Saturday, 30 August 2008

befriending the local Taoist monks

Yesterday, me and some other English teachers went for a day out in the local Qingdao countryside. The first place we went was Xiao Long Shan, which is a small combined Taoist/Buddhist temple, just outside our local town of Chengyang. One of the teachers, Justin, speaks much better Chinese than me and we started chatting to a taoist guy there, who then took us to meet the head monk and several other monks and drink tea with them. So we sat down in an air-conditioned room with comfy sofas and a big TV in the back of the temple and drank tea and smoked cigarettes with the monks (well, I didnt smoke).
We chatted about several things for a couple of hours, with the help of a dictionary and then they showed us around the temple and blessed us in several different shrines. The monks explained that the reason the temple has taoist and buddhist monks and shrines is that they are both paths leading to the same goal. Noah, who is another teacher, is Christian, and so didnt want to bow to the shrines, which is understandable. The monks told us that all religions are equally great as they teach us to be better people and they all come from the same origin, which is Dao, the great unchanging Way, that guides the universe and regulates the balance of Yin and Yang. In essence this is the same idea as God, it only differs in that the Christian God seems to take a personal interest in you, whereas Dao is just a force.
Outside the shrine to Buddha was doves, one black and one white, just calmly sat either side of the entrance. They didnt fly away when we got close to them and inside was a buddhist monk reading scriptures and a mouse sat sitting on the floor. The mouse was not scared of people at all and the taoist monk said the mouse was "an jing" meaning "at peace". They were definitely both auspicious signs!
We then left the temple and the monks asked us to come and visit again and then we went to visit Mashan, which is a very small mountain with a couple of temples and a mysterious cave full of buddhist statues, which was also pretty cool.

Friday, 8 August 2008

A Second Meeting with Master Kwok Wan Ping

I had to return to Hong Kong to apply for a new visa for China. So I took the opportunityto meet with master Kwok Wan Ping again. However, this time my focus was on the Taoist martial art Ba Gua Zhang, of which Kwok Sifu is a respected master.
After warming up with some Wing Chun Chi Sau with his son, I told Sifu that I have become more interested in the internal arts, particularly Ba Gua, but that I hadn't found anyone in Qingdao who taught it. Ba Gua Zhang translates as 8 trigram palms, which refers to the 8 trigrams in Taoist metaphysics. The 8 trigrams are fire, earth, lake, heaven, water, mountain, thunder and wind. Each one represents a change in the flow of the cosmos and is named after its personality. For example, mountain doesnt literally mean a mountain, rather it represents the characteristics of a mountain: immovability, stillness. Each trigram is made up of 3 lines, which can be broken or unbroken (broken representing Yin, passive, soft and unbroken representing Yang, active, hard). Im not really qualified to go into detail about taoist cosmology, so for more detailed and accurate information look Ba Gua up on Wikipedia.
So Ba Gua Zhang is a system of internal martial arts based on these 8 changes in the universal flux. Sifu taught me the foundation of Ba Gua which is circle walking. You have a central object and you walk in a circle around it, always keeping your guard facing this centre. In application you would use just 1 or 2 of these circular steps to avoid an attack and at the same time move closer to your opponent. He also taught me a basic Jiben Gong excercise where you stand in Ma Bu and put a ball orobject in your hand and keeping your palm facing the sky, move it around your body. This strengthens your legs and especially your back and side muscles.
From this experience I learnt that internal doesnt neccesarily mean weak or soft, as Ba Guais very dynamic and intense and gave me a very good workout. Master Kwok explained that Wing Chun is very easy to learn and that is why it is so effective. But if you can dedicate enough time to Ba Gua, it is immensly powerful and is a very deep and rich martial art. He likened it to a very advanced version of Tai Ji Quan. I feel Wing Chuns main weakness is that it is very limited in that it doesnt give you a full range of movements and is not very dynamic. It needs to be supplemented with fitness programs, whereas more classical arts give you an intense workout.