Monday, August 15, 2011

Bagua Wedding May 2011

In early May of this year, I was fortunate enough to be invited to my first Bagua wedding. I refer to it as such because it was the wedding of the grandson of one of Master's Sui's Bagua shidi (younger brother) and all of the Bagua brothers and their disciples were invited. I jumped at the chance because I knew it would be an extremely rare opportunity to see many of the Bagua masters together for the first time. I knew there would be many adventures and tales to tell from this day.

It turns out that we were invited to the reception held after the wedding ceremony. So I did not see the actual wedding, but the reception was definitely more than enough. The reception was held in a rural northwest corner of Beijing called Xibeiwang. As it was quite far, we had to get up early in the morning to meet at Master Sui’s place in Xizhimen where we were all whisked away by sedans specifically sent for us. I remember riding with Master Sui, his wife, and my Italian Bagua brothers Giuseppe and Ricardo. Even though this area is considered part of Beijing, it took us over an hour to get there. The city limits of Beijing extend in a vast swath in all directions covering over 6,000 square miles, and it’s always amazing to me how some faraway places such as this are still considered part of the city.

The venue itself resembled a giant greenhouse that was rented out for the event. Nearby was a vast orchard of fruit trees and much to my delight I quickly found a large, flat dirt square that had been excavated as a practice area for Bagua practitioners. Next to the square, deeply implanted in the ground, were nine large wooden posts arranged in the mythical Nine Palace Bagua pattern. I had read about this in many Bagua books and videos, the movie “Pride’s Deadly Fury”, and even saw a Chinese-African American man do an intricate Nine Palace Bagua form around cones in San Francisco Chinatown. After all these years, this was the first time to see the real deal in person!

I made sure to take several pictures, and then I saw him - the spitting image of Wang Shujin, the famous, fat Bagua Master in Taiwan that the late Robert Smith wrote about. This man was at least equally rotund if not more so, with a huge layer of blubber that surrounded his whole waist that made his head and extremities seem comically disproportionate. I first spotted him deftly weaving his way through the Nine Palaces, faking to the East with his arms as his belly went to the West. My Bagua brother Riccardo spotted him about the same time I did. We both quickly agreed that he was the quintessential, iconic Bagua hero that he and I want be when we grow up or maybe be adopted by. What I mean by this is that he has obviously trained for many years, and despite what many people in the west would consider to be a grossly overweight physique, he is in a fact very likely to be in an excellent state of health by Chinese medicinal standards and a very formidable martial artist. All of this thanks to the highly advanced, esoteric art that Bagua is.

There was also a middle-aged Chinese gentleman who was easy to spot because out of hundreds of guests, he was the only person wearing a white, silk Tai Chi uniform. He was practicing the Bagua Rooster Knives and had some other weapons lying on the ground next to him. He said he had made the knives and the broadsword by hand and let me try the Bagua broadsword out and take some pictures with it. He gave a couple pointers on the sword and otherwise seemed like a nice guy. Little did we know that he would transform into the “Drunken Bagua Master” after the alcohol started flowing!

Looking out over the practice area was a veranda with some tables where nearly a dozen of Grandmaster Li Ziming’s most famous disciples were sitting, now all famous masters in their own rights. Master Sui was drinking tea with them, and he invited me to join them as he introduced me along with my Bagua brothers to the group. In particular, he re-introduced me to Master Li Gongcheng who I hadn’t since I participated in the initiation ceremony to become Master Sui’s disciple in 1995. Master Sui told Master Li that I taught Chinese at Tsing Hua University and upon hearing this Master Li’s his eyes opened wide as did everyone else as he exclaimed, “Wah a foreigner teaching Chinese at the famous Tsing Hua University, incredible!” Master Sui meant to say I taught English, but I just let it slide since it sounded more impressive.

I noticed that a lot of men were starting to gather towards the practice square again and I quickly realized why. There was a nubile, young woman striking Bagua poses with various weapons that everyone was ogling. I had to take several shots to convince the guys out there in Facebookland to come to China. Master Wongtong along with the fat Bagua master gave her pointers as the instant paparazzi formed around her feverishly taking photos. There was a humorous moment when the “Bagua Beauty” was trying a fancy pose with one leg sticking out in the air behind her and the fat Bagua master stepped in to do the pose himself. It’s a very graceful and feminine pose akin to something from women’s figure skating, so to see such a big man holding the pose perfectly was hilarious!

