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Smiles, styles, secrets, friends.

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A new semester has started, and I’m far happier at work now than I was during the previous six months; I’m noticing that as a result, I’m much more motivated to get off my backside and do stuff… including martial arts.

My friend H. came along to the yiquan class yesterday. She has a background in Northern Preying Mantis, and (after I suggested it to her) she attended Master Yao Chengguang’s academy for a month last summer before going back to the UK for 9 months. Now that she’s back she wanted to check out my school: partly because I’m there and it’s good to train with friends, but more because Master Yao Chenrong’s Academy is rather more female-friendly, and there are a number of women training there. She really enjoyed the class, and will be attending every Saturday, which will be nice.

We were comparing plans for the coming semester (she teaches English) and we both have a scary number of objectives. In fact, we both want to do more than is realistic! So, some pruning is needed…

I have to say that the chance conversation I had with Carlos last year has had a profound impact on my interest in martial arts…. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have started yiquan… which would have been a great shame! As I’ve mentioned before, I’m getting fantastic results and insights from the yiquan I’ve studied with Master Yao Chengrong, and this weekend has kind of led me to a decision. Since I came back from Wales, every yiquan class has been really fruitful; I’ve had great insights into posture, breathing, power and movement – and let’s face it, that’s no small potatoes! I can’t see that I have any other choice but to focus on yiquan as my main style, now. That means I’ll be doing very little baguazhang, except some maintenance on some of the styles I’ve learned to date. Here’s an example of the yiquan training methods:

This means the fulfilment of a prophecy… Last summer, before I started at Yao Chengguang’s wuguan, I met up with a Chinese friend of mine, who trained at Shaolin for 20 years, and now runs a martial arts school in Beijing. He said firstly that I should train with Yao Chengrong and not Yao Chengguang, and secondly that if I started yiquan I would give up bagua. At the time, I didn’t believe either would happen. Well… I wouldn’t say that I’m giving up bagua… I’ll go back to it in a while. I don’t think I’ll be attending the Liang-style school for some time though (in any case, I hear that it’s moved again – the old warehouse space is due to be demolished, so apparently they’re on a university campus now, according to taichibum).

The yiquan is also making me think far more about the use of the body than most previous schools or classes have done. As an example, Master Yao pointed out the other day that my right kua tends to collapse in, taking the knee inwards with it. Once I started paying attention to this, it completely changed my posture, and even the way I walk. How come nobody every noticed this – or at least, drew it to my attention – before now? I’m beginning to relax my back a lot more, which is having a big impact on the stiffness in my left shoulder and lower back – which, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know is a big deal!. As I loosen up, I’ve become more and more interested in systema.

I’ve been bowled over my the generosity of a reader (who wishes to remain anonymous), who gifted me 14 DVDs and 2 books on systema. I am really grateful, mate – you know who you are! I’ve been watching the DVDs a LOT since they arrived, and there’s a lot in systema that I recognize from bagua and yiquan. More than that, though, there’s something about systema when I see it performed by Vladimir Vasiliev that looks absolutely right, as if this is the way I’ve always thought that a martial art should be done. It’s something about the softness, stillness, and fluidity of it… particularly against multiple opponents…

The way that Systema is described by the author of Let Every Breath, Scott Meredith also seems that it fits perfectly with the goal I’ve been searching for for the last few years: an effective martial art that is thoroughly integrated with meditative and spiritual aspects (although Systema specifically claims a connection with Russian Orthodox Christianity, there’s nothing I’ve seen or read that’s incompatible with my Buddhism). So even though I’ll just be self-teaching from DVDs around the yiquan, you should probably expect to hear a lot more about Systema in the future. When I spoke to taichibum, it turned out that he’s trained a bit in systema before, so now that the spring is on the verge of arriving in Beijing (touch wood!) I may suggest an occasional get-together with him to work on it… The gf’s return from Siberia has also focussed my attention on my need to lose a few kilos so who knows, perhaps I’ll take up cossack dancing for an aerobic exercise 😉 Seriously, though, I think that yiquan and systema are extremely compatible…

While I’m on this note, I’ve also been invited to take part in another martial arts project – but, for the moment, I’ve been asked not to talk about it 😀 It’s unlike anything I’ve done before, and should be pretty interesting… Once I can, I’ll let you know more, but it won’t be soon…

Back in harness

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I may have had to admit, rather shamefaced, to Carlos and Yiming that I’m not doing much independent practice at the moment, but I have started going to yiquan classes again – yesterday and today.

