Right, this is coming quite a bit later than I expected due to unforeseen events; sorry if you’ve been waiting. I’ll try to keep it brief.
I attended classes at the Beijing Institute of Yiquan almost every weekday for three weeks. On most of these days I was there twice, from around 10:30am to 12:00pm, and 5:00pm to about 6:45pm. I studied the equivalent of four modules from their syllabus.
I knew almost nothing about yiquan before I started. I knew that it was derived originally from xingyiquan, with elements incorporated from baguazhang, taijiquan, and western boxing. What attracted me, though, was that it did not have set forms, as almost all other martial arts do, but seemed to develop strength and sensitivity through the use of standing postures. I really wanted to learn more about this because:
- My research into internal martial arts was increasingly convincing me that if I want to make progress, I need to work hard at standing techniques to develop strength and endurance. Most of my teachers have taught me forms but not standing, and I felt I needed to correct this.
- My time is very limited. I wondered whether there was a martial art that could combine effective training with effective meditation. It seemed that yiquan’s techniques might be the opportunity to do this.
My conclusion – such as it can be after only three weeks – is that yiquan really is superb. After many individual sessions, I really came out feeling that I had had a fresh insight into posture and physical structure. I am absolutely certain that continued study of yiquan will rapidly undo years of bad posture, relax chronically tight muscles, and overall generate the physical ‘softness’ that’s at the heart of the internal martial arts.
Starting from these crucial foundations, the yiquan curriculum rapidly moves on to work on combat techniques, all of which seem to my unqualified eye to be extremely functional and effective.
As I said in one of my posts: yiquan rocks! I am deeply impressed.
The school environment
The school is in a street very close to Chaoyangmen subway station. It isn’t what I’d expected from the web site; it’s a basement apartment, not a traditional courtyard building. Training in the park only happens on Sundays, although I wasn’t able to attend any of these sessions.
Although based in a modern apartment building, the school is very much as I imagined traditional schools to be. The apartment’s main room is where students train, and there are two rooms connected to it where a number of students live full-time. It’s a completely different environment to the kind of “evening classes in a gym” that most of us westerners (and I include Singaporeans in that!) would usually have experienced. I found it a really cool experience. The more experienced students would sometimes go outside, and train in the street. I was the only foreign student during the period I attended the school. Most of the Chinese students were very friendly, and helped me out if they saw me doing something wrong. A couple spoke English, but most didn’t. The apartment was pretty hot and airless, given that it was summer, but with fans blowing it was quite tolerable.
The teaching experience
As you would expect in a traditional environment, I was – as a new student – taught by the senior student, Li Xin, not by the head of the school. In fact, I didn’t see Master Yao Chengguang very often after the first few days. However, he did keep track of what I was being taught; when he arrived late in the evening session, he would check with Li Xin what I had been taught that day, observe me practising and correct mistakes, and generally kept an eye on my progress. I really respect and like him, and overall found him to be very concerned about his students and his art.
Li Xin doesn’t speak any English, but he was very good at explaining the techniques and demonstrating what he wanted me to do. My limited Mandarin, and the excellent explanations in the supporting books, helped to clarify any issues.
The website gives the hours as Monday to Saturday, 8:30 – 11:30am and 3:30 – 7:30pm; this differs from my experience, where I was told I could attend 10-12 and 5-7 Mon-Fri. I wasn’t able to go on the weekend in any case, so I didn’t ask about these. As it turned out, I rarely attended even these hours fully; even given the shorter hours I spent there, I felt that it was plenty of time!
Given this good quality of instruction, I felt that I learned a lot very quickly. However, there were times when I felt that I was being pushed through the curriculum quicker than I was comfortable with, and that I was not given enough time to work properly on some techniques. This is not something that applies to me: a friend who attended the school on a different occasion said the same thing, and comments I’ve seen online suggest that other people also felt this.