As the media circus was underway around the Bagua Beauty wielding a spear, Meihuazhuang brother Giuseppe grabbed another spear and started doing a super explosive version of the La Na Zha (the spear equivalent of block, parry, and thrust) that also caught a lot of attention. Soon Master Sui jumped into the scene sporting a white jacket over his famous wifebeater, black pants, and patent leather shoes. His moves as usual were the most crisp, clean and explosive of anyone that day.

Word spread that a big procession was coming our way including the new bride and groom so we headed to the main entrance. As the caravan neared, large floral shell fireworks were shot in the air at strategic locations along the route. A dozen or so men wearing yellow silk Kung Fu uniforms with yellow scarves started to play cymbals and drums as four northern style lions started to dance. The northern style lions were much hairier than their southern counterparts and were lead by an acrobat with a ball who they chased around as they performed various tricks and poses. One of the more notable tricks involved the young man playing the head sitting on his partner playing the tail’s shoulders, and the acrobat hanging by his armpits on the head’s feet as they all spun around in a circle. After the lions finished with their final pose, they let Giuseppe and I play with the Lion heads, taking photos and even starting a mock Lion fight.

The masters and disciples posed for a giant group photo and the signal was given, I knew what was next - more firecrackers than I've ever seen in my life! There was row after row of firecrackers lined up in front of the main entrance, which had a giant inflatable rubber arch with the Chinese characters for double happiness flanked by a Phoenix on the left and a Dragon on the right. We all ran to take cover from the onslaught of firecrackers. My recent encounter with the deafening fireworks that went off for weeks in Beijing during the Chinese new year taught me that they pack a lot more TNT into the fireworks in China now than the US. The smoke barely cleared as the parade made it’s way through the arch with the Lions and cymbal players leading the way. The bride and groom’s vehicle was now visible and it turned out to be a gigantic, stretch hummer! This stretch hummer seemed like twice the length of the biggest ones I’d seen in Vegas! The vehicle was mobbed by people as it made its way to the parking lot. When the bride and groom exited the hummer, plumes of colorful streamers flew in from all directions in the air.

Once we walked into the giant greenhouse where they had the reception the first thing I noticed was an enormous, heavily airbrushed photo of the bride and groom. They were dressed in conventional western attire, the bride wearing a long white dress and the groom a dark suit with his hair quaffed with the popular Asian boy band look. The greenhouse was full of what seemed like hundreds of tables in dozens in different sections with a large stage at one end and a Mongolian yurt at another. As we passed the giant portrait of the couple, to our right was a huge table with talented artists creating paintings for the couple such as scenes of peony flowers, plum blossoms, and an incredibly oblong painting of a bamboo forest possibly ten feet or longer. Soon my Russian Bagua brother, Denis, started to create a painting as well using the traditional Chinese brush and ink, but employed his own unique brushing technique. Before we knew it, Denis had created a fantastically intricate painting of a Russian angel all within the time it took for him to smoke just one cigarette!

At this point the bride and groom were on the main stage and I realized that a famous Chinese comedian had been hired to be the MC. I have seen his face on Chinese TV a lot, so he must not be cheap. Right off the bat he asked the maiden of honor if she is single or not. It turned out to his disappointment that she was already married. He continued to tell a lot of jokes, but I was out of range and had trouble understanding the humor anyway. We sat in our assigned section with the rest of my Bagua brothers and there were three people that were guests of another master. They included a British man who trained in Chuojiao (a northern style of Kung Fu) and Wushu, a female Chinese Wushu coach hailing from South Africa, and a Canadian policeman from Novia Scotia who also trained in Chuojiao.

Each table was fully stocked mountains of free beer, wine, baijiu (a Chinese liquor), and cigarettes. Countless courses of wonderful dishes were served, most of which I now forget but two that stand out are the giant goose meat drumsticks and ginormous, XXXL, mondo, jumbo shrimp! The shrimp was bigger than my hand and it took me half an hour to eat the thing! As is the Chinese custom at weddings, the groom must toast every single table of guests. This was a monumental task in this case and I was impressed that the groom was still able to stand by the time he reached our table. Masters and disciples circulated the tables and we all said “ganbei” to each other many times. “Ganbei” literally means to empty your cup, and we did so many times out of respect. Early on, I made the decision to just focus on wine and not baijiu, which is a super strong liquor than has a smell and taste similar to turpentine.

