The Chinese Internal Arts
issue 33 Autumn 2001/Winter 2002
*** this issue has been archived off ***
( only selected articles remain)

  
International Karaoke scene took off at last in Beijing in 2001
Inside This Issue
* Foreword
* Regular events
* Our Trip to China
* Building Internal Power


Saying of the month:
Consolation from imaginary things is not an imaginary consolation.
[Roger Scruton]


Our Trip to China
by Eva Koskuba

Beijing's midnight sun.
Due to uncertainties with Master Yao's visit, we booked our plane tickets quite late which meant we would have to stay in Beijing longer than we planned (no return tickets available) and also, as Karel calculated, we would arrive in Beijing at 2:00 in the morning! We were going to stay in a very reasonably priced hotel, which also happens to be near Nanguan Park where we train with master Yao. But it also closes for the night and so we were steeling ourselves to spend the first night on a park bench! As it happened, our plane must have passed through some time-warp because we arrived around lunch-time! All is well that ends well and we were installed in our hotel in no time at all.

Tiantan Park and Master Du.
Tiantan (Temple of Heaven) Park is the second most visited place in Beijing after the Forbidden City. As everything in Beijing, it has changed noticeably since our first visit. The area between the Temple and the North Gate has been sown with grass and a sprinkler system installed to keep it fresh and green. And very pretty it looks, too. However, people are not allowed to walk on the grass there anymore and that means that they cannot do their morning exercises as they used to. Some have moved to other parts of the park and some have moved out of the park. The new look is reflected in the entry price. When Karel went to Tiantan Park for the first time in 1994 he paid less than one yuan (about 8p), last year we paid four yuan and this year the entry was 15 yuan (35 yuan with the Temple visit included). The advantage of this increased fee is that the toilets have improved and are now free. Which is good news for those with digestion problems who have to go to the toilet at least 40 times a day - they are laughing (well, perhaps not).

Master Du, who is 83 according to our calendar (which is 84 or 85 according to the Chinese one) was in excellent form again, strong and full of vitality. This time round he concentrated a lot on applications. He also concentrated a lot more on me than before and this was fine when we were practising the form. But the focus of his attention didn't change even when we practised applications and this meant, with Karel egging him on, that I have gained a first hand practical knowledge of qinna. Great for my joints!

Nanguan Park.
Our afternoons were spent in Nanguan Park training with Master Yao. There was a lot going on there for such a small park - not only exercises but also Chinese Chess, Weiqi (Go) and cards. Master Yao and his students occupy one corner of the park. By 6 p.m. it was dark and as the park was not well lit we often practised in the dark.

Once I was in a group with Karel and several young students (around 18 years of age) when Master Yao showed us some fast punches which we then practised. I thoroughly enjoyed the punching and so practised marching up and down the ground. Karel and the boys were getting tired and kept asking me whether "I was tired" so that they could stop practising. However, as I enjoyed the practice I carried on oblivious to their predicament. Master Yao finally could see that everyone (apart from me) was exhausted and so he stopped the fast practice.

One Saturday we were invited to a special ceremony called 'Baishi' where Zhi, one of Master Yao's students, became his special disciple. The ceremony took place in a restaurant in the presence of Master Yao's friends and fellow teachers, students - past and present, and the boy's family. There were several speeches with Zhi declaring his loyalty to Master Yao and Yiquan and promising to study to the best of his abilities, Master Yao promising to teach Zhi unreservedly, and then Master Yao and Zhi bowed to the picture of Yao Zongxun (Master Yao's late father and the successor to Wang Xiangzhai) and Zhi bowed in front of Master Yao. The whole occasion was very solemn with Zhi's father beaming proudly when it was all finished.


Zhi standing behind Master Yao Chengguang, holding a picture of Master Yao Zongxun

Afterwards we had lots of Chinese food (I have not eaten so much for a very long time), drinks and more speeches. Then there was Karaoke. The students, Master Yao and Karel (with his rendition of The House of the Rising Sun) all took turns - Karel managed to get the top score for loudness! We finished around 11 p.m. just in time to find our hotel locked! Fortunately we managed to get in.

Chenjiagou (Chen village) in Henan province
Chen Yingjun invited us to spend a few days in his home town, Wenxian, and visit Chenjiagou. I was looking forward to it as we had always stayed only in Beijing during our previous trips, with Karel resisting any attempts to broaden our knowledge of that wonderful country. At the same time I was a bit apprehensive, having read and heard horror stories about travelling in Chinese trains - overcrowding, dirt, etc.

