Blog Archives

Twelve (years between) monkeys



I’ve just realized that twelve years have passed by since my first ever visit to Beijing, while it’s nearly six years since I left to return to Wales, not knowing at that time if I would ever come back to China. These are significant numbers: 12 years is the time to complete one full cycle of the Chinese zodiac, so six years is also a half-cycle. It’s also a year since I did, eventually, make it back to China, in April 2015, after being head-hunted out of the blue. A ┬ánumber of signs and portents are suggesting I should take these signs seriously.


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Strong, fit and healthy?


As I write this, I’m supposed to be in my Sunday yiquan class. I did actually set out to attend but, before I’d gone very far, I realized that my lower back is hurting like heck, and it just wouldn’t have been a good idea.

I had a very interesting class yesterday. Yao Lao Shi had to correct me far more often than usual, and for the same things repeatedly, but it ended up being a very rewarding session.

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China Daily recently ran a story on how the government is planning to replace lots of traditional squat toilets with Western-style porcelain thrones. This is a tragedy for Chinese martial arts, in my view. (I’m actually quite serious about that). What’s more, not squatting is a big reason why there are so many bad martial artists in the West. So, although a discussion of pooping is perhaps a bit too much for some readers, it’s a very good place to discuss being a good martial artist. Don’t worry about inadvertent offence, though: in this post, I’m probably going to upset lots of people with this one.

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What lies beneath


I’ve been thinking a great deal about filters recently. By “filters”, I mean mental filters: the means by which we exclude information, and limit our understanding of the world.

This has been a really rather fruitful process, and has led to some useful breakthroughs in the spheres I explore in this blog – namely, martial arts, and spiritual development.

A conversation I was having with a colleague recently, the topic of Buddhism, meditation, and mental filters, turned out to have a real impact… on me.

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No ‘ski jump’ at the bottom



I saw something on Facebook recently, which went along the lines of “The pharmaceutical industry doesn’t create cures, it creates customers“. This is quite true.

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Tree and wave



Some thoughts prompted by today’s yiquan class…


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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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The Blue Room



I recently moved into a new place, as I described on my main blog. ┬áIt’s a small studio apartment slap bang in the middle of St. Petersburg. The walls are papered with a shimmery blue paper, and the curtains are also a pale blue. The windows face east and, as this is the period of the White Nights, when it’s only dark for a couple of hours, that means that the sun is shining into my room for much of the day. As a result, I keep the curtains closed, and the room fills with a tranquil blue light, as if it were an undersea cave.

My moving came just after the summer solstice when, by coincidence or not, I experienced a sudden new burst of optimism and energy. Consequently, all kinds of plans and practices which had been on the back burner have come back into play.

One of these is that I’ve started meditating again – for half an hour or an hour most days, using the mp3 files from my Vipassana retreats in Thailand. I’m already feeling the benefits, though there’s a lot of lost ground to be made up.

I also realised that I needed to start practising Chinese martial arts again. I’ve been starting to practice the Cheng Man Ching taiji form a bit; I knew that my yiquan teacher’s brother has disciples in Russia, so I Googled to see if there is anyone in St. Petersburg. There isn’t, but I found a wushu group, so I’ll start training xingyiquan with them. They have a teacher of bagua, but her classes are at a time I can’t make, unfortunately. I’ll write more about this in another post, but it seems like it’s time to bring this blog out of mothballs and back into active use…

Image Credits: Curtain Call by user tata_aka_T on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Waiting for the moon


After two weeks out of the office, my energy is returning, or so it seems.

There’s a small hill near my house where, as a child, I used to walk the dog. It’s not of any particular size, but to get there you walk through the oldest part of the village, past the remnants of the castle that dominates the river valley. I’ve been meaning to walk back up this hill ever since I came back from China, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have except that my energy and will to do anything have been so depleted. But, this morning, I went up there, and it was quite magical. Once you get onto the path upwards, slipping and slithering through the mud, you get into a new-growth forest where there was once common land, and sheep grazing. The trees are bare now, of course, but many of them are covered in a vivid green moss; ferns and fungi are everywhere around.