Once everyone was fully inebriated the British Chujiao expert happily gave a quick demo of a Chuojiao form and the Canadian cop was coaxed into doing a pretty impressive display of powerful flying kicks. Master Sui also demonstrated some Titui (kicking techniques) that were very similar to the Chuojiao moves. The cop said he used his Chujiao against bad guys on a regular basis because he was quite short and apparently served in a really rough area with a lot of violent, non-compliant criminals.

From this point on my memory is a little hazy as we were all pretty sloshed, but I remember the gentleman in the white uniform who I had seen earlier suddenly appear wildly flailing his arms at our youngest and newest Bagua brother, Sasha. He was attacking him - it was a drunken Bagua fight! You knew you couldn’t get an army of Bagua people together, load them full of liquor and not expect at least one fight. For the rest of the day, this seesaw battle would rage on. Sasha would think he was in the clear and then the white uniformed Bagua master would appear ready for more, and resume his attack. Each time Sasha would use his highly relaxed state due to the alcohol to calmly dodge, block, and otherwise shrug off each attack. At one point the man in white was aggressively trying to wrestle with Sasha, so he simply made a small sidestepping motion and the drunken master went flying to the turf. Later everyone noticed that the he was bleeding from the elbow, which his must have injured when trying to break his fall. It was a minor injury, more of a scrape than anything else, but it was enough to generate a good amount of blood that splattered onto his white uniform.

At one point the organizers of the event asked us to give some kind of performance to represent our school, so my Russian Bagua comrades chose to sing the famous Russian song “Moscow Nights”. These many weeks later, it is still ringing in my ears now. After the stage performance was over, Master Sui busted out his favorite Hulusi, an instrument that consists of a gourd with a slender mouthpiece on the top and three pipes coming out the bottom. Russian brothers Volodia and a different Sasha then started jamming on their guitars with him. With the continued flow of alcohol, things started to get silly. Instead of putting a lampshade on his head, Volodia used a clam shell as a guitar pick resulting in bits of unfinished clam flying everywhere. Yeah, there was a lot of free booze!

This time the drunken Bagua master was back with a vengeance and he wanted to challenge Sasha to a duel. Master Sui said Sasha was our youngest and newest disciple and that it would be much more of a challenge to take on our top fighter Giuseppe outside. He did not respond to acknowledge this offer, but rather resumed his assault on the hapless Sasha. This was not a problem though because Sasha proved to be more than capable of defending himself. In so doing, he gave us all face because if the newest and youngest apprentice in our school could fend off a Bagua, albeit drunken, master, imagine how tough our seasoned veterans must be!

As the party started to wind down, my Bagua brothers and I made sure to get the opportunity to take photos with as many of Master Sui’s Bagua brothers as possible. Many of these masters are very famous in China around the world with many excellent students as well as books and videos to their credit. I was able to exchange greetings and/or take photos with Li Gongcheng, Wangtong, Zhao Dayuan, and Di Guoyong to name a few. Everyone seemed to be genuinely happy and content. I could not help but think about what the masters that are Master’s Sui’s age had been through over their lifetimes and how much better life in China is now that it was during the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution.

Just when we thought the coast was clear and we were about to get in the car, the next thing I know Sasha is getting attacked by the drunken master in white again! This time he was hurling multiple horizontal chopping palms. Sasha just rolled with the punches easily evading each blow. Eventually, the two were separated and we were chauffeured back to Xizhimen.

I later found out that a week after the Bagua wedding, the drunken Bagua master, his master, and several other members of their school came personally to Master Sui’s house to apologize profusely for his disrespectful, inappropriate behavior. Master Sui responded, “There was no harm done and there are no ill feelings between the two groups.” Anyway, I think it was a good hazing initiation ritual for the newest member of our Bagua clan. On Sasha’s last day of practice in China, I spontaneously decided to spar with him too, and I found this his skill had noticeably improved possibly in part due to the drunken Bagua training.

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.

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.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

September Trip to New York

Our first full day in New York was initially spent checking in and rounding everyone up and then we went to see some major sites in Manhattan which included having lunch and shopping in Chinatown. Right off of the subway in Chinatown, I quickly located the Shaolin Temple, hit the buzzer and was amazed that the door opened! We then knocked on the door and were surprised to be face to face with Shi Yanming himself! He was very friendly and cordial. I spoke with him in Chinese and English. He was impressed with my Chinese and I found his English to be very fluent. We were kind of dumbfounded, so didn't have much to say. He asked if I had trained with the Beijing Wushu team and I said no, but I did train with the TsingHua team. He strongly encouraged me to open a Wuguan. He invited us to come back in the evening to either watch or participate in their practice. I was glad that we just chose to watch, because they worked out really hard doing two sets of Titui and there was no AC, so they sweat a lot. We even got splattered with sweat a couple times! Yuck!

