Meeting Master Yao

Yesterday morning I went down to Chaoyangmen subway station to meet H. My gosh – it took me longer to get from the university to Wudaokou on the bus than it did to get from Wudaokou to Chaoyangmen on the train and subway! Beijing’s traffic just gets worse and worse…

H. had brought along an American acquaintance from the hostel where she’s staying, a guy called Glenn who has studied bagua and yiquan before. The three of us went along to the Yiquan Academy, where she’s been studying for the past three weeks.

The Academy’s training area is apparently nicknamed “The Submarine”, and it’s an apt name! It’s a small basement room with no natural light, lockers along one wall, and doors leading off to a few offices. There’s also a small dormitory, with beds racked three-high. Very small… possibly even “cramped”…. There were a few Chinese students already there; young guys in their twenties who, I think, live in the dorm.

Anyhow, Glenn and I were just there as observers, not to participate in any lessons. H. told me to practice zhan zhuang, according to the way she’s learned it there; Glenn added some tips from what he’s learned. He was practicing a yiquan ‘health dance’ that he’d learned in the States; from the comments made by the Chinese students, it seems to be different to what is taught at the Academy.

After a short while, Master Yao Chengguang arrived. H. introduced us, and we had a short chat. I explained that I couldn’t start training immediately, but would like to do so intensively after my teaching ends; we agreed that I would give him a call nearer the time. First impression is that he’s very tough, no-frills, but impressive; I liked him but I certainly wouldn’t like to get on his wrong side.

After half an hour or so, Glenn tried a bit of tui shou with one of the students; it looked interesting, so I asked to try as well. I’m not strong at all, and after half an hour of zhan zhuang, my muscles were tired, so I couldn’t use strength. It was pretty cool, and I don’t think I embarrassed myself, even though the Chinese student could of course have flattened me if he’d really tried! Afterwards, Master Yao asked me if I would like to try some more – I’m not sure if he meant with him! I was tired though – my aerobic fitness is rubbish – so I declined, politely I hope. If I’m going to study there, I need to a) get fitter before I start (some hope!) and b) be prepared to be knocked about – from what I saw, they really throw each other around, and there’s no mats, or padding on the walls. Sometimes, some of the students where just sent flying through (open) doorways, or into the dormitory!

H. and I left a little early, as we wanted to go to the Xiang Shan park; she’s going back to England next week, so it was her last chance to catch a bit of Chinese nature! We had a really nice day out, and eventually said our farewells. Who knows if we’ll ever meet again! It’s been a real pleasure to meet another Brit who shares my interest in martial arts and Buddhism… Incidentally, she mentioned that if I hadn’t mentioned the Yiquan course to her, and she had gone travelling for a while before leaving China, she would have been in Chengdu when the earthquake hit. Scary. Funny how lives can turn around chance conversations…

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