Reaching the top of the hill, the path splits, forming a crossroads. As you stand here, you can see over the treetops and see all along the river valley, from the brooding black hills to the north, and southwards towards the sea. Just next to this is an older tree, with dramatically spreading branches. Someone had left a bunch of brightly-coloured flowers between this tree’s roots. Who knows why? Perhaps there’s a coven active locally.

Retracing my steps, I went along the the riverside towards town. The music of hounds suddenly reached me from above; the local fox hunt were working the fields adjacent to where I’d just been. I could see the hounds following a line into the woods; behind them came the field – 20 or so mounted followers – silhouetted on the skyline for a few moments before vanishing from sight.

All of which is nothing much to do with anything, other than – perhaps – it’s a part of the process of re-connecting with the qi of the land, and of rebuilding my own reserves of qi.

Earlier this evening, I stood in zhan zhuang; I was practising indoors, because that’s what I’m used to doing now, what with the constant rain we’ve had these last months. I was ready to go to bed, to be honest, but I thought I would take a look outside first – and what do you know, it’s cold and clear outside.

So, I wrapped up, turned all the house lights off, and took myself to the bottom of the garden for another session of zhan zhuang. There’s a spot where all streetlights are blocked from my line of sight; there’s still the lo-glo of course, but there’s nothing to be done about that. The sound of traffic from local roads is much heavier than it was when I was younger, but you can tune it out. And so I stood there, the stars clear overhead; the calls of two different types of owl, out on the hunt, were clear, and close. The wind is light, and draws out the presence of branches.

So I finished my session, and came indoors… but then realised that the moon is rising. Soon, I’ll be able to go back outside to that spot, and stand for a while with the moon visible over the rooftop. It’s late; I’m tired; I really should go to bed… but moments like this are rare.

Seeing stars


I’ve just come indoors after a session of zhan zhuang, shoulders aching…

It’s a lovely evening again; we’ve had a few in the last week. The sky is clear, and the stars are out, bright and clear. At the moment, Venus and Jupiter are visible, outshining everything else in the sky. As I stand, I can hear the waterlogged soil groaning and shifting; the warm sunshine has started it into a slow motion, rising and stirring the plants into spring growth.

Last week, I planted a Snowdon Queen pear tree, and an Abergwyngregyn damson tree – heritage Welsh varieties that should be well adapted to the damp climate. I’ve planted two climbing roses, both very fragrant varieties; one flowers in early summer, the other in late summer/early autumn, so we should get scent for a good half of the year.

I’ve had a few practice sessions with my new Weaponedge shashka now. The video I posted, Dance with a Shashka, has led me to adjust the way I hold the handle. In Beijing, I got into the habit of holding the handle high, right next to the pommel; the pommel effectively became the pivot as the sword swung around. After watching ‘Dance with a Shashka’ closely, though, I saw that she was holding it much lower, at the base of the handle where it joins the blade. Copying this, I’ve found that a finger on the ricasso becomes the pivot, with my little finger occasionally using the pommel to guide the movement. Doing it this way, I’m finding it easier to do a lot of the moves, and the sword swings much more freely. However, I still need to practice much, much more – even this evening, I managed to hack my leg just above the ankle, drawing a little blood. Good job the shashka is blunt! The other day, I even managed to smack the back of my head with a glancing blow…

Anyway, swinging the shashka, and transferring it from one hand to another, is really showing me that my shoulders have tightened up a heck of a lot over the last year; that’s the tension from work… I don’t have the endurance in zhan zhuang that I did, either. It’ll be easier to practice now that spring is coming, though – I’ll be able to stand outside in fresh air at last! Thank goodness for that, I’m so tired of winter!