point she demanded a neck and shoulder massage. I pointed out that I wasn’t qualified, but to no avail – she pulled over a chair and sat down. What could I do, but obey? So, a neck and shoulder massage she got, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The other woman is a nurse, and was interested too. By the way, it says a lot about my local pub that although it was really busy, no-one batted an eyelid or even remarked at a massage being given in the middle of the room I saw the nurse the following week and apparently her friend had felt much more relaxed the next day. I mention this because it was quite serendipitous, and showed me that should I get a qualification there is actually a market for the skills…
Martial arts: what with one thing and another I’ve haven’t been to classes for a couple of weeks. However, I’ve noticed lately that my back and shoulders have been getting stiffer, and realized that it’s probably because I haven’t been doing any zhan zhuang. Once I started again, and stepped up my practice, all my aches and pains went away, and I even got out of breath less on steep hills. So, I’m really making an effort again with the yiquan. After all, as I’ve often said before, yiquan rocks! I’m hoping I’ll be able to get back to Beijing again this year if money allows, in order to train again with Master Yao; that would be nice…. I’m also making slow progress, in fits and starts, with the shanxi whipstaff, which is a nice form.
Spring, yeah! It feels good to have a plan. Meditation, yiquan and tui na make a nice triad, and one where I’ve already got a good base. Acting, Cossack dance, and systema are another interesting triad; I’ll need more time to develop these…
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…
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…