I think that after watching a lot of systema recently, something has clicked. In these two classes I’ve found that I’m getting my shoulders and hips relaxing and moving in unison, which I had problems with before; plus, I’m finding much improvement in the way I add my body weight into movements. Speaking of which, a friend was asking about this stuff on Friday night, and I managed to use a one-inch punch to knock him off his feet (onto a sofa, I hasten to add). It’s really not so hard, is it? I wonder why people make such a fuss about it? (Joking!)

The class has been quite big this weekend; I think there must have been about a dozen yesterday, and seven or eight today. Master Yao actually called me on my handphone last weekend, just after I flew back in from Wales, to check when I would be coming in to class – he keeps contact with his students, it seems.

The atmosphere is very relaxed; he was chatting away with the Chinese students as we all went through our shi li exercises, mostly about different kung fu styles and masters, I think.

It’s probably something for a different blog post, but I was amazed at the amount of traffic that was generated by my last post! Right here, though, I should say that I’m really pleased with the training I’m getting at this school, Master Yao Chengrong’s Beijing Zhong Yi Wuguan.

As many readers will know, I first got a taste for yiquan at his brother’s school. You’ll find the posts elsewhere on the blog, but the reason I (and others) knew about it was largely because of Tabbycat’s blogging. Tabby responded to my last post with a blog post of his own, giving his own thoughts. I can’t compare the teaching of the brothers; I didn’t see much of Master Yao Chengguang and was taught by his main student. All I can say is that at my current school, the training has a lot of explanation of practical usage, and (in the week evening classes, rather than the weekend afternoon classes I attend), regular sparring. The training hall is well-lit and reasonably large, there’s no smoking, and there are a fair number of female students… Perhaps Tabby would like to give it a go next time he’s in Beijing 😉

Tough times for wuguan

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I was in a bar down Nanluoguo Xiang last night, catching up with my friend H, who’s back in Beijing after being away for nine months. When she had to pop to the bathroom, I idly picked up a copy of Beijing Today that was lying around. It’s edition 402, dated Feb 13 2009. There was a full-page article inside with the title “Hard days for wushu schools”, which featured Yiquan Master Yao Chengguang rather prominently. The article, by Jackie Zhang, isn’t online, and I don’t want to type the whole thing, but there are some interesting points.

Talking about his wuguan (where I studied briefly last year), the article says:

Since the wuguan was established 15 years ago the number of students has remained at around 40. With each course costing 300 to 400 yuan, the money the school makes is barely enough to keep going. “We have to rent houses and employ coaches. Some students are from places outside Beijing and we have to provide them accommodation and food,” Yao said.

To make more money, Yao created yiquan instructional manuals in print and video. “The financial situation is now better; we only have to worry about next month,” Yao said, adding that wuguan who are doing well can be described the same way.

In the past, wuguan flourished because owners also ran other businesses at the same time. “They ran businesses that took advantage of their wushu skills. […] But that business model cannot work any more. “I’m busy with the daily affairs of the wuguan” Yao said.

The article continues to say that many wuguan used to receive sponsorship from businesses whose owners are wushu enthusiasts, but that this is drying up as businessmen seek clearer financial returns for their money, as well as the global economic downturn affecting them.

Master Yao is quoted as saying that most wuguan were forced to close or go underground during the Cultural Revolution.

China’s economic reforms that began in 1978 gave wuguan new life. “Wuguan started opening again, but years of lying dormant made it difficult to repopularize the martial arts”, Yao said.

Wuguan are regarded as folk organizations, so they do not get support even from wushu associations

“Wuguan are not our business, a woman surnamed Lian from the Beijing Wushu Association said. She said the role of the association is to sponsor meetings of directors of each of their 57 wushu research organizations and to disseminate information about wushu competitions and policies”.

The article goes on to discuss the difficulty of motivating Chinese students to take up wushu; they are offered taekwondo in school, and those who try Chinese wushu often give up when they discover that it takes hard work, and that they won’t acquire movie-style super fighting skills. Finally the article mentions that wuguan see hope in attracting more foreign students; it talks about Master Yao’s Polish disciple Andrzej Kalisz (although not by name), and the spread of Yiquan wuguan to other countries.

