Back in China


Not long after I moved back to China, I found myself sitting at a low table on a street corner, in an obscure new-build area of Beijing somewhere near the airport. When I say new-build, I really mean “still under construction”, with whole blocks still fenced off, and the dust blowing in the breeze. A dozen or so low tables surrounded three large, industrial-sized, barbeque grills over which a team of men were labouring.

A good crowd had gathered, munching on chuanr (lamb chunks on skewers), chicken breasts, and mantou (a crispy bread), all of which were strongly spiced – I’d guess with cumin and paprika, though I’m not really sure. Empty bottles of Yanjing beer and some kind of orangeade were collecting around each table. Every couple of minutes, an aircraft climbed up over us, its landing lights forming beams through the dust and smog. As a rule, I don’t eat meat but, sometimes, refusing what’s offered would cause offence, and I judged this to be one of those times. It was the evening after Beijing Systema’s first workshop.



I’ve been in China for two months now. I left St. Petersburg on March 31st, the day my Russian visa expired, having finally been issued with my Chinese visa just a couple of days before. Talk about cutting things fine… I flew via Dubai; I only had a few hours’ stopover there in the early hours of the morning, but I wouldn’t hurry back. The time has gone very quickly, with a lot of intensive training in my new job followed by equally intense work, which has seen me visit Xi’an, Tianjin, Dalian and Zhengzhou in rapid succession.

Even before leaving St. Petersburg, I’d been looking forward to attending a systema workshop I’d learned about via Facebook, being run by Janik Litalien of Systema Hong Kong.

The first session was on Friday afternoon, and covered groundwork and ‘movement as defence’. These were things I’d really wanted to work on. Unfortunately, I had to miss this – I had instead to go to the Public Security Bureau near Andingmen to surrender my passport (part of the process of obtaining my Chinese residence permit).

On Saturday, I made my way out. It was a long way out from my home in central Beijing!

I won’t go into the details too much; we covered a fair bit of material to a weekend. The people were really interesting, though none of us had a great deal of experience in systema. Unfortunately, during some groundwork exercises on the first day an old injury to my ribs cracked open again, and just didn’t heal up. Because of this, I’ve not done any more martial arts practice, or indeed any exercise, since then; it’s just been too painful. It’s only started to improve recently, after I went to a traditional Chinese doctor for acupuncture, cupping, and a course of herbal medicine. However, that’s a topic for one of my other blogs…

I have, though, been able to do some work with my shashkas and nagaikas, and have been doing basic exercises with my domra malaya and balalaika; sadly, I’ve very, very rusty. I’m travelling a lot in the new job, so I plan to start taking the domra with me to practice in hotels (it being smaller than the balalaika but tuned the same way). Unfortunately, the shashkas will have to stay at home!

This fresh motivation has been the result of following the progress of Olivia Overturf‘s trip to Russia to study with Andrey Karimov. Some amazing material has been coming out of this. I can’t help feeling envious: she got the experience I had hoped to get in Russia, but couldn’t because of my work and financial constraints while I was in St. Petersburg.

Never mind; I’m about to start earning some very good money with the new job in China, and Olivia will be organizing another trip next year, so watch this space…

Sadly, her trip has sparked off a bout of the martial arts fundamentalism and sectarianism that I’ve always loathed. Since I happen to be a believer in Andrey’s approach, though (especially his method of integrating adult and child training), I’ll probably post something about that when I get time.




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