Don't break the ribs, explode the heart

Broken heart

I described in my last post how moving to a new apartment suddenly enabled me to start meditating again.

As my practice resumed, I began to get back into the mindset I last experienced in Beijing, four years ago, in which vipassana meditation and yiquan complemented each other, leading to a range of benefits – mental, spiritual, health, and martial. I realised how much I missed yiquan.

When I came to Russia, a big part of my ambitions for my time here was to learn systema – which I’m writing about on another blog. It’s been great – but I didn’t have the opportunity to learn very much before the summer arrived and most of the schools shut down until the autumn.

So, given that I have time available, and the realisation that I wanted to get back into the Chinese martial arts, I Googled for yiquan in St. Petersburg. I knew that my teacher’s brother has students in Russia – but none of them are here by the Neva! However, the search did turn up a St. Petersburg Wushu Institute. They offered taijiquan, baguazhang, and xingyiquan.  Well, that looked interesting…

So, I got in touch. Short story: there’s only one bagua class a week, and it clashes with something else I’ve got on. There are three xingyi classes a week, and I can get to them all, at least at the moment.  I also fancied studying xingyi – which, of the three, is the one I have least experience of. Partly it’s because yiquan is based on xingyi, so there’s a link there. Also, xingyi is the most aggressive and linear of the arts, and has the effect of raising the practitioner’s confidence and determination. In the past, when I was in Singapore and Asia, that was the opposite of what I needed: I wanted taijiquan and bagua to moderate my energies. Today, coming out of three very bad years, it seemed just the thing.

So, I’ve signed up and started attending classes.

The first class was on Saturday, and was in a school gymnasium near Mayakovskaya metro station. There were only two other people there: Vladimir Soloshenko (who I’d spoken to on the phone), and a big guy named Dima. Vladimir speaks excellent English; Dima understands some.

This is Vladimir:


In that first session, we went through warmups, the santi standing position, and some stepping. We also did some power-generation exercises using the da qiang, ie a 3-metre long spear.

The Tuesday and Thursday classes are held in the school’s own premises, in a courtyard not far from Chernyshevskaya metro. This has quite a low ceiling, so they can’t train with weapons there, hence the use of the gym on Saturdays.

The class was short yesterday, because there was a celebration at the beginning of Vladimir’s birthday on Sunday. During the class, I worked with Vladimir, while Dima instructed three other students in Russian.  We worked mainly on pi quan, the first of the Five Element fists.

It all feels a bit strange to me. I’m long out of practice in the Chinese martial arts, and there are lots of differences to what I’m used to…

As for the post title, this was something Vladimir reminded me of about xingyi’s power, and about the nature of the strikes: keep the arms soft except for the moment of impact. You’re transmitting your power into your opponent’s organs, not breaking your way through the bones…

Vladimir is now away on holiday for a couple of weeks, so the next few classes will be with Dima, or another guy called Zhenya who I haven’t met yet. So, we’ll see how it goes…

Image credits: Broken Heart Grunge by user Nicolas Raymond on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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