The article ends with a quote from Xiao Bing, vice-chairman of the Foshan Wushu Association:

There is potential for the renewal of Chinese martial arts. Every little attempt brings hope for the future”.

Update
This reminds me of my recent post about the decline of Chinese martial arts in Singapore for much the same reasons. Very sad.

The Yiquan Academy: Review

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Right, this is coming quite a bit later than I expected due to unforeseen events; sorry if you’ve been waiting. I’ll try to keep it brief.

I attended classes at the Beijing Institute of Yiquan almost every weekday for three weeks. On most of these days I was there twice, from around 10:30am to 12:00pm, and 5:00pm to about 6:45pm. I studied the equivalent of four modules from their syllabus.

Yiquan

I knew almost nothing about yiquan before I started. I knew that it was derived originally from xingyiquan, with elements incorporated from baguazhang, taijiquan, and western boxing. What attracted me, though, was that it did not have set forms, as almost all other martial arts do, but seemed to develop strength and sensitivity through the use of standing postures. I really wanted to learn more about this because:

  • My research into internal martial arts was increasingly convincing me that if I want to make progress, I need to work hard at standing techniques to develop strength and endurance. Most of my teachers have taught me forms but not standing, and I felt I needed to correct this.
  • My time is very limited. I wondered whether there was a martial art that could combine effective training with effective meditation. It seemed that yiquan’s techniques might be the opportunity to do this.

My conclusion – such as it can be after only three weeks – is that yiquan really is superb. After many individual sessions, I really came out feeling that I had had a fresh insight into posture and physical structure. I am absolutely certain that continued study of yiquan will rapidly undo years of bad posture, relax chronically tight muscles, and overall generate the physical ‘softness’ that’s at the heart of the internal martial arts.

Starting from these crucial foundations, the yiquan curriculum rapidly moves on to work on combat techniques, all of which seem to my unqualified eye to be extremely functional and effective.

As I said in one of my posts: yiquan rocks! I am deeply impressed.

The school environment

The school is in a street very close to Chaoyangmen subway station. It isn’t what I’d expected from the web site; it’s a basement apartment, not a traditional courtyard building. Training in the park only happens on Sundays, although I wasn’t able to attend any of these sessions.

Although based in a modern apartment building, the school is very much as I imagined traditional schools to be. The apartment’s main room is where students train, and there are two rooms connected to it where a number of students live full-time. It’s a completely different environment to the kind of “evening classes in a gym” that most of us westerners (and I include Singaporeans in that!) would usually have experienced. I found it a really cool experience. The more experienced students would sometimes go outside, and train in the street. I was the only foreign student during the period I attended the school. Most of the Chinese students were very friendly, and helped me out if they saw me doing something wrong. A couple spoke English, but most didn’t. The apartment was pretty hot and airless, given that it was summer, but with fans blowing it was quite tolerable.

The teaching experience

As you would expect in a traditional environment, I was – as a new student – taught by the senior student, Li Xin, not by the head of the school. In fact, I didn’t see Master Yao Chengguang very often after the first few days. However, he did keep track of what I was being taught; when he arrived late in the evening session, he would check with Li Xin what I had been taught that day, observe me practising and correct mistakes, and generally kept an eye on my progress. I really respect and like him, and overall found him to be very concerned about his students and his art.

Li Xin doesn’t speak any English, but he was very good at explaining the techniques and demonstrating what he wanted me to do. My limited Mandarin, and the excellent explanations in the supporting books, helped to clarify any issues.

The website gives the hours as Monday to Saturday, 8:30 – 11:30am and 3:30 – 7:30pm; this differs from my experience, where I was told I could attend 10-12 and 5-7 Mon-Fri. I wasn’t able to go on the weekend in any case, so I didn’t ask about these. As it turned out, I rarely attended even these hours fully; even given the shorter hours I spent there, I felt that it was plenty of time!

Given this good quality of instruction, I felt that I learned a lot very quickly. However, there were times when I felt that I was being pushed through the curriculum quicker than I was comfortable with, and that I was not given enough time to work properly on some techniques. This is not something that applies to me: a friend who attended the school on a different occasion said the same thing, and comments I’ve seen online suggest that other people also felt this.

Supporting materials

Master Yao has developed a series of books and DVDs to accompany the syllabus. They’re not cheap by any means, but they are one-off purchases. The books are excellent; they are extremely clear, and helped me understand the purpose of each exercise along with the mental visualisations that I should use. I haven’t had the time to watch the DVDs yet, so I can’t comment on them.

