Thursday, June 4, 2009

Trip to Beijing May 2009

This is the first post of this blog in nearly two years because I was not able to train with Master Sui last year because I had surgery on my ankle (3rd time) last year and we figured it was too expensive to travel during the Olympics. Finally, I was able to save up enough money and leave to train with Master Sui in Beijing this May 15th to May 23rd. Joining me this time would be my student Joe from the UNLV Chinese Martial Arts Association and my original Baguazhang brother Shitian. The first challenge of our trip was for Joe and I to find each other in the airport as I was flying in from Taipei while he was coming in from LA. His flight arrived several hours before mine and we agreed to meet in the baggage area. When I arrived, I quickly realized that the problem was was that I was now suddenly in a brand new terminal that wasn't open yet in 2007. Joe was nowhere to be found, but I eventually turned my cell phone on and he called me from the front. They had told him that he wasn't allowed to wait in the baggage claim. No problem, I quickly spotted him, and thus the only minor crisis of the trip was over.

We took a taxi to the old Jingling Hotel where I had stayed in 2006. Once we got there, I was shocked to see that the name had changed. Joe's first impression was "Great, Super 8!" At first I though it was just a cheap imitation Super 8, but it turned out that indeed it was the real deal. Super 8 had just purchased the hotel a month before, people in China call it Su Ba 速八. The staff recognized me from 6 years before and they agreed to the discount we had discussed before.

I looked out the window and noticed a giant poster of Bruce Lee. It turns out that there is a huge fast food chain now that has an image of Bruce Lee and is called Real Kung Fu 真功夫. We saw branches all over the city. Joe tried it, and didn't think it was as good as the Chinese KFCs and MacDonalds that we tried. As soon as we got done checking in, we quickly had some KFC, which is still interesting because much of the menu is different from the US. We then ran over to Master Sui's place for some tea. I was amazed at how nice his place looks now. It's been completely remodeled and reconfigured. The old bedroom is now the main living room and the old living room is now the bedroom. He's got nice new flooring, fresh white paint on the walls, a giant new bamboo carving of the Bodhidharma, and the so-called "Student Museum" 学生博物馆 consists of really nice wooden shelves all around the room with countless gifts from his many students from all over the world. Of course, there is a disproportionate amount of Russian souvenirs and I mentioned to Joe that we need to have more stuff from the US up there. So in the future, we need to give more gifts that can be prominently displayed in the Student Museum. This time around, I gave a lighter that lights up and shows the Vegas skyline, a mouse pad of Las Vegas, and a club t-shirt. Joe gave a puzzle of the Vegas skyline and poker cards from Caesar's Palace.

Joe got a chance to see Master Sui's tea making prowess and try the highest grade tea made. We had Dahongpao 大红袍, which is the finest grade of Wulongcha 乌龙茶 harvested in the Spring. Spring and Fall being the optimal times for tea harvesting. Summer teas are inferior grade. We were surprised to see that Master Sui has a lot of very interesting new musical instruments in his collection. After his trip to New York, he went to Yunan province where he saw and old man playing an unusual instrument that looked like a gourd on top of three pipes, it is called a Hulusi 葫芦丝. After just hearing the old man play for a brief period, Master Sui gave it a try and played exceptionally well. The old man was shocked and exclaimed "you played much better than my students that have studied many years with me!" Master Sui explained that he was able to figure out how to play it by observing how the old man used his Qi to play the instrument. He then showed us two that he purchased, one larger and one smaller and proceeded to play them for us. Next, he showed us a smaller version of the Piba that he had recently purchased and played that for us as well. His wife has recently started to practice the Guzheng 古筝. Later in the trip, he played that as well, based on just what he had observed others do, not any formal training, yet he seemed to play extremely well. Shitian, Joe, and I started referring to him as the "genius" for his ability to learn complex skills by merely observing for a brief period of time. For example, he learned the entire 108 Chen form in a park one day by watching a Chen master practice a few times.

Then it was time for practice. While we were stretching, I noticed that Master Sui's wife and another woman were practicing some Daoyin 导引 (Qigong) exercises that I had never seen before. I later found out that she was practicing some of the Bodhidharma's Yi Jin Jing 易筋经 exercises. He only selects specific Yi Jin Jing postures that aren't already present in our forms and other Daoyin exercises. Next time around, we'll need to study some of those with him. We then started practicing Titui 踢腿 and learned some new variations, finer points that we had missed before, and a couple new moves such as the double leg jump. Master Sui then showed us some new linear Meihuazhuang stance drills that are really high difficulty that he wanted Delmar in particular to practice at least ten times every day. One of the drills consists of going from a standing position (Shun Stance 顺势) and then sinking deep into a drop stance and then coming back up again. While transitioning from the drop stance to the Shun Stance, you have to scrape your fist on the ground with a move called "Plowing Through the Mountain."

