The Tea Road

I’m still reading the economic news, and crossing my fingers as the western economies creak and groan under vast amounts of debt. I hope that it will all work out and the world of abundance will continue as it has for the last twenty or so years – but I, like most of you, am old enough to remember how it was before, when flying to the other side of the world was only for the few, and stitching and mending and “waste not” were the rules we lived by, and so I can’t see how we carry on as we have been, living beyond our means as a culture.

So, sorry, I’m in a bearish mood still. (I never believed in “power animals”, even in the days when I knew lots of neo-pagans. I’m coming to suspect that if I have one, it’s a bear…..)

So, let’s talk a bit about what I’ve been up to.

Others are thinking along the same lines. Dave Pollard wrote about an article on Sharon Astyk’s site, which I liked very much. I recommend reading the original article, but Dave’s summary covers all the key points:

[Y]ou should move if:

Your mortgage is way more than the value of your house (especially since house values are likely to go lower)
You have young children or are elderly, and the people you’re closest to live far away
You have children you want to spend time with, or parents who need your care, living far away
You live in an extreme climate and are not adaptable to living without inexpensive heat, air conditioning, water, and imported food
You live in a community with people with mostly lousy (by your standards) values
You don’t think your children have a future where you live
You are planning on moving anyway (sooner is probably better than later)
You aren’t going to be happy or viable where you are if everything based on oil (transport, bought food, plastics, clothing, heat) gets much more expensive, or if your ‘commuter job’ disappears and you have to take (cheaper) employment locally
You live in an exurban area with no viable public transit, no locally produced food, and few close neighbours
You are not truly ‘native’ to where you live — never really fit in, called it home — and someplace else has always beckoned.

Now, I love living in Beijing; I love my work here, and there are very good people who share my values and worldview. Recently, I’ve been practising a lot in Zhongshan Park, and as I cycle beneath the walls of the Forbidden City with the morning sunlight and clear air making the red paint glow, or leaving the park at dusk with the air above me full of swallows flitting about and chittering as they return to their nests under the eaves of the watchtowers, or chasing insects amongst the willows that line the moat – well, I have to pinch myself to remind myself that yes, it is real, and yes, I am living in this amazing, fantastic city.

But I know that it won’t, it can’t, last forever. So, maybe it makes sense to think about how and when it ends – and a number of the points on Sharon’s list were already making me a little uneasy. I also got set thinking by a recent article on Afghanistan in the 1950s – a place of engineering success, rock and roll, and liberal values. I wonder if the people in those pictures ever suspected that within their lifetime their world would revert to being “a broken 13th century country“. Kyrgystan used to be a pretty well-developed element of the USSR; who, then, would have foreseen the ethnic cleansing and savagery that’s in the headlines this morning?

A lot of people are talking these days about beginning to build your tribe – or, as military theorist John Robb calls it, a “resilient community”. I’m not sure that I see that happening for me anywhere but Wales…

So, what to do? There are perhaps two options.

One is to seek to retreat from the world and let it go on its way without me. That’s the route of the hermit or the monastery. I still want to write about people who’ve taken that way, in the much-postponed next post in the “What’s it all about?” sequence of entries here. That did seem a strong option for me at one point, to be honest. I’m very drawn to Plum Village, for example… 🙂 Still, starting from when I began dating the Siberian, I’ve been drawn back into the world of attachment….

The other route is to get involved in building a resilient community. The question is, what can I (or you, reader) contribute?

It’s a question that is provoking a new movement in my martial arts interests – and leading me along the Tea Road…. In other words, it’s why I’ve been posting a lot about shashkas and systema recently!

I’ve been reviewing some of the DVDs of systema that were given to me, and comparing them to the “Systema Spetsnaz” DVD on “Internal Wave Energy” that I recently purchased. I also bought Scott Sonnon’s “Softwork“; I gather that this isn’t what he teaches these days, being from an earlier period in his trajectory, but it brings together what he learned from ROSS and other Russian systems.

To be honest, I really don’t see any huge differences between the practices of the different schools. I really like the philosophy that they all seem to share, and which is outlined in an article that I’ve previously linked to:

The doctrine of Russian Martial Art is based on the concepts of non-violence, cooperation, non-resistance and conformity. The Russian Martial Art master absorbs blows effortlessly, contorts the body to accommodate the threat and maintains contact until the assailant is rendered immobile.

… which fits rather nicely with something I’ve also been seeking in my martial arts studies (see my post ‘The manner of victory is important‘).

So far so good, but if I can get this with the Chinese martial arts, why move towards systema? This is where community comes into the picture…. With the Chinese martial arts, I’m getting great results in health, mental calmness, and combative ability; yiquan in particular, as I’ve mentioned here many times, has been particularly beneficial for me. The thing is, even if I reach the level of being able to teach in one or more of these, I’m not sure how they help to build a community -especially back in the UK where they’re not exactly mainstream; in a community adapting to resource constraints, I rather suspect that they would be seen at best as “nice, but by no means necessary”.

The Russian martial arts, on the other hand, have elements that may be a bit more marketable. In particular, I’m thinking of its connection with Cossack dance and choral singing (hey, I am Welsh, after all!). These are elements that can be used to build a community – dance and singing could attract people of all ages when a lot of what has become popular entertainment turns out to be unsustainable, and people start working in larger groups again…. It is suitable for both genders and all ages… and inside the song and dance are health techniques and systema fighting methods… Add to that the connections with the theatre from Stanislavsky, Chekhov and so on, and you have a system that’s highly appropriate to community-building….

As an example, I’ve been following the “Siberian Cossack Group LAD” for some time; although there are some elements that make me wary – and I know there has been a falling out with Mikhail Ryabko, though I have no idea what it’s all about – they are doing a lot of interesting work in combining the elements I’ve been talking about, and taking these into schools, youth groups, and so on – take a look at their videos on YouTube. (And, as a point of interest, in a recent Yiquan class, we had a visitor from Hong Kong who trains systema there, and who has friends who’ve attended the seminar in Kuala Lumpur I wrote about before. We had a very interesting chat!).

Don’t take this to mean that I’m giving up on the Chinese styles – quite the contrary! I’m still really enjoying the yiquan, though I think this is something for me to work on in my original path of “martial arts and meditation” as opposed to ‘finding a role in a community’. I’ve also been training again in bagua, though for various reasons I’ve kept quiet about that; I’ll be writing about it soon, though.

I’d be interested to hear what you think about all this….

6 Comments

  1. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, btw, but I studied Russian at school, and I’ve had a longstanding interest in Russia – this isn’t entirely coming out of the blue!

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  2. I just saw the you tube videos on the systema demonstrations. Impressed by how easy he makes it seem to disarm the man with the knife. Complete control over where he wants him to move. wow.

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  3. The traditional Chinese Sifu-Tudi (master-disciples) relationship would be an interesting case study for community building.

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    1. Hi C.K.

      You could be right! I have given it a lot of thought, but it’s never quite seemed the time.

      Now, I don’t know if there is time.

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