Pricing

The price per module is 600RMB. I finished four modules in three weeks, and would have done more if I hadn’t deliberately slowed the pace down. When you consider that I was there for between three to four hours every day, that’s extremely reasonable for Beijing!

The four English-language books are CAD $75 each, and the set of 8 DVDs is CAD $300. These are Western prices.

I referred to cost quite a bit during my posts, so I need to clarify that this is a personal blog and reflects my personal situation. I try hard to keep it neutral and informative, but nevertheless, I have no obligations to write about what “a typical student” would experience. So, I complained about costs at times because it’s an issue for me, and so I’m going to write about it. However, to be clear, I’m not a typical Western student; I’m earning a local salary, and furthermore, I attended this course during the University holidays, when I have no income whatsoever. Bear that in mind; most foreigners who wish to attend the Academy won’t have such issues.

Overall

Yiquan is superb. I really do hope to carry on with it. I really liked the school environment, I found the teaching and support good, and the people are great. Would I recommend them to other people? Yes, as long as you’re clear what you’re getting into.

As I’ve mentioned, the school seems to me to run on very traditional lines. That’s great, but it can be very different to what many wushu students from overseas may be used to, which might lead to some misunderstanding over expectations. Also, if, like me, you don’t speak much Mandarin, you may find that there are communication problems (such as when I arrived to find the doors locked and no-one there).

As for the pace of the lessons, there are two points of view being expressed here. The way the school works is to take you through the material very fast. Andrzej explained this in a comment: the intention is to help the student get the overall idea of how the different element – health and combat – relate to each other. The material is then repeated several times, in increasing depth. This works, I think, very well – as long as the student has committed to yiquan, and is intending to spend a long time learning in-depth. However, for people in my situation (and my friend’s, and – I suspect – some of the others whose comments I’ve read online) we’re not there yet; we aren’t really sure about yiquan, we want to learn more, and we want to be sure we understand what we’re shown before we move on. When we’re pushed through faster, we remain unconvinced that this is really what we want, and we feel rushed, that’s the truth. Pointing this out isn’t a criticism of anyone; I’m just, again, highlighting an issue arising from different expectations. I’m lucky that Andrzej has been reading my blog, and has taken the time to explain where the school is coming from; I think other people who haven’t been so lucky may have left feeling a bit less satisfied.

Finally:

  1. I began the three weeks knowing almost nothing about yiquan. I am now highly impressed, and had more than a few major insights while I was learning some yiquan techniques. It’s very, very good.
  2. I really enjoyed my time there. The atmosphere was friendly and supportive, the teaching was good, and Master Yao is knowledagble and very committed to his school and students.
  3. Was everything perfect, from my point of view? No. Mostly, these are due to my personal situation, and shouldn’t be of concern to most readers. Some issues are due to differences in expectations, and the Academy could make some changes to their marketing, but the quality of the art, the teaching, and the Academy are not issues here, and are all very high.
  4. Would I recommend the Academy to readers who are curious about yiquan? Absolutely, yes.
  5. Will I be carrying on with yiquan at the Academy? This is more tricky, due to personal factors. I do want to carry on learning yiquan. The Zongxun Academy is not convenient to get to, for me. Even after I move into Old Beijing later this month, by the time I’ve commuted back down from where I work, I’ll still be on the other side of the city. In fact, by coincidence, the other Yao brother, Yao Chengrong, has his school a few minutes’ walk away from my apartment, and it makes far more sense for me to try that. We’ll see. That’s just a practical matter, though: I would happily recommend Yao Chengguang to anybody.

OK, this has taken me a long time to write; I lost a draft and had to start again, so there’s perhaps lots more I could have written, but this is enough. Feel free to ask questions or respond in the comments!

More reflections on yesterday


I was exhausted when I got back home, so my last post was rather brief!

I was late leaving for class; I’d got up early to find the rain made the early-morning class with Sun Lao Shi impossible, so blogged and then faffed around instead. I left the university at about the right time… and then didn’t, because the back tyre of my bicycle had gone flat overnight. That means a puncture, and I haven’t got the tools to get the wheel off. There’s a guy who does bicycle repairs in the building next to mine, but he wasn’t there that early. I hung around for a while, but he didn’t show, so in the end I had to take the bus to Wudaokou.