We got tired and hungry just from watching them train, so we begged out towards the end. Shi Yanming escorted us out and said he would help me if I started a Wuguan. We then went to Little Italy to eat dinner. In the teeny tiny restaurant I was amazed to see that UFC fighter Rashad Evans came in a sat near us. Most of our group didn't recognize him, and I decided not to call any attention to it since I figured he didn't want to be bothered.

We trained every day in Prospect Park in Brooklyn twice a day. In the mornings we focused more on Baguazhang and in the afternoons, we worked more on Meihuazhang. In both sessions, we worked with Master Sui on Qigong, Titui, strikes, kicks, throws, counters to wrestling moves, sparring and some Meihuazhuang ground fighting. The great thing was that on the first day, we had two guys who just happened to be wandering by join our training sessions because they were so impressed with what we were doing. A guy that happened to be practicing in Bagua in the park also stopped by and watched for a while. A lot of people tried to imitate our Qigong movements in the background.

Master Sui is always very hands on and he beat us up all the time. He showed a number of counters to single and double leg grabs. He said it actually is really stupid to try to grab the leg of a skilled, traditional Kung Fu fighter because you're head is so exposed to counter attack. He showed one way to hit the ears that would make their ear drums explode and blood would gush out of their ears.

He also demonstrated something that looked similar to the guillotine choke and he would sometimes add punches to the ribs from that position. He put each of us in it so we could feel what it was like. He showed a number of escapes from various holds, such as going into Supporting Heaven Palm to break free from a bear hug. A lot of his escapes from holds were dirty or sneaky like graping or hitting the groin, stomping the feet, head butting, etc..

A couple students sparred a bit and Sui thought they were ok, but he said the main thing lacking was full body power and they they weren't attacking continuously. He emphasized that we should attack in long continuous explosions.

My Dad had us all attack Master Sui at once and he demonstrated how to use chopping palm techniques (White Ape?) and Bagua footwork to fight off multiple attackers simultaneously in different directions and from getting in too close. The chopping palm movements he used were from an exercise he had shown us earlier in which we swung our arms and took long, low steps like an ape. It believe these movements may have their origin in White Ape Tongbeiquan.

I think the Bagua footwork and palm strikes Master Sui showed us are a great for practical self defense against a gang of thugs. Here at UNLV an international student was telling me about how Mexican gangs jump people on the street late at night, beat them up, and take whatever money they have. He said he's had several friends beaten up by these gangs and sent to the hospital. He almost got jumped too, but he figured out they were setting up a trap and he changed the direction he usually walked. Sure enough, they were hiding behind a dumpster.

We worked on both some moves from the advanced 64 palm form and reviewed basic forms such as Dingshi Bazhang and Laobazhang. There's a lot to Dingshi Bazhang and I'm still learning new stuff about it all these years after first learning it. Master Sui says there's a lot of good fighting application from just that form. Like Wulong Baiwei - Black Dragon Shakes His Tail and Yin and Yang Palm, to name a few. We also worked on applying Lion Rolls the Ball.

Most importantly, Master Sui said he can teach us all the applications in the world, but they won't really work in real life unless we develop our Qi. He said the key to developing Qi in addition to walking the circle is to practice a number of Qigong exercises that he showed us in more detail this time around. He said the term Qigong isn't the correct word, it should be Daoyingong, which roughly translates as guiding Qi exercise. Meditation on the Dantian is another important piece that is something that should be explored.

He emphasized that it is important not to "loose your Qi" when going from one movement to another one transition to another when doing a form. The same would be true in attacking, that you don't relent in your attack and that in holding very rooted stances and good form, you will have much more power.

The most impressive thing about Master Sui is the power he generates from Qi. He hit me on the chest and power went deep into the lung and I had trouble breathing for a couple hours. He wasn't even trying to hit very hard. He also threw me harder than ever this time around. One time I saw the ground coming so fast like a car wreck, it was scary, but I was able to break my fall safely.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Trip to Beijing May 2007

I've just concluded yet another successful trip to China this year. There were many adventures and tales to tell. Early during my stay right after practice, I happened to see the world's tallest living man Bao Xishun walking down the street! He is 7ft 9in tall, but he looked at least 10 feet tall from my vantage point. I was just walking back to my hotel when I ran into him. I have never seen a person so massive in size. I saw Shaq in person earlier this year, and he made Shaq look like a little kid in comparison. He was walking down the street with an entourage of average height people. Many people on the street recognized him and said hi. Also many cars stopped people were taking pictures with their cell phones.

