Smiles, styles, secrets, friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. Emlyn,

    Particularly in the beginning stages, I’ve always been confounded as to how anyone can attempt to seriously train more than one martial arts system/approach at a time and still have a life (people do, I know, but I can only conclude they have waaaaay more time and greater abilities than I do). I really think paring back your baguazhang to focus on yiquan is a wise choice if you want to make real progress.

    I see some commonalities with Systema and yiquan, particularly with working on Systema’s basic conditioning and breathing practices supporting and complementing yiquan’s frame.

    Look for an e-mail. Your people know my people. Or, as the children’s song goes, it’s a small world after all. ;- )


  2. From the video posted, the concept behind systema seems similar to that of tai chi. Or is it just my imagination? 😉


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