On the subway round about Dongzhimen I was sitting next to an attractive young lady. We both stood up to give our seats to a man with a small child, and that got us talking. She spoke no English, so it wasn’t much of a conversation, though. She’s from Henan, and works for a German company, I got that much. She got off at Chaoyangmen as well, and went the same way as me for a short while; she had a map downloaded off the web and was looking for something, though I didn’t quite understand what. Anyway, we exchanged cards, and when I got online yesterday afternoon I checked out her company’s website – it seems she works for a state-owned counter-surveillance company! Wow. A bit of Googling shows that there’s been foreign investment in it, which is probably where the German bit comes in. I really should talk to random people on the subway more often!

At the Academy, I spent the morning working on downward hook punches; first static, and then stepping. Hard work, for me! The Japanese student arrived mid-morning with the other guy, the one with the gravelly voice; this one never trains. Instead he just sits, smokes cigarettes, and chats. He seems pretty tough, though, and I really get the impression that he’s a minder of some sort for the first guy as they seem to go everywhere together! It makes we wonder who the Japanese student is… I asked Li Xin, but he only said that the Japanese guy’s a fairly long-term student, who’s been training with Master Yao for about 3 years. They were filming again, so Li Xin and I moved outside to practice at the end of the street; this is where a lot of the live-in students have been going to practice when the basement gets really hot, I think. There were a few tots being looked after by their grannies; the kiddies were fascinated by the waiguoren puffing and gasping as he boxed, and some of the grannies gamely ventured to throw a few hooks themselves. Ahh, I love Beijing 😀 After I’d done this for an hour or so, we moved on to another fa li exercise, the name of which I forget, a horizontal, slightly rising, chopping move.

Around 12, I figured time was up, so I mentioned to Li Xin I was going to get lunch. He took me back to the Academy because Yao Lao Shi, for some reason, wanted me to be filmed doing a bit of sparring – I’m really not sure why. It didn’t go so well, because I really wasn’t clear what they were asking me to do – it was a kind of back and forth exercise, landing a punch on the opponent’s back hand, freezing, then moving backward so your opponent could land a punch on your back hand, and so on. Heh. I dunno. Anyway, after this Li Xin let me know that we’d come to the end of the fourth module, so the last payment was finished. For me, that seemed to be a good place to stop, with the last three sessions of the week being revision.

I went down to Jianguomen for lunch, and spent the afternoon in Starbucks at the Friendship Store. I was so tired, I almost fell asleep in the window seat. A friend on Twitter informed me that she’d actually done this; apparently, the staff come around and poke you to wake you up! There was another regular customer there, a Chinese woman who always seems to wear the same floral, vaguely cheongsam-styled, dress and a gauzy scarf. Her hair is cut quite short, and she always seems to be in a rush. She carries a big plastic bag, but I’m not sure what’s in it; I always feel torn between wondering whether she’s a creative media type or some sort of street person! Heh, she seems nice, though, and we smile at each other. Guess I’ll not know, since I won’t be back down that way for some time.

I went back to the Academy at 5. Li Xin was taking a new Chinese student through the basics, and really giving him a hard time. I suppose he needs to establish himself as top dog. After about an hour of revision, I decided to head on. By this time Master Yao and the Japanese were back again and doing more filming, and the place was getting crowded, so it seemed like an opportune time.

I have things to do on campus which I wouldn’t be able do till next week if I was going to the Academy today, and they do need to be done, so I decided that I wouldn’t go back today. So, I said my farewells, and thanked Master Yao. He said to just give him a call if I want to go back at any time. I probably will – perhaps in the break after next semester, and maybe on the occasional weekend before that.

So, that was the end of my training at the Yiquan Academy. It feels odd that it’s over, after being immersed in that world for three weeks.

After that it was home, stopping once more for dumplings and beer at Gulou, since that’s also not going to be on my route much from now on.

OK, I’ll write it all up soon, once I’m more rested and I’ve got my chores done.

The Yiquan Academy, day 13


That’s it; all over. I completed my last module this morning, and went to a quick revision this afternoon. That’s the end of it all for now; I’ve said my farewells for the time being.

Heh; sorry, even though the rain prevented this morning’s class with Sun Lao Shi, I was up just after 5am to get ready to go, and I’m dead tired right now. I almost fell asleep in Starbucks this afternoon!

