Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Trip to Beijing May 2010

My trips to visit Master Sui in Beijing always result in unexpected surprises and this year was no exception. Before I even made it to Beijing halfway through my flight from LA to Taipei, I noticed a Chinese man practicing Tai Chi cloud hands in the small corridor in the back of the plane. Once I got to Beijing, I met with Master Sui for our first session of tea drinking, and I noticed a few large insects in various containers on his table. He called them Guoguo 蝈蝈, which are large Chinese crickets often raised for fighting. In this case, he said a lot of Chinese people raise them so that they have the sound of living creature during winter. Two of the Guoguo were in their own separate containers while another two, one white and one black, lived in an open dish. I asked if they ever try to escape, but he said as long as they are happy they won't. However, a day or two later when the weather warmed up they started chirping a lot and a couple tried to escape, one even tried to drink his tea. As a result, he had to put them in lock down for a while, away from the tea.

I also noticed that he was working on a Rubik's Cube and had started to solve it. Then I distracted him by asking him a question or something and he slowed down. Once I started talking to someone else and looked back, he had solved the whole thing. He said he would have solved it faster, but we had distracted him by talking to him. He also had a triangular shaped Rubik's Cube like puzzle that he was able to quickly solve after one of the students got stuck on it.

When practice started a number of large guys from the countryside joined us in the Meihuazhuang training. It turns out that Master Sui and his students recently went to the Meihuazhuang Villange and it was a great success. Giuseppe sparred with the biggest Meihuazhuang with the village, a guy called Tank, and they ended up in a tie. He also sparred another large guy and did quite well. Many people in the village were very impressed, so a group of them now travels several hours to Beijing once a week to train with Master Sui and his students. They came mainly to spar and also compare notes on the empty hand and weapons forms. Their Meihuazhuang basic form is similar to ours except that they only do one Shun stance per 5 stance sequence instead of the two that we do. The weapons forms such as the Guandao 关刀 look very similar, with a few extra moves here or there. They didn't seem to be really into the Titui which I could relate to. Anyway, there was a lot of sparring whenever they came and afterwards they invited us to travel to their village saying, "you're welcome to come and spar with us and we won't care who won or lost." All of the sparring was Meihuazhuang techniques, so my goal next time is to really work on sparring with those guys using Baguazhang.

Another new development was the brand new giant spear and giant staff that Master Sui bought. He said that after decades of not training in these weapons due to their lack of availability, weapons stores are finally selling these things again. He's trying relearn a giant spear 大枪 Meihuazhuang form that he learned 30 years ago. They are super heavy and are much closer to the actual spears used on the battlefield. It turns out that the shorter ones that we're familiar with are just for practice when real sized one's aren't available. You are supposed to be able to do all the techniques that are done with a shorter one, you just have to slide it up quickly before going into a turn. Master Sui said something about how it is good to do at least 50 reps per side to build a solid foundation. Ideally 100 reps would be a good start. Basically, Master Sui was saying that short spears are for wimps and the techniques are inaccurate.

He taught me the proper Lan, Na, and Zha techniques with the spear. Lan meaning block. Na meaning trap. Zha meaning to stab. Of course, he demonstrated the Lan and Zha techniques full blast on my hand using the staff while I held the spear. The key to being able to generate power with such a massive weapon is to maintain constant contact between the spear and the lower abdomen. One must use Yao 腰 waist power to turn the spear, not just arm or wrist strength.

During one of our many tea sessions, I learned that Master Sui was born in Heilongjiang 黑龙江 in 1944, but his family to Beijing when his uncle was transferred to the city. It sounded like his uncle was a Bolshevik or worked for the Bolsheviks, not sure if I heard that right or not. He says as a baby he was placed on a flat board that hung from an eave for long periods of time.

Regarding the Boxer Rebellion, he said that many Meihuazhuang people participated in the rebellion itself. He said they started it because the Christian missionaries (many of whom were said to be spies) destroyed important temples. Many of the leaders of the revolt were Meihuazhuang practitioners. The name of the movement was Yihetuan 义和团 Righteous Fists of Harmony, but he said they were mainly Meihuazhuang people. The Qing dynasty supported them at first, but when the Eight Powers Army came, they sent all the Meihuazhuang fighters to the front lines while the Qing attacked them from behind. At its peak, many other martial arts groups had joined the ranks of the Meihuazhuang army.

