Training in the trees

As I mentioned, the Small Steps school train in a different Beijing park every Sunday. Yesterday, it was the Temple of Heaven, right down in the south of the city. There’s now a subway stop outside the East Gate, so that’s how I went – but it seemed to take a loooooong time, and I joined the class about an hour and a half late. Next time we train there, I’ll go on my bike – I think it would be quicker!

The east side of the park is where the crowds are; loads of elderly Beijingers practicing ballroom dancing, Beijing Opera, that weird taiji badminton, kicking feathered weights and so on and so on… There was a new one I hadn’t seen before, of tossing large rubber quoits at one another, and trying to get your head through the centre so that you build up a set of them around your neck like some strange African tribe…. Past all these, and the tourists (both Chinese and foreign), past the vendors of chilled water bottles (yi kuai wu! yi kuai wu! Harlo! Two yuan!) Hehehehe, past the surreal flying saucers of the temple itself, and over the the quieter west side – more open and forest-like. Here, every grove seemed to have its own group of martial artists… One group, near where we were headed, were practising xingyi and bagua; young, heavily muscled, standing motionless in santi, or gliding in circles….

Then I joined Liu Lao Shi, Dalida, and a group of others, who had been there for a long time before I arrived! I was set to working on some of the qigong postures, including a long stretch of zhan zhuang. By the end of all this, my shoulders were really aching! After that, a session of the bagua ‘tea cups’ exercise, which I haven’t done in a long, long time! It was fun, though. All too soon, it seemed, the session was over, and we all went our separate ways.

One of the other students, the Canadian I mentioned, knows something about systema, and we’ve chatted about it before. We agreed yesterday to catch up some time to try training together; I think we could work on some of the exercises from Scott Sonnon’s Softwork DVD….

I went pretty much straight on to my afternoon yiquan class, pausing only for a plate of baozi. Mmmmmm, there’s a branch of the Qing Feng Steamed Baozi chain just around the corner from Yao Lao Shi’s school, and I often eat there on my way to class.

There were four of us there; two foreign, two Chinese. It was a good session, pretty strenuous towards the end. I managed to get in a tui shou session with all three of the other guys, and was feeling pretty strained afterwards; one of them is a lot taller than me, so I had to work pretty hard. Luckily for me, he has a habit of locking himself into a position and then pushing, so he’s pretty much unshiftable if you push against him – but with a swift change of angle, he can’t defend himself. He’s going to be tough to beat once he figures that out…

Then, on to Zhongshan Park. I worked on the ZMQ-37 as usual, giving it a few rounds. Next, the wuji long xing bagua form of Master Zhou – which I haven’t done for a good long while, and needs a bit of refreshing. That’s got a move very similar to one in the ROSS systema ‘wave’ DVD, of stretching out the arms and sending a wave rolling from hand to hand; something got a bit crunchy in my left shoulder when I tried that….

After that, a bit of xuan xuan taiji dao. Mentioning that, I should note that on my way to the park, I’d noticed that my bike was shaking unusually when I braked, so I stopped at the Drum Tower to get it fixed by the bike repair man there. It turned out that the rim of the front wheel was a bit buckled, so that needed changing. While he was building the new wheel, one of his friends noticed the sword bag slung over my back and wanted to know what was in it, so I told him it was a taiji dao. Oh, he said, a taiji jian. No, a taiji dao. Is it long? he asked. Yes. Ahhh, it’s a bagua dao. Sigh. I got it out of the bag to show him. Hahaha, it’s a Japanese sword, not a Chinese sword, he told me. Sigh. I gave up.

In the bag, I also had my shashkas, of course, and I ended my training session in the park with a spell using those.That, and trying a few simple Cossack dance moves…. I’m getting faster and more accurate with one, and a bit more coordinated with two. I don’t think I’m being too forward if I say that I can already do a lot of what this guy is doing (not as well; not as smoothly; but getting there, bit by bit); what I can’t, I should be able to do soon….

My left wrist is going to take a while to train up to be as strong and flexible as it needs to be, though, and my shoulders definitely felt the strain. The left, in particular, is still too tight; it’s difficult to let the sword in my left hand swing naturally. Hehehehe, and one day I must get someone to take a picture of me doing that while a platoon of PLA soldiers marches past, staring at me in curiosity whilst keeping perfect step….

Oh yes, and I mentioned recently that I was still working on finding the correct way to grip the shashkas. Well, since I bought my new MacBook I’ve switched my default browser from Firefox to Chrome, and discovered with great pleasure that it’s got an auto-translate feature by default – which has seamlessly made a whole lot of YouTube comprehensible… Thus, I found myself looking at this, which kind of answered my immediate questions:

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