Tomorrow I’m going to rest (read: sleep) and when I’m refreshed will write my review, I hope.

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I’m counting yesterday as day 11, even though I didn’t go….

I was up at 5:30am; yesterday Sun Lao Shi and I agreed to meet a little later today, so I was there at 6:30. We worked on the 8 basic palms and their applications, and then reviewed the first set of the 4 palms in more detail.

After that, we went into the Shanxi whipstaff, and the time just flew by! Before I knew it, it was time to move on. He gave me a spare staff, but in the current pre-Olympics security climate there’s no way I could take it downtown, so I had to cycle back to my university, leave it at home, then cycle back to Wudaokou. I grabbed my usual breakfast at Lush, and then headed down to the Yiquan Academy.

I forgot my copy of the curriculum again, so I can’t tell you then name of what we did; essentially, it was uppercut punches – first of all singly, and then in combinations, all in a static position.

That was all I did until lunchtime, at which point I headed down to Jianguomen, grabbed lunch at Subway, and spent the afternoon in Starbucks at the Friendship Store. It turns out that if you buy Earl Grey you get two-for-one (don’t know if the other teas are the same) which was cool. I finished off Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, which struck a number of chords – I really can identify with the protagonist in many ways! I’d seen it in Singapore but never bought it, which was the right decision – I think I needed to read it now, and not while I was still in Singapore…

When I got back to the Academy at 5, there was another westerner there, an Israeli called something like Gil. I’m not sure how long he’d been there, but he waited until 5:45, and as Master Yao still hadn’t arrived he gave up and left. He’s apparently here as an Olympic volunteer, has studied some yiquan and Shaolin styles before, and found the Academy via its website. I gave him Master Yao’s phone number, so he may be back.

After trying the Shanxi whipstaff in the morning, I was curious about Yiquan’s staff techniques, so I asked if I could do some work on that – so that was what I learned this afternoon. Nothing very exciting, just one static pose, but it did actually give me some insight into posture.

Master Yao arrived with the Japanese student about 6:15, and corrected me a few times. Apparently he’ll be there tomorrow morning.

I was chatting to Carlos last night, and he’d got the impression I’m fed up with the Academy; I can see why my recent posts may have given that idea, but it’s actually not the case! Wait for my final roundup at the end of the week!

“A Spanner in the works”

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That was the phrase I introduced to the Zhongguancun Toastmasters Club this evening, in my role as Wordsmith. It was an interesting evening, as we had a rare joint meeting with the Microsoft Toastmasters. However, as I mentioned in a previous post, I attend Toastmasters every Tuesday evening, which for the last couple of weeks has meant I can’t go to the Yiquan Academy on Tuesday afternoons.

I needed to catch up with my manager today to discuss an idea I’ve had for a prize to be awarded to students next semester, for the best group project. It involves drumming up private sponsorship, so needs a bit of thought and planning. The idea only struck me last night, and it needs to be acted on quickly if we’re going to do it. So…. I called up Master Yao and let him know I couldn’t make it at all today. Tomorrow willI be no problem, though. So no further yiquan news today!

It wasn’t a martial arts-free day, though! I got up shortly after 5am, and met Master Sun Ru Xian not long after 6. We reviewed the eight basic palms and then the first set of the 64 Palms again. After that, a surprise! He started teaching me the Shanxi whipstaff set. Yay! I’m – ahem – not exactly a natural, and rapidly became a menace to passersby, small animals and low-flying aircraft, but I will get better! Ahem, I hope. Poor Sun Lao Shi, I often think he must go home after lessons and bang his head against the wall at having such a retarded student! I’ll keep trying, though. He had a spare staff which he’s giving me. He’s a really generous guy. I think I’ve really fallen on my feet, finding him as a teacher. I do need to work hard to live up to his commitment.

As for that… look back at my post on “the narrowing of the ways”. After five years of searching, I rather think I may have found the right mix of teachers and styles to focus on. More on that in a future post, coming soon!

The Yiquan Academy, day 10

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Decision: I’m curtailing my studies at the Yiquan Academy. I had planned to go through until the end of next week, but I now plan to make this week my last, and I’m not sure whether I’ll make it to the end of the week.