The first day of practice offered some surprises including some new, and interesting Titui kick combinations. Also a new exercise called Diantui in which the two partners take turns flying through the air at each other, it's quite fun though very tiring. I learned the ancient Titui this time as well. I'm planning on teaching that to my students at UNLV and Winthrop.

Another new thing I noticed was that there is a new big dirt ring for sparring. At the end of practice, a couple Russian Bagua girls went all out against Giuseppe and Yangzi. I noticed that one of the Russian girls had a fist shaped bruise on her temple, obviously from a recent scrape. Over the course of my training, I learned the "Jinga" for both Meihuazhuang and Baguazhang sparring. I did some sparring with Giuseppe, Master Sui, Shitian, and Volodya (new Russian Bagua guy). Sui mentioned that he hoped to train Delmar for a big Chinese Sanda tournament some day.

I learned a lot of new parts of the Meihuazhuang form. I got up to about the 3rd center more or less. I almost made it to the end, but it was too much information. When doing the Meihuazhuang form, we did a lot of unrehearsed attacks and defenses. It was quite interesting. I was able to do the entire set with everybody by the second week. I also learned the first 4 sections of the 2 person 64 palm form.

We also practiced a lot of punching and kicking techniques with striking pads. One day, a big Meihuazhuang guy from another school showed us some good take downs and counters to take downs. He has one a number of full contact Sanda tournaments. He asked me to strike him with whatever technique I chose, I opted for a sudden crescent kick to the head, and he quickly used the "Kao" technique to neutralize it. His name means Double Happiness in Chinese, and he always had a roguish smile that would lighten up even more when demonstrating a technique.

The old wound on my ankle started to bother me again, so Master Sui suggested I see his top Chinese doctor. The new Russian Bagua student, Volodya, is currently interning at the hospital he works at, so I met him at nearby Xinjiekou. It turns out that Yangzi works as a security guard at clothing store in Xinjiekou, so I spent some time hanging out with him. I found out that he was going to lead a northern lion dance that weekend, but since it was in the countryside, we weren't able to see it. When I went to see the doctor, I was surprised to see another one of Sui's longtime students also working there. The doctor prescribed some medicine to improve the flow of Qi in the meridian connected with my ankle. I found that the medicine started to take effect quite quickly and I was able to practice with a lot less pain for the rest of my stay there.

On Friday of last week I finally got to see my long lost Bagua brother Shitian Haoshi (Kouji Ishida) who I haven't seen in 9 years! We spent a lot of time catching up and talking about old times. Master Sui invited us to eat Xinjiang food and had us try mutton kidney shishkebabs. I have to say that it was kind of gross, but Shitian liked it. It helped to wash it down with a lot of beer. Shitian's Bagua has reached a high level because he focuses on the Dingshibazhang basics and Zhangzhuang (static stance training). He sent me flying a couple times when sparring.

On Saturday, in addition to practice I got to see my friend Christopher Parsons, a.k.a. Mr. Magic perform in a bilingual puppet show he had written to teach Chinese children English. He was very entertaining as usual and the kids really enjoyed the show. Later that evening I met up with him again at a Coach Surfing party. The concept of Coach Surfing is to exchange into with people and offer each other your coach when someone is traveling through town, or something to that effect. We then ended up going to a bar in the Houhai district called Bagua, believe it or not. But the name is probably more likely from the slang term for gossip instead of martial arts or Fengshui.

One day it rained and so we watched footage of Sui and company's recent trip to the Meihuazhuang village. They practiced 3x a day for many hours in all kinds of weapons forms and the basic hand form. They also did a fair amount of sparring. At the end of their trip, they took part in a regional Meihuazhuang performance. Tons of people came from all over the countryside to watch. Various groups from around the region performed different forms, titui, and sparring. There were some epic sparring battles including a guy that had one normal hand the other hand only had two giant fingers. He used them as an intimidating weapon. Yangzi bravely took on a much older, bigger, experienced guy from another school and got totally schooled, but that's OK it was a good training experience.