We then practiced the Meihuazhuang form and started to learn some new variations such as incorporation of the drop stance, modifications and clarifications on transitions, and new variations of movements that we had never seen before. For example, the backfist into crossover stance can be done either advancing or retreating, you can do two in a row, you can add a kick at the end, and you can also do a shoulder roll on the ground to go back where you came from. I asked Master Sui about the proper form for the bottom hand with the Grinding the Millstone Palm 推磨掌 posture and he reminded me of the second song in Li Ziming's book Liang Zhenpu Eight Diagram Palm, "First pile up the rear elbow to have the elbow hiding heart. Then the hand turns and drops to follow forward. Follow the anterior elbow with a holding power, The anterior hand and posterior hand in a group of spirits." Before going to China, I told Joe that there would be students from all over the world there and many of them train with Master Sui on a daily basis. We would be the only Americans and would have to properly represent team USA by at least making a serious effort. Joe took this to heart and promised that even if he couldn't do the moves perfectly, he would put 110% effort into it. He was true to his word because by the end of the first day of practice his shirt was caked from top to bottom in a huge swath of salt crystals! It turns out he is really worth his salt!

After going back for tea for a while, Joe and I went to the famous restaurant where Delmar and Heath tried the fish eyes. Sure enough, they recommended fish as one of their trademark dishes and showed us the living fish in a bag before cooking it for us. Also, I ordered a number of other dishes including Chicken. I hadn't paid much attention to the name of the chicken dish until I realized when it came what I had ordered. When it came, there was a huge pile of the same boney body part, I immediately realized what it was and laughed out loud. Joe knew something was wrong, but I declined to specify what part of the chicken it was. It wasn't until we were finished eating that I later told him it was Chicken butts! As for the fish Joe volunteered to eat one of the eyes and convinced me to try it too. It basically tasted like fish and was really chewy, nothing really that special.

After we had some time to digest, we went to a 24 hour massage place that we went to back in 2006. The prices are reasonable and the staff is very professional. We got the Tuina 推拿 Chinese acupressure massage. It can be quite painful during the massage, but you feel much better afterwards. A couple days later, I made the mistake of getting a Guasha 刮痧 scraping massage in which they scrape your back with a hard object or their knuckles over and over again. My back was purple and painful for days as a result. Speaking of massage, Master Sui gave some instructions on basic Tuina massage I should do on my bone spur every day. He said that surgery on bone spurs is a waste of time because they'll always grow right back, but he said that I use the Tuina method he prescribed, I should be able to heal it myself. I've been doing the Tuina on my ankle every since and it's definitely improved a lot since.

Saturday, Joe and I went to see the Olympic National Stadium (Bird Nest) and the Water Cube. We took a couple of new subway lines to get there. Beijing has many new subway lines including one to the airport. The Bird Nest was absolutely massive and the intricate design was very impressive from an engineering standpoint. During practice, Master Sui showed us a great deal more detail about the basic Bagua transitions for Dingshi Bazhang. He demonstrated how he moved his Dantian for the Dog Shakes his Back and Hold the Ball moves. He demonstrated applications for Lion Rolls the Ball, Hold the Ball, and Dragon Coils Around the Pillar. For example, the Lion Rolls the Ball palm can be striking to the body with both palms at different locations, and then when blocked, the hands can be quickly switched to change the angle and location of attack. The Hold the Spear posture has been further refined, and this will be something I'll need to teach all my Bagua students. He explained that Chuanzhang 穿掌 in our style is called Walongzhang 瓦垄掌 which means Tiled Roof Palm. The middle finger is now the top pillar of the tiled roof.

Later that evening, my fellow Bagua brother Shitian 石田浩士 (Kouji Ishida) came later than evening and we all went over to a Qinghai 青海 style restaurant. The proprietors of the restaurant were Muslim and the cuisine was Islamic Qinghai food. The waitresses wore black head dresses over their heads. The food was very reminiscent of Uighur food with a lot of Cumin flavored meat on shish kebabs. Master Sui said that their mutton and meat in general only is sourced and prepared based on their unique standards, which he said were superior that those of the Chinese. I believe he may be referring to the Halal food standards. In addition to copious amounts of mutton, he insisted that we each have two lamb kidneys. This would be the beginning of many kidneys we ate over the coming week. When Brittany came, she described the function and anatomy of the kidney, but by the time she came to visit, we were already experts on the subject. That night we also had assorted organ casserole that included heart, liver, lung, kidney, and I didn't want to know what else.