Mostly this has nothing to do with the Academy itself, only that it’s a 90-minute trip from where I live. I had planned to use the afternoons and evenings to prepare for next semester, but I’m finding that with all the travelling, plus the time it takes to find somewhere to eat after the morning and afternoon sessions, I’m not getting much work done. The fact is, my level of wushu ability right now is substantially lower than it was six months ago. The reason is, I didn’t have an opportunity to prepare my classes before the semester began, so I spent almost all of my “free” time frantically preparing lectures -and, consequently, I had no time to practice. If I want to have time to do martial arts seriously once the next semester starts, I need to be prepared. I’m going to dedicate next week to that.

So.

Today I did a bunch of very interesting stuff.

浑元桩(打乱程序摸劲) UNIVERSAL COMBAT POST (SEEKING FORCE WITH CHANGING DIRECTIONS)
浑元桩(六面力同时摸劲) UNIVERSAL COMBAT POST (SEEKING FORCE IN SIX DIRECTIONS SIMULTANEOUSLY)

These were cool. Here’s the beginning of training for full-body power. Woo! Hoo! Good stuff!

After the morning session, I headed down to Ritan Park, and practised bagua for a while. Ritan Park now has peacocks wandering around – when did that happen? Then it was dwon to Scitech, to catch up with a Serbian friend who has a lot to celebrate, and perhaps we will, soon.

Afternoon class (5:30 – 6:45):

丁八步头发力 T-EIGHT STEP EXERTING FORCE WITH HEAD
丁八步肩发力 T-EIGHT STEP EXERTING FORCE WITH SHOULDER
丁八步肘发力 T-EIGHT STEP EXERTING FORCE WITH ELBOW
丁八步掌发力 T-EIGHT STEP EXERTING FORCE WITH PALM
丁八步跨发力 T-EIGHT STEP EXERTING FORCE WITH HIP
丁八步膝发力 T-EIGHT STEP EXERTING FORCE WITH KNEE

Sorry, pardon my language, but OMFG. This is training for fa li, but what really blows me away is that the yiquan curriculum actually has exercises for headbutting. The only teacher who’s ever taught me this before was Zhou Yue Wen, and the way it’s taught here is exactly the way he did it, ie with the side of the head rather than the front (DON’T try this at home, kids!).

Taken all together, today’s lessons totally reinforce my impression that yiquan, and its structured, methodical, approach are superb*. However…

I was taught, as usual, by Li Xin. Didn’t see much of Master Yao till right at the end of the day. I was preparing to leave when they both came over to discuss payment.

When I first went to the school, Master Yao wrote down “600 RMB” next to each module. OK, that’s clear. Each module is nicely laid out, as you can see. So I was like, OK, no problem; I paid for the first two modules up front. As far as I was aware, that was OK; sure, I’ll pay more as we get to more advanced modules. Except, as you’ll note if you compare what I’ve written to the module list, what I’ve been taught is largely the first two modules, though not everything, plus lots from further ahead in the module.

Thinking about it last night, I reckoned I was surely into the third module by now, so I took cash out of the ATM before going to class, and paid Li Xin first thing this morning for a third module.

This was what the discussion today was about. Master Yao counted up the number of different moves I’ve been taught, said well these are equivalent to one module, these are equivalent to another module, these to a third, pay up more before we go on tomorrow please.

Well, OK. I kind of dislike the insinuation that I wouldn’t pay, but whatever. However, it seems that the charging is by move, not by module. This is another communication issue, let’s put it that way. I agreed to pay by module, and the modules’ content is very clearly laid out. However, what has actually been taught has been drawn from all over the curriculum. I’m not complaining about that, it’s been very useful and a great insight into what yiquan is all about. However, were I to put my MBA, cynical, hat on, I would observe that this does… ahem, encourage… me to buy all of the books ASAP.

I want to reiterate that I am finding all of the training, and the material, to be amazing. However, I do, still, feel rushed, and I do feel pressured to keep paying. This afternoon’s session was kind of a tipping point for me. The sequences where I learned the head and shoulder strikes just didn’t come naturally to me; I keep trying to generate power from the hips, which is not correct for these moves. Even so, we moved on to new moves, while I think it was clear I couldn’t properly perform the ones we’d already covered. On this topic, I am aware of Andrzej’s comment and explanation, but I’m afraid I can’t really accept it; I’ll go over why exactly in my review.

Which brings me to what next. Tomorrow I will pay for one more module, however that happens to be composed, and no more. I don’t know how long it will take me to complete but once it is, I’m done; could be Wednesday or Thursday, maybe Friday.

