A narrowing of the ways

Ahh, the constant tension between doing what I’m here in Beijing to do, and the job that lets me do it…. (Actually that’s not fair; I really enjoy my job as well…). Anyway, I had to call Master Yao Chengguan to tell him that I can’t meet today as planned; I’ve postponed until tomorrow. I still have end-of-term paperwork to do, and I have to get this article written that was commissioned at the end of last week. Both are due today, and there’s no way I can get down into central Beijing to meet Master Yao AND get all this work done. Never mind, it’s just a temporary glitch.

I took a break yesterday from the mountain of exam papers, and met some friends for lunch at the Vineyard Cafe. One of them was Chinese, a guy who’s dedicated his entire life to martial arts, and is developing a pretty successful school of his own. I’ve known him for several years, and I know that he’s well-connected and respected in the martial arts community in Beijing, and around China (he’s got solid connections at Shaolin and at the Chen village, for example).

I say that because I mentioned that I wanted to try yiquan (not one of his styles), and he made some interesting comments. He asked who I wanted to learn from, and I said Yao Chengguan. His immediate response was: “he’s good. But his brother is better. You should train with him instead.” Well… there’s probably a reason why my friend said this. However: I’ve already arranged to train with Yao Chengguan, and it wouldn’t be respectful to break that (glitches aside). On top of that, my English friend H really enjoyed training with him, plus of course Tabbycat writes very highly of his experience as a foreign student there. I liked him when I met him with H, and – insofar as one can judge – I’ve got a good impression when I’ve spoken on the phone. On the minus side, there did seem to be a very aggressive, high-testosterone, atmosphere in his school, which isn’t the kind of environment I’m looking for. So far, though, my entire personal experience would support Tabbycat’s final impressions on the last post in his blog.

However, as I always say, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, so I’ll find out, starting tomorrow!

(Longer term, if I continue to train in yiquan, one thing that may be influential is that Yao Chengguang’s school is in the city centre at Dongzhimen, which is very far from me. According to my friend, Yao Chengrong teaches at Zhichunlu, which is significantly closer to my stop at Wudaokou…).

My friend went on to say: “If you start yiquan, you’ll stop baguazhang”, in the sense that I won’t want to carry on with bagua. He went to say that yiquan really has strong neijia power, very similar to that of taijiquan, and is strong because it’s based on stillness. To be honest, I’ve already had suspicions about this. After all, as I wrote recently, I’ve come to realize that what I’m looking for is an effective martial art, the training of which is also an effective meditative technique. The more I learn about it, the more yiquan seems to fit the bill. I’m not sure yet, but if so – well then, obviously yiquan would become my primary style. There wouldn’t be any choice.

I’m not sure that that would mean giving up bagua. Yiquan, like taijiquan, is based on stillness; bagua on constant movement. It’s like the eye of the tornado versus the spout – one still amidst violence, the other sweeping all away before. It seems to me there is value in training for both.

However, this led to my friend’s final comment – in his view, I will have to choose. Until I do, he believes that no teacher will teach the deep truths of their art. If I try to have it both ways, I’ll get nothing but empty forms.

Hmm. Well, I think a lot depends on the teachers, and on the relationships that you have with them. My friend himself knows many arts; how did he learn them, given what he says? Still, over the past few years, a few people have gently chastised me for trying too many different styles with too many different teachers, and I’ve always said the same thing: I’m looking for the right art and the right teacher (right for me, that is; teachers and styles I’ve not stayed with are all excellent, and will exactly right for other people! I don’t for an instant mean to denigrate anyone or any style). I have a feeling that I’m finally narrowing it down.

As an aside, this whole thing about student-teacher relationships, and how much is taught to whom, is probably worth a post on its own…

1 Comment

  1. I agree with your friend that teachers refrain from teaching their best stuff (the “secrets”) unless (even if) you are dedicated to them (and them only!). That means just one teacher (no more seminars with others even!).

    As for how some people managed to learn several styles, the methods seem to be as follows:
    1. Learn one style from your dad, learn the other style from your shifu (you are only allowed to have one master, but it’s okay to learn from your dad, anyway)
    2. Have lots of teachers secretly 😀 (No, seriously… some teachers have admitted to this method as well.) Of course, if you’re outed…
    3. Have several teachers with a good reason (for example, if you are a qigong researcher and thus (for work) need to learn A, B, and C, it is likely that you will be allowed to do that, although it depends on the teacher).
    4. Have a single teacher that knows several styles. This is the easiest method, and what I am doing right now…

    Personally, I have tried baguazhang, xingyiquan, and yiquan, and enjoy all three of them – but still like baguazhang the best. Yiquan has strong power, but so do the other two; baguazhang just has a unique way of building that power (through walking, not standing). Also, each has its own unique expression of power and unique fighting methods; suffice it to say that I haven’t stopped learning baguazhang because of trying yiquan!


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