On Sunday, Shitian, Joe, and I went to the trusty weapons store next to Tiyu Daxue, the Physical Education University. We bought all kinds of stuff including uniforms, shoes, videos, tassels, daggers, a whip, and I got a giant Bagua broadsword. During practice, we got to meet some of the Italian contingent such as Giacamo and Danny. Joe had many chances to speak Italian. Giacamo was kind enough to show us nuances of Titui, a new transition for Big Stance 大势, and the entire form including a map he drew in the dirt. He also showed us some interesting applications of the Butterfly palm, though the Chinese name is totally different Simendou 四闷斗, which translates as four cover/seal fight, "men" means to cover tightly or seal. On the subject of butterfly palm, it turns out the butterfly kick can also use butterfly palms to generate power. Whenever I get a chance, I also ask Master Sui self defense questions. This time around, I asked what to do if someone grabs your leg and starts to lift you high in the air to slam you. He had me try to grab his leg and lift him and he immediately put me in a guillotine choke and sunk his Qi which felt like a ton of lead pulling me down. He encouraged me to try and lift him up, but the choke only sunk in deeper and I started to cough and gasp for air. I started to feel light headed and my body kind of collapsed and I my legs sprawled out like a frog and everybody laughed. He eased up on the choke before I completely passed out and pulled me up. He also demonstrated that he could punch to the ribs or elbow to the spine from that position.

I was so excited to show off my new giant Baguadao (broadsword) to Master Sui, only to learn from him that the real Baguadao were the same size as regular broadswords. He reminded us that all real Bagua weapons were something that could easily be concealed or at least easy to carry and kept a low profile. The original broadswords needed to be highly portable and could be quickly drawn from your belt. He said, over the years larger Bagua swords evolved as a way to train Kungfu, in other words as a training tool to develop strength. He said that ideally, when you hold the sword vertically at your side, the tip shouldn't be lower than the bottom of your ear and not higher than the top of your ear. My new sword goes about a foot over my head and I'm 6' 4"! He also said that there are a lot of modern Baguadao forms out there, but he believes only the 64 转环刀 is the original form with practical fighting application. Once mastered on one side, it can then become a two person form. The distinctive aspect Baguadao fighting strategy is that the sword never touches the opponent's weapon, but rather evades their attack and then immediately slashes vulnerable parts of the body, wrist, neck, stomach, back, knee, etc... Since he didn't have his sword with him that day, Joe quickly improvised and got a long stick for me to use while imitating Master Sui as he demonstrated the movements of the form. We got some of it on video, it's pretty hilarious to see either one of us waving the big Bagua Stick around while the other person has this ridiculous sword. Master Sui of course could wield the giant sword with no effort though it's nearly as long as he is tall.

Monday was the big day Joe and I went to the Great Wall, so this was the only day we took off from practice. There is a brand new Beijing North Train Station 北京北站right next to the subway station at Xizhimen 西直门, so we decided to take the train to the wall. The price was a mere 14 kuai for a one way ticket to the Badaling 八达岭 section of the wall. We got round trip tickets for 28 kuai each. I was surprised to see that the train was very high tec h looking and was very fast. Much faster than the old train my English students and I took to the Mutianyu 慕田峪 section back in 1994. The nice thing about taking the train was that we could see different sections of the wall along the way including Zhuyongguan 居庸关. The train had big windows, so it was easy to take pictures as we went along. Once we got there, we had to take a quick taxi ride to the wall. I opted for the cable car, it was different from the little kiddie ride we took up in 2006. These were little gondolas suspended on thin wires high of the ground. It was a little unnerving especially with the swirling winds, but it offered great views and saved energy for climbing around on the top.

Once we got up there, we got lost for a while and went to the wrong section. I wanted to try a section I hadn't been to before, so once we figured out where we were, we back tracked on a side path next to the wall that was a little quicker and less steep. Since it was a Monday morning, there weren't many Western tourists around, so we were quickly the center of attention with many groups of people wanting to take pictures with us. At one point we posed in the same spot for about five different groups. We joked about charging 1 kuai per photo, it turned out a couple of foreigners had already gotten media attention for holding up signs charging 2 kuai per photo. Halfway through our climb, Joe's camera battery ran out of power, but we still managed to get some choice shots. Instead of riding the cable car again, we ended up just walking down to one of the main entrances. We did a little shopping, but quickly realized the prices were too outrageous. We then saw the bear exhibit were you could feed the bears chopped up pears by throwing them at their open mouths. I picked out the alpha male who was perched up high in a metal tower and had a blast throwing bits of pear at him as he would adjust his body to catch them in his mouth while avoiding plummeting to his death. We then realized that we had a lot of time until the next train arrived, so we decided to catch a bus back. The hilarious thing about it was that we got a free ride all the way back to Beijing because they figured the foreigners (laowai) 老外 would be too much trouble to communicate with.