However, things have changed or we were just lucky. The 'soft seats', that we were advised to take and that we expected to be barely adequate turned out to be quite luxurious. 'Soft seat' means that everybody has a reserved seat, which is comfortable with four people sharing a small table which had a tablecloth and the carriage was carpeted throughout.
We changed into comfortable slippers, sat back and got ready for our seven-hour journey to Zheng Zhou on train T57 from the West Beijing Railway Station.

By each carriage door of the train there was a helpful train attendant with a sash over his shoulder and a photo card on his chest. Our carriage attendant came to line all the suitcases up in the rack over our heads. He put a cloth on an armrest and then stood on it to re-arrange the suitcases. Shortly afterwards he and his supervisor came to inspect the carriage when the supervisor noticed that two pieces of luggage were out of place and pointed it out. One was our luggage which our attendant had noticed earlier but Karel had been writing his notes with his elbow on the seat rest and so the carriage attendant had let it go. This time he brought his cloth and corrected the offended luggage. He swept the floor several times during the trip and collected any rubbish accumulated on the tables. During the journey we had various trolleys coming round offering everything from teas and pots of noodles to magazines. I'm not sure how we'll manage to travel any other way now!

Wenxian
We arrived at Zheng Zhou, the capital of Henan province at about 10 p.m. We were met by Chen Yingjun and his fiancée Zhang Li Na. After spending a night in a hotel, we all had Chinese breakfast consisting of all sort of vegetables, eggs, toasts, many types of Chinese buns and three types of soup - rice soup, bean and all sorts. We then took a rickety bus to Wenxian, Chen Yingjun's hometown. The bus journey lived up to our previous expectations of local travel. The bus driver probably took the job as an opportunity to train as a rally driver. I thought it better to fall asleep but it wasn't easy as Karel kept shaking me awake so I wouldn't miss how we just managed to miss an oncoming lorry! After about an hour of this, things took a turn for the worse. The road up to this time had a half-decent surface but it disappeared now leaving a dirt road with lots of potholes. The bus driver didn't seem to notice or worked on the principle that if he went fast enough, he would just skim over the holes. Unfortunately he didn't seem to quite manage (through no fault of his - the other road users were just not getting out of the way fast enough) and so the bus kept lurching not only from side to side between the traffic but also up and down. To increase our enjoyment of the journey, some of the oncoming lorries and buses would come on our side of the road and play 'chicken' with our bus. Our driver didn't seem to be bothered at all, in fact no one was, and the lorry or bus always swerved at the last moment back to their side of the road.

At last we arrived safe and sound in time for lunch. Chen Yingjun and his fiancée (they hope to get married this year) took us to the beautiful mountain range Yun Tai Shan with many waterfalls and lots of steep steps hewn into the rock. There was a thick mist rolling over the mountains and as it occasionally parted, we would get a glimpse of the imposing stark mountain peaks. The scenery was absolute magic. The next day we went to Chenjiagou on scooters - Karel with Chen Yingjin and I with Zhang Nali. Chenjiagou is about 8-10 km from Wenxian but given the state of the muddy road (it was just after heavy rain), I would need several pages to describe our ride. We got there eventually and visited the tombs of the past Chen Masters on the outskirts of the village and took pictures in front of Chen Fake (grandfather of Chen Xioawang) and Chen Zhaokui (teacher of Chen Xioawang and Du Xianming).


Eva, Chen Yingjun and Karel guarding Chen Fake

We then went to the Museum of Taijiquan. There was still the original house where the Chen family lived and also the small house where Yang Luchan lived and the courtyard where they all practised. Yang Luchan is normally thought of as the founder of Yang style (which he, of course, is) and so it is assumed that he practised Yang style. But the current Yang style is really a creation of his descendants. He himself learnt and practised Chen style. This is reflected in the books of the Chen family where he is treated as a member of the Chen Taijiquan clan.


Eva eavesdropping as Chen Changxing passes the family secrets to Yang Luchan

Entering Yang Luchan's house


Animating Laojia form on the village walls

Two great men stroking their beard!

On our return to Wenxian we met Chen Jingjun's mother and his older brother, Chen Jun. We had a farewell meal and departed for Zheng Zhou.

The return ride from Wenxian was very similar to our journey there. Either we got the same bus driver or all the bus drivers are trainee rally drivers. There was one change though. This time, it was our bus driver playing 'chicken' with the oncoming traffic! The reason became clear very soon - the side of the road we were supposed to be on was even worse than the other side. So our driver took the bus on the opposite side of the road, where he could go marginally faster. When forced back onto the right side by some larger vehicle (bicycles, bikes and small cars just went to the side, out of our way), if he judged that he could get back to the left side almost immediately, he didn't bother to slow down - and so the bus would hop up-and-down over the holes until he swung back back onto the left side of the road. But eventually we got back to Zheng Zhou.

