Strong, fit and healthy?


As I write this, I’m supposed to be in my Sunday yiquan class. I did actually set out to attend but, before I’d gone very far, I realized that my lower back is hurting like heck, and it just wouldn’t have been a good idea.

I had a very interesting class yesterday. Yao Lao Shi had to correct me far more often than usual, and for the same things repeatedly, but it ended up being a very rewarding session.

Over the last week, maybe over the last few days, my posture seems to have changed. I’d had a chronic ache in the muscle running down the right of my backbone, obviously due to a tilt in the way I was standing; that seems to have been corrected by the standing practice I’ve been doing, so the muscle isn’t carrying excess weight any more. That’s good.

During yesterday’s class, I was concentrating on trying to sink my weight, observing which muscles and tendons were carrying my weight, where there was excess tension, etc; as a result, I was often not giving my full attention to what my hands were doing in various stances, which is why Yao Laoshi was often correcting me.

In other cases, he was correcting me because of issues which were symptoms of a root problem which I was already trying to identify. For example, the lead shin is generally expected to stay still and upright during the ‘testing force’ exercises. Recently mine haven’t been; they’ve been wobbling backwards and forwards. It’s particularly noticeable with the left knee. Eventually, I realised that as I lifted weight by loading my right kua my left Achilles tendon was tensing up as well; then, when I tried to move my weight back forward, my mind didn’t want to load that tendon up, and so my knee started wobbling furiously. This is the tendon which was badly injured in an accident in Singapore ten years ago; clearly, somewhere in my subconscious, there’s a fossilized attempt to protect it. By shifting my awareness back into the tendon and keeping it relaxed, the problem went away. It’s something I’ll have to work on, so that the softness becomes automatic.

As usual, the class finished with a session of push-hands. Last week, Yao Lao Shi posted a message on his WeChat stream, warning against ‘false compassion’ in training. The meaning, I think, was that it’s bad practice to “let your opponent off” in training, because although you may think you’ve beaten him, you can never be sure – so you need to complete your attack until you know for certain that he’s down. Well, I doubt this message was particularly targeted at me, but it is the way I’ve tended to train. So, yesterday, I stopped holding back at the last moment. There were only three of us, and both of the others were newer than me, so it was fairly easy to beat them. It is interesting to train with a range of levels; in yesterdays’ case, the fact that my opponents were slow and stiff gave me more time to analyse what was happening in terms of angles, leverage, etc. (The Kadochnikov systema approach to analysis of combat transfers very well indeed to yiquan). I bounced each of the others off the wall repeatedly, and I must have done something right because Yao Lao Shi shook my hand as I left, which he doesn’t usually do.

I realise that I’ve referred a number of times in recent posts to the way I’ve bounced people off the wall during push-hand sessions. I want to emphasize that these have been when I’m facing relative newbies, so it’s more to do with that than any particular talent on my part. Having said this, it’s astonishing how few people I’ve encountered so far realize the level of their tension, and how vulnerable that makes them. Some years ago, I played push-hands with a Westerner who’d been made a lineage-holder of a particular line of baguazhang; he was sprawled on the floor within seconds, each time, because he was so stiff, and so unrooted. So, I’m working very hard to improve my own rooting and elastic power before I face the better students in the evening classes…

That said, as I mentioned in my last post, aerobic endurance and muscular strength are definitely good to have! I’m gradually restarting a workout routine using Scott Sonnon’s Flowfit sets, and I’m looking out for somewhere to buy a kettlebell…

As for my back, I think I wrenched it on Friday night, whilst running from platform to platform with a heavy suitcase in Shijiazhuang. Heavy rain further up the line had led to most of the trains to Beijing being cancelled; the only ones running were those originating in Shijiazhuang itself, and there were a lot of stranded travellers trying to fight their way onto those! Fortunately, my group all managed to find seats, so it wasn’t too bad a journey back – I’m just feeling the after-effects today!

Anyway, on the topic of strength, health and fitness, here are a few links I’ve been collecting for a while.

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