Tuesday, Joe and I decided to go to the Forbidden City 紫禁城 and so we took the subway, which is more convenient than ever now. We first visited Tiananmen Square 天安门广场 and took pictures of areas of interest such as Qianmen, the Monument to the Heroes of the Revolution, and Tiananmen Gate itself with the famous picture of Mao. It was good to see that the renovation of Qianmen was complete. We then took a straight shot through the heart of the Forbidden City. Most of the renovation of the palace was now also complete with fresh paint on the walls and new tiles on the roofs. It was the cleanest and newest I had ever seen it. Back in the day, there used to be big patches of grass and weeds growing on the roofs. I tried to explain to Joe what I had remembered from my previous tours about the Forbidden City. There were tons of tourists from all over China and the world and Joe found a guy that spoke English to take this action shot of us in the Imperial Garden.

Later that day, back at practice, another one of my Italian Meihuazhuang brothers, Giuseppe came to practice. His name means Joseph in Italian. He was kind enough to teach us a new conditioning drill 手套. It was quite complex, but had a lot of good fighting techniques. Master Sui taught Shitian and I some important advanced footwork for Bagua fighting. As usual, he explained and demonstrated the move as he attacked me with it. It was hard to catch, but the gist of it was blocking, turning the body 180 and counter striking all in one step. From that position you can continue to circle around the opponent and/or counter attack. I also asked Master Sui about how to defend against a knife attack using Baguazhang. He gave a couple of excellent examples of how to combine Bagua palms and footwork to quickly evade and disarm an opponent either thrusting forwards or stabbing overhead with a knife. He then taught us three different attacks from the Black Dragon Shakes His Tail 乌龙摆尾.

Wednesday Shitian, Joe, and I went to the Taoist White Cloud Temple 白云观. Shitian was eager to meet one of the Daoshi 道士 or Taoist Priests that inhabit the temple. His wish was eventually answered because after we had seen most of the temple, Joe and I decided to practice some Bagua. Pretty soon, a Daoshi noticed that we were doing Bagua and he asked us what style of Bagua we were doing. We told him that were doing Liang Style. He introduced himself as Master Chen Li Sheng 陈理圣, 15th generation disciple of WuDang style 武当派. He asked us to demonstrate some of our skills, so Shitian and I walked the circle for a while. Then he demonstrated Wudang style Bagua and Wudang style Tai Chi. We took some photos together and he then took us back to his dorm which he shared with another Daoshi. The building had traditional architecture and their room was very small with bunk beds. They both had a large collection of books on Daoism, but they also each had computers. Unlike Buddhist monks, they have long hair tied in a knot. Also, they told us that they have the privilege to decide whether or not they want to marry and have a family. We exchanged contact information with Master Chen and looked forward to seeing him again the next time we go to Beijing.

My student from Winthrop University, Brittany happened to be attending the International Scholar Laureate program in China and this was the only day that she had a chance to meet Master Sui. I told her to meet us at the Beijing Exhibition Center since it's a huge landmark and we practice right behind it. Master Sui was teaching me some very valuable information about the Baguadao, so I dispatched Joe to meet Brittany. Though they had never met before, I need they would find each other because she has red hair and his has blond. The chances of there being that many other red head and blonds at that moment and that spot in Beijing were very slim, so I knew they would find each other and indeed they eventually did. She arrived just in time to have some tea with Master Sui and his wife. She suddenly realized that she had forgotten to bring the gift she had made for him, but she would eventually make up for this. Then, we all went to a nearby restaurant to have real Peking Duck. Brittany said that she had a chance to try hot pot 火锅 earlier in the day. For the past week I had been out in the sun a lot and I started to get a dark tan thanks to my Hawaiian blood. One of Master Sui's Chinese friends asked if I was from a different part of the US than Brittany and Joe. It was funny because they thought that the US was like China with different nationalities in different regions. As is the custom, we treated Master Sui and his wife. Every time I go to China, I always make sure to treat Master Sui, his wife and classmates to dinner at least once during the trip.