At the end of the week, I’ll do an overall review. Don’t confuse my feelings about yiquan as a style, the standard of the teaching, and issues about the way the Academy is run as a business; these are separate topics, and I’ll address them separately in my review.

On the way home, I was hungry and stopped again at the dumpling joint at Guloudajie zhan. Surrounded by ar-ar-ar Beijing ren, I felt totally at ease, and was yet again reminded why I love this city so much…. I read a bit more of Dharma Bums, and felt invigorated by the correspondence between passages of the book and parts of my own life that I hadn’t thought about in a long time (the bits about mountain-climbing, FWIW!).

* Superb, but not complete. More about this in my final review.

The Yiquan Academy, day 9


I was only a little bit late this morning, held up firstly because I needed to speak to my manager (who chose today to come in late to work), and secondly by the long, long queue for tickets to Olympic events – the last batch went on sale today – so I wanted to take a few pictures.

Nobody was there except Li Xin. He took me through some new moves, but I’d forgotten my syllabus so he couldn’t show me which ones they were. Looking at them now, I think they were three out of:

定步单横拳发力 FIXED STEP LEFT HORIZONTAL PUNCH
定步左右横拳发力 FIXED STEP LEFT-RIGHT HORIZONTAL PUNCHES ]
定步连续三横拳发力 FIXED STEP THREE CONTINUOUS PUNCHES
走步单横拳发力 LEFT HORIZONTAL PUNCH WITH STEPS
走步左右横拳发力 LEFT-RIGHT HORIZONTAL PUNCHES WITH STEPS
走一步三横拳发力 THREE HORIZONTAL PUNCHES WITH ONE STEP
走三步三横拳发力 THREE CONTINUOUS HORIZONTAL PUNCHES WITH STEPS

Not sure which ones exactly, and in any case these are all from Module 12, so how that happened I’m not sure, but anyway it was basically like throwing hooks from Western boxing, first in a static position, and then stepping. Very physical, very sweaty – great, if I’m going to lose weight, this kind of thing will help 😀

While I was doing repetitions of this the poor guy was obviously getting a bit bored, and started checking my phone to see what music I have on it – not much, I’m afraid, and lots of what there is, is Buddhist chanting! I showed him my iPod, and he started watching the videos I’ve got stored on that. He really liked the Parkour film of the Dvinsk clan! That took me up to 12, so my time was up for the morning.

I headed off to the Vineyard Cafe for lunch, and spent most of the afternoon there, doing basic preparation for next semester. Stopped off when I left at the new Passby Cafe shop, to buy the Lonely Planet Guide to China (banned in China! Only available in a couple of places! Apparently). I’ve got the first week of September free, and fancy travelling. Any suggestions?

Back to the Academy at 5, and there were a few more people there. At first there was just one other student, being coached by Li Xin in One Leg Post (and complaining vociferously that it was hurting his kua – I’ve got that to look forward to, yippee!). Li Xin and I agreed that this would be a revision session, nothing new. I started reviewing what I’ve learned so far, as other people arrived.

These were three – a guy who speaks poor Mandarin, and turns out to be Japanese. I asked if he’d come from taikiken (sp?) and he said no, he’s learned directly from Master Yao. His wife came with him, and sat watching without saying anything. Also came a very upright, grizzled fellow, with a gravelly voice plainly tuned by years of cigarettes… I can’t decide whether he’s Chinese who speaks good Japanese, or Japanese who speaks good Chinese. Either way, I couldn’t understand the conversation, but I caught some references to Sun Zi Bing Fa.

Master Yao arrived around this time as well. He got me reviewing what I’d learned in the morning, gave me good feedback and corrections, and worked a lot with the Japanese guy. The latter had set up a Handycam on a tripod, so I’m guessing that he’s just visiting and getting training while he can.

I left at 6:30; three hours today was enough. I definitely entered into new territory – it’s a big step from static or slow postures to boxing! But this is why yiquan is such a good complete system…

I stopped off at the dumpling restaraunt opposite Guloudajie station for dumplings and beer, and very good dumplings they are too, I highly recommend that place. Then back to Wudaokou, and home. I need to sleep now!

I actually felt totally fine today, even though the meeting last night went on much later, and involved more beer, that I’d anticipated or really wanted. (It was fun and interesting, though). However, my neck is aching again now, and that’s definitely a result of the zhan zhuang – it does tend to punish bad posture…