Master Yao has developed a series of books and DVDs to accompany the syllabus. They’re not cheap by any means, but they are one-off purchases. The books are excellent; they are extremely clear, and helped me understand the purpose of each exercise along with the mental visualisations that I should use. I haven’t had the time to watch the DVDs yet, so I can’t comment on them.
The price per module is 600RMB. I finished four modules in three weeks, and would have done more if I hadn’t deliberately slowed the pace down. When you consider that I was there for between three to four hours every day, that’s extremely reasonable for Beijing!
The four English-language books are CAD $75 each, and the set of 8 DVDs is CAD $300. These are Western prices.
I referred to cost quite a bit during my posts, so I need to clarify that this is a personal blog and reflects my personal situation. I try hard to keep it neutral and informative, but nevertheless, I have no obligations to write about what “a typical student” would experience. So, I complained about costs at times because it’s an issue for me, and so I’m going to write about it. However, to be clear, I’m not a typical Western student; I’m earning a local salary, and furthermore, I attended this course during the University holidays, when I have no income whatsoever. Bear that in mind; most foreigners who wish to attend the Academy won’t have such issues.
Yiquan is superb. I really do hope to carry on with it. I really liked the school environment, I found the teaching and support good, and the people are great. Would I recommend them to other people? Yes, as long as you’re clear what you’re getting into.
As I’ve mentioned, the school seems to me to run on very traditional lines. That’s great, but it can be very different to what many wushu students from overseas may be used to, which might lead to some misunderstanding over expectations. Also, if, like me, you don’t speak much Mandarin, you may find that there are communication problems (such as when I arrived to find the doors locked and no-one there).
As for the pace of the lessons, there are two points of view being expressed here. The way the school works is to take you through the material very fast. Andrzej explained this in a comment: the intention is to help the student get the overall idea of how the different element – health and combat – relate to each other. The material is then repeated several times, in increasing depth. This works, I think, very well – as long as the student has committed to yiquan, and is intending to spend a long time learning in-depth. However, for people in my situation (and my friend’s, and – I suspect – some of the others whose comments I’ve read online) we’re not there yet; we aren’t really sure about yiquan, we want to learn more, and we want to be sure we understand what we’re shown before we move on. When we’re pushed through faster, we remain unconvinced that this is really what we want, and we feel rushed, that’s the truth. Pointing this out isn’t a criticism of anyone; I’m just, again, highlighting an issue arising from different expectations. I’m lucky that Andrzej has been reading my blog, and has taken the time to explain where the school is coming from; I think other people who haven’t been so lucky may have left feeling a bit less satisfied.
- I began the three weeks knowing almost nothing about yiquan. I am now highly impressed, and had more than a few major insights while I was learning some yiquan techniques. It’s very, very good.
- I really enjoyed my time there. The atmosphere was friendly and supportive, the teaching was good, and Master Yao is knowledagble and very committed to his school and students.
- Was everything perfect, from my point of view? No. Mostly, these are due to my personal situation, and shouldn’t be of concern to most readers. Some issues are due to differences in expectations, and the Academy could make some changes to their marketing, but the quality of the art, the teaching, and the Academy are not issues here, and are all very high.
- Would I recommend the Academy to readers who are curious about yiquan? Absolutely, yes.
- Will I be carrying on with yiquan at the Academy? This is more tricky, due to personal factors. I do want to carry on learning yiquan. The Zongxun Academy is not convenient to get to, for me. Even after I move into Old Beijing later this month, by the time I’ve commuted back down from where I work, I’ll still be on the other side of the city. In fact, by coincidence, the other Yao brother, Yao Chengrong, has his school a few minutes’ walk away from my apartment, and it makes far more sense for me to try that. We’ll see. That’s just a practical matter, though: I would happily recommend Yao Chengguang to anybody.
OK, this has taken me a long time to write; I lost a draft and had to start again, so there’s perhaps lots more I could have written, but this is enough. Feel free to ask questions or respond in the comments!