Thursday was overcast and threatening to rain all day. We made it through Titui, but then it really started to rain cats and dogs. For the first time in my life, I saw Master Sui put on a jacket and he actually told us that we would cancel practice because he was afraid that we American students would catch a cold and get quarantined at the airport out of fear that we had Swine Flu. Normally, we practice regardless of the weather, even flaming meteorites wouldn't normally halt practice, so that was a big deal. We retreated back to Master Sui's apartment for tea. Pictured on the left is Master Sui's tea set. Notice the animal figurines. The largest creature is a Qilin 麒麟 or Chinese unicorn. On the lower left is a three legged toad which brings fortune. On the upper left is a tortoise which brings longevity. The figurines were originally white, but they've turned brown due to the many offerings of tea given to them first before any humans can have a drink. I was astonished to hear that earlier in the day Brittany had managed to find her way on her own back to Master Sui's apartment to give him the gift that she had originally meant to give him the day before. It was a framed painting of a sea turtle that she had painted for him. Props to Brittany for being brave enough to try and find Master Sui's place in the middle of a densely packed, maze of a neighborhood without being able to speak Chinese!

That night, since it was his last night in China, we sent Shitian off with a fun evening of Karaoke. We managed to find some fun English songs. I was able to sing a few Chinese songs. We found a Japanese song for Shitian sung by the famous singer Deng Lijun, but it quickly turned into Chinese characters, so he asked me to try it. I'd never heard the song in my life, but I was able to catch the basic rhythm so I faked my way though it. Shitian said he was impressed with how well I sang it and couldn't believe I'd never heard the song before.

Friday was our last day of practice, so we wanted to get a lot of stuff in and Joe and been lob bying all be to get a beat down by Master Sui. I ke pt telling him that a Master Sui beatdown isn't something you would even want to wish on your enemy much less on yourself. Meanwhile, I still hadn't had a chance to ask Master Sui about the defense on the last two sections of the Bagua 64 palms. Also, I wanted to try and get a little more in with the Bagua broadsword. Master Sui demonstrated the basic principals for the defense of sections seven and eight of the 64, but he heavily emphasized that the two person form once perfected should eventually practiced with improvisation and not always follow scripted moves. He said that the most important thing was to spar and to generally experiment with the 64 moves and all Bagua techniques for that matter in unscripted, uncooperative scenarios. The term he used was Zhengxueluanshi, which roughly translated means to learn something in its entirety and then improvising/experimenting with the applications. He also demonstrated the fighting poem Ren lai wo zou, ren bu lai wo jiao lai 人来我走, 人不来我叫来. This means if someone attacks, I evade (and counter) but if they won't make a move, I make them attack. He then taught me some more moves from the Baguadao form.

We then practiced some Meihuazhuang Chengquan (one step sparring moves). Danny showed us some interesting Chengquan combinations and Master Sui then showed potential counters to the moves if they weren't executed properly. Then Joe and I tried to review some of the Chengquan moves I had learned in New York and Sui showed a couple new variations. After we had done the moves a couple times, he wasn't satisfied with the level of intensity and said "this is not a dance, you have to use power!". He then proceeded to demonstrate several different combinations on me with much greater force. I then took his advice and grabbed Joe's leg and flung it upwards just the way Sui had demonstrated. Unexpectedly, Joe disappeared and reappeared some distance behind me face down in the hard dirt. It turns out I had flipped him head over heals and he landed nose first on the hard, gravel-strewn dirt. He was dazed and took a few beats to collect himself. He said he could taste blood and the top of his nose was rapidly turning purple, but he said he didn't think he'd broken anything. Master Sui asked if he was OK. I said he was a little shaken up and might get a bloody nose, but should be OK. After applying some antiseptic, we went back to practice for bit, but this time we did things slowmo. Anyway, Joe ended up getting the beat down and bruises he was wanting, little did we know I would be the one administering it instead of Master Sui. I guess it was the dance speach that instigated it. The good news is that he didn't break anything and his bruises healed in a few days.
Kudos to Joe for taking time out of his own practice to video Master Sui and I. He would often hold stances while video taping or even practice some moves with the camera in hand during down time.

After practice was over, Master Sui said he had to leave early to visit with the Sanda champion of Xinjiang Province, so we didn't have the customary tea. He wished us well and welcomed us to come back to China next year to train with him again.

Here's a photo of Shitian walking the circle nice and low and slow, the way it's supposed to be. He spent most of our 3-4 hour practices walking the circle like this. He's only interested in perfecting his Kung Fu, not fancy moves or forms.