From Zheng Zhou we took the night train back to Beijing and arrived just after 5 a.m. We took a taxi back to our hotel and found it locked! Fortunately, we managed to get in and get some sleep before getting up to another training day in Beijing.

Beijing
The fact that Beijing is getting ready for the Olympic Games in 2008 is unmistakable - there are big signs to that effect everywhere and a big drive to clean up the city. There is an army of street sweepers constantly sweeping the streets and pavements to keep the city clean. Over the years we have seen a battle between the traffic police and commuters, in which the commuters so far have had the upper hand, and the chaos, especially on the crossroads, was being only very gradually brought under control. This time there was a marked change - the crossroads were organised and everybody seemed to obey the rules - even the cyclists now stop for the red light! There also seems to be very little crime. There was a large open fruit stall near a busy Metro station full of tempting juicy fruit (melons, bananas, plums,..); for the night the fruit seller covered his stall with a big plastic sheet, put bricks on the sheet so it wouldn't be blown away and left for home. The stall was left undisturbed. This is unimaginable in any other city.


Building Internal Power

Softness and Hardness
Anyone who has practised for some time knows that there are degrees of softness and relaxation. Even when standing still, it can seem quite difficult to relax and soften the body. And we should be relaxed even when we move and during Pushing Hands! But even when relaxed and soft during Pushing hands, there is more to come.

The classics say, "The essential hardness comes from essential softness". What does 'essential softness' mean in this context? Obviously it means more than just 'softness', otherwise it wouldn't have to be qualified. It is not something that can be easily felt. However, 'essential hardness' is. When the stage of 'essential hardness' is reached, there is strength in the body that is independent of the outside muscles. For example, in Pushing Hands with someone who has reached it, you can feel that their arms and their body is moving freely with no visible tension and yet there is a hardness to their body as if their muscles were tense. This solidity or 'hardness' comes from having built what is called 'internal connections' - connections by the deeper layers of muscles that connect and stabilise our body together in standing and movement (stabilisers). This 'essential hardness' is a major component of Internal Power. 'Essential softness' is achieved by relaxing and softening these deeper layers in order to build the internal connections. A major part in this process is played by our awareness. We have to become aware of these 'inner' muscles before we can do anything with them and the problem is how to do it. Relaxation and attention are the two key ingredients here.

When practising a specific exercise (whether standing or moving), it takes at least 5 or 10 minutes for our body to relax. And it takes longer for the relaxation to spread deeper into the body. The time in classes is limited and this means that students do not get sufficient exercise time to experience their body relaxing.

Residential weekends
This is where our residential weekends come in! It is my experience (watching both myself and others) that during a longer and more intensive training period one can make a jump in the practice and understanding that could take much longer in a normal class situation. Learning a skill is easier by the 'little and often' route. However, to make a breakthrough in understanding 'internal' sensations, often a longer an more intense period of practice is necessary. For example, those students who have attended any of the day seminars know that it is possible to progress in one day more than in the equivalent time broken down by weekly lessons. But even during these seminars we are often busy learning new skills and there is not enough time to turn attention to relaxation.

'Essential softness', mentioned above, is one of those things that are difficult to 'crack' in a class. It is somewhat easier to get to it through Yiquan training (because it is a simpler system) but I don't want to have all my students flooding my Yiquan classes! Besides, the problem of relaxation is the same in any class.

The weekend break provides an opportunity to explore relaxation. For example when making a wax figurine, the softness/hardness of the wax determines how easy it is to mould it. It is the same with the body - softening and relaxing the body heightens internal feedback. Without internal feedback, internal-energy work is extremely difficult. Learning how to elicit and interpret this internal feedback is much easier during an intensive prolonged workout/session. It can act as a bootstrap for further practice during the year.

A residential weekend can be a good opportunity not only to learn techniques and exercises that are more focused on developing internal power but mainly to experience it in a prolonged practise.

Holding a correct Zhan Zhuang posture is not dependent on placing the legs, arms and body in the right position but on adjusting the body according to the internal feedback/feeling. The same is true of movement. This must be experienced to understand it. Everyone can get it, even in the normal weekly classes, especially if they practise regularly in between. However, a weekend session can act as a great time-saver.