I asked Master Sui about Meihuazhuang's concept of Wenchang or the civil/artistic field as opposed to Wuchang, the martial arts piece that we're so familiar with. He said that Meihuazhuang besides fighting, includes the study of meridians, logic, psychology, anatomy, physiology, Yin and Yang, and study of the Five Elements. These aspects can take a lifetime of study to master. He talked about Ecological Balance 生态平衡 and Yin and Yang Balance 阴阳平衡. All substances must balance Yin and Yang. The internal organs must be balanced. The Five Elements must be balanced in the body's organs. All things are balanced by the Five Elements. The function of human potential is closely linked with nature. Through hard practice, people can begin to understand these things.

He went on to say that Wenchang helps unite people together for mutual interest. Just like there are martial arts masters (Wuchang), there are also masters of Wenchang. Only people that pass the incense test can become apprentices to learn Wenchang. He said something to the effect of 文领导武 which means education leads martial arts. Even nations have Wenchang. It is a belief system to unify people. The US Senate is an example of Wenchang. Wenchang is martial arts culture and it is very deep. It is very hard to know what is real Wenchang and what is not. It served to unite the people. For example, a political party is also Wenchang. It is something you have to experience through years of training to be able to explain it. Not everyone is worthy of this. Wenchang has a shifu that specializes in just that, but there are very few in existence now. You have to pray to the incense and if the direction of the smoke is correct, then you are worthy, if not you can never train it in your lifetime. Master Sui said that the science of martial arts is actually best described as culture and the term Wenchang is the essence of this.

As a possible example of Wenchang in action, he talked about Chinese medicine not just including the well known Dantian 丹田Elixer Field but also the Shangdan 上丹 Upper Elixer, and the Zhongdan 中丹 Middle Elixer. He said the Shangdan is located on the head and the Zhongdan is located at the navel.

Master Sui told me in advance that he wouldn't be able to see me off my last day in Beijing because he had to visit his ancestral home in Lang Fang 廊坊 because a distant relative had recently passed and he was going to pay his respects. It turns out that this is the Sui 隋 family's ancestral village going back many centuries. Though he now lives in Beijing he still keeps in contact with the other Sui family members in Lang Fang. It's not actually that far away since it's in between Beijing and Tianjin and transportation is getting more and more efficient. I thought it was fascinating that the Sui Clan still lives in its original home town and keeps maintains such close contact with its members.

Midway through my second week in Beijing, my Bagua brother Shitian 石田 gave me a cool Jiu-Jitsu weapon called the Suntetsu寸铁 . It complements all the major Baguazhang techniques really well. It's quite rare, only a few places in Japan still sell it. The Meihuazhuang guys recognized it as being very similar to Emei Needles 峨嵋刺, and I've read that those were Yinfu's favorite weapons.

Our last day in Beijing together, we went to several weapons stores at the Beijing Sports University 北京体育大学. Looking at all the inventory in these stores I came to the frightening realization that at one point or another over the years I have bought and trained with virtually every object for sale in these weapon stores. I've been doing Kung Fu too long, I need to pick up a new hobby! Later than afternoon, Shitian took me the secret place where Liziming taught his students back in the day. And no I'm not going to tell where it is! Nobody ever told or showed me about this place over the past 15 years, so I'm not giving it away that easily on the Internet.

That evening we went to the Houhai 后海 District to watch the sunset and eat dinner at what I believe was a Hangzhou style restaurant. It was Shitian's first visit to the area. The area consists of refurbished traditional houses and alleyways surrounding a small man-made lake. The food was very good, though a bit expensive. The prices are geared towards tourists, but it's still fun to visit once in a while and go to one of the cheaper places. The views from the lakeside bars and restaurants is really nice day or night.

Shitian made sure I had plenty of beer, so I was pretty blasted by the time we left the restaurant. That's my excuse for the following goofy pictures in front of a bar called Bagua 八卦. I thought it would be a good idea for the Bagua guys to get some pictures in front of the Bagua bar!

This is me side kicking the bar barker in the head. There were a lot of annoying bar barkers in front of every single bar, but this guy was actually really cool. Shitian offered him some smokes and Japanese candy for his troubles. Surprisingly, he turned down the smokes and only took one piece of candy.

Me striking a drunken Bagua pose in front of the Bagua Bar.

More drunken Bagua.