Saturday, 17 May 2008

learning kung fu from master Ho Zhi Yuan

When I first arrived in the town of Chengyang, just outside Qingdao, I thought I wouldn't find any martial arts here. The more I asked around, the more certain I was that this 15 year old modernly built mass of concrete apartment blocks and sterile parks was completely devoid of anyone with any connection to the traditional arts.

3 months later, my Mandarin teacher Eric, sent me a text message saying he had met an old man in the university who was teaching "the most useful styles of fighting". I had absolutely no idea what to expect, so the next day I set my alarm for 5am and made my way to the universities park. I got there and there was maybe 5 or 6 young Chinese guys stretching and circling their arms. After a while this small old man in his 70s with a big coat and baseball cap walked up to one of the guys and began correcting him. Everyone crowded round and greeted him with "Aah Shifu" and a bow. When he spoke, he had a calm confidence about him, and he spoke in a very thick Shandong dialect and was matter-of-factly with the usual self importance (not arrogance though) that Chinese masters usually have.

Shifu is in his 70s and has been learning martial arts since he was 7 years old. Doing the maths would mean that he learnt it in pre-communist China and so is a living link with a world which no longer exists. He has studied many styles, but his speciality is Mizongyi, the style made famous by Huo Yuan Jia. He doesnt teach us forms or endless repetitive drills, he teaches single techniques and their applications and then he will show us variations depending on how the opponent reacts etc. Most of the stuff is pretty basic and simple, hes never style specific, he will teach what he thinks works regardless of what style it comes from. He teaches us it is vital to always use your whole body in a movement, to use your waist to generate power and to only tense at the end of the technique. This force generation in Chinese is called Fa Jing. He also says you should be alive and flexible, ready adapt or change your movement at any moment, depending on what the opponent is doing.

He was critical of many Chinese martial artists these days, who only learnt forms and didnt dedicate time to stance training and force generation, as a result they couldnt fight because they didnt understand the meaning of the movements in the forms and they didnt have stable stances or power in their movements. You must always begin with practicing basics. First train your stance, then punches and leg stretches. You shouldnt learn the next thing until you can do the first. Proper training in horse stance (Ma Bo) will strenghen your legs, waist and back. Punches should use the whole body to generate power. Forms can come later, if you can do the basics well, that is the most important thing.