Monday, 30 June 2008

lessons in discipline and perseverance with a master of Shandong Mantis Kung Fu

After the Tai Chi master returned to Jinan I decided to go to a park where Id heard I could find people practicing kung fu. I saw a couple of middle aged guys practicing Tai Chi and they told me they practiced with a master of Mantis and that he would come tomorrow. So the next day I went to the park at 5.30am and I saw a man in his late 50s doing Qigong. The 2 guys introduced him to me as Xu Jing Yi, the head of the Taiji-Meihua lineage of mantis in Qingdao. The first thing the master Xu asked me was what Ive learnt before and I told him just a little Wing Chun, to which he asked me to show him, so I ran through Chum Kiu, which he laughed at and said it is womens kung fu and that I first need to master Jiben Gong (basic body training) before I can learn specific styles. The 2 other guys told me master Xu also teaches Shaolin Quan and Chen style Taiji Quan.

So first he taught me Ma Bu (horse stance) and Gung Bu (front stance). He told me I must first master these before I can learn the other 6 basic stances and the kicks and strikes. I had to hold each stance as long as I could and once he was confident I could do it, he would show me the next one. This went on for a few weeks, master Xu was very strict and some mornings he wouldnt show me anything new (which meant I had not made progress) and other mornings show me 2 or 3 things. This was very tiring, I had to force myself out of bed every morning and I hated going, as my whole body was aching so much. Especially sometimes when master Xu didnt show me anything new, he would just leave me practicing the same thing over and over and I never got any encouragement. When I asked him how long I need to study basics he just told me "hen duo, hen duo" (a lot, a lot).

Last week he suddenly stopped me mid practice and told me to stand next to him and follow him and he then showed me the opening movements to a basic form of Shaolin Quan, and every morning since then he has shown me 3 or 4 more movements until I finally finished it.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Yang style Taijiquan with Master Zhang Qing Bao

I was walking back from my usual kung fu class, when I happened to see a big fat man doing Pushing Hands (Tui Shou) with another man and there was a couple of women watching as well as some other students practicing. I stopped and asked the women what style of Tai Chi it was and they replied "Yang Shi", which is the most popular style seen in the west and comes from the Yang family. Then one of the students came up to me and spoke in near-perfect English. It turned out he was Malaysian and had been studying with the master for 7 years as a "closed door student". He told me the fat man was called master Zhang and came from Jinan, another city several hours away, to teach in our local park once a month. He then invited me to push hands with the master, but I said I didnt know how and so he just told me to press my arm against his and try to keep my balance. So I did and the master just casually moved his arm and whichever direction he moved it, I would go flying. Then the Malaysian guy said to try and bend the masters fingers backwards and break them, and so I tried and with his finger he moved me around as if I was weightless. He explained that the more strength I used, the more I would fly back.

The next day I went back to learn more and then they began to explain in more detail the principles. The Malaysian guy said he had studied many different hard styles of martial arts including Muay Thai and Wing Chun and he had huge forearm muscles and the muscles in his hands were like little rocks. But he had given all that up as he felt the softness of Tai Chi was superior. He explained that the reason the master was completely soft and yet still able to move me around freely lay in his understanding of using his mind (the actual word he used was Qi, but in this case it was meant as mind power). He said that he put his intention behind me and then his body just followed this intention and so I was powerless to stop it. The result was I flew back. Then the master said to try my Wing Chun on him, and he showed how the classic Wing Chun strategy of pinning and hitting simultaneously with great speed didnt work as it was like trying to grab water, his arms just moved around mine so effortlessly and then followed a gentle push, which again sent me flying. my attempt to arm lock him also ended in me going flying.

Recently I have been focusing too much on hard training and I neglected softness. This experience had put me back in touch with the softer side of martial arts. A good martial artist should be balanced, developing both hard and soft so he/she can adapt to any situation easily. I have begun to take an interest in Tai Chi, but unfortunately after the mast returned to Jinan I couldnt find his students, but I did find a teacher of Chen style, which is not as soft as Yang style, but can generate explosive power through its softness.