Oh yeah, there's a new weekly traditional martial arts tournament broadcast on Beijing TV. Here is the link Each week they have 4 martial artists from the same traditional Kung Fu school fight each other on a circular Lei Tai without any protective gear. The top fighter goes on the semi finals later. During my stay, it was all traditional Bajiquan fighters. I heard the previous weeks it was Meihuazhuang. Sui's Meihuazhuang's master's son is one of the top judges on the show. In the future, they will have Baguazhang, Xingyiquan and other traditional arts. It's good to see that there's a renaissance in traditional martial arts going on in China now.

On one of my free days, I went on a tour of Beijing's old alleys including Prince Gong's Palace, the former home of the infamously corrupt Qing Dynasty official Heshen. He amassed a vast fortune of gold, silver, and precious stones. The palace imitates a number of features of the Forbidden City and Summer Palace. I also visited the home of a typical Beijing Hutong family. The end of my tour included a glimpse of the new Olympic Beijing National Stadium dubbed the Bird's Nest due to it's bizarre shape.

Shitian and I took one day to go to a major weapons store next to Tiyu Daxue. We bought a variety of books, videos, Feiyue shoes, uniforms, and I finally got a nice pair of Jizhua Yinyangrui(yue), or roughly translated as Rooster Claw Yinyang Axes. It's a weapon unique to Bagua and very intimidating looking with razor sharp blades in all directions. The shape is roughly like that of a Rooster including its head, beak, plumage, and claws. Shitian and I also hammed it up for the camera posing with various medieval weapons and armor.

On one of the last days of practice, I made sure to ask Master Sui to play the flute for us. I had only last year found out that one of his favorite hobbies besides martial arts was playing the flute. He taught himself by listening to flute players on the radio. He said this was before the days of TV and all they had was the radio for entertainment. This time I finally remembered to ask him to play, so he brought out a simple, bamboo flute. It was almost stunning how loud this little flute became once he got started. I was impressed with his wide repertoire of complex folk songs he could play in quick succession.

I talked to Master Sui a lot about organizing a trip to train in the mountains of Sichuan or Fujian next year. The area that in Sichuan that he often leads training trips at is the home to famous, ancient Daoist temples and well known for its natural beauty. There is a Daoist priest there that is 110 years old and still has all of his faculties. Not only is the environment much more conducive to developing Qi energy and much closer to old China, it is also cheaper to stay at the Daoist temples there. So we will hopefully be heading for southern China next time around.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Training Regimine

Over the past couple months I've modified the training regimine for the Bagua class. At first I had them work on a lot of standing Bagua drills, two person drills, titui and self defense techniques before teaching the form, and then we would do Push Hands! This meant not as much time was spent on the form itself. I found they weren't really getting it, so for the past few weeks I've decided to just do some basic warmups and go straight to the form. They've since made a lot of progress.

Now that they've learned most of the major moves, I'm having them perfect them. One effective way is to have them slowly do one palm at a time and checking themselves in the mirror. We also do the form in its entirety as a group. Preparing for the performance was week was a major motivating factor for many of the students and this rapidly improved their form and interest in it.

When doing the form, many students have started to notice interesting sensations. For example, some have felt tingling in their finger tips. Others have noticed a floating sensation in their feet when walking the circle. I have felt warm energy emanating from many of their palms while walking in the circle in postures like Embrace the Moon and Yinyang Fish.

Internal Martial Arts Association Now Official at UNLV

Well, after much hard work, the Internal Martial Arts Association is now an officially recognized student organization at UNLV with a president and financial officer. Now that we're an officially recognized organization on campus we have since been able to reserve space in the Martial Arts room in MPE (McDermott Physical Education) building. Also, we are now eligible for funding and so we have purchased some basic weapons, stretching equipment, and striking pads.

Last Tuesday, April 10th we participated in UNLV's Unity Fest Variety Show in the Student Union Theater. Three students and I performed Dingshibazhang, one of the students performed part of a traditional Yang form, and I performed the complete 64 Palm Bagua form. Once we finished, we got a really good response from the crowd. It was a nice and brief performance at only about 6 minutes, with good music for each form. I think this was a good venue for us because there was a wide variety of acts including Rap, Hula, Jazz, Indian flute, poetry, and improv. My students were able to perform almost the entire Dingshibazhang form despite only having practiced it for a short time.

Wednesday, April 11th we had a booth at the Unity Fest Festival of Communities Fair and recruited several new members. Slowly but surely we're increasing our presence on campus. I anticipate the next academic year being a lot bigger for the club.